Popularised in Joseph Campbell's The Hero With A Thousand Faces, the hero's journey, or monomyth, reveals the archetypes and stages found in many mythological and heroic stories, that a protagonist, or "hero," goes through in order to achieve personal transformation.
Exploring the Cosmogonic Cycle and combining psychology with comparative mythology, Campbell illustrates the universal design of destruction and creation that not only runs through most of the world's mythic traditions, but is so ingrained in humanity's collective psyche, that it runs parallel to our own lives.
There are three primary stages outlined in the hero's journey that include "the departure" from the familiar known world, into the "initiation" of the unknown world that includes a series of tests, challenges and facing the abyss, before ultimately facing "the return" as the changed entity. Let's explore each stage of the hero's journey:
The Departure: This stage marks the beginning of the hero's journey, where the hero is called to adventure that presents itself with great risks and uncertainty. It is nevertheless an opportunity to leave their ordinary world and embark on a transformative journey.
Refusal of the Call: Initially, the hero is struck with fear and is reluctant to accept the call to adventure. They might be afraid, uncertain, or attached to their ordinary life. This refusal often serves as a way for the hero to establish their ordinary world and demonstrate their need for change.
Meeting the Mentor: The hero encounters a wise and experienced mentor figure who provides guidance, knowledge, and assistance. The mentor helps the hero overcome their doubts and fears, and equips them with the necessary tools, skills, or advice to embark on their journey.
Crossing the Threshold: The hero makes a decisive choice to leave their ordinary world behind and enters the unfamiliar realm of adventure. This crossing of the threshold represents a significant shift from the known to the unknown and marks the beginning of the hero's transformation.
Allies, Adversaries, and Tests: Along the hero's journey, they encounter allies who support and aid them, as well as adversaries who oppose and challenge them. These encounters provide the hero with opportunities to learn and grow, and they face various tests or trials that test their abilities and determination.
Approach the Inner Cave: The hero reaches a critical point in their journey where they must confront a central challenge or obstacle. This can be a physical, psychological, or metaphorical "inner cave" that holds great significance and often represents the hero's deepest fears or desires.
Facing Chaos and the Abyss: In this stage, the hero confronts their greatest fears, faces a profound crisis, or endures a symbolic death and rebirth. This moment of facing chaos and the abyss serves as a catalyst for the hero's transformation and marks a significant turning point in their journey.
The Revelation: Through their trials and challenges, the hero gains new insights, wisdom, or understanding. They experience a revelation or realization about themselves, their purpose, or the nature of their quest. This newfound knowledge propels them forward on their journey.
The Transformation: The hero undergoes a profound transformation, both internally and externally. They shed their old self and adopt a new identity, becoming more capable, wise, or enlightened. This transformation is a result of the hero's experiences, trials, and the knowledge they have gained.
Atonement: The hero confronts their past or reconciles with their previous actions, often seeking redemption or making amends. This stage represents a moral or emotional reconciliation that brings the hero closer to their ultimate goal.
The Return: After their transformation, the hero begins their journey back to their ordinary world. They bring back the wisdom, gifts, or lessons acquired on their adventure to benefit themselves and others.
Integration: The hero reintegrates into their ordinary world, bringing about positive change and utilising the newfound knowledge and skills they have acquired. They find a way to reconcile their transformed self with the familiar environment and people around them.
Will to Maintain: The hero demonstrates their commitment to the lessons learned and the changes they have undergone. They strive to maintain their newfound wisdom and refuse to regress into their old ways. This stage emphasizes the hero's resolve and determination to uphold their transformation.
Ascent to the Higher Self: In this final stage, the hero transcends their individual journey and attains a higher level of consciousness or understanding. They achieve a state of enlightenment or self-realisation that goes beyond their personal transformation, connecting them to something greater.
While these stages of the hero's journey provide a structure that can be observed in various myths, legends, and stories from different cultures, it also serves as a framework for understanding the relevance to our lives today—and to the life of any person seeking to reach self-actualisation and consciously move ascend toward the higher-self.