The hero's journey It is a concept coined by Joseph Campell, to describe the basic model of the epic story in all civilizations. He is also known as monomito, and is perfectly described in his work "The hero of a thousand faces", from 1949.
The author maintains that the heroes of all cultures of the world share common characteristics with each other. In addition, the transformation of the hero would be given by a characteristic cycle, also called the hero's journey.
In this cycle, the hero must go through a series of phases, tests and obstacles that will end up forging his personality and behavior. The most incredible of all, is that all, to a large or small extent, are heroes in some or some aspects of our lives.
The hero's journey must not only be seen from the cultural and mythological point of view; surely, when reading these lines, you feel identified with many of the processes described here. Maybe you are a hero and you don't know.
The hero's journey: the 3 stages
Joseph Campbell divides the hero's journey into 3 main phases:
- The departure: where the hero must depart from the world he knows to start the adventure
- The initiation: it is the vital stage in which he must face the tests and obstacles that the person must overcome to become a hero
- The return: the final phase in which he has already become a hero returns from his journey with all the knowledge and skills acquired
As we will see, each stage has a kind of sub-stages. However, on the hero's journey it is not necessary to go through each of them. The main stages are mandatory.
The hero's journey: The game
Inside this initial stage in the hero's journey, Campbell describes 5 sub-stages.
1. The call to adventure
The hero begins the adventure in the world that, for him or her, is familiar and known. So, everything is familiar, stable, predictable, and feels comfortable in that world.
However, at a given time, the hero is presented with a certain situation which he must face. It can be a challenge, an adventure or a problem to solve.
Therefore, you must decide if you go to the destination call, if you radically change your way of life, if you dare to go into the unknown and get away from everything that is predictable and familiar. That is, to leave the comfort zone.
2. The refusal to call
For comfort or fear of change. Or, because of the attachment to the life you know and the routine, the hero expresses doubt or fear of coming to the call. You may refuse to change your life to face the situation you must resolve.
In this case, the author highlights the hero's psychological strength against those symbolically stuck in his own ego, who are unable to take action. In many cases, the hero has to save these people from themselves.
3. The supernatural help
Those brave who accept the call to adventure, often find themselves with the help of a protective figure, which represents the protective and benign force of destiny. In addition, he is guide and teacher of the hero during his journey.
This character can be reflected through an old man or old woman, a wiser and experienced person, a kind of mentor to the hero which guides him and gives him some kind of amulet, real or symbolic with which he can face specific difficulties.
4. The crossing of the first threshold
The hero must now cross the symbolic line that separates both worlds. That is, the world known by him and a different world. Therefore, now you must delve into the unknown and definitely leave behind the security offered by the routine and the familiar.
At this point the commitment to adventure is serious and unique. Therefore, the limits of the known world are left behind and progress is made towards a new magical, unknown and dangerous world, where its characteristics are yet to be defined.
5. The hero in the whale's belly
It is a stage closely linked to the previous one. In myths, it appears as a continuation of the threshold crossing. In her, the heroic symbolic death is highlighted, not because he dies, but because it seems that he has been swallowed by the unknown. Therefore, it seems that he had disappeared or died, just like Jonah when the whale swallowed him.
In short, the adventure absorbs the hero, so that he is very far from our world, but fighting within another completely different world.
The hero's journey: The initiation
This stage is crucial, because here are the tests and obstacles that the hero must overcome.
1. The path of evidence
In a completely new and unknown world, the hero will face a series of tests that must pass. According to Campbell, these tests are a "process of dissolution, transcendence or transmutation of children's images of our personal past." In other words, they represent a whole experience loaded with new learning, growth and maturity. A whole stage of personal growth.
2. The encounter with the goddess
The goddess represents the model of beauty and desire, the goal of all heroes. However, in our case, It represents the great final test that the hero has to win to obtain the gift of love (fati love).
"Fati love“It comes from Latin and means“ love of destiny. ”That is, learning to accept everything that happens in life, good and bad, including suffering and loss.
- From the male point of view, at the end of the adventure we would have a Mystical marriage of the triumphant soul of the hero with the Queen Goddess of the World
- And from the feminine point of view, it is she who through her qualities, her beauty or desire becomes the consort of an immortal being
3. Women as temptation
At this stage the hero must face temptation. In most myths this is represented by a female figure, but it doesn't always have to be that way. Therefore, the central axis of this stage is the fight against temptation in any of its forms.
Further, it is important not to succumb to carnal, physical or material temptation, as it threatens the hero by diverting him from his path. In fact, this will be one of the greatest tests the hero has to face. As a result, he will gain access to an amplified conscience and a reinforcement of his will and character. The hero will no longer be the same.
4. Reconciliation with the father
The hero, after passing the tests and becoming psychologically and spiritually, is able to leave childhood trauma behind. Now the father is a figure that will serve as an example in many ways. You will feel a union closer to him.
In the female case, the reconciliation would be with the mother. In the childhood stage, boys and girls see the same-sex parent as a rival, an intruder and an enemy. However, as the mature hero realizes that the father and mother are equal in their elemental essence.
Apotheosis is the moment when the hero reaches the peak of his spiritual transformation and human In him, he frees himself from all fear. Also, worldly things no longer affect him. Symbolically, he has died and been reborn. Now he is a new, free and stronger person. Nothing can stop it.
6. The ultimate grace
In this last stage, the hero gets the gift he had pursued from the beginning, the one he has been preparing for throughout the adventure.
In this phase you will have to face the guardian of the gift or the elixir. He will only grant the reward to those who have tried themselves well. They can even become extraordinarily cautious or severe, so the hero can resort to other methods to obtain the elixir.
This last gift can be spiritual or material, like the Holy Grail. Therefore, many times it is not necessary to see it as a simple physical object that the hero must obtain.
The hero's journey: The return
In this last stage, the hero will return transformed physically, mentally and spiritually and with the knowledge and gifts necessary to restore order.
1. The refusal to return
According to Campbell, when the hero's mission has been carried out, by penetration into the source or through the grace of some male or female, human or animal personification, the adventurer must return with his life-changing trophy.
The complete cycle, requires that the hero now begin the work of bringing the mysteries of wisdom to the kingdom of mankind, where the gift will mean the renewal of the community, of the nation, of the world.
Nevertheless, now the hero may be reluctant to return to his world. This phase would work the other way around than the refusal to call.
2. The magic escape
As stated in the sub-stage of the last grace, the hero can obtain the gift or elixir with the blessing of the gods or the guardian. Nevertheless, when he obtains it despite the opposition of the guardian, with tricks or even through theft, this phase would lead to hectic chase.
That is to say, the guardian or god chases the hero to kill him and recover the elixir, opposing in his way miraculous obstacles and performing the hero all kinds of magical leaks.
3. The rescue of the outside world
As an alternative to the magical escape, it may be that the hero needs to be assisted by the outside world for his return. That is, it may now be the hero who needs the help of others and be rescued.
In this final phase, the hero can be fascinated by that world, for the new situation created, as well as for the perfect beings found in it. In this situation, Perhaps others are the ones who should remind you of the importance of success in your mission for your world originally.
4. The crossing of the return threshold
Once the adventure is complete, the hero must return with the elixir or his new gift, but then, How to explain in words what has been experienced in a deep and spiritual way? How to be understood by society?
The hero feels lonely and misunderstood. On this occasion, the difficulty lies in the impact of crossing the threshold between these two worlds again, but now in the opposite direction.
Therefore, the hero is horrified by the banalities of life, the little spiritual depth and the simplicity of its people. He feels that his transformation has made him not finish fitting. However, in the latter would be the key.
And is that, there was no physical threshold that separated his world and the magical world, the threshold, the limit was in his own person. We are, then, the people, who impose our own limits, we are our worst enemy. The one for which we let ourselves be defeated. Defeating our ego undoubtedly amounts to defeating the Dragon.
The enemy was never outside, but within ourselves
5. Possession of both worlds
The hero is aware that the two worlds are, in essence, one. So, struggle to achieve a balance between the mundane and the transcendent, finding the fundamental connections between them.
6. The freedom to live
If the hero was successful in his adventure to the point of returning with his gift or with the elixir to the starting point, the hero's journey closes here. As a consequence, the hero has been radically transformed, in communion with natural laws and in connection with the two worlds. Now, he is free to rebuild his life, live and prosper in peace and freedom. It is the happy ending of fairy tales.
Throughout millennia in all cultures and civilizations of the world, myths have happened. The importance of heroic myth is fundamental for human, personal and spiritual development of individuals
This myth not only conveys that the will can overcome fate, but constitutes a example facing transformation or individuation of the human being. In addition, it reflects, from a symbolic perspective, how to cope with vital crises and states of need.
The power of the heoíco myth, as present today as it was before, is not just a purely expository fact, it is a transformative process for the human being, we could almost say that it is like a psychotherapy. However, It is a therapy that would reach the spirit.
Finally, point out that throughout our lives, we have all been able to go through life crises and events that have put us to the test, and of which we have won. It is not necessary to be Perseus, Perceval or King Arthur; We can all be heroes in our own life.
For it, we must accept the call, overcome the obstacles and tests that it puts on us, and get the most valuable gift of everything: the ability to defeat ourselves and transform ourselves personally and spiritually. Also, make our will an impregnable bastion and our own behavior an example for others.
And, when you have succeeded, you can give yourself to others, help others and share your experience with them. It's about making this world a better place, through improving ourselves first. In the words of Wittgenstein: Revolutionary He will be the one who can revolutionize himself.
- Campbell, J. (1959).The hero of a thousand faces: psychoanalysis of myth. Fund of Economic Culture.
- Campbell, J. (2017).The power of myth. Captain Swing Books.
- Campbell, J. (Ed.). (1997).Myths, dreams and religion. Barcelona: Kairos.