We all know the great hero tales, from King Arthur to Harry Potter. But epic heroine's, though less noticed, appear in many ancient classics. They are the warrior women like Mu Lan, goddesses like Spider Grandmother and Pele, empresses and villainesses, princesses and witches. These epics come from India and South America, from Native American oral recountings and classic Greek tragedies.
The true goal of the heroine’s journey is to become the archetypal, all-powerful mother. Thus, many heroines set out on rescue missions in order to restore their shattered families: Eliza must save her six brothers from a lifetime as swans, Lyra of The Golden Compass must find her best friend. Both heroines battle torture and death to restore their families and win true love. Demeter forces herself into the realm of the dead to reclaim her daughter, while Isis scours the world for her husband’s broken body. Little Gerda in Hans Christian Andersen’s tale quests all the way to Finland to rescue her playmate from the unfeeling Snow Queen. Though the goal is beloved family members or potential husbands, these heroines work as hard as any fairy tale heroes.
This goal does not indicate by any means that the girls are trying to “stay at home” or “play house.” The heroes are challenging their fathers, the metaphorical king of the family. In hero’s journey stories, heroes kill powerful male monsters to represent the ascendency of the son of the father while growing up. The heroines likewise are replacing their mothers: sometimes as helpers and wisewomen, sometimes goddesses and powerful queens. While the father is an archetype of success and power in the outside world, the mother represents power in the inside world of the home. The girl must eventually face her shadow-self, the child-devouring witch, in order to pass through death into maturity.
In ancient times, the mother goddess of fertility and the earth was worshipped as the ultimate creator. Girls emulate that path on their journeys by forming a family circle in which they can rule as supreme nurturer and protector. Some, like Demeter, care for many subjects, while others only protect a small group. Just as the hero can become the king of the Danes or a shaman for a small tribe, the key is self-mastery and wisdom.