The Hero's Journey
New Web Page -- 6 August 2003
The Hero’s Journey can be thought of as consisting of five phases. These phases are: The Call, The Option, The Gathering of Allies, The Obstacles, and The Return.
In the midst of what can only be described as ordinary life, a Call rings out to the would-be hero or heroine. It is a Call to Adventure and can arrive in many ways. The only criteria is that the Call is sufficient to grab your attention. It is obviously important that one doesn't mistake the Call for something else -- like gas.
The Call implies hearing. It is extremely important to note that it is easy to shut one's eyes, but not one's ears. This is a holdover from evolutionary survival, where one could sleep, but the ears were always available to warn of impending, albeit noisy danger.
This sense of hearing, however, is more than just keeping one's ear's open. It is truly being open to the Call, being in a receptive mode which allows the Call to be heard. It is only for those "with ears to hear", and will fall on deaf ears if one has no interest in adventure.
In one of the more profound myths of antiquity, the Descent of Inanna, it begins with the great goddess opening “her ear to the Great Below”. It continues with her abandoning her temples, as well as the glories of heaven and earth, and preparing to make the journey “from which no traveler returns”. Now that is an Adventure!
with the great goddess opening “her ear to the Great Below”. It continues with her abandoning her temples, as well as the glories of heaven and earth, and preparing to make the journey “from which no traveler returns”. Now that is an Adventure!
The Adventure itself may be any number of things. It can be about destiny, purpose, or one's life work. It may be a short term adventure (like running for elected office, running from outraged voters, or being first in line at a Department Store fire sale). Or it can be the adventure of a lifetime, the completion of one's Dharma, one's essential reason for having incarnated in the first place.
In terms of the Hero's Journey, a particularly relevant point is that the Adventure must be a quest, not a conquest! The Warrior may be interested in Con-Quest (the antithesis of quest), but the true Hero/Heroine is dedicated to the Quest! This is the Don Quixote style, where the process -- the adherence to principles, virtue and morals in the most threatening moments of the quest -- is far more important than actually reaching some preconceived goal. It's the Journey, the trek, or quest that counts. The initial goal is often just a temporary motivator to initiate the process, and has no more value than the initial spark in the engine of an automobile to start it.
The Call to Adventure may include patience, waiting for the precise timing, avoiding the urge to "push the river" (a singularly ineffective exercise). It may also include taking the "Magic Flight" out of danger when the time is not yet right. Gandalf's escape from the tower of Saruman on the wings of an eagle or Frodo and Sam's rescue from the Tower of Doom in the Lord of the Rings are two cases in point.
Being carried in the talons of an Eagle might be construed as an admission of temporary inadequacy, and could in fact be thought of as an embarrassment or even an humiliation. But humiliation -- being made to be The Fool -- is in fact essential to the Hero's quest! Maintaining appearances is contrary to the essence of the Hero's Journey. Besides, all too often one has their Karma run over their Dogma.
The Option consists of the fact that The Call can be refused. "The mission, should you choose to accept it..." can be dismissed out of hand.
However, Joseph Campbell has observed that, "Hell is living someone else's life." Thus, if Refusing the Call -- i.e., refusing to do your thing, live your life -- is actually doing someone else's thing, living their life... Then it's indeed hell.
Nevertheless, it still still your choice. It's not like The Call is going to go away, silently steal into the night, never to be heard from again. There may indeed, and inevitably will be, additional opportunities. Not an unlimited number necessarily, but nonetheless more than one.
The point is, "Why wait?" The original Call may also be dependent upon one initiating the process by stating they wish to proceed. Perhaps, after the children have left the nest, a person might verbalize their readiness to become the Hero/Heroine. Any earlier Call might be reinstituted at that time. (And frankly, children are about the only valid reason to allow a Call to slip by unheeded.)
The Gathering of Allies is the process of "data collection", of preparing for the quest with a bit of homework, and of finding the like minds that can understand and support you. Keep in mind that such allies can also include your apparent enemies. Quests make strange bedfellows. Enemies can provide more genuine growth possibilities than all the friends in one's clique.
The Obstacles are what look like walls, even a series of walls. In actuality, however, they are inevitably steps. They are the passports to the continuation of the adventure in new and different climes. It is the obstacles which mold the Hero/Heroine, which transform the adventurer into someone worthy of the Quest's goal, whether it be a Holy Grail or a state of bliss.
Obstacles are many and varied, dependent upon individual inclinations and unique journeys. But inevitably, the obstacles will include humiliation -- a characteristics which is deemed essential for the Hero/Heroine's development of character and, more importantly, wisdom.
The Return can be blessedly swift, but typically involves the Hero/Heroine periodically sharing the Journey with others. This is not under the guise of an ego trip, a rehashing of just how incredibly (i.e. not credible) brave the Hero/Heroine had been... yada, yada, yada... but a true sharing -- often in the guise of being an example.
The Return is not always the Hollywood style proverbial "happy ending". Heroes and/or Heroines do not always complete the quest and return to tell about it. But inasmuch as the goal was never the primary reason for the quest, a victorious return is also not an essential requirement. Often, a glorious, but wholly unintentional transition to another world makes for better copy.
The final aspect of the Return, in whatever case, is the need to Get Over Yourself. If the humiliation didn't do the job during the journey, then perhaps the quest is not quite done until the returning Hero/Heroine can let it all go and smile at how serious about things they once were. If a quest can not be looked back upon with a wry smile, then it's not yet over. One really needs, at some point, to take a Bozo-Sattva vow.
2003© Copyright Dan Sewell Ward, All Rights Reserved [Feedback]