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.