Tag Archives: hero

Heroes and Monsters

I suspect most of us want to be heroes. We want to be the sort of person who stands up to the bully, tells the abuser they are out of order, maybe even the person who punches Nazis. There’s a great feeling to be had when you’re fighting the good fight, righteously doing the things that need doing. It feels powerful, and exciting, and wonderful. And you get to kick someone else while holding the moral high ground.

I’ve been the monster in this scenario, several times now. I’ve been the bad and wrong thing that deserved kicking, and I’ve had people kick me when from my perspective, I was already down and bleeding. I’ve had people kick me and tell me how proud of themselves they were for standing up to me. I’ve had people attack me for talking about depression, anxiety, pain and despair. I’ve been told what an awful, mean, bullying, unfair, unreasonable sort of person I am. I’ve had people try to cost me my day job on that basis. Were they right? I wondered at the time. I tend to take criticism to heart, because I’m nasty and unreasonable like that.

The desire to be heroic can leave a person wide open to certain kinds of manipulation. I’ve seen it done. And I’ll pause and salute the courage of one person who, having realised they’d been manipulated into attacking me, came back and apologised.

It’s easy to tone police the vulnerable person whose language you dislike rather than going after the system oppressing them. A notorious problem when white feminists deal with women of colour, for example. It’s easier to go after the ally who isn’t completely perfect than to go after perpetrators of the problem. It’s easier to go after people who have no power, than to go after the ones who do. Safer, too, because the people with no power can’t really defend themselves or do you any real harm, whereas those with power, can.

It’s important to look at what we’re being persuaded to do when the opportunity comes along to be heroic. Put your body in the way of the fracking machines? That’s heroism. Call out an actual bully who has the power to harm you? That is brave. The odds are if you wade into a fight, you won’t know everything that’s going on. If you’re on the bully-kicking team, and the bully just lies there, whimpering, if you knock down without consequences, if your righteous indignation looks poised to wreck someone’s life… pause and look at that power balance. Ask whether the response is proportional. Ask whether you’re sure the person you’re taking apart really deserves that.

Taking down abusive people who are in places of power is difficult, hazardous work, and often has a high cost for those doing it. If the takedown feels safe and easy, if the ‘bully’ can’t really do anything to stop you, if you can shame and blame and hurt and humiliate them with impunity… there are questions to ask.

Of course it is true that people with no power can be mean, spiteful, horrible and so forth. Is the first port of call on discovering this to trash them in every way possible? Or should we be trying to talk to them about what the problem is? Should we consider that education, insecurity, inexperience, incompetence might be part of the mix, rather than malice? Should we try to help them not do it again rather than going for psychological warfare?

Because the thing is, it takes very little effort to call someone a bully, especially if you have no reason to fear them. I’ve been called a bully for saying no, for disagreeing, and for not co-operating. I’ve been called a bully for complaining about how I was being treated, when I found that treatment unkind. For people who are really wrapped up in their privilege, a challenge to comfort and ego will be re-branded as bullying. It is not bullying to tell men that women are afraid of being raped. It is not bullying to prevent one person using another person as a resource. But these are things that I have seen called out, because some people can’t handle discomfort and prefer to blame the messenger. Feeling discomfort is not the same as being bullied.

If we want to tackle bullying, we have to do so by not perpetrating it. It’s easy to go in guns blazing, and when you do, it is easy to blame, shame hurt and humiliate people who have been victims all along, and that really doesn’t help.

The Clottabussed Hero’s Journey

I’m on a mission to imagine as many different kinds of ‘hero’ journeys as I can at the moment. So, this week it falls to the clottabussed hero. The term ‘clottabussed’ comes from Matlock the Hare, a series of books where the lead character is most certainly on a clotabussed hero’s journey.

The clotabussed hero does not set out to be heroic. They’d probably prefer to be doing something else. They aren’t especially competitive folk, and this is in no small part because they have no stand out abilities. They are never fantastically clever, they aren’t gifted with anything much except their good natures and their desire to do the right thing. Harry Potter, Bill and Ted, Sam Gamgee, these are classic clottabussed heroes.

In many ways, the clottabussed hero is much closer to us than the overtly heroic, dragon slaying, maiden rescuing hero. They end up doing things because those things really need doing, and no one else will, or they do it by accident, or in their ineptitude accidentally trigger the thing that causes someone else to save the world, or foil the plot, or whatever it is. One of the greatest strengths of the clottabussed hero is that most of us can see ourselves in them, and within their stories, it’s their shortcomings that often endear them to those who might help.

The clottabussed hero’s journey is always one of collaboration, because they have neither the wit nor the means to go it alone. Their good natures and willingness to admit cluelessness means help comes to them. They may work in teams with other equally inept but well meaning figures (Labyrinth springs to mind; confused and useless Sarah would be lost, literally, without her team). A great deal of good natured comedy can be extracted from the clottabussed hero, and they don’t tend to mind the laughs at their expense, because they don’t have much ego, and know that they’re all too likely to make a mess of things.

Along the way, big events can happen, but they aren’t essential. The clottabussed heroes of fairytales end up doing things like pulling up enormous turnips, mistaking vegetables for eggs and hares for baby horses, they have to stop their own magic porridge pots from overflowing and drowning the village. However, most of them find friendship and a sense of place in the world. Their cats sort their lives out for them. By the end of the story, the clottabussed hero is in a place of gratitude, appreciating friends, comrades and helpers, conscious they couldn’t have done it alone, but also aware that they may be better than they first thought.

The Hero of Campbell-style hero’s journeys gets to the end and has to figure out how to get back and fit in with their tribe again. The coming back is hard for them, and they feel misunderstood. The clottabussed hero comes home like Dorothy ‘there’s no place like home’ to hug all the people who look very much like the folk who helped her with the adventure. Dorothy is a fine example here – she doesn’t mean to thwart witches or bring down dodgy leaders, she just wants to go home.

In thinking about this blog, it dawned on me that Owen from www.hopelessmaine.com fits this kind of model. He’s not especially clever, has no magical skills (although he learns to make talisman and the like). He seldom knows what to do, but he’s a good team player and he means well.

If Women Rose Rooted

I’ve spent rather a lot of the last week slowly reading and thinking about Sharon Blackie’s book, If Women Rose Rooted. It’s a fascinating mix of autobiography, Celtic mythology, the stories of modern women, and the idea of the heroine’s journey.

I’ve read some Joseph Campbell, and he’s certainly very interesting, but the reduction of all story down to this idea of a hero’s journey has never agreed with me. Story should mean more than this, surely? I’ve never been able to see myself in the hero’s journey, not even when Martin Shaw reworked it so beautifully in his book ‘Snowy Tower’.

Before this starts to sound like a gender issue, I should flag up that the point at which I really started thinking about multiple narratives, was when, in 2013, I interviewed Ronald Hutton for the Moon Books blog (http://moon-books.net/blogs/ronald-hutton/) Hearing him talk about story and interpretation at the PF Wessex conference recently means this has been on my mind.

Stories shape who we are, and where we are going. What we say and how we say it can define a culture. The stories of the hero’s journey – as Sharon Blackie illustrates – are stories of adventure and conquest, triumph and dominance. These are the stories that celebrate ‘power over’, competition and winning. These stories underpin capitalism and the destructive exploitation of the planet.

I found Sharon Blackie’s book to be a fascinating and rewarding read, full of ideas that resonated with me and lessons I needed to learn. Even so, I’m not going to rush out and restyle my life along the lines of the heroine’s journey either. It’s just too gendered for me. Too defined.

What I am going to do is keep thinking about those other story shapes. There have to be other ways of writing and other kinds of stories to tell. We’ve got used to certain forms and habits in stories, certain shapes and underlying ideas about what a story should be. Not least, we favour stories that are tidy, with clear endings, clear meanings, with winners and losers. I guess people have been telling these kinds of stories for a long time, but perhaps not forever.

More about the book here – https://ifwomenroserooted.com/

No martyrdom in Druidry?

I have on a number of occasions described Druidry as a tradition which does not reward or encourage martyrdom. There are no tales of Druid martyrs, and there is no encouragement to suffer. Except…

I’ve also been thinking lately about how many Celtic stories feature heroic death. Heroism was celebrated in many of our ancestral cultures – the Germanic and Scandinavian peoples were big on it too. Proper heroes risk death, for a cause, for the tribe, for glory, to uphold their honour… and may well encounter it.

Martyrdom and heroism both work on the same basic principle that acting well and upholding your beliefs regardless of the risk or cost, is more important that whether you suffer or die. We tend to see martyrdom in religious terms and heroism as more worldly, but when your spiritual path doesn’t separate the spiritual from the physical, that division isn’t worth much. Heroism suggests personal glory, martyrdom is supposed to be more self effacing… except I think we know that doesn’t hold up because religions with martyrdom elements celebrate their martyrs.

It’s not even clarified by the issue of death – yes, martyrs normally die for the cause, but the Celts invented the White Martyrdom – leaving your ancestral community for the church, which was such a huge personal sacrifice that it counted as a form of martyrdom.

In fact, regardless of which term you favour, ‘sacrifice’ or the willingness to be sacrificed is definitely part of the deal.

‘Martyr’ can be flung as an insult where ‘hero’ lends itself far less. Calling someone a martyr can imply needless suffering, a form of attention seeking, smugness, holier than thou attitudes and other less desirable things. To make ‘hero’ an insult depends on using it ironically, and does not come so easily, I find.

Both are social constructs. If no one is looking who cares as you bleed to death, you will be neither hero, nor martyr, just corpse.

I realise that I would like to be heroic. I would like to do potent, risky things for good causes. I would gladly risk my life to protect others, or to make the world a better place, but there’s just not much call for that where I am. I know other parts of the world could use heroes, but my lack of language skill, physical prowess and political insight are something of a barrier. Dying uselessly for a cause has never seems that appealing. And so, unable to express anything heroic, I step up to things that look a lot more like martyrdom. Things that come into my life as slow exercises in being stripped of skin and bled dry. It’s not proper martyrdom, because there is no one to celebrate it, the way (for example) the quiet martyrdom of many mothers of small children goes unnoticed. The martyrdom of those who go without in small ways so that others can have what they need.

It might, on the whole, be a lot easier for me if Druidry did offer a martyrdom tradition that would allow me to feel differently about what I end up doing. The concept of martyrdom can, at least, convey a degree of dignity and nobility to situations that are otherwise entirely devoid of those things.