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THE HEROíS JOURNEY
The classic mythical structure popularized by the works of writer Joseph Campbell.

web resource here.

See also Christopher Voglerís book The Writerís Journey (subtitled Mythic Structure for Storytellers and Screenwriters)

DEPARTURE, STAGE 1
stage: departure
1. The Call to Adventure
pithy quote:"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."

stage: departure
brief description: 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.

pithy quote:"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)
questions to help frame this step
Does the hero refuse the call?

If so, what motivates the refusal? Obligation and duty, fear, a sense of inadequacy to take on the quest, a dread or dislike of the task to be taken on?

Is the person ready to leave home, to accept adult status? If not, why?

stage: departure

step: 3. Supernatural Aid

brief description: Once the hero has committed to the quest, consciously or unconsciously, his or her guide and magical helper appears, or becomes known.

pithy quote:"For those who have not refused the call, the first encounter of the herojourney 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)

questions to help frame this step

What special friends or helpers does the hero have?

Does the hero receive some magical help, advice, or talisman from someone wise and benevelont?

Is their someone who helps them prepare to leave on their journey?

Is it a one time assistance,, or will the helper (or helpers) appear throughout the journey?

Is the helper an internal aspect of the hero?

stage: departure

step: 4. The Crossing of the First Threshold

brief description: 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.

pithy quote: "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)

questions to help frame this step

? What world is being left; what world is being entered?

? What or who is guarding the threshold?

? What obstacles must the hero overcome to truly begin the journey? -limits of home or society, limits of personality, limits of perception, physical limits?

? What events cause the person to cross the threshold?

? What is the threshold and how does the person cross it?

stage: departure

step: 5. The Belly of the Whale

brief description: 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

pithy quote:"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)

questions to help frame this step

Is the person ready to transform? Does he or she enter the belly of the whale willingly, or is he or she thrust or captured in that place?

What self is being left? The self of childhood? Of incomplete or unfulfilled adulthood? An outgrown self?

What self is the person moving toward?

What will symbolize this stage in the story?

INITIATION, STAGE 2

stage: initiation

step: 1. The Road of Trials

brief description: 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. pithy quote: "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)

questions to help frame this step

Given this person's background and experience, what kinds of trials or ordeals make sense for him or her? What would be truly challenging for this person?

What does the person fear and how will this fear be represented to him or her?

What does the person consider to be obstacles to progress or growth?

Does the person have some personality or character traits that will be mirrored back to him or her in a challenging way?

What strategies, skills, insights, known or unknown strengths or talents, etc, does the person use or develop to survive or resolve these trials?

What assistance, seen or unseen does the person have or receive to deal with these trials?

stage: initiation

step: 2. The Meeting with the Goddess

brief description: 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.

pithy quote: "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)

questions to help frame this step

How will this step be represented in the story?

Does the person have a soul mate, an other half? Does an all loving god or goddess, or non-gendered but supremely loving force make itself known to the person?

Can the person accept and/or identify with the ultimate creative/destructive nature of the universe?

Does the person begin to understand or experience the union of opposites, for example spiritual/material, good/bad, male/female, life/death, etc.

stage: initiation

step: 3. Woman as the Temptress

brief description: 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.

pithy quote: "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" --(Campbell 121-122)

questions to help frame this step

Given this person's background and experience, what kinds of temptations make sense for him or her?

Is this person on a spiritual journey, will he or she experience the temptations of the flesh?

Are there habitual patterns of thought or behavior that serve to undermine, or tempt the person from his or her path?

stage: initiation

step: 4. Atonement with the Father

brief description: 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.

pithy quote: "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" --(Campbell 130-131)

"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)

questions to help frame this step

How does the person resolve him or herself with the sources of control and power in his or her life?

What experiences mark the person as ready to take on the new roles of his or her transformed self?

What behaviors, attitudes, relationships, dependencies, body parts, must be sacrificed to achieve this?

stage: initiation

step: 5. Apotheosis

brief description: 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.

pithy quote: "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)

questions to help frame this step

Given this person's background and experience, what would heaven be for him or her?

What does this person know or experience now that is beyond good and evil, male and female, life and death?

Does the person give him or herself a moment to bask in the glow of what has been achieved?

stage: initiation

step: 6. The Ultimate Boon

brief description: 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.

pithy quote: "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" --(Campbell 181-2)

questions to help frame this step

Given this person's background and experience, what would be the goal of his or her quest? What is the ultimate boon for this person?

Was there a stated goal of the quest? If so has it changed? Has the person learned more or less than he or she expected?

What are the rewards of this person's journey?

What relationship does this person now have to his or her own immortality, gods, or god-like figures?

RETURN, STAGE 3

stage: return

step: 1. Refusal of the Return

brief description: 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?

pithy quote: "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)

questions to help frame this step

Does the person refuse to come back to everyday life?

Is the person concerned that their message won't be heard, or that their gifts will be unappreciated, or that the wisdom gained can not be communicated?

stage: return

step: 2. The Magic Flight

brief description: 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

. pithy quote: "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)

questions to help frame this step

Are there obstacles to the person's returning to normal life?

Given this person's background and experience, what kink of obstacle would make sense or be especially difficult or suiting to his or her situation?

Will these obstacles further enlighten us about either the person, their quest, or their boon?

stage: return

step: 3. Rescue from Without

brief description: Just as the hero may need guides and assistants to set out on the quest, oftentimes 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.

pithy quote: "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)

questions to help frame this step

Must the person be rescued from their journey?

Can their original guides and assistants still help them?

stage: return

step: 4. The Crossing of the Return Threshold

brief description: 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.

pithy quote: "The returning hero, to complete his adventure, must survive the impact of the world" (Campbell 225)

"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)

questions to help frame this step

What marks the person's return to normal life?

What challenges does the person face in integrating the experience of the quest into his or her life?

Can/does the person share his or her experiences and the wisdom gained from them with others?

How do others receive the person upon the return?

stage: return

step: 5. Master of the Two Worlds

brief description: 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

. pithy quote: "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)

questions to help frame this step

Given this person's background and experience, what would represent the two worlds in his or her life?

Does this person demonstrate his or her mastery of both the spiritual and material, the inner and outer worlds?

stage: return

step: 6. Freedom to Live

brief description: 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.

pithy quote: "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." --(Campbell 243)

questions to help frame this step

Does the person achieve the ability let go of the fear of death, to live in the moment, to neither anticipate the future nor regret the past?