And by “avatar,” I don’t mean the movie.
We have been using Xena as an avatar in my therapy sessions. I have felt an affinity for her since I saw my first episode of the show, a silly piece of fluff where a temple of Demeter gets sacked for the sake of a jewel.
I think it’s this idea that she went through an incredibly dark period which changed her forever. Yes, she’s seeking redemption and is on the hera’s path, but she can never be innocent again. As the bratty teen who’s name I forget says in one episode, “Doesn’t Xena want to be forgiven?” The writer, R.J. Stewart, said no – there are some crimes so heinous that forgiveness is not an option.
So have I been a warlord, leading armies to betrayal and death? Not lately. But I love the vision of Xena as someone trying to do right. It also helps that she’s a robust woman and not some sexualized male fantasy of a “girl.”
There’s a lot I could say about Xena. Unfortunately for my fascinated reader (me), I have strep throat and can barely think straight. But I want to explore a little of what we’re doing in therapy.
My workaday tarot deck is the Robin Wood rendition. She has a 2 of Swords that sums up perfectly how I feel. The woman is blindfolded, setting on the top of these stone ruins on a point, with her back to the roiling ocean, and no safe ground anywhere. She bears two swords in her hands, arms crossed over her chest, swords pointing upward. She’s the perfect picture of balance — but in a totally unhealthy way. She can’t move one way or the other because she’ll fall. There’s no way out.
Except Xena comes. Being the resourceful warrior we all know and love, she lashes out with her whip, snags the waist of the woman, and yanks her towards her, then catches her. I have worked with 2 of Swords for years and this is the first time I’ve been able to visualize a way out of that situation.
Xena wants to assess the situation; Gabrielle wants to provide comfort to the woman. Xena and Gabrielle end up taking the woman to a temple run by healer priestesses. And there she stays, until she can be well again.
The path to wellness is incredibly long; she doesn’t even speak for years. But the temple is warm and safe, and she’ll never have to be on that precipice again.
Enter the family member who wants to visit the Shattered Woman, as we call the former 2 of Swords. The woman we eventually call the Violent Me or the Destroyer. She has come ostensibly to check on the health of Shattered Woman, but then it turns out she wants to kill her instead. At one point she does kill Shattered Woman in a gruesome bloodbath, then eats her flesh. All to protect Shattered Woman from being hurt by anyone else. Twisted, I know.
We rewrite that scene. Instead, Xena intervenes again, restraining the Destroyer. Then a strange alchemy takes place. A light begins to glow from inside the Destroyer. She grows taller and takes on a fully womanly form. And she merges with Xena. The light fades, and only Xena remains.
Xena’s true path is that of a warrior. The producers of the show got in big trouble for having her portrayed as Kali, the Indian goddess, but that’s the kind of energy Xena has. But she also has tremendous compassion and an iron-clad sense of justice. She takes the energy of the Destroyer and transforms it into something more balanced.
I am seeking the way back to my Self. By working with Xena as an avatar, I have a fighting chance. I don’t care if she’s a TV character on a sometimes ridiculous show. She is mythic. She is a goddess. In the Otherworld, she is real. And she has two holy words: One is “courage”; the other, “love.”