Friday, November 08, 2002
The Hero's Arc[Notes taken from Joseph Campbell's The Hero With A Thousand Faces. The text is quoted directly from his book. Typographical errors are most likely mine.]
- the call to adventure
A blunder—apparently the merest chance—reveals an unsuspected world, and the individual is drawn into a relationship with forces that are not rightly understood.
- refusal of the call
Often in actual life, and not infrequently in the myths and popular tales, we encounter the dull case fo 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.
- supernatural aid
For those who have not refused the call, the first encounter of the hero-journey is with a protective fiture (often a little old crone or old man) who provides the adventurer with amulets against the dragon forces he is about to pass.
What such a figure represents is the benign, protecting power of destiny. The fantasy is a reassurance—a promise that the peace of Paradise, which was known first within the mother womb, is not to be lost …
Not infrequenty, the supernatural helper is masculine in form. In fairy lore it may be some little fellow of the wood, some wizard, hermit, shepherd, or smith, who appears, to supply the amulets and advice that the hero will require.
- the crossing of the first threshold
With the personification 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. Such custodians bound the world in the four directions—also up and down—standing for the limits of the hero's present sphere, or life horizon.
- 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 consiliating the power of the threshold, is swallowed into the unknown, and would appear to have died.
- the call to adventure
- The road of trials
Once having traversed the threshold, the hero moves in a dream landscape of curiously fluid, ambiguous forms, where he must survice a succession of trials. … The hero is covertly aided by the advice, amulets, and secret agents of the supernatural helper whom he met before his entrance into the 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.
And so it happens that if anyone—in whatever society—undertakes for himself the perilous journey into the darkness by descending, either intentionally or unintentionally, into the crooked lanes of his own spiritual labyrinth, he soon fineds himself in a landscape of symbolical figures (any one of which may swallow him) … In the vocabulary of the mystics, this is the second stage of the Way, that of the “purification of the self,” which the senses are “cleansed and humbled,” and the energies and interests “concentrated upon transcendental things”; or in a vocabulary of more modern turn: this is the process of dissolving, transcending, or transmuting the infantile images of our personal past.
The ordeal is the deepening of the problem of the first threshold and the question is still in balance: Can the ego put itself to death?
- the meeting with the goddess
The ultimate adventure, when all the barriers and orgres have been overcome, is commonly represented as a mystical marriage of the triumphant hero-soul with the Queen Goddess of the World. This is the crisis at the nadir, the zenith, or at the uttermost edge of the earth, at the central point of the cosmos, in the tabernacle of the temple, or within the darkness of the deepest chamber of the heart.
Only geniuses capable of the highest realization can support the full revelation of the sublimity of this goddess. For lesser men she reduces her effulgence and permits herself to appear in forms concordant with their undeveloped powers. Fully to behold her would be a terrible accident for any person not spiritually prepared.
- woman as the temptress
The mystical marriage with the queen goddess of the world represents the hero's total mastery of life; for the woman is life, the hero its knower and master. … With that he knows that he and the father are one: he is in the father's place.
… Where this Oedipus-Hamlet revulsion remains to beset the soul, there the world, the body, the woman above all, become the symbols no longer of victory but of defeat.
- atonement with the father
For the ogre aspect of the father is a reflex of the victim's own ego—derived from the sensational nursery scene that has been left behind, but projected before; and the fixating idolatry of that pedagogical nothing is itself the fault that keeps one steeped in a sense of sin, sealing the potentially adult spirit from a better balanced, more realistic view of the father, and therewith of the world. Atonement (at-one-ment) consists in no more than the abandonment of that self-generated double monster—the dragon thought to be God (superego) and the dragon thought to be Sin (repressed id). But this requres an abandonment of the attachment of ego itself, and that is what is difficult.
For the son who has grown really to know the father, the agonies of the ordeal are readily borne; the world is no longer a vale of tears but a bliss-yielding, perpetual manifestation of the Presence.
And so it must be known that, though this ignorant, limited, self-defineding, suffering body may reguard itself as threatened by some other—the enemy—that one too is the God. The ogre breaks us, but the hero, the fit candidate, undergoes the initiation “like a man”; and behold, it was the father: we in Him and He in us. The dear, protecting mother of our body could not defind us from the Great Father Serpent; the mortal, tangible body that she gave us was delivered into his frightening power. But death was not the end. New life, new birth, new knowledge of existence was given us. That father was himself the womb, the mother, of a second birth.
This is the meaning of the image of the bisexual god. He is the mystery of the theme of initiation. We are taken from the mother, chewed into fragments and assimilated to the world-annihilating body of the ogre for whom all the precious forms and beings are only the courses of a feast; but then, miraculously reborn, we are more than we were.
- the ultimate boon
The boon bestowed on the worshiper is always scaled to his stature and to the nature of his dominant desire: the boon is simply a symbol of the life energy stepped down to the requirements of a certain specific case. The irony, of course, lies in the fact that, whereas the hero who has won the favor of the god may beg for the boon of perfect illunination, what he generally seeks are longer years to live, weapons with which to slay his neighbor, or the health of his child.
- The road of trials
- refusal of the return
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 this 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 then thousand worlds.
But the responsiblity has been frequently refused. Even the Buddha, after his triumph, doubted whether the message of realization could be communicated, and saints are reported to have passed away while in the supernal ecstasy. Numerous indeed are the heros fabled to have taken up residence forever in the blessed isle of the unaging Goddess of Immortal Being.
- the magic flight
If the hero in his triumph wins the blessing of the goddess or 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.
A popular variety of the magic flight is that in which objects are left behind to speak for the fugitive and thus delay persuit. …
Another well-known variety of the magic flight is one in which a number of delaying obstacles are tossed behind by the wildly fleeing hero. …
- resucue from without
The hero may have to be brought back from his supernatual 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. “Who having cast off the world," we read, "would desire to return again? He would be only there.” And yet, in so far as one is alive, life will call. Society is jealous of those who remain away from it, and will come knocking at the door.
- the crossing of the return threshold
The two worlds, the divine and the human, can be pictured only as distinct from each other—different as life and death, as day and night. The hero adventures out of the land we know into darkness; there is accomplishes his adventure, or again is simply lost to us, imprisoned, or in danger; and his return is described as a coming back out of that yonder zone. Nevertheless—and here is a great key to the understanding of myth and symbol—the two kingdoms are actually one. The realm of the gods is a forgotten dimention of the world we know. And the exploration of that dimention, either willingly or unwillingly, is the whole sense of the deed of the hero. …
… The boon brought from the transcendent deep becomes quickly rationalized into nonentity, and the need becomes great for another hero to refresh the world.
Many failures attest to the difficulties of this life-affirmative threshold. The first problem of the returning hero is to accept as real, after an experience of the sould-satisfying vision of fulfillment, the passing joys and sorrows, banalities and noisy obscenities of life. Why re-enter such a world? … The easy thing is to commit the whole community to the devil and retire again into the heavenly rock-dwelling, close the door, and make it fast.
- master of the two worlds
Freedom to pass back and forth across the world division, from the perspective of the apparitions of time to that of the causal deep and back—not contaminating the principles fo 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. …
The meaning is very clear; it is the meaning of all religious practice. The individual, through prolonged psychological disciplines, gives up completely all attachment to his personal limitations, idiosyncrasies, hopes and fears, no longer resists the self-annihilation that is prerequisite to rebirth in the realization of truth, and so becomes ripe, at last, for the great at-one-ment. His personal ambitions being totally dissolved, he no longer tries to live but willingly relaxes to whatever may come to pass in him; he becomes, that is to say, an anonymity. The Law lives in him with his unreserved consent.
- freedom to live
The hero is the champion of things becoming, not of things become, because he is.
- refusal of the return
The typical myth[Notes taken from Joseph Campbell's The Hero With A Thousand Faces. The text is quoted directly from his book. Typographical errors are most likely mine.]
The mythological hero, setting forth from his commonday hut or castle, is lured, carried away, or else voluntarily proceeds, to the threshold of adventure. There he encounters a shadow presence that guards the passage. The hero may defeat or conciliate this power and go alive into the kingdom of the dark (brother-battle, dragon-battle; offering, charm), or be slain by the opponent and descend in death (dismemberment, crucifixion). Beyond the threshold, then, the hero journeys through a world of unfamiliar yet strangely intimate forces, some of which severely threaten him (tests), some of which give magical aid (helpers). When he arrives at the nadir of the mythological round, he undergoes a supreme ordeal and gains his reward. The triumph may be represented as the hero's sexual union with the goddess-mother of the world (sacred marriage), his recognition by the father-creator (father atonement), his own divinization (apotheosis), or again—if the powers have remained unfriendly to him—his theft of the boon he came to gain (bride-theft, fire-theft); intrinsically it is an expansion of consciousness and therewith of being (illumination, transfiguration, freedom). The final work is that of the return. If the powers have blessed the hero, he now sets forth under their protection (emissary); if not, he flees and is pursued (transformation flight, obstacle flight). At the return threshold the transcendental powers must remain behind; the hero re-emerges from the kingdom of dread (return, resurection). The boon that he brings restores the world (elixir).