The Hero Within
Carol S Pearson
Pearson describes her influential bestseller as ‘an operating manual for the psyche’. She has said that she wrote it for ordinary people who feel they could live extraordinary lives, and convincingly sets out to show how harnessing the power of mythic archetypes (for example, the Warrior, the Altruist) is a key to personal transformation.
The Hero Within is no learned treatise, but its sheer accessibility has made Jungian archetypal psychology understood by a popular audience. Apart from Jung, Pearson admits her large debt to Joseph Campbell, the mythologist who made popular the idea of ‘the hero’s journey’ (see The Power of Myth) and James Hillman (The Soul's Code).
Carl Jung pioneered the idea of archetypes, described as ‘imprints of possibility’ which are available for everyone to access. Consider Pearson’s six archetypes, which she discusses in detail:
Ever felt betrayed, abandoned, victimised? Pearson tells us not to despair, for such experiences are a 'mythic event calling you to the quest'. In many myths and stories, the hero overcomes their background to rise up and live a rich life. Cinderella has a wicked stepmother and is treated as a servant, Oedipus as a newborn was left on a hillside to die, and Dickens' David Copperfield must escape the horrible orphanage.
We are all born in innocence, but the job of the orphan is to face life head-on instead of becoming attached to the victim mindset and states of dependency. You have integrated your Orphan when you stop craving protection and security, and are willing to let others be freer as well; when you can balance wariness with hope, avoiding the conclusion that 'life is suffering'. You know about pain, but you also assert that it is not everything.
The Wanderer becomes central when we feel misunderstood, alienated, or are cast into an unknown situation. It is a call to move into another life that is less restricting and more 'us'. The Wanderer sees life as an adventure, symbolised by the knight, the explorer, the cowboy or the hippie who hits the road, but the impulse for new frontiers applies to the mind and heart as well as the physical world.
The archetype may make itself known in adolescence, when we start to look objectively at our place within the family and community, but another key point is mid-life, when many people reject being 'responsible performance machines'. Even if a person realises that their sanctuary has become their cage, the call to be a Wanderer may cause guilt feelings. If you choose to no longer take on the protector role, who will? The vital question for the Wanderer is whether they are simply escaping from trouble, or searching for a new self. The call to wander may mean painful breaks and terrifying leaps into the unknown, but without them we don't grow.
Pearson says it is possible to tap into the 'intense aliveness' and force of this archetype without becoming a mindless aggressor. Perhaps because of its negative image, many will have avoided taking on aspects of the Warrior. Without it though, we are weakened. The Orphan or the Innocent may fear the Warrior archetype and the changes it may wreak in them, but sometimes it becomes clear that we have to take a stand, and in these situations only the Warrior will do. By embracing it, we don't become a monster, but in fact open up to 'the dance of life' as Pearson phrases it.
Archetypal poet Robert Bly (see Iron John) perfectly sums up the worth of the archetype: 'Each time we use the warrior well, we are not so much fighting battles as awakening the King.' The Warrior of today is less in competition with enemies than they are with themselves, aiming to vanquish personal limitations and achieve excellence. Instead of advantage over others, the new Warrior seeks better and more creative solutions.
In a Warrior culture, achievement is everything, yet we all like to be valued as people, separate to our achievements. Subtract the people in society who work for nothing, who give out love and care without expectation of getting it back, and it would not be much of a society. We need to have a larger meaning to guide our actions, so that they do not come simply from a desire for personal power or money - this is the worth of the Altruist.
The negative side of the archetype is unnecessary sacrifice. Many people will go through their lives giving up their own ambitions and desires for the sake of others, yet sacrifice often goes unrewarded, and can be taken for granted. The Altruist symbolises giving and abundance, but only that type of giving which you are passionate about, not what you think the world expects of you.
Though we are born innocent, part of us continues to look for Utopian possibilities, despite all the contrary 'reality' we come across. We can return to this place, Pearson says, but only after we have taken our own heroic journeys. In Paulo Coehlo's fable The Alchemist, for instance, the character Santiago finds his treasure chest only after a series of life-enriching adventures. The sense of trust in the universe that we had as infants can be regained by reawakening the Innocent.
While the Warrior learns that 'life is all up to me', the Innocent lives on a cushion of faith and belief in the essential abundance of the universe. The Warrior believes that life is a race against time, in competition with others for limited resources, but the Innocent believes that synchronicity will provide whatever is needed.
The Magician sees life in a similar way to the Innocent, but claims more power. While the Innocent will trust the universe to make things happen, the Magician will be a more active change-maker Magicians are willing to take a stand, even if it is risky or revolutionary. Yet, unlike the Warrior, they also give up the illusion of total control over their lives, and in doing so take on an ability to read the flow and move with greater effect. This is why they can appear to do 'magical' things. In their personal journeys, Magicians have allowed themselves to be transformed, and the reward is power. Famous Magicians include Gandhi and Martin Luther King.
Pearson’s most interesting observation is her belief that we are moving from a Warrior to a Magician culture. The former is characterised by the ethos of ‘getting ahead’, even if what we get ceases to mean much or do us much good. The Magician is more open to change and transformation, less set in its ways, and instead of trying to be a winner in the existing, less than perfect world, is willing to create a new world. Where Warriors strategise, using will and tenacity to make change, the Magician envisions, believing that the power of the vision will create its own momentum. Which is better? To the extent that the Magician is enlisting forces greater than himself, Magician-ship would ultimately seem more powerful. Most people would prefer to produce magic than fight battles.
The original Hero Within was published in 1986. Later editions show how readers can adapt and integrate the archetypes into their everyday lives, and have contemporary references, but if you can only find the original edition, don’t worry - the essential part of the book is appreciating the archetypes, which are not subject to a lot of change.
Source: 50 Self-Help Classics: 50 Inspirational Books To Transform Your Life by Tom Butler-Bowdon (London & Boston: Nicholas Brealey).
Pearson grew up in a fundamentalist Christian family in the American South. In College, the reading of Joseph Campbell’s Hero With a Thousand Faces changed her life. Taking up the book’s suggestion to ‘follow your bliss’, she immersed herself in writings on mythology and archetypal psychology, and eventually turned her knowledge in these areas into a career. Pearson wrote The Hero Within while on sabbatical from the University of Maryland, where she taught in the Women’s Studies Program.
A long-time corporate consultant, Pearson has written Magic At Work: Camelot, Creative Leadership and Everyday Miracles (with Sharon Seivert, 1995) and founded the Center for Archetypal Studies and Applications in Washington, D.C. Her book The Hero And The Outlaw is an application of archetypal psychology to product branding. In 2015 Pearson publishes Persephone Rising: Awakening the Heroine Within.
For more information see www.herowithin.com
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