The Hero’s Journey: Understanding The Departure

The standard path of the mythological adventure of the hero is a magnification of the formula represented in the rites of passage: separation–initiation–return: which might be named the nuclear unit of the monomyth.

The monomyth is often referred to as the hero’s journey because this pattern of, separation, initiation, and return, can be studied in many mythologies from all over the world. The typical hero’s journey has a character leave their home in order to face different trials and tribulations which they eventually overcome by growing as a character and then, with this new found understanding, they return home to help others on their journey to self-improvement.

Separation is the first step which Joseph Campbell refers to as Departure. The Departure has five subsections: The Call to Adventure, Refusal of the Call, Supernatural Aid, The Crossing of the First Threshold and The Belly of the Whale.

Starting with The Call To Adventure.

The first stage of the mythological journey–which we have designated the “call to adventure”–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.

The call to adventure is an opportunity, which may start as a blunder or be forced upon someone due to circumstances outside of their control but nonetheless, this opportunity is one that can elevate the individual by “awakening of the self” through the acceptance of this call.

For those who are familiar with the story of the Lord of the Rings by J.r.r. Tolkein, you may recall how Frodo Baggins, the young hobbit, is gifted the ring of power by his uncle, Bilbo, and this initiates the call for once the significance of the ring is discovered, Frodo has to travel outside his comfortable Hobbit hole into a land unknown.

However, just because there is a call to adventure it doesn’t mean everyone accepts it. There is also a refusal of the call.

Often in actual life, and not infrequently in the myths and popular tales, we encounter the dull case of the call unanswered; for it is 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.

These individuals are usually shown as examples of what not to do, of who not to be. These people have let go of their interests and stopped advancing in their life-roles. And so, such an individual becomes passive and is left to “create new problems for himself and await the gradual approach of his disintegration.”

Literature is full of old, corrupted kings being overthrown by the young Prince. The old king representing someone who refused the call and strayed off the path while the young Prince took on the mantel of what the King should have been and restored order to the land.

For those who accept the call to adventure usually open themselves to receiving Supernatural Aid.

For those who have not refused the call, the first encounter of the hero-journey is with a protective figure (often a little old crone or old man) who provides the adventurer with amulets against the dragon forces he is about to pass.

Two clear examples of this in our culture can be found in the Star Wars series and once more, in Middle Earth. The first individual Luke Skywalker meets once he accepts the call to adventure is Obi-wan-Kenobi, the Jedi Master who acts as his teacher and guide, teaching Luke the way of the Jedi. While in the Hobbit and Lord of the Rings series, we have Gandalf providing wisdom and knowledge to Bilbo and Frodo Baggins.

This symbolizes possible order or peace that can be attained by the adventurer as he is being rewarded for his courage.

That though omnipotence may seem to be endangered by the threshold passages and life awakenings, protective power is always and ever-present within the sanctuary of the heart and even immanent within, or just behind, the unfamiliar features of the world.

After the supernatural aid comes The Crossing Of the First Threshold. Simply put, this is the first trial, first struggle, the first conflict that the hero faces once he has started on the path.

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 […] 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 member of the tribe.

The plunge, the leap of faith which requires courage on the behalf of the adventurer. This is seen clearly in the Lord of the Rings series as the four hobbits come into imminent danger the moment they decide to leave the Shire. This danger is the Black Riders who are searching for the ring.

Another reason why courage is required is because what comes after crossing the first threshold is The Belly Of The Whale.

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.

Once more the Rings series demonstrates this notion when Frodo is stabbed by the Black Rider or the Nazgul. At the brink of death, Frodo is saved, reborn because now he is forever changed. There is no turning back from this point onwards. No matter what happens, having been swallowed by the “whale”, the hero is transformed, he is changed, he won’t be the same person he was before.

And so begins the transformation of the individual. Having departed from his comfortable life, he steps into the initiation phase which is full of trials and tribulations through which he either breaks or becomes a stronger version of himself.

 

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