Whoosh! Issue 35 - August 1999


IAXS project #704
By Linda Waite
Content copyright © 1999 held by author
Edition copyright © 1999 held by Whoosh!
6668 words

Introduction (01-06)
The Original Pain (07-09)
The Desire for Revenge (10-14)
Revenge Motivated by Guilt (15-16)
Placing Blame Onto Others (17-19)
Making a Commitment to Vengeance (20-21)
Separation from One's Feelings (22-24)
Embracing Hatred (25-30)
Support from Others for Being a Monster (31-33)
The Desire to See Others in Pain (34-38)
Causing Fear (39)
Harming Innocents (40-42)
Embracing Evil (43-45)
Becoming One of the Living Dead (46-47)
Conclusion (48-50)
Writers of the Episodes Cited

Pursuing Vengeance: Becoming A Monster


When told she snores, Xena takes the news badly

Gabrielle and Xena in another campfire scene from CALLISTO.

[01] With an impassioned sense of urgency and seriousness, in CALLISTO (22/122) at the campfire with Xena, Gabrielle sums up the danger that is posed by the pursuit of vengeance.

Gabrielle: Now Callisto will do anything for revenge. ... Hate is making [Melas] an obsessed killer. Somebody has to say no to this lust for revenge.
Xena: ... If something happened to mother or Hercules or you, I might do just the same.
Gabrielle: "No. No look--you promise me. If something happens to me, you will not become a monster. There's only one way to end this cycle of hatred, and it's through love and forgiveness."

[02] Throughout the four seasons of Xena: Warrior Princess, reference has been made to the fact that a person can become a Monster, and that Xena was a Monster during most of the ten years prior to her life with Gabrielle.

[03] A person becomes a Monster when her actions are guided by the desire to manifest her internal pain in an external fashion; essentially, to make others hurt as much or more than she hurts inside. In XWP, a true Monster harms the innocent, lays waste to entire villages, deceives those who trust or depend on them, kills or causes pain for sport or personal pleasure, and reinforces these behaviors in others. XWP proposes that generally Monsters are made, not born, and that the response one has to painful experiences can free the soul or putrefy it.

[04] We encounter Monsters in our daily lives--the divorcing spouse who tries to "kill" their ex-spouse by attempting to strip them of money, home, friends, profession, and children; the boss strutting through the office demanding that everyone obey his commands, firing anyone who has an opinion; the parents who beat or assault their children, stealing their innocence for the parent's pleasure or need for power. Some of us live within families where pain turns into anger, anger into hatred, and hatred into vengeance. Our prisons are filled with men and women who were violated by individuals and circumstances throughout their lives. We cage them for society's protection, but don't seem to have the ability to provide them with a way to transform themselves from the Monsters they have become.

[05] Throughout XWP, there are examples of the progression one follows to become a Monster, particularly when the desire for vengeance motivates a person to action. There is the initial pain, which often brings about the desire for revenge. Some revenge is motivated by guilt, and is strengthened when blame is placed on others. Making a commitment to vengeance furthers one in the direction of becoming a Monster. Separating from one's feelings, embracing hatred, and receiving support from others for being a Monster help to seal a way of functioning in the world. The longer one remains in that world, the more one is invited to indulge the desire to see others in pain, to cause fear, to harm innocents and to embrace evil. Ultimately, a Monster can become one of the living dead.

[06] This article is part one of two. It will discuss the issues of pursuing vengeance and becoming a Monster, as it has been presented in XWP. The second part will address how one calms the Monster and heals vengeance by disengaging from the battle, refocusing attention, calming the heart, granting forgiveness, and guiding one's life into a place of neutrality and balance.

The Original Pain

[07] The original pain of losing someone you love or something you hold precious can be devastating. For some people, like Callisto, their response to this original pain determines the course and quality of their entire life. Callisto lost her family when her village caught fire during an attack of Xena's army. In MATERNAL INSTINCTS (57/311), after Xena's son Solan was killed, Callisto says, "Hurts doesn't it? Losing your family--rips out your heart, your guts, your feelings. All that's left is the pain, right? Welcome to the club." Callisto's response to this pain was to dedicate her life to destroying Xena. Even when held as Xena's captive and facing imprisonment, Callisto declared, "You let me go and I will dedicate my life to killing everything you love--your friends, your family, your reputation, even your horse." (CALLISTO, 22/122).

[08] Xena's pain began when she fought her original battles with Cortese in Amphipolis. Xena told her brother Toris, "It was fighting [Cortese] that twisted me into what I became." (DEATH MASK, 23/123). Xena's response to the pain of those battles was to adopt the philosophy that "Hard times breed hard people." (WARRIOR PRINCESS, H09/109), and to become one of those "hard people" by choosing the life of a warrior long after Amphipolis was protected from external attack. After years as a prosperous warrior and troop commander, Xena was betrayed by Caesar who had her captured and crucified, leaving her to die with crushed legs. She was saved by M'Lila, who then sacrificed her life to protect Xena. Following these tragedies, Xena declared, "A new Xena is born tonight with a new purpose in life--Death!" (DESTINY, 36/212). Xena took her "shattered legs and cripple soul" to the East, "to lose myself in vengeance, not against Caesar, but the entire human race." (THE DEBT I, 52/306).

[09] The original pain many of us suffer is not likely to be as dramatic as those sustained by Xena. We may be discriminated against, fired from a job without cause, betrayed by a friend or family member. We may have suffered repeated abuse or neglect at the hands of someone in charge of protecting us. We may have had our authority undermined, our opinions invalidated, our accomplishments ignored. The end result, however, is similar to Xena's; we must choose whether we will let this pain turn us in the direction of being a Monster, or find other ways to come to peace and heal our wounds.

The Desire For Revenge

[10] We can assume that Xena, despite being "twisted" by her battles with Cortese and "hardened" by her life as a warrior, did not become a Monster until she declared vengeance on the entire human race. For many of us, particularly individuals not accustomed to heart-breaking loss or personal violation, the original pain can lead immediately to a declaration of revenge.

Narcoleptic children litter the Ancient Greek landscape

Children wronged are a subtle but important subthread in CALLISTO.

[11] In CALLISTO (22/122), Melas, who according to Gabrielle is a "good man", was away from his village when Callisto and her army attacked and killed his entire family. Initially believing the rumor spread by Callisto that Xena was the leader of the attack, Melas vows vengeance, telling Xena, "I don't care how long it takes--I will see you dead one day...I will continue to hunt you, even if it costs me my life." While infected with his desire for revenge, Melas believes that the only way he will "find peace" is to "know [Xena's] evil heart has stopped beating." Even after he realizes that Callisto, not Xena, killed his family, Melas continues to declare to Gabrielle, "You don't get it, do you? I don't want to drift off. I'm not trying to run away from the pain. I want to satisfy it, and the only way I can do that is with Callisto's blood."

[12] Little did Gabrielle know when she heard Melas speak these words, that soon she would feel the same about Callisto. After Callisto kills Gabrielle's husband the morning after their wedding night, Gabrielle tells Xena, "From here on out, all I want on my hands is Callisto's blood." When Xena encourages Gabrielle to take time to mourn, Gabrielle states, "I have the rest of my life to mourn. I want to see her dead." (RETURN OF CALLISTO, 29/205)

[13] The desire for vengeance can also be aroused in a group of people experiencing pain in response to the same violation. In SINS OF THE PAST (01/101) Xena is confronted by the angry family members of the men and women she lead into battle to protect Amphipolis. Xena taunts the crowd saying, "What are you waiting for--take your revenge. It's true what they say--it's sweet." In THE RECKONING (06/106), Xena is believed to have killed two villagers and wounded another. The village is in an uproar, wanting her killed for murdering their loved ones. As Xena and Gabrielle attempt to leave the area, Xena tells Gabrielle, "I've seen what can happen to people whose loved ones are butchered. Their vision gets bent and twisted, then there's no telling what they'll do." Later, while held captive in the village jail, Xena says to Ares, the God of War, "You, above all, should know what grief can drive people to do."

[14] Outside the world of XWP, the desire for revenge can come in many forms. It might manifest as the desire to discredit a perceived enemy through the spreading of rumor, confidential information, or trade secrets. It might inspire plots to bring public shame to the target of our revenge, or it might fuel a nearly constant obsession to see the targeted person or organization struggle, suffer, and fail. We wish for a symbolic death, if not a real one.

Revenge Motivated By Guilt

[15] One of the underlying messages of XWP is that guilt can turn ordinary people into Monsters. In both THE GAUNTLET (H12/112) and in CALLISTO (22/122), fathers who were away from their villages at the time of an attack, felt they should have been present to protect their families. To make amends for this failure, both men dedicated their lives to fighting those who killed their families, even though the damage had been done. Another father suffering from the guilt of having failed to protect his family was Goliath (GIANT KILLER, 27/203). Xena asked him, "Do you think your wife would want you to hurt innocent people to avenge her?", and Goliath answered, "She wouldn't. She was peace loving and forgiving. And now she's dead because I wasn't there when my family needed me. I have to live with that."

[16] Sometimes the guilt is based not on failing others but on failing oneself. When Amphipolis was attacked by Cortese, Xena and her brother Lyceus stayed in the village and fought. Their older brother Toris left the village and went into the surrounding hills. During the battle, Lyceus was killed and the village was saved. Xena eventually left Amphipolis to be a professional warrior. Toris, however, wandered through life persecuted by guilt and obsessed by the desire to kill Cortese to resolve his guilt. In DEATH MASK (23/123), Toris, in anguish, told Xena, "I was a coward", to which Xena replied, "Murdering Cortese will not ease that guilt."

Placing Blame Onto Others

When good mudbaths go bad

Callisto is tormented in Tartarus.

[17] For some people, making a declaration of revenge and acting accordingly can, in their own minds, absolve them of responsibility for the impact of their choices and actions. They see themselves as responding in kind for the violations perpetrated against them. They are following the often well-ingrained teachings of "an eye for an eye". The placing of blame onto the shoulders of others is likely to be an important part of someone turning into a Monster. When we are not responsible for our actions, we can do hideous things and continue to blame others. Callisto in CALLISTO (22/12) refers to herself as she tells Xena, "You created a monster with integrity, Xena. Scary, isn't it?". In INTIMATE STRANGER (31/207), she says to Xena, "However evil you think I am, Xena, my soul is clean because it's all on you. You started this when you killed my family."

[18] Those practiced at placing blame can sometimes get others to assume responsibility for their actions. Xena has shown a tendency to take the blame for Callisto's life choices, and, as a result, to assume more than her fair share of guilt. In CALLISTO (22/122), Gabrielle cautions Xena about doing this by saying, "You can't torture yourself by what she's become." Callisto demonstrates her guilt-inducing/blame assuming manipulations by saying, "No, no, no, of course not. It's not her fault at all that I dream every night of my mother's screams coming from my burning home. You tell me, Xena, do you sleep well at night?" Xena, understandably replies, "No, I don't." To Xena's credit, in INTIMATE STRANGER (31/207), with the help of Callisto's mother, Xena gives Callisto back the responsibility for her actions.

Callisto's Mother: I'm not here because of Xena. I've come because of you. Every time you killed, you were killing me.
Xena: How many of your victims had faces, Callisto? How many had families--sons and daughters who loved their parents? How many were just like your mother when they died at your hand?
Callisto: No! No, you can't make me feel guilty.
Xena: You're right. Only you can do that. ... I've got my own past to deal with, but I'm not taking the weight of your crimes any more.
Callisto's Mother: Look around you. These people didn't need to die.
Callisto: No, go away. I didn't do anything. She did it--not me. (...)
Callisto's Mother: You have to face your crimes.

[19] Sometimes the placing of blame accurately reflects responsibility for transgressions. In THE DEBT I/II (52-53/306-307), Xena kidnaps the boy Ming T'ien and essentially buries him in a small space behind a wall of stone. She is willing to kill the boy if her ransom demands are not met and she makes sure the boy knows that. When Xena goes to Chin to fulfill her debt to Lao Ma, an adult Ming T'ien declares to Xena, "You made me, Xena. You taught me to be the monster I am." Her response was to say to him, "I know. It's part of the reason I'm here. I've learned to clean up after myself."

Making A Commitment To Vengeance

[20] In XWP, as is true in life, even people possessing "a good heart" are not immune to the seduction of vengeance. When the violation is extreme enough, even those usually able to see the positive and grant forgiveness, can be swept up into a tidal wave of emotion and commit themselves to acts of revenge. This was true for Gabrielle just after her husband was murdered in front of her by Callisto (RETURN OF CALLISTO, 29/205). Gabrielle's desire for revenge was unmistakable as, rage filled, she slashed at a tree with a sword, then demanded that Xena teach her how to use a sword for the purpose of killing. Xena refused and Gabrielle demanded an explanation.

Xena: Because I won't help you destroy all the ideals that you live by.
Gabrielle: My ideals were a lie. I thought love was the strongest power on earth. What a fool. Love is helpless in the face of cruelty.
Xena: Gabrielle, if you're taken over by hatred, Callisto wins.
Gabrielle: I've got news for you, Xena. She's already won.
[21] Gabrielle's commitment to revenge propelled her to poke Xena in the abdomen with the point of her sword exclaiming, "Teach me! Teach me!!". When Xena refused a second time, Gabrielle was unrelenting in her commitment to vengeance, stating, "Xena wake up and look around you. The little innocent Gabrielle is dead and there's no getting her back. Teach me how to kill her, Xena. I'm going to cut her open and watch her bleed. I'm gonna kill her, Xena. Teach me how to kill her."

Separation From One's Feelings

Callisto's personal cast for the first performance of WEST SIDE STORY

She's out and she's not happy in RETURN OF CALLISTO.

[22] In RETURN OF CALLISTO (29/205), Gabrielle's commitment to revenge overshadowed all other feelings. Her usual compassion and her desire for understanding were gone. Concern for herself and those closest to her was non-existent. Her desire to ease or eliminate the suffering of others was replaced by her desire to inflict pain. Her very existence, even in her own eyes, was focused on one thing--killing Callisto. Even after she heard Xena on her knees under the moonlight say, "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 the light that shines out of her face go out. I couldn't stand the darkness that would follow," Gabrielle still could not feel anything beyond her desire for revenge. It was not until Gabrielle stood with her sword at Callisto's throat, that Gabrielle's vengeance gave way to other feelings, and her original values reasserted themselves.

[23] After years of living like "an animal", of "living from one moment to the next, driven by desire alone" (THE DEBT, 52/306), Xena began to better understand what may have turned her into a Monster. Not being able to feel, not having a connection between her mind, emotions and actions, may have allowed Xena to enact the atrocities she performed during the time she was taking her vengeance on the "entire human race". In DEATH MASK (23/123), Xena's brother Toris asked her what it had felt like when she'd beaten Cortese. Xena said, "Feel--I didn't have time to feel anything. Maybe that was the problem. I knew that he'd come back so I decided to form an army for defense. And then I figured to take the surrounding villages for a buffer. Then somewhere--I don't know where--I changed. I didn't have time to FEEL anything." Clearly one of the most healing benefits of Xena's relationship with Gabrielle has been that Xena's love for Gabrielle has allowed her to open herself to the complex mixture of emotions that make up one's humanity.

[24] It is easy to separate from one's feelings, particularly when we are in pain and the pain does not go away. Staying with the pain--leaning into the sharp places, remaining open to the mixture of emotions that keep us human--is difficult and takes practice. Many of us were never taught how to do this, and we are, as a result, at greater risk for becoming a Monster.

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