The Role of Myths
Myths are a mechanism we can use to find out who we are, and what we value implicitly. It teaches us about the stages of life, and how to pass through them successfully – while avoiding the psychological dangers along the way. In this post, I discuss the role of myths today.
Summary of the Stages of the Hero’s Adventure
The archetypal hero passes through many stages in his adventure to recovering the hidden treasure. Often, he is forced to make difficult choices – even tragic ones that come at a great cost. But the redemption of the individual and consequently, of society – depends on the existence of these brave heroes who decide embark on a dangerous journey into the unknown. Campbell outlines the stages of the hero’s journey, I have summarized them below.
1. The Call to Adventure
Typically, the hero first starts out in familiar territory. This can either be his local village or city, where nothing too unpredictable ever happens. And then, a sign appears either in the form of persons, problems, or series of events, that call on the hero to escape the confines of his society – and embark on a new adventure into the unknown. The unknown is a place where dangers exists, but ultimately contain great treasures.
2. Refusal of the Call
The hero often refuses the call to adventure, choosing instead to remain within the confines of the known. He refuses the call to adventure, but myths tell us that this refusal often carries dire consequences. By not following their destiny, the hero becomes stuck in a boring routine – forced to deal with the minutiae of his culture and working hard for something he doesn’t really care about. The hero in this case becomes a victim waiting to be saved. But no matter what he does, he will only compound the number of fires he has to put out, until he gradually fades away (tragically).
3. Supernatural Aid
This is when the hero who accepts the call to adventure is given weapons to face the unknown. These can come in the form of wisdom or advice, that helps the hero avoid disaster.
4. The Crossing of the first Threshold
The safe zone for the hero is his local culture, where the boundaries are clearly drawn. The first threshold is at that boundary, it is when the hero ventures out into unknown territory where his tribe cannot protect him. The typical person is content to stay within the bounds of safety, and popular sentiment enforces his belief that he is making the right choice, because the dangers of the unknown are fatal. But the hero with competency and courage can subdue the dangers on his path.
5. The Belly of the Whale
The belly of the whale is a common archetypal image that you are probably familiar with. It is where Pinocchio descends to rescue his father. The belly of the whale or beast often represents the unconscious. To understand why, think of the difference between land and water. Land is visible, you can walk on it, it is easy to navigate. Water contains a third dimension downwards. You don’t know how deep it is – you don’t know what is contained within the ocean or the sea. And the whale is a predatory and dangerous entity that exists somewhere in the ocean, but it hoards a treasure or something extremely valuable that must be recovered (Geppetto in the case of Pinocchio).
Your job is to safely traverse the path towards recovering Geppetto – who symbolizes the great father, or culture, and return from the depths illuminated. Shadow work is also a form of this inward adventure.
6. The Road of Trials
Our ancestors depended on mythological symbolism and religious tradition to guide them through universal psychological dangers. Today, we face these dangers alone, by relying on guidance that is less potent and effective. We “enlightened” people have rationalized myths out of existence.
“Or do ye think that ye shall enter the Garden of Bliss without such trials as came to those who passed away before you?” Verse (2:214) – The Quranic Arabic Corpus
7. The Meeting with the Goddess
The idea is that to find the treasures that have immense value, you must be willing to toil, to suffer, to go beyond your basic instincts and embrace the repulsive aspect of the unknown, for it is only then you can retrieve the treasure. There is also a call here to return to a childlike approach to the world, where you are curious about things, but not closed minded and opinionated to the point where you choose to reject anything that doesn’t meet your expectations.
“The goddess guardian of the infinite requires the hero to be endowed with a “gentle heart”, not the animal desire of an Actaeon, or the fastidious revulsion of Fergus.”
8. Woman as the Temptress
This is when the hero realizes that he is a victim of the flesh. The saints try to keep sexual thoughts away, but even in the desert, these thoughts will never escape them for such impulses are fundamental to being human and alive. It is not that women are evil temptresses, it is that we are not pure. Similarly, many choose to blame their life problems on others where it is really his own fault that he is not getting what he wants.
9. Atonement with the Father
The father has a dual nature. One type of mythological (and dream) imagery describes the father as the ogre who easts his children. This is the father as tyrant and is what is known today as the patriarchy. But there is the benign aspect of the father – it is when he is the teacher, protector, or the person that initiates you into the world. This stage represents the identification with the good side of the father, and for men, to realize that they are equivalent to the father.
The true nature of human beings is dual. People are not either good or evil, they are often both. The hero must recognize that his fears are often imaginary – that his thoughts are controlled by the obsessions of his time. There is a deeper reality that – if he comes to terms with – can free himself from unnecessary anxiety and delusion.
11. The Ultimate Boon
The ultimate gift is not having more years to live, or becoming wealthier (what King Midas wanted), it is to seek perfect illumination. It is knowing the truth about reality, and about oneself. It is not simply “knowing,”, since illumination isn’t a purely intellectual exercise, but rather it is living in the way that is congruent with your personal nature. It is the opposite of succumbing to your animalistic instincts, to hatred, greed, and vanity.
The Hero with a Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell is a thought provoking journey into the forgotten past, where we rediscover the most essential aspects about our nature. Campbell succeeds in not only explaining the bases of our myths, but why they were and still are so important. He also shows us the repercussions we face from losing touch with the stories of the past, by pointing out the psychological difficulties that arise absent a rich metaphorical, mythological structure that can serve as your guide. Campbell also shows us that these psychological difficulties are universal, and more amazingly – that our cure for them across time have been impressively similar.
The Hero with a Thousand Faces is a book about the stories of the past, and our deep human longing to connect with the ancestral spirit that informs these stories.
The call to adventure is the first stage of the mythological journey. Destiny calls on the hero to move his spirit outside the comfortable confines of his society…
This stage of the hero journey is often the most exciting. After passing the threshold, the hero moves on to a new landscape…
After the hero completes his quest, he must still return with his life-changing boon.
“The Keys” was a commentary on how myths have become watered down in many different traditions today.
Myths resemble dreams, they are both manifestations of the unconscious. Symbols represent unconscious desires, fears, and tensions.
Some mythologies emphasize the maternal rather than paternal aspect of the creator.
This chapter is about how the cosmogonic cycle is carried out by mortal heroes rather than gods…
There are two types of deaths that mythologies describe, the first is personal, and the second is universal.
Campbell concludes by commenting on the relevance of myths today, how myths are viewed and how you can make use of them in your own life.