During the lecture on black history which was televised by ITV (watch here), one of the first things I speak of is the hero story.
In summary, shortly after humans first learnt that farming seeds can produce a plentiful supply of food, we see the start of the first great civilisations. The production of food allowed time for people to think. Early humans (see online lessons on early humans here) no longer had to spend 6 hours a day searching for food and 4 hours chewing it, so they started to build and philosophise on the meaning of life, the creation of the universe etc.
Humans, being hierarchical, complex, multifaceted with complex emotional characteristics, started to create the first myths which reflect our complex internal world. God became the symbol for the potential for all being, often synonymous with the mother (ie mother nature or the deification of the virgin Mary) and a hero often emerges from this raw potential and comes into maturity (Jesus, Buddha, Hercules even Simba from the Lion King etc) who then goes onto battle symbols of the inner turmoil that we humans experience. For example aggression, jealousy, darkness, trickery, evil etc. The hero then grows or transforms, triumphs and returns to tell the story of his/ her great accomplishment.
We’re going to be exploring the importance of heroes and why it is so important for us to claim heroes in our image.
The argument by mythologist Joseph Campbell is that this is the foundation for all religion; humans expressing the nature of their internal world by personifying their external world.
One of the first people to tell the “Hero’s journey” in such a way, was the Ancient Egyptians.
In short, Osiris (the old God symbolising order, culture, structure) does battle with Set (who represents chaos, darkness, evil, destruction) and Set destroys Osiris and cuts him up into many pieces and banishes him to the underworld.
Isis, Osiris’ wife (symbolically similar to the Virgin Mary) finds the phallus of Osiris and impregnates herself with it, giving birth to the deity, Horus. Horus, the hawk God, appropriately represents sight, the light, truth and consciousness. This is why his eye is often seen on the top of Pyramids in modern symbology. The eye represents consciousness at the top of the body of the pyramidal structure or obelisk which is topped by a different material to represent this separation between the body and consciousness.
Horus then fights Set, and destroys him. The legend goes that Horus must fight Set every night and this represents the eternal struggle to banish evil within us and within our community. Horus then takes his eye to Osiris to gift him the ability of foresight, truth and light. They then emerge together from the underworld, Horus representing the redeemer of the father, much like Jesus does in Chrisitianity.
So why have I mentioned all of this? Because for humans to have been telling more or less the same story over and over again since the dawn of civilisation, it must be important! It must mean something to us. We as human beings, deify our peers into heroes. We idolise what they represent, often in all of their positives and ignore their negatives. It is a natural phenomena that we see time and time again.
For example, who speaks of the faults of Winston Churchill, George Washington, Queen Elizabeth II, St George, David Beckham etc? We speak mostly of their positive traits, often without alluding to specific events.
The 19th century psychologist, Carl Jung, then argued that we integrate these heroes into our persona. The dogged determination of Winston Churchill and George Washinton, the loving nature of Jesus, even the priorities of David Attenborough. We might not know factually much of what they did but we know what they stood for.
Growing up in Gravesend, I had a lot of Sikh friends. Whenever I went round their houses, I would marvel at the image of Guru Gobind Singh, often depicted with a hawk and a bow. I would ask my friends who he was, and they would say he was a warrior Guru who hugely contributed to the Sikh religion. I could see how my friends channeled the qualities of Guru Gobind Singh through their own persona.
And I couldn’t help but think, “where is my Guru Gobind Singh?… where is my people’s hero?” All I had been told was that we were slaves.
The story was so incomplete. The black diaspora were enslaved for 400 years and then the British, Americans and other western Europeans miraculously had a change of heart and let them go free? The historical hero is left redundant; you can’t help but feel that no-one took the stand when they should have done. But then I started to read…
More blacks have fought and died for our future than saints have for Christendom and that’s a fact.
Toussaint Louverture and his generals defeated 3 western European superpowers during the Haitian revolution, including Napoleon Bonaparte to establish a democracy of freed people who had overthrown their oppressors for the first time in history.
Queen Nanny and Cudjo of the Windward and Leedward Maroons beat the British into submission to sign a truce in Jamaica during the peak of slavery.
Tacky led 1000 freed slaves against the British. Sam Sharpe led 60,000 freed slaves against the British 70 years later in 1831.
Stateside, we have phenomenal individuals such as Nat Turner, Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglas, and Equiano Oladauh who crossed both continents to campaign for the freedom of enslaved Africans.
Many of our heroes are surprisingly, incredibly well documented which begs the question as to how many more were there who weren’t so well documented? We descend from an empowered people who fought the right fight, no matter what the odds were.
Which then prompts my next question. Why have we been written out of history?
Ancient Egyptians are depicted as European (apart from their servants, of course), Julia Roberts was intended to be casted as Harriet Tubman, emancipation is depicted to have been by the good will of slavers and not the determination and sacrifice of African people. We could take time to explore as to why we have been written out of history another time. I would argue that the fact we have had our hero story denied to us, emphasises how incredibly important it is to hold onto it.
Noone would go through so much effort to twist and misconstrued the truth if the truth wasn’t so incredibly important to begin with. But our issue is that, if you can’t see your own heroes in your image, it becomes incredibly important to step into that image.
And since it is a normal human phenomena to step inside the ideal representation of our heroes, which hero image do we want to step into? I would argue that there are many examples of popular people whose image we don’t want to step into. Those who represent low morales, frivolous spending habits, glamorisation of violence, crime and narcotics etc.
Our history is full of individuals with a God-like ability to inspire, control their destiny and lead their people to the promised land. There are countless heroes who have accomplished these feats during colonial history and even more so previous to colonial history.
Learn of them. And witness your esteem become transformed by their stories.
I have written an entire plug-in-and-play curriculum which features our heroes which you can access here and I am currently working on a comic book series which features a group of young teens as they tap into their history and unlock its secrets to empower them in the present world.