The Hero’s Journey
In olden days, most cultures had traditions that focused on the concept of growth and life transitions. We refer to these today as “Rites of Passage”. These traditions would provide powerful learning experiences and punctuate the shift from child to adolescence and adolescence to adulthood. Many rites of passage involved the completion of a challenging task or significant journey that involved overcoming a large obstacle or facing a primary fear. In the process of completing this journey, the youth gained newfound skills and confidence that could be applied to the rest of his or her life. Unfortunately, rites of passage and the associated traditions have been almost entirely lost in most modern day cultures. Although this is the case, the concepts and phases within the Hero’s Journey highlight the process of growth that was once found in these traditions.
The Hero’s Journey is an important part of our program at Equinox because it helps our students to learn about and understand their lives and the experiences that lead them through growth and change.
The phases of the Hero’s Journey are as follows. You’re also welcome to call us at any time and we’d be happy to answer any question you have.
Prior to the beginning of his journey, the Hero is familiar only with the life he has experienced so far. This portion of his life is referred to as The Known and is often lacking many of the lessons that he will learn in his upcoming journey.
The Call to Adventure represents the first phase of the Hero’s journey in which the Hero is faced with an invitation to step away from his everyday (Known) life and prepare for the threshold of adventure. This invitation is at times willingly accepted, while at other times the Hero is called to adventure unwillingly. The Call to Adventure (or just “The Call”) may include an exciting opportunity that the Hero cannot wait to begin, and it may be introduced through some type of crisis (physical, emotional, social, or spiritual). Ultimately, the Hero finds himself in a position in which willing or not, he is faced with the threshold of adventure.
Once called into adventure, the Hero’s starting point is called the Threshold of Adventure. The Threshold represents the point between the Hero’s known world and the world of adventure from which he can see the life he has left behind, and can begin to see the adventure he is about to undertake. Once across the threshold, the Hero encounters a different set of rules, people, and way of being. Because it is unknown, it can be experienced as a place of challenge and danger. While crossing the threshold can be frightening, there are always guardians and helpers to aid in the journey. Threshold guardians act as gatekeepers at the point of Threshold and ensure that individuals who are not prepared for a particular journey do not step past the Threshold until they are ready. Upon crossing this Threshold, the very guardians that previously impeded passage shift into the role of a helper or mentor once the Hero has gained passage.
During The Initiation, many unknown challenges and tests await the Hero in the heart of his adventure. Upon crossing over the threshold, the tests he faces take many forms and can present challenges of a physical, emotional, social and spiritual nature. Towards the beginning of the adventure, these challenges are often more simple, and their difficulty increases as the journey proceeds. Many of these challenges come in the form of tasks or quests that are very personal to the adventurer and will cause him to face some of his greatest fears and weaknesses. By facing and triumphing over these fears and weaknesses— with the help of supportive mentors along the way—the Hero gains essential skills, maturity and self-confidence for his journey ahead. He then carries these personal assets into his next quest or task in life—essentially turning his weaknesses into strengths. Towards the end of this phase of his journey, the Hero gets a small glimpse into the abyss and is able to recognize his greatest challenges—namely his “dragons” that he must face and overcome during the next phase of his adventure.
During the Transformation phase of the journey, the Hero develops a deeper understanding of the greatest challenges he will face—as he actually enters into the abyss to slay his personal dragons. This act is the culmination of the growth process he has made—as the Hero is able to incorporate all of his new skills, maturity and confidence into the final battle. These skills become absolutely essential, as the Hero must enter the abyss to slay these dragons alone—no one can complete this portion of the journey for him. Additional strength and endurance comes in the form of a revelation (or realization) and resultant dramatic change in the way the Hero thinks about and lives his life. This may come while in the abyss, or upon completion of the final battle and is a crucial element of the Hero’s journey as he lets go of old patterns of thinking or interaction—essentially old ways of living—and prepares for his atonement and rebirth.
At times, a Hero may venture into the abyss to face these dragons only to find out that he isn’t quite ready for the challenge. In this case, the Hero must return to smaller challenges to gain more essential skills and confidence before returning into the abyss.
As the Hero conquers his dragons and emerges from the abyss victoriously, his final transformation becomes complete and he approaches rebirth. This rebirth takes place through the process of Atonement—literally allowing the Hero to become “at-one” with his new self. Fear, ignorance, dependence and irresponsibility must die to make way for the birth of love, wisdom, interdependence and responsibility. As the Hero becomes at-one with himself, he comes into harmony with life and the world around him. The initial problems that caused need for her separation from the world have been addressed and it is time to prepare for his return.
After Transformation and Atonement, the Hero faces the final phase of his journey—his Return home, or transition into his next journey in life. During this time, the Hero gains an awareness of his newly recognized and created gifts that have emerged in result of his journey. The true spirit of the Return is one’s implementation of his gifts into the society in which he lived and to which he will return. The Hero recognizes his ability to create joy and value in the lives of others through using his gifts and talents in their service. The Hero must come to realize that all people may not accept his gifts and talents in the same way. He may find that his new levels of wisdom and responsibility may not be shared by those he returns to be with and choices may need to be made in order to move on in life, thereby leaving some elements of his old lifestyle and even old friends behind. This can be another difficult step in his journey as it could lead toward discouragement and disillusionment or it could lead toward greater transcendence. Furthermore, he comes to realize that while this particular journey has reached its end, his Return signifies only his completion of this particular journey—and is merely a stepping-off point into the next journey he is presented in life.