The Hero With A Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell


Truth is one, the sages speak of it by many names.

The hero is the man of self-achieved submission.

Only birth can conquer death—the birth, not of the old thing again, but of something new. Within the soul, within the body social, there must be—if we are to experience long survival—a continuous “recurrence of birth” (palingenesia) to nullify the unremitting recurrences of death. For it is by means of our own victories, if we are not regenerated, that the work of Nemesis is wrought: doom breaks from the shell of our very virtue. Peace then is a snare; war is a snare; change is a snare; permanence a snare. When our day is come for the victory of death, death closes in; there is nothing we can do, except be crucified—and resurrected; dismembered totally, and the reborn. 

The standard path of the mythological adventure of the hero is a magnification of the formula represented in the rites of passage; separation—initiation—return: which might be named the nuclear unit of the monomyth.

A hero venture forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from his mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man. 

Everywhere, no matter what the sphere of interest (whether religious, political, or personal), the really creative acts are represented as those deriving from some sort of dying to the world; and what happens in the interval of the hero’s nonentity, so that he comes back as one reborn, made great and filled with creative power, mankind is also unanimous in declaring. 

The return and reintegration with society, which is indispensable to the continuous circulation of spiritual energy into the world, and which, from the standpoint of the community, is the justification of the long retreat, the hero himself may find the most difficult requirement of all. For if he has won through, like the Buddha, to the profound repose of complete enlightenment, there is danger that the bliss of this experience may annihilate all recollection of, interest in, or hope for, the sorrows of the world; or else the problem of making known the way of illumination to people wrapped in economic problems may seem to great to solve. And on the other hand, if the hero, instead of submitting to all the initiator tests, has, like Prometheus, simply darted to his goal (by violence, quick device, or luck) and plucked the boon for the world that he intended, then the powers that he has unbalanced may react so sharply that he will be blasted from within and without—crucified, like Prometheus, on the rock of his own violated unconscious. Or if the hero, in the third place, makes his safe and willing return, he may meet with such a blank misunderstanding and disregard from those whom he has come to help that his career will collapse. 

The effect of the successful adventure of the hero is the unlocking and release again of the flow of life into the body of the world.

Thus the World Navel is the symbol of the continuous creation: the master of the maintenance of the world through that continuous miracle of vivification which feels within all things. 

The dome of heaven rests on the quarters of the earth, sometimes supported by four caryatidal kings, giants, elephants, or turtles. Hence, the traditional importance of the mathematical problem of the quadrature of the circle it contains the secret of the transformation of heavenly into early forms. 

Ancient cities are built like temples, having their portals to the four direction, while in the central place stands the major shrine of the divine city founder. The citizens live and work within the confines of this symbol. And in the same spirit, the domains of the national and world religions are centered around the hub of some mother city: Western Christendom around Rome, Islam around Mecca. 

Virtue is but the pedagogical prelude to the culminating insight, which goes beyond all pairs of opposites. Virtue quells the self-centered ego and  makes the transpersonal centeredness possible; but when that has been achieved, what then of the pain or pleasure, vice or virtue, either of our own ego or of any other? 

The unlike is joined together, and from differences results the most beautiful harmony, and all things take place by strife. The roaring of lions, the howling of wolves, the raging of the stormy sea, and the destructive sword, are portions of eternity too great for the eye of man.

As Freud has shown, blunders are not the merest chance. They are the result of suppressed desires and conflicts. They are ripples on the surface of life, produced by unsuspected springs. And these may be very deep—as deep as the soul itself. The blunder may amount to the opening of a destiny. 

Freud has suggested that all moments of anxiety reproduce the painful feelings of the first separation from the mother—the tightening of the breath, congestion of the blood, etc. of the crisis of birth. 

Not all who hesitate are lost. The psyche has many secrets in reserve. And these are not disclosed unless required. So it is that sometimes the predicament following an obstinate refusal of the call proves to be the occasion of a providential revelation of some unsuspected principle of release. Willed introversion, in fact, is one of the classic implements of creative genius and can be employed as a deliberate device. It drives the psychic energies into depth and activates the lost continent of unconscious infantile and archetype images. The result, of course, may be disintegration of consciousness more or less complete (neurosis, psychosis: the plight of spellbound Daphne); but on the other hand, if the personality is able to absorb and integrate the new forces, there will be experienced an almost super-human degree of self-consciousness and masterful control. It cannot be described, quite, as an answer to any specific call. Rather, it is a deliberate, terrific refusal to respond to anything but the deepest, highest, richest answer to the as-yet-unkown demand of some waiting void within: a kind of total strike, or rejection of the offered terms of life, as a result of which some power of transformation carries the problem to a plane of new magnitudes, where it is suddenly and finally resolved. 

It is told of a young prince who had just completed his military studies under a world-renowned teacher. Having received, as a symbol of his distinction, the title Prince Five-weapons, he accepted the five weapons that his teacher gave him, bowed, and, armed with the new weapons, struck out onto the road leading to the city of his father, the king. On the way he came to a certain forest. People at the mouth of the forest warned him. “Sir prince, do no enter this forest,” they said; “an order lives here, named Sticky-hair; he kills every man he sees.”

But the prince was confident and fearless as a maned lion. He entered the forest just the same. When he reached the heart of it, the order showed himself. The ogre had increased his stature to the height of a palm tree; he had created for himself a head as big as a summer house with bell-shaped pinnacle, eyes as big as alms bowls, two tusks as big as giant bulbs or buds; he had the beak of a hawk; his belly was covered with blotches; his hands and feet were dark green. “Where are you going?” he demanded. “”Halt! You are my prey!”

Prince Five-weapons answered without fear, but with great confidence in the arts and craft s that he had learned. “Ogre,” said he, “I knew what I was about when I entered this forest. You would do well to be careful about attacking me; for with an arrow steeped in poison with I pierce your flesh and fell you on the spot!”

Having thus threatened the orgs, the young prince fitted to his bow an arrow steeped in deadly poison and let fly. It stuck right in the Jorge’s hair. Then he let fly one after another, fifty arrows. All stuck right to the ogre's hair. The ogre shook off every one of those arrows, letting them fall right at his feet, and approached the young prince. 

Prince Five-weapons threatened the ogre a second time, and drawing his sword, delivered a masterly blow. The sword, thirty-three inches long, stuck right to the ogre’s hair. Then the prince smote him with a spear. That also stuck right to his hair. Perceiving that the spear had stuck, he smote him with a club. That also stuck right to his hair.

When he saw that the club had stuck, he said: “Master ogre, you have never heard of me before. I am Prince Five-weapons. When I entered this forest infested by you, I took no account of bows and suchlike weapons; when I entered this forest, I took account only of myself. Now I am going to beat you and pound you into powder and dusk!” Having thus made known his determination, with a yell he struck the ogre with his right hand. His hand stuck right to the ogre’s hair. He struck him with his left hand. That also stuck. He struck him with his right foot. That also stuck. He struck him with his left foot. That also stuck. Thought he: “I will beat you with my head and pound you into peered and dusk!” Having struck him with his head, that also stuck right to the ogre’s hair. 

Prince Five-weapons, snared five times, stuck fast in five places, dangled from the ogre’s body. But for all that, he was unafraid, undaunted. As for the ogre, he thought: “This is some lion of a man, some man of noble birth - no mere man! For although he has been caught by an ogre like me, he appears neither to tremble nor to quake! In all the time I have harried this road, I have never seen a single man to match him! Why, pray, is he not afraid? Why are you not terrified with the fear of death?”

“Ogre, why should I be afraid? For in one life one death is absolutely certain. What’s more, I have in my belly a thunderbolt for a weapon. If you eat me, you will not be able to digest that weapon. It will tear your insides into tatters and fragments and will kill you. In that case we’ll both perish. That’s why I’m not afraid!”

Prince Five-weapons, the reader must know, was referring to the Weapon of Knowledge that was within him. Indeed, this young hero was none other than the Future Buddha, in an earlier incarnation.

The one who relies or prides himself upon his merely empirical, physical character is already undone. “We have here the picture of a hero who can be involved in the coils of an aesthetic experience [“the five points” being the five senses], but is able, by an intrinsic moral superiority, to liberate himself, and even to release others.

“What this youth says is true.” thought the ogre, terrified with the fear of death. “From the body of this lion of a man, my stomach would not be able to digest a fragment of flesh even so small as a kidney bean. I’ll let him go!” And he let Price Five-weapons go. The Future Buddha preached the Doctrine to him, subdued him, made him self-denying, and then transformed him into a spirit entitled to receive offerings in the forest. Having admonished the ogre to be heedful, the youth departed from the forest, and at the mouth of the forest told his story to human beings; then went his way.

Woman, in the picture language of mythology, represents the totality of what can be known. The hero is the one who comes to know. As he progresses in the show initiation which is life, the form of the goddess undergoes for him a series of transfigurations: she can never be greater than himself, though she can always promise more than he is yet capable of comprehending. She lures, she guides, she bids him burst his fetters. And if he can match her import, the two, the knower and the known, will be released from every limitation. Woman is the guide to the sublime acme of sensuous adventure. By deficient eyes she is reduced to inferior states; by the evil eye of ignorance she is spellbound to banality and ugliness. But she is redeemed by the eyes of understanding. The hero who can take her as she is, without undue commotion but with the kindness and assurance she requires, is potentially the king, the incarnate god, of her created world. 

All things are in process, rising and returning. Plants come to blossom, but only to return to the root. Returning to the root is like seeking tranquility. Seeking tranquility is like moving towards destiny. To move towards destiny is like eternity. To know eternity is enlightenment, and not to recognize eternity brings disorder and evil. 

Knowing eternity makes one comprehensive; comprehension makes one broadminded; breadth of vision brings nobility; nobility is like heaven. 

The heavenly is like Tao. Tao is the Eternal. The decay of the body is not to be feared.