object:1.03 - Supernatural Aid
book class:The Hero with a Thousand Faces
For those who have not refused the call, the first encounter of
the hero-journey is with a protective figure (often a little old
crone or old man) who provides the adventurer with amulets
against the dragon forces he is about to pass.
An East African tribe, for example, the Wachaga of Tanganyika,
tell of a very poor man named Kyazimba, who set out in desper
ation for the land where the sun rises. And he had traveled long
and grown tired, and was simply standing, looking hopelessly in
the direction of his search, when he heard someone approaching
from behind. He turned and perceived a decrepit little woman.
She came up and wished to know his business. When he had
told her, she wrapped her garment around him, and, soaring
from the earth, transported him to the zenith, where the sun
pauses in the middle of the day. Then with a mighty din a great
company of men came from eastward to that place, and in the
Abridged from Burton, op. cit., Vol. Ill, pp. 213-228.
midst of them was a brilliant chieftain, who, when he had ar
rived, slaughtered an ox and sat down to feast with his retainers.
The old woman asked his help for Kyazimba. The chieftain
blessed the man and sent him home. And it is recorded that he
lived in prosperity ever after.
Among the American Indians of the Southwest the favorite
personage in this benignant role is Spider Womana grand
motherly little dame who lives underground. The Twin War
Gods of the Navaho on the way to the house of their father, the
Sun, had hardly departed from their home, following a holy
trail, when they came upon this wonderful little figure: "The
boys traveled rapidly in the holy trail, and soon after sunrise,
near Dsilnaotil, saw smoke arising from the ground. They went
to the place where the smoke rose, and they found it came from
the smoke hole of a subterranean chamber. A ladder, black from
smoke, projected through the hole. Looking down into the cham
ber they saw an old woman, the Spider Woman, who glanced up
at them and said: 'Welcome, children. Enter. Who are you, and
whence do you come together walking?' They made no answer,
but descended the ladder. When they reached the floor she
again spoke to them, asking: 'Whither do you two go walking
together?' 'Nowhere in particular,' they answered; 'we came
here because we had nowhere else to go.' She asked this ques
tion four times, and each time she received a similar answer.
Then she said: 'Perhaps you would seek your father?' 'Yes,' they
answered, 'if we only knew the way to his dwelling.' 'Ah!' said
the woman, 'it is a long and dangerous way to the house of your
father, the Sun. There are many monsters dwelling between
here and there, and perhaps, when you get there, your father
may not be glad to see you, and may punish you for coming. You
must pass four places of dangerthe rocks that crush the trav
eler, the reeds that cut him to pieces, the cane cactuses that tear
him to pieces, and the boiling sands that overwhelm him. But I
shall give you something to subdue your enemies and preserve
your lives.' She gave them a charm called 'feather of the alien
Bruno Gutmann, Volksbuch der Wadschagga (Leipzig, 1914), p. 144.
gods,' which consisted of a hoop with two life-feathers (feathers
plucked from a living eagle) attached, and another life-feather to
preserve their existence. She taught them also this magic for
mula, which, if repeated to their enemies, would subdue their
anger: 'Put your feet down with pollen. Put your hands down
with pollen. Put your head down with pollen. Then your feet are
pollen; your hands are pollen; your body is pollen; your mind is
pollen; your voice is pollen. The trail is beautiful. Be still.'"
The helpful crone and fairy godmother is a familiar feature of
European fairy lore; in Christian saints' legends the role is com
monly played by the Virgin. The Virgin by her intercession can
win the mercy of the Father. Spider Woman with her web can
control the movements of the Sun. The hero who has come
under the protection of the Cosmic Mother cannot be harmed.
The thread of Ariadne brought Theseus safely through the ad
venture of the labyrinth. This is the guiding power that runs
through the work of Dante in the female figures of Beatrice and
the Virgin, and appears in Goethe's Faust successively as
Gretchen, Helen of Troy, and the Virgin. "Thou art the living
fount of hope," prays Dante, at the end of his safe passage
through the perils of the Three Worlds; "Lady, thou art so great
and so availest, that whoso would have grace, and has not re
course to thee, would have his desire fly without wings. Thy be
nignity not only succors him who asks, but oftentimes freely
foreruns the asking. In thee mercy, in thee pity, in thee mag
nificence, in thee whatever of goodness is in any creature, are
Washington Matthews, Navaho Legends (Memoirs of the American Folk
lore Society, Vol. V, New York, 1897), p. 109.
Pollen is a symbol of spiritual energy among the American Indians of the
Southwest. It is used profusely in all ceremonials, both to drive evil away and
to mark out the symbolical path of life. (For a discussion of the Navaho sym
bolism of the adventure of the hero, see Jeff King, Maud Oakes, and Joseph
Campbell, Where the Two Came to Their Father, A Navaho War Ceremonial,
Bollingen Series I, and edn., Princeton University Press, 1969, pp. 3 3 ^ 9 . )
Dante, "Paradiso," XXXIII, 12-21 (translation by Charles Eliot Norton,
op. cit., Vol. Ill, p. 252; quoted by permission of Houghton Mifflin Company,
What such a figure represents is the benign, protecting power
of destiny. The fantasy is a reassurancea promise that the
peace of Paradise, which was known first within the mother
womb, is not to be lost; that it supports the present and stands
in the future as well as in the past (is omega as well as alpha);
that though omnipotence may seem to be endangered by the
threshold passages and life awakenings, protective power is al
ways and ever present within the sanctuary of the heart and
even immanent within, or just behind, the unfamiliar features of
the world. One has only to know and trust, and the ageless
guardians will appear. Having responded to his own call, and
continuing to follow courageously as the consequences unfold,
the hero finds all the forces of the unconscious at his side.
Mother Nature herself supports the mighty task. And in so far
as the hero's act coincides with that for which his society itself is
ready, he seems to ride on the great rhythm of the historical
process. "I feel myself," said Napoleon at the opening of his
Russian campaign, "driven towards an end that I do not know.
As soon as I shall have reached it, as soon as I shall become un
necessary, an atom will suffice to shatter me. Till then, not all
the forces of mankind can do anything against me."
Not infrequently, the supernatural helper is masculine in
form. In fairy lore it may be some little fellow of the wood, some
wizard, hermit, shepherd, or smith, who appears, to supply the
amulets and advice that the hero will require. The higher
mythologies develop the role in the great figure of the guide, the
teacher, the ferryman, the conductor of souls to the afterworld.
In classical myth this is Hermes-Mercury; in Egyptian, usually
See Oswald Spengler, The Decline of the West, translated by Charles
Francis Atkinson (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., 1926-28), Vol. I, p. 144.
"Supposing," adds Spengler, "that Napoleon himself, as 'empirical person,'
had fallen at Marengothen that which he signified would have been actual
ized in some other form." The hero, who in this sense and to this degree has
become depersonalized, incarnates, during the period of his epochal action, the
dynamism of the culture process; "between himself as a fact and the other facts
there is a harmony of metaphysical rhythm" (ibid., p. 142). This corresponds
to Thomas Carlyle's idea of the Hero King, as "Ableman" (On Heroes, HeroWorship and The Heroic in History, Lecture VI).
Thoth (the ibis god, the baboon god); in Christian, the Holy
Ghost. Goethe presents the masculine guide in Faust as
Mephistophelesand not infrequently the dangerous aspect of
the "mercurial" figure is stressed; for he is the lurer of the inno
cent soul into realms of trial. In Dante's vision the part is played
by Virgil, who yields to Beatrice at the threshold of Paradise.
Protective and dangerous, motherly and fatherly at the same
time, this supernatural principle of guardianship and direction
unites in itself all the ambiguities of the unconsciousthus sig
nifying the support of our conscious personality by that other,
larger system, but also the inscrutability of the guide that we are
following, to the peril of all our rational ends.
The hero to whom such a helper appears is typically one who
has responded to the call. The call, in fact, was the first an
nouncement of the approach of this initiatory priest. But even to
those who apparently have hardened their hearts the super
natural guardian may appear; for, as we have seen: "Well able is
Allah to save."
During Hellenistic times an amalgamation of Hermes and Thoth was
effected in the figure of Hermes Trismegistus, "Hermes Thrice Greatest," who
was regarded as the patron and teacher of all the arts, and especially of
alchemy. The "hermetically" sealed retort, in which were placed the mystical
metals, was regarded as a realm aparta special region of heightened forces
comparable to the mythological realm; and therein the metals underwent
strange metamorphoses and transmutations, symbolical of the transfigurations
of the soul under the tutelage of the supernatural. Hermes was the master of
the ancient mysteries of initiation, and represented that coming-down of divine
wisdom into the world which is represented also in the incarnations of divine
saviors (see infra, pp. 342-345). (See C. G. Jung, Psychology and Alchemy,
part III, "Religious Ideas in Alchemy." (Orig. 1936.) For the retort, see
par. 338. For Hermes Trismegistus, see par. 173 and index, s.v.
The following dream supplies a vivid example of the fusion of opposites in
the unconscious: "I dreamed that I had gone into a street of brothels and to
one of the girls. As I entered, she changed into a man, who was lying, half
clothed, on a sofa. He said: 'It doesn't disturb you (that I am now a man)?'
The man looked old, and he had white sideburns. He reminded me of a certain
chief forester who was a good friend of my father." (Wilhelm Stekel, Die
Sprache des Traumes, pp. 70-71.) "All dreams," Dr. Stekel observes, "have a
bisexual tendency. Where the bisexuality cannot be perceived, it is hidden in
the latent dream content" (ibid., p. 71).
And so it happened, as it were by chance, that in the ancient
and deserted tower where Kamar al-Zaman, the Persian prince,
lay sleeping, there was an old Roman well, and this was inhab
ited by a Jinniyah of the seed of Iblis the Accursed, by name
Maymunah, daughter of Al-Dimiryat, a renowned king of the
J i n n . And as Kamar al-Zaman continued sleeping till the first
third of the night, Maymunah came up out of the Roman well
and made for the firmament, thinking to listen by stealth to the
converse of the angels; but when she reached the mouth of the
well, and saw a light shining in the tower room, contrary to cus
tom, she marveled, drew nigh, entered within the door, and be
held the couch spread, whereon was a human form with a wax
candle burning at his head and the lantern at his feet. She folded
her wings and stood by the bed, and, drawing back the coverlid,
discovered Kamar al-Zaman's face. And she was motionless for a
full hour in admiration and wonderment, "Blessed be Allah,"
she exclaimed when she recovered, "the best of Creators!" for
she was of the true-believing Jinn.
Then she promised herself that she would do no hurt to Kamar
al-Zaman, and became concerned lest, resting in this desert
place, he should be slain by one of her relatives, the Marids.
The well is symbolical of the unconscious. Compare that of the fairy story
of the Frog King, supra, pp. 45-47.
Compare the frog of the fairy tale. In pre-Mohammedan Arabia the Jinn
(singular: m. Jinni; / Jinniyah) were haunting-demons of the deserts and
wilderness. Hairy and misformed, or else shaped as animals, ostriches, or ser
pents, they were very dangerous to unprotected persons. The Prophet Mohammed
admitted the existence of these heathen spirits (Koran, 37:158), and incorpo
rated them in the Mohammedan system, which recognizes three created intelli
gences under Allah: Angels formed of light, Jinn of subtle fire, and Man of the
dust of the earth. The Mohammedan Jinn have the power of putting on any
form they please, but not grosser than the essence of fire and smoke, and they
can thus make themselves visible to mortals. There are three orders of Jinn:
flyers, walkers, and divers. Many are supposed to have accepted the True
Faith, and these are regarded as good; the rest are bad. The latter dwell
and work in close association with the Fallen Angels, whose chief is Iblis ("the
An Ifrit (Ifritah) is a powerful Jinni (Jinniyah). The Marids are a particu
larly powerful and dangerous class of Jinn.
Bending over him, she kissed him between the eyes, and
presently drew back the sheet over his face; and after a while she
spread her wings and, soaring into the air, flew upwards till she
drew near to the lowest of the heavens.
Now as chance or destiny would have it, the soaring Ifritah
Maymunah suddenly heard in her neighborhood the noisy flap
ping of wings. Directing herself by the sound, she found it com
ing from an Ifrit called Dahnash. So she swooped down on him
like a sparrow hawk, and when he was aware of her and knew
her to be Maymunah, the daughter of the king of the Jinn, he
was sore afraid, and his side muscles quivered, and he implored
her to forbear. But she challenged him to declare whence he
should be coming at this hour of the night. He replied that he
was returning from the Islands of the Inland Sea in the parts of
China, the realms of King Ghayur, Lord of the Islands and the
Seas and the Seven Palaces.
"There," said he, "I saw a daughter of his, than whom Allah
hath made none fairer in her time." And he launched into great
praise of the Princess Budur. "She hath a nose," said he, "like
the edge of a burnished blade and cheeks like purple wine or
anemones blood-red: her lips as coral and cornelian shine and
the water of her mouth is sweeter than old wine; its taste would
quench hell's fiery pain. Her tongue is moved by wit of high de
gree and ready repartee: her breast is seduction to all that see
(glory be to Him Who fashioned it and finished it!); and joined
thereto are two upper arms smooth and rounded; even as saith
of her the poet Al-Walahan:
She hath wrists which, did her bangles not contain,
Would run from out her sleeves in silvern rain."
The celebration of her beauty continued, and when Maymunah
had heard it all she remained silent in astonishment. Dahnash
resumed, and described the mighty king, her father, his trea
sures, and the Seven Palaces, as well as the history of the daugh
ter's refusal to wed. "And I," said he, "O my lady, go to her
every night and take my fill of feeding my sight on her face and I
kiss her between the eyes: yet, of my love to her, I do her no
hurt." He desired Maymunah to fly back with him to China and
look on the beauty, loveliness, stature, and perfection of propor
tion of the princess. "And after, if thou wilt," said he, "chastise
me or enslave me; for it is thine to bid and to forbid."
Maymunah was indignant that anyone should presume to cel
ebrate any creature in the world, after the glimpse she had just
had of Kamar al-Zaman. "Faugh! Faugh!" she cried. She laughed
at Dahnash and spat in his face. "Verily, this night I have seen a
young man," said she, "whom if thou saw though but in a dream,
thou wouldst be palsied with admiration and spittle would flow
from thy mouth." And she described his case. Dahnash ex
pressed his disbelief that anyone could be more handsome than
the Princess Budur, and Maymunah commanded him to come
down with her and look.
"I hear and I obey," said Dahnash.
And so they descended and alighted in the salon. Maymunah
stationed Dahnash beside the bed and, putting out her hand,
drew back the silken coverlet from Kamar al-Zaman's face, when
it glittered and glistened and shimmered and shone like the ris
ing sun. She gazed at him for a moment, then turning sharply
round upon Dahnash said: "Look, O accursed, and be not the
basest of madmen; I am a maid, yet my heart he hath waylaid."
"By Allah, O my Lady, thou art excusable," declared Dahnash;
"but there is yet another thing to be considered, and that is, that
the estate female differeth from the male. By Allah's might, this
thy beloved is the likest of all created things to my mistress in
beauty and loveliness and grace and perfection; and it is as
though they were both cast alike in the mold of seemlihead."
The light became darkness in Maymunah's sight when she
heard those words, and she dealt Dahnash with her wing so
fierce a buffet on the head as well-nigh made an end of him. "I
conjure thee," she commanded, "by the light of my love's glori
ous countenance, go at once, O accursed, and bring hither thy
mistress whom thou lovest so fondly and foolishly, and return in
haste that we may lay the twain together and look at them both
as they lie asleep side by side; so shall it appear to us which be
the goodlier and more beautiful of the two."
And so, incidentally to something going on in a zone of which
he was entirely unconscious, the destiny of the life-reluctant
Kamar al-Zaman began to fulfil itself, without the cooperation of
his conscious will.
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