Joseph Campbell in The Hero with a Thousand Faces describes the steps in the hero’s journey, the archetypical story arch that underlies the myths and legends of heroes since ancient times across the world’s cultures. The question I am working on at this writing is this:
Does the process that Campbell describes apply only to the journey of heroes, or is it, in fact, the fundamental life journey of Every(wo)man?
In Campbell’s work the journey begins with the Call to Adventure, which he describes as ripples on the surface of life from unknown sources. More concretely, the Call is the point in a person’s life when he is first given notice that everything is going to change. We are not yet at the point of insight. It is more like a premonition of impending shifts that the hero may even try to ignore.
There is another particularly intriguing stage before the journey begins in earnest which Campbell calls entering the Belly of the Whale. This is the stage when the hero separates himself from his old world and old self on his quest for the new world and new self that will take their place. His trials have not yet begun, but he recognizes the commitment to transformation. He prepares to embark on a personal metamorphosis with no likely possibility of return.
As I write these words, university students in the class I serve this Fall are writing case studies of eminent creative people, exploring questions like whether the person under examination at some point in his creative journey entered the belly of the whale. Specifically, was there a point when he realized that something from his old world (domain of work) was not right and that he needed from the depths of himself to step into the unknown and struggle toward a novel and adaptive vision or construct?
My hypothesis is that we will find that many luminaries who did pathbreaking work in their fields did indeed undergo just such a personal transformation on their routes to a new paradigm or to greatness.
But the more interesting question to me, and the one I pose to you as reader today, is whether we all in a sense need to enter the belly of the whale one or several times in our lifetimes. Do we all need to take a hero’s journey to feel fulfilled, to sense accomplishment, or to feel we have made the most of our time in the world? Or can some of us be content to leave this journey only to our heroes?
What do you think?