Hero’s Journey & the Quest for Self.

Pippin: I didn’t think it would end this way.
Gandalf: End? No, the journey doesn’t end here. Death is just another path, one that we all must take. The grey rain-curtain of this world rolls back, and all turns to silver glass, and then you see it.
Pippin: What? Gandalf? See what?
Gandalf: White shores, and beyond, a far green country under a swift sunrise.
Pippin: Well, that isn’t so bad.
Gandalf: No. No, it isn’t.

Yesterday, a few friends and I were watching The Lord of the Rings:  Return of the King and a discussion ensued about man’s epic quest and the “hero’s journey”, a phrase coined by the late Joseph Campbell.  In the greater sense, we are all on a hero’s journey simply because we exist and need to experience this journey of self realization. Life offers plenty of obstacles and challenges which forces us to seek answers to this very mystery:  Why are we here and what is the purpose of life?  Everyday we struggle, strengthen our resolve and learn to find meaning in this reality.  It is this very quest to understand one’s true nature and mature through life processes which ultimately allows us to evolve as sentient beings and return home knowing who we are.

The movie was supremely enjoyable and ended with Annie Lenox singing “Into the West” during the closing credits. LOTR was exceptionally epic in scale, and the song hauntingly soothing and enchanting.


The Hero’s Journey Outline

The Hero’s Journey is a pattern of narrative identified by the American scholar Joseph Campbell that appears in drama, storytelling, myth, religious ritual, and psychological development.  It describes the typical adventure of the archetype known as The Hero, the person who goes out and achieves great deeds on behalf of the group, tribe, or civilization.

Its stages are:

1.        THE ORDINARY WORLD.  The hero, uneasy, uncomfortable or unaware, is introduced sympathetically so the audience can identify with the situation or dilemma.  The hero is shown against a background of environment, heredity, and personal history.  Some kind of polarity in the hero’s life is pulling in different directions and causing stress.

2.        THE CALL TO ADVENTURE.  Something shakes up the situation, either from external pressures or from something rising up from deep within, so the hero must face the beginnings of change.

3.        REFUSAL OF THE CALL.  The hero feels the fear of the unknown and tries to turn away from the adventure, however briefly.  Alternately, another character may express the uncertainty and danger ahead.

4.        MEETING WITH THE MENTOR.  The hero comes across a seasoned traveler of the worlds who gives him or her training, equipment, or advice that will help on the journey.  Or the hero reaches within to a source of courage and wisdom.

5.        CROSSING THE THRESHOLD.  At the end of Act One, the hero commits to leaving the Ordinary World and entering a new region or condition with unfamiliar rules and values.

6.        TESTS, ALLIES AND ENEMIES.  The hero is tested and sorts out allegiances in the Special World.

7.        APPROACH.  The hero and newfound allies prepare for the major challenge in the Special world.

8.        THE ORDEAL.  Near the middle of the story, the hero enters a central space in the Special World and confronts death or faces his or her greatest fear.  Out of the moment of death comes a new life.

9.        THE REWARD.  The hero takes possession of the treasure won by facing death.  There may be celebration, but there is also danger of losing the treasure again.

10.      THE ROAD BACK.  About three-fourths of the way through the story, the hero is driven to complete the adventure, leaving the Special World to be sure the treasure is brought home.  Often a chase scene signals the urgency and danger of the mission.

11.     THE RESURRECTION.  At the climax, the hero is severely tested once more on the threshold of home.  He or she is purified by a last sacrifice, another moment of death and rebirth, but on a higher and more complete level.  By the hero’s action, the polarities that were in conflict at the beginning are finally resolved.

12.       RETURN WITH THE ELIXIR.  The hero returns home or continues the journey, bearing some element of the treasure that has the power to transform the world as the hero has been transformed.



The Heroine’s Journey  (adapted from Maureen Murdock)













ARCHETYPES are recurring patterns of human behavior, symbolized by standard types of characters in movies and stories.


Central figures in stories.  Everyone is the hero of his or her own myth.


Villains and enemies, perhaps the enemy within.  The dark side of the Force, the repressed possibilities of the hero, his or her potential for evil.  Can be other kinds of repression, such as repressed grief, anger, frustration or creativity that is dangerous if it doesn’t have an outlet.


The hero’s guide or guiding principles.  Yoda, Merlin, a great coach or teacher.


One who brings the Call to Adventure.  Could be a person or an event.


The forces that stand in the way at important turning points, including jealous enemies, professional gatekeepers, or your own fears and doubts.


In stories, creatures like vampires or werewolves who change shape.  In life, the shapeshifter represents change.  The way other people (or our perceptions of them) keep changing.  The opposite sex, the way people can be two-faced.


Clowns and mischief-makers, Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck, Richard Pryor and Eddie Murphy.  Our own mischievous subconscious, urging us to change.


Characters who help the hero through the change.  Sidekicks, buddies, girlfriends who advise the hero through the transitions of life.

This page summarizes the brief explanations from every step of the Hero’s Journey.

  • Departure
    1. The Call to Adventure
      The call to adventure is the point in a person’s life when they are first given notice that everything is going to change, whether they know it or not.
    2. Refusal of the Call
      Often when the call is given, the future hero refuses to heed it. This may be from a sense of duty or obligation, fear, insecurity, a sense of inadequacy, or any of a range of reasons that work to hold the person in his or her current circumstances.
    3. Supernatural Aid
      Once the hero has committed to the quest, consciously or unconsciously, his or her guide and magical helper appears, or becomes known.
    4. The Crossing of the First Threshold
      This is the point where the person actually crosses into the field of adventure, leaving the known limits of his or her world and venturing into an unknown and dangerous realm where the rules and limits are not known.
    5. The Belly of the Whale
      The belly of the whale represents the final separation from the hero’s known world and self. It is sometimes described as the person’s lowest point, but it is actually the point when the person is between or transitioning between worlds and selves. The separation has been made, or is being made, or being fully recognized between the old world and old self and the potential for a new world/self. The experiences that will shape the new world and self will begin shortly, or may be beginning with this experience which is often symbolized by something dark, unknown and frightening. By entering this stage, the person shows their willingness to undergo a metamorphosis, to die to him or herself.


  • Inititation
    1. The Road of Trials
      The road of trials is a series of tests, tasks, or ordeals that the person must undergo to begin the transformation. Often the person fails one or more of these tests, which often occur in threes.
    2. The Meeting with the Goddess
      The meeting with the goddess represents the point in the adventure when the person experiences a love that has the power and significance of the all-powerful, all encompassing, unconditional love that a fortunate infant may experience with his or her mother. It is also known as the “hieros gamos”, or sacred marriage, the union of opposites, and may take place entirely within the person. In other words, the person begins to see him or herself in a non-dualistic way. This is a very important step in the process and is often represented by the person finding the other person that he or she loves most completely. Although Campbell symbolizes this step as a meeting with a goddess, unconditional love and /or self unification does not have to be represented by a woman.
    3. Woman as the Temptress
      At one level, this step is about those temptations that may lead the hero to abandon or stray from his or her quest, which as with the Meeting with the Goddess does not necessarily have to be represented by a woman. For Campbell, however, this step is about the revulsion that the usually male hero may feel about his own fleshy/earthy nature, and the subsequent attachment or projection of that revulsion to women. Woman is a metaphor for the physical or material temptations of life, since the hero-knight was often tempted by lust from his spiritual journey.
    4. Atonement with the Father
      In this step the person must confront and be initiated by whatever holds the ultimate power in his or her life. In many myths and stories this is the father, or a father figure who has life and death power. This is the center point of the journey. All the previous steps have been moving in to this place, all that follow will move out from it. Although this step is most frequently symbolized by an encounter with a male entity, it does not have to be a male; just someone or thing with incredible power. For the transformation to take place, the person as he or she has been must be “killed” so that the new self can come into being. Sometime this killing is literal, and the earthly journey for that character is either over or moves into a different realm.
    5. Apotheosis
      To apotheosize is to deify. When someone dies a physical death, or dies to the self to live in spirit, he or she moves beyond the pairs of opposites to a state of divine knowledge, love, compassion and bliss. This is a god-like state; the person is in heaven and beyond all strife. A more mundane way of looking at this step is that it is a period of rest, peace and fulfillment before the hero begins the return.
    6. 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, since in many myths the boon is something transcendent like the elixir of life itself, or a plant that supplies immortality, or the holy grail.


  • Return
    1. Refusal of the Return
      So why, when all has been achieved, the ambrosia has been drunk, and we have conversed with the gods, why come back to normal life with all its cares and woes?
    2. The Magic Flight
      Sometimes the hero must escape with the boon, if it is something that the gods have been jealously guarding. It can be just as adventurous and dangerous returning from the journey as it was to go on it.
    3. Rescue from Without
      Just as the hero may need guides and assistants to set out on the quest, often times he or she must have powerful guides and rescuers to bring them back to everyday life, especially if the person has been wounded or weakened by the experience. Or perhaps the person doesn’t realize that it is time to return, that they can return, or that others need their boon.
    4. The Crossing of the Return Threshold
      The trick in returning is to retain the wisdom gained on the quest, to integrate that wisdom into a human life, and then maybe figure out how to share the wisdom with the rest of the world. This is usually extremely difficult.
    5. Master of the Two Worlds
      In myth, this step is usually represented by a transcendental hero like Jesus or Buddha. For a human hero, it may mean achieving a balance between the material and spiritual. The person has become comfortable and competent in both the inner and outer worlds.
    6. Freedom to Live
      Mastery leads to freedom from the fear of death, which in turn is the freedom to live. This is sometimes referred to as living in the moment, neither anticipating the future nor regretting the past.

21 thoughts on “Hero’s Journey & the Quest for Self.

  1. Spiritual journeys are as old as man/woman. As old as when we first looked at the sky, And Wondered. We have known before being recognised as Home Sapiens, that sharing warmth, food, labour and compassion (collectively known as love) was The way forward. Hero’s and Heroines were the ones who went further, in spirit or adventure. I think we instinctively knew that death ment more than bodily decay. At some point, the thinkers found a way to connect to their dead; therein, the spiritual journeys began. When food became scarce, again the reasoned thinkers went outside their known ‘universe’, or comfort zone, to find food or pastures new. Stories were, naturally, made up of their adventures. Often when tribes got too small, or too big to share resources, men, and women, ventured out to find new homes.
    Thus we migrated out of Africa.
    Love and blessings,
    PS, couldn’t sign up for your e-mail posts, but following anyway. Your posts are so graced with the need to Think ! Thank you.


  2. First, thankyou, for visiting my blog – through which I am happy to (also) discover your galaxy!
    This is a brilliant post – insightful, reflective and food for the soul. May the Blessings of the Creator be yours for sharing knowledge, compassion, wisdom and love — we need people like you to exude bliss in a world where many confine others’ in shackles out of hate and destruction. This post is meaningful for individual growth to the inner metamorphosis. Cheers and be in touch. Blessings.


  3. Hey you! You have a lot of explano to do. Where have you been? I kept seeing notices about your blog being unavailable whenever I clicked to check you out. Welcome back.
    Quite a piece here! Really interesting and informative.
    Oh! And, happy new year to you Madeline.


    • Hey happy new year doc! As you’ve noticed, I has problems with my old blog disappearing! WP was no help 😦 so I had to start over. Sadly I didn’t have the foresight to back everything up, so posts were lost, as well as my followers list. Slow and steady, I’m working my way back into the system 🙂
      I’ve posted an announcement on my Twitter account, you can find me @1_Earth_United

      Great to be back, I look forward to reading more of your corny antics and jocular hijinks. 😉
      Love U Doc!!


  4. I loved Campbell’s ‘Hero with a thousand faces’ and learning about the hero’s journey. It helped me not only as an author and creator but as a human being/spiritual being 🙂 Awesome stuff. Excellent summary of his work 🙂


  5. Pingback: There and back again: How to return your Hero home in one piece « The Collaborative Writer

  6. This is an excellent post providing an exposition on narrative patterns as identified by Joseph Campbell and Maureen Murdock. Well done and thank you!

    SoundEagle would like to suggest that your sentence

    The Hero’s Journey is a pattern of narrative identified by the American scholar Joseph Campbell that appears in drama, storytelling, myth, religious ritual, and psychological development.

    be changed to

    Identified by the American scholar Joseph Campbell, the Hero’s Journey is a pattern of narrative that appears in drama, storytelling, myth, religious ritual, and psychological development.

    for clarify and better grammar.


  7. Pingback: Exploring the “Inmost Cave” and the Hero’s necessary descent into darkness « The Collaborative Writer

  8. I love the diagrams. I am a diagrams kinda gal, and can’t help but notice how both hero and heroine’s journey alike mimic the outline for good book writing! Coincidence? Eh…maybe not! Great post, Maddy. Welcome hoooOOOoome!!


  9. Very interesting read on this quest we all are on in this journey called life. Sometimes daily life becomes so routine we forget to reflect on the bigger picture. This comprehensive look at this journey is food that feeds the soul and mind. I forgot how hungry I was…:)
    Grateful for your thoughts…<3


  10. Thank you for establishing some order to some random thoughts that have crossed my mind, here, and there. I have bookmarked this post for a re-read this weekend when not having to get to work.

    However, first read is an eye opener, and establishes order to some of those random thoughts which were, previously in doubt or, question but, given a reason with organization.

    It seems, once we become capable of dealing with ego on a higher plane, this journey or, quest is less for self, and becomes more for the universe as one.


  11. Thank you for this delineation of the Hero’s quest, Maddy. I could not help but compare the journey to my life. I am grateful that you are an ally that has helped me make sense of this journey. On my return journey, I hope to bring back some wisdom and love to share with you and the rest of humanity. Thank you for being a valuable part of my life. {{{Hugs]}} Kozo


    • It’s been an honor and privilege to journey with you guys, my life has grown by leaps and bounds as well. I feel wholly myself when connected with people I care about. People are the most valuable resource… together, wow imagine how awesome we’ll all be a year from now! This geometric progression of love and knowledge is truly mind blowing. {{{Hugs back atcha}}}


♥Thanks for sharing♥

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