I’m not sure how much has been made of this already, but as I was watching the Buffy episode “Once More With Feeling” and then retelling the Easter myth for the Jewish side of my family, I realized something about Buffy which is terribly significant. I’m coming at this comparison not from an academic expertise but from academic curiosity, so this is really the rough draft of a much more polished and researched essay.
The only disclaimer that I’ll give is that I’m going to treat various religious traditions as myth, which is to say, I’m going to argue that the stories have a more general theme which is more important than the literal content. So there’s that. I also owe a great debt to Joseph Campbell in my analysis, his work on the hero myth remains the standard bearer.
That said, let’s talk about Jesus. When I was retelling the Easter myth to my family, I made mention of the fact that Jesus went to hell before going to heaven and coming back to earth. The question came up as to why, and I had no idea. Coincidentally, we’re studying Paradise Lost in my literature class right now, so the answer came to me from there. Jesus went to hell to rake up all the good souls and bring them to heaven. As a human being before the gates of heaven were opened, Jesus had to go to hell like everyone else, but then through his divine nature he is able to bring himself and all the righteous out of hell and into heaven.
There’s a note to be made here about original sin, the image of the snake, and the Catholic crushing of indigenous mythologies, especially the female worshiping ones, but I’ll hold to see if it’s relevant.
The reason why I feel the need to compare Jesus with Buffy is the difference in their heroic deaths. All of Buffy’s friends assumed, as right they should, that Buffy’s death resulted in her going to an unspeakable hell dimension, which is what happens in the traditional hero myth. Here’s where I really need more info, so if you’re reading this and have examples I can throw in here, by all means let me know. As I understand it, Jesus having a mission when he went to the underworld is usually how the myth goes. Heroes aren’t condemned to the underworld, but rather, in their unnatural deaths, are able to conquer the very notion of death, commit some heroic acts and return to the world of the living. Heroes conquer death.
Yet Buffy was rewarded for her sacrifices on earth with eternal peace. Her struggle was over, the struggle only returned when her friends brought her back into it. The first thing this reverses in the hero myth is agency. When, in Paradise Lost, Jesus decides to come back for the sake of humanity, paying the price for humanity’s sins, he’s the one committing a heroic act for a people who couldn’t possibly save themselves. In the Buffy myth, the hero is chosen by a body of people, who won’t let her out of her duties, and even when she leaves the struggle, she’s needed, she’s brought back. In other words, it’s a hero myth not about the hero’s journey but about mankind’s need for heroes.
As I’ve said this is a rough draft, so I’m still parsing out the why of this situation. At first I thought that unlike the hero myth that Joseph Campbell writes about, Buffy isn’t about one’s personal journey toward the divine, but about how humanity has come to rely on heroes rather than understanding that very possibility of making a personal heroic journey. I don’t think that’s the main point anymore, but the theme is definitely there, something to the effect of people no longer seeing figures like Jesus as examples for life but as historical figures who did a thing, which as a result means we don’t have to do anything.
But despite Buffy’s reluctance toward being a heroic figure, her journey still follows that arc. I’m starting to think that Buffy is an example of being beaten over the head with the call to heroics rather than the almost automatic acceptance commonly seen in the hero myth. Anyhow, I’m gonna think more on this, and if anyone wants to chime in, that’d be great.