The Hero Journey

     "Thus the hero is the archetypal forerunner of mankind in general. His fate is the pattern in accordance with which the masses of humanity must live, and always have lived, however haltingly and distantly; and however short of the ideal man they have fallen, the stages of the hero myth have become constituent elements in the personal development of every individual."    ~    Erich Neumann

Part of legacy of the great mythologist Joseph Campbell was to synthesize heroic myths from all cultures and identify common cycles of archetypal experience, which have become known as the hero journey. Literature abounds with such tales, one of the more familiar being that of Bilbo Baggins.  While such a noble venture might sound a far cry from the neighbour changing his job, or her husband, as the case may be, behind these outer manifestations of change often lie a common theme, a common discontent that has been played out in different ways since time immemorial.  Certainly they are enacted over and over again in the epics and melodramas of Hollywood.

We are made up as much from our future as from our past and the gift of astrology is to offer a template from which both may take their place in the great heroic round that may, with right intention, unfold, even in this age, as the Hero Journey. For there are times in our lives when quite literally a sword is thrown down before us and we must choose whether or not to pick it up. At other times, we find ourselves at a "crossroads" and must decide which way to go, or indeed in a dark wood and cannot see very clearly at all. Like Parsifal, we do not necessarily go in search of such a quest as such, but a life deeply lived generally has a way of becoming one and we find that certain conditions, heroic conditions, have to be fulfilled. Further, in many myths and fairy tales while there is rarely a difficulty in getting into the "Beyond", there can be terrible difficulty getting back. 

The ideal of the heroic journey, available to everyone no matter their state or circumstance, is the theme around which the content of this site weaves. "What I think" wrote Joseph Campbell, " is that a good life is one hero journey after another. Over and over again, you are called to the realm of adventure; you are called to new horizons. Each time, there is the same problem: do I dare? And then if you do dare, the dangers are there, and the help also, and the fulfillment or the fiasco. There's always the possibility of a fiasco. But there's also the possibility of bliss."

 

At some point then, in their growing up, the Hero receives their "call to adventure” and so it is that…"The mythological hero, setting forth from his common day hut or castle, is lured, carried away, or else voluntarily proceeds, to the  threshold of adventure." ~ Joseph Campbell

This is often mythic in character and usually involves the modern equivalent of the crops failing (loss), or the (inner) king falling sick and ailing (depression), plague or invasion threaten (the psychic), which in reality can precede sudden awakening to purpose and destiny (vocation).  Often the hero's call is concurrent with some apparent disaster but whatever the crisis we are forced to embrace some unknown and discover something new, at different levels at various times in our life. It is as if we are driven by some inner necessities that require us to make some major choices.

Myths and fairytales are instructive here for collectively they seem to contain the full repertoire of possible experiences and feeling states and identify with unerring accuracy both the issue and the pathway through. 

After the ‘Call’ comes the ‘Threshold Crossing’ when the hero is challenged to pursue the deeper meaning of their calling. Mythic initiations have three distinct phases, separation, transition and return.  The call to adventure initiates the separation.   By the time the hero approaches the threshold his or her choices have dwindled down to very few.  At this point they can choose to cross the threshold willingly, sometimes for the adventure itself, (the Cardinal signs,) or they can embrace it with optimism, confidence and anticipation (the mutable signs). Alternatively they can turn away altogether (which at this point would mean symbolic death and the end of the adventure), or they can be dragged proverbially kicking and screaming into the adventure (the fixed signs).  In any case once the threshold has been crossed their is no turning back, one is irrevocable committed.  

     

Thus begins our dragon fight, which is the battle with all that is negative, tyrannical and potentially devouring. In overcoming this the separation has been made and having proven their capacity to stand-alone they are now equipped to begin the adventure proper where he/she…

 

 “ encounters a shadow presence that guards the passage. The hero may defeat or conciliate his power and go alive into the kingdom of the dark (brother-battle, dragon-battle; offering, charm), or be slain by the opponent and descend in death (dismemberment, crucifixion).   ~  Joseph Campbell 

In crossing the threshold the hero then journeys into different worlds, strange landscapes where all is not what it seems for tests lie ahead and some how a price must be paid. This may be with some aspect of self as with Inanna who as she progressed down to the ‘great place below’ where she was at each of the seven gateways required to leave successive garments until none were left. Perhaps they need a coin to pay the ferryman, whatever the currency the message is clear, one must earn ones right to cross over or pass the guardian of the threshold. Orpheus for example had to pay Charon the ferryman to take him across the river Stynx and then feed Cerebus the three headed dog who stood guard on the other side, as he journeyed down into the underworld to plead for his lost love Euridice. As with these examples the journey and the cost, or if you like ones fate, must be accepted willingly, that is cease kicking and struggling for then the universe somehow colludes and assistance manifests in the form of helpers. This can take different forms the helper can be a sidekick like Tonto or take a more supernatural form like Gandalf in the Lord of the Rings.  Further examples are Theseus who after slaying the Minotaur would have been lost forever in the labyrinth without the simple wisdom of Ariadne and her ball of thread. Similarly Jason would not have attained the Golden Fleece without the magical interventions of the sorceress Medea. 

Next comes what Campbell calls a stay in the 'belly of the whale' a time when has been swallowed up so to speak, held, as if in limbo, the old has passed away and the new has yet to manifest. In myth the hero is engulfed in oppositional forces and to all intents and purposes appears to have died. Think of Inaana left to hang and rot on the peg in Ershgigal’s great place below, or Jonah, entering the whale in the Biblical story, for here the hero enters the zone of danger. This may start immediately after the first threshold or may require some travel. Entering the Belly of the Whale' simply means going somewhere dangerous. Myths and tales contain a number of symbolic references zones of danger, such as the 'dragon's lair', or 'the lion's den'. It represents a transition and usually with a sense of 'no going back'  It is often a time of pause and of summoning resources, Campbell could have been referring to this when he says "The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure you seek."  

 

This is a time of deep introspection, the night without end when the hero is assailed by his / her fears and doubts.  In fairy tales it often corresponds to the seven years in the forest, remember Dantes famous first words, perhaps the most quoted in literature

                      I found myself lost in a dark forest

                     At the midpoint of the journey's life

                    with no straight path I could see anywhere.

 Not forgetting the time of wearing out of the iron staff and iron boots or even the 100 year sleep. It can involve time in a wasteland of soughts, a time of ego loss and liminality, and unbeknowst to the hero of inner preparation and transformation.

Emerging from the 'belly' the real quest or what Campbell refers to as 'the supreme ordeal' can really begin

“When he arrives at the nadir of the mythological round, he undergoes a supreme ordeal and gains his reward. The triumph may be represented as the hero's sexual union with the goddess mother of the world (sacred marriage), his recognition by the father-creator (father atonement), his own divinization (apotheosis), … intrinsically it is an expansion of consciousness and therewith of being (illumination, transfiguration, freedom).”   ~  Joseph Campbell

This can take many forms and involve a number of tests, always there is a prize or treasure although, in a sense, the hero, the journey and the prize are the same thing contributing to the essential solar core, or divine aspect of the hero, always there, but previously, blissfully and unconsciously undisturbed. This sought for treasure can be a literal treasure, or the water of life, a golden fleece, the gift of healing or prophecy, the realisation of ones king / queenship, the attainment of the kingdom, a bride / groom, the sacred marriage and the founding of a dynasty.  Always it is symbolic of some indestructible aspect of identity that once realised can never be taken away. For with this comes the awareness that all meaning, the characters and outer events of our life, ultimately and essentially lie within. For the unconscious content of this stage of the journey houses masses of archetypal material that will manifest in your life in ways appropriate for your own individuation process.

It will populate your dreams, your life will become marked by a series of meaningful coincidences, ‘ah ah’ experiences that will literally bump into you going down the street.

“The final work is that of the return … At the return threshold the transcendental powers must remain behind; the hero reemerges from the kingdom of dread (return, resurrection). The boon that he brings restores the world".  ~ Joseph Campbell

Finally there is the return, a task no more simple than his /her setting out. Once again the threshold crossing must be passed with the elixir or bride or fleece and return back into ordinary life.  This return to the ordinary is often fraught, for their always remains the memory of what once was and what one sought and the treasure must always be guarded vigilantly lest it disappear and all gains be lost, for a time. Here too helpers may appear, sometimes as before animal helpers, coyote, fox, a whale or eagle, whoever, representing anthropomorphically some deep instinctive aspect of self. 

Perhaps most importantly through myth and through life we learn that if the Call is refused, what remains is stagnation, disintegration, and psychic death.  Nothing positive generally comes from Refusal of the Call. Although it is important to remember that in the course of our life there will be many "Calls to Adventure" and like Parsival we too that even falling can be part of the hero reaching his final destination. These 'Calls' these will take many different forms and always ask the 'quest'-ion, will you answer that Call by choosing to cooperate with the eternal flow of life, whether that be to pick up the gauntlet and ready your sword, to go nobly forth and enter the fray, or to hold still and wait?

Or to do both with different parts of your being?

For whether by choice (usually the hero's position) or by necessity (usually the heroine's situation) a person heeds the call, because not to do so is a form of death, and in doing so the stuff one is made of ~ the soul ~ emerges as challenges and losses are met on the journey.

Shortly before his death in 1961, Carl Jung was asked if he felt that mankind could survive. His answer was yes, if enough people would do their inner work.

Now more than ever, some five decades later, what is needed is a massive rebirth of the heroic, of courage, and a willingness to engage the inner worlds, dreams, fantasies and the sym

bols contained therein. For it is into this shadow land, the kingdom of the ailing king and the idiot son that we must journey, recognising that they, along with the sorcerer, the dragon, the witch and the evil stepmother, as well as the beloved are all parts of ourselves. And that they must all be honoured if we are to redeem the outer world, and the slide into unconscious annihilation.

As always, we make the path by walking. For some, it is right that the Hero picks up his/her sword and charges into the heart of the abyss within, into the mouth of the inner dragon, or into the interior castle under the spell of an evil omen. Just as, at other times, the Hero must outwait the darkness and the invisible demons that assail him or her, both within and without. That, in the end, the King might be healed, that crops might grow again, and the inner marriage of the prince and princess may occur, that wholeness once more might reign over the kingdom.

In the words of Joseph Campbell:

"There is what I call the hero journey, the night sea journey, the hero quest, where the individual 

is going to bring forth in his life something that was never beheld before."

While for convenience sake these stages are represented sequentially in reality life is not always quite so neat.  These stages do not always appear in this order and some may be very much longer than others, or even not appear at all.

In the birth chart the sign in which the Sun is placed is, in theory, the most heroic of chart factors and contemplating the mythic representations of our Sun sign can be uncannily revealing. It can tell us a great deal about the main themes of our hero's journey with each sign representing a particular set of mythic figures, each sign in turn also has its own presiding deity or sign ruler with a further set of stories. The planetary ruler of the Sun sign then can give us considerable insight into the god who engenders the hero and the qualities within as well as the potentials which the hero must first seek to develop and unfold, as well as the nature of that transpersonal other to which we all aspire which informs, inspires and enlarges life.

 

The interplay of other planets can give further insight as can the continuing movement of the planets, or transits, as they in the course of their cyclic passages make further critical aspects to the natal chart. These are times when we can be called upon to enact very literally some of the qualities of the planets in question. The Saturn at around 29 is one such example, other are the succession of outer planet tran

sits that occur around midlife, Pluto squaring itself around 38, Uranus opposition and Neptune Square at 42 the Saturn opposition at 44, recall Dante above "At the midpoint of my life's journey …"

These are powerful transits that often birth powerful changes and awaken a renewed sense

 

 of purpose with a 'call' to adventure. The Jupiter returns every twelve years are generally less stressful but are nonetheless powerful awakeners, often accomanying times when we rceive a boon or help from one of those magical helpers.

These are collective transits that affect everyone at around these ages, a perosnal reading or report can individualise them by deliating which houses they

will fall in and so on. There are also many individual transits, particular to each individual person, these can only be obtained with an individual transit report or Forecaster (see  www.yourastrologyforecaster.com )