The meaning of the dream symbol: Hero

The archetype of a Hero/ine refers to an outside force which has the ability to save us from evil. The hero/ine provides physical and psychological courage in place of our own mortal vulnerability. In the dream sense, we may be supplanting our own responsibilities into the hands of another. As such, we may be exemplifying detrimental forms of personal regression and escapism. Our need to be saved prevents us from saving ourselves. On the other hand, if we ourselves are heroic in dreams, we may be declaring personal strength and the ability to move far beyond our own limitations.

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The hero may symbolize your conscious ego. Just as in myth the hero ventures into strange lands and wrestles with monsters to take possession of some great treasure, so the conscious ego must venture into the unknown realms of the psyche and face up to, tame and use creatively the forces that lie in the unconscious.

If the hero rescues a maiden, the meaning - for a male dreamer - will probably be that he needs to bring the feminine side of his nature into active collaboration with his masculine side.

If in a man's dream the hero is assisted by a young woman, the hero may symbolize the conscious ego and the young woman the anima. The lesson will be as in 3 above.

If the hero is accompanied by an older person (or friendly strong animal), that person/animal may represent innate wisdom and power in your unconscious: that which, from within your own psyche, can supply all that your conscious ego needs.

Hero-cults were exceedingly rare in Ancient Egypt. Kings were divine because they were held to be sons of Ra, the Sun god, and their mortuary temples were places of worship after their death. Similarly, a few court officials such as the great architect, Imhotep, received divine honours after their deaths and had chapels built for their worship. At the time of the Roman conquest, there was a comparatively recent belief that death by drowning in the Nile, the river-god, introduced the victim into the company of the gods. Hadrian’s favourite, Antinoiis, drowned in the Nile and was accordingly deified, a town being built upon the river-bank where his body was found.

In Ireland the prototype of the Celtic hero was Cilchulainn who, while still a child, accomplished the most extraordinary warlike feats. He was quite capable of holding the frontiers of Ulster single-handed for several months against the united armies of the other four provinces of Ireland. This hero, whose birth, deeds and death loom so large in mythological and heroic cycles, was the son of the god Lug. However, on the earthly plane he had been begotten by King Conchobar, acting as a surrogate for the god, on his own sister, Dechtire. Subsequently he was entrusted to his putative father, Sualtam, who had married Dechtire. Cilchulainn was thus thrice conceived and since he had three fathers was called ‘child of the three years’. His Classical equivalent was Herakles, whom he resembles in a number of details - physical strength, beauty, skill and intelligence. However, he epitomizes a different concept of war since he, in the Celtic mode, stands for the essential character of the warrior in its purest form, at bottom comprising most often personal courage, sometimes cunning, but never concerted military action. In fact, in the Irish heroic cycle war is no more than a series of single combats, preceded each time by a challenge thrown down by one or other of the two opponents. The same is true on the continent of battles between the Gauls and the Romans, as Livy records in the cases of Manlius Torquatus and Valerius Corvinus. The warrior is adept at insult and invective and terrifies or paralyses his enemy by facial contortion and skill at arms. It is the hero’s property to be endowed with uncommon physical strength, extraordinary skill - Cilchulainn had mastered a wide range of warlike ploys - and courage to face any odds. Sometimes -and this was the case with Cuchulainn - he might be granted intellectual abilities as a bonus. A true Irish hero obeyed the rules of a rudimentary law of chivalry. Cuchulainn never killed unarmed men, swineherds, servants, women or children. Single combat was, however, the strict rule - Celtic legend is devoid of any idea of military strategy - taking place, generally speaking, in a ford until one or other of the combatants was killed and then decapitated by the victor. The best-known instance of this is when Cilchulainn, single-handed, held off Queen Medb’s whole army. The hero was bound to accept any challenge. A hero’s other employment was as a surrogate for the king, who had to be present upon the field of battle without taking part in it.

In battle the hero was in a state of warlike frenzy (ferg), a magical and religious phrase for the heroic excess which found it hard to distinguish friend from foe. When the young Cuchulainn returned from his first expedition on the borders of Ulster, King Conchobar was forced to send fifty naked maidens with his queen at their head to meet him. Taking advantage of his bashfulness, they seized Cuchulainn and plunged him into three vats of ice-cold water. The first one shattered, the second boiled over and the third was left with its water warmed.

Like their divine archetype Ogmios, and as a result of the normal direction of their passions - warlike properties being essentially feminine - heroes had the right to the magical side of knowledge. Cuchulainn could inscribe spells in Ogham on wooden strips, and warriors were sometimes prophets or seers. This is in line with what Nicander of Colophon records - Gauls spending the night beside the graves of heroes to obtain oracles. The warrior, however, had no right to priesthood or to kingship, standing for and symbolizing pure strength devoid of intelligence and riven by passion and therefore needing to be directed by spiritual authority. Cuchulainn may have been ‘King of the Warriors of Ireland’, but his was an honorific title; and when he stepped on the Stone of Fal to receive the reward of true kingship, instead of crying out as it did when each king of Ireland trod upon it, the stone remained dumb. The hero broke it in pieces in his rage.

The hero symbolizes ‘the developmental drive (the basic desire), the confrontational situation of the human soul in its battle with the monsters of perversion’. The hero, too, should be adorned with the attributes of the Sun, its light and heat having vanquished the darkness and chill of death. The hero’s challenge, according to Bergson, lies at the heart of unrestricted normality and, on the spiritual level, is the motive for creative development. Jung was to identify the hero with spiritual power among symbols of the libido. A hero’s first victory is that which he gains over himself.