Joseph Campbell’s monomyth (Jung’s archetypes)
Gerald Gardner believed, as did Margaret Murray before him, that we, as Wiccans (and many Pagans by extension) are the spiritual heirs of the Mystery cults of the ancient world, the best known of which was the Cult of Eleusis. At one time all the major philosophers and leaders of ancient Greece were initiates of the cult. Sworn to keep its secrets, miraculously, none of them ever revealed them.
On the gates of Eleusis were written the words, “Know Thyself.” This is the greatest challenge facing us as Wiccans and Pagans. In order to be able to become a better channel for the gods, and in order to be more effective at manifesting our magick, we need to be tempered into a better conductor. This is the purpose of the Second Degree initiation in some traditions. A symbolic death and rebirth helps us to clear away the dross of our subconscious and our personal issues.
But whether or not your tradition is initiatory, sooner or later you will be required to confront the baggage that you carry around. Reclaiming and Dianic Wicca speak of these things as the lessons of the Dark Goddess. Often these struggles will involve dark times in which grave difficulties seem determined to assault us at every turn. Mythologist Joseph Campbell wrote about this element of our own personal myth-story; he called it “The Monomyth” or “The Hero’s Journey.”
There are 17 stages to the Monomyth. Consider how this relates to your own life, in your journey through your personal Underworld, and how it compares to the modern myths you know. I have drawn upon three well-known examples: Star Wars, the Lord of the Rings, and Harry Potter:
1. Call to Adventure
- – the Hero is summoned away from his/her regular life to a world of adventure, where infinite perils and possibilities await. Sometimes s/he chooses the path voluntarily, and sometimes s/he is forced into it by a beneficent or malign force or circumstance.
- Luke Skywalker is asked to become a Jedi Knight
- Frodo is told he must leave the Shire with the ring or the Black Riders will return
- Harry Potter is inducted into Hogwarts by Hagrid
2. Refusal of the Call
- – Often, the Hero refuses the call due to fear or obligation. S/he then becomes a victim to be saved instead of a Hero.
- Luke initially refuses to leave Tatooine
- Frodo argues that he is just a hobbit
- Harry is pursued despite the efforts of his family to keep him from Hogwarts
3. Mentor / Supernatural Aid
- – a Helper or Mentor makes him/herself available to the Hero to assist or teach. Often s/he is an elder who imparts wisdom or a Tool that represents knowledge.
- Obi Wan Kenobi / Luke’s lightsaber
- Gandalf / mithril armor and Sting
- Dumbledore / Harry’s wand
4. Crossing of the Threshold
- – this is the point of no return. The point of initiation begins.
- leaving Tatooine
- when the hobbits left the farmer’s field, “farther away from home than they’d ever been”
- the Sorting Hat
5. Descent Into the Underworld
- – the Hero is now separated from the world he knew and a new life. It is a metamorphosis; a death of sorts.
- the Death Star, Dagobah, the Emperor’s ship
- the Mines of Moria, the barrow-mounds, Mordor
- the room with the mirror, the Chamber of Secrets, the catacombs of the Ministry of Magic
6. Road of Trials
- – tests, tasks or ordeals that begin the transformation. This is usually the bulk of the story.
- Dagobah’s tree, confrontation on Bespin
- outrunning the Black Riders, protecting the Ring from the others in the Fellowship, walking into Mordor, Shelob
- Professor Quirrel, the basilisk
7. Meeting with the Goddess
- – the Hero experiences a soul-transforming love. This is often portrayed as a romantic love, but it doesn’t have to be; and in fact, in the examples I have chosen, none are.
- Luke is inspired by the love of his sister and friends
- Frodo is inspired by Sam and his companions in the Fellowship
- Harry is inspired by love of his friends and his mentors Sirius Black and Dumbledore
8. The Temptress
- – the temptations of material comfort or surrender to the easier path assail the Hero. The pure soul must be true to itself and not externally-imposed obligations.
- Darth Vader urges Luke to join him on the Dark Side of the Force
- the Ring corrupts Frodo against Sam and draws Golem to him
- Harry leaves Hogwarts to pursue the Horcruxes
9. Atonement with the Father
- – the Hero confronts the ultimate power in his/her own life and overcomes that dark reflection. Thus the “sins of the fathers” are no longer delivered upon us and we become our own, autonomous human beings, free of the conditioning of our past.
- Luke confronts and redeems Darth Vader
- Frodo faces the fires of Mount Doom and confronts Golem, his dark reflection, at its precipice
- Harry confronts Voldemort
- – the Hero “dies,” experiences a period of rest and perhaps bliss, and then is reborn with greater enlightenment.
- Luke’s failure at Bespin, recovery, and seclusion on Tatooine to meditate and train to be a Jedi Knight
- Rivendell after Frodo’s wounding and after the quest, Lothlorien after Gandalf’s death
- Harry’s “death” at the hands of Voldemort and his conversation with Dumbledore
11. Ultimate Boon
- – achievement of the goal of the quest; obtaining the item or piece of wisdom; the gifts of the gods given unto mortals.
- the destruction of the Empire when Luke obtains the wisdom of the Force
- the destruction of the Ring and the unification of Middle-Earth when the hobbits trust everything to faith
- the destruction of Voldemort and ending of the war when Harry obtains the Elder Wand and offers himself in sacrifice
12. Refusal of the Return
- – sometimes the Hero is so exhausted by the quest, or so happy in the bliss s/he discovers, that s/he refuses to return to the world. But the Boon serves no purpose unless it is shared.
- Luke is reluctant to accept his responsibilities as a Jedi
- Frodo does not wish to leave Rivendell
- Harry is reluctant to return to life
13. Magic Flight
- – sometimes the Hero must escape with the Boon.
- Luke escapes the Death Star before it is destroyed
- Frodo and Sam are carried home on giant eagles
- Harry flees Voldemort with the Elder Wand
- – sometimes the Hero needs supernatural assistance to return to regular life as much as s/he did to leave it, especially if s/he has been wounded or weakened.
- Luke is rescued by Leia from his conflict with Darth Vader
- Gandalf summons the giant eagles to convey Frodo and Sam
- Harry is rescued by the witches and wizards of Hogworts
15. Crossing of the Return Threshold
- – somehow the Hero must now return to banal everyday life, maintain the wisdom of her/his experiences, and accept the world as real after transcendental bliss. Sometimes s/he is not entirely successful.
- Luke teaches a whole generation of Jedi Knights and rebuilds the Order
- Frodo is unable to make the transition and joins the last of the elves as they leave Middle-Earth
- Harry successfully channels his experiences into becoming an Auror
16. Master of Two Worlds
- – for a real-world human Hero, this means integrating spiritual and material successfully. This is the ultimate goal of Witchcraft; to become a “mystic in the world.”
- Luke not only becomes the Jedi Grand Master but marries as well and also has children of his own
- Sam marries his childhood love, become a father and writes about his experiences
- Harry instructs future Aurors but he marries Ginny and sires three children
17. Freedom to Live
- – facing death teaches us not to fear it, and thus, gives us the power to experience life more fully and completely, living in the moment, neither regretting nor reliving the past. This is the ultimate benefit of the Hero’s Journey.
Mythologist Joseph Campbell wrote about “The Monomyth” or “The Hero’s Journey.” All myths, he postulated, echo the stories of our lives, and the great trials and learning experiences that we face in our individual experience. In Part 1, I explained the myth-model and how it applied to some of the more well-known myths of our modern culture. In Part 2, I will explain how we can apply the Hero’s Journey effectively in our own lives.
Consider a traumatic experience you have endured. There is no life that is without pain or suffering. Don’t allow anyone to choose this initial focus for you. No one can quantify another’s pain, although others might pooh-pooh your choice. For some people, high school was a time of happiness and nostalgia. For me, high school was five years of torment. I have been through experiences that I consider to be worse since, but because I was so young, I often find myself confronting these issues in my adult life, and much of my work as a Witch has been in dealing with these things in order to clear them from my mind and stop getting in the way of my own magick.
Conversely, you could consider an odyssey that you embarked upon for your own education. For example, I once drove across Canada to attend the Canadian National Pagan Conference in Montreal. Starting a new business or a marriage could be viewed in this light. You get the idea, I think.
1. Call to Adventure – The Hero is summoned away from his/her regular life to a world of adventure, where infinite perils and possibilities await. Sometimes s/he chooses the path voluntarily, and sometimes s/he is forced into it by a beneficent or malign force or circumstance.
- How did the Call to Adventure manifest? Did you choose your course (for instance, running away from home) or was it thrust upon you (unexpected accident or attack?) If you did choose it, did you feel driven or forced into the situation? If it was traumatic, what are the lingering resentments you have around this?
2. Refusal of the Call – Often, the Hero refuses the call due to fear or obligation. S/he then becomes a victim to be saved instead of a Hero.
- Did you refuse to accept what had happened to you? Or perhaps you avoided taking the big leap of faith that your heart knew was necessary? How did this complicate the situation?
3. Mentor / Supernatural Aid – A Helper or Mentor makes him/herself available to the Hero to assist or teach. Often s/he is an elder who imparts wisdom or a Tool that represents knowledge.
- Consider the teachers and guides who were helpful at these points of transition. I find myself thinking of a lot of my schoolteachers, older friends, and friends’ mothers.
- On the other hand, when I bought my own business, I had no Guide per se, but instead I had a series of serendipitous events that made it possible and seemed to suggest that the Gods were supporting my quest. Joseph Campbell called this “Following your bliss,” and postulated that serendipity is a strong signal from your subconscious mind that you are on the “right path.”
- Consider how you were aided and whether you have ever given proper gratitude for the help. For example, while I was staying in Vancouver after my husband’s accident, the Vancouver Pagan community came together to donate money, time, household items, furniture, clothing and groceries. When I returned with my husband to a festival in the community two years later, I stood up on stage and thanked them for coming together for us. I also made an offering to my gods. And I cried.
4. Crossing of the Threshold – This is the point of no return. The point of initiation begins.
- There was a significant moment at which you knew that there was no turning back. When you left the house for college or your first apartment was one such moment. When I got in the car and headed out on the Highway 1 Trans-Canada was another. Sometimes this is a brutal event and there is simply no way to sugar-coat it. Facing it may be among the greatest acts of courage you have ever achieved. Do it anyway and accept that as a defining moment in your life experience.
5. Descent Into the Underworld – The Hero is now separated from the world he knew and a new life. It is a metamorphosis; a death of sorts.
- The transformation is never easy. Consider how you struggled with this change in your perceptions of what the world was and who you were. Consider what it felt like to be “in the Underworld.” Were you afraid? Angry? Were you filled with despair? Or were you so traumatized that you were simply numb? Were there any positive emotions associated with the experience? (Were you, for example, excited about the possibilities of your new business even as you were terrified of financial ruin?) Be in that moment. People who suffer from post-traumatic stress often have not effectively processed that moment because it was so emotionally overwhelming. If you struggle with this, there are many tools that can help you, and I’ll tell you about them in Part 3.
6. Road of Trials – Tests, tasks or ordeals that begin the transformation. This is usually the bulk of the story.
- What trials did you endure and overcome to get through the journey? How did you overcome these challenges? What did you learn from them? How did you become stronger?
7. Meeting with the Goddess – The Hero experiences a soul-transforming love. This is often portrayed as a romantic love, but it doesn’t have to be; and in fact, in the examples I have chosen, none are.
- Consider the soul-transforming loves that saved you. For me, it is just as often the love of good friends as it is my lovers. Who has been the Goddess to you?
8. The Temptress – The temptations of material comfort or surrender to the easier path assail the Hero. The pure soul must be true to itself and not externally-imposed obligations.
- How many times, when you were in the midst of your greatest struggles, did you want to just give up? How many times did you want to turn around and go home? Perhaps it was easier to keep the job you had than pursue the career you wanted. Did you fall victim to what seemed, at the time, like good sense, or did you plunge on anyway?
9. Atonement with the Father – The Hero confronts the ultimate power in his/her own life and overcomes that dark reflection. Thus the “sins of the fathers” are no longer delivered upon us and we become our own, autonomous human beings, free of the conditioning of our past.
- These things are less clear in real life than they are in the movies. But at one time or another we are confronted with an internal, or sometimes even external “villain” who seems to exist solely to prevent us from success. How did you deal with these obstacles? In some cases, it involves overcoming childhood fears (such as believing one is not good enough.) In others it means sidestepping a troublesome person such as a hostile boss or co-worker. In others it could mean confronting a genuinely abusive person or even parent, figuratively or literally.
10. Apotheosis – The Hero “dies,” experiences a period of rest and perhaps bliss, and then is reborn with greater enlightenment.
- There is, in any crisis, a moment in which we feel that we simply cannot go on. And then there is a moment of letting go; allowing and acceptance. It is usually a horribly painful moment in which the thing we most fear comes upon us, and then we pass through it like the pain-box in Dune; and though it might still “defeat” us (like Death,) it can no longer hurt us. We have learned wisdom.
11. Ultimate Boon – Achievement of the goal of the quest; obtaining the item or piece of wisdom; the gifts of the gods given unto mortals.
- What have you learned from this crisis? How can this benefit you, and then others?
12. Refusal of the Return – Sometimes the Hero is so exhausted by the quest, or so happy in the bliss s/he discovers, that s/he refuses to return to the world. But the Boon serves no purpose unless it is shared.
- This is hard to define sometimes, but when someone is stuck, it’s often here. My husband survived a life-threatening car accident and made a greater recovery than anyone imagined, but he became mired in being a convalescent for a while because it was such an ordeal. Sometimes a husband dies and a widow refuses to date anyone new for years. There are many examples. Grief proceeds in its own time and we need to allow ourselves to experience that in our own way. Eventually our hearts know when it is time to get on with it.
13. Magic Flight – Sometimes the Hero must escape with the Boon.
- Maybe your crisis was such that you were required to change jobs, leave home or a marriage, or move to a new city. All of these are forms of flight in which you are attempting to escape with the boon.
14. Rescue – Sometimes the Hero needs supernatural assistance to return to regular life as much as s/he did to leave it, especially if s/he has been wounded or weakened.
- I don’t think this requires much explanation. If you’ve been rescued, you know who your rescuers are and how they struggled to help you. Maybe you needed friends to help you out of a funk of despair following a trauma (refusing the return.) Offer them your gratitude.
15. Crossing of the Return Threshold – Somehow the Hero must now return to banal everyday life, maintain the wisdom of her/his experiences, and accept the world as real after transcendental bliss. Sometimes s/he is not entirely successful.
- Now it’s time to get on with life. It is impossible, if you have been through a soul-changing Hero’s Journey, for you to continue as you have in the life you left behind. Sometimes you will have to blaze a whole new trail. Other times you will have to redefine the relationships you have with the people in your life. Often, you will find yourself on the other side of it with a completely new set of friends, a new job, or a new lover. You are not the same person you were before; this is only to be expected.
16. Master of Two Worlds – For a real-world human Hero, this means integrating spiritual and material successfully. This is the ultimate goal of Witchcraft; to become a “mystic in the world.”
- Are you inspirational to others who have been through (or are going through) similar processes? Alcoholics Anonymous integrates this by requiring you to serve as a sponsor to someone else. The Boon is shared.
17. Freedom to Live – Facing death teaches us not to fear it, and thus, gives us the power to experience life more fully and completely, living in the moment, neither regretting nor reliving the past. This is the ultimate benefit of the Hero’s Journey.
- Most people who have been through traumatic events will tell you that they live a better quality of life than they did before their experience, once it has been successfully processed.