Average Reading Time: 3.24 Mins.
The Hero’s Journey, or the monomyth, is a model identified by Joseph Campbell.
Campbell, a 20th century American scholar, teacher and thinker, specialized in mythology and comparative religion. He defined mythology as another person’s religion and saw the stories as a window into the human psyche.
He made the observation that myths from around the world are remarkably similar in spite of the geographic distance among societies and their lack of contact with each other.
Because the tales had almost identical plots and taught the same lessons, he came to the conclusion that there must be one universal truth for all peoples that surfaced in the stories.
His favorite myth was that of the Hero’s Journey.
The Hero’s Journey is a skeleton for sagas in which a hero or heroin embarks on a quest.
There are many steps, but a simplified version goes as follows:
Step 1: The hero, who may or may not appear to be special, begins at home in the ordinary world. Life is happening in the usual way, but there is some sort of discord and stress pulling the protagonist in different directions.
Step 2: The situation comes to a head when the hero experiences the Call to Adventure. This is an external or internal summons to leave the familiar in search of a prize. It may be someone asking them for help, or something as subtle as hearing beautiful, mysterious music coming from somewhere in the woods.
Step 3: Frequently, the hero refuses the call for a brief period of time, and some never answer it. Leaving home would mean change, and this can be frightening.
Step 4: A mentor who is knowledgeable of the way appears and tries to provide the hero with the necessary tools and advice.
Step 5: Eventually the hero commits to the process and leaves the ordinary world. What was known is left behind and he finds himself in an unfamiliar, often fantastic, supernatural place where the old rules mean little. This is uncharted territory.
Step 6: Here the hero faces challenges, finds allies, and discovers enemies.
Step 7: This culminates in an ordeal, or the great test in which the hero often faces death and ultimately his fears and perceived limitations.
Step 8: If successful, the hero is rewarded with the treasure he sought and usually returns home to share it with his fellow man. In some cases, the hero dies during the attempt, chooses not to come home, or keeps what he found to himself.
This format is found in myths around the world, as well as literature like The Odyssey and Beowulf, and is common in movies like The Wizard of Oz and even Shrek.
Indeed, George Lucas was so influenced by Campbell that he wrote Star Wars with the monomyth in mind.
Once you know the steps, it is amazing to see how the model unfolds time and time again in our stories.
It can also be applied to religious figure like the Buddha or Moses.
The model itself is a metaphor and map for spiritual awakening in anyone, namely yourself.
What the Hero’s Journey is really describing is moving away from your perceptions of yourself and reality and discovering the truth of who you are and what the universe is.
We see life in a distorted way and are held captive by illusion.
As we undertake the journey to become whole, we must leave what we knew and what we believed to be true to find what is real. This means leaving home, either physically, mentally, or both, as we decided to self-actualize.
This may mean walking away from a job or putting distance in relationships that are not serving our greatest good as we seek the intangible “more”.
But as the model suggests, it is not an easy task and we face tests along the way that make or break us. We find those who oppose our decisions and do not agree with the changes we are making, but we also find allies and make new friends who are eager to help.
Those with more experience who have walked the road before us are here to help avoid pitfalls and keep us focused on the goal.
This leads to a large transformation where we find what we are looking for and develop a new identity.
Our priorities change and we start to live with different principles in mind.
The quest is the search to complete the self, and the ultimately conclusion is always that what you were looking for was within you the whole time.
Many simple things in life are heroic acts.
Being born is a huge transformation, as well as developmental tasks like transitioning to adulthood from childhood, entering the workforce, getting married, having children, and becoming an elder.
Each stage requires walking away from the old and discovering a new dimension within the self.
The ultimate Hero’s Journey, however, is discovering the perfection within.
This was the ordeal the Buddha went through when he sat under the Bodhi tree and when Jesus went into the desert.
They were forced to delve deep inside and refuse to be distracted by their fears and doubts. With their success came the insight of creation, wisdom they shared with the masses upon their return.
All spiritual seekers are heroes themselves who have answered the Call and are also on this path of discovery.
Some people may ask why a model is important in these types of circumstances.
While not necessary, it helps us make sense of the things we experience and maintain perspective on the road we are traveling.
Like meditation practices, it is a tool and can be used to accelerate growth when understood and studied.