by Scott Jeffrey
Similar version in Spanish
How to Use the
Treasure, love, reward, approval, honor, status, freedom, survival…
these are some of the many things we associate with the hero's
We don't find the meaning of the hero's journey in slaying the
dragon or saving the princess - these are colorful
metaphors and symbols for a more significant purpose.
Battling inner and outer demons, confronting bullies, and courting
your ultimate mate symbolize a passage through the often-treacherous
tunnel of self-discovery and individuation to mature adulthood.
At the end of each journey (if there is such an end), you're
different - sometimes visually, but always internally...
Today, let's explore the meaning of the hero's journey and see how
it applies to psychological development and our ability to actualize
more of our potential.
What is the
Joseph Campbell was a curious
In the field of
comparative mythology, most scholars invested their time exploring
how one culture's myths are different than another.
Instead of focusing on the many differences between cultural myths
and religious stories, however, Campbell looked for the
similarities. And his studies resulted in what's called the
The monomyth is a universal story structure. It's a kind of
story template that takes a character through a sequence of stages.
The main character in the monomyth is the hero. The hero
isn't a person, but an archetype - a set of universal images
combined with specific patterns of behavior.
Think of a protagonist
from your favorite film. He or she represents the hero.
The storyline of the film
enacted the hero's journey. The Hero archetype resides in the psyche
of every individual, which is one of the primary reasons we love
hearing and watching stories.
Campbell began identifying the patterns of this monomyth.
Over and over again, he was amazed to find this structure in the
cultures he studied.
He saw the same sequence
in many religions including the stories of Gautama Buddha, Moses...
Campbell outlined the stages of the monomyth in his
Hero With a Thousand Faces.
Why is the
Hero's Journey Relevant to Us?
We might ask,
why explore the
Sure, Hollywood uses it
as their dominant story structure for its films (more on that
what relevance does
it have for us as individuals?
Today, when we speak of
"myth," we refer to something that's commonly believed, but
Myth, for people like
Campbell and Jung however, had a much deeper meaning.
Myths, for them,
represent dreams of the collective psyche.
That is, in
understanding the symbolic meaning of a myth, you come to know
the psychological undercurrent - including hidden motivations,
tensions, and desires - of the people.
And because the hero's
journey represents a monomyth that we can observe in most, if
not all, cultures, it represents a process that is relevant to the
entire human family.
What is this process?
It's the process of
personal transformation from an innocent child into a mature
The child is born
into a set of rules and beliefs of a group of people, and
through the child's heroic efforts he must break free from these
conventions (transcend them) to discover him or herself.
And in the process,
the individual returns to his or her soul.
If we think of the hero's
journey as a roadmap for self-development, it can hold a lot of
value for us.
The 3 Main
Stages of the Hero's Journey
So now let's begin to break down the structure and sequence of the
Stage 1: Departure
Campbell called the initial stage departure or the call to
The hero departs from
the world he knows. Luke Skywalker leaves his home planet to
join Obi-Wan to save the princess.
Neo gets unplugged
from The Matrix with the help of Morpheus and his crew.
In the Departure stage, you leave the safety of the world you
know and enter the unknown.
Campbell writes of this stage in The Hero with a Thousand
This first step
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.
Now the hero must face a series of trials and tribulations.
The hero's journey
isn't safe. The hero is tested in battle, skill, and conflict.
The hero may not succeed in each action but must press on.
The hero will meet
allies, enemies, and mentors with supernatural aid throughout
the initiation stage.
Having endured the trials and hardships of the adventure, the
hero returns home.
But the hero is no
longer the same. An internal transformation has taken place
through the maturation process of the experience. Luke is now a
Jedi and has come to peace with his past.
Neo embraces his
destiny and liberates himself from the conventions of The
Journey in Drama
Three Uses of the Knife, famed
playwright David Mamet suggests a similar three-act structure
for plays and dramas:
Act 1: Thesis.
The drama presents life as it is for the protagonist. The
Antithesis. The protagonist faces opposing forces that send
him into an upheaval (disharmony).
Act 3: Synthesis.
The protagonist attempts to integrate the old life with the
Accessing Your Place in the Hero's Journey
Before we explore the stages of the monomyth more closer,
let's look at what these three phases reveal about our
self-development and the individuation process.
represents our comfort zone. We feel safe here because it is
known to us.
Stage 2 and 3,
however, represent the unknown. Embracing the unknown means
letting go of safety.
points out that we are confronted with an ongoing series of choices
throughout life between safety and growth, dependence and
independence, regression and progression, immaturity and maturity.
Maslow writes in
Toward a Psychology of Being:
We grow forward when
the delights of growth and anxieties of safety are greater than
the anxieties of growth and the delights of safety.
It becomes clear here why
so many of us refuse the call to adventure.
We cling to the safety of
the known instead of embracing the "delight of growth" that only
comes from the unknown.
Campbell didn't just outline three stages of the monomyth.
Hero With a Thousand Faces,
he deconstructs every step along the journey.
I'm going to outline these steps below using a slightly simplified
version from another excellent book,
The Writer's Journey: Mythic Structure for
Writers by Christopher Vogler.
As you scan these hero's journey steps, see if you can determine how
they apply to your development.
Step 1: The
Before a would-be hero can enter the special world, he must
first live in the ordinary world.
The ordinary world is
different for each of us - it represents our norms, customs,
conditioned beliefs, and behaviors. In The Hobbit, the ordinary
world is the Shire where Bilbo Baggins lives with all the other
Hobbits - gardening, eating and celebrating - living a simple
Tolkien contrasts this life in the Shire with the special world
of wizards, warriors, men, elves, dwarfs, and evil forces on the
brink of world war.
Step 2: The Call
The Call to Adventure marks a transition from the ordinary world
to the special world.
The hero is
introduced to his quest of great consequence. Fear of change as
well as death, however, often lead the hero to refuse the call
to adventure. The ordinary world represents our comfort zone;
the special world signifies the unknown.
The hero resists
change initially but is ultimately forced to make a critical
decision: embark on the adventure or forever remain in the
ordinary world with its illusion of security.
This defining moment
helps the hero to…
Step 3: Cross the
In one sense, this is the point of no return. Once the hero
shoots across the unstable suspension bridge, it bursts into
There's no turning
back, at least, not the way in which he came. The first
threshold marks a major decision:
"I'm going to
travel around the globe."
"I'm going to
transform my physical health."
"I am going to
write a book."
"I'm going to
master the flute."
"I'm going to
realize my true nature."
breakthrough is a feat within itself; however, it is but the
first of many turning points.
Step 4: Trials,
Friends, and Foes
Along the hero's journey, the main character encounters many
Some people may try
to stop you along your quest - possibly saying you're
unreasonable or unrealistic. These dream-stoppers are often
cleverly masked as friends and family who appear to have
positive intentions but hinder your development nonetheless.
Your ability to
identify obstructions on your path and align with supporters
along your adventure is critical to your mission's success.
Because few people
complete their hero's journey to mature adulthood, most people
will unconsciously attempt to sabotage yours.
Magical Mentor (or the Mentor with Supernatural Aid)
Generally, at an early stage of the adventure, the hero is
graced by the presence of a wise sage.
stories as a magical counselor, a reclusive hermit, or a wise
leader, the mentor's role is to help guide you. Think Obi-Wan,
Yoda, Gandalf, Morpheus, or Dumbledore.
Sometimes cloaked in
mystery and secret language, a mentor manifests when the hero is
But our modern world
is depleted of wise elders or shamans who can effectively bless
the younger generation. (See King Warrior Magician Lover for a
full treatment on this important topic.)
For most of us, it is
best to seek wise counsel from your inner guide, the Higher Self
Step 6: Dragon's
The next significant threshold is often more treacherous than
villain's castle or the evil billionaire's mansion, this second
major decision usually puts the hero at significant physical and
Within the walls of
the innermost cave lies the cornerstone of the special world
where the hero closes in on his objective.
For a man, the
innermost cave represents the Mother Complex, a regressive part
of him that seeks to return to the safety of the mother.
When a man seeks
safety and comfort - when he demands pampering - it means he's
engulfed within the innermost cave.
Step 7: Moment of
No worthwhile adventure is easy.
There are many perils
on the path to growth, discovery, and self-realization. A major
obstacle confronts the hero, and the future begins to look dim:
a trap, a mental imprisonment, or imminent defeat on the
It seems like the
adventure will come to a sad conclusion, as all hope appears
But hope remains and
it is in these moments of despair when the hero must access a
hidden part of himself - one more micron of energy, strength,
faith, or creativity to find his way out of the belly of the
The hero must call on
an inner power he doesn't know he possesses.
Step 8: Ultimate
Having defeated the enemy and slain the dragon, the hero
receives the prize.
metaphorical sword from the stone, the hero achieves the
objective he set out to complete. Whether the reward is
monetary, physical, romantic, or spiritual, the hero transforms.
And often, the prize
the hero initially sought becomes secondary as a result of the
personal transformation he undergoes. Perhaps the original quest
was financially driven, but now the hero takes greater
satisfaction in serving others in need.
The real change is
Step 9: Homeward
Alas, the adventure isn't over yet.
Now the hero must
return to the world from which he came with the sacred elixir.
Challenges still lie ahead in the form of villains, roadblocks,
and inner demons.
The hero must deal
with whatever issues were left unresolved at this stage of the
inventory, examining the Shadow, and performing constant
self-inquiry help the hero identify weaknesses that will later
play against him.
Step 10: Rebirth & The Champion's Return
Before returning home - before the adventure is over - there's
often one more unsuspected, unforeseen ordeal.
This final threshold,
which may be more difficult than the prior moment of despair,
provides one last test to solidify the growth of the hero.
In this final stage,
the hero can become master of both worlds, with the freedom to
live and grow, impacting all of humanity.
Returning with the
prize, the hero's experience of reality is different. He is no
longer an innocent child or adolescent seeking excitement or
Comfortable in his
own skin, he has evolved and is now capable of handling demands
Where Are You On Your
More importantly, do you see how these steps are unfolding in
Although each of our tales is unique, they do have common threads -
elements of this universal structure that we all share.
And if you return from the moment of despair - from inside the
dragon's lair - without the reward (or lesson), you will undoubtedly
be presented with a similar adventure repeated ad infinitum until
either the lesson is learned or you give up.
In the beginning, the hero's journey is about achievement.
Whether you're trying to
build a successful business, raise a family, write a screenplay,
travel to a distant land, or produce a work of art, these all
represent external achievements that often launch us into our hero's
But through the course of this external quest - if we become more
conscious - the journey transitions to an emphasis on internal
growth that leads to transformation.
Ingredient in Every Hero's Journey
Compelling stories (and real life) come down to one thing:
The protagonist faces a
problem and tries to overcome it. Problems represent the essence of
drama and the key to good storytelling. Without problems - without
troubles and tensions - there's no story and nothing to engage us.
The hero must face his
problems, surmount his fears, resolve his tensions, or fail...
The same is true for our development:
without problems and
tensions, there can be no growth.
is the process of overcoming setbacks, limitations, and conditioned
behavior to reach maturity.
Your Call to
Few people ever fully embrace the Hero's Journey, a psychological
odyssey that leads the individual to wholeness.
Because of our fear of the unknown, many of us refuse the call to
We delay our journey in
But something brews
inside of us.
An internal tension
It may be small at
first, but it grows stronger in the darkness. Tensions are those
opposing forces at play within us. This internal conflict
Humans don't like
disharmony, and so these internal tensions can catapult us out of
The feeling of discord
leads to action and ultimately, some resolution. Maybe you're
currently embracing your hero's journey. Or perhaps you've been
refusing the call. It matters not.
What matters is what you
do today - right now...