Column #6: Heaven and Earth: Are Our Heroes Divine?by Sean Hillman
Column #6: Heaven and Earth: Are Our Heroes Divine?by Sean Hillman
Column #6: Heaven and Earth: Are Our Heroes Divine?
My apologies to everyone for being badly off schedule. I am in the middle of important work and writing, though this is not an excuse so much as an explanation. There was a great deal of positive input from my last column and one of the website's Webmaster informed me he appreciated all the extra traffic. Certainly here in America we focus primarily on European myths and our own cultural heroes that we tend to miss many of the great stories being told in other parts of the world.
Of course with the war upon us the word Hero may be at an all time usage. After I discuss the promised information on Africa (and a little more tie in for Asia) I do want to go onto the War itself.
Again we are going to eschew our formula, our Hero Equation as it were, because I think it is pretty well defined now. What I wan to talk about is not just African Hero myths but the idea that Heroes may be Divinely inspired or may be Divine themselves.
I first became enamored with African Mythology years ago in college. I had a wonderful professor who was my mentor and my academic advisor. He was born in Africa himself and from him I received an eye opening view into the African mindset. People usually get caught up in the color of skin and lump everyone together because of that. Yet a black man or woman born in Kentucky has a far different set of Heroes and a different set of Heroic values then one born in Nigeria. That may seem obvious when spoken but I wonder if anyone ever really gives the idea any thought.
A theme that runs through much of African mythos is that of the divergence of Man from God (the creator God who is or can be both Benevolent and Mischievous). Death came into the world because Man chose to be free of God's influence and so gave up part of the Divine to become mortal. African Heroes tended to hide their dual natures. They would come down to Earth in some odd fashion i.e. Stepping out of an egg; falling as a rock from heave etc... Once here, the Hero would ensure that his or her culture would find favor with Heaven. Do not take this to mean they were divine messengers, but instead beings who took it upon themselves to help their people understand and perhaps rejoin the Divine.
One such person was Nambalista. This Hero comes from Angolan myth and was a person who traveled the Earth with his mother. During these travels he concluded several quests and came to be known as a Heroic Warrior. A God named Kalungo heard of the boastings of Nambalista and called him to come and compete. The two did and in the end Nambalista won out, showing that Man could compete with the Gods and win.
Contests are important in many of the Heroic Myths and African myths are no exception to this. Ilboniamasiboniamanoro competed in several games with his rival Raivato before finally destroying him. (1)
So although they were partially divine and sought out ways to reach the divine, African Heroes were not a Mohammad or Jesus who were in essence Divine Messengers.
Yet the idea is that the divine can often times be uncaring and does not understand the needs of Mankind, which is a powerful idea. It suggests that at some point God and Man came to blows of some sort) over the casual disregard the Divine sometimes had for its creations.
This is extended a bit to those Gods who would fight their fellows to defend mankind against Evil or Amoral Gods who cared nothing for Humanity. Certianly it is a Heroic act for one Divine personality to confront another on behalf of the Human race. This happens quite often in many Chinese myths, like the one about Yi the Hunter who takes pity on Mankind and saves the Earth from the World Fire.
Often times in our Role Playing Games we have agents of the Divine as the primary protagonists in our games (i.e. the characters). Yet our use of certain themes may come up a little short. We have Good god who hates Evil god and helps our protagonists fulfill Quest - X, defeat Evil god and go home. How often do we question not Divinity but the very nature and right of Divinity to have control over us. I am not speaking of or as an Atheist, someone who has no belief in the divine for whatever reason, but as someone who DOES believe that there exists, in some way or another, that there is a measure of Universal Divinity. Its an interesting concept, that of Man standing against God, and it is one that has not gained a real foothold in contemporary belief and Myth.
A Nation on Fire
Now on to a much more touchy subject. Clearly, as can been seen in RPGnet's tangency, there is a wide range of opinion on the war in general and the role of men and women on both sides with regard to who is and is not the Hero? Well we are not here to discuss the war per se but to debate Heroes and Heroics.
So I am going to pose a series of examples and give my opinions of why He or She is or is not a Hero and open it for debate by your replies. I will attempt to be as accurate as I can, forgive me if facts change or have changed at some point.
Coalition Military Personnel: Are they all Heroes? Probably not though I certainly personally appreciate the sacrifices they have made on my behalf. They are going there to keep us safe you say? Well that's there job and although I think American soldiers are Heroes for the most part because they are volunteers, I am sure others have a different opinion on that/
Jessica Lynch. Well I dunno but she is my Hero. She single handedly changed me from a "Women should not be in combat" hardcore guy to a "All Americans should fight" kind of person. Go Jessica.
The Iraqi lawyer who essentially saved her? No question here. The man risked his life not only with regard to the Iraqi forces but the Americans might now have believed him and then imprisoned him. To say nothing of the risk to his wife and daughter. Also, as a side bar, was there not a comment attributed to him about how he loved his wife and daughter? I thought all Arab/Muslim men despised women? Guess I was wrong about that and maybe we should not believe everything we hear and read...
Surrendering Iraqi soldiers? Cowards? I do not think so, I do think they are Heroes to an extent because if even half of what we hear about Saddam and his regime is true, then they are risking more by surrendering then by fighting.
Iraqi soldiers still fighting? Well I will say this, if you are a every day Iraqi who truly believes that the Coalition is a bunch of invaders and your still fighting? I think your mistaken but I do think you're a Hero. Why? Well, because your losing badly and conventional wisdom would be to give up. Instead you choose to fight the Storm that is the Coalition war machine. I hope you live to see that you may have been mistaken about the Coalition intentions.
Iraqi Homicide/Suicide Bombers? That's tough, though if your friend or family member has been killed by one of these, I can easily see where they would not be Heroes. Some are forced and some are true believers but the very idea of driving a car into enemy soldiers and blowing it up is a waste of a military resource i.e. soldiers and explosives. So I say no.
Pro/Anti War Protesters. Well let me just say this: Vote or Volunteer but get the frell off of my damn street so I can go to work and keep the country going. Nough said on that.
The above list is far from complete but we see a wide range of people acting, but action alone does not make you a Hero. (2)
So in our last Column, we will wrap the whole mess up and bring everything to a conclusion. Again, all feedback is good feedback and the more you discuss, even if you do not agree, the better we all are.
1. Information gleaned from Encyclopedia of World Mythology. Editor: Arthur Cotterel, pages 248-256. Also check out http://www.marekinc.com/CultureartsREG012801.html for more information.