Explore the weird, winding, and wonderful ways in which we Pagan-types mark cyclic and special times, events, and celebrations in our everyday lives.
Encountering the Monomyth
Today, we begin a discussion of the hero’s journey.
The hero’s journey—also called the hero’s quest—is a profound metaphor infusing each magickal and mundane path we take throughout our lives. The writer and comparative mythologist Joseph Campbell is credited for his work in identifying the common threads winding throughout world mythology and tradition and linking these under a common idea, which he called the monomyth: the “one story.” Campbell developed this idea of the monomyth after discovering that all of the world’s great cultures tend to tell the same stories, albeit with regional variations. To folklorists and mythologists, a “myth” is a story that a culture tells about its most sacred nature and origins. Thus the monomyth captures the story of humanity, retold over and over in a number of guises.
Campbell used these ideas to define and explain the hero’s journey, a theme that appears repeatedly throughout ancient and modern literature, art, music, dance, drama, film, and storytelling. The hero’s journey model also permeates various magickal traditions, including the Tarot and all forms of magickal training, such as the well known “year and a day” and apprenticeship models common to structured forms of study. Even more important, the hero’s journey model touches us through its elements of “shared story.” We don’t have to think too hard about the steps in the journey: we instinctively know them already. They resonate within us, and the pattern seems so obvious that the first time details of the hero’s journey are pointed out, we’re startled by the truth of it.
Nonfiction writer Barry Lopez would explain this sudden awareness as a realization of “story.” He writes, “Story creates an atmosphere in which [truth] becomes discernible as a pattern” (11). Lopez suggests that when a writer relates natural details in an accurate way, along “traditional lines of meaning,” they “ring true,” leading to “a pervasive sense of congruence within [the reader] and also with the world” (8). We hear the story, we recognize its repeated rhythms, and it just makes sense.
Lopez explains in an eloquent passage:
"A story draws on relationships in the exterior landscape and projects them onto the [reader’s] interior landscape. The purpose of story telling is to achieve harmony between the two landscapes, to use all the elements of story—syntax, mood, figures of speech—in a harmonious way to reproduce the harmony of the land in the individual’s interior. Inherent in story is the power to reorder a state of psychological confusion of those relationships we call “the land" (9).
This is where we start today, with the idea of the hero’s journey as a traditional form that tells our internal stories and maps our external lives. We’ll explore the journey’s details one step at a time, considering how and why they’re relevant to our lives, mundane or spiritual. Each quest consists of a call to destiny, a road of trials, and a “return” to the known world. In the next blog entry we’ll consider what happens when destiny becomes known and the first step must be taken…. It is a leap of faith.
Opening image from Creative Commons, http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/1/1b/Heroesjourney.svg/500px-Heroesjourney.svg.png
Embedded image from Creative Commons, http://0.tqn.com/d/healing/1/0/O/c/1/flkr-leap-of-faith.jpg
Lopez, Barry. “Landscape and Narrative.” Harper’s. December, 1984. Rpt. in Vintage Lopez. Ed. Barry Holstun Lopez. New York: Vintage/Random, 2004. Print.
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