"The Hero with a Thousand Faces"
Joseph Campbell
(New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1949)


Myth and Dream

Whether we listen with aloof amusement to the dreamlike mumbo jumbo of some red-eyed witch doctor of the Congo, or read with cultivated rapture thin translations from the sonnets of the mystic Lao-tse ... it will always be the one, shape-shifting yet marvelously constant story that we find, together with a challengingly persistent suggestion of more remaining to be experienced than will ever be known or told [emphasis added]. (p. 3)

Throughout the inhabited world, in all times and under every circumstance, the myths of man have flourished; and they have been the living inspiration of whatever else may have appeared out of the activities of the human body and mind. It would not be too much to say that myth is the secret opening through which the inexhaustible energies of the cosmos pour into human cultural manifestation. ... (p 3)

The first step, detatchment or withdrawal, consists in a radical transfer of emphasis from the external to the internal world, macro- to microcosm, a retreat from the desperations of the waste land to the peace of the everlasting realm that is within. But this realm, as we know from psychoanalysis is precisely the infantile unconscious. It is the realm that we enter in sleep. We carry it within ourselves forever. All the ogres and secret helpers of our nursery are there, all the magic of childhood. And more important, all the life-potentialities that we never managed to bring to adult realization, those othere portions of ourself, are there; for such golden seeds do not die. ... In a word the first work of the hero is to retreat from the world scene of secondary effects, to those causal zones of the psyche wherre the difficulties really reside, and there to clarify, 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 C. G. Jung has called "the archetypal images." (pp 17-18)

The hero, therefore, is the man or woman who has been able to battle past his personal and local historical limitations to the generally valid, normally human forms. Such a one's visions, ideas, and inspirations come pristine from the primary springs of human life and thought. Hence they are eloquent, not of the present, disintegrating society and psyche, but of the unquenched source through which society is reborn. The hero has died as a modern man; but as eternal man -- perfected, unspecific, universal man -- he has been reborn. His second solemn task and deed therefore (as Toynbee declares and as all the mythologies of mankind indicate) is to return then to us, transfigured, and teach the lessons he has learned of life renewed. (pp. 19-20)

Tragedy and Comedy

Modern romance, like Greek tragedy, celebrates the mystery of dismemberment, which is life in time. The happy ending is justly scorned as a misrepresentation; for the world, as we know it, as we have seen it, yields but one ending: death, disintegration, dismemberment, and the crucifixion of our heart with the passing of the forms that we have loved. (pp 25-26)

The Hero and the God

The standard path of the mythologogical adventure of the hero is a magnification of the formula represented in the rites of passage: separation--initiation--return: which might be named the nuclear unit of the monomyth.

Prometheus ascended to the heavens, stole fire from the gods and descended. Jason sailed through the Clashing Rockes into a sea of marvels, circumvented the dragon that guarded the Golden Fleece, and returned with the fleece and the power to wrest his rightful throne from the usurper. ... (p.30)

... the adventure of the hero normally follows the pattern of the nuclear unit above described: a separation from the world, a penetration t some source of power, and a life-enhancing return. (p. 35)

Or if the hero, in the third place, makes his safe and willing return, he may meet with such a blank understanding and disregard from those whom he has come to help that his career will collapse. (p. 37)

The composite hero of the monomyth is a personage of exceptional gifts. Frequently he is honored by his society, frequently unrecognized or disdained. He and/or the world in which he finds himself suffers from a symbolic deficiency. ... in apocalyptic vision the physical and spiritual life of the whole earth can be represented as fallen. (p. 37

Part II. "The Cosmogenic Cycle," unrolls the great vision of the creation and destruction of the world which is vouchsafed as revelation to the successful hero. Chapter I, Emanations, treats of the the coming of the forms of the universe out of the void. Chapter II. The Virgin Birth ... Chapter III. Transformations of the hero ... Chapter IV, Dissolutions tells of the fortetold end, first of the hero, then of the manifested world." (p. 38)

The cosmogenic cycle is presented with astonishing consistency in the sacred writings of all the continents, and it gives to the adventure of the hero a new and intersting turn; for now it appears that the perilous journey was a labor not of attainment but of reattainment, not of discovery but rediscovery. The godly powers sought and dangerously won are revealed to have been within the heart of the hero all the time. He is "the king's son" who has come to know who he is and therewith has entered into the exercise of his proper power -- "God's son," who has learned to know how much that title means. From this point of view the hero is symbolical of that devine creative and redemptive image which is hidden within us all, only waiting to be known and rendered into life. (p. 39)


. . .


From Psychology to Metaphysics

The modern student may, of course, study these symbols as he will, either as a symptom of others' ignorance, or as a sign to him of his own, either in terms of a reduction of metaphysics to psychology, or vice versa. The traditional way was to meditate on the symbols in both senses. In any case, they are telling metaphors of the destiny of man, man's hope, man's faith, and man's dark mystery. (p. 260)

The Universal Round

As the consciousness of the individual rests on a sea of night into which it descends in slumber and out of which it mysteriously wakes, so, in the imagery of myth, the universe is precipitated out of, and reposes upon, a timelessness back into which it again dissolves. And as the mental and physical health of the individual depends on an orderly flow of vital forces into the field of waking day from the unconscious dark, so again in myth, the continuance of the cosmic order is assured only by a controlled flow of power from the source. The gods are symbolic personifications of the laws governing this flow. The gods come into existence with the dawn of the world and dissolve with the twilight. They are not eternal in the sense that the night is eternal. Only from the shorter span of human existence does the round of a cosmogonic eon seem to endure.
    The cosogonic cycle is normally represented as repeating itself, world without end. During each great roundd, lesser dissolutions are commonly included, as teh cycle of sleep and weking revolves throughout a lifetime... (p. 261).

The cosmogonic cycle is to be understood as the passage of the universal consciousness from the deep sleep zone of the unmanifest through dream, to the full day of waking; then back again through dream, to the timeless dark. As in the actual experience of every living being, so in the grandiose figure of the living cosmos; in the abyss of sleep the energies are refreshed, in the work of the day they are exhausted; the life of the universe runs down and must be renewed (p. 266)

Out of the Void — Space

... The basic principle of all mythology is this of the beginning in the end. Creation myths are pervaded with a sense of the doom that is continually recalling all created shapes to the imperishable out of which they first emerged. The formes go forth powerfully but inevitably reach their apogee, break, and return. Mythology, in this sense, is tragic in its view. But in the sense that it places our true being not in the forms that shatter but in the imperishable out of which they again immediately bubble forth, mythology is eminently untragical. Indeed, wherever the mythological mood prevails, tragedy is impossible. A quality rather of dream prevails. True being, meanwhile, is not in the shapes but in the dreamer. (pp. 269-270)

Within Space — Life

The first effect of the cosmogonic emanations is the framing of the world stage of space; the second is the production of life within the frame: life polarized for self-reproduction under the dual form of the male and female. It is possible to represent the entire process in sexual terms, as a pregnancy and birth....

The Breaking of the One into the Manifold

The forward roll of the cosmogonic round precipitates the One into the many. Herewith a great crisis, a rift, splits the created world into two apparently contradictory planes of being. ... the people emerge from the lower darkness and immediately go to work to elevate the sky. They are revealed as moving with an apparent independence. They hold councils, they decide, they plan; they take over the work of arranging the world. Yet we know that behind the scenes the Unmoved Mover is at work, like a puppetmaster. (p. 281)
    In mythology, wherever the Unmoved Mover, the Mighty Living One, holds the center of attention, there is a miraculous spontaneity about the shaping of the universe. The elements condense and move into play of their own accord, or at the Creator's slightest word; the portions of the self-shattering cosmic egg go to their stations without aid. But when the perspective shifts to focus on human beings, when the panorama of space and nature is faced from the standpoint of the personages ordained to inhabit it, then a sudden transformation overshadows the cosmic scene. No longer do the forms of the world appear to move in the patterns of a living, growing, harmonious thing, but stand recalcitrant, or at best inert. The props of the universal stage have to be adjusted, even beaten into shape. The earth brings forth thorns and thistles; man eats bread in the sweat of his brow. (pp. 281-282)
    Two modes of myth therefore confront us. According to one, the demiurgic forces continue to operate of themselves; according to theother, they give up the initiative and even set themselves against the further progress of the cosmogoinic round. The difficulties representedd in this latter form of myth begin even as early as during the long darkness of the original, creature-begetting embrace of the cosmic parents....

Herein lies the basic paradox of myth; the paradox of the dual focus. Just as at the opening of the cosmogonic cycle it was possible to say "God is not involved," but at the same time "God is creator-preserver-destroyer," so now at this critical juncture, where the One brreaks into many, destiny "happens," but at the same time "is brought about." From the perspective of the source, the world is a majestic harmony of forms pouring into being, exploding, and dissolving. But what the swiftly passing creatures experience is a terrible cacophony of battle cries and pain. The myths do not deny this agony (the crucifixion); they reveal within, behind, and around it essential peace (the heavenly rose).
    The shift of perspective from the repose of the central Cause to the turbulation of the peripheral effects is represented in the Fall of Adam and Eve in the Garden of eden. They ate of the forbidden fruit "and the eyes of them both were opened." The bliss of Paraidse was closed to them and they beheld the created field from the other side of a transforming veil. Henceforth they should experience the inevitable as the hard to gain. (p. 288)

. . .

The Primordial Hero and the Human

We have come two stages: first, from the immediate emanations of the Uncreated Creating to the fluid yet timeless personages of the mythological age; second, from these Created Creating Ones to the sphere of human history. The emanations have condensed, the field of consciousness constricted. Where formerly causal bodies were visible, now only their secondary effects come to focus in the little hard-fact pupil of the human eye. The cosmogenic cycle is now to be carried forward, therefore, not by gods, who have become invisible, but by the heroes, more or less human in character, through whom the world destiny is realized. This is the line where creation myths begin to give place to legend -- as in the Book of Genesis, following the expulsion from the garden. Metaphysics yields to prehistory, which is dim and vague at first, but becomes gradually precise in detail. The heroes become less and less fabulous, until at last, in the final stages of the various local traditions, legend opens into the common daylight of recorded time. (pp. 315-316)

. . .

Childhood of the Human Hero

. . .

The Hero as Warrior

For the mythological hero is the champion not of things become but of things becoming; the dragon to be slain by him is the past. From obscurity the hero emerges, but the enemy is great and conspicuous in the seat of power; he is enemy, dragon, tyrant because he turns to his own advantage the authority of his position. He is Holdfast not because he keeps the past but because he keeps. (p. 337)

The tyrant is proud, and therin resides his doom. He is proud because he thinks of his strength as his own; thus he is in the clown role, as a mistaker of shadow for substnace; it is his destiny to be tricked. The mythological hero, reappearing from the darkness that is the source of the shapes of the day, brings a knowledge of the secret of the tryant's doom. With a gesture as simple as the pressing of a button, he annihilates the impressive configuration. The hero-deed is a continuous shattering of the crystalizations of the moment.The cycle rolls: mythology focuses on the growing point. Transformation, fluidity, not stubborn poderosity, is the characteristic of the living God. The great figure of the moment exiss only to be broken, cut into chunks, and scattered abroad. Briefly: the ogre-tyrant is the champion of the prodigious fact, the hero the champion of creative life. (p. 337)

All of which is far indeed from the contemporary view; for the democratic ideal of the self-determining individual, the invention of the power-driven machine, and the development of the scientific method of research, have so transformed human life that the long-inherited, timeless universe of symbols has collapsed. In the fateful, epoch-announcing words of Nietzsche's Zarathustra: "Dead are all the gods." One knows the tale; it has been told a thousand ways. It is the hero-cycle of the modern age, the wonder-story of of mankind's coming to maturity. The spell of the past, the bondage of tradition, was shattered with sure and mighty strokes. The dream-web of myth fell away; the mind opened to full awakening consciousness; and modern man emerged from ancient ignorance, like a butterfly from its cocoon, or like the sun at dawn from the womb of mother night. (p. 387)

It is not only that there is no hiding place for the gods from the searching telescope and microscope; there is no society any more as the gods once supported. The social unit is not a carrier of religious content, but an economic-political organization. Its ideals are not those of the hieratic pantomime, making visible on earth the forms of heaven, but of the secular state, in hard and unremitting competition for material supremacy and resources. Isolated societies, dream-bounded within a mythological charged horizon, no longer exist except as areas to be exploited. And within the progressive societies themselves, every last vestige of the ancient human heritage of ritual, morality, and art is in full decay. (pp. 387-388)

. . .

The hero-deed to be wrought is not today what it was in the century of Galileo. Where then there was darkness, now there is light; but also, where light was, there is now darkness. The modern hero deed must be that of questing to bring to light again the lost Atlantis of the co-ordinated soul. (p. 388)

. . . The national idea, with the flag as totem, is today an aggrandizer of the nursery ego, not the annihilator of an infantile situation. Its parody rituals of the parade ground serve the ends of Holdfast, the tyrant dragon, not the God in whom self-interest is annihilate. And the numerous saints of this anticult — namely the patriots whose ubiquitous photographs, draped with flags, serve as official icons — are precisely the local threshold guardians (our demon Sticky-hair) whom it is the first problem of the hero to surpass. (pp. 388-389)

. . .

The modern hero, the modern individual who dares to heed the call and seek the mansion of that presence with whom it is our whole destiny to be atoned, cannot, indeed must not, wait for his community to cast off its slough of pride, fear, rationalized avarice, and sanctified misunderstanding [Note: Standarized Error]. "Live," Nietzsche says, "as though the day were here." It is not society that is to guide and save the creative hero, but precisely the reverse. And so everyone of us shares the supreme ordeal — carries the cross of the redeemer — not in the bright moments of his tribe's great victories, but in the silences of his personal despair. (p. 391)