Joseph Campbell’s book, The Hero With a Thousand Faces is one of the most important works in understanding the concept of ‘the hero’ in ancient mythology and how this relates to our daily life as individuals. In this book, Campbell, explains the concept of the Hero’s journey which forms the foundation of stories we read today in books or watch in movies. This archetype described by Campbell not only helps us understand the heros we have come to love in books and movie, but also gives us a clear guide into understanding our personal journey as human beings and how we are the hero of our own journey.
This wonderful short animation from TED Ed presents a synthesis of Campbell’s foundational framework for the eleven stages of the hero’s quest — from the call to adventure to the crisis to the moment of return and transformation — illustrating its timeless potency in illuminating the inner workings of so many of our modern myths and the real-life heroes we’ve come to worship:
But perhaps Campbell’s most important and enduring point from the book has to do not with the mechanics of the hero’s journey but with the very purpose of hero-myths in human life. He writes in the opening chapter:
It has always been the prime function of mythology and rite to supply the symbols that carry the human spirit forward, in counteraction to those that tend to tie it back. In fact, it may very well be that the very high incidence of neuroticism among ourselves follows the decline among us of such effective spiritual aid.
The first work of the hero is to retreat from the world scene of secondary effects to those causal zones of the psyche where the difficulties really reside, and there to clarify the difficulties, eradicate them in his own case (i.e., give battle to the nursery demons of his local culture) and break through to the undistorted, direct experience and assimilation of what [Carl] Jung called “the archetypal images.”