Friday, January 06, 2006

Lee Salisbury takes an itneresting look at religion and historical figures.

Last century a student of mythology, Lord Raglan studied all the myths and legends that influenced western civilization in his 1936 book entitled The Hero. His basic premise is that the mythical hero’s life is a remnant of ancient ritual drama enacted at the coronation of priest-kings.

According to Raglan, rituals involved specific acts performed for magical purposes. Ritual dramas required participants play specific roles. A quasi-boiler-plate plot always determined the character’s role. Eventually, myths of priest-kings outlived the ritual and became many myths and folktales from which we derive many legendary heroes such as Hercules, or Moses, or Robin Hood.

Luke Skywalker and Harry Potter continued this archetypal tradition of mythical characters. They affirm inherited patterns of thought derived from past collective experiences of humanity. Freud believed these archetypes to be present in our subconscious psyches. Thus, their popularity, as well as opposition from adherents of competing myths, continues today.

Raglan concludes there are at least twenty-two standard archetypal characteristics of this duplicated singular myth. The closer the legendary character fits these characteristics the less likely the hero is a historical personage. Historical persons dramatically differ from Raglan’s twenty-two characteristics are as follows:

1. He is born of a virgin mother.
2. His father is a King.
3. The father has a unique relationship with the mother.
4. The circumstances of the child’s conception are unusual, often humble.
5. He is reputed to be the son of a god.
6. There is an attempt to kill the child/god shortly after birth.
7. He is spirited away, escaping a premature death.
8. The child is raised by foster parents in a far country.
9. We are told virtually nothing of his childhood years.
10. On reaching manhood, usually at age 30, he commences his mission in life.
11. He successfully overcomes the most severe trials and tests.
12. He marries a princess.
13. He is acknowledged as a king.
14. He rules.
15. He prescribes laws.
16. He loses favor with the Gods or his subjects.
17. He is forcibly driven from authority.
18. He meets with a violent death.
19. His death occurs on the top of a hill.
20. His children, if any, do not succeed him.
21. His body is not buried conventionally.
22. He has one or more holy resting places.

Lord Ragan counted each hero’s archetypal event. Alexander the Great received the most points for a historical personage, seven. Here is how some people you might have heard of scored.

* Oedipus scores 21
* Theseus scores 20
* Moses scores 20
* Dionysus scores 19
* Jesus scores 19
* Romulus scores 18
* Perseus scores 18
* Hercules scores 17
* Llew Llaw Gyffes scores 17
* Jason scores 15
* Robin Hood scores 13
* Pelops scores 13
* Apollo scores 11

Following are some thoughts on Lord Raglan’s analysis:

A score of six or less qualifies one as a historical figure. This is not definite proof that the person existed, since most cartoon characters score low too.

A score of more than six indicates the hero does not represent a historical figure. This does not mean that the hero is totally fictitious. Rather it does indicate that many aspects of the hero’s life have been replaced by the archetypal fiction.

Is this reasonable? It seems to have some validity.


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