5 FREE THE WRITER takeaways from Joseph Campbell's The Hero with a Thousand Faces

5 FREE THE WRITER takeaways from Joseph Campbell's The Hero with a Thousand Faces

Joseph Campbell was an author and professor who devoted his life to researching folklore and myth. His novel The Hero With a Thousand Faces is a unique blend of modern psychology and comparative mythology that unpacks the universal motif of the hero’s transformation.

Campbell has influenced millions of storytellers, helping them understand the symbols and patterns that lay the foundation for a great story.

I’ve done my best to collect concise quotes from Campbell to help us understand the stages of the hero’s journey. But let’s be honest, Campbell’s work is dense, so we’ll see how this goes.

Let’s go for it.

NOTE: This book is summarized in a Q&A format; all answers are directly from Joseph Campbell (not lil’ ol’ me).

What defines a hero?

The composite hero of the monomyth is a personage of exceptional gifts. Frequently he is honored by his society, frequently unrecognized or disdained. He and/or the world in which he finds himself suffers from a symbolical deficiency. In fairy tales this may be as slight as the lack of a certain golden ring, whereas in apocalyptic vision the physical and spiritual life of the whole earth can be represented as fallen, or on the point of falling into ruin.

The hero and his ultimate god, the seeker and the found, are understood as the outside and inside of a single, self-mirrored mystery, which is identical with the mystery of the manifest world. The great deed of the supreme hero is to come to the knowledge of this unity in multiplicity and then to make it known.

Typically, the hero of the fairy tale achieves a domestic, microcosmic triumph, and the hero of myth a world-historical, macrocosmic triumph. Whereas the former—the youngest or despised child who becomes the master of extraordinary powers—prevails over his personal oppressors, the latter brings back from his adventure the means for the regeneration of his society as a whole.

Whether the hero be ridiculous or sublime, his journey varies little in essential plan. Popular tales represent the heroic action as physical; the higher religions show the deed to be moral; nevertheless, there will be fond astonishingly little variation in the morphology of the adventure, the character roles involved, the victories gained.

What is the relationship between the hero and his world?

The effect of the successful adventure of the hero is the unlocking and release again of the flow of life into the body of the world. For the hero as the incarnation of God is himself the navel of the world, the umbilical point through which the energies of eternity break into time.

Path of hero

The standard path the hero is a magnification of the formula represented in the rites of passage:

  • Separation (x): A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder.

  • Initiation (y): fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won.

  • Return (z): the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.

Before we get into the specifics, could you give us a simplified version of the hero’s journey?

Hero's journey

The mythological hero, setting forth from his common-day hut or castle, is lured, carried away, or else voluntarily proceeds, to the threshold of adventure. There he encounters a shadow presence that guards the passage. The hero may defeat or conciliate this power and go alive into the kingdom of the dark (brother-battle, dragon-battle; offering, charm), or be slain by the opponent and descend in death (dismemberment, crucifixion). Beyond the threshold, then, the hero journeys through a world of unfamiliar yet strangely intimate forces, some of which severely threaten him (tests), some of which give magical aid (helpers). When he arrives at the nadir of the mythological round, he undergoes a supreme ordeal and gains his reward. The triumph may be represented as the hero's sexual union with the goddess-mother of the world (sacred marriage), his recognition by the father-creator (father atonement), his own divinization (apotheosis), or again—if the powers have remained unfriendly to him—his theft of the boon he came to gain (bride-theft, fire-theft); intrinsically it is an expansion of consciousness and therewith of being (illumination, transfiguration, freedom). The final work is that of the return. If the powers have blessed the hero, he now sets forth under their protection (emissary); if not, he flees and is pursued (transformation flight, obstacles flight). At the return threshold the transcendental powers must remain behind; the hero re-emerges from the kingdom of dread (return, resurrection). The boon that he brings restores the world (elixir).

Let’s start with the first stage, the separation or departure. What happens to the hero in this stage?

1. The Call to Adventure, or the signs of the vocation of the hero

The first stage of the mythological journey 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. This fateful region of both treasure and danger may be variously represented, but it is always a place of strangely fluid and polymorphous beings, unimaginable torments, superhuman deeds, and impossible delight. The hero can go forth of his own volition to accomplish the adventure or he may be carried or sent abroad by some benign or malignant agent. The adventure may begin as a mere blunder or still again, one may be only casually strolling, when some passing phenomenon catches the wandering eye and lures one away from the frequented path of man.

It marks what has been termed “the awakening of the self.” Whether small or great, and no matter what the stage or grade of life, the call rings up the curtain, always, on a mystery of transfiguration—a rite, or moment, of spiritual passage, which, when complete, amounts to a dying and a birth. The familiar life horizon has been outgrown; the old concepts, ideals and emotional patterns no longer fit; the time for the passing of a threshold is at hand. Thereafter, even though the hero returns for a while to his familiar occupations, they may be found unfruitful. A series of signs of increasing force then will become visible, until the summons can no longer be denied.

2. Refusal of the Call, or the folly of the flight from the god

Often in actual life, and not infrequently in the myths and popular tales, we encounter the dull case of the call unanswered; for it as always possible to turn the ear to other interests. Refusal of the summons converts the adventure into its negative. Walled in boredom, hard work, or “culture,” the subject loses the power of significant affirmative action and becomes a victim to be saved. His flowering world becomes a wasteland of dry stones and his life feels meaningless. Whatever house he builds, it will be a house of death. All he can do is create new problems for himself and await the gradual approach of his disintegration.

The myths and folktales of the whole world make clear that the refusal is essentially a refusal to give up what one takes to be one’s own interest. The future is regarded not in terms of an unremitting series of deaths and births, but as though one’s present system of ideals, virtues, goals, and advantages are to be fixed and made secure. What they represent is an impotence to put off the infantile ego, with is sphere of emotional relationships and ideals. One is bound in by the walls of childhood; the father and mother stand as threshold guardians, and the timorous soul, fearful of some punishment, fails to make the passage through the door and come to birth in the world without.

3. Supernatural Aid, the unsuspected assistance that comes to one who has undertaken his proper adventure

For those who have not refused the call, the first encounter of the hero-journey is with a protective figure who provides the adventurer with amulets against the dragon forces he is about to pass. What such a figure represents is the benign, protecting power of destiny. The fantasy is a reassurance—a promise that the peace of Paradise, which was known first within the mother womb, is not to be lost; that it supports the present and stands in the future as well as in the past; that though omnipotence may seem to be endangered by the threshold passages and life awakenings, protective power is always and ever present with in the sanctuary of the heart and even immanent within, or just behind, the unfamiliar features of the world. One has only to know and trust, and the ageless guardians will appear.

Having responded to his own call, and continuing to follow courageously as the consequences unfold, the hero finds all the forces of the unconscious at his side And in so far as the hero’s act coincides with that for which his society itself is ready, he seems to ride on the great rhythm of the historical process.

4. The Crossing of the First Threshold

With the personifications of his destiny to guide and aid him, the hero goes forward in his adventure until he comes to the “threshold guardian” at the entrance to the zone of magnified power. Such custodians bound the world in the four directions standing for the limits of the present sphere, or life horizon. Beyond them is darkness, the unknown, and danger; just as beyond the parental watch is danger to the infant and beyond the protection of his society danger to the members the tribe. The usual person is more than content, he is even proud, to remain within the indicated bounds, and popular belief gives him every reason to fear so much as the first step into the unexplored.

One had better not challenge the watcher of the established bounds. And yet—it is only by advancing beyond those bounds, provoking the other, destructive aspect of the same power, that the individual passes, either alive or in death, into a new zone of experience. The adventure is always and everywhere a passage beyond the veil of the known into the unknown; the powers that watch at the boundary are dangerous; to deal with them is risky; yet for anyone with competence and courage the danger fades.

The pairs of opposites (being and not being, life and death, beauty and ugliness, good and evil, and all the other polarities that bind the faculties to hope and fear, and link the organs of action to deeds of defense and acquisition) are the clashing rocks that crush the traveler, but between which the heroes always pass. This is a motif known throughout the world. As the rising smoke of an offering through the sun door, so goes the hero, released from ego, through the walls of the world—leaving ego and passing on.

5. The Belly of the Whale, or the passage into the realm of night

The idea that the passage of the magical threshold is a transit into a sphere of rebirth is symbolized in the worldwide womb image of the belly of the whale. The hero, instead of conquering or conciliating the power of the threshold, is swallowed into the unknown, and would appear to have died. This popular motif gives emphasis to the lesson that that passage of the threshold is a form of self annihilation. Instead of passing outward, beyond the confines of the visible world, the hero goes inward, to be born again.

Once inside he may be said to have died to time and returned to the World Womb, the World Navel, the Earthly Paradise. Allegorically, then, the passage into the temple and the hero-dive through the jaws of the whale are identical adventures, both denoting, in the picture language, the life-centering, life-renewing act. The hero whose attachment to ego is already annihilated passes back and forth across the horizons of the world, in and out of the dragon, as readily as a king through all the rooms of his house. And therein lies his power to save; for his passing and returning demonstrate that through all the contraries of phenomentality the Uncreate-Imperishable remains, and there is nothing to fear. And so it is that, throughout the world, men whose function is has been to make visible on earth the life-fructifying mystery of the symbolic act, scattering their flesh for the revocation of the world.

So now our hero is in the second stage, the trials and victories of initiation. What can happen to the hero in this stage?

1. The Road of Trials, or the dangerous aspect of the gods

Once having traversed the threshold, the hero moves in a dream landscape of curiously fluid, ambiguous forms, where he must survive a succession of trials. The original departure into the land of trials represented only the beginning of the long and really perilous path of initiator conquests and moments of illumination. Dragons have now to be slain and surprising barriers passed—again, again, and again. Meanwhile there will be a multitude of preliminary victories, unretainable ecstasies, and momentary glimpses of the wonderful land. The hero is covertly aided by the advice, amulets and secret agents of the supernatural helper whom he met before his entrance into this region. Or it may be that he here discovers for the first time that there is a benign power everywhere supporting him in his superhuman passage.

In the vocabulary of the mystics this is the second stage of the Way, that of the “purification of the self,” when the sense are “cleansed and humbled,” and the energies and interests “concentrated upon transcendental things”; or in a vocabulary of more modern turn: this is the process of dissolving, transcending, or transmuting the infantile images of our personal past. The ordeal is a deepening of the problem of the first threshold and the question is still in balance: Can the ego put itself to death?

2. The Meeting with the Goddess, or the bliss of infancy regained

The ultimate adventure, when all the barbers and ogres have been overcome, is commonly represented as a mystical marriage of the triumphant hero-soul with the Queen Goddess of the World. This is the crisis at the nadir, at the zenith, or at the uttermost edge of the earth, at the central point of the cosmos, in the tabernacle of the temple, or within the darkness of the deepest chamber of the heart. She is the paragon of all paragons of beauty, the reply to all desire, the bliss-bestowing goal of every hero’s earthly and unearthly quest. Whatever in the world has lured, whatever has seemed to promise joy, has been premonitory of her existence. For she is the incarnation of the promise of perfection; the soul’s assurance that, at the conclusion of its exile in a world of organized inadequacies, the bliss that once was known will be known again; the comforting, the nourishing, the “good” mother who was known to us in the remotest past.

The mythological figure of the Universal Mother imputes to the cosmos the feminine attributes of the first, nourishing and protecting presence. The whole round of existence is accomplished within her sway, from birth, through adolescence, maturity, and senescence, to the grave. She is the womb and the tomb. Thus she unites the “good” and the “bad,” exhibiting the two modes of the remembered mother, not as personal only, but as universal. The devotee is expected to contemplate the two with equal equanimity. Through this exercise his spirit is purged of its infantile, inappropriate sentimentalities and resentments, and his mind opened to the inscrutable presence which exists, not primarily as “good” and “bad” with respect to his childlike human convenience, his weal and woe, but as the law and image of the nature of being. The meeting with the goddess (who is incarnate in every woman) is the final test of the talent of the hero to win the boon of love (charity) which is life itself enjoyed as the encasement of eternity.

3. Woman as the Temptress, the realization and agony of Oedipus

Always, after the first thrills of getting under way, the adventure develops into a journey of darkness, horror, digest, and phantasmagoric fears. The crux of the curious difficulty lies in the fact that our conscious views of what life ought to be seldom correspond to what life really is. Generally we refuse to admit within ourselves, or within our friends, the fullness of that pushing, self-protective, malodorous, carnivorous, lecherous fever which is the very nature of the organic cell. Rather, we tend to perfume, whitewash, and reinterpret; meanwhile imagining that all the flies in the ointment, all the hairs in the soup, are the faults of some unpleasant someone else.

But when it suddenly dawns on us, or is forced to our attention, that everything we think or do is necessarily tainted with the odor of the flesh, then, not uncommonly, there is experienced a moment of revulsion: life, the acts of life, the organs of life, woman in particular as the great symbol of life, become intolerable to the pure, the pure, pure soul.

There the world, the body, and woman above all become the symbols no longer of victory but of defeat. No longer can the hero rest in innocence with the goddess of the flesh; for she is become the queen of sin. Not even monastery walls, however not even the remoteness of the desert, can defend against the female presences; for as long as the hermit’s flesh clings to his bones and pushes warm, the images of life are alert to storm his mind.

4. Atonement with the Father

Atonement consists in no more than the abandonment of that self-generated double monster—the dragon thought to be God (superego) and the dragon thought to be Sin (repressed id). But this requires an abandonment of the attachment to ego itself; and this is what is difficult. One must have a faith that the Father is merciful, and then a reliance on that mercy. It is in this ordeal that the hero may derive hope and assurance from the helpful female figure, by whose magic (polls charms or power of intercession) he is protected through all the frightening experiences of the father’s ego-shattering initiation. For if it is impossible to trust the terrifying father-face, then one’s faith must be centered elsewhere; and with that reliance for support, one endures the crisis—only to find, in the end, that the father and mother reflect each other, and are in essence the same.

When the child outgrows the popular idyl of the mother breast and turns to face the world of specialized adult action, it passes, spiritually, into the sphere of the father. Whether he knows it or not, and no matter what his position in society, the father is the intimating priest through whom the young being passes on into the larger world. And just as, formerly, the mother represented the “good” and “evil,” so now does he. The mystagogue (father or father-substitute) is to entrust the symbols of office only to a son who has been effectually purged of all inappropriate infantile cathodes—for whom the just impersonal exercise of the powers will not be rendered impossible by unconscious (or perhaps even conscious and rationalized) motives of self-aggrandizement, personal preference, or resentment. Ideally, the invested one has been divested of his mere humanity and is representative of an impersonal cosmic force. He is the twice-born: he has become himself the father. And he is competent, consequently, now to enact himself the role of the initiator, the guide, the sun door, through whom one may pass form the infantile illusions of “good” and “evil” to an experience of the majesty of cosmic law, purged of hope and fear, and at peace in the understanding of the revelation of being.

The problem of the hero going to meet the father is to open his soul beyond terror to such a degree that he will be ripe to understand how the sickening and insane tragedies of this vast and ruthless cosmos are completely validated in the majesty of Being. The hero transcends life with its peculiar blind spot and for a moment rises to a glimpse of the source. He beholds the face of the father, understands—and the two are atoned.

For the son who has grown really to know the father, the agonies of the ordeal are readily borne; the world is not longer a vale of tears but a bliss-yielding, perpetual manifestation of the Presence.

5. Apotheosis

“When the envelopment of consciousness has been annihilated, then he becomes free of all fear, beyond the reach of change.” This is the release potential within us all, and which anyone can attain—through herohood. The world is filled and illumined by, but does not hold “he whose being is enlightenment”; rather, it is he who holds the world, the lotus. Pain and pleasure do not enclose him, he encloses them—and with profound repose. This is a supreme statement of the great paradox by which the wall of the pairs of opposites is shattered and the candidate admitted to the vision of the God, who when he created man in his own image created him male and female.

6. The Ultimate Boon

The agony of breaking through personal limitations is the agony of spiritual growth. As he crosses threshold after threshold, conquering dragon after dragon, the stature of the divinity that he summons to his highest wish increases, until it subsumes the cosmos. Finally, the mind breaks the bounding sphere of the cosmos to a realization transcending all experiences of form. This is the highest and ultimate crucifixion, not only of the hero, but of his god as well. Here the Son and the Father alike are annihilated—as personality-masks over the unnamed. The font of life is the core of the individual, and within himself he will find it—if he can tear the coverings away.

The boon bestowed on the worshiper is always scaled to his stature and to the nature of his dominant desire: the boon is simply a symbol of life energy stepped down to the requirements of a certain specific case. Its guardians dare release it only to the duly proven. But the gods may be oversevere, overcautious, in which case the hero must trick them of their treasure. The ease with which the adventure is here accomplished signifies that the hero is a superior man, a born king. Where the usual hero would face a test, the elect encounters no delaying obstacles and makes no mistake.

In the third stage, the return and reintegration with society, what happens to the hero?

The return is indispensable to the continuous circulation of spiritual energy into the world. The hero himself may find it the most difficult requirement of all. For if he has won through to the profound response of complete enlightenment, there is danger that the bliss of this experience may annihilate all recollection of, interest in, or hope for, the sorrows of the world; or else the problem of making known the way of illumination to people wrapped in economic problems may seem too great to solve. And on the other hand, if the hero, instead of submitting to all the initiatory tests, has, simply darted to his goal (by violence, quick device, or luck) and plucked the boon for the world that he intended, then the powers that he has unbalanced may react so sharply that he will be blasted from within and without—crucified on the rock of his own violated unconscious. Or if the hero, in the third place, makes his safe and willing return, he may meet with such a blank misunderstanding and disregard from those whom he has come to help that his career will collapse.

1. Refusal of the Return, or the world denied

When the hero-quest has been accomplished, through penetration to the source, or through the grace of some male or female, human or animal personification, the adventurer still must return with his life-transmuting trophy. The full round, the norm of the monomyth, requires that the hero shall now begin the labor of bringing the runes of wisdom, the Golden Fleece, or his sleeping princess back into the kingdom of humanity, where the boon may redound to the renewing of the community, the nation, the planet, or the ten thousand worlds. But the responsibility has been frequently refused. Numerous indeed are the heroes fabled to have taken up residence forever in the blessed isle of the unaging goddess of Immortal Being.

2. The Magic Flight, or the escape of Prometheus

If the hero in his triumph wins the blessing of the goddess or the god and is then explicitly commissioned to return to the world with some elixir for the restoration of society, the final stage of his adventure is supported by all the powers of his supernatural patron. On the other hand, if the trophy has been attained against the opposition of its guardian, or if the hero’s wish to return to the world has been resented by the gods or demons, then the last stage of the mythological round becomes a lively, often comical, pursuit. This flight may be complicated by marvels of magical obstruction and evasion.

The myths of failure touch us with the tragedy of life, but those of success only with their own incredibility. And yet, if the monomyth is to fulfill its promise, not human failure or superhuman success but human success is what we shall have to be shown. That is the problem of the crisis of the threshold of the return.

3. Rescue from Without

The hero may have to be brought back from his supernatural adventure by assistance from without. That is to say, the world may have to come and get him. For the bliss of the deep abode is not lightly abandoned in favor of the self-scattering of the wakened state. And yet, in so far as one is alive, life will call. Society is jealous of those who remain away from it, and will come knocking at the door. If the hero is unwilling, the disturber suffers an ugly shock; but on the other hand, if the summoned one is only delayed—sealed in by the beatitude of the state of perfect being (which resembles death)—an apparent rescue is effected, and the adventurer returns.

His consciousness having succumbed, the unconscious nevertheless supplies its own balances, and he is born back into the world from which he came. Instead of holding to and saving his ego, as in the pattern of the magi flight, he loses it, and yet, through grace is returned.

This brings us to the final crisis of the round, to which the whole miraculous excursion has been but a prelude—that, namely, of the paradoxical, supremely difficult threshold-crossing of the hero’s return from the mystic realm into the land of common day. Whether rescued from without, driven from within, or gently carried along by the guiding divinities, he has yet to re-enter with his boon the long-forgotten atmosphere where men who are fractions imagine themselves to be complete. He has yet to confront society with his ego-shattering, life-redeeming elixir, and take the return blow of reasonable queries, hard resentment, and good people at a loss to comprehend.

4. The Crossing of the Return Threshold, or the return to the world of common day

The two worlds, the divine and the human, can be pictured only as distinct from each other--different as life and death, as day and night. Nevertheless—and here is a great key to the understanding of myth and symbol—the two kingdoms are actually one. The realm of the gods is a forgotten dimension of the world we know. And the exploration of that dimension, either willingly or unwillingly, is the whole sense of the deed of the hero. The values and distinctions that in normal life seem important disappear with the terrifying assimilation of the self into what formerly was only otherness. The fearfulness of this loss of personal individuation can be the whole burden of the transcendental experience for unqualified souls. But the hero-soul goes boldly in.

The first problem of the returning hero is to accept as real, after an experience of the soul-satisfying vision of fulfillment, the passing joys and sorrows, banalities and noisy obscenities of life. Why re-enter such a world? Why attempt to make plausible, or even interesting, to men and women consumed with passion, the experience of transcendental bliss? As dreams that were momentous by night may seem silly in the light of day, so the poet and the prophet can discover themselves playing the idiot before a jury of sober eyes. There must always remain a certain baffling inconsistency between the wisdom brought forth from the deep, and the prudence usually found to be effective in the light world. The returning hero, to complete his adventure, must survive the impact of the world--knit together his two worlds. Many failures attest to the difficulties of this life-affirmative threshold.

5. Master of the Two Worlds

Freedom to pass back and forth across the world division, from the perspective of the apparitions of time to that of the causal deep and back—not contaminating the principles of one with those of the other, yet permitting the mind to know the one by virtue of the other—is the talent of the master. The individual, through prolonged psychological disciplines, gives up completely all attachment to his personal limitations, idiosyncrasies, hopes and fears, no longer resists the self-annihilation that is prerequisite to rebirth in the realization of truth, and so becomes ripe, at last, for the great at-one-ment. His personal ambitions being totally dissolved, he no longer tries to live but willingly relaxes to whatever may come to pass in him; he becomes, that is to say, an anonymity.

6. Freedom to Live, the nature and function of the ultimate boon

What, now, is the result of the miraculous passage and return? Man in the world of action loses his centering in the principle of eternity if he is anxious for the outcome of his deeds, but resting them and their fruits on the knees of the Living God he is released by them, as by a sacrifice from the bondages of the sea of death.

Powerful in this insight, calm and free in action, elated that through his hand should flow the grace, the hero is the conscious vehicle of the terrible, wonderful Law, whether his work be that of butcher, jockey, or king. The hero is the champion of things becoming, not of things become, because he is. He does not mistake apparent changelessness in time for the permanence of Being, nor is he fearful of the next moment, as destroying the permanent with its change. Thus the next moment is permitted to come to pass.

Why is the hero’s journey important?

A realization of the inevitable guilt of life may so sicken the heart that one may refuse to go on with it. On the other hand, like most of the rest of us, one may invent a false, finally unjustified, image of oneself as an exceptional phenomenon in the world, not guilty as others are, but justified in one’s inevitable sinning because on represents the good. Such self-righteousness leads to a misunderstanding, not only of oneself but of the nature of both man and the cosmos. The goal of the myth is to dispel the need for such life ignorance by effecting a reconciliation of the individual consciousness with the universal will. And this is effected through a realization of the true relationship of the passing phenomena of time to the imperishable life that lives and dies in all.

The whole sense of the ubiquitous myth of the hero’s passage is that it shall serve as a general pattern for men and women, wherever they may stand along the scale. Therefore it is formulated in the broadest terms. The individual has only to discover his own position with reference to this general human formula, and let it then assist him past his restricting walls.  

You mentioned in your book that the hero’s journey can be a tragedy, comedy, or fairytale. What is the purpose of representing the hero’s journey in these ways?

The happy ending of the fairy tale, the myth, and the divine comedy of the soul is to be read, not as a contradiction, but as a transcendence of the universal tragedy of man. The objective world remains what it was, but, because of a shift of emphasis within the subject, is beheld as though transformed. Tragedy is the shattering of the forms and of our attachment to the forms; comedy, the wild and careless, inexhaustible joy of life invincible. Thus the two are the terms of a single mythological theme and experience which includes them both: the down-going and the up-coming (kathodos and anodos), which together constitute the totality of the revelation that is life, and which the individual must know and love if he is to be purged (katharsis = purgatorio) of the contagion of sin (disobedience to the divine will) and death (identification with the mortal form).

How does the myth of the hero work today?

Today all of these mysteries have lost their force; their symbols no longer interest our psyche. Not the animal world, not the plant world, not the miracle of the spheres, but man himself is now the crucial mystery. Man is that alien presence with whom the forces of egoism must come to terms, through whom the ego is to be crucified and resurrected, and in whose image society is to be reformed. Man, understood however not as “I” but as “Thou”: for the ideals and temporal institutions of no tribe, race, continent, social class, or century can be the measure of the inexhaustible and multifariously wonderful divine existence that is the life in all of us.

The modern hero, the modern individual who dares to heed the call and seek the mansion of that presence with whom it is our whole destiny to be atoned, cannot, indeed must not, wait for his community to cast off its slough or pride, fear, rationalized avarice, and sanctified misunderstanding. It is not society that is to guide and save the creative hero, but precisely the reverse. And so every one of us shares the supreme ordeal--carries the cross of the redeemer--not in the bright moments of his tribe’s great victories, but in the silences of his personal despair.

Thanks, Joseph Campbell.


My 5 FREE THE WRITER takeaways are:

  1. We often lie to ourselves about our relationships with the world. This leads us to misunderstand ourselves, others, and our relationship to the world. The goal of myth is to help us realize the truth about these relationships.

  2. The hero crosses the threshold between the common to uncommon world, encounters the mystical, achieves his goal in victory, and returns with the power to help the common world.

  3. The hero’s ultimate role is to unlock and release the flow of life into the body of the world. As the incarnation of God, the hero is the navel of the world, the umbilical point through which the energies of eternity break into time.

  4. Tragic or comedic stories are part of a single mythological experience that purges us from limiting perspectives. Through the power of myth and story, we experience the ups and downs that together constitute the totality of life.

  5. We, as readers, place ourselves as the hero and he helps us overcome our restricting walls. Then we share the responsibility to save our society rather than wait for our society to save us.


What did you learn from Joseph Campbell’s work? Feel free to share your ideas in the comments below.

Let’s remember that our call to write is also a call to act as the hero. We are reborn through our trials with a new understanding that can help our world. Writing our book is giving our “boon” to the world.

To free the writer today, heed the call. Sit down and write your story.

Rachel


A writer like you: David Chesney

A writer like you: David Chesney

Writing prompt of the day: Write a Bop poem.

Writing prompt of the day: Write a Bop poem.