Embracing Our Own Hero’s Journey
“A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.” ~ Joseph Campbell
Joseph Campbell’s book The Power of Myth shifted major paradigms for me several years back. One of the major concepts that Campbell helped to bring to our awareness was the concept of the Hero’s Journey.
The Hero’s Journey, also called the monomyth, is an archetypal pattern found within stories from countless cultures from all over the globe. It’s a process that we all go through when we find ourselves in the midst of major transformation.
Campbell identified seventeen stages of the hero’s journey. That’s not to say that we go through each and every one of them. But there may be major segments from the path that we find ourselves in as we undergo severe life upheavals and metamorphosis.
The Seventeen Stages of the Hero’s Journey (Monomyth)
- The Call to Adventure
- Refusal of the Call
- Supernatural Aid
- The Crossing of the First Threshold
- Belly of The Whale
- The Road of Trials
- The Meeting With the Goddess
- Woman as Temptress
- Atonement with the Father
- The Ultimate Boon
- Refusal of the Return
- The Magic Flight
- Rescue from Without
- The Crossing of the Return Threshold
- Master of Two Worlds
- Freedom to Live
If you take a look at the hero’s journey your sure to realize and notice similar occurrences and instances in your own life. This journey that we’re all on tends to leave us disoriented and breathless at times. Any help that we can get along the way can really help us live our lives to the fullest.
The Seventeen Stages of Your Hero’s Journey Explained
1) The Call To Adventure: Usually we’ll find our hero, our more truly ourselves, in some form of everyday or common place situation. Working 9-5 at some dead end job. The hero will be found doing things that are way below their own capacity for greatness. Then the call comes. Sometimes it’s self initiated but other times it comes from outside forces.
“This first stage of the mythological journey – which we have designated the “call to adventure” – signifies that destiny has summoned the hero and transferred his spiritual center of gravity from within the pale of his society to a zone unknown.” ~ Campbell
2) Refusal of the Call: Often we’ll find the hero, or ourselves, refuse the call to adventure. There are tons of reasons for the hero to stay where they are in their lives. Comfort, security, obligation, fear, etc… Whatever reasons we use they pale in comparison to the discoveries we’ll find out about ourselves and life once we set out on the journey ahead.
“Refusal of the summons converts the adventure into its negative. Walled in boredom, hard work, or ‘culture,’ the subject loses the power of significant affirmative action and becomes a victim to be saved.” ~ Campbell
3) Supernatural Aid: Once our hero has committed themselves to the journey, either consciously or unconsciously, they usually meet with their guide or magical helper. Think Morpheus from the Matrix. This mentor will provide the hero with gifts, talismans, or other things that will help our hero later on in their quest.
“For those who have not refused the call, the first encounter of the hero journey is with a protective figure (often a little old crone or old man) who provides the adventurer with amulets against the dragon forces he is about to pass. What such a figure represents is the benign, protecting power of destiny.” ~ Campbell
4) The crossing of the First Threshold: This is where our hero actually sets off on their adventure leaving everything they know and love behind. They enter into the unknown world.
“With the personifications of his destiny to guide and aid him, the hero goes forward in his adventure until he comes to the “threshold guardian” at the entrance to the zone of magnified power. Such custodians bound the world in four directions – also up and down – standing for the limits of the hero’s present sphere, or life horizon. Beyond them is darkness, the unknown and danger; just as beyond the parental watch is danger to the infant and beyond the protection of his society danger to the members of the tribe.” ~ Campbell
5) Belly of the Whale: This stage in the path represents the last separation from what the hero has know in their regular every day world. By entering into this point of the path our hero shows their willingness to press on into realms unknown and ultimately toward a metamorphosis of the self.
“The idea that the passage of the magical threshold is a transit into a sphere of rebirth is symbolized in the worldwide womb image of the belly of the whale. The hero, instead of conquering or conciliating the power of the threshold, is swallowed into the unknown and would appear to have died. This popular motif gives emphasis to the lesson that the passage of the threshold is a form of self-annihilation.” ~ Campbell
6) The Road of Trials: The road of trials is a series of tests. These ordeals begin our hero’s transformation. They often fail one or more of these tests.
“Once having traversed the threshold, the hero moves in a dream landscape of curiously fluid, ambiguous forms, where he must survive a succession of trials. This is a favorite phase of the myth-adventure. It has produced a world literature of miraculous tests and ordeals. The hero is covertly aided by the advice, amulets, and secret agents of the supernatural helper whom he met before his entrance into this region. Or it may be that he here discovers for the first time that there is a benign power everywhere supporting him in his superhuman passage.” ~ Campbell
7) The Meeting With the Goddess: This is stage in the path where our hero discovers and experiences a love like they never have before. Unconditional love. This is where our hero usually meets their soul mate.
“The ultimate adventure, when all the barriers and ogres have been overcome, is commonly represented as a mystical marriage of the triumphant hero-soul with the Queen Goddess of the World.” ~ Campbell
8) Woman as Temptress: This step is about those temptations that lead our hero from their destined path. A Woman is just a metaphor for the physical and material temptations and callings of life it could as easily be symbolized by a man.
“The crux of the curious difficulty lies in the fact that our conscious views of what life ought to be seldom correspond to what life really is. Generally we refuse to admit within ourselves, or within our friends, the fullness of that pushing, self-protective, malodorous, carnivorous, lecherous fever which is the very nature of the organic cell. Rather, we tend to perfume, whitewash, and reinterpret; meanwhile imagining that all the flies in the ointment, all the hairs in the soup, are the faults of some unpleasant someone else. But when it suddenly dawns on us, or is forced to our attention that everything we think or do is necessarily tainted with the odor of the flesh, then, not uncommonly, there is experienced a moment of revulsion: life, the acts of life, the organs of life, woman in particular as the great symbol of life, become intolerable to the pure, the pure, pure soul. The seeker of the life beyond life must press beyond (the woman), surpass the temptations of her call, and soar to the immaculate ether beyond.” ~ Campbell
9) Atonement With the Father: This is where our hero must face and be initiated by whatever holds the supreme power in their lives. This is the center point of the journey. This is some encounter with incredible power.
“Atonement consists in no more that the abandonment of that self-generated double monster – the dragon thought to be God (superego) and the dragon thought to be Sin (repressed id). But this requires an abandonment of the attachment to ego itself, and that is what is difficult. One must have a faith that the father is merciful, and then a reliance on that mercy. Therewith, the center of belief is transferred outside of the bedeviling god’s tight scaly ring, and the dreadful ogres dissolve. It is in this ordeal that the hero may derive hope and assurance from the helpful female figure, by whose magic (pollen charms or power of intercession) he is protected through all the frightening experiences of the father’s ego-shattering initiation.” ~ Campbell
10) Apotheosis: This is when we die a death to the self and begin to live in the realm of spirit. Where we move to a world beyond opposites and polarities. The hero begins to work from a place of love, compassion and bliss.
“Those who know, not only that the Everlasting lies in them, but that what they, and all things, really are is the Everlasting, dwell in the groves of the wish fulfilling trees, drink the brew of immortality, and listen everywhere to the unheard music of eternal concord.” ~ Campbell
11) The Ultimate Boon: This is when the hero achieves the goal of the quest. Everything before this point has prepared the hero for this moment.And now, after many trials and tribulations the prize has been won. This can be either a material possession, subtle understanding, and/or both.
“The gods and goddesses then are to be understood as embodiments and custodians of the elixir of Imperishable Being but not themselves the Ultimate in its primary state. What the hero seeks through his intercourse with them is therefore not finally themselves, but their grace, i.e., the power of their sustaining substance. This miraculous energy-substance and this alone is the Imperishable; the names and forms of the deities who everywhere embody, dispense, and represent it come and go. This is the miraculous energy of the thunderbolts of Zeus, Yahweh, and the Supreme Buddha, the fertility of the rain of Viracocha, the virtue announced by the bell rung in the Mass at the consecration, and the light of the ultimate illumination of the saint and sage. Its guardians dare release it only to the duly proven.” ~ Campbell
12) Refusal of the Return: Having tasted the sweet perfection of bliss the hero may not want to return back to their ordinary world to share their gift with humanity.
“When the hero-quest has been accomplished, through penetration to the source, or through the grace of some male or female, human or animal, personification, the adventurer still must return with his life-transmuting trophy. The full round, the norm of the monomyth, requires that the hero shall now begin the labor of bringing the runes of wisdom, the Golden Fleece, or his sleeping princess, back into the kingdom of humanity, where the boon may redound to the renewing of the community, the nation, the planet or the ten thousand worlds. But the responsibility has been frequently refused. Even the Buddha, after his triumph, doubted whether the message of realization could be communicated, and saints are reported to have passed away while in the supernal ecstasy. Numerous indeed are the heroes fabled to have taken up residence forever in the blessed isle of the unaging Goddess of Immortal Being” ~ Campbell
13) The Magic Flight: Here we find the hero on a swift and adventerous return back from the quest.
“If the hero in his triumph wins the blessing of the goddess or the god and is then explicitly commissioned to return to the world with some elixir for the restoration of society, the final stage of his adventure is supported by all the powers of his supernatural patron. On the other hand, if the trophy has been attained against the opposition of its guardian, or if the hero’s wish to return to the world has been resented by the gods or demons, then the last stage of the mythological round becomes a lively, often comical, pursuit. This flight may be complicated by marvels of magical obstruction and evasion.” ~ Campbell
14) Rescue From Without: As the hero may have needed the help of guides and friends along the way sometimes the hero may need to call upon their assistance once more to bring them back and help them return to the mundane world.
“The hero may have to be brought back from his supernatural adventure by assistance from without. That is to say, the world may have to come and get him. For the bliss of the deep abode is not lightly abandoned in favor of the self-scattering of the wakened state. “Who having cast off the world,” we read, “would desire to return again? He would be only there.” And yet, in so far as one is alive, life will call. Society is jealous of those who remain away from it, and will come knocking at the door. If the hero. . . is unwilling, the disturber suffers an ugly shock; but on the other hand, if the summoned one is only delayed – sealed in by the beatitude of the state of perfect being (which resembles death) – an apparent rescue is effected, and the adventurer returns.” ~ Campbell
15) The Crossing of the Return Threshold: The hero must understand the secret wisdom they discovered on their adventure and integrate that understanding in the real world. The must develop a way to integrate their new-found awareness and share it in the everyday life.
“The returning hero, to complete his adventure, must survive the impact of the world. Many failures attest to the difficulties of this life-affirmative threshold. The first problem of the returning hero is to accept as real, after an experience of the soul-satisfying vision of fulfillment, the passing joys and sorrows, banalities and noisy obscenities of life. 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? As dreams that were momentous by night may seem simply silly in the light of day, so the poet and the prophet can discover themselves playing the idiot before a jury of sober eyes. The easy thing is to commit the whole community to the devil and retire again into the heavenly rock dwelling, close the door, and make it fast. But if some spiritual obstetrician has drawn the shimenawa across the retreat, then the work of representing eternity in time, and perceiving in time eternity, cannot be avoided” The hero returns to the world of common day and must accept it as real.” ~ Campbell
16) The Master of the Two Worlds: This is where the hero wins balance in both worlds, the material and spiritual.
“Freedom to pass back and forth across the world division, from the perspective of the apparitions of time to that of the causal deep and back – not contaminating the principles of the one with those of the other, yet permitting the mind to know the one by virtue of the other – is the talent of the master. The Cosmic Dancer, declares Nietzsche, does not rest heavily in a single spot, but gaily, lightly, turns and leaps from one position to another. It is possible to speak from only one point at a time, but that does not invalidate the insights of the rest. The individual, through prolonged psychological disciplines, gives up completely all attachment to his personal limitations, idiosyncrasies, hopes and fears, no longer resists the self-annihilation that is prerequisite to rebirth in the realization of truth, and so becomes ripe, at last, for the great at-one-ment. His personal ambitions being totally dissolved, he no longer tries to live but willingly relaxes to whatever may come to pass in him; he becomes, that is to say, an anonymity.” ~ Campbell
17) Freedom To Live: Freedom to live is truly living in the moment. Free from clinging to the past and hoping about the future. As well the adventure has taught the hero to be free from the fear of death.
“The hero is the champion of things becoming, not of things become, because he is. ‘Before Abraham was, I AM.’ He does not mistake apparent changelessness in time for the permanence of Being, nor is he fearful of the next moment (or of the ‘other thing’), as destroying the permanent with its change. ‘Nothing retains its own form; but Nature, the greater renewer, ever makes up forms from forms. Be sure there’s nothing perishes in the whole universe; it does but vary and renew its form.’ Thus the next moment is permitted to come to pass.” ~ Campbell
Your Hero’s Journey & Your Life
We like to think that life is a linear process. A-Z. This is far from true. The hero’s journey is sometimes depicted like a valley which I think is more true to life, well more true to my life. We start off at some place that is known and familiar, we see or discover something interesting, or are forced into new circumstances.
Then we usually find ourselves rushing down the slopes of our lives into new adventures and insights, struggling our way through the forest of the unknown.
And finally we begin our climb uphill, against all odds, against the clock, even against ourselves. Then at some point we come out of the valley and reach the top of the next hill.
Elated, exhausted, and filled with a new sense of purpose and direction.
We look back at what we’ve been through, sometimes giving thanks for challenges we faced, and admiring the new faces that we now call friends.
We may relax for a little while. Sing songs of victory and even raise a glass to those we lost along the way.
For a moment we breathe life in fully, alive and rejuvenated, inspired by the wonders and weird encounters we just faced.
But deep inside we know that the next adventure is soon to begin.
Enjoy your journey.