Tag Archives: what is the hero’s journey

The Magic Ring of Myth and the Hero’s Journey

alex atkins bookshelf quotations“Throughout the inhabited world, in all times and under every circumstance, the myths of man have flourished; and they have been the living inspiration of whatever else may have appeared out of the activities of the human body and mind. It would not be too much to say that myth is the secret opening through which the inexhaustible energies of the cosmos pour into human cultural manifestation. Religions, philosophies, arts, the social forms of primitive and historic man, prime discoveries in science and technology, the very dreams that blister sleep, boil up from the basic, magic ring of myth.”

From The Hero with a Thousand Faces (published in 1949) by Joseph Campbell (1904-1987), professor of literature and world renown expert on comparative mythology and religion. In this seminal work, Campbell introduces the concept of monomyth (a term he borrows from James Joyce’s inscrutable Finnegans Wake) — the single great narrative that is woven into every myth, folk tale, or fairy tale ever told. At the heart of this monomyth is what he calls “the hero’s journey”: a hero who goes on an adventure and in a decisive crisis, aided by a supernatural mentor, wins a victory (or atones with the father) and returns home transformed, able to help his or her people. Campbell often reduced the quest of the hero to the simple phrase “Follow your bliss.” The quintessential hero’s journey, of course, is Homer’s Ulysses. George Lucas credited Campbell’s work for influencing his writing of the Star Wars saga. In a later work, The Masks of God: Creative Mythology (1959-1968), Campbell describes the four critical functions of myth in human society: the metaphysical function (awakens a sense of awe before the mystery of being); the cosmological function (explaining the creation and order of universe); the sociological function (validate and supports the existing social order); and pedagogical function (guides the individual through his or her stages of life). One of the most powerful myths throughout the existence of humanity is God; Campbell explains: “God is a metaphor for a mystery that absolutely transcends all human categories of thought, even the categories of being and non-being.” And just as significant, is the mythology of Christ: “It is clear that, whether accurate or not as to biographical detail, the moving legend of the Crucified and Risen Christ was fit to bring a new warmth, immediacy, and humanity, to the old motifs of the beloved Tammuz, Adonis, and Osiris¬†cycles.” [In ancient Sumerian mythology, Tammuz was the god of fertility. In Greek mythology, Adonis is the god of beauty, desire, and vegetation. His story is derived from the legend of Tammuz. In ancient Egyptian religion, Osiris is the god of the afterlife, the underworld, and rebirth.]


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