Leonardo Boff and the hero’s death
Author: Walter Boechat
I wrote this article after participating in the XIX Congress of IAAP – International Association for Analytical Psychology in Copenhagen, Denmark, in August 2013. The Congress was attended by Leonardo Boff, participation applauded by over seven hundred participants from around the world. His presence was due to the proposal by Luigi Zoja, an ex-president of IAAP and myself. to invite Leonardo Boff to join IAAP as an honorary member. The proposal was accepted with enthusiasm. The president of IAAP, Joseph Cambray, said in his speech that the IAAP was honored to have Leonardo Boff as a member.
Leonardo Boff spoke recalling his relations with the family of C. G. Jung and his participation in the Brazilian edition of the Collected Works of C. G. Jung.
On several occasions during the Congress, I talked with Leonardo Boff on current issues of international policy, including the question of the extreme arrogance and lack of the sense of limits of modern industrialized countries that affects us directly. The theme of arrogance had already been approached by Luigi Zoja in his book “Growth and Guilt: Psychology and the limits of development”, Routledge.
This theme is tied to another topic: the problem of the hero’s death. The hero since ancient times receives positive associations as a paragon of virtue and exemplary human action. For example, the Sumerian hero Gilgamesh accompanied by his friend Enkidu destroyed Humbaba, the monster guardian of the cedar forests. Gilgamesh had his epic written in cuneiform tablets, the first written record in human history, some five thousand years old. Gilgamesh was called a builder of walls. These walls of the fortified city of Uruk (the origin of the name of Iraq) can be understood on many levels. In those ancient times, the construction of a city was fundamental, a milestone in the development of consciousness and culture. In order to develop human consciousness, the hero had to overcome the monster Humbaba, guardian of the cedar forests; he had to be killed. The Great Mother Ishtar sends her bull against Gilgamesh, and it was also annihilated by the hero.
The construction of large cities, the destruction of nature and forests, all these pictures bring to mind the excesses of contemporary man’s heroism, with its megacities, an image of greed and selfishness. Therefore the heroic model, important in developing consciousness and culture, lost priority in the present days. In fact, even the ancient Greeks realized the trend of the hero to fall into omnipotence and called it “hubris”, a sin to be punished by the gods.
Modern man is possessed of a truly peculiar “hubris”, fruit of the technological age and its pitfalls. What I am calling “the death of the hero” in contemporary culture derives from the inability of the hero myth that served humanity in the ancient world to give adequate answers to modern civilization, to serve as a model for the individual or the culture.
For the individual, some authors (the Jungian James Hillman, for example) proposed the idea that there are models other than the classic hero myth to guide the development of consciousness. For example, games are playful forms of consciousness development that does not necessarily need the hero.
The anthropological figure of the conquering hero is relativized when we discovered that the colonized is in many respects superior to the colonizer and has much to teach him.
Contemporary man is called to the difficult task of not killing monsters of the great goddess, but to live in harmony with Gaia and her children. To destroy Gaia is suicidal for the hero, suicidal for humanity..
Asked in an interview what is the most significant myth for contemporary man, Joseph Campbell pointed to the myth of Gaia. This is because human beings live in a global village, and depend on Gaia for survival.
All these ideas about the fundamental question of ecology are in line with the crusade of Leonardo Boff in defense of Gaia as a foundation for humanity’s survival. In the Jungian Congress, he presented a video of utter importance titled: ” Crisis: Growth and Opportunity.” Boff called attention in an extremely creative way to the dangers of the present selfish economic model of contemporary man, showing with statistical data the depletion of Mother Nature. Based on the multiple meanings of the word crisis “risk or opportunity” (Chinese characters), Kri, “cleaning” (Sanskrit) which derives from the word “crucible” a place for the purification of impure materials, Boff proposes several creative solutions to the dilemma of modern man.
Though humanity is plunged into a crisis, the opportunity for transformation and purification is also present.
Copenhagen, August 2013