I watched Hercules last night. The terrible B movie starring “The Rock.” Don’t ask me how I ended up here. I sat through the annoyance of cliché after cliché. It wasn’t until the movie was done that I got some value from it. Samantha, my wife, who finds something to appreciate in everything, was the one to point it out.
In this version of Hercules he is actually an orphan passing himself off as the son of Zeus. His mercenary friends include a storyteller whose job it is to amplify the myth of Hercules, to tell of his seven mythical labors, to stir fear among his enemies and loyalty among friends. None of it is actually true.
By the end of the film Hercules is heroically embodying the story that is told about him. In this hero’s journey what was a lie becomes a truth, he steps into the power of his own myth. The orphan becomes the son of Zeus.
This is important.
I am aware that we are besieged by postmodern narcissism. One could cause a lot of trouble by encouraging people to believe their own myth.
But I’m not talking about the myth of the ego. I’m talking about Joseph Campbell’s myth. I’m talking about the archetypal hero’s journey that each one of us is called into. I’m talking about the call and the refusal of the call. I’m talking about the journey, and the mentor, the challenge, the abyss, the transformation and the wisdom to return home.
Modernity sacrificed myth on the flawed altar of science. It left fundamentalism as the only other option. But myth is not about objective truth and lie. It’s not about science vs fundamentalism.
Myth is so much greater than that. It is the story that we weave to make meaning of the mystery. It is individual and it is collective. It is how we seek to answer the questions of how and why. It is our way of being here, with the vastness of it all. It is how we will grow, evolve and become the humans needed to get through the end of times.