Whoosh! Issue 40 - January 2000


IAXS project #733
By Hamutal Yellin
Content copyright © 2000 held by author
Edition copyright © 2000 held by Whoosh!
1817 words

Author's Note: Many of the ideas used in this essay correspond with Dana Hlusko's article "Am I Really Who I am Or What You Made Me", Whoosh! #35, August 1999.

When I wrote the article I was only familiar with the first three seasons of XENA: WARRIOR PRINCESS.

Xena: Modern Apostate (01-02)
Religion (03-05)
Destiny (06-08)
Relationships (09-14)
The Individual (15)

"No Fate But What We Make":
Xena's Perceptions of Religion, Destiny and Free Choice

Xena: Modern Apostate

[1] Rarely, if ever, does the American TV viewer encounter a heroine as outspokenly irreligious and skeptical as Xena, the Warrior Princess. Of course in a show as extraordinary as Xena (XWP), where the plot takes place in ancient Greece with all its multiple deities, there had to be a special twist to Xena's sacrilege.

[2] Unlike modern apostates, Xena does not doubt the existence of the gods. She does, after all, meet with them on an almost daily basis. She is continually fighting with them or against them, and she is even rumored to have been fathered by one of them. It is precisely her acknowledgment of their existence and her deep familiarity with them on which Xena bases her own beliefs about their role, or rather the lack of it, in her life and in the lives of others.


"You don't heal. You sit and wait for some god to help out when he feels like it."
   --Xena to Galen, IS THERE A DOCTOR IN THE HOUSE (24/124)

I don't care if the computer says I have no refills left, I need
those pills *now*, d*mm*t!

Xena expresses her views in IS THERE A DOCTOR IN THE HOUSE.
[3] This is not to say that Xena is completely anti-religion. There are many occasions on which Xena shows great respect for the beliefs of others, no matter how different and strange they may seem to her. For example, while getting ready to fight Goliath, she reinforces David, whom she knows to be a great believer in his one god, by telling him, "You might want to mention the weather to, um, Him" [GIANT KILLER (27/203)]. Many times she actively helps people maintain their beliefs, as she does when she agrees to retrieve Apollo's urn, despite her disavowal of the urn's powers [FORGIVEN (60/314)]. It is clear, then, that Xena does not object to the basic idea of religious faith; it is simply not her cup of tea.

[4] Her objections arise when she feels that people neglect to take responsibility for their own actions and lives, rendering themselves instead to the mercy of their chosen god. In peaceful times, she expresses her opinions calmly and respectfully, as when she remarks to the priestess Leah "I just think that you'd do better if you put more faith in yourself" [WARRIOR... PRIESTESS... TRAMP (55/309)]. In less peaceful times Xena often loses her temper, and she is consequently perceived by others as showing an "appalling lack of respect for the gods" [Galen in IS THERE A DOCTOR IN THE HOUSE (24/124)]. But if Xena is sometimes extreme in her reactions, it is only because it is so important for her to get her message across.

[5] In her eyes, total reliance on outer forces is not simply mistaken, but plain dangerous. It may prohibit one from taking necessary action, as is the case for Galen and his friends in IS THERE A DOCTOR IN THE HOUSE (24/124), or encourage one to take unnecessarily dangerous actions, as is the case for priestess Leah in WARRIOR... PRIESTESS... TRAMP (55/309). Moreover, such absolute dependence can also become a source of weakness that can be easily manipulated by one's opponents. Xena expresses this idea when she tells Gabrielle that in her opinion "[S]omeone is using Leah's blind devotion... to do her harm. Maybe even to kill her" [WARRIOR... PRIESTESS... TRAMP (55/309)].


"Each event in our life is part of a great plan. There are no accidents. Only destiny."
   -- Julius Caesar, DESTINY (36/212)

Actually, Regis, I'd like to use one of my lifelines now

That's Caesar. Julius Caesar.
[6] Godly intervention is only one possible source of influence on one's life. Another source is destiny. The notion of destiny has been present in the show from its very beginning and is very much a part of many different adventures, characters, and episodes. Yet it wasn't until the appearance of Julius Caesar on the show that this notion became personified and its magnitude revealed. For Caesar holds an unshakable belief in his destiny, a belief that enables him to remain inhumanly calm in the hardest of circumstances.

[7] Caesar's definition of what creates destiny is malleable. When Xena scornfully asks him if it is shaped by the gods, he answers, "Perhaps. Or it's the blood in our veins, our souls, our desires, our will. They are all in it together, weaving a tapestry we call 'destiny'" [DESTINY (36/212)]. Such a notion, in contrast to that of religion, is naturally easier for the self- reliant Xena to digest. This, along with the fact that three of the people whom she respects the most - M'Lila, Gabrielle, and Lyceus (in the alternate timeline) - seem to believe in the notion of destiny, strengthens her own belief in it. Still, there is an important difference between Xena's perception of destiny and the common perception as personified by Caesar.

[8] Caesar seems to believe that no matter what he does or what happens to him, his destiny must be fulfilled. Xena, Gabrielle, and M'Lila believe that destiny is something one must choose. Because this concept of destiny is based on individual choice, it is not perceived as something prearranged, but rather as something that one can change in any time. This is why, although Xena initially chose evil, it is her later choice to do good and heroic deeds which is perceived by her, and the people close to her, as her destiny.


"You're my source, Gabrielle. When I reach down inside of myself and do things that I'm not capable of, it's because of you."
   -- Xena, ONE AGAINST AN ARMY (59/313)

All right, five more minutes, but this is the last foot rub today!

Xena watches over a wounded and poisoned Gabrielle as well as taking out an army in ONE AGAINST AN ARMY.
[9] Yet, despite her self-reliance and her preaching to other people about how they alone are the writers of their own destiny, Xena seems to be a great believer in the influence of other people. Not only does she take responsibility for the "making" of such as Callisto, Walsim, Monlik, Glaphyra, Darnelle, and to some extent her brother Lyceus, but she also possesses an impressive collection of characters who have made a difference in her own life, for better or worse.

[10] Cortese and Caesar are marked as the two most notable negative influences. They are people who shook Xena's world, hurt her deeply, and made her thirsty for blood and vengeance.

[11] Hercules and Gabrielle (and earlier, M'Lila and Lao Ma, although their influence did not become apparent until much later) are the most prominent positive influences. Hercules is the one who puts Xena on the right track, presenting to her the benefits of doing good, while Gabrielle, who meets Xena after she is on already the right path, is the one who assures that Xena remains on it. Through her words, actions and sheer existence, Gabrielle constantly reminds Xena what is good and right. When Xena yields to her darker side and allows herself to be blinded by hatred and rage, Gabrielle is not afraid to confront her without regard to the consequences. Xena acknowledges the great impact these people have had over her life, and she uses every opportunity she can to thank those whom she feels deserve her gratitude.

[12] How, then, does Xena's individualistic approach coincide with her profound belief in the influence of others? The answer is very simple. While others do serve as great influences, it is still one's own choice whether he or she wants to be influenced and by whom. Xena does not run away from taking responsibility for her choices, good or bad. She also knows that choosing good is not enough.

[13] Aside from the continual necessity to face the consequences of her past choices, Xena is also faced with the temptation to return to her old ways. After all, being a warrior is what she does best. The choice must be made again every day. It is an inevitable part of life, and certainly not an easy one, but every time Xena decides to listen to Gabrielle rather than to Ares, it means she chooses good over evil once again.

[14] Xena's realization of the grave importance of presenting good influences to people solicits her to become one herself. In FORGIVEN (60/314), she takes the messed-up teenager Tara under her wing, believing in the girl even when she seems least deserving of it. By doing so, she succeeds in helping Tara restore her belief in herself. In VANISHING ACT (66/320), she prevents Autolycus from committing his first murder by reminding him of his brother and urging him to embrace his good influence rather than Tarsus's destructive one. By functioning as a good influence, Xena becomes for others what Hercules and Gabrielle were and are for her. In turn, they may someday become a good influence for other troubled souls. Xena thus chooses to take an active part in a chain of good influence, just as she once chose to take part in a chain of bad influence, becoming for others what Cortese and Caesar were for her.

The Individual

"You're Gabrielle, bard, Amazon Princess, best friend. Nobody made you who you are, it was already there."
   -- Xena, THE DIRTY HALF DOZEN (49/303)

I can find my way with my eyes closed Xena.  It's not like there
are any evil gods around or anything.

Gabrielle is about to meet an odd mix of people in THE DIRTY HALF DOZEN.
[15] It is Xena's belief that any external sources of influence, be it gods, omens, destiny, or other people, which one chooses to welcome are to function only as aids. They cannot invent anything new, but can only strengthen one's already existing inclinations. The overall responsibility for one's choices is still one's own, and it is the individual who has to live with these choices for the rest of his or her life.


Hamutal Yellin Hamutal Yellin
I'm a 25 year old student of English literature and linguistics who's living in Be'er-Sheva, Israel (the same city where I was born and raised). I'm currently working as an English teacher, but I'm hoping to become a writer one day.
Favorite episode: BITTER SUITE (58/312) and PAST IMPERFECT (77/409).
Favorite line: The famous "I have many skills" and other Xenaisms such as: "Sorry about your soldiers, we were playing tag in the forum." WHEN IN ROME... (62/316), every sentence that starts with "Didn't your mother teach you??". I also liked Gabrielle's: "Believe me, if I have to go the rest of my life without companionship, 'knowing myself' won't be a problem." WARRIOR... PRIESTESS... TRAMP (55/309)
First episode seen: I don't remember. I watched a few shows of the first season and then started again from episode one when the reruns began.
Least favorite episode: GABRIELLE'S HOPE (51/305), A FAMILY AFFAIR (71/403), THE WAY (84/416).

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