Joseph Campbell spent a lifetime studying myths and stories from around the world, especially the ones that related to life’s biggest questions: Where did everything come from?; Is there purpose to the things that come up in our lives?; How do we as human beings fully flourish? For him, we as human beings aren’t seeking meaning so much as experience–the “experience of being alive, so that our life experiences on the purely physical plane will have resonances within our own innermost being and reality, so that we actually feel the rapture of being alive”–and he believes that life is structured to allow this unfolding of deep experience to take place. Through his immersion in great art and literature and the stories that seem to come up in every culture and every human life, he came to conclude that there is one story of all stories, a monomyth, that expresses this call to adventure, and which is woven into the structures of the universe (even as deep or deeper than DNA) such that it can and will play out in our lives. The trick will be to recognize it. This monomyth, he believes, is the “Hero’s Journey”: “A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.”
In this episode, Carol Lynn Pearson and David A. Stacey join Mormon Matters host Dan Wotherspoon in unpacking Campbell’s model, but also applying it to LDS lives, including their own. They explore Mormon scriptures and stories, including the biggest one of all, the Plan of Salvation, in terms of the Hero’s Journey. Through it all, they encourage everyone to examine their own lives in terms of this structure. Where are we on our hero’s journey? Who is serving for us some of the roles that the pattern describes? What forces are keeping us from journeying to the inmost cave and meeting our deepest fears and having the fight there that will kill us and allow us to be reborn as masters who can then share with others the boons we have gained? In the end, the panelists conclude that it does not matter if one ends up deciding whether the universe or powerful beings within it truly structure reality in such a way that these adventures, visions, and empowerments are available to us all or if this is a structure we have learned to apply to our lives to help us feel oriented especially in extremely difficult times. For them, the Hero’s Journey “works”–and that is as “real” as anything needs to be.
We hope you will listen and share your reactions and experiences in the comments below!
Joseph Campbell and Bill Moyers, The Power of Myth, Part 1: “The Hero with a Thousand Faces”
“The Hero’s Journey–Your Call to Adventure,” YouTube video slide show featuring a 12-step outline of the Hero’s Journey (8:17)
Carol Lynn Pearson, The Hero’s Journey of the Gay and Lesbian Mormon