The heroic monomyth

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The heroic monomyth (also known as the Hero's Journey) describes the common stages of a hero's journey found in many stories. Joseph Campbell first described the monomyth in 1949 in his book The Hero with a Thousand Faces. Campbell believed its basic structure could be identified in stories across both time and cultures, and we can see this archetypal structure in contemporary stories and movies such as The Matrix, Star Wars, The Hunger Games, and The Lord of the Rings. The protagonists in these stories go through the same stages: Departure, Initiation, and Return.


Call to Adventure: The hero's journey begins when the hero becomes aware of the world outside the home or town where he or she has lived. A messenger or mentor usually gives the hero this quest and often helps the hero by acting as a guide. This world outside of home can be physical, but it can also be intellectual, a perspective beyond or different from the hero’s, a shift from the status quo into the unknown.

Refusal of the Call: The hero may actually refuse the initial call to adventure, usually from their fear of change, though this can be a range of reasons from a sense of obligation to feelings of inadequacy. The hero will eventually go on this journey, either from "encouragement" by a supernatural or external force or by an event that almost forces the hero to move beyond his or her home or life as usual.

Supernatural Aid: On this journey, the hero may meet with an old man, a god/goddess, or a messenger who gives the hero a weapon, a talisman, or some magical powers. Although the aid may be described as supernatural or magical, it can also be a wisdom or insight greater than the hero’s.

Crossing the First Threshold: This "threshold" the hero must cross is what separates the hero from the comforts of home or current life into the adventurous new world filled with mystery and danger. Sometimes a gatekeeper guards the threshold, and the hero must overcome this to move forward. This may be a physical or a psychological barrier.

Belly of the Whale: As the hero crosses the threshold, the hero may be or feel alone in the darkness of the new world. In the darkness, the hero may find a purpose to go on the journey and can emerge from the "belly of the whale" as a new person, willing to face and accept change and his or her own responsibility for bringing about that change.


Road of Trials: In the new world, the hero must confront a series of challenges and tests that help build character and skills, making the hero more self-reliant and mature. Sometimes, the hero fails at some of these tests, though usually with the chance for redemption later, perhaps from overcoming an even greater test.

Meeting with the Goddess: During the Road of Trials, the hero may encounter the goddess of the new world, who could be viewed as a beautiful, motherly figure, a priestess, or as a queen. The goddess can bring complete fullness to the hero's character, helping him or her realize the reason for finishing the quest, how to reach their full potential, or how to live a life with greater purpose and meaning.

Woman as the Temptress/Temptation from the True Path: Women in a hero's journey can sometimes be represented as a temptress, rather than a goddess, and also acts as another step in the Road of Trials. The hero must overcome selfish desires to return to the rightful path to become a better person. In this step, the hero faces those temptations, often of a physical or pleasurable nature, that may lead him or her to abandon or stray from the quest. The temptation does not have to be represented by a woman. Woman can be a metaphor for the physical or material temptations of life, since the hero-knight was often tempted by lust from his spiritual journey.
Atonement with the Father: In the journey, the hero may encounter a fatherly figure with great power and authority. The father figure (like the goddess) can be portrayed as a man who feels threatened by the hero or as a man who helps the hero in the journey. Although often male, anything that represents great power or authority can fill this role and this challenge for the hero, who must reconcile with the father figure or element of power in order to have a greater insight about life, one’s own identity, the nature of good and evil—whatever the key question or issue is with which the hero struggles.

Apotheosis: Apotheosis, from Latin for becoming divine, is the hero realizing a true or mature understanding of oneself or life. With an expanded consciousness, the hero views the world in an entirely different way than when the journey began. Usually, the hero at this point realizes there are things greater than or more important than oneself.

The Ultimate Boon: With the new knowledge and wisdom the hero has gained, the hero is ready to share this with the rest of humanity and make a profound impact on the world. Usually, the knowledge the hero obtains is related to immortality or an understanding of life’s deeper meaning and purpose. This is the moment when the goal or purpose of the quest is achieved. Although this can be signified by an event or action, it can also be connected to the psychological or spiritual growth of the hero.


Refusal of the Return: Once the hero finishes the quest, he or she may not want to return home, preferring to stay in the new world. The hero may believe that the old world won't accept or understand what the hero has learned on the journey.

The Magic Flight: The hero may decide to return home after finishing the quest. A guide or guardian may accompany the hero and help overcome any obstacles the hero might face on the return. With the prize in hand, the hero may have to flee from those the hero angered or defied on the journey.

Rescue from Without: While on the return journey, the hero may need to be rescued from death or from a state of helplessness and bliss. In this sense, the hero learns to accept the limits of his or her powers and the importance of others in our lives.

Crossing of the Return Threshold: As the hero travels to return home, he or she must once again cross the threshold separating home from the new world. The hero may have to defeat another gatekeeper, and in the process become "reborn" with his or her true identity—a more mature sense of oneself and humanity—after the symbolic "death" from crossing the threshold the first time, the death of the old self and mindset.

Master of Two Worlds: Once the hero crosses the threshold, he or she comes to realize that there really is nothing separating home from the new world. The hero now understands the differences and the balance between the comfortable safety of home and the exciting mystery of the new world. The hero can face hardship and change and accepts the responsibility of fully living.

Freedom to Live: Now with the journey complete, the hero has reached an understanding with him or herself and can now live freely between home and the new world. With this newfound knowledge, the hero can now be beneficial to the world.

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