THE HERO’S AND HEROINE’S JOURNEYS HAVE NOTHING TO DO WITH GENDER. Female Heroes are possible (and common: eg Carol Danver aka Captain Marvel) and Male Heroines are possible (and common eg Steve Rogers aka Captain America).
This is a lightly revised model of Joseph Campbell’s gold standard original as laid out in his book The Hero With A Thousand Faces. In this new version for 2022, I have modernized the names of the steps, but they’re functionally identical to my previous model and to Campbell’s.
[unproduced video script follows]
After completing my Heroine’s Journey introduction and overview it occurred to me that I kept emphasizing that the Heroine’s Journey and the Hero’s Journey are binary Journeys. They are mirror images. They work together.
And I’ve developed a modified Hero’s Journey to fit that motif in which Normal Existence isn’t Returned to – the Balanced World takes its place – and I’ve moved Master of Worlds – the attainment of the Hero’s Highest Self – to the last step in the Journey.
So, I apologize that the numbering of the steps in my series is now all going to be off by one and that it may be slightly confusing. Don’t pay too much heed to the numbers anyway – the Journey rarely takes place in neat and tidy order.
Anyway, I think it’s time to draw attention to these changes that I’ve made and far past time that I produced an overview of the Hero’s Journey.
Hello, Spiritual Seekers, and welcome to another episode of Think Spiritual (now University for Wanderers) – the channel where I encourage you to think about your personal spirituality through modern mythology.
As always, I’m your host, Mark, and I’ll tell you right away that I didn’t expect to be producing another Hero’s Journey episode this soon. I completed the series in May and I figured I would talk about the pattern in movies and life, but another episode dedicated solely to the Journey would be a long time down the road.
Apparently I was wrong.
To get into the meat of this episode right away, let’s briefly talk about Joseph Campbell – the most well known Hero’s Journey professor whose work my series is mostly based upon.
Sidenote: Campbell is often erroneously credited with having invented the Hero’s Journey, but the pattern was first recognized three decades before he was born and discussed by various scholars during that time.
If we ask the question – What is the Hero’s Journey? – Campbell’s most basic definition was:
A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.
Does that help us much? I feel that we can take all the intellectual words and time we want to describe the Hero’s Journey and delve into all of its incarnations, but none of that will help us to feel the emotion and draw of it.
To read to completion Joseph Campbell’s book, The Hero with a Thousand Faces, is an intellectual marathon. It’s not fun.
By comparison, to hear Joseph Campbell speak even a few sentences about the Hero’s Journey – say, in The Power of Myth PBS series – that is passionate love-making.
When he talked – not wrote, talked – about the Hero’s Journey, Campbell made the subject matter approachable and that’s the work I hoped to emulate with my series – even though my work is written scripts…huh.
Anyway, the purpose of my series and this episode is to make the Hero’s Journey approachable and personal. The Hero’s Journey is something that can be lived – no, let me rephrase that properly:
The Hero’s Journey is alive within you. It’s active and always calling you to the greater Adventure.
The Hero’s Journey is an allegory of the life-long transformation of the human soul. It’s a symbolic representation of what’s going on inside of you. It’s a way for you to identify yourself in the heroes of fiction and mythology. — Mark Stratton
And, yes, I wrote that definition and I’m damn proud of it.
Looking at the Heroine’s Journey diagram I developed around the Yin and Yang symbol, we see that the Heroine’s Journey is about moving up from the depths of the Feminine and into the Masculine and then living in the Masculine world while working your way back down to the Feminine and aiming for Balance.
The mirror-image Hero’s Journey is moving down into the depths of the Feminine and Emotions and then rising back up to the world of the Masculine and aiming for balance.
Most simply put: the Hero’s Journey is about you reconnecting with your emotions and coming into oneness and wholeness with your Self and the world around you.
So, let’s now take an overview of this entire, modified Hero’s Journey and please remember these few very important things: your gender doesn’t matter whether you take the Hero’s or Heroine’s Journey and whenever I say the word Hero or Heroine, I mean you:
Step 1: The “Mundane” World aka Normal Existence
In my original series I referred to Normal Existence as the Zero-Step of the Hero’s Journey. I said that every journey has to begin from somewhere and has to end somewhere – every journey usually takes you back Home.
That information is correct and hasn’t changed, but I think it can be improved upon – especially when we take the Heroine’s Journey into consideration.
With this new model that I’ve developed, Normal Existence becomes a place of non-emotion fully locked in the Masculine or Ordinary World.
Everyone is born into The “Perfect” World of the Heroine. No one is born into Normal Existence – with the exception of those who are born with conditions that cause lack of emotional response perhaps.
So, Normal Existence, for most people, is arrived at in one of two ways:
The first possibility: The Heroine in The “Perfect” World experiences an extreme Death of Innocence – i.e. Trauma – and closes herself off from her emotions in order to not feel that trauma any longer. She knows her world is not perfect anymore, thus she climbs up into the Masculine to find the strength she needs to survive.
“She” essentially becomes “He” and survival becomes the all-encompassing goal of his Normal Existence.
The second way to arrive at Normal Existence is for the Heroine to become stuck on her Journey.
Our Heroine has determined what her purpose is and who she’s going to be during the Fair Maiden/Chosen One step of her Journey. She falsely believes that without such-and-such purpose and without such-and-such label that she has no identity.
She thinks she is what she does.
Once again, this is a very Masculine way of thinking:
[Batman Begins clip] “It’s not who I am underneath, but what I do that defines me.”
The truth of that statement could be improved by saying: It’s not only who I am underneath, but also what I do that defines me. That’s a much more open and far less definitive and crippling statement: hmmm, is that why Bruce Wayne was partially crippled in The Dark Knight Rises?
I promise I’m going to get to that trilogy of movies at some point in the future.
Anyway, with our lovely Heroine trapped in her identity crisis and believing she can’t move without losing all that she thinks she is, her Heroine’s Journey mirror-hops to the Hero’s Journey and her Fair Maiden/Chosen One step becomes her Normal Existence.
She becomes He and now must begin his Hero’s Journey to find his lost Feminine once again.
Step 2: The Call From the Sea aka The Call to Adventure
In order to begin the Hero’s Journey and recover the lost Feminine, our potential Hero must know that something isn’t right about their Normal Existence. It’s certainly possible that they may be perfectly content in that place, but most people aren’t satisfied with Routine and the Mundane.
The Call to Adventure is that still-small-voice within us. That little tap-on-the-shoulder that makes us look up and wonder what’s beyond the mountains in the distance.
What happened to our carefree childhood?
What happened to our dreams of becoming firefighters or astronauts or marine biologists or artists?
How did we get stuck in marketing and our once-passionate design skills are now used to sell hemorrhoid cream?
How did I, an actor of supreme talent, end up dancing in the desert in a fucking toothbrush costume?
How did I end up married to someone I hate?
How did I end up in a job I hate?
How come I can’t find a good man to take care of me?
Why does no one ever treat me with respect? Why do I never get what I deserve?
Why did my child die?
The Call to Adventure makes our Potential Hero ask himself these or other hard questions that are pertinent to his life. It makes him wonder if there are answers to those questions and what may be beyond those answers.
But finding answers requires taking the first steps of the Adventure, because only those who seek, find and only those who listen to that still-small-voice or that tap-on-the-shoulder can begin seeking.
Step 3: The Noose of the Pretender aka Refusal of the Call
Unfortunately, answering the Call to Adventure is going to be difficult. Our Potential Hero gets comfortable in his Normal Existence. Even if it’s unpleasant, it’s familiar and familiarity means everything is predictable and relatively safe: better the enemy you know than the one you haven’t met yet.
And if the Potential Hero’s life is okay and he enjoys parts of it and doesn’t want to change it, that’s absolutely fine – as long as the refusal to move isn’t blocking someone else’s growth. We all have to be mindful of that.
The real problem comes when the Potential Hero knows deep down that he has to make changes in his life and he continues to refuse to make those changes. Normal Existence will become intolerable and he’ll be left with two choices: one way or another he’s going to begin his Hero’s Journey or he’s going to die.
Step 4: The Destroyer and the Mentor aka Supernatural Aid
I’ve pointed out a few times that “Supernatural” doesn’t refer to “God” or to any unnatural beings. I mean, it could genuinely be God or Goddess that comes to pull our Potential Hero out of the Sloughs of Despair, but I’ve found that for most people Supernatural Aid is far more subtle and we often don’t even know that it was Goddess-sent until much later in our Journey.
The best definition I can give you for Supernatural Aid is that it’s something from outside of Normal Existence. It is different. It is “other” and if our Potential Hero heeds its advice and accepts the tools it offers, he can make the changes necessary to begin his Journey and truly answer that Call to Adventure that continues to beckon him to a greater life.
Step 5: The Dive Into the Deep aka Crossing the First Threshold
The Potential Hero now stands at the gate of his Adventure. Unlike the Heroine who can cross the boundary between the Forest and Sea at will, the Hero must fully commit himself to the Journey.
Once he takes that first Step, there is no going back. The Journey will have all of him or none of him.
Step 6: In the Womb of the World aka Belly of the Whale
Heroine’s tend not to experience deaths and rebirths. Heroine’s spiral upwards and onwards to become Gods and Goddesses without having to constantly die to who they think they are.
They were already wearing Cinderella’s dress. It was other people who couldn’t see it.
Potential Hero’s tend to not know that they’re already the Hero. So, the idea of who they are, the outer shell of their being, what we could term as their Ego, has to “die”.
All of his old ideas of who he thinks he is have to be destroyed so he can be fully reborn as the Hero he always should have been.
Step 7: The Neverending War aka Road of Trials
While it’s important for the Hero to die and be reborn – possibly numerous times – it’s equally important for him to not lose his sense of Masculinity. Everything in the dark depths of the Feminine will be strange and unfamiliar to him and a lot of it may, indeed, try to kill him.
The Deep, Dark Feminine doesn’t want anything to do with Masculinity just as the Oh-So-High-and-Mighty Masculine doesn’t want anything to do with Femininity – unless it’s on their terms.
“We’ll give you an identity and purpose, but only as it suits our needs.”
Our inner Hero must learn that he is fighting to protect himself and all that he cares about. It’s okay to show off and little and test his limits, but he’s not to conquer and he’s not to raise himself above all others and fight for the sake of fighting. This is a time of growth and learning.
Step 8: Standing in the Moonlight aka Meeting With the Goddess
This is the primary purpose of the Hero’s Journey: the Masculine must become the Hero to prove that he is worthy of connecting or reconnecting with the Divine Feminine – he always was worthy, but he has to prove it to himself first.
While our Dear Heroine must possibly deal with hideous, multi-headed beasts when she meets with her opposing nature, the Hero gets to meet his glorious Feminine half. Mind you, she may not be beautiful when he first meets her – he may still have to work to transform her.
She may also be a dark and terrifying Goddess and will lead our Hero and us on a Dark Night of the Soul. She too is glorious and wonderful, but it may take us some time to understand that she loves us just as much as her Angel of Light form does.
Every trial that the Hero faces and overcomes at this point in his Journey will reap benefits in the steps to come.
Step 9: The Trickster aka Temptation
Other than Refusal of the Call, this is the biggest tripping point for the Hero. At this point he could be so in love with the process of becoming the Hero that he goes around the Road of Trials circuit again and again and again: he dies, is reborn, fights his way to the Goddess, rinse and repeat.
It’s pretty easy to get addicted to that Dark Night of the Soul and the heavy emotions involved and the Bliss that follows it.
It’s also very easy, while down in the depths of the Feminine, for our Hero to start blaming the Ordinary World – the world of the Masculine – for all of his previous problems.
And there is likely some truth to that idea, but it does no good to point fingers and blame all the time. It solves none of the issues and doesn’t get to the true root of the problems. It definitely does our Hero no personal good and only causes yet another rift to form between the Feminine and Masculine.
If our Hero remains in this loop for too long, his Journey will mirror-hop to the Heroine’s Journey. His Road of Trials will become a twisted Perfect World, he will become she and some form of Trauma will have to hit our now Potential Heroine to break her out of the loop and send her back into the Masculine to reclaim what was lost.
Step 10: Redemption of the Father aka Atonement with the Father
While every Hero has a lot of things to overcome during their Journey, the most important thing for them to do is accept the path their life has taken. They need to acknowledge what actions haven’t been their fault without hatred attached to the perpetrators and own up to the actions that have been their fault.
This is when the Hero realizes that he is at one with all things. That is what atonement means – at-one-ment. If he doesn’t do this, his symbolic Father will continue to hold power over him until he reaches understanding and acceptance.
This step of the Hero’s Journey works very closely with Temptation and Apotheosis and may take place before or after either of these other steps.
Atonement with the Father may happen at many points during the Hero’s life as there are always new events and people entering his life that may end up having power over his emotional and spiritual centre.
Step 11: Death of the Hero, Rise of the King aka Apotheosis
At this point in his Journey, it’s possible that our Hero has died and been reborn many times, but he has yet to understand that he has higher and more powerful growth yet to come.
Apotheosis means to make divine and it is here that our Hero will get a better picture of what his glorified Self may look like. This will be a major transformation moment.
In movies this moment is very often symbolized by drowning, being rescued and coughing up water or by a powerful explosion or a change of yearly seasons.
Step 12: That Which Was Most Needed aka The Ultimate Boon
This is finally a time for the Hero to have a bit of a break from his adventure as it will most likely be the end of his Quest. This is the attainment of the prize, of the very thing that he sought when he began the Journey.
However, the most likely outcome of all of this adventuring is that the Hero no longer wants this thing that he thought he wanted. Along the way he has most likely found other things that are more satisfying or he’ll discover that he had what he wanted most all along.
Step 13: Bliss Within the Castle aka Refusal of Return
The Return stage of the Hero’s Journey is actually the most important. Notice how it’s called “The Hero’s Journey”, but the Hero isn’t born until half way through and now there’s a long Journey home. This may be why many Heroes get stuck in the Road of Trials loop. They want to keep on being Heroes, not having to face more change and growth!
And who wants to leave the Special World of the Feminine and go back into the Mundane Masculine?
But the fact is that there is still a Higher Self to achieve and an even better life awaits the Hero in the Balanced World.
Step 14: Abdicating the Throne aka The Magic Flight
This is the one step of the Hero’s Journey where I really like to quote Joseph Campbell, because the truth of this statement is profound:
Bringing the boon back can be even more difficult than going down into your own depths in the first place.
Sometimes the Hero doesn’t Refuse to Return so much as they simply have no idea how to Return. After spending so much time in the depths of the Feminine, how does one go back to Normal Existence?
But, once again, every Journey begins with a single step. The most important thing for the Hero to do at this point is to pick a direction and simply start moving.
Step 15: The Mantle of the Mentor aka Rescue From Without
Once the Hero opens up to his emotions, deals with his past trauma, accepts that he is at one with all things, recognizes his own divinity and then finally picks his direction home, it may be that he begins to remember the good things about life in the Ordinary World.
There may be things there that he almost forgot that he enjoyed doing or certain people that he loved to be around. Or there was that one thing that he always wanted to do, but never got around to doing.
In this way he can reach up and reach out of the depths of the Feminine and find a helping hand back into the forests of the Masculine.
Step 16: Construction of the Temple aka The Crossing of the Return Threshold
I feel that this lesson is probably the second most important that I taught during my first Hero’s Journey series.
The first most important was to stop blaming the outside world for your problems and accept that you have the power to change it – that was back in the Temptation step.
The lesson of the Return Threshold is that it’s important for the Hero to understand that there actually isn’t a threshold – there never was one. There is no barrier between the Masculine and Feminine except for the ones the Hero erects within himself.
Step 17: The Time of Finding aka Freedom to Live
Now is finally the time for the Hero to rest and be happy. He has earned a reprieve from all of his Journeying and personal growth. He has spent a very long time seeking and this is now the time of finding.
It is time for the Hero to be at peace with himself and with the life and world surrounding him.
The Heroine’s equivalent step – Permission of Happiness – is much easier for the Hero to attain as he has little trouble allowing others to struggle to become their best Self.
Step 18: The Balanced World
For the Hero, The Balanced World is probably not entirely different from his previous Normal Existence. He will have drastically changed and what he does may drastically change, but everything he loved to do and all the skills he possessed at one point have made the Journey with him.
He adds all of these things to all of the new tools that he gathered in the depths of the Feminine and makes himself a power to promote change within his world.
Step 19: The Tao of the Overlord aka Master of Two Worlds
The Hero will have a slightly more difficult time being master of the Masculine and Feminine than the Heroine will have.
He will have a tendency to lean more heavily one way or the other – he could be a more Feminine-oriented Hero or a more Masculine-oriented Hero.
Ultimately, there is nothing wrong with this, but to reach his absolute Best and Highest Self, the Hero will have to continually work to prevent himself from being caught and possessed by one Archetype or the other.
And if he is caught by one, well, new Hero’s or Heroine’s Journeys always await.
And there we have it, my Dear Heroines and Heroes, the overview of my modified Hero’s Journey model and a map of what lies ahead if you continue to join me on these Journeys.
Thank you very much for listening or watching today. Please like, share, comment, criticize, subscribe to and support this channel at your leisure.
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I have been your host, Mark, this has been the overview episode that was previously missing from the Hero’s Journey series of Think Spiritual and I know that if you acknowledge the Hero within yourself that he will come to your aid and do everything in his power to help you change your Self so you can continue to change your World.
— Mark Stratton