Heroine’s Journey I

4th century AD mosaic from Villa del Casale Scicily of female athletes receving victory awardsMaureen Murdock is generally regarded as the first to chart an alternative to Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey narrative paradigm that she believed is more appropriate for women’s life journeys.  As a student of Campbell’s,  Murdock,  came to believe that the Hero’s Journey model did not adequately address the psycho-spiritual journey of women. She developed a model of a  heroine’s journey based on her work with women in therapy.  When she showed it to Campbell in 1983, Campbell reportedly said, “Women don’t need to make the journey. In the whole mythological journey, the woman is there. All she has to do is realize that she’s the place that people are trying to get to.” Perhaps Campbell viewed the hero’s journey as a journey toward wholeness, and in a patriarchal society in which men subordinate qualities traditionally associated with the feminine, the search for wholeness would lead to their  reclaiming so-called feminine qualities and values.  However, it appears that Campbell was either uninterested in women’ reclaiming qualities that had been lost to them through enculturation or those that had never been viewed as rightfully theirs, or he was blinded by the fact that the myths that he was examining involved male figures.  At any rate, Murdock became convinced that women were involved in their own psycho-spiritual journeys and quests and developed the following model.

women-walking-togetherMurdock’s model, described in The Heroine’s Journey: Woman’s Quest for Wholeness, is divided into the ten stages:

  1. HEROINE SEPARATES FROM THE FEMININE–often a mother or societally prescribed feminine role.
  2. IDENTIFICATION WITH THE MASCULINE AND GATHERING OF ALLIES for a new way of life. This often involves choosing a path that is different than the role prescribed for him/her deciding to gear to”fight” an organization, role, or group that is limiting her, or entering some male/masculine-defined sphere.
  3. ROAD OR TRIALS AND MEETING OGRES AND DRAGONSHeroine  encounters  trials and meets people who try to dissuade her from pursuing her chosen path  and/or destroy her(ogres and dragons or their metaphorical counterparts).
  4. EXPERIENCING THE BOON OF SUCCESS by overcoming the obstacles.  This would typically be where the hero’s or “shero’s” (a female protagonist on a hero’s journey) tale ends.
  5. HEROINE AWAKENS TO FEELINGS OF SPIRITUAL ARIDITY / DEATH because the new way of life is too limited.  Success in this new way of life is either temporary, illusory, shallow, or requires a betrayal of self over time.
  6.  INITIATION AND DESCENT TO THE GODDESS.  The heroine faces a crisis of some sort in which the new way is insufficient and falls into despair.  All of her “masculine” strategies have failed her.
  7.   HEROINE URGENTLY YEARNS TO RECONNECT WITH THE FEMININE, but cannot go back  to her initial limited state/position.
  8.   HEROINE HEALS THE MOTHER/ DAUGHTER SPLIT  reclaiming some of her initial values, skills or attributes (or those of others like her) but views them from a new perspective.
  9.  HEROINE HEALS THE WOUNDED MASCULINE WITHIN.  Heroine makes peace with the “masculine” approach to the world as it applies to herself.
  10.  HEROINE INTEGRATES THE MASCULINE AND FEMININE to face the world or future with a new understanding of herself and the world/life.  Heroine sees through binaries and can interact with a complex world that includes her but is larger than her personal  lifetime or geographical/cultural milieu.

Below is the journey laid out in chart form.

Heroine Journey Arc by Maureen Murdock

Heroine’s Journey Arc by Maureen Murdock

17 thoughts on “Heroine’s Journey I

  1. E. Garcia says:

    This is very helpful. I think the woman’s journey today includes the stages of Hero’s Journey of Joseph Campbell ( in the Identification with Masculine stage) but then moves beyond it at the end to re-connect to the feminine so as to move to a deeper intuitive understanding beyond any one time, person, culture, race. This is a timeless connection.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Ann Medlock says:

    Delighted to find you and this charting of a woman’s journey. I have my own experience of Campbell and have been finding/telling heroes’ stories for over 30 years . I once asked him if he knew of any stories from all his research in which a man and woman stayed together, worked together. He was silent a long time and then said he could only think of the old couple who lived by the side of a road and cared for travelers. Thinking back now on conversations with him, I’d say he was of his time, that he delighted in and was amused by women, but definitely believed that we’re here as sidekicks to men. At best.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Kathleen Saville says:

    I think of my own story of rowing across two oceans with my late husband as an example of people staying together. I’ve also thought a lot about my late husband’s take on our rows as Campbell’s hero’s journeys while my own take on our rows is something quite different. I’m not even sure Murdock’s model works for me because I am still in the process of charting what those journeys really were for me. In my recently published memoir “Rowing for My Life” I explore this as a couple. I know there is another story to be told of my journeys alone. Happy to find this blog!

    Liked by 1 person

    • nballard says:

      Thanks for sharing your story, Kathleen. We’d love to here more about your journey and what you believe the differences are between your husband’s view of the journey and your own.


  4. Kathleen Saville says:

    I consider my two rows across the Atlantic and South Pacific oceans with my late husband, examples of a couple staying together after the journey. I believe he saw our ocean rows from the POV of the hero’s journey while I saw it from the feminine journey POV. I just put up a post on my blog site about this. My recently published book on our ocean rows, “Rowing for My Life” illustrates this too. I’ve enjoyed the readings on this blog!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Evadene says:

    So interesting – I’ve always had a sense that the female journey is different from the male journey, but have in the past simply adapted the Hero’s Journey. The Heroine’s Journey has opened up the possibilities considerably in my WIP. Thank you!


  6. Luke says:

    One critique — number 4 is the ‘Illusionary’ boon of success, and that one word changes the entire meaning of that stage of life.

    Food for thought.


    • nballard says:

      Hi Luke, thanks for your comment! I agree that step four’s boon of success feels illusory, but usually only after one achieves some measure of success and it fails to provide the “boon” one had expected. E.g. the promised paradigm shift or ongoing fulfillment doesn’t materialize. It is the failure of the boon to stick (e.g. the failure of a happily-ever-after or change in community attitudes) that catapults the subject toward step five and ultimately the rest of the journey.


    • nballard says:

      Hi Matus, We have given lots of examples already on the site. Go to Journey Narratives and look at the drop down menu for movies, folk tales, short stories and novels. Here are are few more: Our Souls at Night by Kent Haruf (novel); Random Family by Adrian Nicole LeBlanc (creative nonfiction/reportage); and Department of Speculation by Jenny Offill. We will probably be doing a review/exploration of each of these books (plus movies) and more this fall. So stay tuned!


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