A digest of Joseph Campbell’s “Monomyth” scheme as described in his The Hero with a Thousand Faces

Campbell Notes

From One Pattern, Many Stories

In his well-known book, The Hero with a Thousand Faces, Joseph Campbell proposes that all myths are essentially hero-quest stories, each of which rings a unique change on a universal pattern—a pattern he calls the “monomyth.” According to Campbell, the hero’s journey consists of three main moves: departure, initiation, and return.  Within each of these categories is a number of stages common to the plots of all hero-quest stories.
Summary of Campbell’s “Monomyth”
Call to adventure
Refusal of the call
Supernatural aid
Crossing the first threshold
Belly of the whale
Road of trials
Meeting with the goddess/Woman as temptress
Atonement with the Father
Ultimate boon
Refusal of the return
Magic flight/Rescue from without
Crossing the return threshold
Master of two worlds
Freedom to live
What follows is a brief summary of what Campbell says about each subcategory.
The Call to Adventure
—The adventure may begin in many ways
•      “A blunder—apparently the merest chance—reveals an unsuspected world, and the individual is drawn into a relationship with forces not rightly understood.”
•      “But whether small or great, and no matter what the stage or grade of life, the call rings up the curtain, always, on a mystery of transfiguration—a rite, or moment, or spiritual passage, which, when complete, amounts to a dying and a birth.”
•      “This first stage of the mythological journey  … signifies that destiny has summoned the hero and transferred his spiritual center of gravity from within the pale of his society to a zone unknown.”
Refusal of the Call
—The hero may refuse or contemplate refusing the adventure
•      “Often in actual life, and not infrequently in the myths and popular tales, we encounter the dull case of the call unanswered; for it is always possible to turn the ear to other interests. Refusal of the summons converts the adventure into its negative. Walled in boredom, hard work, or ‘culture,’ the subject loses the power of significant affirmative action and becomes a victim to be saved.”
•      “The myths and folk tales of the whole world make clear that the refusal is essentially a refusal to give up what one takes to be one’s own interest.  The future is regarded not in terms of an unremitting series of deaths and births, but as though one’s present system of ideals, virtues, goals, and advantages were to be fixed and made secure.”
Supernatural Aid
—The hero encounters helpers along the way and may receive items and information necessary to completing the adventure successfully
•      “For those who have not refused the call, the first encounter of the hero-journey is with a protective figure  (often a little old crone or old man) who provides the adventurer with amulets against the dragon forces he is about to pass.”
•      “What such a figure represents is the benign, protecting power of destiny.”
•      “Not infrequently, the supernatural helper is masculine in form. In fairy lore it may be some little fellow of the wood, some wizard, hermit, shepherd, or smith, who appears, to supply the amulets and advice that the hero will require. The higher mythologies develop the role in the great figure of the guide, the teacher, the ferryman, the conductor of souls to the afterworld.”
Crossing the First Threshold
—The hero eventually comes to the point of no return and must overcome whatever obstacles (including his/her own fear) prevent him/her from going forward
•      “With the personifications of his destiny to guide him, the hero goes forward in his adventure until he comes to the ‘threshold guardian’ at the entrance to the zone of magnified power…. Beyond [the guardian] is darkness, the unknown, and danger…”
•      “The regions of the unknown (desert, jungle, deep sea, alien land, etc.) are free fields for projections of unconscious content.”
•“The adventure is always and everywhere a passage beyond the veil of the known into the unknown; the powers that watch at the boundary are dangerous; to deal with them is risky; yet for anyone with competence and courage the danger fades.”
The Belly of the Whale
—The hero enters the adventure proper, depicted as a region of powerfully transformative powers embodied in many (sometimes terrifying) forms
•      “The idea that the passage of the magical threshold is a transit into a sphere of rebirth is symbolized in the worldwide womb image of the belly of he whale.”
•      “This popular motif gives emphasis to the lesson that the passage of the threshold is a form of self-annihilation…. Instead of passing outward, beyond the confines of the visible world, the hero goes inward, to be born again.”
The Road of Trials
—The hero faces many tests of courage, resilience, resourcefulness, and intelligence
•      “Once having traversed the threshold, the hero moves in a dream landscape of curiously fluid, ambiguous forms, where he must survive a succession of trials…. The hero is covertly aided by the advice, amulets, and secret agents of the supernatural helper whom he met before his entrance into this region. Or it may be that he here discovers for the first time that there is a benign power everywhere supporting him in his superhuman passage.”
•      And so it happens that if anyone—in whatever society—undertakes for himself the perilous journey into the darkness by descending, either intentionally or unintentionally, into the crooked lanes of his own spiritual labyrinth, he soon finds himself in a landscape of symbolical figures (any one of which may swallow him)…. In the vocabulary of the mystics, this is the second stage of the Way, that of the ‘purification of the self,’ when the senses are cleansed and humbled,’ and the energies and interests ‘concentrated upon transcendental things...”
•      “The original departure into the land of trials represented only the beginning of the long and really perilous path of initiatory conquests and moments of illumination.  Dragons have now to be slain and surprising barriers passed—again, again, and again.  Meanwhile there will be a multitude of preliminary victories, unretainable ecstasies, and momentary glimpses of the wonderful land.”
Meeting with the Goddess
—The hero encounters a figure or situation that represents all that the ordinary man can conceive of human happiness
•      “The ultimate adventure, when all the barriers and ogres have been overcome, is commonly represented as a mystical marriage of the triumphant hero-soul with the Queen Goddess of the World.”
•      “For she is the incarnation of the promise of perfection; the soul’s assurance that, at the conclusion of its exile in a world of organized inadequacies, the bliss that once was known will be known again: the comforting, the nourishing, the ‘good’ mother…”
•      “Woman, in the picture language of mythology, represents the totality of what can be known.  The hero is the one who comes to know…. She can never be greater than himself, though she can always promise more than he is yet capable of comprehending.”
Woman as Temptress
—The hero discovers that mastery of the world can be a trap that prevents him/her from achieving full transformation
•      “The mystical marriage with the queen goddess of the world represents the hero’s total mastery of life; for the woman is life, the hero its knower and master.”
•      “But when it suddenly dawns on us, or is forced to our attention, that everything we think or do is necessarily tainted with the odor of the flesh, then, not uncommonly, there is experienced a moment of revulsion…”
•      Commonly, the Goddess is represented by a situation or offer that would seem to answer the hero’s most desperate prayers. However, the Road of Trials is all about putting the ego to death—along with all its wishes for comfort, ease, and safety.  This is why the Temptress is often the shadow side of the Goddess; the very thing that seems to promise so much happiness turns the hero aside from the Road of Trials altogether.
Atonement with the Father
—The hero must face his deepest fears, must embrace the very annihilation of body and ego, to complete the ultimate transformation
•      “Atonement (at-one-ment) consists in no more than the abandonment of that self-generated double monster—the dragon thought to be God (superego) and the dragon thought to be Sin (repressed id).  This this requires an abandonment of the attachment to ego itself…”
•      “… the father is the initiating priest through whom the young being passes on into the larger world.”
•      “The problem of the hero going to meet the father is to open his soul beyond terror to such a degree that he will be ripe to understand how the sickening and insane tragedies of this vase and ruthless cosmos are completely validated in the majesty of Being.”
—The hero’s highest self or divinity is revealed
•      “Once we have broken free of the prejudices of our own provincially limited ecclesiastical, tribal, or national rendition of the world archetypes, it becomes possible to understand that the supreme initiation is not that of the local motherly fathers, who then project aggression onto the neighbors for their own defense.”
•      Having surpassed the delusions of his formerly self-assertive, self-defensive, self-concerned ego, [the hero] knows without and within the same repose….And he is filled with compassion for the self-terrorized beings who live in fright of their own nightmare. He rises, returns to them, and dwells with them as an egoless center…”
The Ultimate Boon
—The hero achieves that purpose of his original quest which symbolize the achievement of ultimate transformation
•      “The gods and goddesses then are to be understood as embodiments and custodians of the elixir of Imperishable Being but not themselves the Ultimate in its primary state.  What the hero seeks through his intercourse with them is therefore not finally themselves, but their grace … the power of their sustaining substance.”
•      “The boon bestowed on the [hero] is always scaled to his stature and to the nature of his dominant desire: the boon is simply a symbol of life energy stepped down to the requirements of a certain specific case.”
Refusal of the Return
—The hero is tempted to stay where he is and not return to the world he/she left behind.  Alternatively, the hero may be prevented from doing so.
•      “When the hero-quest has been accomplished, through penetration to the source, or through the grace of some male or female, human or animal, personification, the adventurer still must return with his life-transmuting trophy.  The full round, the norm of the monomyth, requires that the hero shall now begin the labor of bringing the runes of wisdom, the Golden Fleece, or his sleeping princess, back into the kingdom of humanity, where the boon may redound to the renewing of the community, the nation, the planet, or the ten thousand worlds.”
•      But the responsibility has been frequently refused….Numerous indeed are the heroes fabled to have taken up residence forever in the blessed isle of the unaging Goddess of Immortal Being.”
The Magic Flight
—The hero returns from region of his/her adventure with ease
•“If the hero in his triumph wins the blessing of the goddess or the god and is then explicitly commissioned to return to the world with some elixir for the restoration of society, the final stage of his adventure is supported by all the powers of his supernatural patron.”
•      “On the other hand, if the trophy has been attained against the opposition of its guardian, or if the hero’s wish to return to the world has been resented by the gods or demons, then the last stage of the mythological round becomes a lively, often comical, pursuit.”
Rescue from Without
—Prevented from returning to his/her home from the region of adventure, the hero must be rescued by others
•      “The hero may have to be brought back from his supernatural adventure by assistance from without. That is to say, the world may have to come and get him.”
Crossing the Return Threshold
—Upon leaving the region of adventure, the hero revisits the threshold—but now experiences it as a changed person
•      “This brings us to the final crisis of the round, to which the whole miraculous excursion has been but a prelude…the paradoxical, supremely difficult threshold-crossing of he hero’s return from the mystic realm into the land of common day.”
•      “The hero adventures out of the land we know into darkness; there he accomplishes his adventure, or again is simply lost to us, imprisoned, or in danger; and his return is described as a coming back out of that yonder zone.  Nevertheless…the two kingdoms are actually one.  The realm of the gods is a forgotten dimension of the world we know.”
Master of Two Worlds
—Now that the hero has achieved ultimate transformation, he/she can live in this world but not be contaminated by it
•      “Freedom to pass back and forth across the world division… not contaminating the principles of the one with those of the other—is the talent of the master.”
•      “The myths do not often display in a single image the mystery of the ready transit…. Such a moment was that of the Transfiguration of the Christ.”
•      “The meaning is very clear; it is the meaning of all religious practice.  The individual, through prolonged psychological disciplines, gives up completely all attachment to his personal limitations, idiosyncrasies, hopes and fears, no longer resists the self-annihilation that is prerequisite to rebirth in the realization of truth, and so becomes ripe, at last, for the great at-one-ment.”
Freedom to Live
—The hero, having transcended his/her ego, can live without fear of anything
•      Having died to his personal ego, the hero no longer fears death. He is free to live, to interact in this world, without risk of returning to his former ego-centric state.