by SL ROSS - 2018 - The mere thought of one's hero lifts the spirit, enlivens the heart, illumines the mind, and rouses the body to move courageously into previously unknown territories. Heroes inspire ordinary people through the trials of transformation because they demonstrate it is possible to emerge as triumphant; to inhabit valuable capacities while still being mortal.
Scholars and untrained people alike have gained considerable understanding about the making of heroes (van Gennep, 1909/1960; Eliade, 1958/2005; Campbell, 1968; Turner, 1969; Franco and Zimbardo,2006; Allison et al., 2017; Ross, 2017), and yet our collective knowledge of “how heroes are created…remains a critical area of future research” (Jayawickreme and di Stefano, 2012, p. 174). Because transformation is the means through which heroes are made, a more thorough understanding of the forces affecting transformation, may advance collective understanding of the demands upon the individual. Specifically, it is not known if the process of transforming from ordinary person to hero follows the laws of nature that govern human development, causing heroic aspirations to be within everyone's grasp. Or, if heroism is a progression beyond nature (supernatural), a transcendental process that only the fortunate can apprehend. Or, a combination of the two possibilities. Furthermore, the progression to become a hero constitutes human advancement and as such, it is plausible that the hero will, one day, endeavor once again to transcend all that she knows. If she does, will she remain a hero in the eyes of those who love her or advance and become a superhero and if so, how will we distinguish her? One postulation suggests that super heroism is not simply a fantasy but a certainty; that the average person is “a transitional being….not final….the step from man to superman is the next approaching achievement in the earth's evolution” (Sri Aurobindo, 1972, p. 7).
This article contributes to the literature gap on how heroes are created by exploring the following proposition: heroism and human transformation require evolutionary processes that are both natural (limited to the laws of nature) and supernatural (above nature, pertaining to the Divine). Together, these produce a hero: a human who is literally part natural and part supernatural. This analysis draws upon discourse in depth psychology (Jung, 1988), anthropology (Turner, 1969), mythology (Campbell, 1968), Hindu spirituality (Sri Aurobindo, 1972), physics (Prigogine, 1997), and the Hermetic Sciences (Eberly, 2004). This inquest contains three main sections: (1) a discussion of select concepts and terms pertaining to the qualities and movement of evolution, natural, and supernatural phenomena as related to transformation; (2) an explanation of the timing, in terms of when transformation processes are governed by nature, when the hero must grow beyond nature and act with super-natural capacities, and when Divine forces intervene; and finally, (3) a conceptualization of evolution from novice, to hero, to superman or superwoman, as achieved through three substantial transformations of biopsychosocial maturation and spiritual realization.
Evolution as it pertains to transformation
Because initiates become heroes through transformation, and transformation results in a refined, more evolved creature, it is useful to review some fundamental concepts related to the purpose and movements of evolution. Each point will be elaborated in a later discussion. First, what is the initiate evolving from and toward? Philosopher and teacher G. I. Gurdjieff explains, “In order to know one cosmos [reality], it is necessary to know the two adjoin cosmoses” (Ouspensky, 1949/2001, p. 206). Ancient and modern cosmologies and depth psychology uphold an ontology that humans have access to and can even exist (albeit for most, unconsciously) within three worlds: the world of matter within which we live; a lower or inner world that can be qualified as the shadow, underworld, darkness, or subconscious; and an upper, celestial, heavenly world of a higher or increased consciousness (Ouspensky, 1949/2001; Sri Aurobindo, 1972; Jung, 1988).
Second, what aspect of the initiate is evolving or transforming? Seminal authors across diverse disciplines agree that the transforming feature is primarily the initiate's consciousness (Ouspensky, 1949/2001; Newman,1978; Jung, 1988; Wilber, 1996; Prigogine, 1997), which is defined here as a force or power comprised of two binary capacities or compositions: discrimination and unity (Sri Aurobindo, 1972). These two capacities cause a dynamic tension—an individual possessing consciousness will have capacities to discriminate between that which is self and that which is not self. Prior to consciousness, the entity projects self onto objects, and there is no distinction between self and object. The projection, due to a lack of consciousness, is the seed of all opposites, including the notion of good and evil. Despite these abilities of division, a person with consciousness will also be able to sense through division and experience the unity inherent in all, and will be able to unify perceptions and self (Sri Aurobindo, 1972; Jung, 1988).
Third, what is the context within which the initiate is developing? East Indian spiritual teacher and author Sri Aurobindo offers an understanding of the evolution of the universe that also describes the evolution of individual consciousness as an inevitable and natural process. According to Aurobindo, all of existence is an eternal and infinite “Unmanifested Supreme” (Sri Aurobindo, 1972, p. 24), the Divine or God identified by many religious and secular names across time. In this Unmanifested state, the original Divine (a substance-force) initiated evolution that began with involution: a descent of itself as consciousness into matter (Ouspensky, 1949/2001, p. 134). When consciousness emerged out of unconscious matter for the first time, the world split into an endless assortment of pairs of opposites. Once consciousness arrived into the lowest point, into all of the darkest, most unconscious, inert, and motionless of substances on earth, it began a great, slow ascent outward and upward, liberating the “latent indwelling spirit” existing within matter (Sri Aurobindo, 1972, p. 19). Because consciousness is moved by its impulse to emerge (Wautischer, 2008, p. 476) from that within which it dwells, everything in existence will eventually blossom because the Divine “aspires to become its real self by transcending its apparent self” (Sri Aurobindo, 1972, p. 53). From these perspectives, the impulse to transcend, go beyond the known self, is impelled by an evolutionary compulsion.
This explanation of evolution supports Jung's proposition that “All initiations we know by history or by experience are the external manifestation of a natural inner process which is always happening” (italics added; Jung, 1988, p. 236). Like nature, Jung explains, a person's unconscious mental faculties are in “a process of continuous transformation” (p. 236) of which nothing is realized because the unconscious material is not made conscious:
No crops are brought home by nature; only the consciousness of man knows about crops. He gathers the apples under the trees for they simply disintegrate if left to themselves. And that is true of our unconscious mental process: it revolves within itself. It builds up and it pulls down; it integrates and disintegrates—and then integrates again. (p. 236)
Here Jung describes rhythms of nature and uses the word integration to describe an organic process where life coagulates to produce fruit—different from integration as a psychospiritual process of incorporating experience and energy into the psyche and body. Jung (1988) identifies the continuous ebb and flow of creation as unconscious, “a building up and pulling down, integration and disintegration without end” (p. 236); the birth-death-rebirth succession that “needs our conscious interference to bring it to a goal….Otherwise, it is like the eternal change of the seasons in nature…from which nothing comes unless a human consciousness interferes and realizes the result” (p. 237); by the harvesting of crops. Jung's analogy demonstrates how the initiate can actively engage in her own evolution by paying attention to her inner world and by contemplating and incorporating insights—as they arise and emerge from the unconscious—into her ontology, her experience of what is real or true.
In a context of growth, as caused by a descent of consciousness into matter and an emergence of consciousness out of matter, the hero-initiate is innately compelled to become conscious, to allow consciousness to emerge from within. Evolution causes the initiate to grow, learn, and encounter life-changing experiences—albeit unconsciously at first—and to eventually become a master herself, a hero. The drive to learn and grow, to become a healthier, happier, more triumphant self is, according to these perspectives, the impulse that drives and enables the initiate to be grounded in and limited to the middle or natural world, able to sink inward to the lower world or shadow, and also to rise beyond (or above) the self into the upper world or Divine. In order to set the four “super-natural” abilities necessary for this process of hero-transformation, I first describe four rules of nature that support and delimit the initiate.
Rules of Nature Affecting Hero-Transformation
Humans view activity as supernatural (above nature) when the action does not comply with the “laws of nature,” but those laws are part of a particular perspective. From the outlook of the lower world, our own (middle) world is above or beyond what is natural, and from the viewpoint of the world above human life—the supernatural realm—ours appears lower or unconscious. With this distinction in mind, this section reviews four “rules” of nature (as viewed from the realm of matter) that influence and constrain the hero. These “rules” in particular serve as the source of the hero's earth-bound humanness. The hero is restricted in that, in the end, the hero remains human and yet the task is to apprehend the undifferentiated Divine; meaning humans are “rendered frustrate by the very organs through which the apprehension must be accomplished (Campbell, 1968, p. 258).
The first relevant “rule” of nature, as shown by the Nobel Prize winning theory of Dissipative Structures, states that chaos is critical to the transformation of a system—that “dynamical instability provides only those conditions necessary to generate evolutionary patterns of nature” (Prigogine, 1997, p. 128). Just as elements of the universe transform through chaos, so too must the initiate enter “dynamical instability” or personal challenges in order to transform. Interestingly, this theory shows how matter that is close to equilibrium (a period of peaceful balance) is “‘blind,ș but far from equilibrium…[in the midst of chaos or liminal state] it begins to ‘see”ș (p. 67). This knowledge translates into social science (Prigogine, 1997), and in a heroism context, indicates that the hero-transformation process must include instability and disequilibrium.
The second “rule” of nature relevant to transformation is that the initiate is continuously affected by unforeseen circumstances arising from the unconscious self, best described by Gurdjieff as “the law of accident” (Ouspensky, 1949/2001, p. 199). In this esoteric teaching, humans who are unconscious (i.e., not awakened in consciousness) are subject to moment-by-moment encounters with incidents and activities that arise organically, due to pure chance. For example, an individual might have a plan to go to the grocery store, but later visit a relative when unforeseen circumstances arise—her car needed more gasoline, the store was out of the item she needed, and it began to rain heavily—all of which caused a delay in her plans. Gurdjieff states that an unconscious individual maintains an illusion of having the ability set a goal and achieve tasks and aspirations, when in actuality, she is at the mercy of myriads of circumstances, none of which is within her control. This ontology is similar to what Jung referred to as the “building up and pulling down” (1988, p. 236) referred to earlier, meaning the unconscious ebb and flow of creation. Inclusive of the “law of accident” are the two phases of nature, variously described as “ascending and descending….contraction and expansion” (Burckhardt, 1997, p. 44), integration and disintegration” (Jung, 1988, p. 1402), and “dissolution and coagulation” (Burckhardt, 1997, p. 123). As a part of nature, humans participate in these continuous movements of the “undulating sea of the unconscious” (Burckhardt, 1997, p. 153). The potential is for the hero-initiate to transform to the degree that she supersedes the law of accident, which allows her to live deliberatively, co-creating her moment-to-moment living.
A third “rule” pervades all levels of existence and is integral to the heroic journey: the primordial cycle of life, death, and rebirth. The anthropologist Eliade (1958/2005) explains that the desire to transform is “far more than the obscure desire of every human soul to renew itself periodically” rather, the desire to transform is embedded in universal passages of life-death-rebirth, just “as the cosmos is renewed” (p. 135). This cycle is exhibited in the “two phases of nature,” which are “dissolution and coagulation,” where new life dissolves until it's death and coagulates to reform new life. This universal cycle sustains the movement of physical and psychological realms that encumber shifting from darkness into light and back again into darkness.
The ubiquitous Daoist symbol Yin Yang depicts this natural rhythm using symbols of the Chinese classic Book of Changes, known as the I-Ching. As Jung explains, in this philosophy,
Yang eats the Yin, and from the Yang, Yin is reborn; it bursts forth again, and then Yin envelops the Yang, and so on. That is the course of nature. ….spirit eats the flesh and then the flesh eats the spirit. (emphasis added; Jung, 1988, p. 67)
The alchemical symbol of the snake eating its tail, ourobóros, reflects the cyclical nature of the endless drawing together of creation into a substance and then dissolving back unto itself (van der Sluijs and Peratt,2009). Sometimes depicted as a circle or an infinity shape, it is also a symbol of individuation and exemplifies wholeness as exhibited in the Model of a Complete Transformation (Ross, 2017).
The fourth and most concrete “rule” is that the hero has physical (mental and emotional) limitations and as such, she depends upon the earth and others, to survive. Humans have naturally occurring personal weaknesses, which they may or may not overcome. It has been suggested that that the body, mind, and psyche must be made ready for transformation—that a person cannot withstand transformation unless she advances her holistic health through disciplined action (Ouspensky, 1949/2001; Sri Aurobindo,1972; Jung, 1988). In the end, our frailties—the aspects of self of which we are less capable—define our humanness. Although “nature seeks and demands a gradual attainment of perfection, and a gradual approximation to the highest standard of purity and excellence” (Henry,1893/2012, p. 16), the imperfection existing in the realm of matter—and in us all as human beings—remains critically grounding. Our limitations can indeed be our commonality, what connects us one to another as humans. Accepting weaknesses helps the hero-initiate not only to cultivate compassion and humility, but also to develop supernatural capacities that transform limitations into strengths. By knowing and accepting her humanness, the initiate is poised to develop skills to go above or beyond nature, into the super-natural...
Philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche named his teacher Superman, a being who Jung states is, in hermetic terms, “a new unit called the rotundum, the roundness, or the round complete thing” (Jung, 1988, p. 1401) that is “the being that can be created by man's making a heroic endeavor to create something beyond himself” (Jung, 1988, p. 49). Hermetic science refers to the one who is self-realized as a master, magisteria (Leicester and Klickstein, 1952, p. 22), or philosopher's stone (Nietzsche, 1961). Although the stone is one entity, it is “called Rebis (two-thing), being composed of…a body and spirit by which the body is dissolved into a spirit” (emphasis added; Henry, 1893/2012, p. 12). Regardless of the name assigned to the new version of human—the transhuman, redeemer, saint, god-man, arhat, rotundum, magisteria, philosopher's stone, Rebis, King or Queen, or superhero—it is certain that she is an entirely new human. The transformed individual is one but consists of two: human and superhuman. Said in a different way,
Everything existing phenomenally or, as we shall say, symbolically, two parts, the thing in itself and the symbol, Self and nature, res (thing that is) and factum (thing that is made), immutable being and mutable becoming, that which is supernatural in it and that which is natural. (Sri Aurobindo,1972, p. 52)
As exhibited in this paper, the two-thing—the human-superhuman—lives in three worlds, the lower, middle, and upper. When an initiate realizes a complete transformation, an entire Figure-8 for the first time, the process places them in relationship with three realms of the lower, middle earthly, and upper.
... which have been explored by Jung (1988), Turner (1969), Eliade (1958/2005), Ouspensky (1949/2001) and Sri Aurobindo (1963/1990), among others. We must also examine thoroughly the contextual elements, what is natural and above nature, that affect the process. Just as an oceanographer must know meteorology and astronomy to better know the ocean, I uphold that to study heroism means we also scrutinize the forces that act upon the initiate during transformation. Following this line of thought, this paper has been so devised.
Founded on the scholarship of seminal authors of depth psychology (Jung,1988), Hindu spirituality (Sri Aurobindo, 1972), anthropology (Turner,1969), physics (Prigogine, 1997), Hermetic science (Eberly, 2004), mythology (Campbell, 1968), and other disciplines, this paper demystifies how an ordinary person becomes a hero by deconstructing the characteristics of transformation as a key function of human psychospiritual evolution.