Study Guide

The Hero with a Thousand Faces Part I, Chapter 2

By Joseph Campbell

Part I, Chapter 2


The Road of Trials

  • Once the first threshold is passed, the hero faces a series of challenges that he or she must overcome.
  • Campbell tells the story of Cupid and Psyche as an example of the challenges faced on the road of trials: surviving the wrath of Venus with help from an army of ants.
  • He follows with a report from the ancient Lapps about a shaman who needs to handle a number of different obstacles during a supposed visit from the land of the dead.
  • Any figure who undertakes the Hero's Journey comes across a "spiritual labyrinth," populated by "symbolic figures" that test him or her.
  • This is a part of a ritualistic cleansing, focusing the hero on spiritual rather than worldly matters.
  • In dreams, we still face these obstacles, often with no idea how to vanquish them.
  • The hero's obstacles are symbolic of those fears and anxieties in our dreams.
  • Example time: the goddess Inanna's descent into the underworld from ancient Sumerian mythology.

The Meeting with the Goddess

  • Once the obstacles are overcome, the hero joins with "the Queen Goddess of the World," which is not, in fact, Oprah Winfrey's new title but rather the representation of the whole universe.
  • The encounter with her usually takes place at the edge of the world, or the bottom, or somewhere else where you literally can't go any further.
  • Example du jour: The Prince of the Lonesome Isle, from Ireland, who meets with the Queen of Tubber Tintye.
  • The Queen represents the feminine in all its forms: mother, lover, sister, friend.
  • She is all the gifts and the bounties of the earthly world: the promise of perfection.
  • She can also be a bad mother or lover: selfish, forbidding or in some cases absent entirely.
  • The example for this second part of the goddess is Diana, who turned the hunter Actaeon into a stag when he spotted her bathing in the nude.
  • The first part of the Queen Goddess, on the other hand, is the all-nurturing mother, with accompanying examples from the Tantric books from India (cue the slinky music).
  • But she's also the embodiment of death and the end of the world: womb and tomb in one.
  • His example concerns the 19th century Hindu mystic Ramakrishna, who oversaw a temple dedicated to both sides of the Goddess.
  • She's the embodiment of the whole world: everything within it, good and bad alike.
  • She guides the hero into a new state: one freed of limitations where everything is possible.
  • We are then treated to the story of the five sons of the Irish king Eochaid.
  • The hero wins over the goddess not with cleverness or strength, but with a "gentle heart."
  • If it's a heroine instead of a hero, she proves herself fit to be the consort or companion of a god.
  • If she's searched for him, she joins him; if she doesn't want him, she sees that her own power doesn't require him.

Woman as the Temptress

  • Hang on tight, because we're getting a little Freudian, since the hero, having taken the mother-goddess as his own, formally assumes his father's place.
  • Because of this, and because our understanding of the bliss of the world is incomplete, we sometimes respond with revulsion when the mother-goddess takes us.
  • In other words, as the hero transcends the earthly boundaries, the mother-goddess – as a symbol of the world he's leaving behind – becomes disgusting. (We know, we know: sexist much?)
  • In this formula, the mother-goddess becomes death: a siren luring the hero to a grisly demise.
  • Example: St. Peter and his daughter Petronilla, followed by the writings of the Puritan thinker Cotton Mather.

Atonement with the Father

  • We continue with Puritan examples: Jonathan Edwards' sermon about the wrath of God.
  • The father figure punishes the hero for presuming to take his place.
  • The hero is often protected by the mother-goddess in this ordeal, who gives him another center to focus on now that his connection to the father is severed.
  • The Navajo story of the Twin Warriors serves as an example for this point, followed by the Greek story of Phaethon.
  • The point of it all is that the father serves as the person who initiates the hero into the world, and if the initiation is imperfect, trouble ensues.
  • The father has two aspects too, just like the mother, but with a third side added: the father is now a rival.
  • The father passes on the power of the world… but only if the son (or daughter) is worthy.
  • And then we go really Freudian: another dream example, followed by a description of the rites the father figure puts the hero through.
  • The phallus replaces the breast as the end-all be-all and the rites serve to release the hero's penis (power) from the confines of the father.
  • Examples form Aboriginal coming-of-age myths follow, then one about Zeus (the ultimate punishing father figure) and a number of additional myths.
  • The father figure represents the paradox of creation: he holds all the power yet denies it.
  • In order to claim it, the hero has to pierce himself through the core of his being – annihilating himself.
  • Why? He has to acknowledge that all the horrible things in the universe are part of the universe too… and need to be accepted instead of rejected.
  • Example? The story of Job, punished by God.
  • The punishment serves to further test the hero, who emerges with the acceptance of the father figure and is shown the bliss of the world.


  • Once the human hero gets past his fears and connections to the world, he is released, and the world becomes enlightenment, held in the hero's hands.
  • The figure of enlightenment is both male and female, as a representation of everything in the universe.
  • The best aspects of both mother and father are kept, while the bad aspects are removed and cast aside.
  • More examples follow, pulled from Australian myths and biblical imagery.
  • Enlightenment means we break free of all our earthly prejudices and become one with God, and by extension, the universe.
  • Bet you'll never guess what Campbell follows this with: examples. (This time, it's the Bodhisattva myth from Asia.)
  • Bodhisattva links the myths with their psychological origins and the ways this enlightenment can be reflected in our own minds.
  • Psychoanalysis serves a similar purpose to the myth, resolving conflicts in the patients' own mind to bring them peace and enlightenment.
  • The secret is that we don't just find enlightenment. We are enlightenment!
  • Numerous examples from Eastern culture follow.

The Ultimate Boon

  • We return to the Prince of the Lonesome Island, and how easily he achieves his goal.
  • This signifies the delivery of the Ultimate Boon: the reward for the hero's transcendence and wisdom.
  • The hero is destroyed and reborn as an indestructible being, possessing all the power in the universe.
  • The Ultimate Boon involves infinite abilities, infinite bliss and a party that just never ends.
  • Examples (we know, we know) include Olympus and the Christian notions of Heaven.
  • It's a fairly immature fantasy, but Campbell also reminds us that those kinds of fantasy are very primal too: tied into our earliest emotions and no less powerful for their immaturity.
  • He cites the Hindu story of gods and titans battling for immortality.
  • Humor plays a role in transcending these fantasies: without humor, they become focused on baser issues like acquiring power and controlling people by promising them similar amounts of power.
  • By interacting with the gods and goddesses that grant him such power, the hero isn't looking to steal their power from them, but rather to take on their grace.
  • The gods don't always understand that, which means the hero must sometimes trick them into surrendering that grace.
  • The example du jour is the story of Maui in Polynesian culture, tricking the Guardian of Fire to surrender his power.
  • It's followed by the story of Gilgamesh, who sought a source of immortality.
  • Immortality, Campbell stresses, is spiritual, not physical. (Aspiring vampires take note.)
  • Attempting to gain physical immortality or boons of a physical nature is bound to disappoint.
  • An example: King Midas, who wants everything he touches to turn to gold and ends up starving to death because he can't eat.
  • Dante makes a similar realization at the end of The Divine Comedy as he gazes upon God, and Buddha's victory beneath the Bo Tree.