Universal Mythology: The Hero of a Thousand Faces
“The hero’s journey is a pattern – you can almost think of it as an algorithm… All of the adventures of the human story are in there. All the heroes, all the villains, all the gods, all the goddesses, all of the knights, of the fantastic creatures we can conjure up in animation they’re all in there. Because they’re all in here (inside our mind)…”
Robert Walter, President Joseph Campbell Foundation
“Joseph Campbell compared the philosophies and mythic stories of the whole world, and he found one story – in the middle of all these stories – that we can all relate to, no matter where you come from.”
Chungliang Al Huang, Living Tao Foundation, Tai Chi Master
“The Hero with a Thousand Faces” is a framework of mythology that is the became the basis of Joseph Campbell’s life’s work. The “Hero’s Journey” encapsulates centuries of wisdom and insight about the human soul’s journey and the qualities, archetypes and markers of that journey that are common across all races, cultures, ethnic groups and generations. Through years of study, travel, research as well as encounters with great spiritual teachers, writers and philosophers, Joseph Campbell has given us a remarkable legacy of knowledge.
Campbell contends that myths, legends, epic stories and poems have central themes that lie at the core of their narratives and reflect the same essential pattern. He refers to the central elements of these stores as a “monomyth” that has various steps or stages that the hero encounters in his life journey. The hero experiences a call to adventure – an invitation that beckons him to a world of strange powers and events. As the hero accepts the call to adventure, then he faces various trials and challenges that he may have to face alone, or he may receive some guidance and help. The hero must survive extreme conditions and challenges, although along his journey he earns help. If the hero is able to survive his trials, he may receive a gift or dispensation that also leads to self-knowledge. The hero is then challenged to bring his wisdom or dispensation to the world and may be tested again. If the hero is successful in his return journey, his gift or boon may be used to improve and help others.
In addition to “The Hero with a Thousand Faces,” Campbell also did a highly popular television series with Bill Moyers call “The Power of Myth.” The television series includes 6 episodes, covering topics ranging from Christ, Buddha, Krishna to creation myths, Jungian psychology, Star Wars and legends and stories from Native American cultures. In this excerpt from the first episode in “The Power of Myth,” Campbell explains how the Star Wars epic fits into the general archetypes of the hero’s journey.
Just like the stories embodied in great Greek myths such as Jason and the Argonauts, the Labors of Hercules, the great voyage of Odysseus, Orpheus and Eurydice, astrological birth charts represent the setting of a hero’s journey, with some Gods and Goddess favoring the hero, and others challenging and afflicting the hero.
In this beautiful film documentary, the hero’s journey is lucidly explained in animation and narration and uses examples from contemporary pop culture – like Star Wars – as well as ancient myths and legends. “The Timeless Tale of the Hero’s Journey” is enlightening for people of all ages and backgrounds.
Certainly, there a lot to see and feel and digest in these videos and the life’s work of Joseph Campbell. When we reflect on the Hero’s Journey, we recognize something of ourselves in this archetypal pattern, because we see our own experience. As Robert Walter says, all the of the elements of the human story are in the hero’s journey because they are also inside us, inside the human mind. We see ourselves embark on our life paths, we follow our call to adventure and growth, and we see ourselves face challenges, fight battles and sustain wounds, and we see a part of ourselves emerge victorious. And as we move through our initiations, we grow and learn about ourselves and evolve. Studying our astrological birth chart, our Cosmic Mythological Signature, helps us become attuned to this process and understand it better.
From my own perspective as an astrologer, I draw a lot from Buddhism. I believe that we all have an inner sense of knowing, a spiritual knowledge and intuition that is within us and emerges with greater clarity as we learn to meditate and examine our thoughts and feelings to find our own inner pathways. In my experience, I have come to learn that everyone has their own way of knowing who they are and understanding where their spiritual evolution is leading; astrology helps unlock the keys to this inner sense of knowing. Communicating about a birth chart through an astrological reading is a medium for a person to discover many of the intricate ways that their life – from the moment of birth – has been impressed with this mythological journey and quest for meaning. I gain a great deal of fulfillment and satisfaction from seeing people react to their birth chart and reach a new inner vision and wisdom about who they are, where they have come from and where they are going.
“We are born golden… We are born knowing, we are born connected to our bliss, we are born knowing truth, we are born knowing every truth every great spiritual master has ever said, we are one with the Christ, the Buddha,and with everyone. But then we went to school and we were told this is what boys do and this is what girls do and this what black people do and this is what white people do and on and on and on. And so we developed a stone casing around the Buddha at a young age, maybe 4 or 5, or 6 or 7, and we believed we were the stone Buddha and not the golden Buddha.”
- Alan Cohen