There is a metaphorical hero in all of us. The hero is an inner voice that calls us to an adventure, a Hero’s Journey of Self-Discovery to grow intellectually and spiritually, and to find who we truly are. Answering this call is magical, sending us to an exciting adventure, a journey of self-realization. Ignoring it makes our life empty, uninspiring, and unfulfilled. Do you hear the call of the hero inside you?
We may think of our life as ordinary and insignificant, in grand scheme of things in the world. But when we think about it, the world won’t be as interesting without “life”, specially us human beings. So, what gives the world its energy is our collective presence in it. The world is a venue, we are the guests. Without us, the venue is cold and soulless, without songs or melody, without philosophy or poetry, without compassion and love, without warriors and legends. What does give our collective presence such value? It is the value of your life, my life, and everyone else’s around us.
Knowledge of Archetypes
On the surface, our life could appear as a simple story, a story of relationships, deeds and actions. But, there is a lot more going on inside us, forces that operate below the plane of our ordinary consciousness. Above all, these forces gently define the main direction of our life, and who we ultimately become. In simplest terms, these subconscious forces can be thought of themes and templates that emerge from within us. They emerge and draw us to certain beliefs or way of life. These themes were formally defined by C.G. Jung as Archetypes. Archetypes capture and guide the course of our lives without us being fully aware of their presence.
The best way to understand what archetypes are is through examples. Movie characters are ideal examples of archetypes. For example in an action drama, we usually have a Villain Archetype, a Vulnerable Archetype, a Hero Archetype, and a Trickster Archetype. The villain usually has bad intentions for the vulnerable, and the hero is there to protect the vulnerable. In addition, the trickster is creating chaos, which is required to open things up, leading to a final standoff between the villain and the hero to reach a resolution. The personalities of these characters are “captured” by their archetypes. The villain has intentions to manifest evil, but may not fully understand why it should be that way.
Hero Archetype is most interesting because, when embodied, leads to dramatic transformations and new wisdom. The heroes reported in history, legends and myths, or portrait in movies, are generally not born as hero. They had to go through a transformation with periods of self-doubts, ordeals and setbacks. So, these challenges are among integral parts of the hero’s journey, to make the person ready for being a hero. Without Hero Archetype, there won’t be any desire in us to become more than what we are. So, it is important to understand this archetype and its process. This helps us realize that when we embark on a path of self-discovery, we should expect self-doubts, ordeals and setbacks.
Hero Archetype does not always have a grandiose goal. It can manifest in us for pursuing a personal goal or desire. For example, the process of losing weight has Hero Archetype in its core. Because it involves achieving a higher goal, and has the elements of self-doubt, ordeals and setbacks in its process. When we embrace Hero Archetype, we start our “Hero’s Journey”.
The greatest hero’s journey is that of self-discovery, to find who we are, and through that, find our purpose in life. Understanding hero’s journey helps us navigate and overcome any challenges and ordeals on our path to self-discovery. Joseph Campbell has already made that available to us in his book, “The Hero with a Thousand Faces”, first published in 1949. He noticed a surprisingly common structure in elements of ancient mythological concepts, originated in corners of the world thousands of miles away. Further, he formalized this common structure under “Monomyth” (or Universal Myth) that is also known today as Hero’s Journey.
Joseph Campbell organized hero’s journey in three major phases, Departure, Initiation and Return. Departure is the first phase of the journey. The hero, living a mundane life, hears an inner call to venture to the unknown to gain new wisdom. In Initiation phase, the hero has already left her/his known and comfortable world behind. She/he now faces the challenges and ordeals in the new and unfamiliar world, and must overcome them. Return Phase starts only after the hero managed to overcome all challenges and ordeals on her/his path. The hero has gained wisdom and enlightenment in the new world. This is where the hero hears a call to return and share the newly-found wisdom with others.
Joseph Campbell also identified different stages of the journey within these three phases, as outlined below. The stages presented here are for a male hero, but we can extend them to be non-gender-specific. Every hero’s journey is unique and may have a few more or less stages in its process than those described here. So, we need to view these stages symbolically, when it comes to identifying them in our own hero’s journeys.
The Call to Adventure: The hero hears an inner call to adventure, to make a change in his life. The call can come by way of a challenge. It can be an opportunity or simply due to dullness in hero’s familiar world.
Refusal of the Call: The hero is aware that the call to adventure can involve challenges and ordeals. So, he does not want to leave the comfort of the familiar world behind.
Supernatural Aid: The hero comes across a supernatural aid, a mentor, or simply a motivator that helps him find necessary courage and inspiration to answer the call and start the adventure.
Crossing the Threshold: With renewed courage, the hero leaves the familiar world behind, and steps into the unknown world of the journey.
Belly of the Whale: The hero is now deep into the new world and can no longer go back to where he came from. This is the point of no return, the journey is in full swing, and the hero must now face and overcome all obstacles on his way.
The Road of Trials: The hero is now deep into the new world and faces many challenges, trials and ordeals. He usually fails through some of these ordeals, and must learn to recover from the failures, and rise again to continue.
The Meeting with the Goddess: The hero, now weakened by failures, has self-doubts. This is when the hero meets a supportive figure who is there to help him regain confidence. This could be a spiritual figure the hero relates to, or a close ally the hero trusts and honors. The encounter leads to hero’s renewed motivation to continue the journey with higher confidence and determination.
Woman as Temptress: The hero, now empowered, is being tested by temptations from his past, inner most desires. These temptations are targeting hero’s weaknesses to make him abandon the journey. They usually involve ego-boosting offers such as promise of rank, power, or intimacy.
Atonement with the Father: The hero, succeeded in resisting the temptations, is now very close to the ultimate goal of the journey. But before that, the hero must confront his inner most authority figure. This authority figure can be his idol, master, father figure, or a symbolic concept of authority. As long as, this authority has power over the hero, he can never fully embody the new wisdom gained through his triumphs in the journey. This step is a pivotal point in the journey. All the events in the journey so far were meant to bring the hero to this ultimate confrontation.
Apotheosis: The confrontation of the hero with his ultimate authority figure elevates the hero’s self-reliance and confidence to a new and profound level. The hero is now free to fully embody his new wisdom and enlightenment.
The Ultimate Boon: The hero is now fully transformed and enlightened through achieving the ultimate prize (the boon), and the wisdom initially ventured for. This marks the end of the hero’s own personal journey.
Refusal of the Return: The hero, now wiser and enlightened, faces a dilemma. The new world has become his home now. But, what about the people he left behind in the old world? Can the hero forget them, and not share the wisdom with them? In this stage, the hero truly believes that he belongs to the world of his past.
The Magic Flight: Through series of circumstances, the hero is ultimately called upon taking the newly-found wisdom to the people in the ordinary world. But, hero’s personal sacrifice to return to that world is no longer simple. The return can come at a cost, claiming hero’s life.
Rescue from Without: The hero’s willingness to sacrifice and return to the ordinary world results in receiving a miracles help. The help not only saves hero’s lost life (as a resurrection), but also facilitates the return to the ordinary world.
The Crossing of the Return Threshold: The hero finally crosses the boundaries of the ordinary world to be with his people, and to share the wisdom with them.
Master of Two Worlds: The hero is now the master of both worlds. He possess the wisdom gained in the new world, while sharing that with his people in the ordinary world. This leads to hero living a balanced life. A real example of this would be to venture on a journey of spiritual self-discovery, and bring the resulting spiritual insight back to the world, and use it for awakening and well-being of others.
Freedom to Live: The hero is now the master of two worlds, and can enjoy a fulfilled and balanced life in serenity and peace.
What Should Hero’s Journey Mean to Us?
Hero’s journey is real. Next time, when you find yourself stagnated in life, but hear an inner voice calling you to make a change, look for the hero inside you, trying to emerge and transform your life. Or, when you have already committed to a goal, but find yourself in self-doubts, look for the hero inside you fighting for you to stay the course. Next time, when you are close to reaching your goals, but find yourself surrounded by temptations, asking you to leave everything behind and settle for a desire, recognize it as a stage in your hero’s journey and don’t succumb to the temptations.
Understanding hero’s journey empowers us and gives us wisdom and insight to interpret our seemingly unrelated feelings and thoughts. Through hero’s journey of self-discovery, we grow and become wiser. We discover who we really are, and what our life is about. With such wisdom, we are empowered to define our core values and unique way of life. We establish our very own “Personal Mythology”.
In its simplified form, Personal Mythology refers to one’s core values and guiding principles in life and the world. It declares not only the person’s view of life, but also how the person sees herself/himself in connection to Nature, society, spirituality, the world, and even the cosmos as a whole. Our hero’s journey of self-discovery makes us wiser and more humble. It gives us clarity of who we are and how we should lead our lives. Personal Mythology is an internal declaration of that clarity and wisdom.
Personal Mythology was first formalized in great details by Stanley Krippner and David Feinstein in their book, “Personal Mythology: The Psychology of Your Evolving Self”. They defined Personal Mythology as “a constellation of beliefs, feelings, images, and rules, operating largely outside of conscious awareness, that interprets sensations, constructs new explanations, and directs behavior”. The word Myth in Personal Mythology has transpersonal, spiritual, and archetypal meanings. Therefore, the meaning of Personal Mythology cannot be reduced to a life story, or a choice of lifestyle. For instance, we can experience synchronicity in life events, or become instantly attracted to signs or images, to which we had no prior exposure. Similarly, we may have knowledge or intuition about something, we could not have learned through our biographical experiences in life. These are examples of transpersonal aspects of life that we can express through Personal Mythology.
Why to Answer Your Hero’s Call
Hero’s journey is an insightful archetypal concept in our path to self-discovery. Fortunately, this archetypal concept can be supported by practical resources to facilitate self-discovery. The post “Path to a Meaningful Life” has an overview of the process of self-discovery, and the resources we can use for it.
When we commit to the process of self-discovery and its enlightenment, we become clairvoyant. We get to know who we are and what we are supposed to do in life. Above all, we feel a new sense of unity and connectedness with the world and the people around us. That is all due to hero’s journey and its ultimate purpose, which is to transform us. The only thing we need, is to recognize it, to hear its impulses, and to do our best efforts to answer its transformative calls, emerging from deep within us.
“The call to adventure signifies that destiny has summoned the hero.”