The first time I heard about the Hero’s Journey was in Brazil, whilst studying scriptwriting at Academia Internacional de Cinema, in São Paulo.
I realised that the structure of a film, the way the story was to be told, and the characters, their internal conflicts, challenges, and longings, were too familiar to belong to the fiction realm alone. It was one of those feelings you can’t grasp rationally, only your soul would be able to fully connect with such a calling.
Until you can’t ignore it any longer.
Decided to dive deeper into it and that’s when I found a Post-Graduation in Literary Journalism – the one that tells stories, not the one that reports on news – with a whole module about the theme that had caught my full attention: The Hero’s Journey.
Or an event that makes it impossible to get back to life as we knew it. The soul needs the ego to cooperate on its quest, to make the move and just go, even when we are not sure about what’s going to happen, none of us is. There are no guarantees of success, not even the certainty that we’ll find what we were looking for, just a force that pushes us forward to an adventure.
The adventure of our life.
So my ego found the Post-Graduation a fairly good enough excuse to move to another hemisphere and try my luck. And that’s where I found out about Carl Jung, who definitely changed my life for good.
Always thought that there should be more to life than just be born, go to school, get a job, get married, have children, and die.
What was the purpose of it all, I wondered?
Carl Jung replied to that question, he called it the Individuation Process. In which you become whole. After integrating all the bits of yourself in your identity.
One of Jung’s concepts that resonated immediately in me was the notion of collective unconscious. This massive unconscious that links all of us as a whole, regardless the language, borders, culture, and traditions passed on from generation to generation.
The same way stories have been told, even before books existed.
Stories are and always have been the way to tell us about the ways of the world, the people, and even nature’s Acts of God. Tales are told from parents and grand-parents to children. Stories inspire soldiers, students, adults in a professional environment, patients in hospitals, everywhere around the world. They have the capacity to move the defending and protective part of our personality away, so that a deeper connection can arise and make us see things one would not be able to envision otherwise.
The first stories we’d probably remember collectively are myths, which tell us epic tales that resonate in all of us, because they are adapted to the region where they are being told, so that the concepts they entail can be better understood and integrated in their listeners’ consciousness.
In myths, as in any other story, written, told or watched, the structure is always the same: conflict, call to adventure, adventure, return. And the themes on such stories are universal: Birth, death, marriage, love, hate, revenge, power, greed, etc.
For stories to happen, they need characters.
Which traits and inner conflicts are archetypical, that is: Universal, like the mother, the father, children, aunts and uncles, friends, antagonists, rivals…
The traits of personality of such characters are very much the same of the ones we can see in Greek Gods’ epics, in fairy tales, in books, movies, series, and real life stories.
Such stories have stages, organised in a structure that makes them ready to be consumed by any kind of listener, learner, anyone, regardless the way one perceives knowledge.
Stories are the only teaching method that communicates effectively through all the different types of personalities.
So, when the Hero’s Journey module came along, I realised that rather than simple entertainment, it was about life, pure and simple. Everybody’s life. And that all the life stages, challenges, adversities, are just a small bit of a larger story, the story of our lives. Of the lives of the ones before us and of the ones to come. The stories we live, the adventures, are always a step forward in the direction of the whole of us. Individually and collectively.
I went to São Paulo to study Literary Journalism.
Just to find myself in a totally different kind of adventure. The final purpose, even though I hadn’t known it by then, was to get acquainted with Jung. With him, and his line of psychology, I finally made sense. Was different and had been leading a different life from the majority, but there was a place for me in this world. Other than the traditional lives and roles for men and women, seen as proper and, above all, the only ones one could play.
I ended up studying Myths, as I realised that the patterns of behaviour and personality of the Greek (or any other civilization) Gods can be seen in anyone living in this world. Be it our siblings, parents, cousins, friends, colleagues, or any other person, be it public or not.
There are the ones driven by power, like Zeus, the ones that would be the right arm of the leader, like Apolo or Atena, the mothers, like Demeter, the daughters, like Persephone, the independent women that would never depend on a man for their realisation, like Artemis, the light, goofy types, like Hermes, the artists, like Hephaestus, the emotional types, like Ares and Poseidon, the wives, like Hera, the wise, like Hestia, the types that are drawn by beauty and sensitivity, like Aphrodite, and so many others. None of them needs to be anyone else, and each and every one of them has to make amends with the bits that are not recognised by Zeus (or the Western Civilization). So that who they really are can be appreciated and its value can be added to the society.
Making it balanced, which is the way of the Universe, and of our psyches.
Like Poseidon, for instance. He was not validated by the Greeks as they prioritise rational thinking rather than emotion. Being an emotional type made him lose his battles to his brother Zeus, who, driven by power, made alliances with its enemies to become the ruler. Which led to frustration and the crushing feeling of not being appreciated for who Poseidon was. Poseidon’s emotions might not be valued in a rational world, that likes everything to be clean, in order, clear, and as less disturbing as possible. Nonetheless, what’s all that without magic? Without creativity, colours, emotions, passion, the new, all the things that make our eyes sparkle and our bodies alive, energetic and willing to make something out of our existence.
That is the power of stories, to bring meaning to our lives.
Which was what the Hero’s Journey brought to mine.
The Hero’s Journey is individual, it’s a lonely adventure in a sense that something must be sacrificed, the comfort life we are living, in which we feel safe, but bored. Something else is waiting for us outside and we need to go, to move on to the next phase of our lives, personalities and identities.
However, we are not alone.
Along the way, people cross our paths to help us move forward in our quest. Be it a wise man that helps the hero with knowledge that he will use in the future, the new friend that will encourage the hero when the latter is feeling down and not up for the job, the threshold guardians that make sure the hero is ready for the adventure, the antagonists, the Hero’s rival, that puts up a good fight, and all the doors that open and close, guiding the hero in the right direction. The path that had always been there for him to walk through.
So the ego is the driving force that puts the adventure into motion, but what guides us along the way in our journey is the soul.
As this is not a quest for power and control per se, that’s the ego’s goal, it is a quest for connection, recognition and acceptance. To bring all the forces living in our heads together, and, being duly acknowledged as parts of ourselves – like it the ego or not – to lead a life in full, that makes sense and is aligned with a higher purpose.
Regardless what is valued in society and what is not, it is all part of us, individually and collectively, and its shadow projected onto the world whenever it is not recognised in and by us.
We might not necessarily act on it, consciously, at least, but there are healthy ways to express what is not collectively accepted, be it in art and creativity or in sports.
So the Hero’s Journey is individual, but it has a collective purpose.
As for it to be complete, the Hero has to come back not only to face the community – as the one that left and returned, almost as a stranger, who is he now, what had happened to him – but to bring all the knowledge he had gathered during the journey, to the community.
Something the community needs, to be able to thrive.
It is natural to resist to new ways of doing things, it exposes us, our ego likes to have everything under control, to feel safe and protected. Nevertheless, as it happens individually, the collective also needs, to find new ways to keep its balance.
The balance between opposites.
All the conflicts are a result of two apparently opposite forces fighting each other, so that only one of them can live. Collective and individual needs embrace a great deal of those opposite forces.
If we take emotion and reasoning, for example. We need reason to keep our primitive urges under control, but it is our feeling function that tells us that something is not right, out of balance. So, instead of letting the ego take care of it, which is always one-sided, our soul needs to be listened to. Not only to appease the ego on its fears, but also to help it grow, overcoming that fear, so that we can move forward, safely and opened to the unknown.
The Hero’s Journey, and the characters we’ll meet, is not only a way to make sense of the world and of our lives, but also a guide to help us move forward, making sure we embrace the challenges along the way, as they have a higher purpose, and, hopefully, everything will make sense in the end.
For what is worth, it is a call from the soul and that would be the last thing you’d want to ignore, as those are the only ones to live for.