Joseph Campbell first identified and outlined the stages of the hero’s journey in 1949 his book The Hero With a Thousand Faces. He used psychological understandings that were modern at the time in addition to a comparative study of literature across time and culture to create what he and many others have described as the “monomyth” for all heroic narratives. Although Campbell may have at one point viewed the archetypal hero as male, the journey has also been used to describe many journeys undertaken by females.
Campbell’s model is divided into seventeen stages, which are further divided into three sections: Departure (stages 1-5), Initiation (stages 6-11), and Return (stages 12-17).
- THE CALL TO ADVENTURE. The hero is living within their ordinary world but receives some sort of calling to change their life and enter the unknown.
- REFUSAL OF THE CALL. The hero turns away from their calling because they feel some sort of obligation to stay where they are, or fear they are not brave/smart/strong/etc. enough to begin the journey.
- SUPERNATURAL AID. When they agree to heed the call to adventure, the hero’s guide or mentor (often magical, wise, or superhuman in some way) appears or becomes known.
- THE CROSSING OF THE FIRST THRESHOLD. The hero leaves their ordinary, known world and enter the unknown world where their journey will take place.
- THE BELLY OF THE WHALE. The hero completely severs their connection to the “safe” world they left behind. In this stage, the hero makes the commitment to fully engage with the journey and transformation of self.
- THE ROAD OF TRIALS. The hero goes through a series of struggles—trials that test the hero’s character and ability.
- THE MEETING WITH THE GODDESS. The hero encounters some sort of powerful love or embodiment of good. The hero must earn a connection with the “goddess.”
- WOMAN AS THE TEMPTRESS. The hero is tempted away from their journey and ultimate reward.
- ATONEMENT WITH THE FATHER. The hero comes to terms with the realization that their parental/mentor figure is mortal and flawed. The hero may have to rely on this imperfect being for help.
- APOTHEOSIS. The hero reaches some sort of higher understanding that equips them for the final, most difficult stages of their journey/transformation.
- THE ULTIMATE BOON. The hero achieves what they set out to do, or acquires what they set out to obtain.
- REFUSAL OF THE RETURN. The hero is reluctant to leave their magical world and return to their ordinary world.
- THE MAGIC FLIGHT. The hero realizes they must return to their community and bring their enlightenment/boon back. The hero may have to escape and receive supernatural assistance to return.
- RESCUE FROM WITHOUT. The hero may be too weakened physically or mentally to return with the boon and must be retrieved by someone from the ordinary world.
- THE CROSSING OF THE RETURN THRESHOLD. The hero reconnects with the ordinary world and must discern some way to keep their boon and integrate their new knowledge into the way that the old world functions.
- MASTER OF THE TWO WORLDS. The hero understands and is able to balance the separation between the “two worlds,” often in some material and spiritual sense. The hero bridges the gap that seems to exist between how they began and how they have returned.
- FREEDOM TO LIVE. Mastering the two worlds leads to the hero’s release from fear of death. This allows them to live without fearing their past or future
Campbell’s version of the hero’s journey can be depicted graphically as follows: