The mythological motif called The Hero’s Journey represents a significant passage in human consciousness and experience – from one place to another; from one way of being to another; from one sense of self to another. In his classic book THE HERO WITH A THOUSAND FACES (LINK) (LINK to PDF) Joseph Campbell (LINK) describes this almost universal motif across several of the world’s mythic traditions.
It is always an inner journey, and often as outer one as well. Hero’s Journeys can last a lifetime or a weekend. There are a number of stages to the journey, represented in this graphic:
The Call is the first step – we are enticed, encouraged, coerced, even kidnapped into a new experience. In some cases, we have no choice, in others we can accept or deny the call. When we deny the call, we also deny the treasure – the form of higher consciousness – which awaits us when we are successful in moving through the journey. We are called away from our comfort zone and deeper within to realize something that has not been called forth from within us before. It may be a whisper from within that it’s time for a new job or to alter a relationship; it may be leaving home for the first time to attend college or for a job; it may be being conscripted into the military or getting a diagnosis of cancer. There are many versions of The Call to the Hero’s Journey. We may be involved in several at once. Campbell writes of The Call as the moment of choice when the gods call us forward to a greater expression of ourselves. “Yes” means we begin the journey, “no” means that we stagnate, and perhaps putrefy.
“The hero’s journey has been compared to a birth: it starts with being warm and snug in a safe place; then comes a signal, growing more insistent, that it is time to leave. To stay beyond your time is to putrefy. Without the blood & tearing and pain, there is no new life.”
~ Joseph Campbell
“The usual hero adventure begins with someone from whom something has been taken, or who feels there is something lacking in the normal experience available or permitted to the members of society. The person then takes off on a series of adventures beyond the ordinary, either to recover what has been lost or to discover some life-giving elixir. It’s usually a cycle, a coming and a returning.”
~ Joseph Campbell
“If a person has had the sense of ‘the Call’ – the feeling that there’s an adventure for him — and if he doesn’t follow that but remains in the society because it’s safe and secure, then life dries up. And then he comes to a condition in late middle age: he’s gotten to the top of the ladder and found that it’s against the wrong wall.
If you have the guts to follow the risk, however, life opens, opens, opens up all along the line. I’m not superstitious, but I do believe in spiritual magic, you might say. If one follows what I call one’s bliss — the thing that really gets you deep in your gut and that you feel is your life – doors will open up. They do!”
~ Joseph Campbell
The Call is frightening at first. After we have been through the cycle a few times, we may come to welcome The Call, but it always signals a time of trial and deep learning. Our egos fear this process, as the role of the ego is to support the current worldview, the current consciousness. When we announce that we are changing, or are thrown into change, we upset the ego which resists the change process. How we deal with this resistance is a sign of our emotional and spiritual intelligence.
“Resistance blooms naturally in the presence of change. You will encounter resistance in attempts at ascendance, physical or spiritual. … Remember, though, that resistance is also a good omen. It means you’re close to something important, something vital for your soul’s work here, something worthy of you. … The degree of resistance … is probably proportionate to the amount of power waiting to be unleashed and the satisfaction to be experienced once the ‘no’ breaks through to ‘yes’ and the call is followed.”
~ Gregg Levoy
The Hero’s Journey, when completed, is nothing short of transformational. The ego is right to fear it, for comfort and security are going to be set aside for exploration and the chance of personal growth and deep realization. There are any number of places along the way where you might choose to leave the pathway, the most critical being with the first step, The Call. Fear is the edge of your known reality, so taking leave of that reality is going to be scary and disturbing, even terrifying.
“In becoming a hero or heroine, we undertake the extraordinary task of dying to our current, local selves and being reborn to our eternal selves. And then we continue to travel deeper still until we reach the eternal place of sourcing and resourcing.
“There are two great works for heroes and heroines to perform. The first is to withdraw from everyday life and open ourselves to the inner creative life through which lie our only means of reaching the Source. The second work is to return to everyday life, carrying the knowledge we have gained in the depths and putting it to use to redeem time and society.”
~ Jean Houston
When we open to the journey, we align with the forces – the gods – seeking to drive us forward in our development. Our soul wants to experience the fullness of life, to be fulfilled in terms of experience and meaning in our lives. It is this inner urge which calls forth the Hero’s Journey, often unconsciously until the moment that The Call comes to our awareness. The motif of the journey will constantly arise in your life – in fact, the trajectory of your entire life can be seen as a Hero’s Journey. When we come into awareness and alignment with the dynamics of this motif, our pathways to self-development open to us. Saying “YES” begins the journey.
In Part 2, we will explore the second major leg of the journey – The Wasteland – Challenges & Temptations.
“Furthermore, we have not even to risk the adventure alone; for the heroes of all time have gone before us, the labyrinth is fully known; we have only to follow the thread of the hero-path.
And where we had thought to find an abomination, we shall find a god; where we had thought to slay another, we shall slay ourselves; where we had thought to travel outward, we shall come to the center of our own existence; where we had thought to be alone, we shall be with all the world.”
~ Joseph Campbell, The Power of Myth
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Copyright – Jim Lockard 2019