Joseph Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand FacesCampbell’s
description of the hero’s quest is the most widely recognized by
scholars and, ironically, the least user-friendly. Much of his
terminology is based on the commonalities of the ancient mythologies of
many cultures, and consequently, he used examples and terms to which
the reader has a hard time relating. His book features a nice
chart of the hero’s quest.
The Hero’s Adventure in Three General Stages
I. The Separation—The hero leaves the common world and enters a place of supernatural wonder.
II. The Initiation—Fabulous forces are encountered and defeated
III. The Return—The hero returns with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.
I. The Separation or Departure
Call to Adventure—is often a blunder, an accidental revealing of an
unsuspected world and forces that are not rightly understood.
Sometimes a herald appears and gives the call to adventure. It calls up
the curtain on a spiritual passage, a dying and rebirth. There is
an atmosphere of irresistible fascination about the herald. That
which is to be faced is somehow very familiar to the unconscious and
even frightening to the conscious. Destiny has summoned the hero
and transferred his spiritual center from his known world to something
- Refusal of the Call—Sometimes the hero says no and ends the story by making his world into a wasteland.
Aid—A protective figure provides the adventurer with amulets against
the dragon he is about to pass. Such a figure represents the
benign, protecting power of destiny. All the forces of the
unconscious are on the hero’s side. Mother Nature supports the
- The Crossing of the First Threshold—The hero
encounters the “threshold guardian” at the entrance to the zone of
magnified power. Beyond this boundary lie darkness, the unknown,
and danger. Only a hero would cross over. To enter a new
zone of experience, the hero must risk challenging the guardian.
Passage into the Realm of Night (or the Belly of the Whale)—Once past
the threshold, the hero is swallowed into the unknown and experiences a
kind of self-annihilation. He sheds some part of himself and
II. The Trials and Victories of Initiation
Road of Trials—The hero must survive a series of trials, tests,
ordeals. He uses the help of the supernatural helper. To
survive he must put aside his pride, his virtue, beauty and life and
submit to the absolutely intolerable.
- The Meeting
with the Goddess—the hero undergoes a mystical “marriage” with the
Queen Goddess of the world. The woman figure represents the
totality of what can be known. As the hero progresses through
life, the goddess transforms. She is mother, sister, mistress,
bride. She is the incarnation of the promise of perfection.
The meeting with the goddess is the final test of the talent of the
hero to win the boon of love, which is life itself.
as Temptress—[Campbell never mentions temptress in this section, but
the best take I have is …] The hero realizes that everything people do
and are is tainted by some form of evil, including the Goddess.
She is transformed into the queen of sin.
with the Father—The father is the initiating priest through whom the
young being passes on into the larger world. When the hero
excises his youthful ways and is at one with his father figure and
purged of hope and fear, at peace. He transcends life and
- Apotheosis—The hero attains a divine state by going beyond the last terrors of ignorance.
- The Ultimate Boon—The hero earns/steals? something worthy of giving to others.
III. The Return and Reintegration with Society
- Refusal of the Return—When it’s time to return with the boon, the hero may balk.
Magic Flight—The hero returns with the boon. If he has the
blessing of the god or goddess, his supernatural patron helps him
return home. If not, magical obstruction stands in his way. He
often tosses behind delaying obstacles for his pursuers.
- Rescue from Without—The hero may need help from the world to return.
Crossing of the Return Threshold—The hero returns from that other
dimension of our world and tries to present his newfound wisdom to a
world that is baffled by it. He must get used to the world once
again after experiencing that other dimension. He must survive
- Master of Two Worlds—The
hero has been blessed with a glimpse of the essential nature of the
cosmos that augments his understanding of his old world.
- Freedom to Live—The hero’s new understanding allows him to live a better life.