Whoosh! Issue 31 - April 1999


IAXS project #543
By Loree Angel
Content copyright © 1998 held by author
1580 words

Author's Note: Part One of this essay explores the archetype of the hero and his mythic quest as a rebellion against authority. Part Two will discuss changing beliefs in Xena's world. All episodes cited are from Xena: Warrior Princess unless otherwise noted.

The Hero's Journey (01-04)
Warrior's Code / Hero's Code (05-13)
The Underworld (14-17)
Conclusion (18-19)

Belief Systems in Xena's World: Part 1

The Hero's Journey

[1] Ancient Greece, land of Hercules and Odysseus, developed the heroic epic to such a high state that the Hero has become an archetype and the stages of her/his journey are the basis of our most enduring myths. By following her heart, that is, her innate sense of what is right, the Hero rebels against authority and traditional belief systems, defying the forces of darkness in the world and within herself. Xena and Gabrielle play out the Hero's journey, one that led Socrates to his death, against a backdrop of a chaotic world at the advent of social and religious change.

[2] The Hero's journey is one of intuitive design, what Joseph Campbell describes as "the trackless way", or what Carlos Casteneda calls a "path with a heart". Xena and Gabrielle's determination to follow their own hearts, "...doing something just because you know it's right" [Xena to Marcus in THE PATH NOT TAKEN (05/105)], is a rejection of the cult of the warrior and a rebellion against oppressive civil authority, as well as against the Olympic pantheon of gods.

[3] The old gods have become an effete power elite. They are ineffective against Caesar's onslaught and in resisting the advent of a New World order. At the opening of each episode, Xena rails against the god Poseidon rising from his ocean realm. Just as she boldly confronts the god of the sea, she repeatedly defeats or outwits the gods, Caesar, and civil authority, and she rescues the powerless, voiceless and condemned common folk from divine whim or legitimized tyranny.

Hey, Tara, remember the last ep you were in?  Why not dance over
this way so I can kick your *ss?

Dancing against oppression.

[4] The fourth season episode, TALE OF TWO MUSES (74/406), exemplifies Xena and Gabrielle's rebellion against oppressive civil authority. They save Tara from a flogging at the hands of Istafan, head of a civil militia, who dresses like the Grand Inquisitor at a witch trial. Our heroes manage to turn the entire town from the path of pious hysteria by encouraging the town's youth to go against civil prohibitions and follow their hearts in celebrating life through dance.

Warrior's Code / Hero's Code

[5] A code of vengeance marks the warrior culture Xena abandoned. It values honor achieved through courage and strength, and it values loyalty to whatever side you happen to be fighting on over reverence for life and doing good. In the Hercules: The Legendary Journeys (HTLJ) episode, THE GAUNTLET (H12/112), the old Xena, a notorious warlord, is betrayed by Darphus, once her most trusted man. She has begun her internal transformation from warlord to hero, and now she must leave her old life, as Darphus says, "the only way a warrior can", by running the gauntlet and facing almost certain death. As Xena crawls on her belly to the gauntlet finish line, she leaves her old life and retains her honor.

[6] The gauntlet serves as a rite of passage through her old life and belief system to the new, which will be, for some time, a kind of purgatory. Her life on the road symbolizes this transitional stage of spiritual development and its requisite self-searching or spiritual quest.

[7] Gabrielle serves as the guiding light, or inner voice, on Xena's quest for the light of goodness within herself. The code Gabrielle lives by combines her innate sense that goodness is our true nature with Christian-Judeo ideas of guilt and forgiveness, salvation and redemption, and a reverence for life.

[8] Gabrielle is the unlikely hero who finds herself on an unintended path. She just wanted out of Poteidaia. Innocent and untaught in warrior skills, she has Galahad's purity of heart and the conviction of Joan of Arc to follow her inner voice. Like the Hero, she refuses to accept the world the way it is. Consequently, she cannot find meaning or satisfaction in it except through rebellious contention with the forces of darkness that often compel traditional authority.

[9] Gabrielle's code runs contrary to the warrior's code and is blasphemous to the gods. The Olympic gods support vengeance as a value among humans and among themselves. Xena's former life was born of and shaped by vengeance, which she sought and won for her brother's death and which she continues to seek against Caesar. Xena, through her self-quest, follows Gabrielle's example and rejects the warrior's and the gods' compulsion for vengeance. In the case of Caesar, she backslides. Our hero is beautifully flawed, but she has abandoned vengeance as a part of her system of beliefs and values.

We're running a special on lap dances, big boy

Three goddesses, no waiting.

[10] In THE FURIES (47/301), the goddesses of vengeance, instigated by Ares, punish Xena for not avenging her father's death. They inflict her with madness, condition associated, even in to modern times, with a sickness of the soul. The plot is complicated by the fact that it is Xena's mother who killed her father, and it is against her that Xena must seek revenge to satisfy the gods. Killing her own mother will demoralize Xena, and fulfill Ares' true purpose: to kill Xena's spirit and make her dependent on him.

[11] Gabrielle attempts to save Xena, not by violent means, but by following her own moral compass, going against the gods and the warrior morality of the day. She tries to reason with Xena, who runs through the dark wood of madness. Gabrielle argues that they must find Xena's father's murderer and bring him to trial, hoping to appease the Furies through justice rather than vengeance.

[12] After they discover that Xena's mother is the murderer, Gabrielle seeks out Orestes, the legend that is the basis for the story. Orestes has avenged the murder of his father by killing his mother to appease Apollo. Gabrielle finds Orestes languishing in catatonic madness. Vengeance has killed his soul. Gabrielle returns with the knowledge gained on her quest, that vengeance will not redeem Xena but will, instead, bring about her spiritual death.

[13] Xena discovers the truth for herself when she learns the circumstances of her conception. It is the Socratic maxim "know thyself" that saves Xena from falling into Ares' trap and saves her soul. In the end, Xena combines courtroom justice and warrior skill to defy the gods' code of vengeance.

The Underworld

[14] The Hero's spiritual quest typically requires a descent into the underworld to perform a task. The descent may take literal form, as it does in Homer's Odyssey, or it may be symbolized by battling dark forces within the Hero's own psyche. In the underworld, the Hero must confront the darkness within herself and recognize the forces that motivate, provoke, and seduce her: vengeance, hatred, and a lust for power. Only then can she trust her inner voice and battle the greater forces of darkness in the world.

[15] Xena and Gabrielle play out the Hero's decent into the underworld as a psychic rift in the third season "rift" arc. The rift between Xena and Gabrielle is also a rift within themselves. Turned from the heart by extreme circumstances, they are plunged into confrontation with their respective inner darkness.

[16] In the symbolic Land of Illusia [THE BITTER SUITE (58/312)], Gabrielle realizes the evil she is capable of, while Xena discovers her capacity for forgiveness: the seed of each within the other. They rediscover their love for each other and redeem their souls, in defiance of the gods and the despotic figures, Caesar and Ming T'ien.

Man, it's friggin' cold in here.  Who's got a cigarette?

Down Under in the Underworld.

[17] Gabrielle's heroic descent is illustrated in the episode, FORGET ME NOT (63/317), where she drinks Mnemosine's potion of forgetfulness and takes an underworld journey through her past. She finds the seed of vengeance within herself, represented by Ares, with whom she must do spiritual battle. As the spiritual warrior, she comes to terms with her dark side, the force that Xena battles within herself continually.


[18] The opening of each Xena: Warrior Princess episode tells us that Xena's "...courage would change the world". The word "courage" descends from the Latin word for "heart". Socrates, Jesus, even Einstein defied traditional authority and followed their hearts. The world changed because of them.

[19] The lesson of the Hero as archetype is that we all have an innate sense, an inner voice, by which we may know what is right, and we all have a dark side. The task of the Hero is to reconcile good and evil within herself in order to access the inner knowing of her heart. Where traditional authority is corrupted by power and greed and no longer provides acceptable guidelines for living, one's own heart is the best guide - for heroes with the courage to listen.


Loree Angel Loree Angel
I am a writer, working toward a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing. I love ancient and medieval history and mythology, and plan to write a novel of Celtic Briton, part history, and part heroic fantasy.
Favorite episode: FINS, FEMMES AND GEMS (64/318)
Favorite line: "Lawlessness will reign." THE EXECUTION (41/217)
First episode seen: WARRIOR...PRINCESS...TRAMP (30/206)
Least favorite episode: LOCKED UP AND TIED DOWN (75/407)

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