Study Guide

The Hero with a Thousand Faces Quotes

  • Identity

    Human beings are born too soon; they are unfinished, unready as yet to meet the world. (5.2)

    This is a fancy way of saying that who we are isn't determined by our birth, but instead by the things that happen to us. Trouble is, sometimes those things come barreling up to us like a brick wall.

    The composite hero of the monomyth is a personage of exceptional gifts. Frequently he is honored by his society, frequently unrecognized or disdained. (35.1)

    So, um, which is it? Actually it's both. Sometimes, the hero comes from humble roots and nobody notices him or her (think Luke Skywalker or Katniss Everdeen). Sometimes they're great big celebrities, like Iron Man or Bruce Wayne. There's a lot of either/ors like that in Campbell's writing. Good news is that both kinds can still go on the Hero's Journey.

    Nevertheless, in the multitude of myths and legends that have been preserved to us, or collected from the ends of the earth, we may yet see delineated something of our still human course. To hear and profit, however, one may have to submit somehow to purgation and surrender. (96.1)

    This is a central irony in Campbell's work: in order to learn who you are, you have to give up who you are. Only surrendering your identity can show you your real one. As you may have guessed, it doesn't take place without a lot of kicking and screaming. Luckily, "kicking and screaming" makes for great stories.

    The mythological figure of the Universal Mother imputes to the cosmos the feminine attributes of the first, nourishing and protecting presence. The fantasy is primarily spontaneous; for there exists a close and obvious correspondence between the attitude of the young child toward its mother and that of the adult toward the surrounding material world. (103.3)

    Time for some Freud! Campbell is arguing here that we gain our identity in part by the reactions of the world around us, and since our mother is the first interaction we have with the world, she's kind of the big warm-up. Also, pay attention to the way Campbell connects the personal ("Mom, you made me soup!") with the universal ("It's a big world out there just full of soup. I can have it whenever I want!")

    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. And the testings of the hero, which were preliminary to his ultimate experience and deed, were symbolical of those crises of realization by means of which his consciousness came to be amplified and made capable of enduring the full possession of the mother-destroyer, his inevitable bride. With that he knows that he and the father are one: he is in the father's place. (111.1)

    We're back to Freud here, and it's heavy duty Freud too. Killing your father and marrying your mother: whoa there. But actually, the idea's a little simpler than that. When we become adults, we take on adult responsibilities, making us like our fathers. The wisdom that that brings – the way it shows us what's really important – helps us attain the things we need from the world.

    The ease with which the adventure is here accomplished signifies that the hero is a superior man, a born king. (159.3)

    This comes toward the end of the Hero's Journey, as the hero is heading home with the goodies. Because he's learned so much in the intervening time, the tasks of these last steps seem much easier… in part because he knows who he is. (Our favorite modern example of this comes at the end of The Matrix … and notice that it's a woman's kiss that delivers this final push to the finish line.)

    The idea of the insulating horse, to keep the hero out of immediate touch with the earth and yet permit him to promenade among the peoples of the world, is a vivid example of a basic precaution taken generally by the carriers of supernormal power. (208.1)

    Apparently, once you have your new identity of post-quest hero, your hands are literally so magic that you need a barrier between yourself and the old world just to keep it from being burned away in a crisp.

    The disciple has been blessed with a vision transcending the scope of normal human destiny, and amounting to a glimpse of the essential nature of the cosmos. Not his personal fate, but the fate of mankind, of life as a whole, the atom and all the solar systems, has been opened to him; and this in terms befitting his human understanding, that is to say, in terms of an anthropomorphic vision: The Cosmic Man.

    This is probably the closest thing to a "final" identity you find in Campbell: realizing that his identity encompasses the whole universe.

    God and the gods are only convenient means—themselves of the nature of the world of names and forms, though eloquent of, and ultimately conducive to, the ineffable. They are mere symbols to move and awaken the mind, and to call it past themselves. (239.2)

    This is also a part of identity, and the need to dispense with it if you really want to mamba with the nature of the universe. It's ultimately all a symbol for something more important, and when you look past the symbol to see it all, that symbol loses the importance it used to hold.

    Stated in the terms already formulated, the hero's first task is to experience consciously the antecedent stages of the cosmogonic cycle; to break back through the epochs of emanation. His second, then, is to return from that abyss to the plane of contemporary life, there to serve as a human transformer of demiurgic potentials. (296.1)

    One thing we do know about Campbell's heroes is that they usually share their goodies with the rest of us…though they can morph into monsters if they don't. It's a tricky step, all you hero types. Watch it.

  • Good vs. Evil

    Wherever he sets his hand there is a cry (if not from the housetops, then more miserably—within every heart): a cry for the redeeming hero, the carrier of the shining blade, whose blow, whose touch, whose existence, will liberate the land. (14.2)

    Good doesn't tend to rise up until there's an evil to rise up against. Even in the early stage of the Hero's Journey, Campbell is showing us how both sides are connected.

    Typical of the circumstances of the call are the dark forest, the great tree, the babbling spring, and the loathly, underestimated appearance of the carrier of the power of destiny. (47.2)

    This is the central challenge of the Hero's Journey: if you want to save everybody, you gotta go out into the dark and scary parts of the world.

    The disgusting and rejected frog or dragon of the fairy tale brings up the sun ball in its mouth; for the frog, the serpent, the rejected one, is the representative of that unconscious deep ("so deep that the bottom cannot be seen") wherein are hoarded all of the rejected, unadmitted, unrecognized, unknown, or undeveloped factors, laws, and elements of existence. (48.1)

    This is important: evil here is really just an expression of the deepest parts of ourselves, the parts we don't like to think are there. By diving into them and understanding them, we know more about who we are and can move forward with a little wisdom.

    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; that it supports the present and stands in the future as well as in the past (is omega as well as alpha); that though omnipotence may seem to be endangered by the threshold passages and life awakenings, protective power is always and ever present within the sanctuary of the heart and even immanent within, or just behind, the unfamiliar features of the world. One has only to know and trust, and the ageless guardians will appear. (66.1)

    This is the first person the hero meets on his or her journey: a mysterious helpful person who isn't quite what he or she appears to be, but is definitely working for Team Good Guy. Modern examples include your garden variety wizard (your Gandalfs, your Dumbledores, your occasional Obi-Wan Kenobis), your average super spy (Nick Fury in the MCU), or just some friendly folks who don't want to see you get butchered in a futuristic arena (like every member of Team Katniss from The Hunger Games).

    The regions of the unknown (desert, jungle, deep sea, alien land, etc.) are free fields for the projection of unconscious content. Incestuous libido and patricidal destrudo are thence reflected back against the individual and his society in forms suggesting threats of violence and fancied dangerous delight—not only as ogres but also as sirens of mysteriously seductive, nostalgic beauty. (72.2)

    Campbell gets a little meta here. Those scary parts of the map on the Hero's Journey? The Death Star? The witch's castle in The Wizard of Oz? They're scary because the hero doesn't know what's in them, and that lets him project all his subconscious fears onto that place.

    But when it suddenly dawns on us, or is forced to our attention, that everything we think or do is necessarily tainted with the odor of the flesh, then, not uncommonly, there is experienced a moment of revulsion: life, the acts of life, the organs of life, woman in particular as the great symbol of life, become intolerable to the pure, the pure, pure soul. (112.1)

    Good turns to evil so quickly here. But notice also that the trigger to that transformation isn't something external: it's the way the hero feels inside that makes it evil.

    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 non-thing 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. (119.1)

    Again, good and evil here are just flip sides of an interior debate within the hero. He sees dad as a monster, and instead of revising that opinion and letting go of those childhood impressions, he keeps fighting. He has to let go of that idea in order to reconcile with the father figure and get his hands on the great Whatsit he's after.

    He is the twice-born: he has become himself the father. And he's competent, consequently, now to enact himself the role of the initiator, the guide, the sun door, through whom one may pass from the infantile illusions of "good" and "evil" to an experience of the majesty of cosmic law, purged of hope and fear, and at peace in the understanding of the revelation of being. (125.5)

    We've touched on this time and again, but this is the crux of it: good and evil are just sides of the same coin. Together, they keep the universe running in an endless cycle of change: creating, thriving, declining and destroying, only to create something entirely new and starting the cycle all over again.

    The goal of the myth is to dispel the need for such life ignorance by effecting a reconciliation of the individual consciousness with the universal will. And this is effected through a realization of the true relationship of the passing phenomena of time to the imperishable life that lives and dies in all. (221.2)

    Myth, he says, is supposed to help see and understand: defeating evil isn't the goal. It's understanding the role evil serves and transforming that energy into something possible and happy.

    The world of human life is now the problem. Guided by the practical judgment of the kings and the instruction of the priests of the dice of divine revelation, the field of consciousness so contracts that the grand lines of the human comedy are lost in a welter of cross-purposes. (285.1)

    Evil, true evil, doesn't come from the universe. It comes from our own limitations, and our willingness to get caught up in petty things like money and power that blind us to the true nature of the universe. It's heavy stuff…but man, does it make sense.

  • Fate and Free Will

    This first stage of the mythological journey—which we have designated the "call to adventure" —signifies that destiny has summoned the hero and transferred his spiritual center of gravity from within the pale of his society to a zone unknown. (47.4)

    This is definitely the sign that destiny is calling the shots, at least early on. Fate selects the hero, and the hero can only react to the summons. Free will only enters the picture if the hero refuses the call…and even then, fate has some nasty ways to get the hero back in line.

    The hero can go forth of his own volition to accomplish the adventure, as did Theseus when he arrived in his father's city, Athens, and heard the horrible history of the Minotaur; or he may be carried or sent abroad by some benign or malignant agent, as was Odysseus, driven about the Mediterranean by the winds of the angered god, Poseidon. (47.4)

    Once the call goes up, the hero can sometimes accept it of his own free will, in which case he or she's acting in concert with fate. Other times, fate just grabs the hero and carries him or her off, which puts the hero in a more adversarial position with fate.

    Often in actual life, and not infrequently in the myths and popular tales, we encounter the dull case of the call unanswered; for it is always possible to turn the ear to other interests. (48.3)

    There's always free will involved, especially here, when the adventure is just starting. The irony is that exercising free will by refusing the call only hurts the hero, not the rest of the universe.

    The hero to whom such a helper appears is typically one who has responded to the call. The call, in fact, was the first announcement of the approach of this initiatory priest. But even to those who apparently have hardened their hearts the supernatural guardian may appear; for, as we have seen: "Well able is Allah to save." (67.1)

    Here's that balance again: destiny is going to be served no matter what, but the hero's choices can make the path smoother and easier.

    To move toward destiny is like eternity. To know eternity is enlightenment, and not to recognize eternity brings disorder and evil. (175.2)

    The whole point of the Hero's Journey is to put the hero's free will in sync with the universe, and thus enjoy the enlightenment it brings. It's not supposed to be a struggle between man and fate, but a way of putting man on the same page as fate.

    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 illumination, what he generally seeks are longer years to live, weapons with which to slay his neighbor, or the health of his child. (175.5)

    Another case where the hero gets to exercise free will…but note Campbell's tone: choosing poorly means staying mired in petty concerns instead of embracing destiny. That always brings pain.

    The hero may have to be brought back from his supernatural adventure by assistance from without. That is to say, the world may have to come and get him. (192.1)

    Fate can always lend a hand from time to time if the hero needs it. Just so long as the hero is moving in the direction that fate desires.

    Perhaps the most eloquent possible symbol of this mystery is that of the god crucified, the god offered, "himself to himself.'" (241.2)

    The notion of choosing to make a sacrifice like that only illustrates the book's central point: we're all connected to the universe and our choices either show us that connection or drive us further away from it.

    The cosmogonic cycle is now to be carried forward, therefore, not by the gods, who have become invisible, but by the heroes, more or less human in character, through whom the world destiny is realized. (291.2)

    That's a pretty profound thing. Heroes become the agents of destiny, though they are still human, which means they mess up sometimes and have to get back on track. But without them, destiny really serves no purpose. It needs us and our free will to fulfill its purpose.

    This accords with the view that herohood is predestined, rather than simply achieved, and opens the problem of the relationship of biography to character (294.3)

    Here's the problem of shining steel rails, aka, "destiny calls the shots no matter what." It denies the human experience, where we grow and learn and gradually become wiser. Without that process, which includes us making choices and living with the consequences, we could lose the purpose of being human.

  • Mortality

    Sigmund Freud stresses in his writings the passages and difficulties of the first half of the human cycle of life—those of our infancy and adolescence, when our sun is mounting toward its zenith. C. G. Jung, on the other hand, has emphasized the crises of the second portion —when, in order to advance, the shining sphere must submit to descend and disappear, at last, into the night-womb of the grave. The normal symbols of our desires and fears become converted, in this afternoon of the biography, into their opposites; for it is then no longer life but death that is the challenge. (10.2)

    Again, look at the way Campbell phrases it here. Death is a "challenge," and part of this larger cycle. You have to accept and embrace it for the cycle to continue revolving the way it's supposed to.

    Only birth can conquer death—the birth, not of the old thing again, but of something new. (15.2)

    The cycle; it all comes back to the cycle. We do not stay static and unchanging, for that really is death. We need to change, just as the universe changes, and that usually means surrendering the old – in other words dying – in order to bring forth something new.

    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 conciliating the power of the threshold, is swallowed into the unknown, and would appear to have died. (83.1)

    Rebirth and immortality can't happen until you die. In this case, Campbell is talking about surrendering your fears and embracing the scary stuff in front of you. You may die but then discover whatever it is you're looking for and be reborn.

    The ordeal is a deepening of the problem of the first threshold and the question is still in balance: Can the ego put itself to death? (100.1)

    Whoa… so you're saying we have to die? Well yes – it's inevitable – but it also means surrendering your identity and sense of self. The ego is a block to the things the hero needs to understand about the universe. Death of the ego, death of your own identity, is the only way to get there.

    It represents one of the basic ways of symbolizing the mystery of creation: the devolvement of eternity into time, the breaking of the one into the two and then the many, as well as the generation of new life through the reconjunction of the two. (141.1)

    Death is implied here as a breaking, the one into many. But the many eventually move back into the one, which means that death and loss are an important and necessary part of the universe's cycle.

    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. (149.1)

    There is no permanent death here…only destruction and rebirth, which is pretty much how the universe has decided to operate.

    The research for physical immortality proceeds from a misunderstanding of the traditional teaching. On the contrary, the basic problem is: to enlarge the pupil of the eye, so that the body with its attendant personality will no longer obstruct the view. (175.1)

    We think of immortality as never aging or dying, but by limiting it to the physical plane, we're missing out on the bigger picture.

    Numerous indeed are the heroes fabled to have taken up residence forever in the blessed isle of the unaging Goddess of Immortal Being. (179.2)

    There's an interesting wrinkle here. Campbell seems to be suggesting that in order to properly enjoy immortality, you need to stay away from the normal world, which just isn't set up to process mojo that huge.

    Wherever the poetry of myth is interpreted as biography, history, or science, it is killed. (230.1)

    Myth itself is subject to death? Oh yes. That's one of the reasons people don't like poking at cherished myths, like George Washington and the cherry tree. Knowing that it never really happened robs the myth of its power…and that power can be very important.

    The cosmogonic cycle is normally represented as repeating itself, world without end. (242.3)

    The great comfort of mortality is knowing that the cycle it's a part of will keep going on… and that since we're a part of that cycle simply by existing, we're going to go on too.

  • Spirituality

    The unconscious sends all sorts of vapors, odd beings, terrors, and deluding images up into the mind—whether in dream, broad daylight, or insanity; for the human kingdom, beneath the floor of the comparatively neat little dwelling that we call our consciousness, goes down into unsuspected Aladdin caves. There not only jewels but also dangerous jinn abide: the inconvenient or resisted psychological powers that we have not thought or dared to integrate into our lives. (7.4)

    There are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in our philosophy, and we're not normally aware of them in our day-to-day lives. But the subconscious is, and through our dreams—and from the stories that come from dreams—we can start to understand the universe beyond our perceptions.

    Modern literature is devoted, in great measure, to a courageous, open-eyed observation of the sickeningly broken figurations that abound before us, around us, and within. (25.3)

    Campbell takes a big dig at the modern world here, in part because it cuts us off from real spirituality: a communing with the universe that needs to take place if we're going to truly understand what it is to be alive.

    With that reliance for support, one endures the crisis—only to find, in the end, that the father and mother reflect each other, and are in essence the same. (120.1)

    Spirituality in The Hero with a Thousand Faces is all about unity: realizing that we're not so different and that the "other" we keep demonizing and fighting is really just another part of ourselves. That goes for mom and dad too… even when mom and dad seem to be fighting.

    The good news, which the World Redeemer brings and which so many have been glad to hear, zealous to preach, but reluctant, apparently, to demonstrate, is that God is love, that He can be, and is to be, loved, and that all without exception are his children. (146.1)

    This is the central message, with a few modifications, of most religions in the world. It's a very simple equation, and yet so hard to achieve, in part because we're so obsessed with our differences and the surface details that drive us apart.

    We and that protecting father are one. This is the redeeming insight. That protecting father is every man we meet. And so it must be known that, though this ignorant, limited, self-defending, suffering body may regard itself as threatened by some other—the enemy—that one too is the God. (148.2)

    Campbell's not saying, "do what your dad says" here. But he comes from a Freudian school of thought and Freud was big on confronting the authoritarian figures that hold you down: symbolic fathers if not literal ones.

    If the God is a tribal, racial, national, or sectarian archetype, we are the warriors of his cause; but if he is a lord of the universe itself, we then go forth as knowers to whom all men are brothers. And in either case, the childhood parent images and ideas of "good" and "evil' have been surpassed. (149.1)

    Notice how Campbell eliminates the notion of conflict when it comes to spirituality. We can't fight those who are different; we have to understand them. (Of course, that means different people have to play by the same rules, but nobody said this process was painless.)

    It is obvious that the infantile fantasies which we all cherish still in the unconscious play continually into myth, fairy tale, and the teachings of the church, as symbols of indestructible being. This is helpful, for the mind feels at home with the images, and seems to be remembering something already known. But the circumstance is obstructive too, for the feelings come to rest in the symbols and resist passionately every effort to go beyond. (164.1)

    The Hero's Journey is spiritual in nature, but it can also block us. That's because it symbolizes this greater understanding, these truths about the universe, and while those symbols can help us on our way, we can't be deluded into thinking they're ends in and of themselves.

    Humor is the touchstone of the truly mythological as distinct from the more literal-minded and sentimental theological mood. The gods as icons are not ends in themselves. (167.1)

    Humor as a path of spirituality…what a great concept. Part of it comes from the understanding that we all want to be happy and that the universe has the means to make us happy…if only we let it. Remembering to laugh and take joy in life is a good way to do that.

    Symbolic expression is given to the unconscious desires, fears, and tensions that underlie the conscious patterns of human behavior. (237.2)

    It's all about symbols with Campbell, and spirituality depends both on identifying what the symbols are trying to tell us and understanding how that fits into our own lives. That's why we're the heroes of our own story.

    And so, to grasp the full value of the mythological figures that have come down to us, we must understand that they are not only symptoms of the unconscious (as indeed are all human thoughts and acts) but also controlled and intended statements of certain spiritual principles, which have remained as constant throughout the course of human history as the form and nervous structure of the human physique itself. (239.1)

    Our dreams, and the creativity that comes from our unconscious minds, are the way we have of interfacing with the fundamentals of the universe. Our bodies, the way our brains are physically put together, are the prefect way of collecting the signals from the great beyond and opening us up to what the world may hold for us.

  • Tradition and Custom

    When we turn now, with this image in mind, to consider the numerous strange rituals that have been reported from the primitive tribes and great civilizations of the past, it becomes apparent that the purpose and actual effect of these was to conduct people across those difficult thresholds of transformation that demand a change in the patterns not only of conscious but also of unconscious life. (8.3)

    This is the big enchilada, as far as Campbell is concerned. He claims that ancient customs were designed to do the same thing that modern customs do: connect us to something larger and maybe help expand our minds beyond our immediate surroundings in the process.

    Most amazing is the fact that a great number of the ritual trials and images correspond to those that appear automatically in dream the moment the psychoanalyzed patient begins to abandon his infantile fixations and to progress into the future. (10.1)

    Things are the same in some ways no matter what era we live in. The minute we tap into our subconscious – and whatever lies beyond that – the trappings of our 21st century life dissolve and we're on the same level as tribesmen in caves 3,000 years ago.

    It has always been the prime function of mythology and rite to supply the symbols that carry the human spirit forward, in counteraction to those constant human fantasies that tend to tie it back. (9.2)

    It's kind of ironic: we go backwards into earlier traditions in order to attain the wisdom and insight to move forward as a people… yet the more we move forward, the more distance we put between us and those traditions that helped us get here.

    There can be no question: the psychological dangers through which earlier generations were guided by the symbols and spiritual exercises of their mythological and religious inheritance, we today (in so far as we are unbelievers, or, if believers, in so far as our inherited beliefs fail to represent the real problems of contemporary life) must face alone, or, at best, with only tentative, impromptu, and not often very effective guidance. This is our problem as modern, "enlightened" individuals, for whom all gods and devils have been rationalized out of existence. (76.4)

    The rational is the enemy of the spiritual, and while rationality has help us out (polio vaccine, super nice), we can't let it cut us off from the bigger things that life is supposed to be about.

    Totem, tribal, racial, and aggressively missionizing cults represent only partial solutions of the psychological problem of subduing hate by love; they only partially initiate. Ego is not annihilated in them; rather, it is enlarged; instead of thinking only of himself, the individual becomes dedicated to the whole of his society. (144.1)

    This is the importance of traditions, not to make us conform to something we're not, but to expand our way of thinking to help out other people… and to feel the ways that we're connected to them.

    The outlines of myths and tales are subject to damage and obscuration. Archaic traits are generally eliminated or subdued. Imported materials are revised to fit local landscape, custom, or belief, and always suffer in the process. (228.2)

    This is one of the reasons why, say, the story of Perseus and the Medusa may not hold an excessive amount of interest for us, but OMG did you see how awesome that last Captain America movie was?

    By applying older concepts to our modern life, we see the relevance of those concepts, not as something from thousands of years ago, but as something that's with us here and now, every day.

    In the later stages of many mythologies, the key images hide like needles in great haystacks of secondary anecdote and rationalization; for when a civilization has passed from a mythological to a secular point of view, the older images are no longer felt or quite approved. (230.1)

    Again, the more we think about practical matters, the less connected we are to the big mysteries we should be contemplating. Those old traditions feel fussy and outdated. We need new ones… but they need to serve the same purpose as the older ones.

    The simplicity of the origin stories of the undeveloped folk mythologies stands in contrast to the profoundly suggestive myths of the cosmogonic cycle. (268.2)

    Everything in Campbell is a balance between opposites, and both sides need attention to maintain the balance. Here, he's talking about how simple older myths were—the straightforward "once upon a time" stories can usually be summed up in a few short minutes.

    The heroes become less and less fabulous, until at last, in the final stages of the various local traditions, legend opens into the common daylight of recorded time. (291.1)

    Heroes need to be larger than life in some ways. They have to be godlike and engage in wild adventures that we can never expect in our normal lives. That's a sliding scale – Jason Bourne is as much a Campbellian hero as Mr. Spock – but the addition of the fantastic is also a way of connecting us to realms of thought beyond our mundane world.

    There is no final system for the interpretation of myths, and there will never be any such thing. (353.1)

    Everything is a cycle, and when the cycle renews, it's never quite the same as it was before. Traditions change to meet new needs, and each generation figures out its own way of expressing itself. That's why there won't be any final word, and why the thread of traditions and customs links us to the past but doesn't bind us to it. It's how we move forward without forgetting what's behind. Pretty nifty trick, Joe.

  • Transformation

    The so-called rites of passage, which occupy such a prominent place in the life of a primitive society (ceremonials of birth, naming, puberty, marriage, burial, etc.), are distinguished by formal, and usually very severe, exercises of severance, whereby the mind is radically cut away from the attitudes, attachments, and life patterns of the stage being left behind. Then follows an interval of more or less extended retirement, during which are enacted rituals designed to introduce the life adventurer to the forms and proper feelings of his new estate, so that when, at last, the time has ripened for the return to the normal world, the initiate will be as good as reborn. (8.3)

    A coming of age story involves the same kind of death-and-rebirth cycle that you see in the entire universe in Campbell. It's just one part of the larger process…kind of a practice transformation to prepare for the bigger ones that will eventually come our way.

    It is the business of mythology proper, and of the fairy tale, to reveal the specific dangers and techniques of the dark interior way from tragedy to comedy. (27.3)

    Fairy tales are associated with children and we're eventually supposed to leave them behind. But they're very powerful, and that power can stay with us when we grow up. There are plenty of old fogeys who still love Superman and Wonder Woman.

    As we soon shall see, whether presented in the vast, almost oceanic images of the Orient, in the vigorous narratives of the Greeks, or in the majestic legends of the Bible, the adventure of the hero normally follows the pattern of the nuclear unit above described: a separation from the world, a penetration to some source of power, and a life-enhancing return. (33.2)

    That cycle is what coming of age is supposed to prepare us for. Graduation, getting your first job, passing the driver's test… they're all designed to send us out into the world, to follow the Hero's Journey in our own way.

    The myths and folk tales of the whole world make clear that the refusal is essentially a refusal to give up what one takes to be one's own interest. The future is regarded not in terms of an unremitting series of deaths and births, but as though one's present system of ideals, virtues, goals, and advantages were to be fixed and made secure. (55.2)

    Refusing the call is kind of like deciding to live in your parents' basement for the rest of your life. Yeah, you can do it, but you're missing out on a lot of what life's supposed to be about—the risks you need to take if you want to be a hero.

    For those who have not refused the call, the first encounter of the hero-journey is with a protective figure (often a little old crone or old man) who provides the adventurer with amulets against the dragon forces he is about to pass. (63.3)

    Transformation doesn't take place all at once. You need to do it in stages, and the mentor is there to help you. We've all had that awesome teacher or relative (a cool aunt perhaps) who helps us gain confidence or teaches us cool things like understanding Hamlet or changing the oil. Those are the mentors in our lives, arriving at the start of our journey and showing us the way.

    This popular motif gives emphasis to the lesson that the passage of the threshold is a form of self-annihilation. Its resemblance to the adventure of the Symplegades is obvious. But here, instead of passing outward, beyond the confines of the visible world, the hero goes inward, to be born again. (84.3)

    Once we grow up, we're never going to be children again. There's a certain sadness to that—we don't know about you, but we'd give anything to spend the day building blanket forts and coloring—but to hold fast to childhood is to avoid living a full life.

    The problem of the hero going to meet the father is to open his soul beyond terror to such a degree that he will be ripe to understand how the sickening and insane tragedies of this vast and ruthless cosmos are completely validated in the majesty of Being. The hero transcends life with its peculiar blind spot and for a moment rises to a glimpse of the source. He beholds the face of the father, understands —and the two are atoned. (135.2)

    Freud was big into killing the father and taking his place, a big sign of transformation. Campbell thinks so too, but he doesn't think that killing him is the way to take his place. Instead, you need to recognize the parts of him that are in you and see that he is the same as you.

    This godlike being is a pattern of the divine state to which the human hero attains who has gone beyond the last terrors of ignorance. (138.1)

    Terrors are supposed to be childish feelings. And when we grow up, we're not supposed to be scared of monsters in the closet anymore. But those fears are still there. Transformation means not silencing those fears, but understanding that they're a part of the world.

    The hero-soul goes boldly in —and discovers the hags converted into goddesses and the dragons into the watchdogs of the gods. (201.2)

    Once the hero attains his or her goals, things don't seem quite so scary anymore, and s/he's able to face down those fears more confidently. Even more importantly, s/he starts to understand how those scary things work and see them as a lot more benevolent than they first appeared.

    The hero is the champion of things becoming, not of things become, because he is. (225.4)

    In some ways, transformation never ends. It's an ongoing process of developing and changing. You're not a grown-up just because you get a driver's license or graduate from high school or become old enough to vote. Each of those is a step that brings you further along the journey of life.

  • Coming of Age

    The standard path of the mythological adventure of the hero is a magnification of the formula represented in the rites of passage: separation—initiation—return: which might be named the nuclear unit of the monomyth. (28.2)

    Coming of age starts this process off, but it's also a complete encapsulation of the Hero's Journey in and of itself. You step outside your comfort zone, you take tests to ensure that you can do the things you need to do, and eventually you have what you need to handle whatever else life can throw at you.

    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. (46.3)

    We all start out like children. We don't know how to find reverse, we can't order a drink in a bar, and we likely haven't been anywhere outside our hometown except on vacation (in other words, in very carefully controlled environments). But then something happens and we get a glimpse of the real world beyond it all. It's scary, but also exciting…and that's coming-of-age.

    That is why the approaches and entrances to temples are flanked and defended by colossal gargoyles: dragons, lions, devil-slayers with drawn swords, resentful dwarfs, winged bulls. These are the threshold guardians to ward away all incapable of encountering the higher silences within. They are preliminary embodiments of the dangerous aspect of the presence, corresponding to the mythological ogres that bound the conventional world, or to the two rows of teeth of the whale. They illustrate the fact that the devotee at the moment of entry into a temple undergoes a metamorphosis. His secular character remains without; he sheds it, as a snake its slough. (84.3)

    Coming of age is closely connected to transforming…and we're not just talking about puberty. As you grow up, the scary things you need to face – finding a job for example – lead to a change in who you are and the confidence with which you confront other grown-up problems,

    The ultimate adventure, when all the barriers and ogres 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. (100.2)

    There's a fair amount of sexual innuendo here, where "ultimate reward" translates to "epic nookie." But since it's such a fundamental part of human life and because sexual experience is a pretty good marker of coming-of-age, Campbell isn't out of line to suggest it.

    Thus she unites the "good" and the "bad," exhibiting the two modes of the remembered mother, not as personal only, but as universal. The devotee is expected to contemplate the two with equal equanimity. Through this exercise his spirit is purged of its infantile, inappropriate sentimentalities and resentments, and his mind opened to the inscrutable presence which exists, not primarily as "good" and "bad" with respect to his childlike human convenience, his weal and woe, but as the law and image of the nature of being. (105.1)

    Campbell always maintains that good and evil are false constructs, which we need to do away with in order to achieve enlightenment. Part of the whole "my enemy is myself" notion, which he likes as well.

    Woman, in the picture language of mythology, represents the totality of what can be known. The hero is the one who comes to know. (106.3)

    There's no mistaking the coming-of-age theme here and the way it uses sexuality—especially the experienced woman and the young man in need of initiation—to make its point. Get a room, you crazy kids!

    The traditional idea of initiation combines an introduction of the candidate into the techniques, duties, and prerogatives of his vocation with a radical readjustment of his emotional relationship to the parental images. (125.5)

    And…we're back to Freud. In this case, though, it involves a shifting of focus as well as dealing with the whole "kill your dad and marry your mom" thing. Coming of age in Campbell often means shifting the way you look at the world.

    The gods and goddesses then are to be understood as embodiments and custodians of the elixir of Imperishable Being but not themselves the Ultimate in its primary state. What the hero seeks through his intercourse with them is therefore not finally themselves, but their grace, i.e., the power of their sustaining substance. (168.1)

    Again, symbols don't hold any meaning in and of themselves, but just represent the true things the hero is looking for. Coming of age, at the end of the day, comes about when the hero understands that.

    If the hero in his triumph wins the blessing of the goddess or the 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. (182.2)

    Interesting that, even though the hero has come of age, he still needs the support of his "patron" (i.e., Mom and Dad) to close the deal.

    For the mythological hero is the champion not of things become but of things becoming; the dragon to be slain by him is precisely the monster of the status quo… (311.3)

    In terms of coming of age, this is a handy explanation as to why the hero needs to be young: he or she needs to shake things up and get the world out of its complacency. Those crazy kids are usually pretty good at that.

  • Wisdom and Knowledge

    The figure of the tyrant-monster is known to the mythologies, folk traditions, legends, and even nightmares, of the world; and his characteristics are everywhere essentially the same. He is the hoarder of the general benefit. He is the monster avid for the greedy rights of "my and mine." The havoc wrought by him is described in mythology and fairy tale as being universal throughout his domain. (14.2)

    Most schools of thought believe that the whole "Give me that; it's mine" thing doesn't lead to anything good. Campbell acknowledges this pretty early on.

    The archetypes to be discovered and assimilated are precisely those that have inspired, throughout the annals of human culture, the basic images of ritual, mythology, and vision. (17.1)

    Interesting that the "discovery" part of this involves things that people have known for thousands of years. Knowledge and wisdom usually require somebody to pass it on…even if that somebody has been dead for a long time.

    The hero has died as a modern man; but as eternal man—perfected unspecific, universal man—he has been reborn. His second solemn task and deed therefore (as Toynbee declares and as all the mythologies of mankind indicate) is to return then to us, transfigured, and teach the lesson he has learned of life renewed. (18.2)

    Wisdom and knowledge don't mean much unless you can pass them on… and maybe hope that some other hero will learn from what they know.

    It is remarkable that in this dream the basic outline of the universal mythological formula of the adventure of the hero is reproduced, to the detail. These deeply significant motifs of the perils, obstacles, and good fortunes of the way, we shall find inflected through the following pages in a hundred forms. (20.2)

    This is a subtle way of equating knowledge with universal appearance. In other words, if these symbols and ideas show up over and over again in many different forms, they must how some significance worth paying attention to.

    Like happy families, the myths and the worlds redeemed are all alike. (28.1)

    That's it in a nutshell: all the wisdom of the universe contained in one sentence.

    We shall have only to follow, therefore, a multitude of heroic figures through the classic stages of the universal adventure in order to see again what has always been revealed. This will help us to understand not only the meaning of those images for contemporary life, but also the singleness of the human spirit in its aspirations, powers, vicissitudes, and wisdom.

    Campbell is back to the notion of what symbols represent. They're not ends unto themselves, but instead they show us what really matters.

    The paradox of creation, the coming of the forms of time out of eternity, is the germinal secret of the father. It can never be quite explained. (135.1)

    A big part of wisdom involves humility…or, to put it another way, knowing what you don't know.

    The agony of breaking through personal limitations is the agony of spiritual growth. Art, literature, myth and cult, philosophy, and ascetic disciplines are instruments to help the individual past his limiting horizons into spheres of ever-expanding realization. (176.1)

    Knowledge means growth and growth can hurt sometimes. That's really the point of all those tests and challenges on the Hero's Journey: providing growth that leads to knowledge.

    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 soul-satisfying vision of fulfillment, the passing joys and sorrows, banalities and noisy obscenities of life. (202.2)

    Hey, no one said that wisdom would be easy to find. Otherwise, we'd all be wise and those mistakes that keep dogging human life wouldn't be a problem anymore.

    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 of 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. (212.3)

    Notice how easy the passage back and forth is, and how peaceful or content it can seem. Knowledge might not be much by itself, but the bliss and serenity it brings? You can't put a price on that.

  • Exploration

    These are dangerous because they threaten the fabric of the security into which we have built ourselves and our family. But they are fiendishly fascinating too, for they carry keys that open the whole realm of the desired and feared adventure of the discovery of the self. Destruction of the world that we have built and in which we live, and of ourselves within it; but then a wonderful reconstruction, of the bolder, cleaner, more spacious, and fully human life—that is the lure, the promise and terror, of these disturbing night visitants from the mythological realm that we carry within. (7.4)

    As with everything in this book, it's what inside that counts. And the hero's external exploration is matched by a lot of looking inside to see who he or she is.

    The two—the hero and his ultimate god, the seeker and the found—are thus understood as the outside and inside of a single, self-mirrored mystery, which is identical with the mystery of the manifest world. The great deed of the supreme hero is to come to the knowledge of this unity in multiplicity and then to make it known. (37.2)

    This what lies at the end of exploration…but is also part of the exploration. In other words, if the hero were simply teleported to the end of the journey, her or she wouldn't gain anything. The exploration brings the rewards.

    The effect of the successful adventure of the hero is the unlocking and release again of the flow of life into the body of the world… The torrent pours from an invisible source, the point of entry being the center of the symbolic circle of the universe, the Immovable Spot to the Buddha legend, around which the world may be said to revolve. (37.3)

    Exploration here leads to movement, flowing, and a torrent of cool mojo. Notice how Campbell talks about the reward in the sense of moving…the same way an explorer might move through a landscape.

    With the personifications 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 c the hero's present sphere, or life horizon. Beyond them is dark less, the unknown, and danger; just as beyond the parental watch is danger to the infant and beyond the protection of his society danger to the member of the tribe. (71.2)

    Exploration only counts if it involves things you haven't seen before…and the terrors and dangers they might hold.

    Once having traversed the threshold, the hero moves in a dream landscape of curiously fluid, ambiguous forms, where he must survive a succession of trials. This is a favorite phase of the myth-adventure. (89.1)

    Every type of exploration involves tests and trials, which is why it's so dangerous. If the goal of exploration is to learn, then it needs to be a test like this.

    In a vocabulary of more modern turn; this is the process of dissolving, transcending, or transmuting the infantile images of our personal past. (92.2)

    And again, exploration in this book doesn't just mean a physical journey, but a spiritual one as well. By exploring the spiritual side of yourself, you invariably change into someone new.

    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 his life-transmuting trophy. (179.1)

    The exploring may be down at the end of the journey, but the travelling isn't. This is actually an important step, since the hero needs to convey the details of the exploration to others. Nobody knows what the explorer found if he gets eaten by a bear, after all…

    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.

    You can see this in action in a couple modern versions of the Hero's Journey: Raiders of the Lost Ark and Pirates of the Caribbean. Note also that both Indiana Jones and Jack Sparrow are explorers.

    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 dimension of the world we know. And the exploration of that dimension, either willingly or unwillingly, is the whole sense of the deed of the hero. (201.1)

    Exploration isn't technically meaningless here, even if everywhere is the same place. It's by exploring that we come to understand how universal everything is.

    The returning hero, to complete his adventure, must survive the impact of the world. (209.3)

    There's one last, tough step to exploration: coming back to the normal world and knowing that you're not the same person you used to be.