The Heroine’s Journey (Flavor of the Week)

Heroine

 

The Heroine’s Journey

The Hero’s Journey is a narrative structure that first gained popularity with Joseph Campbell’s book The Hero with A Thousand Faces. In short, the hero’s journey involves a protagonist, living an ordinary life in a familiar world, which is called out to a great adventure by a mentor, dream or internal desire. The hero departs on this epic journey where he meets foes, friends and challenges before encountering the Great Ordeal. If he is able to overcome the ordeal then he receives a boon/gift for his accomplishment. This gift can be knowledge, an elixir, new power or a greater realization of self. After accepting this gift the hero embarks on the journey back home from the Special World to face a final challenge before bestowing the gift upon his home community.

The narrative structure of the Hero’s Journey can be found in religion (Jesus, Buddha, Moses, Mohammed), popular literature/movie culture (famously Star Wars) and with hunters/explorers who left their communities to traverse new areas in order to retrieve food/goods/land. We too perform the Hero’s Journey in modern day when we leave for college to acquire a degree or when parents leave home for work to bring back a check (though admittedly these examples are more mundane than mythical).

Maureen Murdock, a Jungian therapist and creative writer, wrote a response to Joseph Campbell’s work in the form of The Heroine’s Journey. As the name suggests, The Heroine’s Journey focuses on a female centered approach to the classic narrative structure but the difference in the two journeys has less to do with gender and more to do with purpose and results. Unlike the Hero, the Heroine’s Journey is more focused on internal struggle and character development than an epic quest into the great unknown. A male character may undergo the heroine’s journey and likewise a female character may undergo the hero’s journey but, in my opinion, where the Hero’s Journey ends the Heroine’s begins.

The Hero’s Journey is about transformation through overcoming external obstacles to acquire a prize (power, knowledge or new state of being) while the Heroine’s Journey incorporates the prize and balances the two identities/realities to create a new self. If, during the Hero’s Journey, a protagonist acquires the gift of fire and brings it back to the community then the Heroine’s Journey integrates this, potentially destructive flame, into society so that it may be a boon used for cooking and warmth. The Heroine’s Journey assimilates the new gift with the old community to accentuate the positives of both into one purpose. There are dire consequences to the hero and society when the goal/aim of the conquest is not brought into balance at the end of the journey. Two exceptional examples of this unbalancing are the character arcs of Darth Vader (Anakin Skywalker) in Star Wars and Superman in the graphic novel Injustice: Gods Among Us.

SPOILER WARNING: STAR WARS & INJUSTICE: GODS AMONG US

Darth Vader began as a promising young Jedi talent, named Anakin, commissioned with the task of protecting and ensuring balance and justice in the galaxy. He was corrupted by the Dark Side of the Force through fear and attachment. He feared the loss of his world/love, Padme Amidala. As a result he went on a quest for more power to ensure her safety at the cost of society. His fear driven quest led to the betrayal of his purpose as a Jedi (to ensure balance in the universe) and eventually cost him his love, Padme. Once this tragedy occurred the former Jedi, Anakin, literally/figuratively became a mechanized tool of the Empire having lost his connection to humanity. Joseph Campbell highlights the significance of Darth Vader’s conversion to the Dark Side…

“Darth Vader has not developed his own humanity. He’s a robot. He’s a bureaucrat, living not in terms of himself but in terms of an imposed system. This is the threat to our lives that we all face today. Is the system going to flatten you out and deny you your humanity, or are you going to be able to make use of the system to the attainment of human purposes?”  -The Power of Myths, Joseph Campbell

Likewise, in the story of Injustice: Gods Among Us, Superman becomes a tyrant bent on eliminating war and conflict from the world after the Joker tricks him into killing his wife Lois Lane and unborn son. An excellent story on how a protector, such as Superman, can descend into the madness of establishing a world dictatorship. Though his intentions were noble; the execution and results of his plan were oppressive. Batman sums up the consequences of Superman’s actions in one iconic scene with Superman at the end of Year One…

“You stopped doing things for Lois the moment she died. You lost your connection to us, you lost your humanity, when you lost them (Lois & child)…no matter what you tell yourself in the future I want you to remember this moment when you reverted to torture for the greater good…it’s always someone else’s fault isn’t it? It makes it so much easier to justify your own atrocities. You’re not a hero, you’re just another thug.”  -Batman to Superman

Both Superman and Anakin were heroes with access to great power and incredible gifts that could benefit society. But once they lost their connection to humanity their actions and purpose became out of balance. It is this connection that keeps us from becoming lost in the machine of progress and power. Once severed, the hero becomes a tyrant that dictates to society rather than integrating his gifts to benefit society. Without the balance of human centered purpose a heroic cause/institution becomes a machine without soul.

This is akin to the gift of fire burning down the village or taking wise words from a great spiritual teacher and establishing a lifeless religious institution which focuses more on doctrines and dictating behavior rather than the spirit and soul of the teachings. When hunters/explorers’ actions fall out of balance then prey/food becomes scarce, lands are invaded and native communities enslaved. The development of character and balance through the Heroine’s Journey is a necessity for the hero/heroine to keep their humanity. Maureen Murdock references the thought process behind those who’ve become aware of being lost in the machine

“Everything is geared to getting the job done; climbing the academic ladder or corporate ladder; achieving prestige, position and financial equity; and feeling powerful in the world…She finds her treasure: an advanced degree, a corporate title, money, authority…After a period of time of enjoying the view from the top there may be a feeling of ‘Okay, I’ve arrived; what’s next?’ She begins to ask, ‘What is all of this for I’ve achieved everything I’ve set out to achieve and I feel empty. Why do I have this gnawing sensation of loneliness and desolation? Why this sense of betrayal? What have I lost?’…She must not discard nor give up what she has learned throughout her heroic quest, but learn to view her hard-earned skills and successes not so much as the goal but as one part of the entire journey. She will then begin to use these skills to work toward the larger quest of bringing people together, rather than for her own individual gain. This is the sacred marriage of the feminine and masculine” – The Heroine’s Journey, Maureen Murdock

I’ve recently noticed a slight change in American society. What used to be a culture built firmly on achievement, acquisition of power (degree, status, money) and the pursuit of happiness is slowly becoming a society that questions these base pursuits and is replacing them with ones of meaning. Not only is the latest generation of Americans pursuing jobs for personal fulfillment rather than simply the highest financial reward but they are also very charitable in regards to the gifts and stations they’ve inherited in life. This process of seeking tasks for personal fulfillment and sharing your fortunes with others is a reflection of our society crossing over from the Hero’s Quest into the realm of the Heroine’s Journey. We are reconnecting our financial and power hungry drives with a more human centered approach and application of our rewards. We are in the process of being redeemed from the Imperialistic pursuits of advanced technology and increasing global influence/domination much like Anakin was redeemed by his son, Luke Skywalker, at the end of Return of the Jedi. Our humanity is being restored.

In the previous post to this three part series, I mention the three virtues of Moriarty & the Joker. Two of them were rejecting money as the ultimate motivating factor for achievement and second, burning down the world of ideas and patterns of behavior that keep you from further developing and evolving as a person in life. The Heroine’s Journey, and America’s slow/subtle embrace of its principles, is a reflection of how our culture is evolving and taking on these virtues to hopefully push us compassionately and progressively into future endeavors.

The final virtue of Moriarty & the Joker (importance of creativity) will be highlighted in the final post of this three part series which will be titled Language of LoveSubscribe to the mailing list to receive a notification when the final post is published in a few weeks. Also, join our facebook group if you feel so inclined to sharing this blog with others through social media/interwebs.

2 Comments

    1. Soul of Suw

      Thanks Chris,

      Sorry for the delayed response, unfortunately I keep up with my Soul of Suw facebook page more so than the responses on here (there are too few…ha).

      But yeah, I may come back to that idea of the Heroine Journey beginning where the Hero’s ends later in a blog. I see it as a cycle, the Hero’s Journey goes forth from the society and travels to new places ‘out there’ then brings back something new to the old society. The Heroine’s Journey takes this new thing and with it, recreates the old society to make it new again. The old society is not completely abolished but it is merged with the new item. After some time goes by, the new society becomes old again and is in need of another Hero’s Journey to bring something new and reinvigorate society. Both Journey’s need each other in that respect.

      I’m currently working on a 7 book series that deals with this process as the main protagonist completes the Hero’s Journey only to find that he has a lot more work ahead of him because it is difficult for him to integrate this new asset/idea with society’s old way of thinking. That’s actually how I got into studying the Heroine’s Journey because I could tell something deep was missing from the next step of the journey/story.

      Anyway I’ll stop rambling…thanks for your response and I hope you enjoyed the piece

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