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The Localization of the Warrior-Hero
By David Talbott

by Dave Talbott

By way of background, the following are notes on the evolution of
the warrior-hero myth. They are based on a section of my article,
"Mother Goddess and Warrior Hero," in AEON I:5. ~Dave

In the natural evolution of myth, no tendency was more common than
that by which originally cosmic figures were brought down to earth
and their attributes, habitations, and life events affixed to a
local landscape. Every temple, sacred city, and kingdom, built as
a representation of a cosmic dwelling, soon came to be remembered
as the place where creation began. In the same way, every local
prominence became a figure of the cosmic mountain, every river,
fount or spring a symbol of the ethereal stream. It was through
this universal process that the crucial distinction between symbol
and thing symbolized eventually broke down. For it was in the
nature of ancient representations that the symbol bore the name
and shared in the numen of the archetype.

The myths take us back to the age of "beginnings," and the symbol
eventually becomes a vital part of the collective memory: soon it
is as if the localized emblem had itself emerged in the creation.
In Egypt, every city preserved a myth identifying itself with the
place where the primeval sun stood in the beginning, when the god
produced his own "resting place" or luminous habitation in the
sky, "giving birth to himself" through the first activity of the
goddess and hero.

By the progressive merging of emblem and archetype, the god's
worshippers, in effect, altered the location of the primeval
events, and once-cosmic powers devolved into the "ancestors" of
the local tribe or city. (Clearly, the gods became "ancestors"
because, with the blending of archetype and symbol, their home
could no longer be distinguished from the terrestrial habitation;
once such a process had begun, it was inevitable that the primeval
companions or children of the sun would become "ancestors" of the
nations telling the stories.

Assimilation can only lead to pervasive confusion. While the hand-
formed symbol, the city built by men, comes to enjoy an elevated
stature and cosmic significance in the eyes of its inhabitants,
the gods themselves are profoundly diminished as later
chroniclers, seeking to preserve the local traditions, are
compelled to adapt them to a familiar landscape. This ambiguity
will be found, in varying degrees, in all religious and
mythological systems. At one turn the gods rule the heavens, and
at the next they live as men, occupying identifiable places and
leaving identifiable "monuments" to their lives and activities.
And the singular principle that can be counted on in all cases is
this: the processes of localization and assimilation continue to
advance with time so that the confusion grows increasingly severe.

Wherever these processes have operated freely, given sufficient
time, the warrior hero and mother goddess will have lost their
cosmic character altogether. The vast majority of the heroic
figures to which the modern researcher has access (such as the
Greek Heracles, Odysseus, Perseus, Theseus and Oedipus), though
still bigger than life, appear as extraordinary "humans"
accomplishing their marvelous feats on earth, usually in
identifiable locations, with an abundance of local "testaments" to
their activity. The symbols have, in effect, redefined the
archetype, creating massive contradictions between the different

What does a Heracles, or a Helen of Troy, have in common with the
archetypal male and female powers identified in the Egyptian
creation legend? The answer is, in the most radical sense,
everything. While local geography, culture and history have
profoundly altered the portrait, there would simply be no subject
without the prototype. The best efforts of modern scholars have
failed to explain such figures because these miracle-working
"humans" are the folk-tale and literary echoes of a wholly alien
celestial order.

Taking the most obvious distinction between earlier and later
versions, there is the matter of scale. While the archetypal
warrior-hero bears aloft the central sun and the all-encompassing
land of the gods, it is obviously not possible for such an idea to
be retained in the localized traditions, where the central sun has
become an ancestral king, and the cosmic dwelling a terrestrial
temple, palace or city. Yet the theme is not obliterated in the
later chronicles, but re-focused. For the warrior-hero will still
be found "supporting" the king, often as a slave, servant or
priest (a theme endlessly repeated in the tales of Heracles, for
example). What is not generally recognized, however, is the
generic link to the older tradition of the heaven-sustaining hero
as the servant or priest of the sun god Saturn, the celestial
prototype of kings. In the archaic tradition the three meanings--
upholder, servant and priest--are synonymous.

Similarly, one notes the repeated associations of the folk-tale
warrior-hero with channels or flows of water, either irrigating or
flooding an ancestral land or dwelling, or draining off enclosed
floodwaters or swamps. In virtually all later instances, the
chroniclers will point to a particular place in which the feat of
the hero was accomplished. Due to the re-focusing involved in such
localization, few modern commentators will recognize that the
prototype was the heaven-supporting giant--in Egypt, the god Shu--
who personifies the ethereal fount and celestial waterway. Yet the
proof of the connection is readily at hand. For in the instance of
the Egyptian Shu we possess at once the vivid cosmic portrait set
forth in the world's oldest ritual texts, and later localized
portraits of Greek, Roman and Christian times. Here we can observe
in the clearest of terms the transition from the original cosmic
power Shu to the Heracles-like hero of later times.

At the Qes sanctuary of the XXth nome of Lower Egypt a black
granite shrine from the Ptolemaic period (later transported to Al-
'Arish) recorded the story of "Shu and Geb when they reigned as
kings upon earth." In this late tale, it is the god Shu who, in
the style of Heracles, "excavated" the lake of the sanctuary and
in the time of Ra (often recalled as a terrestrial ruler in later
accounts) constructed the king's palace that it might endure "like
the Mountain of Fire-Light." It is said that Shu, as a great
warrior, rose to the throne of Atum or Ra and (apparently single-
handedly, in Heracles fashion) slaughtered "all the enemies of his
father" and destroyed "the sons of rebellion." He then became a
builder in the service of his father, for there were "hundreds of
thousands of sanctuaries which the Majesty of Ra had called into
being in all the names, and which the majesty of Shu had built."
Thus, it was Shu who, according to this late chronicle, "irrigated
the towns, and the settlements and the names, and he erected the
walls of Egypt and built temples in the Land of the South and the
Land of the North."

Could anyone familiar with the myth of Heracles deny the
similarity? Localization and assimilation have led to rampant
duplications of the story of creation, so that a later chronicler,
traveling from city to city in Egypt, might indeed have pieced
together a story of countless "labors" of Shu, creating a fabulous
pastiche of local myth. It is not surprising, therefore, that
Greek "histories" declare that Heracles himself sojourned in
Egypt, serving as "general" under Osiris and achieving feats
virtually identical to those of Shu.

Though Shu and Heracles are in fact the same figure, we have the
advantage in Shu's case of very ancient testimony illuminating the
original cosmic personality (to which the later echoes can be
systematically traced). And of course Shu is not the only instance
of the warrior-hero in Egypt, so additional ground will have to be
covered if we are to establish the clearest possible profile of
the prehistoric god.

Similarly, the mother goddess must be followed from a set of
originally unified concepts to the fragmented expressions of later
times, in which the goddess appears alternately as mother,
daughter or spouse of a great god or king, an enchanting maiden or
fairy goddess, a harlot, hag or witch.

In all of this we will find that what have long been viewed as
separate and irreconcilable threads of ancient lore acquire
entirely new meanings when viewed under the illumination of the
polar configuration.


Through assimilation, as noted above, every local symbolic
sanctuary shared in the history of the celestial prototype, which
was shouted into existence by the sun god and given form by Shu.

Of course the connection of Shu and Heracles has already been
noted by others. See K. H. Brugsch, Dictionnaire Geographique de l
'ancienne Egypte (Leipzig, 1880), p. 851.

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