“A complete instruction manual in the art of being human.”
Christopher Vogler, author of The Writer’s Journey
Drawing on the depth psychology of Carl Jung, The Hero’s Journey was devised by mythologist Joseph Campbell, as outlined in his seminal book The Hero with a Thousand Faces, published in 1949.
Travelling around the globe exploring the world’s myths, legends and fairy tales, Campbell discovered one archetypal story pattern at the heart of all great myths and stories which he called the ‘monomyth’. Mapping the stages of what he then developed as ‘The Hero’s Journey’, Campbell provided a powerful template for storytelling which has been applied to countless films, from Star Wars (the first to use it consciously), Alice in Wonderland, The Matrix, Wild, Dances with Wolves, Avatar, Lord of the Rings and the Harry Potter books and films. While preceding Campbell’s template, The Wizard of Oz (screened in 1939) is a classic example of a film which seamlessly corresponds to the Hero’s Journey structure.
The story typically starts with the protagonist having their world shaken up. They go on a journey and face tests, challenges and their greatest fears, and return redeemed and transformed through their trials, and with an elixir to share for the welfare of their community back home.
The Hero’s Journey is also a map for our own lives and the challenges we face. The map is cyclical, and we can repeat the journey, going through several rounds of the stages in a lifetime, continually learning and refining the lessons.
Having powerfully experienced The Hero’s Journey in his own life, Will Gethin has been guiding others to apply this mythical story template as a map to guide, inspire and transform our lives. Hosting Hero’s Journey talks, workshops and woodland retreats, retreat co-facilitators have included ‘resilience in nature’ pioneer Alan Heeks and creative arts psychotherapist, Sam Bloomfield.
Campbell’s initial map for The Hero’s Journey included 16 stages. Hollywood script writer Christopher Vogler, author of The Writer’s Journey ,later condensed Campbell’s model into 12 stages for adaption to modern screen, as illustrated in this drawing below:
For our Follow Your Blissters podcast (exploring the hero’s journeys of thought leaders) and for our Hero’s Journey events, Conscious Frontiers works with a simplified version of the journey stripped back to the following five stages:
Call to Adventure
The Call to Adventure invites you to grow, face your fears and make changes in your life. Often precipitated by a crisis or a period of restlessness, the call invites you to re-evaluate your life and to “follow your bliss” as Campbell put it (before later updating his mantra to “follow your blisters”!).
Will Gethin shares his experience of the Call To Adventure stage
On the Road
Committing to the Journey, you set off on the road. It’s a time for forging new allies and connections, raising morale, building resilience and learning new skills, as well as facing fears and challenges and meeting adversaries.
The Dark Wood
In “The Dark Wood” in the ancient stories is where heroes fought dragons and monsters. In modern stories – as in our lives – heroes and heroines often face internal dragons, fears and rejected parts of themselves, and integrate them as they grow towards more wholeness, self-acceptance and inner peace. In this stage you have the opportunity to move through a major obstacle or fear that stands in the way of you fulfilling your intention for the journey; it’s about death and rebirth, meeting the shadow, going to the depths and harvesting in the dark.
Will Gethin explores how a crisis can become an opportunity at this stage
As Carl Jung once said, “The gold is in the dark”. And so it is that in meeting our greatest challenges and fears we have the chance to find our greatest gifts in them. The gift might be a new perception, understanding or clarity; an inner shift, or more love and acceptance for yourself. Part of you has died and something new has been born – part of the reward comes from facing that death.
You have the choice to stay stuck or make that change. In the stories, returning home, the hero or heroine must integrate any changes and redefine his or her place in the home tribe. This stage is also your opportunity to put to good use any discovered “unused potentials” which can contribute to the welfare and happiness of the wider community. It’s a time to crystallise your learnings from the journey, and to consider any adjustments needed to fulfil your intention on return to everyday life.
The following resources are a useful introduction to The Hero’s Journey and The Heroine’s Journey:
Film & TV
In the Press
The Guardian featured our first Hero’s Journey retreat in this article about the growing Men’s Movement.
Kindred Spirit magazine ran this article by Will Gethin exploring the use of The Hero’s Journey in the Movies.
Resurgence & Ecologist magazine ran this Hero’s Journey article by Will Gethin exploring Joseph Campbell’s mantra for living ‘Follow Your Bliss’.
- For more information about the Follow Your Blissters hero’s journey podcast, visit Podcast.