Joseph Campbell was a mythologist who did a wonderful job researching tales, fables, stories, rituals, symbols, and traditions from all over the world. He found astonishing similarities. According to his findings, all of us, throughout the ages, have been telling the same stories. Environments, situations, and characters may change, but the stories remain the same. The stories and archetypes apparently rise from a source within that many refer to as “the collective unconscious.”
Campbell’s concept of monomyth (one myth) refers to the theory that sees all mythic narratives as variations of a single great story. The theory is based on the observation that a common pattern exists beneath the narrative elements of most great myths, regardless of their origin or time of creation.
The Hero’s Journey is the great myth.
Why is it important?
Life is a journey when we are called to deal with the great mystery of existence, and myths are important because they, in a way, describe the adventure and provide helpful clues for our own journeys. This journey begins with the suspicion that we are more than mere mammals and may lead us to realize that we are, as Teilhard de Chardin said, “spiritual beings having human experiences.” Myths help us deal with the mystery. Myths help us heed the call and understand that we must embrace the adventure. Myths can help us get to that sacred place within our own selves where we might be able to unlock our creative powers and do magnificent feats. Myths encourage us to live the life we were given, find the deeper meaning of our lives, our authentic selves, the truth, our untapped potential, our relationship with the world, our place in it, where we are in our journeys, what we are being called to do, and the enormous power we have. Myths allow us to learn about ourselves (and others, and the Universe) so we can thrive.
The most heroic of all acts is to discover who we are, and who we want to be. It takes courage to follow our bliss and live the lives we are meant to live.
Who are we?
Where are we going?
Where do we belong?
Who are we in relation with other beings?
How are we being called to become our best possible selves – creators of a new way of living at this critical time?
We are all on a journey back home. “There’s no place like home.”
What is home? Home is the authentic self, who we really are.
Where is home? How do we return home? How do we get there?
Myths tell stories of returning home (Paulo Coelho’s the Alchemist, Herman Hesse’s Siddharta)
We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
~ T. S. Eliot
The Hero’s Adventure was broken down by Joseph Campbell in the following components, Departure, Initiation and Return, and several sub-components which are described below.
The Call to Adventure
The hero begins in a mundane situation of normality from which some information is received that acts as a call to head off into the unknown.
Refusal of the Call
Often when the call is given, the future hero first refuses to heed it. This may be from a sense of duty or obligation, fear, insecurity, a sense of inadequacy, or any of a range of reasons that work to hold the person in his or her current circumstances
Once the hero has committed to the quest, consciously or unconsciously, his guide and magical helper appears, or becomes known. More often than not, this supernatural mentor will present the hero with one or more talismans or artifacts that will aid them later in their quest.
The Crossing of the First Threshold
This is the point where the person actually crosses into the field of adventure, leaving the known limits of his or her world and venturing into an unknown and dangerous realm where the rules and limits are not known.
Belly of The Whale
The belly of the whale represents the final separation from the hero’s known world and self. By entering this stage, the person shows willingness to undergo a metamorphosis.
The Road of Trials
The road of trials is a series of tests, tasks, or ordeals that the person must undergo to begin the transformation. Often the person fails one or more of these tests, which often occur in threes.
The Meeting With the Goddess
This is the point when the person experiences a love that has the power and significance of the all-powerful, all encompassing, unconditional love that a fortunate infant may experience with his or her mother. This is a very important step in the process and is often represented by the person finding the other person that he or she loves most completely.
Woman as Temptress
In this step, the hero faces those temptations, often of a physical or pleasurable nature, that may lead him or her to abandon or stray from his or her quest, which does not necessarily have to be represented by a woman. Woman is a metaphor for the physical or material temptations of life, since the hero-knight was often tempted by lust from his spiritual journey.
Atonement with the Father
In this step the person must confront and be initiated by whatever holds the ultimate power in his or her life. In many myths and stories this is the father, or a father figure who has life and death power. This is the center point of the journey. All the previous steps have been moving into this place, all that follow will move out from it. Although this step is most frequently symbolized by an encounter with a male entity, it does not have to be a male; just someone or thing with incredible power.
When someone dies a physical death, or dies to the self to live in spirit, he or she moves beyond the pairs of opposites to a state of divine knowledge, love, compassion and bliss. A more mundane way of looking at this step is that it is a period of rest, peace and fulfillment before the hero begins the return.
The Ultimate Boon
The ultimate boon is the achievement of the goal of the quest. It is what the person went on the journey to get. All the previous steps serve to prepare and purify the person for this step, since in many myths the boon is something transcendent like the elixir of life itself, or a plant that supplies immortality, or the holy grail.
Refusal of the Return
Having found bliss and enlightenment in the other world, the hero may not want to return to the ordinary world to bestow the boon onto his fellow man.
The Magic Flight
Sometimes the hero must escape with the boon, if it is something that the gods have been jealously guarding. It can be just as adventurous and dangerous returning from the journey as it was to go on it.
Rescue from Without
Just as the hero may need guides and assistants to set out on the quest, oftentimes he or she must have powerful guides and rescuers to bring them back to everyday life, especially if the person has been wounded or weakened by the experience.
The Crossing of the Return Threshold
The trick in returning is to retain the wisdom gained on the quest, to integrate that wisdom into a human life, and then maybe figure out how to share the wisdom with the rest of the world. Why re-enter such a world? Why attempt to make plausible, or even interesting, to men and women consumed with passion, the experience of transcendental bliss?
Master of Two Worlds
This step is usually represented by a transcendental hero like Jesus or Gautama Buddha. For a human hero, it may mean achieving a balance between the material and spiritual. The person has become comfortable and competent in both the inner and outer worlds.
Freedom to Live
Mastery leads to freedom from the fear of death, which in turn is the freedom to live. This is sometimes referred to as living in the moment, neither anticipating the future nor regretting the past.
Other formulations of the Hero’s Journey
1. The Call to Adventure
2. The Road of Trials
3. The Vision Quest
4. The Meeting with the Goddess
5. The Boon
6. The Magic Flight
7. The Return Threshold
8. The Master of Two Worlds
1. Miraculous conception and birth
2. Initiation of the hero-child
3. Withdrawal from family or community for meditation and preparation
4. Trial and Quest
6. Descent into the underworld
7. Resurrection and rebirth
8. Ascension, apotheosis, and atonement