The epic TV series Vikings tells of the ancient Norsemen and their raids on Britain, from the 8th century. The Vikings raided for food, land and wealth at times when their own lands were growing overpopulated.
Fearless in battle, they were motivated to seek honour in death. Regularly, the chieftain roused his warriors by recounting that all who perish in battle, ride with the Valkyries to Valhalla, the hall of Odin.
To the Vikings, victory was sweet but death in battle was sweeter still. Eternal glory awaited. Consequently, the Vikings were formidable warriors, raiding east into Russia, south-east to the Caspian Sea and Black Sea, west as far as Greenland and Newfoundland, and south as far as North Africa and the Mediterranean.
Today the dominant narrative is that beyond death, nothing awaits. The epithet YOLO or ‘you only live once’, means to live without fear. A modern iteration of “carpe diem” YOLO is the catch cry of youths living large – whether by risky behaviour, fun loving silliness or challenging norms.
The two narratives have vastly different emphases of what lies beyond space and time, yet come to similar conclusions of how to live now. Both advocate courage in the here-and-now, to live boldly in the face of death.
What narrative do we live by? How do we face the inevitability of death and make our life count?
The cave you fear to enter, holds the treasure you seek. – Joseph Campbell
With this one line, Joseph Cambell captures the power and significance of narrative to our lives. Campbell identified the archetype of The Hero Journey and its presence in myths and legends of every culture.
In the first chapter of his work “The Hero with 1000 Faces,” he writes:
It has always been the prime function of mythology and rite to supply the symbols that carry the human spirit forward, in counteraction to those that tend to tie it back. In fact, it may very well be that the very high incidence of neuroticism among ourselves follows the decline among us of such effective spiritual aid.
The first work of the hero is to retreat from the world scene of secondary effects to those causal zones of the psyche where the difficulties really reside, and there to clarify the difficulties, eradicate them in his own case (i.e., give battle to the nursery demons of his local culture) and break through to the undistorted, direct experience and assimilation of what [Carl] Jung called “the archetypal images.”
Thanks again the marvellous Brain Pickings and TED-Ed this video tells of Joseph Campell’s ‘mono-myth’ or hero journey and timeless significnace to our lives.
It’s curious that our most heightened feelings as humans – exhilliaration – is so closely tied to our most dreaded emotions – fear. The facing of fear then is one of the most profound experiences of the human condition.
I for one do not fear spiders, snakes, deep water, darkness or death – but I do fear failure. The fear of failure has crippled me from completing or even attempting tasks. This writing alone is the product of me addressing the fear of failure – to produce a text that others read.
Love is the most undoing of all human emotions and activities – yet the most exhillarating too. How can someone undo us so completely, unravel our unity, break apart our identity and yet we enjoy it ? How can a child destroy our lives as we know it, and yet make us so happy? How can we be so willingly enslaved to another through love?
The exhillaration one feels at the top of the roller coaster tower, upon gazing down, incredulous that the carriage we are in will plummet us to the earth, is invigorating. Let me climb the tower and throw myself off. Let me seize my fears.