Mythologist Joseph Campbell wrote about “The Monomyth” or “The Hero’s Journey.” All myths, he postulated, echo the stories of our lives, and the great trials and learning experiences that we face in our individual experience. In Part 1, I explained the myth-model and how it applied to some of the more well-known myths of our modern culture. In Part 2, I will explain how we can apply the Hero’s Journey effectively in our own lives.
Consider a traumatic experience you have endured. There is no life that is without pain or suffering. Don’t allow anyone to choose this initial focus for you. No one can quantify another’s pain, although others might pooh-pooh your choice. For some people, high school was a time of happiness and nostalgia. For me, high school was five years of torment. I have been through experiences that I consider to be worse since, but because I was so young, I often find myself confronting these issues in my adult life, and much of my work as a Witch has been in dealing with these things in order to clear them from my mind and stop getting in the way of my own magick.
Conversely, you could consider an odyssey that you embarked upon for your own education. For example, I once drove across Canada to attend the Canadian National Pagan Conference in Montreal. Starting a new business or a marriage could be viewed in this light. You get the idea, I think.
1. Call to Adventure – The Hero is summoned away from his/her regular life to a world of adventure, where infinite perils and possibilities await. Sometimes s/he chooses the path voluntarily, and sometimes s/he is forced into it by a beneficent or malign force or circumstance.
- How did the Call to Adventure manifest? Did you choose your course (for instance, running away from home) or was it thrust upon you (unexpected accident or attack?) If you did choose it, did you feel driven or forced into the situation? If it was traumatic, what are the lingering resentments you have around this?
2. Refusal of the Call – Often, the Hero refuses the call due to fear or obligation. S/he then becomes a victim to be saved instead of a Hero.
- Did you refuse to accept what had happened to you? Or perhaps you avoided taking the big leap of faith that your heart knew was necessary? How did this complicate the situation?
3. Mentor / Supernatural Aid – A Helper or Mentor makes him/herself available to the Hero to assist or teach. Often s/he is an elder who imparts wisdom or a Tool that represents knowledge.
- Consider the teachers and guides who were helpful at these points of transition. I find myself thinking of a lot of my schoolteachers, older friends, and friends’ mothers.
- On the other hand, when I bought my own business, I had no Guide per se, but instead I had a series of serendipitous events that made it possible and seemed to suggest that the Gods were supporting my quest. Joseph Campbell called this “Following your bliss,” and postulated that serendipity is a strong signal from your subconscious mind that you are on the “right path.”
- Consider how you were aided and whether you have ever given proper gratitude for the help. For example, while I was staying in Vancouver after my husband’s accident, the Vancouver Pagan community came together to donate money, time, household items, furniture, clothing and groceries. When I returned with my husband to a festival in the community two years later, I stood up on stage and thanked them for coming together for us. I also made an offering to my gods. And I cried.
4. Crossing of the Threshold – This is the point of no return. The point of initiation begins.
- There was a significant moment at which you knew that there was no turning back. When you left the house for college or your first apartment was one such moment. When I got in the car and headed out on the Highway 1 Trans-Canada was another. Sometimes this is a brutal event and there is simply no way to sugar-coat it. Facing it may be among the greatest acts of courage you have ever achieved. Do it anyway and accept that as a defining moment in your life experience.
5. Descent Into the Underworld – The Hero is now separated from the world he knew and a new life. It is a metamorphosis; a death of sorts.
- The transformation is never easy. Consider how you struggled with this change in your perceptions of what the world was and who you were. Consider what it felt like to be “in the Underworld.” Were you afraid? Angry? Were you filled with despair? Or were you so traumatized that you were simply numb? Were there any positive emotions associated with the experience? (Were you, for example, excited about the possibilities of your new business even as you were terrified of financial ruin?) Be in that moment. People who suffer from post-traumatic stress often have not effectively processed that moment because it was so emotionally overwhelming. If you struggle with this, there are many tools that can help you, and I’ll tell you about them in Part 3.
6. Road of Trials – Tests, tasks or ordeals that begin the transformation. This is usually the bulk of the story.
- What trials did you endure and overcome to get through the journey? How did you overcome these challenges? What did you learn from them? How did you become stronger?
7. Meeting with the Goddess – The Hero experiences a soul-transforming love. This is often portrayed as a romantic love, but it doesn’t have to be; and in fact, in the examples I have chosen, none are.
- Consider the soul-transforming loves that saved you. For me, it is just as often the love of good friends as it is my lovers. Who has been the Goddess to you?
- How many times, when you were in the midst of your greatest struggles, did you want to just give up? How many times did you want to turn around and go home? Perhaps it was easier to keep the job you had than pursue the career you wanted. Did you fall victim to what seemed, at the time, like good sense, or did you plunge on anyway?
9. Atonement with the Father – The Hero confronts the ultimate power in his/her own life and overcomes that dark reflection. Thus the “sins of the fathers” are no longer delivered upon us and we become our own, autonomous human beings, free of the conditioning of our past.
- These things are less clear in real life than they are in the movies. But at one time or another we are confronted with an internal, or sometimes even external “villain” who seems to exist solely to prevent us from success. How did you deal with these obstacles? In some cases, it involves overcoming childhood fears (such as believing one is not good enough.) In others it means sidestepping a troublesome person such as a hostile boss or co-worker. In others it could mean confronting a genuinely abusive person or even parent, figuratively or literally.
10. Apotheosis – The Hero “dies,” experiences a period of rest and perhaps bliss, and then is reborn with greater enlightenment.
- There is, in any crisis, a moment in which we feel that we simply cannot go on. And then there is a moment of letting go; allowing and acceptance. It is usually a horribly painful moment in which the thing we most fear comes upon us, and then we pass through it like the pain-box in Dune; and though it might still “defeat” us (like Death,) it can no longer hurt us. We have learned wisdom.
11. Ultimate Boon – Achievement of the goal of the quest; obtaining the item or piece of wisdom; the gifts of the gods given unto mortals.
- What have you learned from this crisis? How can this benefit you, and then others?
12. Refusal of the Return – Sometimes the Hero is so exhausted by the quest, or so happy in the bliss s/he discovers, that s/he refuses to return to the world. But the Boon serves no purpose unless it is shared.
- This is hard to define sometimes, but when someone is stuck, it’s often here. My husband survived a life-threatening car accident and made a greater recovery than anyone imagined, but he became mired in being a convalescent for a while because it was such an ordeal. Sometimes a husband dies and a widow refuses to date anyone new for years. There are many examples. Grief proceeds in its own time and we need to allow ourselves to experience that in our own way. Eventually our hearts know when it is time to get on with it.
13. Magic Flight – Sometimes the Hero must escape with the Boon.
- Maybe your crisis was such that you were required to change jobs, leave home or a marriage, or move to a new city. All of these are forms of flight in which you are attempting to escape with the boon.
14. Rescue – Sometimes the Hero needs supernatural assistance to return to regular life as much as s/he did to leave it, especially if s/he has been wounded or weakened.
- I don’t think this requires much explanation. If you’ve been rescued, you know who your rescuers are and how they struggled to help you. Maybe you needed friends to help you out of a funk of despair following a trauma (refusing the return.) Offer them your gratitude.
15. Crossing of the Return Threshold – Somehow the Hero must now return to banal everyday life, maintain the wisdom of her/his experiences, and accept the world as real after transcendental bliss. Sometimes s/he is not entirely successful.
- Now it’s time to get on with life. It is impossible, if you have been through a soul-changing Hero’s Journey, for you to continue as you have in the life you left behind. Sometimes you will have to blaze a whole new trail. Other times you will have to redefine the relationships you have with the people in your life. Often, you will find yourself on the other side of it with a completely new set of friends, a new job, or a new lover. You are not the same person you were before; this is only to be expected.
16. Master of Two Worlds – For a real-world human Hero, this means integrating spiritual and material successfully. This is the ultimate goal of Witchcraft; to become a “mystic in the world.”
- Are you inspirational to others who have been through (or are going through) similar processes? Alcoholics Anonymous integrates this by requiring you to serve as a sponsor to someone else. The Boon is shared.
17. Freedom to Live – Facing death teaches us not to fear it, and thus, gives us the power to experience life more fully and completely, living in the moment, neither regretting nor reliving the past. This is the ultimate benefit of the Hero’s Journey.
- Most people who have been through traumatic events will tell you that they live a better quality of life than they did before their experience, once it has been successfully processed. I’ll talk a bit more about that in the next article.
Next column: The Hero’s Journey, Part 3: Tools to Aid in the Quest.