In 1987, Joseph Campbell was interviewed by journalist, Bill Moyers – who wrote about the experience in his book, The Power of Myth. Here are some excerpts:
Moyers: “How do I slay that dragon in me? What’s the journey each of us has to make, what you call ‘the soul’s high adventure’?”
Campbell: “My general formula for my students is ‘Follow your bliss.’ Find where it is, and don’t be afraid to follow it.”
Moyers: “To Campbell, the end of the hero’s journey is ‘not the aggrandizement of the hero. The ultimate aim of the quest must be neither release nor ecstasy for oneself, but the wisdom and the power to serve others.’ One of the many distinctions between the celebrity and the hero, he said, is that one lives only for self while the other acts to redeem society.”
“‘In that sense, I said, ‘unlike heroes such as Prometheus, we’re not going on our journey to save the world, but to save ourselves.’ Campbell’s response was: ‘But in doing that, you save the world. The influence of a vital person vitalizes. The world without spirit is a wasteland.'”
Are you following your bliss? Are you committed to being a “vital person”? How do you feel about the idea that by following your bliss, you can play a meaningful part in saving the world?
The promise of the Hero’s Journey is to return safely home – not necessarily unwounded or unscathed – but free. The freedom comes as a result of losing one’s fear of death during the journey.
The Hero is able to resist looking into the past with regret or into the future with apprehension. Upon the conclusion of the ordeal, the Hero is able to be present in the moment. The Hero is ultimately free simply to be.
The Hero’s Journey demands courage and fortitude. The journey requires surrender to the journey itself and to its perils. The passion and commitment to a goal larger than oneself. The drive and zeal to return home and be willing to be transformed by the journey and its lessons.
Think about your life’s significant challenges and / or adventures. Situations in your life where you have defied your comfort zone in service of a goal or calling that demanded that you grow.
The journey, of course, is often not enjoyable. It is often arduous, but it is most often supremely rewarding. What parallels can you see in your own life using the steps of the Hero’s Journey? How free are you to be?
One of the many intriguing aspects of The Hero’s Journey is its reflection in fiction. Famous examples of films containing elements of the Hero’s Journey are the various iterations of Lord of the Rings and Star Wars. As you consider the plot lines, consider the ways in which your life has modeled the seven steps.
Both LOTR and SW began with a Call to Adventure and ended with the victorious return home after encountering many difficulties. Books like Huckleberry Finn have elements of this mythic structure as the hero leaves the known and journeys out into the world.
What adventure is calling you? Can you recognize any of the stages of the Hero’s Journey in the specifics of your own life? Are you just setting out on a Call to Adventure or are you almost home after a harrowing journey? Are you fighting dragons? Is the prize within your grasp?
Joseph Campbell called the Hero’s Journey the “monomyth,” a powerful pattern that describes all myths, and, in the process, describes how we humans often navigate our way through life.
“In laying out the monomyth, Campbell describes a number of stages or steps along this journey. The hero starts in the ordinary world and receives a call to enter an unusual world of strange powers and events (a call to adventure). If the hero accepts this call to enter this strange world, the hero must face tasks and trials (a road of trials), and may have to face these trials alone – or may have assistance.”
“At its most intense, the hero must survive a severe challenge, often with the help earned along the journey. If the hero survives, the hero may achieve a great gift (the goal or ‘boon’) which often results in important self-knowledge.”
“The hero must then decide whether to return with his boon (the return to the ordinary world), often facing challenges on the return journey. If the hero is successful in returning, the boon or gift may be used to improve the world (the application of the boon).”
A hero’s journey can include processes like going off to college, starting a new business, getting married, having a child and other major life journeys. What are some of the events of your life that you can see within the context of the Hero’s Journey?
(Pursuant to the GNU Free Documentation License):
The Hero’s Journey is an archetypal way of understanding the quests of our lives. Joseph Campbell wrote about the hero’s journey as a way to conceptualize how and why we take on the challenges we choose. Very simplistically, think knight in the castle who learns that there is a damsel in distress. He sets out to slay the dragon and return home victorious with the rescued damsel by his side.
There are seven major steps to any hero’s journey – with many sub-steps. Today, we’ll start just by naming them:
The Call to Adventure
Refusal of the Call
The Crossing of the First Threshold
Belly of The Whale
The Road of Trials
Think of any challenge or opportunity which confronts you. At the very least, you’ve heard the Call to Adventure based on your awareness of the challenge.
Just knowing what you know now about the Hero’s Journey, can you think of an example, past or present, where your life’s journey might be able to be understood through the steps of the Hero’s Journey?