The American scholar Joseph Campbell formulated a theory that the protagonists of many classic and modern myths follow a basic pattern, known as the monomyth or the hero's journey. This idea has become a very prominent one in the study of philosophy and the study of folklore. This article provides an introduction to this concept and an outline of the seventeen stages according to Campbell.
American scholar Joseph Campbell, in his book The Hero with a Thousand Faces, published in 1949, proposed a theory that the protagonists of many myths, both classic and modern, follow a universal and basic pattern. This pattern is known as the monomyth, or, more commonly, the hero's journey. In summary, a hero is called to adventure and breaks out of his or her mundane world to follow that call. The journey itself is ridden with many trials; however, many rewards are discovered as well, and the hero returns to his or her world changed greatly. According to Campbell, there are seventeen stages of the hero's journey, which will be outlined in this article.
The seventeen stages are as follows:
Call to adventure: The hero, who has started out in a rather pedestrian situation, is called into the unknown either from within or by external forces.
Refusal of the call: The hero initally refuses this call due to obligations to the known world.
Supernatural aid: Despite this fear, the hero eventually heeds the call, and when this happens, his or her supernatural guide becomes known and begins to assist the hero.
Crossing of the first threshold: The hero leaves the known and crosses into the unknown.
Belly of the whale: The hero undergoes a metamorphosis and is reborn, either literally or symbolically.
Road of trials: The hero goes through many tests to begin the transformation that will be finished by the time the hero returns from the adventure.
Meeting with the goddess: The hero experiences an unconditional, motherly love upon finding the person that completes him or her.
Woman as temptress: The hero is tempted away from his or her quest, not necessarily or always by a woman, but often symbolized by a woman due to the appeal to the baser nature that the temptations of many myths possess--not only appealing to lust, but to wants and needs that are often provided by a mother or mother figure.
Atonement with the father: The hero must confront whatever holds the greatest power in the hero's life; again, this is not necessarily or always the father, but it is often symbolized by the father due to the painful yet necessary initiation into the unknown often provided by a father figure, as opposed to a mother or mother figure, who often provides comfort and knowledge in the known world.
Apotheosis: The hero dies, either physically or symbolically, and attains divine knowledge.
The ultimate boon: The hero achieves the goal of the quest.
Refusal of the return: The hero, who has now been completely reborn, often is initially skeptical about returning to the known world and spreading the divine knowledge he or she has attained.
The magic flight: The hero does eventually commit to returning and must escape with his or her boon, going through another road of trials to return to the known world.
Rescue from without: The hero requires the help of supernatural guides to return to "everyday life."
Crossing of the return threshold: The hero returns to the known world and must integrate his or her newfound knowledge into "everyday life," then often shares this knowledge with others.
Master of two worlds: The hero has succeeded in mastering and encompassing both the known and the initially unknown.
Freedom to live: The hero overcomes the fear of death and becomes truly free to live.
While these seventeen stages are not always presented obviously, some form of them seemed to Campbell to be universal. Also, according to many scholars, the hero's journey is not only present in myths but in human lives, the hero being the person living the life and probably going through this journey many times in one life (e.g. from childhood to adolescence, from adolescence to adulthood, etc.). The monomyth has become a very important theme in philosophy and in the study of folklore, bringing together many cultures and many worlds.
Photo: Heroesjourney, released by an anonymous poster into the public domain, from Wikimedia Commons