Post Camino #14 – The Hero’s Journey

In his groundbreaking book, The Hero with a Thousand Faces, mythologist Joseph Campbell established the concept of the “Hero's Journey.”

Essentially, what Campbell did was he examined classic myths from various cultures, and using concepts gleaned from Carl Jung, came to his monomythic theory:

“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.”

Okay, let's apply that to a pilgrim who leaves home to walk the Camino.

The hero (pilgrim) as Campbell describes in his book, starts in an “ordinary world” and gets a “call to adventure,” to enter an “unusual world of strange powers and events.” The hero/pilgrim then must face a “road of trials,” some of them intense and requiring assistance from others.

The hero/pilgrim ultimately must face a severe test, and if he or she survives, is then granted a great gift, or “boon.” The hero/pilgrim must then decide whether to return to the village, or the “ordinary world,” to bestow this gift or boon on the rest of the community, or the world.

There are so many parallels with someone getting the “call” to walk the Camino, a strange world of unusual powers and events – facing a road of trials, having to overcome an intense challenge, and receiving a gift before returning home.

But, one of the essential elements of the Hero's Journey is returning home. Returning home to bestow the “boon” on those that he or she left behind. This is for the betterment of the home, the village, the community and the world.

In times past, reaching Santiago was only half the journey. The other half was walking back home. Very few pilgrims do this now. I saw about 6 doing the return journey on my pilgrimage.

But some, even when they do return home, remain on the Camino.



24 thoughts on “Post Camino #14 – The Hero’s Journey

  1. I love Joseph Campbell. I have all his books, he makes do much sense and i like the fact that he does not identifies himself with a particular religion or believe.


  2. For anyone who would like an introduction to the “hero’s journey” I recommend they watch Find Joe. It’s a beautiful explanation of the hero’s journey and who Joseph Campbell was.


  3. Keeping the pilgrim spirit is hard at times back in the world, I love this whole idea though. I like the positive challenge it presents. Thanks for posing it in this light.


  4. One of my favourite authors and books. I also think “The Power of Myth”,one of Campbell’s many other books, sheds a lot of light on how the hero’s journey enriches the entire world by ‘animating’,as it were ,the power of symbols in the language of the inner voice, your PGS. There is a very real language of the spirit and subconscious mind that presents itself in dreams and insights, moments of revelation-and it becomes the equivalent of the hero’s magical sword that enables him to reach his destination.I would love to hear from returning Pilgrims,, what ways they found to share their ‘boons’ when they returned home.Anyone?


    • I returned a little over a year ago and have since then connected with SOOO many people who want to hear my story, see my pictures and get my take on my journey … apart from the advice they want on gear to take!! It’s amazing to feel so connected to such a variety of people and stories. Yet another way to thank the Camino for being part of my life!


      • Isn’t it amazing that the Camino is able to become one of the best parts of us, yet in giving its joy and wisdom away when you come home, there is always still more to give and share?!You become a vessel that is impossible to empty, no matter how much you give.


    • Power of Myth is also great, yes Sister. Masks of Go series is very dense!

      I think the greatest boob to give in your return is to just “be.”


  5. Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces is an excellent introductory work to some of the questions in basic literary analysis of certain genres of Literature (and Cinema).

    And it’s a very well-written book in its own right.

    It’s part of a group of works that serve as excellent introductory books to serious literature, such as this one, Joyce’s Ulysses, several of Dostoevsky’s novels, Romeo and Juliet, Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, etc etc …

    Campbell’s greatest work though is I think his Masks of God series, the fourth volume of which in particular on Modern Mythology, because it transcends the generally introductory nature of most of Campbell’s work.

    Your own approach, Bill, to his work is a good one, because it seems that you understand that the purpose of Campbell’s Monomyth is that it is for a posteriori analytic — and NOT a priori prescription.

    Sadly for our contemporary culture, for every George Lucas who has a deep understanding of the inherent limitations of a simply analytic approach, we have a hundred Hollywood producers and directors who think that it’s some kind of magical formula for “good” storytelling.

    And the over-use of this so-called “formula” has created the biggest glut of clichéd storytelling since the Lumière brothers first pointed a camera at a moving object …

    Anyway, you have your revenge : by posting a comment of your own that I needed to take some time and thought before responding to it LOL

    BTW the next stepping stones beyond this introductory level are writers like Foucauld, Gérard Genette, Umberto Eco’s Academic writing, Chaucer in the original spelling (there’s a WONDERFUL one-volume critical edition of the Complete Works from O.U.P), the Decameron, the Latin Vulgate Bible (if you’ve the Latin), Iliad and Odyssey (if you’ve the Greek — I don’t 😦), Thomas More, Galsworthy, Defoe’s Journal of the Plague Year, and &c &c.

    But then again, there’s NOTHING wrong with simply staying on the more introductory and easier shore of that particular river, as it has easier pathways, more primly tended gardens, and it provides a more leisurely and more relaxed company for one’s literary journey downstream … :-)>/b>


    • Hi Julian ypu continue to impress!


      I mentioned “Hero with a Thousand Faces” because that’s when Campbell first introduced the concept of the “hero journey” to the world. Of course he expounded on that in his later writings.

      I read the MASKS OF GOD series about 25 years ago. Heavy going at times, and dense, but fascinating. I have read some, but not all your other references. Joyce is a favourite, and was of Campbell’s too. In fact the title “Hero with a Thousand Faces” comes from Finnegans Wake.

      And yes, unfortunately George Lucas’ public endorsement of Campbell, as you say, lead to a glut of by-the-numbers “hero journey” films that still plague our screens. A perfect example are the Mad Max films. The first one was Spirit. The second one was studied. The third one was Campbell-ized. And a mess.

      (I hope the Mad Max iteration 4, “Fury Road” – in post production at the moment – again comes from George Miller’s heart, instead of his head.)

      It’s like Syd Field, with his theories of film structure – they are analyses of the products of the Jungian Collective Unconscious – they are not cooking recipes to be slavishly followed to bake a like cake.

      But if you go deeper into Campbell’s monomythic theories, and apply them to the Camino and to a pilgrim’s journey along The Way, it’s interesting how many of his precepts align.

      Always fascinating to knock posts with you Julian!




      • Mad Max 3 has its good moments nevertheless, though the feeling I actually got from it at the time is that he wanted to make it deliberately preposterous.

        I prefer the 2 to the original, but whatever…


        • Mad Max 1 & 2 had Byron Kennedy’s influence all through them. George’s producing partner. Then he died in a dreadful chopper crash. Mad Max 3 was without Byron, and it showed.


Comments are closed.