Joseph Campbell identifies the atonement with the father as an important step in a successful Hero’s Journey. Being made king of the land is part of that as the power to rule is often bestowed upon him by a father figure. When the hero becomes emperor or king, however, he isn’t quite at one with the father. He’s more like a representative or messenger, which helps explain how easy it is for him to become a tyrannical ruler. True at-one-ment with the father brings us the World Redeemer. “Their myths open out to cosmic proportions,” writes Campbell.

World Redeemer vs Tyrant

In the West, we perhaps best recognize the World Redeemer in the figure of Jesus, who both is and is not God. Campbell quotes a Native American myth with one called Killer-of-Enemies who essentially serves the same purpose. He claims that the world is only as large as he and that his body is the world. He then demands to be worshiped.

All of this sounds, on the surface, incredibly egomaniacal, but Campbell’s point is that the Redeemer is to be seen as Truth, not as an individual. He is Spirit within us. If we lift ourselves out of the physical world, we are the World and so much bigger than we think. Quantum physics also suggests that on levels beyond solid matter, all is connected. All is a part of a single field of quantum “stuff.”

The tyrant is the true egomaniac because he designates himself as Truth.

The … [tyrant] has occluded the source of grace with the shadow of his limited personality; the … [World Redeemer], utterly free of such ego-consciousness, is a direct manifestation of the law.

Both tyrant and World Redeemer request to be worshiped, but what’s the difference? I think for the tyrant, it’s a demand to sacrifice selfhood for ego. It’s allowing the limitations of physical existence to envelope deeper truths.

The World Redeemer appears to ask for sacrifice but is really asking for surrender. That’s a totally different thing. Western culture in particular doesn’t like surrender. It means weakness and accepting failure. But here the Redeemer asks us to surrender to the Truth of our nature, that we are Spirit, and in so doing, to be empowered but also to accept the responsibility that goes with that power.

When we destroy, whether it be nature or each other, whether it be physical or psychological, we do so in the name of something higher. There is no spiritual power to ask forgiveness of. We are the spiritual power. There is no wrath of God. We are the wrath of God. The ugliness is ours, and the option to redeem our beauty is ours.

Painting of Jesus rising from the grave.

The most well-known World Redeemer in the West is Jesus. “Victory over the Grave” Painting by Bernard Plockhorst. In the public domain.

The World Redeemer and the Cosmogonic Round

Recall that the cosmogonic round involves society going from good to great to good to terrible and then from terrible to better to great again, with these cycles forever repeating themselves. The tyrant and World Redeemer both play their part in this.

The tyrant, of course, causes the evil that brings society down. Campbell reminds us, though, that the tyrant was sometimes a good guy at first, replacing some other tyrant before him. From a cosmic point of view, that evil is really about trying to stop the rhythm of change, which is the natural rhythm of the Universe. It’s again the Ego trying to control Spirit.

So the hero is the agent of change. He keeps the cosmogonic cycle going, as it should. Both are part of the natural order. We might even say that the tyrant and the hero cooperate in keeping the natural rhythm of the Universe going.

From this point of view the tyrant ogre is no less representative of the father than the earlier world emperor whose position he usurped, or than the brilliant hero (the son) who is to supplant him.

I think the difference between the ruler and Redeemer has a lot to tell us about spirituality. Are you merely a representative of Spirit or are you Spirit? What is the difference in responsibility between the two choices? And what does it mean when we violate the true nature of Spirit through destruction?

If we believe we were born sinners then what sense of responsibility can we be expected to have for our destructive behaviors? If, however, we believe that our true nature is kindness, beauty, and love and we violate it, we’re led into a deeper path of self-exploration, a feeling of personal responsibility that’s difficult to escape, and hopefully a strong desire to learn and do better.