The Hero's Journey is basically a quest for identity: finding out who you are and what you're capable of. The irony, Campbell observes in The Hero with a Thousand Faces (like the philosophical little leprechaun that he is), is that identity keeps changing and growing and evolving.
The heroes go out trying to figure out who they are and end up realizing that we're all connected, and identity is just another mask we wear when it suits us. The heroes succeed not because of who they are, but because they see the truth that everyone and everything is part of the same great big cosmic system.
Whoa, man; that's deep.
The hero's identity drives him forward, even though it's always changing.
The hero's identity is largely determined by the stages he is at on his journey, not from anything internal.
Like a lot of things in The Hero with a Thousand Faces, Good and Evil usually aren't quite what they seem. On the surface, the hero is the good guy and he (or she) sets out on a journey to stop something evil from happening.
But as the hero continues, he's shown that evil is just as much a part of the universe as good is, and in trying to banish it, you only make it stronger. You gotta show some love for the dark side of yourself every now and then…or else it just gets bigger and bigger.
Evil and good move in cycles, just like the life and death of the universe.
Good and evil can be physical places in the Hero's Journey as much as characters.
Destiny plays a pretty big hand in the The Hero with a Thousand Faces, tapping the hero or heroine on the shoulder and showing him or her the path. But it's not all set down on shining steel rails.
The hero has to make choices, which determine his or her fate. And sometimes he or she makes the wrong one. Destiny won't be denied, but she can take a wrong turn here and there. Only by choosing wisely can the hero align his or her energies with fate and the universe.
The hero must submit to fate in order to thrive.
Fate teaches the hero about his or her own potential, and in order to practice that potential, the hero needs to exercise free will.
Hey, anytime there's a dangerous quest, there's going to be a little death involved. We tend to think of death as evil, since we don't want to die and don't like it when people close to us do.
But death is really just another illusion, and immortality is one of the boons the hero might find on his or her journey. And it's not really immortality of the body, but immortality of the soul… leaving all those earthly fears behind and accepting the unending joy of the eternal cosmos.
Don't fear the reaper, Campbell says in The Hero with a Thousand Faces—we're all part of the same team.
Death is a true death in Campbell…a loss of self and the ability to affect the universe around us.
Death is just a transition to another state of being, and actually reveals our true immortal selves.
When it comes down to it, The Hero with a Thousand Faces is about spirituality…but it's not about any one specific religion.
Campbell believes that the stories we tell are ways of symbolizing and connecting our souls to the cosmic oneness of the universe. Whether you call that God or Krishna or the Cosmic Hum, it's pretty much the whole enchilada…but because we're flawed individual beings with an inflated sense of self importance, we really get in our own way a lot as far as spirituality goes.
The Hero's Journey is kind of an entry point to more serious spiritual considerations, a way of easing us into the serious Very Deep Thoughts that are involved.
Spirituality is a means the hero uses to attain enlightenment.
Spirituality is the goal of the hero's quest, not just a means to an end.
The Avengers, Harry Potter, Katniss Everdeen and the Star Wars crew are all new creations, but they're actually part of a way, way older tradition. The customs we engage in are the same way: weddings, graduations, funerals, all follow an established pattern that matches the same patterns people followed hundreds and thousands of years ago.
By understanding why ancient cultures told stories like ours, and why the traditions and customs they practice still endure, we can start to answer some of the big questions about life. It starts by studying the customs and the purpose they serve (boring), then connecting it to the way we practice them in our own lives (less boring) and looking for the common threads.
And that's pretty much what The Hero with a Thousand Faces is all about.
Tradition and customs are symbols that help us the same way the symbols in the Hero's Journey do.
The Hero's Journey constitutes a tradition in and of itself, linking us spiritually to older cultures like the Greeks and Egyptians.
Traditions and customs help keep things the same…or at least in the same spirit as the past. But life means growth and change, and that means transformation. We're never quite the same as we were a year ago, or five years ago, or ten years ago.
The heroes in The Hero with a Thousand Faces are the same way. Their adventures mean growing and changing—becoming stronger, wiser, and more skilled…and occasionally making mistakes and slipping backwards the way we all do. That's what connects them to us, with one of the fundamental truths of life.
Transformations are going on every day; life is all about transformation. And that's actually a pretty great thing, since it helps us connect to all those bigger issues.
Transformation is a means to an end, helping the hero (and us) achieve our true selves.
Transformation is an end unto itself, helping the world cycle and recycle constantly.
Above all else, The Hero with a Thousand Faces shows us how a young person becomes a grown-up: taking on adult responsibilities, gaining the skills we need to pay the bills, and otherwise accepting that s/he can't be six years old forever.
The Hero's Journey almost always involves a coming-of-age, which is why it often involves teenagers like Harry Potter and Katniss Everdeen. That's the age when you start picking up all of these skills…and the age when the training wheels come off and you get to start solving big problems all by yourself.
Coming of age is essentially the purpose of the Hero's Journey, a microcosm of the whole thing.
Coming of age is just one step on the Journey: a dry run to prepare you for other challenges.
The tag says "Wisdom and Knowledge," but those aren't necessarily the same things in The Hero with a Thousand Faces.
Wisdom is understanding the greater mysteries, and having the humility to see how little our individual selves matter in the face of that all-encompassing connection. Knowledge is understanding things about the world that can help us in practical matters—and, while knowledge may lead us to wisdom, it isn't wisdom in and of itself.
In any case, both are what the hero seeks in the midst of his or her adventures…initially as rewards, but ultimately as a means of finding that cosmic bliss promised at the end of the journey
Wisdom and knowledge are just stepping stones on the path to enlightenment.
Wisdom and knowledge point the way to enlightenment, but they are also rewards unto themselves.
At the end of the day, The Hero with a Thousand Faces is all about exploration: going somewhere you've never been before and seeing what it has to offer. Again, the mileage may vary depending on the story, but it always involves venturing into new territory and learning from whatever is found there.
Most of the time, that entails some kind of physical exploration, since the hero needs to go to a new place to find the knowledge or other cosmic goodies required by the quest. But it also involves internal exploration: finding the parts of the self that the hero may not be aware of and expanding that knowledge in order to understand just who he or she is.
Physical exploration invariably leads to spiritual exploration. The two are intertwined.
Physical and spiritual exploration are separate paths, and the hero must attend to each in order to thrive.