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The Hero with a Thousand Faces (Part I, Chapter 1: The Departure)

Part One – The Adventure of the Hero

Chapter 1: The Departure

Hero's Journey
Hero’s Journey

1. The Call to Adventure

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 and into the zone of the unknown. The unknown harbors both danger and treasure, and is often represented as a distant land, forest, or underground kingdom, or many other variations. The common theme is the existence of strange beings, “unimaginable torments, superhuman deeds, and impossible delight.”

The hero can choose to go forth on the adventure out of his own will (such as the story of Theseus and Minotaur) or may be sent by a benign or malignant agent (such as the story of Odysseus). The adventure can also start as a blunder.

The Blunder

Campbell cites the story of the princess and the frog. The princess loses her golden ball in a pond. A frog consoles her by fetching the ball for her – but on the condition that she take him with her to her castle and spend time with him. This blunder of the story marks the departure of the hero in the this story, and is a common theme.

“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. As Freud has shown,2 blunders are not the merest chance. They are the result of suppressed desires and conflicts. They are ripples on the surface of life, produced by unsuspected springs.”

The Herald

Campbell tells us two stories and two dreams that illustrate the idea of a herald (a sign of things to come, destiny) that will lead to a transformation. The herald is the announcer of the adventure. Often, it is dark and terrifying evil. But if one follows it, they would be transferred from the safety of the known into the unknown – where the jewels reside. The herald can take the form of a beast, as in fairy tales, which represents the repressed creative energies within us.

One story recounts King Arthur’s pursuit of a hart. King Arthur pursued a great hart that he saw in the forest. He chased it until his horse was exhausted and fell to the ground. The king was then given another horse to continue his pursuit. After he found that the hart was trapped, and his horse was dead, he set the horse by a foundation and fell into deep thought.

As he sat, he heard the noise of hounds. And then he saw the strangest beast approach the well and drink. As the beast drank it made no noise, but as it departed again, it made a lot of noise, which left the King marveled.

The Story of The Buddha

Buddha lived in a castle, where he had access to all the earthly delights he could imagine, including women, food, and entertainment. But after having lived in paradise – he had exhausted himself with the pleasures made available to him, the hero (Buddha), decided to explore the unknown, and the dangerous. He decided to go outside the confines of the paradise his father had built to see the reality of the world.

On separate days, he embarked on this journey with a charioteer and encountered human forms he has never been exposed to: an old man, a sick man, and a dead man. Each day, he was shocked by the ugliness and cruelty of the external world. The charioteer explained to The Buddha why these men ended up how they did, before the Buddha retreated to his palace in grief.

And on each day, his father was informed of what was going on, and he (the father) gave orders to surround the palace with more guards to stop his son from going on these adventures. He wanted to protect him from reality. But he was ultimately unsuccessful.

The Buddha was determined to know more, until one day, he saw a monk, who the charioteer described as someone who has retired from the world. Attracted by this idea, The Buddha decides to do the same.

2. Refusal of the Call

Sometimes in real life and in myths, the call to adventure remains unanswered. Other interests and distractions can turn the hero away.

The consequences, however, are often harsh. The hero may become stuck in a boring routine, hard work, or culture, and lose the power to take initiative. He becomes a victim waiting to be saved. The flowering world he was in “becomes a wasteland of dry stones and his life feels meaningless” even though, like King Minos, he may build a large empire.

In a sense, he becomes cursed. No matter what he does, he will only trap himself in a never-ending series of new problems, and tragically await his gradual disintegration.

The story of Apollo, the sun, the god of time and ripeness, eventually stops pursuing Daphne after cupid pierces him with the arrow of love, while piercing her with an arrow made of lead (that will prevent her from feeling love). Daphne refuses to stop for Apollo, and just before he was about to catch her, she calls for her father’s help, and he transforms her into a tree. Apollo names the tree his favorite, and Daphne retreats to the image of her parent (the trees) and found protection. The Oedipal son is a good example of a person who chooses to refuse the call.

The Psychoanalytic literature contains many examples of such desperate fixations. They represent an inability to overcome their infantile ego, with its “sphere of emotional relationships and ideals. One is bound in by the walls of childhood; the father and mother stand as threshold guardians, and the timorous soul, fearful of some punishment, fails to make the passage through the door and come to birth in the world without.”

One of the solutions to this dilemma is willed introversion.

“It is one of the classic implements of creative genius and can be employed as a deliberate device. It drives the psychic energies into depth and activates the lost continent of unconscious infantile and archetypal images. The result, of course; may be a disintegration of consciousness more or less complete (neurosis, psychosis: the plight of spellbound Daphne); but on the other hand, if the personality is able to absorb and integrate the new forces, there will be experienced an almost super-human degree of self-consciousness and masterful control.”

The Indian disciplines of Yoga contain the same basic principle. It is not the answer to any specific call, but rather a deliberate and powerful refusal of anything that is not the deepest, most authentic demand from within. It is, in a way, a strike, or rejection of the status quo. As a result, a powerful internal transformation re-frames the problem in a novel and superior way, where it is finally resolved.

3. Supernatural Aid

Those who have not refused the call first encounter a protective figure in their journey. Often, the figure is an old man who provides the hero with weapons to face the beasts he is about to encounter.

4. The Crossing of the First Threshold

As the hero is guided forward in his adventure, he encounters the “threshold guardian” at the entrance to the “zone of magnified power.” Beyond these custodians is danger and darkness, the same way there is danger to the infant when his parents aren’t watching, and the member of the tribe’s safety is compromised absent the protection of his tribe.

The typical person is happy to stay inside the bounds of safety and is aided by popular belief- that gives him good reasons to stay away from the unknown and the unexplored.

The adventure is always marked by a transition from the known to the unknown, and the “powers that watch at the boundary are dangerous; to deal with them is risky; yet for anyone with competence and courage the danger fades.”

Prince of 5 Weapons

Prince Five-weapons was a name given to a man who had completed his studies under the tutelage of a famous teacher. He was about to enter a forest before he was warned of an ogre that lived there. The ogre was known as “sticky hair” and killed every man it came across. The prince was not afraid and went ahead. He encountered a giant monster that towered high above him.

After an exchange of threats, the prince used his first weapon, the bow and arrow, and shot tens of arrows at the ogre, only to see them all stick to his hair. He then used a large sword, and then a spear, and both stuck to the ogre’s hair. And then he used a club, and it too stuck to the ogre’s hair. The prince then said, “Master ogre, you have never heard of me before. I am Prince Five-weapons. When I entered this forest infested by you, I took no account of bows and suchlike weapons; when I entered this forest, I took account only of myself. Now I am going to beat you and pound you into powder and dust!”

He then struck him with his right hand, which stuck into the ogre’s hair. He did the same with his left hand, and it also stuck. He then struck him with his right foot, and it stuck. Not giving up, he struck the ogre with his left foot, and it also stuck. He then thought, “I will beat you with my head and pound you into powder and dust!” He struck the ogre with his head, and his head also struck to the ogre’s hair. The prince then struck him with his head. That also stuck right to the ogre’s hair. At this point, the prince was hanging on the ogre, but remained fearless.

The ogre thought: “This is some lion of a man, some man of noble birth—no mere man! For although he has been caught by an ogre like me, he appears neither to tremble nor to quake! In all the time I have harried this road, I have never seen a single man to match him! Why, pray, is he not afraid?” Not daring to eat him, he asked: “Youth, why are you not afraid? Why are you not terrified with the fear of death?”

“Ogre, why should I be afraid? for in one life one death is absolutely certain. What’s more, I have in my belly a thunderbolt for weapon. If you eat me, you will not be able to digest that weapon. It will tear your insides into tatters and fragments and will kill you. In that case we’ll both perish. That’s why I’m not afraid!”

Prince Five-weapons was referring to the Weapon of Knowledge within him. This hero turns out to be an earlier incarnation of the Future Buddha. “What this youth says is true, from the body of this lion of a man, my stomach would not be able to digest a fragment of flesh even so small as a kidney bean. I’ll let him go!” And he let Prince Five-weapons go.

The prince then preached the doctrine to him and was able to subdue him. He made the ogre self-denying and transformed him into a spirit that was worthy of receiving offerings in the forest. The young prince then left the forest, and then told his story to human beings, before going his own way.

5. The Belly of the Whale

The Belly of the Whale is a recurring archetypal theme that symbolizes a sphere of rebirth.

Here, the hero does not seem to have triumphantly conquer this threshold, but is swallowed into the unknown, and appears to have died. The belly of the beast can be a journey inwards, of self-reflection and illumination.

The Hero with a Thousand Faces (The Collected Works of Joseph Campbell)The Hero with a Thousand Faces (Part I, Chapter 1: The Departure) 1

"Silence is the best expression of scorn" - G.B. Shaw

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