Hero’s Journey: Understanding The Return

The first step of the journey is The Departure, then comes The Initiation stage, and the journey is completed by The Return of the hero.

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. (Joseph Campbell).

The Return stage six parts: Refusal of the Return, The Magic Flight, Rescue from Without, The Crossing of the Return Threshold, Master of the Two Worlds, and Freedom to Live.

First, The Refusal of the Return. Who can turn their back on everlasting bliss? The fables are full of heroes who stayed in paradise rather than returning to the human world. A world full of turmoil and struggle.

Even Buddha contemplated if returning to mankind was worth it. Whether people will truly understand his experiences and wisdom. Yet, the hero must return. He must attempt to impart his knowledge. He must try to help his fellow man.

There can almost be this addictive feeling associated with reaching the ultimate goal. You want to stay in that place for as long as you possibly can. But if there is anything the journey has taught you is that you must always seek out the new adventure, the new challenge. So, by refusing to return, you are in some ways forgetting the lessons of your trials and tribulations.

The second stage in the Return is The Magic Flight.

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. (Joseph Campbell).

This is evident in the story of Odysseus. The boon gained from the victory against the Trojans is obstructed repeatedly as Odysseus attempts to go home. Another example can be seen in the Lord of the Rings. After the adventure is seemingly over and the ring is destroyed, the hobbits return to Hobbiton only to find Saruman is still alive and has corrupted the minds of the people back home. Before the hobbits can officially bring back their knowledge, they must put it to use and defeat Saruman.

Even in everyday life, such a thing is bound to happen. Think of the apprentice who wants to start their own business or work but finds their path obstructed by their former boss. This boss could feel cheated and wronged by the apprentices’ decision.

The third stage is the 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. (Joseph Campbell).

When the conscious you willingly stays in paradise and refuses to return back home, the unconscious will come and take you back. The unconscious can be some outside force, or it may be something inside of the hero that triggers him to return home.

An outside source like Gollum who aids Frodo in destroying the ring by attacking him. This pulls Frodo out of his possessed state, which had given in to the power of the ring.

Often times in life people can get trapped in hell as well and not just paradise. The hell of self-doubt, depression, anger, and things of that nature. And sometimes an outsider, a stranger, can snap them out of their prison by some simple gesture like a touch or a smile. This notion was explored by Hermann Hesse in his novel Siddhartha where a strange monk and a ferryboat operator helped Siddhartha out of his depressive state which was caused by his son leaving him.

After the Rescue from Without comes The Crossing of the Return Threshold.

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. (Joseph Campbell).

Perhaps the most difficult thing to understand is the fact that the hero hasn’t found anything new or unique. Often times, the lessons learned are known before, which have either gone out of style or have been forgotten. So, the task becomes how can the hero teach his fellow man things that they think they already know or they don’t care about. Or perhaps they can’t comprehend without experiencing what the hero has experienced.

This latter idea is explored in Siddhartha who refuses to follow the Buddha’s way in order to find his own path because, after all, that is what Buddha did. Buddha had to go his own way in order to become Buddha.

The returning hero is in danger as well. If he doesn’t correctly balance his new understandings and the ego of the fellow man he could be physically harmed or ostracized from the community he is trying to help.

This concept is intriguing because it shows that in a way, there is no end. There are always obstacles, always some struggle that needs to be overcome. Even though the hero has slain the dragon he still doesn’t find himself on a smooth path.

The relationship between the parent and child is a clear example of this stage. The parents have gone through their trials and learned their lessons, and they attempt to teach their children what they learned. However, often these lessons fall on deaf ears. The appreciation of these parental lessons comes later in life, once the child has experienced his own struggle and comes to understand what his parents understood.

Master of the Two Worlds is another step in the Return journey.

Freedom to pass back and forth across the world division, from the perspective of the apparitions of time to that of the casual deep and back–not contaminating the principles of the 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. (Joseph Campbell).

If the hero can master himself and master the crossing of the return threshold then he is granted this unique position where he belongs to two worlds. One of which he shares with his fellow man and the other is the bliss he has found within himself which he can access at any time.

The conclusion to most movies represents this idea. The peasant made into a king or an apprentice who becomes a master. But additionally, you can even look at someone like an Alcoholics Anonymous counselor as an individual in this position. Someone who has overcome their addiction and has gained the trust of others to help them through their addiction. Here is an individual who is a master of the two worlds.

The last step of the Return journey is the Freedom to Live.

The hero is the champion of things becoming, not of thing become, because he is. He does not mistake apparent changelessness in time for the permanence of Being, not is he fearful of the next moment.

The insight gained from this whole experience is that life is finite and life is about action. Through such an understanding, the hero is free to pursue what he wishes. Whether that is to go over the seas like Frodo did or take on the responsibility of the crown as Aragon did. Both are done with the acknowledgment of a choice. These are willing actions.

With this freedom comes the experience of being alive because you are now in control of your own life. You experience the good such as the accomplishments and success’ of your hard work but also the bad which is associated with being free like the anxieties and fears. However, that’s the cost of freedom, the cost of being alive.

Your anxieties are your own. Your fears are your own. Your failures are your own. But, so is your growth. Your choices. Your experiences and finally, your life is also yours through the completion of this journey.

The Hero’s Journey: Understanding The Initiation

The initiation phase of the Hero’s Journey can be broken down into six sections. The Road of Trials, The Meeting with the Goddess, Woman as the Temptress, Atonement with the Father, Apotheosis and The Ultimate Boon.

First, The Road of Trials:

This is a favorite phase of the myth-adventure. It has produced a world literature of miraculous tests and ordeals. 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.

Story and conflict go hand in hand. A story that lacks conflict isn’t a story at all. No one wants to read a story about someone who went through his day, comfortably and peacefully.

What would Rocky be if he won every fight in the first minute of the first round?

A story needs struggle. A great story shows the transformation of the character as he deals with conflict over and over again. Which is why The Roads of Trials is considered to be the “favorite phase” of the myth adventure.

An example of such a road of trials can be seen in the popular television show Game of Thrones. Specifically, in the character Jon Snow. In his development, Jon Snow has everything from his loyalty, to love, to his beliefs tested as he travels beyond the wall. He comes into contact with the wildings which he was raised to hate. Not only does he make friends with the wildings but also falls in love with a wilding woman. His trials are both physical, as he literally has to fight for his life, but also mental as he has to change his belief system. He sees the mistaken beliefs he possessed and how, by letting go of what wasn’t right, he comes to formulate his own beliefs and build his character. Not only does he then gain loyalty from the wildlings but others also flock to him which eventually leads to him being crowned the King in the North.

The hero, whether god or goddess, man or woman, the figure in a myth or the dreamer of a dream, discovers and assimilates his opposite (his own unsuspected self) either by swallowing it or by being swallowed. One by one the resistances are broken. He must put aside his pride, his virtue, beauty and life, and bow or submit to the absolutely intolerable. Then he finds that he and his opposite are not of differing species, but one flesh.

What follows either after The Road of Trials or during is The Meeting with the Goddess

Woman, in the picture language of mythology, represents the totality of what can be known. The hero is the one who comes to know. As he progresses in the slow initiation which is life, the form of the goddess undergoes for him a series of transfigurations: she can never be greater than himself, though she can always promise more than he is yet capable of comprehending.

This figure can sometimes be seen as a motherly figure. Who can either represent an obstacle to overcome or act as another guide to aid the hero in his adventure.

In the Odyssey by Homer, Athena aids while Calypso is an obstacle. Frodo meeting the high elf Galadriel can be viewed as an example of Meeting with the Goddess. Galadriel not only imparts gifts upon the fellowship, gifts which come to be very useful in their adventure, but she also shows Frodo what would the future look like if he were to fail.

Woman as the Temptress is another phase in the initiation journey.

No longer can the hero rest in innocence with the goddess of the flesh; for she is become the queen of sin.

This phase is largely defined by temptation. Something that can derail the adventure, stop the hero from going all the way. This can come in the form of a human being, as seen in the story of Jon Snow. At one point, Jon Snow must decide whether he wishes to perform his duty, which is to return to his brothers at the wall and prepare for battle or run away with his love. Even though that love was pure it can still be a temptation because it would have pulled Jon Snow away from his goal.

Additionally, temptations can manifest inside the hero’s mind. Frodo was tempted to give the ring to Sam. That moment of weakness can seem like an eternity because if you give in, it redirects the way your life had been going.

After the Goddess comes the father, specifically the Atonement with the Father.

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 […] And just as, formerly, the mother represented the “good” and “evil,” so now does he, but with this complication—that there is a new element of rivalry in the picture: the son against the father for the mastery of the universe.

By overcoming the father, the son becomes a man. Either this father figure is defeated in battle or is persuaded through different means but the hero must confront the father one way or another.

This is a confrontation of someone in power. Without such confrontation, the hero can’t fully realize his potential. In Dune, for Paul Atreides to become Muad’Dib, he has to confront the all-powerful emperor.

Another example, this one much more literal than normal, happens to be one of the most iconic scenes in cinema history. It is when Luke Skywalker discovers that Darth Vader is his father. It is the realization that the peace that Luke desires can only come by confronting and defeating his own father.

Apotheosis follows this confrontation.

Like the Buddha himself, this godlike being is a pattern of the divine state to which the human hero attains who has gone beyond the last terrors of ignorance. “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.

This comes through a form of self-sacrifice. Sacrificing the old you, completely. The transformation of Gandalf the Grey into Gandalf the White is one of apotheosis. Such transformation was only possible after Gandalf willingly acted in a self-sacrificing manner, by committing his life to save those of the other Fellowship members. By doing so, he was rewarded by being reborn.

The Jedi Masters, Obi-Wan, and Yoda, also achieve this state when they both sacrifice themselves.

The last phase in the Initiation part of the Monomyth is the Ultimate Boon.

The agony of breaking through personal limitations is the agony of spiritual growth. Art, literature, myth and cult, philosophy, and ascetic disciplines are instruments to help the individual past his limiting horizon into spheres of ever-expanding realization. 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.

The climax of the story, the ring is destroyed, Aragon takes the throne. What comes with this accomplishment is the transformation of the individual. He has become what he wished to be at the beginning of the adventure. That personal transformation is the ultimate reward, regardless of the riches that might come.

Rocky is a champion, Neo is the one, Harry Potter fulfills the prophecy, Simba gets his revenge, and so on.

It is this personal transformation that attracts me towards the monomyths and mythologies in general. The stories of struggle and overcoming fears, choosing to face conflicts, purposely being uncomfortable, and through it all, the transformation of their character for the better.

That’s what I take away from the monomyth. The attitude that one should have where you seek the unknown, the uncomfortable, the road less traveled.


Reference: The Hero With A Thousand Faces

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 the 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 newly formed understandings, they return home to help others on their journey to self-improvement.

Separation is the first step and Joseph Campbell refers it to 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 because of circumstances outside of their control. 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. Tolkien, you may recall how Frodo Baggins is gifted with the ring of power by his uncle, Bilbo, and this initiates the call for adventure. Frodo has to travel outside his comfortable Hobbit hole into a land unknown in order to destroy the ring.

However, just because there is a call to adventure, it doesn’t mean everyone accepts it.

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.

Such a character acts as an example of what not to do. Who not to be like. The individual has given up and stopped advancing in his life-role. And so, he 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 who get 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, they 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.

We can find two clear examples of this in our culture 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. Obi-Wan mentors Luke in 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 the order, or peace, that the adventurer can attain. 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.

This is a leap of faith that 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.

The First Threshold is followed by 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 shows this when Frodo is stabbed by the Black Rider. At the brink of death, Frodo is saved, reborn because now he is forever changed. There is no turning back from this point forwards. 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.