The Heroine's Journey

Several decades ago, American mythologist Joseph Campbell developed his well-known and tremendously influential outline of the ‘Hero’s Journey’. The basic plot of all the world’s great stories, Campbell declared, involves a Hero who happens to be a person of exceptional gifts, which may or may not be recognised by his society. He and/or the world in which he lives suffers from a symbolic deficiency (in a fairy tale, for example, it may be something as simple as the lack of a specific golden ring); the Hero must set out on a great adventure to win the missing treasure and bring it back to the world. Campbell argued that there are three key phases of these symbolic journeys, beginning with the phase of separation, or departure, in which the Hero hears the ‘Call to Adventure’ and sets out. In the second phase, ‘the trials and victories of initiation’, the Hero passes along a ‘Road of Trials’ and is tested. During the third phase, ‘the return and reintegration with society’, the Hero brings back his gift to the world and so saves it, or himself, or another. Campbell believed that those three phases and the sub-stages which he outlined within them are common not only to the structure of the myths themselves, but also to the structure of our own individual journeys through our lives.

This model may well explain the features which many myths and fairy tales from around the world have in common, and may also, as many Jungian psychotherapists who followed Campbell have suggested, offer up a template for a real-life Hero’s Journey and a metaphor for personal spiritual and psychological growth. But I believe that it has little to offer women. It does not reflect the full reality of women’s lives, either inner or outer. In it, women appear either as the Temptress, there to test the Hero and lead him off-course (there goes poor Eve again …); or in the guise of the Great Goddess, who represents the ‘unconditional love’ which must be won by the Hero to give him the courage to go on with his quest. In other words, at their very best, women can be no more than the destination: we represent the static, essential qualities that the active, all-conquering Hero is searching for. Maureen Murdock, one of his female students, wrote that Campbell told her: ‘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.’

I respectfully disagree. Women absolutely do need to make the journey; we do not, however, need to make the same journey which the Hero makes. Our journey is different; our stories are all our own. It’s more than time we told our own stories, outlined our journeys for ourselves. We don’t need Heroes to tell us who to be.

In If Women Rose Rooted I revision the Hero’s Journey for women, and for the times. What emerges is more pilgrimage than swash-buckling heroic adventure: an Eco-Heroine’s Journey back to place, and a sense of belonging in the world.

 

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