A Story about a Heroes' Journey
Milton Woolley, MS, MFT
"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." Joseph Campbell, The Hero With a Thousand Faces1
I am a father and a month ago I received a phone call from my 37 year old son that went something like this: "Hi dad! I want to talk to you and what I am about to say may not please you."
Whoa! With that opening I went through a million guesses as to what he was going to say. He continued: "While I was at work last Friday, sometime in the afternoon, I had this wild thought that grabbed me and wouldn't let go. I had a difficult time driving home because I kept getting all of these ideas." He is very excited and a little nervous at this point and my imagination was beginning to cause me to worry a little... what could it be?
My son is not married, does not have any children or dependants and has a good job plus he owns his home. Back to him: "I have decided to quit my job; sell my house and all of my belongings. I am going to invest some of the house profit and I am going to take the rest and travel until I run out of money or decide to stop. I may end up living somewhere else all together." Long silence on my end... then I had an overwhelming feeling of joy. My son had come to the threshold of his "Heroes' Journey."
According to David Leeming, who quotes Joseph Campbell, a Heroes' Journey usually contains the following in some form or another:
A call to adventure, which the hero has to accept or decline
A road of trials, regarding which the hero succeeds or fails
Achieving the goal or "boon," which often results in important self-knowledge
A return to the ordinary world, again as to which the hero can succeed or fail
Applying the boon, in which what the hero has gained can be used to improve the world2
In Six Archetypes We Live by: the Hero Within3, Carol Pearson describes a new paradigm of the Heroes' Journey for our hero to consider. Originally the journey was to be that of a warrior who goes off to have power over other people and the earth. Ultimately, this would be a lonely and tragic path. While for a brief time the hero enjoys the result of his quest but is soon replaced by another, younger and stronger hero. From there, he fades away having little or no control over his life's decline and death.4
She goes on to say:
"But what if we simply shift our expectations a bit? What if the goal of life is not to prevail, but simply to learn? The end of the story can seem very different; and so can what happens in between birth and death. Heroism is redefined as not only moving mountains but knowing mountains: being fully oneself and seeing, without denial, what is, and being open to learning the lessons life offers us".5
My son is a wonderful man and I know that his commitment to himself is to live the second description of the Heroes' Journey.
The moment of Jonathan's sharing was full and joyful. He will now push his boundaries. He has lived in Chico for most of his life. His mother and I divorced when Jonathan was very young. We had very different life philosophies and I found I needed more room. Jonathan's world has stayed contained. It has been my hope that he would be able to explore the incredible world we live in. To have him come to this decision on his own felt like a miracle.
And, there is another side of being his father at this time. While in his garage on my last visit he gave me some of his picture albums and a container the nuts, bolts and other parts he used for remote control airplanes. His giving me that container made his leaving very real and I felt my sadness begin. This part involves my acknowledging that he was no longer my boy, but now he is a man. He must now do this journey by himself. Loving Jonathan now means letting this journey be his. His path is not mine to live vicariously or to shape with unasked for fatherly advice and expectations. Now he must ask for what he needs.
The Pueblo Indians in Taos, New Mexico have well developed rituals that recognize and celebrate a young person's right of passage. In Frank Waters' book, The Man Who Killed the Deer6, there is a story about a 13 year old boy who has come of age to spend a year in the Pueblo Kiva learning the sacred oral traditions of his people.
The scene begins with the mother, father and the boy having breakfast. The boy does not know what is about to happen and doesn't understand why his mother is weeping. Eventually, the father tells his son it is time to go.
The father and son leave their home walk to the entrance of the Kiva. After much explanation and many questions the father says:
"Now I can say no more. You will grind your own corn: it makes song come easier. You will make your own moccasins: busy hands free the mind to the spirit.
Now I, the father, having deposited his seed, withdraw from this womb.
Now I, the father, say good-bye to his child.
We will meet again. But as brothers. As men together. As equal parts of one great life. No longer separated. But in that consciousness of our oneness which gives us our only freedom."7
In our culture today we lack initiatory rituals. We don't honor our transitions. Young men and women are dealing with a very complex world often with little that stabilizes their confidence and that helps them find their bearings. The result is people beginning their journeys at different ages and unique situations. Ancient myths and stories provide many models for personal development and growth. The Heroes' Journey is one of them. What is vital to a healthy life however, is taking the journey whenever and however it presents itself.
Campbell, Joseph. The hero with a thousand faces. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1949
Leeming, David Adams. Mythology: The Voyage of the Hero. New York: Harper & Row. 1981
Pearson, Carol S., Six Archetypes We Live By: The Hero Within. Harper & Row, Publishers, San Francisco, Expanded Edition, 1989
Pearson, pg. 9 (paraphrased)
Pearson, pg. 9-10
Waters, Frank, The Man Who Kill The Deer. Washington Square Press, 1942, reprinted 1970
Waters, Frank, pages 81 - 82