The Hero’s Journey.
Idiot’s Guide to The Hero’s Journey is over here. Alternatively, read on…
In the words of Mircea Eliade,
“Myth narrates a sacred history; it relates an event that took place in primordial Time, the fabled time of the “beginnings.” …Myth tells only of that which really happened, which manifested itself completely… In short, myths describe the various and sometimes dramatic breakthroughs of the sacred (or the “supernatural”) into the world… ” (Mircea, Eliade. Myth and Reality. New York: Harper and Row, 1963. Pages 5-6.)
In his book, The Hero with a Thousand Faces, Joseph Campbell writes about ‘The Adventure of the Hero:’
“The whole sense of the ubiquitous myth of the hero’s passage is that it shall serve as a general pattern for men and women, wherever they may stand along the scale. Therefore it is formulated in the broadest terms. The individual has only to discover his own position with reference to this general human formula, and let it then assist him past his restricting walls. Who and where are his ogres? Those are the reflections of the unsolved enigmas of his own humanity. What are his ideals? Those are the symptoms of his grasp of life.”
— (Campbell, 121)
Campbell spent a lifetime discovering with reverberating astonishment that the hero’s journey was the story of every man and woman, it was in every sense a symbolic monomyth of our journey, uniting us in our plight to know ourselves. It is important to note that the stages of the Hero’s journey weren’t imagined up or created… rather it was excavated/discovered/uncovered… which is precisely what makes it so powerful as a monomyth; in that it is intrinsic to our very primordial psychology.
In contemporary opinion, this is the one factor that people seem to often overlook. The Hero’s Journey isn’t formulaic in the traditional sense of being restrictive. Rather, as I was taught, you can forget all about the hero’s journey and write your story (or even better, go back and sift through all the stories you wrote – that worked – before you even heard about the hero’s journey) and you will find that the very SYMMETRY that makes the story work involves a profound transformation. This transformation is what the hero’s journey monomyth seeks to penetrate. I learnt to never use the hero’s journey to create my story. Rather I write by following my bliss, and then when the first draft is completed, I stand back and study it for themes that have appeared naturally. The hero’s journey is holistic in that way; it frees, rather than imprisons, if you know how to reflect upon its tools.
First, let’s see a summary of the key stages of the Hero’s journey, and then we can apply it to the journeys of Christ and Buddha, then see how it relates to our own lives:
ACT I. Departure
1. The Call to Adventure
The call to adventure is the point in a person’s life when they are first given notice that everything is going to change, whether they know it or not.
“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. This fateful region of both treasure and danger may be variously represented: as a distant land, a forest, a kingdom underground, beneath the waves, or above the sky, a secret island, lofty mountaintop, or profound dream state; but it is always a place of strangely fluid and polymorphous beings, unimaginable torments, superhuman deeds, and impossible delight. The hero can go forth of his own volition to accomplish the adventure, as did Theseus when he arrived in his father’s city, Athens, and heard the horrible history of the Minotaur; or he may be carried or sent abroad by some benign or malignant agent as was Odysseus, driven about the Mediterranean by the winds of the angered god, Poseidon. The adventure may begin as a mere blunder … or still again, one may be only casually strolling when some passing phenomenon catches the wandering eye and lures one away from the frequented paths of man. Examples might be multiplied, ad infinitum, from every corner of the world.”
Classic examples: Sometimes the call to adventure happens of the character’s own volition. In Herman Hesse’s Siddhartha, the titular character becomes weary of his way of life and decides he must venture away from his accustomed life in order to attain spiritual enlightenment. Most Buddhist myths describe the Buddha as becoming bored with his royal life and venturing into the world. Other times, the hero is plunged into adventure by unforeseen events. In Homer‘s Odyssey, Odysseus is caught in the terrible winds of the angered god Poseidon and sent off to distant lands.
2. Refusal of the Call
Often when the call is given, the future hero 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.
“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. His flowering world becomes a wasteland of dry stones and his life feels meaningless – even though, like King Minos, he may through titanic effort succeed in building an empire or renown. Whatever house he builds, it will be a house of death: a labyrinth of cyclopean walls to hide from him his minotaur. All he can do is create new problems for himself and await the gradual approach of his disintegration.” (p. 59)
“The myths and folk tales of the whole world make clear that the refusal is essentially a refusal to give up what one takes to be one’s own interest. The future is regarded not in terms of an unremitting series of deaths and births, but as though one’s present system of ideals, virtues, goals, and advantages were to be fixed and made secure. King Minos retained the divine bull, when the sacrifice would have signified submission to the will of the god of his society; for he preferred what he conceived to be his economic advantage. Thus he failed to advance into the life-role that he had assumed – we have seen with what calamitous effect. The divinity itself became his terror; for, obviously, if one is oneself one’s god, then God himself, the will of God, the power that would destroy one’s egocentric system, becomes a monster.”
— (Campbell 59-60)
3. Supernatural Aid
Once the hero has committed to the quest, consciously or unconsciously, his or her guide and magical helper appears, or becomes known.
“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 amulet against the dragon forces he is about to pass.” (Campbell 69) “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 know 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.”
— (Campbell 71-72)
4. 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.
“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. The usual person is more than content, he is even proud, to remain within the indicated bounds, and popular belief gives him every reason to fear so much as the first step into the unexplored”
— (Campbell 78)
“The adventure is always and everywhere a passage beyond the veil of the known into the unknown; the powers that watch at the boundary are dangerous; to deal with them is risky; yet for anyone with competence and courage the danger fades”
— (Campbell 82)
5. The Belly of the Whale
The belly of the whale represents the final separation from the hero’s known world and self. It is sometimes described as the person’s lowest point, but it is actually the point when the person is between or transitioning between worlds and selves. The separation has been made, or is being made, or being fully recognized between the old world and old self and the potential for a new world/self. The experiences that will shape the new world and self will begin shortly, or may be beginning with this experience which is often symbolized by something dark, unknown and frightening. By entering this stage, the person shows their willingness to undergo a metamorphosis, to die to him or herself.
“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”
— (Campbell 90)
“This popular motif gives emphasis to the lesson that the passage of the threshold is a form of self-annihilation. . .[I]nstead of passing outward, beyond the confines of the visible world, the hero goes inward, to be born again. The disappearance corresponds to the passing of a worshiper into a temple – where he is to be quickened by the recollection of who and what he is, namely dust and ashes unless immortal. The temple interior, the belly of the whale, and the heavenly land beyond, above, and below the confines of the world, are one and the same. That is why the approaches and entrances to temples are flanked and defended by colossal gargoyles: dragons, lions, devil-slayers with drawn swords, resentful dwarfs, winged bulls. These are the threshold guardians to ward away all incapable of encountering the higher silences within. . .The devotee at the moment of entry into a temple undergoes a metamorphosis. His secular character remains without; he sheds it, as a snake its slough. Once inside he may be said to have died to time and returned to the World Womb, the World Navel, the Earthly Paradise. . .Allegorically, then, the passage into a temple and the hero-dive through the jaws of the whale are identical adventures, both demoting in picture language, the life-centering, life renewing act”
— (Campbell 91-92)
ACT II. Initiation
1. 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.
“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 97)
“The ordeal is a deepening of the problem of the first threshold and the question is still in balance: Can the ego put itself to death? For many headed is this surrounding Hydra; one head cut off, two more appear – unless the right caustic is applied to the mutilated stump. The original departure into the land of trials represented only the beginning of the long and really perilous path of initiatory conquests and moments of illumination. Dragons have now to be slain and surprising barriers passes – again, again, and again. Meanwhile there will be a multitude of preliminary victories, unretainable ecstasies and momentary glimpses of the wonderful land”
— (Campbell 109)
2. The Meeting with the Goddess
The meeting with the goddess represents the point in the adventure 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. It is also known as the “hieros gamos”, or sacred marriage, the union of opposites, and may take place entirely within the person. In other words, the person begins to see him or herself in a non-dualistic way. 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. Although Campbell symbolizes this step as a meeting with a goddess, unconditional love and /or self unification does not have to be represented by a woman.
“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. This is the crisis at the nadir, the zenith, or at the uttermost edge of the earth, at the central point of the cosmos, in the tabernacle of the temple, or within the darkness of the deepest chamber of the heart”
— (Campbell 109)
“The meeting with the goddess (who is incarnate in every woman) is the final test of the talent of the hero to win the boon of love (charity: amor fati), which is life itself enjoyed as the encasement of eternity. And when the adventurer, in this context, is not a youth but a maid, she is the one who, by her qualities, her beauty, or her yearning, is fit to become the consort of an immortal. Then the heavenly husband descends to her and conducts her to his bed – whether she will or not. And if she has shunned him, the scales fall from her eyes; if she has sought him, her desire finds its peace.”
— (Campbell 119)
3. Woman as the Temptress
At one level, this step is about those temptations that may lead the hero to abandon or stray from his or her quest, which as with the Meeting with the Goddess does not necessarily have to be represented by a woman. For Campbell, however, this step is about the revulsion that the usually male hero may feel about his own fleshy/earthy nature, and the subsequent attachment or projection of that revulsion to women. 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.
“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.
O, that this too too solid flesh would melt,
Thaw and resolve itself into a dew!
Or that the Everlasting had not fix’d
His canon ‘gainst self-slaughter! O God! O God!
So exclaims the great spokesman of this moment, Hamlet:
How weary, stale, flat, and unprofitable
Seem to me all the uses of this world!
Fie on’t! ah fie! ’tis an unweeded garden,
That grows to seed; things rank and gross in nature
Possess it merely. That it should come to this!
The innocent delight of Oedipus in his first possession of the queen turns to an agony of spirit when he learns who the woman is. Like Hamlet, he is beset by the moral image of the father. Like Hamlet, he turns from the fair features of the world to search the darkness for a higher kingdom than this of the incest and adultery ridden, luxurious and incorrigible mother. The seeker of the life beyond life must press beyond her, surpass the temptations of her call, and soar to the immaculate ether beyond”
4. 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 in to 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. For the transformation to take place, the person as he or she has been must be “killed” so that the new self can come into being. Sometime this killing is literal, and the earthly journey for that character is either over or moves into a different realm.
“Atonement (at-one-ment) 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. For if it is impossible to trust the terrifying father-face, then one’s faith must be centered elsewhere (Spider Woman, Blessed Mother); and with that reliance for support, one endures the crisis – only to find, in the end, that the father and mother reflect each other, and are in essence the same”
“The problem of the hero going to meet the father is to pen his soul beyond terror to such a degree that he will be ripe to understand how the sickening and insane tragedies of this vast and ruthless cosmos are completely validated in the majesty of Being. The hero transcends life with its peculiar blind spot and for a moment rises to a glimpse of the source. He beholds the face of the father, understands – and the two are atoned”
— (Campbell 147)
To apotheosize is to deify. 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. This is a god-like state; the person is in heaven and beyond all strife. 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.
“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 167)
6. 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.
“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”
ACT III. Return
1. Refusal of the Return
So why, when all has been achieved, the ambrosia has been drunk, and we have conversed with the gods, why come back to normal life with all its cares and woes?
“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 192)
2. 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.
“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 196-7)
3. Rescue from Without
Just as the hero may need guides and assistants to set out on the quest, often times 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. Or perhaps the person doesn’t realize that it is time to return, that they can return, or that others need their boon.
“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 207)
4. 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.
“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”
— (Campbell 218)
5. Master of the Two Worlds
In myth, this step is usually represented by a transcendental hero like Jesus or 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 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”
— (Campbell 229)
“The meaning is very clear; it is the meaning of all religious practice.; 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. The Law lives in him with his unreserved consent”
— (Campbell 236-7)
6. 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.
“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.”
– Source Link.
For a simplified 12 Step version, see here. Vogler’s ‘The Writer’s Journey’ is another example. However bear in mind that superficial versions of the hero’s journey do it no justice as they do not capture the richness or depth of the transformation. Here is a dumbed down version of the above that strips it entirely of the sacred rite of passage:
1. Heroes are introduced in the ORDINARY WORLD, where
2. they receive the CALL TO ADVENTURE.
3. They are RELUCTANT at first or REFUSE THE CALL, but
4. are encouraged by a MENTOR to
5. CROSS THE FIRST THRESHOLD and enter the Special World, where
6. they encounter TESTS, ALLIES, AND ENEMIES.
7. They APPROACH THE INMOST CAVE, crossing a second threshold
8. where they endure the ORDEAL.
9. They take possession of their REWARD and
10. are pursued on THE ROAD BACK to the Ordinary World.
11. They cross the third threshold, experience a RESURRECTION, and are transformed by the experience.
12. They RETURN WITH THE ELIXIR, a boon or treasure to benefit the Ordinary World.
The Seven Archetypes
Hero: “The Hero is the protagonist or central character, whose primary purpose is to separate from the ordinary world and sacrifice himself for the service of the Journey at hand – to answer the challenge, complete the quest and restore the Ordinary World’s balance. We experience the Journey through the eyes of the Hero.”
Mentor: “The Mentor provides motivation, insights and training to help the Hero.”
Threshold Guardian: “Threshold Guardians protect the Special World and its secrets from the Hero, and provide essential tests to prove a Hero’s commitment and worth.”
Herald: “Herald characters issue challenges and announce the coming of significant change. They can make their appearance anytime during a Journey, but often appear at the beginning of the Journey to announce a Call to Adventure. A character may wear the Herald’s mask to make an announcement or judgment, report a news flash, or simply deliver a message.”
Shapeshifter: “The Shapeshifter’s mask misleads the Hero by hiding a character’s intentions and loyalties.”
Shadow: “The Shadow can represent our darkest desires, our untapped resources, or even rejected qualities. It can also symbolize our greatest fears and phobias. Shadows may not be all bad, and may reveal admirable, even redeeming qualities. The Hero’s enemies and villains often wear the Shadow mask. This physical force is determined to destroy the Hero and his cause.”
Trickster: “Tricksters relish the disruption of the status quo, turning the Ordinary World into chaos with their quick turns of phrase and physical antics. Although they may not change during the course of their Journeys, their world and its inhabitants are transformed by their antics. The Trickster uses laughter [and ridicule] to make characters see the absurdity of the situation, and perhaps force a change.”
You can also separate the Hero’s Journey into five key stages; 1. waking up from Conventional Slumber, 2. following a Call to Adventure, 3. accepting Discipline and Training, 4. the Culmination of the Quest itself, and finally, 5. the Return and Contribution back into community. Some use this as a practical model of growth for adolescents.
Also of interest is the use of the Hero’s Journey in Star Wars.
Jesus’ separation starts with his public ministry when he is about 30. Whatever Jesus did before that time (perhaps he was a carpenter like Joseph), Jesus decides to leave that role and become a wandering preacher.
This separation is more radical than it looks. A Jewish male is supposed to stay at home, get a job, and raise a family. One of the most important things a Jewish male can do for his God is to produce children. Single, non-married men were suspect and definitely outside of the norm. Jesus’ decision to become virtually homeless is a radical separation from his culture.
Jesus’ tests of initiation might be seen as his forty days in the desert when he was tested by Satan (Mt 4:1-11, Mk 1:12 ). To go through his spiritual and physical test, Jesus needed to fast in the desert (physical) and deny the temptations that Satan offered (spiritual). In both Matthew and Mark, Jesus’ time in the desert comes immediately after his baptism by John and just before Jesus embarks on his public ministry. Thus, it serves as a kind of test that Jesus must go through before he assumes his role as a Messiah figure for the Jews.
Read Campbell’s description of the “Crossing of the First Threshold” and compare Christ’s time in the desert to the description. (Page 77 – 89)
Some Christian churches celebrate this period through Lent, a period of forty days when a physical sacrifice is made in order to reflect on spiritual development.
Jesus comes back from the desert renewed, with a new sense of mission. He begins his public ministry, full of miracles and preaching The Way.
Jesus’ return might be seen as his return to Jerusalem where he is proclaimed King of the Jews (Mt 21: 1-12, John 12:12-20). His public ministry has been building up to this point. People now look up to him as a Savior:
A very large crown spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. The crowds that went ahead of him and that followed were shouting: ‘Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest heaven!’ Mt.21:8,9.
He is entering the final, most important part of his role as King: his own sacrifice.
Some Christian churches celebrate this as Palm Sunday, when participants in the Church celebrate by carrying palms.
The Hero’s Journeys and the Resurrection
The Hero’s Journey is also discernible in the story of Christ’s Passion, death, and resurrection. In fact, this could be seen as the penultimate Hero’s Journey.
Jesus dies (separation) but then actual conquers death (tests of initiation) and returns to show his disciples that the journey is possible for all humankind (the return).
In Christian tradition (though not in the Bible), after Jesus dies on the cross, he journeys to hell and frees figures from the Old Testament such as Adam and Abraham. These figures, though all good men, had been trapped in a sort of Old Testament hell, or Sheol, waiting for Christ to open heaven to human kind.
Again, we are faced with the old theme of traveling to hell or the underworld and having to conquer certain elements – in Jesus’ case, death itself.
As the Cumaean sibyl told Aeneas before he went to hell: “Easy is the descent to Avernus [hades], but to retrace one’s steps and escape to the upper air, that is difficult.” (The Aeneid 6:126-130) Jesus’ miracle was that he returned from hell after three days, having conquered it and death as well. When he returns, Jesus assumes his true identity as Lord: “And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.’” (Mt 28:18)
Campbell tells us that the difference between a Hero in a myth and a hero in a fairy tale or legend is that the Hero brings back knowledge and power that changes all of society. “The hero has died as a modern man,” Campbell writes. “But as eternal man- perfected, unspecific, universal man – he has been reborn. His second solemn task and deed therefore… is to return then to us, transfigured, and teach the lessons he has learned of life renewed.” (20)
This is of course true for Jesus who, according to believers, initiated a new era of possibility for humankind: A possibility of life after death.
Read “The Belly of the Whale” in Campbell, and consider the parallels in Christ’s death and resurrection. (91 – 94)
– Source Link.
Joseph Campbell, in his epochal book ‘The Hero with a Thousand Faces,’ emphasizes that the essential trait of a hero in the making is his restlessness. Not at ease with his immediate environment and circumstances, a constant unease gnaws at his heart, prompting him to question the very nature of his existence. This inner strife is the first inkling that a greater destiny lies ahead of the potential hero.
Campbell divides the evolution of the hero into five distinct phases:
1). The Call to Adventure
2). Crossing of the Threshold (Entering the Unknown)
3). Trials and Tribulations of the Journey
4). Attainment of Enlightenment
5). Return of the Hero
The Buddha’s journey to spiritual awakening or ‘Nirvana,’ as it is popularly called, perfectly mirrors the above mentioned progressive development of a hero.
“My general formula for my students is ‘Follow your bliss.’ Find where it is, and don’t be afraid to follow it.”
– Joseph Campbell
The Power of Myth
pp. 120, 149.