by Sharon Blackie
In my book If Women Rose Rooted, I described what I called an ‘Eco-Heroine’s Journey’: a kind of antidote to the swashbuckling, all-conquering hero who defines the action-adventure called the ‘Hero’s Journey’, which was first proposed by American mythologist Joseph Campbell several decades ago. In his book The Hero with a Thousand Faces, Campbell suggested that the world’s most important mythological stories share a common framework: they all involve a hero – who happens to be a person of exceptional gifts, which may or may not be recognised by his society. He, or someone he loves, or the world in which he lives, suffers from a symbolic deficiency (in a fairy tale, for example, it might be a missing ring of power, or a bucket of water from the well at the world’s end). He must then set out on a great adventure to find the missing treasure and bring it back to the world he left.
The notion of the Hero’s Journey is linear, all-conquering and world-saving. It’s derived from the intensely individualistic, human-centric cultural mythology that has us firmly in its grip. It’s reflected in our cultural worship of the hero: the individual who rises above all others. The most popular books and movies today are profoundly heroic in nature.
In contrast, the Eco-Heroine’s Journey I wrote about in If Women Rose Rooted was, I suggested, a path to understanding how deeply enmeshed we are in the web of life on this planet. Unlike the Hero’s Journey, it has no grandiose focus on saving the world. ‘This path forces us first to examine ourselves and the world we live in, to face up to all that is broken and dysfunctional in it and in our own lives. Then it calls us to change – first ourselves, and then the world around us. It leads us back to our own sense of grounded belonging to this Earth, and asks us what we have to offer to the places and communities in which we live. Finally, it requires us to step into our own power and take back our ancient, native role as its guardians and protectors. To rise up rooted, like trees.’
You could describe the Eco-Heroine’s Journey I proposed in If Women Rose Rooted, then, as a ‘post-heroic journey’ – based on the premise that we really should be over the Hero’s Journey in today’s challenged and challenging world. It was a woman’s journey, based on a woman’s way of being in the world – but what would a post-heroic journey look like for a ‘hero’ – for a man?
The truth is, there are many similarities. The post-heroic journey which we could call the Eco-Hero’s Journey might not include that ancient identification with the Earth which is the province of women in most indigenous mythologies, including our own – but it certainly incorporates a role as protector and steward of that Earth, and of the specific patch of land we live on. It eschews ego and personal glory for community spirit and a commitment to preserving all life on this beautiful planet. It might include the ‘eco-warrior’ archetype, but it might also involve the compassionate and mature wisdom of the ageing king. It balances the wisdom which Campbell’s Hero has achieved on his journey – a wisdom which is almost entirely ‘transcendental’ and ‘cosmic’ – with a wisdom which is grounded, rooted and earthy. Campbell declared that, ‘Not the animal world, not the plant world, not the miracle of the spheres, but man himself is now the crucial mystery.’ But, several decades on, in our endless self-obsession we have clearly lost sight of the ‘crucial mystery’ – which is not man, and is not humankind – but rather an understanding of our place in the wider web of life on this beautiful and mysterious Earth. That is the post-heroic journey, whichever gender you might happen to identify with.
We’re looking for a few eco-heroines and eco-heroes to feature on The Hedge School blog. In If Women Rose Rooted, I shared the stories of quite a few: activists, herbalists, poets, craftspeople, and people who work directly on or with the land. People who can show us ways of being in the world which are connected and soulful; people who’ve eschewed the destructive, materialistic values of the society we live in, and traded them for a life of service to the Earth. If there’s anyone you’d like to suggest we interview, please join the conversation, and leave a comment below. We hope you enjoy the series!
Featured image by Gina Litherland