The Hero's Journey: A Mythological Story We Are All On

The Fool (The Hero) starting off on his journey

The Hero's Journey, a term Josephy Campbell developed in his work, "The Hero With A Thousand Faces," is a mythological story of transformation that we are all on in one way or another. When we can move to a place that allows us to see that we are on a journey, and that it has some easy understandable steps along the way, it makes it much easier for us to deal with what is happening, and gives us the perspective of the long term view and how we will move forward through these trials and turbulations. It is a really beautiful story.

What is the Hero's Journey?

VivideLife introduces us to the Hero's Journey:

If you are someone undergoing a process that feels like you have been turned inside-out, or have had to surrender almost everything near and dear, or feel as if you have suddenly found yourself in altogether unfamiliar surroundings in almost every way, even to the point of “losing your mind” (and finding your heart!) then I invite you to join me in exploring what I believe cannot only be called “awakening” but The Hero’s Journey – a term coined by Joseph Campbell, but an experience lived by a great many before us. This experience usually begins with an event taking place that causes the human being to question everything they thought they knew, and to search for real meaning in the day-to-day, no longer content with simply trying to survive. For these people, there comes a “call” to something deeper.

You can find evidence of this “journey” in almost every culture as told through the rich symbolism of myth, handed down through storytelling, and depicted in myriad ways for thousands of years – culture after tribe, divided even by land and sea, but recording near-identical experiences of someone rising from the mundane and the day-to-day pattern of A People to ask the larger questions, and – through often harrowing inward and outward events, and against all odds – finding the larger answers. Then, with great courage and commitment to a larger process, sharing that knowledge and living those truths by example that The Tribe might flourish, each living in harmony with the Self, with one another, and with all of life.

The Steps of the Hero's Journey

The Hero's Journey is broken down into 3 stages, with several steps in each stage. Here they are:

Departure

  • The Call to Adventure
  • Refusal of the Call
  • Supernatural Aid
  • The Crossing of the First Threshold
  • Belly of The Whale

Initiation

  • The Road of Trials
  • The Meeting With the Goddess
  • Woman as Temptress
  • Atonement with the Father
  • Apotheosis
  • The Ultimate Boon

The Return

  • Refusal of the Return
  • The Magic Flight
  • Rescue from Without
  • The Crossing of the Return Threshold
  • Master of Two Worlds
  • Freedom to Live

Wikipedia has a great breakdown of what happens in each step. Here's a few steps that I have found myself in at different times when reflecting on the journey. Check out the full list! 

 Supernatural aid

Once the hero has committed to the quest, consciously or unconsciously, his or her 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.

Campbell: "For those who have not refused the call, the first encounter of the hero's 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. The fantasy is a reassurance—promise that the peace of Paradise, which was known first within the mother womb, is not to be lost; that it supports the present and stands in the future as well as in the past (is omega as well as alpha); that though omnipotence may seem to be endangered by the threshold passages and life awakenings, protective power is always and ever present within or just behind the unfamiliar features of the world. One has only to know and trust, and the ageless guardians will appear. Having responded to his own call, and continuing to follow courageously as the consequences unfold, the hero finds all the forces of the unconscious at his side. Mother Nature herself supports the mighty task. And in so far as the hero's act coincides with that for which his society is ready, he seems to ride on the great rhythm of the historical process." [4]

Classic example: In Greek mythology, Ariadne gives Theseus a ball of string and a sword before he enters the labyrinth to confront the Minotaur.

 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. This is usually extremely difficult.

Campbell: "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.[

The healing path

JourneyInPro takes a look at how understanding The Hero's Journey can help us on understand where we are on our healing path

I use the hero’s journey as a model for transcendence extracted from myth. I see it as a how-to guide for navigating this experience – passed on to us – through the stories of an earlier time – whispering to our Souls through subconscious imagery and understandings. Joseph Campbell helped me to navigate these experiences with his vast body of work and amazing teachings.

I don’t have to have faith, I have experience. ~ JC [Jospeh Campbell]

Joseph’s work also gave me the permission I needed to remain on the outside of religion, relying instead on my own personal experiences of spirit as my highest and best authority.

The privilege of a lifetime is being who you are. – JC

I gained the confidence to walk my own path, embracing all faiths I encounter along the way, noticing the beauty and truth of their teachings and using from them, whatever I am called toward, as my own.

The connection to the Tarot 

One way to take an archtypecal look at The Hero's Journey is through the major arcana of the Tarot. TarotRadingPsychic outlines the connection: 

We can identify our shared experiences through archetypal imagery. These are common images and visual patterns that are repeated throughout time. They are the symbols that have universal meanings and references. Regardless of one’s cultural, religious or educational background, archetypal imagery speaks to us all. They are depicted in our myths, fairytales and iconography. They are everywhere. They are our witches, angels, crones, maidens and warriors. They are within every story told and they are within our own personal stories. 

The Tarot is one of the only pictorial sources that depict the Hero’s journey in its entirety. The Hero’s journey is told through the 22 Major Arcana cards. The Major Arcana refer to the non-suit cards, which make up the first 22 cards of the Tarot deck.  What is so impressive about the Major Arcana, is their visual reference to archetypal symbolism. More importantly, they emphasize the significant life phases we all must encounter on our journeys. These are the stages of our psychological and spiritual development. The Tarot offers a structured interpretation for our life path and enables us to grasp these concepts at our deepest core.

For more on this, check out Hajo Banzhaf's book, "Tarot and The Hero's Journey".

Use in movies and books

The Hero's Journey is a well known story arc that has been used by movie and book writers for many years. There are many sites, like movieoutline, that help writers understand the importance of this mythic story and how it can help them more fully develop their characters.

One of the most famous uses of The Hero's Journey is Luke Skywalker's path in the original Star Wars' movie trilogy. Here's Star Wars' director George Lucas talking about the mythology behind the movie:

MysteryArts has a great post outlining the ties between "Star Wars," The Hero's Journey, and the Tarot. Here, they outline the roles of Obi-Wan Kenobi and Yoda: 

The Hermit lives not merely sequestered but also in disguise.  He hides his powers for the sake of his personal safety.  He relinquishes seclusion only when absolutely necessary, for the sake of the greater good.  Both Obi-Wan Kenobi and Yoda are Hermit archetypes, each in hiding on inconspicuous planets.  They are also both Magician archetypes, as they use spiritual disciplines to juggle the elements.  Additionally, they are of course both Knights of Swords, wielding sabers of light.