Whoosh! Issue 33 - June 1999

Working Out Your Own Salvation With Xena: Warrior Princess
Or, The Renewing of Ego Ideals in Syndication

If You Killed Your Friends and Family, Who Would Bring You Casseroles?

Gabrielle, after overcoming that 'blood on her hands' thing

Gabrielle can always be counted on to bring a casserole [GABRIELLE'S CASSEROLE oops, we mean GABRIELLE'S HOPE].

[30] In Totem And Taboo, Sigmund Freud lays the groundwork for an understanding of the role of mourning and projection in the madness of war. Freud points to the ambivalence inherent in close relationships and how it is projected onto others, even onto recently deceased loved ones. "In almost every case where there is an intense emotional attachment to a particular person we find that behind the tender love there is a concealed hostility in the unconscious". When the loved one dies, this hostility is "distressingly felt in the unconscious as satisfaction over the death. . . The defense against it takes the form of displacing it on to the object of the hostility, on to the dead themselves" [Note 20]. This projection of ambivalence takes a much more harmful form in war, as Freud and many of his followers have noted. In her essay, "Why War?", Jacqueline Rose reports:

In much of the psychoanalytic writing that I have read on the subject of war, the problem of war is placed in the context of mourning. . . . We project on to the alien, or other, the destructiveness we fear in the most intimate relations or parts of ourselves. Instead of trying to repair it at home, we send it abroad. War makes the other accountable for a horror we can then wipe out with impunity, precisely because we have located it so firmly in the other's place. This saves us the effort of ambivalence, the hard work of recognizing that we love where we hate, that, in our hearts and minds at least, we kill those to whom we are most closely and intimately attached. [Note 21]

[31] However, the recognition of this ambivalence, facing our "demons", so to speak, is the beginning of recovery from the berserk state, of recognizing some moral restraints and of becoming more human ourselves. Not unlike Shay (who sees honoring the enemy, recognizing the humanity of the other, as an essential step in recovery from combat PTSD), Freud and others in the psychoanalytic tradition describe the recognition of our own, LESS-honorable impulses as the beginning of honoring the humanity of others. Rose cites Freud on the origins of the

...earliest ethical commandment, "Thou shalt not kill:" It was acquired in relation to dead people who were loved, as a reaction against the satisfaction of the hatred hidden behind the grief for them; and it was gradually extended to strangers who were not loved, and finally even to enemies. . . It is, paradoxically, because we hate our enemies and recognize in that hatred our psychic alienation from those we are presumed to love, that we do not kill them. [Note 22]

Humanizing the "Enemy"

Win this one, men, and it's 'oats for all!'


[32] In Xena's case, the recognition of this projection and alienation has been the only thing that could snap her out of her berserk killing rage. When she would have wiped out the entire Centaur Nation in her quest for ultimate power, her lover and (until then) fellow evildoer Borias opposed her, siding with the Centaurs. After Borias was murdered by Dagnine, her lieutenant, Xena was restored to sanity long enough to recognize that if she kept their infant son with her, he would grow up to be just like her, become a target for her enemies, and "learn things no child should know". Wishing a better life for her child, and recognizing the Centaurs at last for an honorable people (not "the enemy as vermin"), she gave them her son to raise and protect, promising never to attack them again [ORPHAN OF WAR (25/201) and PAST IMPERFECT (77/409)].

[33] When Ares masqueraded as her long-lost father and was "killed" by some villagers, in order to channel all Xena's ambivalence and rage at "Daddy" into a determination to "Kill them all!" (and so derail her recovery and win her back to his cause), only the recognition that her beloved friend Gabrielle stood with the targets of her hatred could finally reach her [TIES THAT BIND (20/120)].

[34] When the ruthless, "Kill 'em all!" Xena resurfaced in order to take command of an Athenian garrison besieged by "The Horde", and asserted that "There's nothing about them that we can, or should, understand", only Gabrielle's journey outside the walls to give water to the enemy wounded on the battlefield allowed Xena to see that annihilation might not be the only possible solution [THE PRICE (44/220)].

[35] And finally, when a deranged Xena, persecuted by the Furies, was determined to burn out an entire village full of inhuman monsters who had "crucified the women and children" according to her deluded eyes, it was Gabrielle who could make her see the truth: "Xena, there's nobody here but women and children, . . . and they're frightened of you" [THE FURIES (47/301)].

[36] Both Shay and Freud allude to the ways in which armies, as artificial groups, recreate and mimic the psychological effects of families [Note 23]. Freud describes the church, too, as an artificial group, like the army in the sense of being united under the belief (however illusory) that the leader is a "father" who loves all his children equally and that through their relationship to the "father," members of the group become brothers and sisters, or comrades [Note 24].

[37] Between armies, churches, and families, there seem to be quite a few people who find something familiar about Xena's rage and the psychological wounds left by her experiences in battle. Quite a few viewers see in her struggles to change, to reconnect with humanity, their own need to defend against the defenses they developed long ago to cope with unbearable pain, defenses which now cause more pain to themselves and others. And if she, who crossed the line, who became abusive and destructive, and who carries the weight of so many crimes on her conscience, if she can change, can learn to forgive, can live with her pain and the consequences of her choices, and can become a true protector of the innocent, then maybe there is hope for us, as well.

[38] In the final song of the third-season episode THE BITTER SUITE (58/312), a Xena who has just stepped down from her cross sings to Gabrielle, "Forgive me my debt, as only you could. Forgive me the hate, replace evil with good. Forgive me, and find out that you will be able to forgive yourself, too". She concludes with a general appeal to "Forgive those who'd harm you, do good for those who hate. Forgive and not forget, I know it's not too late . . . ". When she practices what she preaches (which is more often than not), Xena is a rewarding and ethically demanding ego ideal, who also happens to be very good at kicking evil butt. She fills a void, a need many of us have for a credible moral guide, in more than just the delightful way she bares her teeth and growls, "Be nice!" She has the courage to face the worst in herself and her world, as often as it appears, and to keep seeking after the best in herself and others: 'Xena reformata, semper reformanda!'

Working Out Your Own Salvation

Mirror, mirror, on the wall...who's your favorite warrior tall?

Xena, in a casual moment from CHARIOTS OF WAR.

". . . and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?"
  --Micah 6:8

[39] The salvation which Xena seeks for herself, and which she holds out as a possibility to others, is a humanistic sort of redemption. Xena's ambition is to become a human being capable of facing her past, making productive and generally beneficial use of her energies in the present, and having some sense of hope for the future. She has apparently decided "to do justice, and to love kindness" out of a sense of what she owes to herself, rather than because it is what some god requires of her [Note 25]. She adheres to a "Take-matters-into-your-own-hands-rather-than-wait-for-some- god-to-save-you" philosophy [Note 26]. In her experience, the gods are far more likely to be the problem than a solution (though she is tolerant of the faith of others, as long as they are not hurting anybody). Her friendship with Gabrielle is her only real "higher power", and the one time [prior to THE WAY (84/416)] she has ever been seen to pray was when Gabrielle's soul was in danger, when Gabrielle was on the verge of giving in to hatred and following the path Xena had once taken, into revenge and murder [Note 27]. Fans who talk about Xena as a positive role model almost always mention that she is a flawed, fully human, and therefore attainable ideal.

[40] However, as mythic healing narrative, Xena: Warrior Princess has a 'transcendent' quality. Not unlike the warrior goddess Durga ("present always in the eternal but who manifests in the physical when the demons get out of hand"), internalized images of Xena fighting the good fight rise up to offer hope and protection when the demons of past abuse get out of hand [Note 28]. As one incest survivor reports, scenes of Xena fighting back and winning, scenes of her breaking her chains and protecting the innocent, can counter the terror of flashbacks. Images of Xena's power to protect "became like a talisman in my own quest for redemption, with the power to hold some of the worst shadows at bay" [Note 29]. Exorcizing and transforming old names, images, and stories, the Xena narrative (both in the series and as appropriated by fans in their own fiction) provides new images that are "the bearers of healing," according to Patricia Lynn Reilly in A God Who Looks Like Me:

As we immerse ourselves within them, healing reaches down into the depths of our self-hatred. It is very difficult and sometimes impossible for psychological theory, elaborate theologies, and the rhetoric of recovery to penetrate to those depths... Our deepest injuries are reached by a god who looks like us. [Note 30]

[41] As a survivor of horrific traumas, and as someone who must fight against her own rage and desire to dominate and exploit others, Xena looks like many of us. I believe it is the transcendent aspect of the "Xena" myth, which is being tapped when viewers, faced with tough choices in daily life, ask themselves, "What Would Xena Do?"


Note 01:
See Dyann Esparza, "The Warrior's Path: A Survival Guide For Modern Day Heroes As Gleaned From 'Xena: Warrior Princess,'" Whoosh! #17 (02/98), p. 3: "In watching the struggles that each character faces, I can see mirrored the battles I have in my life. While I may not be battling gods and monsters, I am battling for my right to exist, to love whom I want, and my own shadowed demons of depression and apathy".
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Note 02:
Catherine M. Wilson, "Women At the Convention: A Survey, Part One: Lesbian Fans," Whoosh! #05 (02/97), p. 9
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Note 03:
I, for instance, did not realize how malnourished I had become, until I discovered XWP's catalytic and revivifying effect upon my theology.
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Note 04:
See Kym Masera Taborn, "The Curse of Baywatch", Whoosh! #10, July 1997
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Note 05:
Among the more notable exceptions to "XWP is Baywatch" refrain, see Donna Minkowitz, "Xena: She's Big, Tall, Strong--and Popular," Ms. Magazine July/August 1996, vol. VII, #1.

For a sampling of others, see Mark Kingwell, "Babes in Toyland (`Sailor Moon is all the rage, but a butt-kicking Amazon named Xena is a better role model for your daughter)," Saturday Night (Toronto), Feb. 1997, vol. 112, #1.

See also Anne Beatts, "Princess of the Xeitgeist: All hail Xena, Warrior Princess, whose power and (yes, ambiguous) sexuality have boys and girls of all ages simply swooning," The Los Angeles Times, Nov. 30, 1997.
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Note 06:
Sigmund Freud. Group Psychology And The Analysis Of The Ego trans. and ed. by James Strachey. W. W. Norton & Company (New York: 1959), p. 88. See also p. 87, on the hero myth as the "first ego ideal".
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Note 07:
In order mentioned, the episodes are: THE TITANS (07/107), PROMETHEUS (08/108), DEATH IN CHAINS (09/109), HOOVES AND HARLOTS (10/110), A A FISTFUL OF DINARS (14/114), TEN LITTLE WARLORDS (32/208), MORTAL BELOVED (16/116), ULYSSES (43/219), GABRIELLE'S HOPE (51/305), and THE FURIES (47/301).
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Note 08:
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Note 09:
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Note 10:
CRADLE OF HOPE (04/104); THE ROYAL COUPLE OF THIEVES (17/117) and ALTARED STATES (19/119); GIANT KILLER (27/203); DESTINY (36/212) and THE DELIVERER (50/304); ADVENTURES IN THE SIN TRADE II (70/402) and IDES OF MARCH (89/421); A SOLSTICE CAROL (33/209); THE QUEST (37/213).
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Note 11:
Wilson, pp. 2-3.
On pp. 4-5, another viewer explains why she was ecstatic when she discovered Xena: "The fact that she was a woman never even came up. People admired her for what she made of herself, feared her for what she had been, but no one ever said, 'Oh, she's just a women, I'm sure I can whip her with one hand tied behind my back.' Her fearsomeness was never a surprise. They never made excuses for what she could do, either. She just was. The Hero, the Villain, the Paradox..."
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Note 12:
Kirby Krueger, "Xena: A Myth for the Nineties," Whoosh!, #15, Dec. 1997, p. 3.
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Note 13:
Shay, Jonathan. Achilles In Vietnam: Combat Trauma And The Undoing Of Character. Touchstone (New York: 1995), pp. 74,75. Shay's model might also be applicable to the deep sense of betrayal expressed by many fans over the "Rift" between Xena and Gabrielle in the third season. For those who have experienced abuse in the past, and who had looked on Xena and Gabrielle's love and strength as a kind of life-line (the narrowing of the moral universe to "the beloved comrades"), Gabrielle's rape by the god Dahak, Gabrielle's betrayal of Xena in Ch'in, the murder of Xena's son by Gabrielle's inhuman daughter, and Xena's abuse and attempted murder of Gabrielle are "unforgivable" betrayals of the fans' trust. The Powers That Be (the Xena production staff) have broken faith, violated the covenant, defiled the sanctuary, and left some fans with the kind of "devastating sense of spiritual abandonment and meaninglessness", which Shay describes.
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Note 14:
Ibid., pp. 75, 98.
These "hallmarks" of PTSD are noticeably present in Xena's life as a warlord, and they tend to resurface when traumatic situations trigger a return of the "Kill 'em all!" mentality.
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Note 15:
Ibid., p. 115.
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Note 16:
Ibid., pp. 111-114.
It seems worth pointing out that the Xena version of the Goliath story subverts and reforms most of the elements which Shay finds insidious and dehumanizing in the Biblical version. Xena's Goliath is an old friend and comrade whose family was murdered by an enemy while he was saving Xena's life. Obsessed with the desire for revenge against the murderer, Goliath has gone mercenary, selling his services to the Philistines for the promise of gold and the current whereabouts of his nemesis. When moral persuasion fails to discourage Goliath from fighting for "the wrong side", Xena sadly decides to help the Israelites defeat him, saying, "I owe you my life, not the lives of others". Having masterminded his death, Xena then stays by his side to comfort, mourn, and make peace with him as he lies dying.
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Note 17:
Ibid., p. 115.
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Note 18:
Ibid., p. 188.
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Note 19:
Whoosh! issue 25, Oct. 1998, is devoted entirely to studying the fan fiction phenomenon, providing many useful statistics, insights, and connections to fan fiction Internet sites.
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Note 20:
Sigmund Freud. Totem And Taboo. trans. and ed. by James Strachey. W. W. Norton & Company (New York: 1989), pp. 76- 77.
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Note 21:
Jacqueline Rose. Why War?-Psychoanalysis, Politics, And The Return To Melanie Klein. Blackwell (Oxford: 1993), pp. 18-19.
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Note 22:
Ibid., p. 20.
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Note 23:
Shay, pp. 151-152.
Shay describes armies and families as "institutions that create a world," and then gives an extensive list of features which are common to both these institutions-a list whose effect he recognizes as 'uncanny': "Apply this list to the relationship between recruits and their drill instructors and that between small children and their parents. The fit to both is uncomfortably close. I am aware that my unsoftened choice of words suggests something sinister, which readers may not wish to see applied to normal families or to well-functioning armies. The uncanny, slightly ominous quality comes from the emanation of absolute power that the list embodies, even if that power is never abused".
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Note 24:
Group Psychology, pp. 33-34.
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Note 25:
At the conclusion of the third-season episode TSUNAMI (65/319), Xena is confronted by the convicted murderer whom she has saved from drowning, at considerable risk to her own life, even though he had just tried to drown her: "Why did you come back for me?" he asks, angrily. "I'm a killer. What did you expect?" Xena replies, "From you? Nothing! From me, nothing less".
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Note 26:
See the episodes WARRIOR...PRIESTESS...TRAMP (55/309), FORGIVEN (60/314), and TSUNAMI (65/319), among many others.
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Note 27:
In RETURN OF CALLISTO (29/205), Gabrielle's new bridegroom was murdered in cold blood by Callisto, a woman whose only purpose in life was to torture Xena and her loved ones. When Gabrielle could not be talked out of her intention to kill Callisto, Xena as a last resort turned her eyes to the night sky and said: "If anyone's listening, you know I'm not much for praying, but I don't know what else to do. I was ready to give up once, and Gabrielle came into my life. Please... don't let that light that shines out of her face go out. I couldn't stand the darkness that would follow".
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Note 28:
Vicki Noble. Shakti Woman: Feeling Our Fire, Healing Our World-The New Female Shamanism. Harper San Francisco (San Francisco: 1991), p. 240.
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Note 29:
Rebecca Hall, Esq., "'Xena: Warrior Princess': Abuse and Healing," Whoosh! #18, March 1998, p. 3.
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Note 30:
Patricia Lynn Reilly. A God Who Looks Like Me: Discovering A Woman-Affirming Spirituality. Ballantine Books (New York: 1995), p. 79.
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Bacon-Smith, Camille. Enterprising Women: Television Fandom And The Creation Of Popular Myth. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1992.

D'Erasmo, Stacey. "Xenaphilia." Village Voice. Dec. 26, 1995; volume 40 number 52; p. 47.

Dugaw, Dianne. Warrior Women And Popular Balladry 1650-1850. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989.

Fraser, Antonia. The Warrior Queens. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1989.

Freud, Sigmund. Group Psychology And The Analysis Of The Ego. translated and edited by James Strachey. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1959.

Freud, Sigmund. Totem And Taboo, translated and edited by James Strachey. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1989.

Jenkins, Henry. Textual Poachers: Television Fans And Participatory Culture. New York: Routledge, 1992.

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Noble, Vicki. Shakti Woman: Feeling Our Fire, Healing Our World-The New Female Shamanism. San Francisco: Harper San Francisco, 1991.

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Stafford, Nikki. "Intimate Strangers: Xenites Talk About XWP," -the results of an online questionnaire answered by 98 Xena viewers in the Fall of 1997, the lost chapter from Stafford's Lucy Lawless And Renee O'Connor: Warrior Stars Of Xena.

Stockwell, Anne. "Flirting with Xena", The Advocate: The National Gay And Lesbian Newsmagazine, Aug. 20, 1996; number 713-714; pp. 81-83.

Tillich, Paul. The Courage To Be. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1980.

Whoosh!. "The Journal of the International Association of Xena Studies", online edition, issues 1-25.

"Xena: Warrior Princess-A FAQ for Subtext Fans & the Loyal Opposition."


Lori C. Patton Lori C. Patton
I am an ordained Presbyterian minister, currently (or, perpetually?) working towards a Ph.D. in Religion and Personality, with the intention of using psychological theory (along with the practical theology acquired during 7 years of ministry in rural Iowa) to explicate and make fuller use of the healing power of popular narratives. This is a subject near and dear to my heart: I was raised by Star Trek, while my parents were busy dealing with their own craziness, and later on, in seminary, discovered that the best theology (the stuff that made sense of the universe, that gave meaning to my life) seemed to come from Diane Duane and other SF authors.
Favorite episode: (currently) IS THERE A DOCTOR (24/124), THE PRICE (44/220), and ONE AGAINST AN ARMY (59/313)
Favorite line: "I have many skills" (various episodes)
First episode seen: SINS OF THE PAST (01/101), when the show premiered.
Least favorite episode: (currently) THE KEY TO THE KINGDOM (78/410)

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