Up to this point in “The Cosmogonic Cycle” in The Hero with a Thousand Faces, we’ve heard about creation of the universe from the Source (the cosmic egg) and the creation of earth and humans from a demiurge (either male, androgynous, or female). We’ve also learned something about the virgin birth of the hero. Now begins another phase of the discussion of the cosmogonic cycle: “Transformations of the Hero.” We begin by learning about the hero in the early stages of the universal round when the world is still close to Spirit. These super-heroes receive knowledge from the Divine that contributes to human prosperity and culture.
The Foundation of Civilization
Recall that the universal round begins with a near-perfect existence straight out of the void and gradually deteriorates. During the golden periods, Joseph Campbell writes, we have heroes of legend who are gifted by the gods to bring to the world crucial knowledge necessary to prosper: hunting, growing crops, making tools, language, the arts, philosophy, astronomy, medicine, and of course, practices of worship.
This type of divine-like hero
was the carrier of a special world-creating, world-sustaining power, very much greater than that represented in the normal human physique. In those times was accomplished the heavy titan-work, the massive establishment of the foundation of our human civilization.
In some cases, this super-hero undergoes a kind of journey like the Hero’s Journey the human hero undergoes. He has to travel a long distance in order to receive the knowledge that he later brings back to the world to teach others. Campbell gives as an example the Yellow Emperor of China who “traveled” twice in dreams for about 3 months each time to seek knowledge from spiritual sources that he then passed onto the people.
The Godlike Hero
These early heroes, Joseph Campbell writes, are part human, part divine. Sometimes, they don’t even appear as humans but are comprised of different parts of sacred animals. As the universal round deteriorates, moving more towards materialism and getting further away from the divine, these heroes may take on more human characteristics.
I think it’s interesting that the non-human characteristics show them closer to the source of life. As far as we know, animals are driven by instinct and thus are closer to nature. Perhaps this shows a link between our instinct and the knowledge and teaching that goes on in these myths. In other words, our natural instinct drives us on a perpetual quest for knowledge and the desire to spread it around and create something new with it.
In any case, these myths of super-heroes certainly reflect our fascination with knowledge and the wonders of this world. This perhaps helps explain why such things as mathematics, philosophy, and astronomy are placed in the hands of a semi-divine hero. The fact that the intricacies of the universe aren’t totally beyond our comprehension is an amazing thing.
These myths show respect for the knowledge we have of the complexities of the world around us. I think they also nudge us to have respect for what we don’t know. These myths see nature as divine, so all knowledge of nature is knowledge given by the divine of the divine. What isn’t understood is knowledge the Source has not chosen yet to reveal about Itself. The godlike hero is the link between divine knowledge and knowledge of the divine, and the gifts offered to us of that knowledge.