My Hero’s Journey
August 1, 2013
“The first function [of mythology in tradition] is awakening in the individual a sense of awe and mystery and gratitude for the ultimate mystery of being.” (Joseph Campbell, Pathways to Bliss, page 104)
I recently read the final chapter in Joseph Campbell’s Pathways to Bliss, Mythology and Personal Transformation. I bought this book two years ago and, interestingly, was never able to go past page 80 or so. The first chapters of the book felt like a hump I couldn’t go over, and yet Campbell’s themes of mythology and inner transformation kept tickling me right beneath the surface of my being. His book had been sitting on my shelf for a reason. It felt as it were part of my psyche’s circle of friends, observing and witnessing something in me from the outside.
Two days ago, after rereading a story from the Introduction of Pathways to Bliss that I copied into my journal on April 8, 2012, I picked up the book again, and here I was, hopping way beyond the first few chapters and devouring the final chapter: The Self as Hero. As I reflected on my life path for the last two years, I realized that I couldn’t possibly follow the chronological order the book when The Self as Hero turned out to be the chapter that encapsulates my own journey, and especially the two-year exploration of my inner, under-world that I undertook with my coach. Together, we unearthed numerous signs and symbols, guiding posts and I even discovered a teacher that popped out of a cuckoo box; reading The Self as Hero allowed me to make sense of both my own voyage and Campbell’s somewhat theoretical roadmap.
Here, I wish to summarize, or possibly paraphrase, the Hero’s Journey while reflecting on my own, as some of it feels quite familiar and some of it doesn’t really click.
I found last year on Facebook a diagram explaining the journey of the Hero as described by Campbell (see diagram below). These are the very stages he addresses in the chapter The Self as Hero, knowing a more complete description of the process appears in his book, The Hero with a Thousand Faces (2004).
This Hero’s journey is “what James Joyce calls the monomyth: an archetypal story that springs from the collective unconscious. The basic story of the hero’s journey involves giving up where you are, going into the realm of adventure, coming to some kind of symbolically rendered realization, and then returning to the field of normal life” (p. 113).
The journey starts with what Campbell calls ‘the call to adventure.’ It means leaving the familiar and entering a new realm, with all its meanders, surprises and bumps. Before all, it means going within, being willing to take a deep dive into the unknown. Back into the real world, I now associate this journey with the spelunker’s exploration of the world down under, the inner world—what my coach called ‘my inner landscape.’
If the call to adventure is heeded, then the “individual is invoked to engage in a dangerous adventure. It’s always a dangerous adventure because you’re moving out of the familiar sphere of your community. I call this crossing the threshold. This is the crossing from the conscious into the unconscious world, but the unconscious world is represented in many, many, many different images, depending on the cultural surroundings of the mythos” (page 114).
Further on, Campbell describes this crossing of the threshold ‘as an active door,’ or a portal. In my experience, this is also a dangerous place because this is where you start to isolate yourself from the rest of the day to day world. You can talk to your friends and family about your inner journey, but there is only one person to which it makes total sense, total worth: you!
I had a sense of entering a new place, a deeper corner of my psyche when I started talking to the person I call ‘the old man’ (the one who got out of the cuckoo box in the spring of 2012 in one of my meditations). He may serve as a guide or teacher to me; he also feels like an ‘old soul.’ I started connecting with him during my first visit with my coach, on June 24, 2011 (see the Morceaux Choisis tab for the full account). And yet, while I could sense an old man’s existence then, it is not until the end of our first trip to Moscow last year (February 2012) that I had the conscious feeling that I was connecting with ‘someone within’ and that this ‘someone’ was responding, instantly. This is what I call ‘ a knowing phenomenon,’ similar to the knowing or feeling that aircraft pilots may experience when they break the sound barrier, except that, in this case, the barrier is within and the area being ‘progressively exposed and revealed ’ is a source of unfiltered knowledge and wisdom. There I was, and there I go from time to time when I need guidance or when my curiosity leads me back to the old man.
“Once you have crossed the threshold, if it really is your adventure—if it is a journey that is appropriate to your deep spiritual need or readiness—helpers will come along the way to provide magical aid. This may be some little wood sprite or wise man or fairy grandmother or animal that comes to you as a companion or as an adviser, letting you know what the dangers are along the way and how to overcome them” (page 116).
“After you have received the magical aid, you will have a series of increasingly threatening tests or trials to pass. The deeper you get into this gauntlet, the heavier the resistance. You are coming into areas of the unconscious that have been repressed: the shadow, the anima/animus, and the rest of the unintegrated self; it is that repression system that you have to pass through. These tests, then, symbolize self-realization, a process of initiation into the mysteries of life.”
Campbell goes onto describe four kinds of hurdles along the path:
- · “The first is the symbol of the erotic encounter with the perfect beloved” (meeting the goddess).
- · “The second kind of fulfillment along the road of trials is what is called atonement with the father, and this trial is definitely a male rite of passage.”
- · The third station along the path to fulfillment is apotheosis where you realize that you are what you are seeking.”
“These are the three main realization symbols: the hieros gamos, the reconciliation with the animus and the anima; the atonement with the father; and apotheosis, coming to realize the full scope of yourself, like Gautama seated under the bo tree becoming the knower of himself as an incarnation of the Universal Buddha consciousness” (page 118).
- · “The fourth kind of realization is of a quite different spirit. Instead of a slow progress through the mysteries, there is a violent rush through all obstacles and the seizing of the desired boon: the Promethean theft of fire…In any case, once the treasure has been grabbed, there is no reconciliation with the powers of the underworld—no sacred marriage, father atonement, nor apotheosis—so there is a violent reaction of the whole unconscious system against the act, and the hero must escape” (page 118).
Now that I read, a posteriori, about the underworld journey detailed and categorized, so to speak, it is somewhat difficult to relate to every segment of Campbell’s description; tests, excruciating inner pains, trials and tribulations, from out of nowhere (i.e. where you would expect them the least)–certainly. I had difficulty relating to some people—in this case, spiritual folks with whom I used to commune—definitely, and suffering pain and humiliation in the process to the point that the only way became the way out, despite a new commitment made a few months prior. All of that is familiar to me, as well as dealing with ‘older pains’ generated in my childhood, which I thought I had healed for a number of years but which were not completely closed (cicatrisées in French). Of course, there is always someone titillating those old wounds, so that the process is even more arduous. You then keep questioning yourself, your motives and your progress. This is what I would tell in general terms about my journeying process for the first few stages. Having a coach by my side—a coach who is also a sound healer—was of incredible assistance and I only now realize, a few months later, how beneficial Lev’s assistance was to me. Lev was the magical aid Campbell talks about, as well as another dear friend. Keeping a journal, having a dialogue with my spiritual guide on a regular basis, was part of my weekly diet; and of course, sharing all of this, as well as my pains and challenges, with my coach. It felt like I was offering something to the Universe—something that made up an old skin that I was going to shed—and that I was heard in return.
Two episodes deserve greater attention and details. Atonement with the father in the first place. I studied and research the concept, and yet it made little sense to me. I understand the concept, in its Christian sense as well as the notion of ‘at-one-ment’, but for whatever reason, none of them sank in. Why was it so? I believe I may learn down the road and reflect back to my ‘passage in atonement.’ To be honest, the most meaningful testimony I found was on a website, where people discussed the notion. Particularly this quote from a woman with whom I later met on Facebook in order to thank her:
Atonement in terms of time; time to reconcile all the things we need to trash from last year so that we may walk into 2013 with renewed minds and with Great Expectations. He alone atoned for our sins on the cross so that we may have life and life more abundantly. “It is finished.” We need to walk it out in Faith, talk it out in Faith and be the environment of Faith. For it is impossible to please the Lord without faith! Our belief in His Enduring Faithfulness to us activates our willingness to be available for His Able. We atone by the sacrifice of being available for others who are in need. [This sentence makes a lot of sense to me] So often others are in need of us to step into the gap when others are unable to step up to the plate. What better way to make atonement than offering the gift of Love to those who are unloved? [I would say now ‘What better way to make atonement than offering the gift of Love to those unable to receive Love’]“…”And now abide faith, hope and love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.”
At the same time I was struggling to understand this concept, I saw it as a mystical sign that I found a ‘left over’ pamphlet in the post office where we check our mail. It was coming from the Franciscan Friars of the Atonement in New York State and it offered a prayer to St. Augustine. I visited their website a couple times, read the prayer three or four times, and then moved on.
The second episode I want to mention is the “seizing of the desired boon,” in Campbell’s words. It brings back the memory of a chart analysis that an esoteric astrologist in Scotland did for me two years ago. One of the myths he used to warn me is that of Hercules seizing the Girdle of Hippolyte, the Queen of the Amazons. At that time, I simply believed it was important for me to be patient and not rush through the process of spiritual walking. Now that I read it again, I am not sure I have gotten the full understanding of this archetype, especially in light of Campbell’s stage of the Return (gift of the goddess) and the balance of masculine and feminine energies. What might this gift be?
In this myth Hercules, as a hero, symbolises the individual on the spiritual path. He was required to obtain Hipplolyte’s girdle which had been given to her by Venus. The girdle symbolised the unity of spirit and matter and the motherhood of the spiritual principle within. Hippolyte was about to give Hercules the girdle but he killed her and seized it. He was aghast at his error. After leaving the bereft land of the Amazons Hercules managed to redeem himself by rescuing Hesione, the daughter of the King of Troy, from the belly of a sea monster by entering through the monster’s throat and hacking his way out though its belly.
The symbolism of this myth essentially relates to self-annihilation as a means to psycho-spiritual metamorphosis.Hippolyte symbolises, not only mother matter, but all of her attendant secrets and the ability to nurture human consciousness enabling its ascent to the peak of human awareness as symbolised by the mountain of initiation. Hercules as a hero, depicting symbolically the individual on the spiritual path, initially views the feminine principle here as a challenge instead of being aware of its potential gifts. He redeems himself by entering the belly of a sea monster, symbolising a journey into his own unconscious, to rescue or reinstate this aspect of his psyche.
I am suggesting this particular myth, Gilles, as I feel that the archetypal principles portrayed here may resonate to your experiences with your mother and your perceptions of the feminine or ‘goddess’ principle on the basis of this relationship.
There is still much to ponder for me in these three paragraphs!
The final phase, the Return, is the last stage described by Campbell, when the individual completes the loop and reenters the conscious realm with his or her boon.
“There comes the crossing of the line again, what I call the return across the threshold. The line through which you passed when you went into the abyss is the line through which you pass when you leave the powers behind…The whole idea is that you’ve got to bring out again that which you went to recover, the unrealized, unutilized potential into the world; that is to say, to you living in the world. You are to bring this treasure of understanding back and integrate it in a rational life. It goes without saying, this is very difficult. Bringing the boon back can be even more difficult than going down into your own depths in the first place” (page 119).
By giving the concrete example of an artist, Campbell then goes on to emphasize the importance of sharing ‘one’s treasure of understanding’ with the world. “The point is that what you have to bring is something that the world lacks [these were the very words of my coach in the beginning of our journey, while sharing with me a piece of homework called “The Seven Principles of Living My Heart’s Purpose”] that is why you went to get it. Well, the daylight world doesn’t even know that it needs this gift you are bringing. There are three possible reactions, then, when you come to the return threshold, carrying your boon for the world (page 120). [I’ll let you discover for yourself what these three possible reactions are.]
In The Self as Hero chapter, there is only one stage that Campbell doesn’t address—for whatever reason. This is what you find at the bottom of the diagram, this thing called “death and rebirth,” associated with the Abyss.
In my journey, the notion of the abyss made me revisit consistently, over a period of time, the first episode of the Lord of the Rings entitled The Fellowship of the Ring. Toward the end of that first episode, Gandalf the Grey and his crew enter a giant above-ground cave. After some progress, they penetrate in what looks like a basilica, with very high ceilings and numerous pillars. They almost meet the end of their rope in that ‘basilica,’ surrounded by an innumerable number of Orcs, the ill-intentioned servants of Saruman the White. What comes to their rescue, paradoxically, is a fierce monster’s roar that scares away the army of Orcs. Yet, the most challenging part remains for the crew: to face the dragon monster, get across a crumbling bridge, and find their way into the open on the other side of the mountain. In an epic scene, Gandalf keeps the monster at bay while the rest of the crew makes its way to the other side. Gandalf seems to have won the battle with the darkest of forces when one of the monster’s tentacles, coming out of the abyss, grabs his ankle and drags him into the unknown. That is the Abyss I am referring to. I didn’t see myself falling into the abyss; I didn’t feel the monster as a threatening creature, more like an entity that helps soul creatures to reach their true identity through a process of transformation and purification.
Interestingly, when Lev ask me what I wanted to tell or ask the monster, I became curious of his identity, of what it stands for. The response came pretty quickly and clear: karma.
Why did I need to run for safety is another question that came toward the end, and the insight that I got is related to what I wrote at the beginning of this page. The monster might very well be a friendly monster in the end; one which is helping me cleanse my karma at the deepest level, down to the bottom of my psyche. Thank you monster!
This was not the end of my mystical experience though; on February 12, 2013, the day before Ash Wednesday, I did a meditation and went back into the building from that scene in the Lord of the Ring, the one I call the basilica.
As I moved closer to the heart of the basilica, I could see a body lying on top of a stone coffin. This was a Templar’s body and his long sword was lying on top of him. He was wearing a helmet. I had visions of Templars before but this is the first one I saw in a sacred building of that kind.
It felt as if something, or possibly someone, in me, had died.
On February 14, the day after Ash Wednesday, I had my regular session with my coach. I had sent him my notes explaining the vision I had in the basilica. We went back to that sacred building that morning and I could see the Templar, alive, receiving inspiration and courage before embarking on his personal crusade. It felt as if I were receiving a blessing from the Source that went all the way up to my sword and into my body through the root chakra—moving up into my body.
At the same time, upon my coach’s questioning, the verse of the prayer that came to mind, from St. Francis of Assisi, is:
Lord, make me an instrument of your Peace.
It felt like a rebirth—a rebirth where I received a new mission; a mission to spread Peace and Love upon Earth. This is only the beginning of my new life and, a few months later, I can only attest that I have a long way to go to bring back that “boon of Peace and Love” and share it with humanity.
I am grateful for having found in Joseph Campbell’s Pathways to Bliss a thread that helps me understand how life unfolds in the inner realm once an individual decides to dive in and embark on this lengthy and painstaking endeavor. Yet,—and the metaphor is easy—there is light at the bottom of the cave, and this light may feel more like divine Light; a light that is coming from the core of one’s being.
To bring an end to this novel of mine, to My Hero’s Journey, I would like to quote the last few lines of Joseph Campbell’s chapter entitled Personal Myth (still in Pathways to Bliss).
There are something like 18 billion cells in the brain alone. There are no two brains alike; there are no two hands alike; there are no two human beings alike. You can take your instructions and your guidance from others, but you must find your own path, just like one of Arthur’s knights seeking the Grail in the forest.
It is this quality of the Occidental spirit that strikes other cultures as so silly and romantic. What is it we are questing for? It is the fulfillment of that which is potential in each of us. Questing for is not an ego trip; it is an adventure to bring into fulfillment your gift to the world, which is yourself.
There’s nothing you can do that’s more important than being fulfilled. You become a sign, you become a signal, transparent to transcendence; in this way, you will find, live, and become a realization of your own personal myth (page 108).