Maureen Murdock’s Heroine’s Journey Arc

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.

Maureen Murdock

Murdock’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. The “feminine” is often a mother/mentor figure or a societally prescribed feminine/marginalized/outsider role.
  2. IDENTIFICATION WITH THE MASCULINE & GATHERING OF ALLIES. The heroine embraces a new way of life. This often involves choosing a path that is different than the heroine’s prescribed societal role, gearing up to “fight” an organization/role/group that is limiting the heroine’s life options, or entering some masculine/dominant-identity defined sphere.
  3. ROAD/TRIALS AND MEETING OGRES & DRAGONS. The heroine encounters trials and meets people who try to dissuade the heroine from pursuing their chosen path, or who try to destroy the heroine.
  4. EXPERIENCING THE BOON OF SUCCESS. The heroine overcomes the obstacles in their way. (This is typically where the hero’s journey ends.)
  5. HEROINE AWAKENS TO FEELINGS OF SPIRITUAL ARIDITY/DEATH. The heroine’s new way of life (attempting the masculine/dominant identity) is too limited. Their success in this new way of life is either temporary, illusory, shallow, or requires a betrayal of self over time.
  6. INITIATION & DECENT TO THE GODDESS. The heroine faces a crisis of some sort in which the new way of life is insufficient, and the heroine falls into despair. All of the masculine/dominant-group strategies have failed them.
  7. HEROINE URGENTLY YEARNS TO RECONNECT WITH THE FEMININE. The heroine wants to, but is unable to return to their initial limited state/position.
  8. HEROINE HEALS THE MOTHER/DAUGHTER SPLIT. The heroine reclaims some of their initial values, skills, or attributes (or those of others like them) but now views these traits from a new perspective.
  9. HEROINE HEALS THE WOUNDED MASCULINE WITHIN. The heroine makes peace with the “masculine” approach to the world as it applies to them.
  10.  HEROINE INTEGRATES THE MASCULINE & FEMININE. In order to face the world/future with a new understanding of themselves and the world/life, the heroine integrates the “masculine” and “feminine” qualities/perspectives. This permits the heroine to see through binaries and to interact with a complex world that includes the heroine but is also larger than their personal lifetime or their 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

37 thoughts on “Maureen Murdock’s Heroine’s Journey Arc

    • Ark says:

      This misses the mark quite dramatically at nearly the first step. Note that the male hero’s journey sees no need to integrate the feminine into the character’s development. Essentially all you have done here is assumed that a woman requires a male persona in order to take part in the hero’s journey instead of developing a fully separate and unique approach to the journey.
      A woman’s heroic journey should not revolve around attempts to emulate the male one.
      Your idea that the first step must be to “Break from the societal prescribed roles of femininity”
      first assumes that femininity is socially prescribed, and that masculine traits are the true natural state of being. Second that masculinity is a required state of being for a heroic female character, rather than these traits being somewhat inherent (though subdued) as femininity is in men, and part of their natural progression. You can write a story in which a male or female has to integrate the opposite gender’s persona in order to overcome an obstacles, but this story will never be one that fully explores the depths of a feminine or masculine hero. Instead it will be one that just investigates the dichotomy between the two, and that is a very different story.
      You state that a truly developed hero’s journey for a woman would be a one in which she adopts outside forces of masculinity in order to develop. There should be no mention of masculinity period in a female hero’s journey. A woman has the natural capabilities to overcome her journey’s obstacles, without altering her inherent nature (at least in terms of feminine and masculine roles) Instead it must be her task to understand how to overcome her obstacles within the context of femininity, not outside of it. In a male hero’s journey, the central character must overcome obstacles as they relate to his inherent masculine persona, they never require integration of outside personas nor do they require deviation from their male persona. Their journey is built around the road from an unrealised heroic masculine persona to a realised one. Your first step must be to figure out what a female heroic persona is, independent of masculinity.

      Liked by 1 person

      • nballard says:

        Ark, thanks for your comment. There are many heroine journeys. The one cited by Maureen Murdock is used most often. When it features a female protagonist (or a non-male protagonist) in a male-define context in which the woman or girl is oppressed, abused, or suppressed because of gender, then often the first step is to break out of the restriction by adopting the skills (and sometimes the values or part of the values) of the “other” or male. However, in the heroine’s journey this is never sufficient (if it is, then it is a female protagonist completing a hero’s journey). Something falls apart, either her “success” doesn’t last, is attacked, or she finds it empty or insufficient– she then has to go beyond the male/female binary to seek wholeness/ satisfaction/ fulfillment/ purpose or whatever she is seeking. In other cases the binary may not be so overtly gendered. Perhaps a male is seeking a peaceful solution to greed and war (King Arthur in Once and Future King) or a couple is seeking an enlivened life apart from expectations of “success” in their families/suburbia, or a writer is seeking purpose that is not defined by fame, approval or monetary success. Usually the starting point is based on some kind of distress or longing and there is a background assumption that some kind of societal prescription is the means to success, even if the protagonist or narrator intellectually rejects it. The female heroic persona can be just as much of a trap as a male heroic persona.It is the falling apart of the binary as solution (both ends) that often forces the author/ protagonist/ narrator / life experiencer to seek a new coherency or paradigm– and this is the heroine’s journey. Stay tuned and keep writing. We are going to wrestle with binaries in some fall blogs!

        Liked by 1 person

      • clkthomson says:

        You wrote-In a male hero’s journey, the central character must overcome obstacles as they relate to his inherent masculine persona, they never require integration of outside personas nor do they require deviation from their male persona.–
        This is interesting to me. I want to agree with this, but I do not feel it is accurate. There is a reaching out, a wisdom teacher must be found. This is seen everywhere in the literature that uses the Hero’s Journey as a template. This wisdom teacher is the Sophia, the feminine, the nurturing and holistic healer/wisdom keeper. It is always a man, sadly, in these tails, but these are whole men, at least. They are whole in that they carry their masculinity within the container of the womb.. it has been through a process of development which allows the balance the hero is looking for.
        We, as women, are so often hurt by the masculine. We cannot find where we are embodying that part of ourselves, nor do we want to. I believe, too, that we can find that wisdom teacher in a male, as well as a female-one that has done their work and can guide us to nurture in ourselves what needs to blossom through this experience.
        I have both male and female characters in my life that have found me and am so blessed. Their influence is the same in many, many ways. I feel guided and loved by each of them. I feel unspeakable gratitude for them and the process of becoming a whole, healed woman, who has finally found her voice and power in this world of brokenness.

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      • Isis says:

        The separation from feminine is what the heroine needs to learn from. She needs to learn that her femininity is vital by FIRST separating from it and learning that masculine traits by themselves cannot help her. It is a natural progression for a woman to want to separate from her femininity when she is in a society where masculinity is the only thing praised. At first, she may view herself as being subversive and strong by taking up a strong mantel and separating from society’s gender roles; however, the moral of this journey is that this is not the best way to counteract patriarchy, and that she must return to her femininity and female strength to succeed.

        If she already knew this, and never relied on masculinity, there would be nothing for her to learn, and no point for a story or ‘journey’.

        Liked by 2 people

  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 3 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 2 people

    • 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.

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  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!

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  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.

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    • 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.

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      • Luke says:

        No. To be brief, in the book itself, the word illusionary is literally that. I feel that the omitting of that word in the list of ten steps is something (for you) to think about.

        But that is the point, isn’t it? Maureen is saying that you deceive yourself about the ‘illusionary boon of success’ you are experiencing. Because it is not actually who you are, it is not what the voice inside wants, it is not what the person you keep locked up inside wants… whatever it is – it is not what your true self wants. So your success in life up to that point, even if you are a successful person, is ‘illusionary’ – not that it ‘feels’ illusionary, it *is* illusionary. And after you realize that, and make changes, then you are past the ‘illusionary boon of success’ and on to the next step of life.

        -Luke

        since this is the internet, want to mention I write this without spite or malice. I just had a coworker randomly ask if I felt fulfilled at the job where we work together, and I couldn’t help but think about Maureen and the steps that women take in their lives. My coworker asked that because earlier in her life she wanted to work at a nursing home but said she selfishly chose other things. My coworker is currently under the ‘illusionary boon of success’. If all women are on the same path, or experience the same steps in life, as Maureen and other suggest, well that was my initial point in my post a year or so ago, that you too are in that stage/step, and hence purposely omitted the word illusionary.

        Good luck with love.

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    • 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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  7. annathomsonsite says:

    Thank you for your summary. I am interested in exploring more of the binary of masculine/feminine. Identifying as a queer person, I see this binary as an inherently heterosexual one, and one which I do not relate to (nor do many people I know). Are there ways in which a journey could be made which do not divide us a category of two?
    Warm regards, Anna

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    • nballard says:

      One of the things I like about the Heroine’s Journey is that it is oriented toward wholeness, not win/lose/; success/failure; good/bad; male/female; leader/follower gay/straight, and other binaries. Wholeness is often conceived of as the integration of two opposing forces or ideas, but it need not be. You raise a very good point and I will try to integrate the idea of wholeness as something other than the integration of binaries into some new posts coming this fall. Part of the temptation to see life or purpose as a yin/yang binary is that many of our brain functions operate as binaries, but that is no excuse. Thanks for your comment and please keep coming back. If you have another conception you would like to offer as a blog or extended comment, by all means let us know. And we are glad you stopped by. Come again!

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  8. Marta C Weeks says:

    I am preparing to finalize an article regarding Haya’s journey on the first book of my Immortals series, The Sylph’s Tale. like this article and I am currently taking a class on Mythology that is the best, in my opinion, I have taken.

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  9. Brian says:

    Wow! Just found your site and it’s very helpful. My wife just completed all her training to be a firefighter in our town. I am trying to be as supportive of her as she has been of me during my career. Unfortunately I am supporting her from my male perspective. I want to try and understand her ‘heroine’s journey, from her perspective. Your site may be very helpful indeed. Thank you!

    Like

  10. James says:

    Does the Monomyth need to be rewritten to be gender specific? Not in my opinion, I respect an attempt to tailor a gender specific guide to Campbell’s monomyth but I think it moves further from the barebones structure which allows it to resonate despite gender, time, class. To add to what has already been succinctly reduced seems counter productive, and introduces an exclusivity at odds with the original intent for universality. It’s the Problem Solver’s journey, in essence, and each step is vital to any gender who seeks to solve a problem or test the merit of a challenging idea. I agree the Monomyth can be tailored based on gender of protagonist when implemented into a narrative, but that would only be filling in the spaces between steps, not including those beats into the native template as some kind of be all and end all to interpreting the monomyth to fit gender, well that seems boldly presumptuous and potentially regressive to me. But what would I know?

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    • nballard says:

      Hi James, Neither the hero’s journey nor the heroine’s journey is gender specific. Nor do I believe there is one myth that encompasses the entire human experience, although there are myths that appear in multiple cultures. Indeed, the Hero’s journey can be characterized as the “problem solver’s” journey, but it ends when the problem is solved, and life is not a single problem that can be solved, either at the individual, group, country, or humanity level. The beginning of the heroine’s journey is similar to the hero’s journey, but it goes on after the “boon of success” — as life does. Many stories end with some boon of success– winning the Olympics, obtaining the treasure, getting the job, getting Union recognition for one’s fellow and sister workers, etc. but that doesn’t mean the real life experience would end there. We human beings like the idea of one problem being solved that would solve everything “once and for all” but we believe the real journey of life is longer and more complicated and requires multiple perspectives and patience. Of course, one can approach the next problem as the “real problem” that, if solved, will truly solve everything once and for all– and this accounts for so many hero’s journey sequels that are new hero’s journey and, of course, make room for the next sequel which is another go-round of a problem that repeats the same steps over again. Stay engaged, read more of the site, it’s good to hear from you.

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  11. Sam says:

    Story – a test to evaluate the merit of an untested or challenging idea
    Shadow – represents the challenging idea that demands to be reconciled
    Herald – represents the most recent failed attempt to reconcile the idea and latest data set on the challenging idea, and calls for more Champions to attempt to reconcile.
    Champion – represents the successful tester and one who finally reconciles the idea, to decide whether the idea should be abandoned or integrated, accomplished via submitting to the idea with full empathy while relying on Sidekick (un-coerced support) to escape if overwhelmed (control for peer bonding reinforcement), and allow for a decision to be made to banish Shadow from hosts through enlightenment or else integrate Shadow with existing system of order to constitute final reconciliation if deemed worthy.
    Sidekick – represents the data set for the system of order with which the challenging idea must be reconciled, and tests the idea in respects to peer bonding reinforcement and sustainability across domains (mental, community, ecosystem at large)
    Mentor – expands data set on reconciling the challenging idea, ensures test parameters are met
    Trickster – expands data set to control for perception bias (subconscious limits) in idea appraisal (the jester, half blue, half red, spins purple in your head)
    Shapeshifter – expands data set to control for perception bias (projection) in appraisal of idea integration across domains (mental, community, ecosystem at large)
    Threshold Guardian – control for ensuring test parameters are met to facilitate a reliable result over the course of the test (narrative)

    Meeting With The Goddess – defines parameters to be met for net positive outcome versus the parameters for net negative outcome.
    Atonement With The Father – addresses the previous inabilities on the part of the system of order to reconcile the idea, to better reconcile future challenging ideas via continued process update and redesign, and in turn, system of order update and redesign, to continually seek equilibrium across domains.
    Making Allies/Rescue From Without – control for Champions who try to validate an idea while overlooking its peer bonding reinforcement value.
    Returning with the Elixir – ensures the idea is reconciled, either through integration or abandonment, once investigation is done and knowledge claimed, to facilitate the final implementation of a sustainable solution, and serves as a control for Champion’s that may try to use the claimed knowledge of the Shadow to wield power over others rather than reconcile it.
    Master of Two Worlds – not the individual, but rather the solution, is elevated to “king of all lands”, allowing all people to live free from the previously un-reconciled idea (Shadow).

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      • nballard says:

        Hard to disagree with this, although I might say, rush not to conclusions, lest presumption leave you blind. It’s hard to rush to true understanding– although sometimes it comes upon you in a rush.

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    • nballard says:

      Hi Sam, Good to hear from you. It sounds like you are exploring the hero’s journey/ heroine’s journey / life’s journeys through a game– the Monomyth game??? The categories you cite are intriguing and play a role in many stories. We’d love to have you write a blog for us on your analysis of the board game’s journey arc (or arcs). Many of the concepts have an analog in cognitive science that would be interesting for us to explore if you laid out the game concept a little more. (Or we can look at the game, if it’s a physical game board if you would prefer). As we have repeated said thorughout the site and our comments, neither the hero’s journey nor the heroine’s journey is gender specific. They often are launched by different catalysts, but boy, girl, many woman, trans etc. can go on either journey (and we all usually have experiences with both although we may not recognize it).

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  12. Sam says:

    The Champion’s Journey (non-gender specific) – a list of checks and balances to prepare a human psyche to be able to judge the true merit of an idea which remains un-reconciled, through reliable determination of the potential impacts it has upon integrating across domains.

    The Boon is the gaining of the sword of knowledge that allows a Champion to parse the negative aspects from the positive aspects inherent to an idea, and the journey to claim the sword requires they have also learned “true sight” to be able to fully understand the idea (unhindered empathy), and thus its potential positive/negative impacts across all known interconnected domains (systems of order) as explored on their journey beyond their original domain threshold.

    The Champion is also required to have learned to remove their perception bias to ensure a reliable determination on where to parse the negative from the positive aspects inherent to the idea in respects to how it will potentially affect all domains.

    Finally, the Champion must be proven able to serve the benefit of all through their actions, so as to not be tempted by the Illusory Boon (selfish use of the elixir) vs Ultimate Boon (elixir for the benefit of all).

    I offer none of this in rebuttal, but to implore the universal underlying structure of the Monomyth be recognized and not compromised upon extrapolating for the depiction of gender specific Champions, but rather reinforced.

    There are 18 stages to the Monomyth (the game board), with the story (rules of the game) consisting of 8 key archetypes each with a unique function, which reinforces the rules of the game and the relevancy of those rules to the game board. It seems this is often overlooked in understanding the work of Campbell..

    Regard, Sam

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    • nballard says:

      I don’t think you need to worry about recognition of the underlying structure of Campbell’s monomyth– we have spent hundreds and hundreds of hours analyzing it in every form. Do read the entire site and I think it will be quite clear to you that neither the hero’s journey or the heroine’s journey is necessarily gender specific. Read, for example the two-part blog on Canadian Residential schools for a non-gender specific analysis. As noted in response to your previous comment, we’d love to have you do a guest blog analyzing the game to which you refer and the eighteen stages that seem to be part of the game. I leave you with one final thought– remember, myths are myths– not actual life experiences, and archetypes are simplified versions of aspects of people— and no single myth or archetype can explain either life or a person, but they are often helpful in shifting our perspective to look at our lives and selves in new ways.

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  13. Sam says:

    The prince/castle/dragon/princess metaphor simply represents the elevation of the trait of being an “unselfish Champion who offers sustainable benefit to all” which evolution tends to select for.

    That people easily agree on this being a positive trait to express is evidence of its universal “truth”, and is not gender specific, but specific only to those who would solve emerging problems of an unknown nature that yield a boon that has potential to help all if not kept selfishly.

    Perhaps that this domain was once held by predominantly by men is what has colored the genders within the metaphor to date, but the metaphor holds true gender roles swapped or even homogenized, it is simply the point of the metaphor that it is important, not the gender’s involved. Especially with LGBTQ story telling, the prince/castle/dragon/prince or princess/castle/dragon/princess metaphor should continually strive to yield the same metaphor result, as it is my hope this shall hold true despite the ever changing landscape of human reproductive capabilities that awaits us.

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  14. Sam says:

    And this final overture I offer, that what I have written and is awaiting moderation may yet see the light of day –

    I think what you offer on this page serves as a really helpful insight to implementing the Problem Solver’s Journey for a would be Problem Solver who lives in a society that is plagued by a problem yet their ultimate savior and Problem Solver is denied entry to Problem Solving via a system wide prejudice toward them, and that may subsist across domains, and for which the solution should be implemented at the Atonement With The Father stage, (or else go un-reconciled as would be expected in a cautionary tale, or in tale of a lesser Champion who rids the world of some shadow, while living under another, and come tale’s end is still awaiting a Champion to set them free from the Shadow of “prejudice” which continues un-reconciled.

    To say that the metaphor should perhaps always include multiple shadows to reflect the real world in which we live, and that it would be okay to allow such a “prejudice” shadow to not be reconciled (as opposed to banished where it eternally lurks in threat of resurgence) to become routine, would be to begin to complicate story metaphor’s to a point where potential allegories become difficult for younger minds (or any minds) to extrapolate.

    I simply ask here that it be recognized, albeit as valuable as the work on display here may be, that it not be at the expense of any misunderstanding or derision to the true value underlying the Monomyth.

    Blessings and best wishes be to you, and to any who may read this.

    Kind regards,
    Sam

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    • nballard says:

      Hi again Sam, interesting comments. I resist the idea that we have an ultimate savior or problem solver– although that is sometimes the impression that the Hero’s Journey can leave on with. But certainly there are problems to be solved (which lead one to see new problems, or the solution creates a new problem, etc.) and both the hero’s and the heroine’s journey and other journey arcs can help us to see problems, solving problems, and problems that resist “solving” in new ways. See comments below, if you’d like to expand upon the themes in the board game you describe for us in a guest blog post.

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