The Origins and History of Consciousness: The Birth of the Hero

As promised, if you read my previous post, then you’ll know this is continuing on with the book I’m reading, The Origins and History of Consciousness by Erich Neumann.

This post will focus on three aspects that encompass one underlying theme: the birth and journey of the hero. The three aspects to the hero’s journey, post-Uroboros, involves the birth of the hero, the slaying of the mother, and finally, the slaying of the father. Remember these are all archetypal themes, so don’t take them as literally “killing your mother and father”, but as a symbolic message, such as “slaying the dragon”, or, “Bringing new order to the kingdom”.

Image result for jonah and the whale
Jonah being swallowed by the Whale

Anyways, from where I left off, was the Great Mother, both her nurturing side, as well as her devouring side. I analogized it such as the offering to the dragon in which you make your sacrifice to her so that she may protect the city, but failure to do so ends with destruction by her devouring hand.

I also analogized it in more pragmatic terms, such as the baby in the mother’s womb (the Uroboros), and when the baby is born, only to be taken care of, almost solely, by his mother. In the first two years of development, the baby is under the complete dependence of the mother. She is the one who feeds him, bathes him, clothes him, and ultimately, is the only reason why he can live, generally speaking.

But, as you’ve read of mothers murdering their own babies (as horrific as that sounds), that is not actually something unexplainable. I’m sure, every mother, at one point, has resented her baby. She feels nothing but annoyance and anger as she’s forced to wake up in the middle of the night, again, to take care of him. If continued on for months, even years, this can cause a secret hatred and/or resent towards the baby, of course, unintentionally.

This is the devouring side, the murderous side, the “other” side of mother nature: the chaotic and unforgiving side where only the strongest and most competent survive, usually, in the form of a leader: the hero.

That leads us to the birth of the hero. But, the birth of the hero has a common theme, as you might have seen in countless movies, as well as countless religions. What is that? The hero was born of a virgin. He has no father. 

One iconic place you’ve seen this is in the Star Wars Saga. Anakin, born from the Force itself, with no father, was the “Chosen One”, the hero that will bring order to the galaxy. Order. That’s the key theme here.

Order, represented by the divine father, is the thing that fights chaos and builds the first society and rebuilds it over and over. It’s the thing that brings peace. But again, another key theme here is taking the old order and bringing in the new, again, such as the case of Star Wars, where Anakin is to defeat the tyrannical Empire and bring new order to the Galaxy.

So then, what this means is, if the hero has no father, or in other depictions, does not subject himself to his “earthly” father (such as the story of Harry Potter in that he has the Dursley parents, but his “real” parents are his “Magical Parents”), the hero listens to his higher father, his higher calling. The hero is trying to fulfill his journey.

Over the time of the development of consciousness, in stories, this journey has depicted both the failures and the eventual successes of the hero. One example that Neumann lays out is the Oedipus story. Oedipus is the son of his mother in which he murders his father and commits incest with his mother. Obviously, you can take that literally, which many have, but we have to look at it psychologically, which Neumann does, as well.

The best way to describe the Oedipus story is by relating to a successful Hero’s Journey so that you may know the differences, but more importantly, the similarities.

Let’s use Harry Potter, specifically, the second movie, The Chamber of Secrets. So in the movie, Harry, must do four things. First, he needs to figure out what the Chamber of Secrets is. Second, he needs to figure out how to get inside. Third, once inside, he needs to fight the Basilisk, the snake. And finally, fourth, he needs to save Ginny, and exit the chamber to bring peace back to Hogwarts.

So what’s really going on? It’s actually the perfect hero’s journey. In the story, Harry has to go back through all the books and history to figure out what exactly this “chamber of secrets” is. But what’s he doing? He’s revivifying the past, or, in mythological terms, rescuing the father, the past. Armed with this knowledge he has now learned, he needs to find out where this entrance is, which, ironically enough, is in the girl’s bathroom. Coincidence? I don’t think so. The girl’s bathroom represents the mother, the one he must enter, like Oedipus.

He goes into the chambers below, the cave. In the Oedipus story, this is represented by incest with the mother. Neumann and Jung take a more general definition of incest. They don’t mean it as intercourse among family, but rather the entering of the cave, or by being swallowed by the beast, as depicted by Jonah and the Whale above.

So that’s what happens to Oedipus when he commits incest with his mother is that he’s swallowed by the devouring mother, and, at the same time, murders his father, his divine father. He does not fulfill the “hero’s journey”, but once more, is subject to the devouring mother. That’s why Neumann believes the Oedipus story is a half hero story. He failed.

Again, think of it this way. Back to Harry Potter, what if when Harry is bitten by the snake, he is not saved by the Phoneix (i.e. reborn), but rather, dies? It’s the same as Oedipus. Harry would have committed incest (entered the chamber), tried to slay the mother (the basilisk), and, by failing, would have, in turn, let the knowledge he retrieved down in the chamber (the new father and order) die. He, too, would have failed.

But, in this story, Harry succeeds. He is saved by the Phoneix, which I’ll get into later, and is reborn. He emerges from the chambers, i.e. breaks the incest with the mother, and saves Ginny (the treasure), and informs Dumbledore, in turn, Hogwarts, that he has brought peace to the school, once again. Of course, because it’s a saga, and The Chamber of Secrets is only the second movie, there was still the threat of Voldemort, but as far as the movie goes, Harry has successfully completed the Hero’s Journey.

But when does the slaying of the father come in? And, again, that is the underlying theme of Harry Potter. Voldemort represents the tyrannical father. Harry is trying to “slay” him, to end his reign, or, at the very least, his forthcoming reign.

So how does this relate back to consciousness? Well, in our development, we had to combat mother nature and build societies and communities. In the beginning stages of consciousness, we were purely a matriarchate, or a society ruled by the feminine (chaos). Such as all the animals are, they are ruled by nature. They do not build societies like we do. They are subject to the cruel hand of mother nature, and most animals merely live only to survive but never to flourish.

Humans were different. Every now and then, a person would be born, maybe through natural selection, that could break free from this endless cycle. He was just a bit more conscious than his predecessors. He was not just there to survive, but could strive towards something more, to unite the people together.

It is the motif of “coming into the light”. The darkness represents the unconscious, the light represents the conscious. Darkness is feminine, lightness is masculine. But there’s a balance between the two. Too much light and/or order can spawn tyranny. Too much darkness and/or chaos causes death and regression back to more archaic forms of behavior.

Again, this story is represented everywhere, and one specific religion that, I think, people misinterpret, is Christianity. In Christianity, most people don’t recognize the feminine aspect, or at least, the devouring mother side of the feminine aspect. It is only the good father vs the tyrannical father, or, God vs Satan.

But that’s a whole other story, one of which I’ve begun to touch on in my post Answer to Job. Which you can read if you want.

thanks for reading,