In the previous post in this series, I wrote about Joseph Campbell’s views on the hero as warrior, certainly a major role that we expect all heroes to play. Often this is as the dragon-slayer or tyrant-killer, although modern stories may have him as the overcomer of injustice or the one who rises above evil. Campbell follows the discussion of the hero as warrior with a discussion of the hero as lover, but really the two are connected. The maiden in distress is the energy of change released from the fist of Holdfast, that which represents stagnation and goes against the rhythm of the Universe.

The Woman

Campbell writes that the damsel in distress or the beauty the hero wants to marry in myths represents the energy of life, which must be constantly in motion. Recall that the hero is a champion of truth, which is the truth of constant change. The nature of the Universe is constant change. By saving the woman from danger or going to battle in order to win her, the hero demonstrates his commitment to cooperating with change, in direct opposition to whatever represents Holdfast (that which wants to hang onto the status quo), whether it be a dragon or a tyrant.

The hero usually needs to undergo terrible trials in order to win the maiden in distress. Often he’s sent to do so by the woman’s father, who represents Holdfast. The hero is always aided by helpers at the beginning of his journey as many of his tasks require supernatural knowledge and abilities that he doesn’t have. The maiden often helps as well.

Campbell tells us that she also represents his destiny, which is as the soldier of truth, on the side of the natural rhythm of the Universe and not stupidly going against it, like Holdfast. If the woman is symbolic of the “feminine” within all of us then she represents our feelings, passion, intuition, and knowledge that doesn’t come from the rational mind, which encourages us to flow with the energy of life rather than fight it. This is what we describe as doing what feels right.

Beautiful woman with green robe on looking in large mirror

“The Green Mirror” (1911) Painting by Guy Rose, in the public domain

The Power to Conquer All

At some point, the hero reaches a stage where he can conquer any difficulty and doesn’t need the assistance of helpers.

To a man not led astray from himself by sentiments stemming from the surfaces of what he sees, but courageously responding to the dynamics of his own nature–to a man who is as Nietzsche phrases it, “a wheel rolling of itself”–difficulties melt and the unpredictable highway opens as he goes.

In other words, by seizing his destiny and not wavering in pursuing his true nature, despite difficulties, he sets an unconquerable energy in motion.

This is meaningful on both a personal and spiritual level. Personally, we can only grow by releasing the energy of change within us. Otherwise, we become the pathetic Holdfast. I’ve witnessed this first-hand recently when reconnecting with my sister. She’s now living with my parents, and I push her to become more aware of how abusive they are and resist their manipulation. I hear a lot of stories about what they say and do, and it’s constant deja vu. They haven’t changed one iota in 10 years. And it’s sad because the beauty that’s within them that they could bring to the world is constantly being suppressed. We can only bring out our full potential by moving with the energy of growth and change.

When we release the energy of growth on an individual level, we contribute to the energy of growth on a cosmic level. Social change doesn’t happen en masse, as it appears; it happens within the hearts of individuals. Some feel (and I agree!) that the world is undergoing a shift into a heightened spiritual awareness. But it’s happening within the consciousness of each individual in multiple different ways, not as a blob of spiritually awakened consciousness that descends on the Universe in one sweep.

Looking at it this way, love in myths isn’t really about love, or rather isn’t really about love between individuals. It’s really about the desire that motivates the truth seeker. We can, perhaps, think of it as the love of truth that inspires us to overcome any obstacle in the name of truth. And according to Joseph Campbell, that truth is constant growth, the innate destiny of all human beings to evolve spiritually, emotionally, psychologically, and intellectually, to constantly rise above where we are. That is our nature, not complacency or a smothering stability. Any one of us who’s true to that nature is a hero.