“People say that what we’re all seeking is a meaning for life. I don’t think that’s what we’re really seeking. I think that what we’re seeking is an experience of being alive so that our life experiences on the purely physical plane will have resonances within our own most innermost being and reality so that we actually feel the rapture of being alive.” Joseph Campbell.
The hero’s journey contains 17 interconnected stages. They mirror three main phases of departure, initiation, and return. When people see themselves confronted with unbridgeable problems, they often have the feeling they are the only ones who have to deal with these special problems. However, in various contexts, other people have experienced similar problems and challenges. People can identify with the hero’s journey since it shows them that overcoming challenges is an important part of life. And, while performing the hero’s journey, change and transformation happen.
Campbell believed that a good life is one hero journey after another. “Over and over again you are called to the realm of adventure; you are called to new horizons.”
The human search for the ultimate spiritual meaning in life parallels all legends of heroes “who must travel to an unknown world and do battle with the powers of darkness in order to return with the gift of knowledge.” (Joseph Campbell). The hero’s journey isn’t just for classical heroes, but for all of us. It is, essentially, a path of maturation that all evolving humans follow. The journey is a 17-step path that recurs in the mythology of the world and guided many cultures throughout human history.
According to Campbell’s definition, “A hero is someone who has given his or her life to something bigger than oneself.” Anyone can become a hero, on purpose, or even accidentally. But it involves a painful transition that is a prerequisite to greatness.
The hero’s journey is ultimately about transformation, and we can all be the heroes of our own story, no matter where we find ourselves today.
The 17 steps of the hero’s journey are:
- The Call to Adventure
The hero starts in the ordinary world and gets a call, sometimes from another person, sometimes of the person’s own volition. Sometimes we can stumble upon the adventure as a result of a blunder like Dorothy did when she was swept up in a tornado in the Wizard of Oz. The call to adventure is about getting the hero out of their comfort zone and confronting them with a challenge or problem they can’t ignore.
Throughout our own lives, we feel that necessity to answer the call and improve ourselves.
- Refusal of the Call
The hero may refuse to pay attention to the call because of fear, indifference, insecurity, or a sense of inadequacy. To follow the call of adventure it would mean to step out of our comfort zone and to meet our own weaknesses and uncertainties. In many cases, this leads to a denial of the call. The initial enthusiasm fades. For me, it took years to muster up the courage.
- Supernatural Aid
The hero has decided to go on an adventure but they’re not quite ready. Enter the mentor – someone who will help the hero and provide practical advice and training. Cinderella had her fairy Godmother. Dorothy had Glenda, the good witch of the North. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a storybook character. It can be a parent or friend giving support. Surrounding yourself with people who have the mindset you seek can be life-transforming as well. I was fortunate to have good friends.
- The Crossing of the First Threshold
The hero is ready – and committed – to the journey. You overcome yourself and cross the threshold to the new world. This is the point where you actually cross into the field of adventure, leaving the known limits of your world and venturing into an unknown and dangerous realm where there aren’t any rules and limits. From this point on there’s no turning back. The day I drove away from my old life was terrifying but wonderful at the same time.
- The Belly of the Whale
The belly of the whale represents the final separation from the hero’s known world and self. By entering this stage, the person shows a willingness to undergo a metamorphosis. This is the biggest test of all – when the hero hits rock bottom. They must confront their biggest fear. If they survive they will emerge transformed. It wasn't easy and I didn't know where I was going beyond the first two days.
- The Road of Trials
Once the hero accepts the call, they must face tasks and trial after trial, facing them alone, or with others. The road of trials is a series of tests, tasks, or ordeals that the person must undergo to begin the transformation. Dragons have now to be slain, and bad witches overcome. Challenges have to be overcome over and over again.
Each person experiences this stage differently. Our trials and fears and challenges present themselves in different forms depending on our individual traumas, perceptions, experiences, and emotional triggers. Whatever your ‘dark hour’ is, as the hero, if you endure it, you emerge a changed person. Like a butterfly emerging from the chrysalis, you’ll find yourself transformed and with new capabilities. I found that I could do far more than I imagined possible.
- The Meeting with the Goddess
You meet allies, which complement you and make you whole. You complement each other in your strengths and weaknesses. In classical myths, it’s mostly someone from the opposite sex (a goddess or a god), which makes one whole.
- Woman as Temptress
This step is about those temptations that may lead the hero to abandon or stray from his or her quest, which does not necessarily have to be represented by a woman. 'Woman' is a metaphor for the physical or material temptations of life.
This offers the hero short-term relief or gratification but giving in to this urge would cause the mission to fail and prove the hero unworthy.
We are waiting for external approval while wanting to make our own way. It’s the point at which we experience atonement and learn to trust ourselves. As a result, we acknowledge our own role and take responsibility for our life.
Apotheosis is the highest point of a person’s personal development. It really means “to make divine” or is the recognition of the divinity of one’s Self. While achieving our goals we become aware that we carry divine potential in us. Nothing seems impossible.
- The Ultimate Boon
The ultimate boon is the achievement of the goal of the quest. It is what the person went on the journey to get. All the previous steps serve to prepare and purify the person for this step.
In the Wizard of Oz the scarecrow wanted intelligence, the lion wanted courage, and the tin woodman wanted compassion.
I wanted freedom.
- Refusal of the Return
Having found bliss and enlightenment in the other world, the hero may not want to return to the ordinary world to share his knowledge with his fellow man.
Even though we’ve discovered something new we may still have doubts that we have to deal with. Our minds keep telling us there are other obstacles to be overcome.
- The Magic Flight
This is the point in the Hero’s Journey where they must get out alive, often requiring the help of individuals they met along the way. Glenda, the good witch of the North gave Dorothy magic slippers; Obi Wan Kenobi gave Luke Skywalker the lightsaber; Dumbo had a feather. External circumstances or internal motives force us to return to our daily lives.
- Rescue From Without
The hero is rescued from a final plight from an unexpected source. The rescuer may be someone who had previously abandoned the hero or even someone the hero does not know. In mythic stories, this intervention may come from a god.
- The Crossing of the Return Threshold
The trick in returning is to retain the wisdom gained on the quest, to integrate that wisdom into our lives, and to share the wisdom with the rest of the world.
- Master of Two Worlds
For a human hero, it may mean achieving a balance between the material and spiritual. If the hero has had to reach inside to discover his inner resources he must still realize that there is an outer world to be lived. But you can live in both worlds more fully now.
- Freedom to Live
Mastery leads to freedom from the fear of failure, which in turn is the freedom to live. Freedom to live is the stage of the hero’s journey in which the hero has found a balance between his internal and external worlds and he no longer fears death. I feel invincible.
It is now time to give back and be of value and service to others. The Quest has changed the hero, and he/she has outgrown their old self. Things will never be the same again. This is the end but also the beginning. This last part is available to all of us. You can be that new you looking back at the journey you’ve been on, and going back to your “old life” with the lessons, changes, and wisdom you’ve gained. I hope that my story will inspire others to take their own journey.
When you accept the challenge, you’ll come back as a new person. A greater version of your self awaits you.