Illustrate thoroughly the essential characteristics of the shaman by referring to events in the mythical narratives about at least two ancient heroes of this type (e. g. , Gilgamesh, Herakles, and Cu Chulainn). Shaman as a Hero Traditionally, the shaman is a character in a religious position who communicates with the afterlife in some way. By altering forms of consciousness, the shaman is able to encounter and interact with the spirit world. In early myths and tales in oral literature the motif of shaman like characteristics is a trend that is evident. However, in these tales the shaman is intertwined with the stereotypical epic Hero.
This creates characters that are complicated and intriguing. Tales such as The Epic of Gilgamesh and The Labors of Herakles display a heroic figure that is not only strong in physique but also possesses a divine connection with the afterlife and the gods. With these attributes, these heroes encounter many obstacles that require more than pure brawn to overcome and venture to dark spiritual places alluding to the afterlife/ underworld. A very common tradition in these oral myths is a conquest of either beasts or some type of wild force that inhibits the shamanistic hero’s culture or people from prospering.
In The Epic of Gilgamesh, Gilgamesh is faced with many challenges. One challenge particularly threatens his kingdom. Once Gilgamesh and Enkidu have returned from their forest journey, the goddess Ishtar becomes overcome with lust for Gilgamesh. Gilgamesh refuses Ishtar and out of spite, Ishtar asks her father to send down the Bull of Heaven to punish him, bringing seven years of famine with it. With the help of Enkidu, Gilgamesh wrestles and kills the bull. By doing this, Gilgamesh overcomes the beast for the good of his people. Gilgamesh’s morality and greed is questioned but his ability as a leader never falters. His lust leaves no virgin to her lover, neither the warrior’s daughter nor the wife of the noble; yet this is the shepherd of the city, wise, comely, and resolute. ” Nearly the entire tale of Herakles revolves on the hero overcoming some type of impending force, whether that be slaying the Hydra or obtaining the Belt of Hippolyte. None of these tasks directly inhibit his people, but they do offer atonement for his own pain/ guilt that he feels for slaying his own children. The heroes’ epic triumphs are much more than just grand acts of strength and bravery, these triumphs offer the hero a chance to grow in spirituality during their journey.
Gilgamesh’s defeat of the Bull of Heaven results in the death of his friend Enkidu at the hands of the gods, which therefore sends him on a quest to discover himself and overcome his fear of death by speaking with Utnapishtim. On the other hand, Herakles’ many obstacles offer him the opportunity to put his mind at rest for his past actions. Both heroes’ journeys result in a feeling of peace, accomplishment, and understanding. The Heroes in both of these epics also travel to places that seem to be of another world. By eluding to the afterworld/ afterlife these heroes share another shamanistic characteristic.
In The Epic of Gilgamesh the hero travels far and wide in search for the answer to eternal life. Gilgamesh battles two large scorpions that guard an entry into a dark place between two mountains. In this journey he comes across a veiled tavern keeper who warns him of his futile pursuit and sends him onward to a ferryman. This is an allusion to the River Styx, which separates the living world from the dead. During the passage across the sea, the water is constantly referred to as death, and the environment continues to be ominous and haunting. This particular part of Gilgamesh’s journey directly relates him to the shaman.
In his search for the answer to eternal life, Gilgamesh interacts with the dead and ventures to places where no mortal had been before. Similar to Gilgamesh, Harakles also ventures to places of the undead. Herakles must travel to the Underworld to take on the vicious guard dog of Hades, Cerberus. This task is the twelfth and final labor of Harakles. In this labor, the theme of the dead is very obvious. Herakles interacts with many “souls” and spirits. In particular, Herakles encounters phantoms empty of blood. This mention of bloodless creatures directly is related to the dead and life after death.
This interaction displays the shaman characteristics of Herakles. Although Herakles is a brut and heroic force that is impending to any opposing challenege; Herakles also shows a great sense of wisdom and understanding of the spirit world. Both of these heroes use their wisdom and shamanistic characteristics to alleviate some type of concern in their life. Herakles’ actions alleviate his guilt, and Gilgamesh’s journey alleviates his overwhelming fear of death. After reviewing and enjoying these myths, I have come to realize that Gilgamesh and Herakles are much more than just a traditional hero.
Gilgamesh and Herakles are quite complex characters that have inner struggles as well as physical battles/ challenges. The struggles of these heroes’ spirituality give the reader a sense of connection to the character and offer something that can be directly related to. This spirituality also can be seen as a sense of weakness; however this weakness eventually leads to an overwhelming sense of accomplishment and drives the heroes to seek out the answers that allow for the hero to become stronger in mind and physicality.
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