The Hero's Journey is a group of events in a story or myth, used by Joseph Campbell, who was influenced by Jung, to describe the similar elements in all mythic structures. In each story that represents a Hero's Journey, the hero must experience steps that represent the struggle for psychological wholeness, or as Jung termed it, individuation.
The Hero's Journey begins with either an inner longing to go on a quest, or an exterior call that enlists the aid of the hero. Heroes may, at first, refuse the call, or may at once respond to the call. There is usually some resistance to the call as it means leaving a comfortable existence to walk into unknown physical and psychological danger.
In some cases, a guide or supernatural aid will direct the first part of the Hero's Journey. Such is the case in various Biblical passages where God, for example, instructs Noah to build an ark, or where angels reveal the path Christ must follow. The next step is a crossing of the threshold, the moment when the hero must leave the known world and venture into parts unknown.
In the Hero's Journey, one may encounter a threshold guardian, who tries to discourage the hero from the crossing. In Greek myths, travels to the underworld mean getting past Cerberus, the three-headed dog, and physically crossing the river Styx. The threshold crossing is symbolically interpreted as entering the unconscious psyche.
Once into the unconscious, the hero frequently has moments of doubt and despair, called “The Belly of the Whale.” Dante’s narrator bemoans his waking in the middle of the woods and first entering Hell. This despair is short lived and is followed by various trials that will test the hero and reveal to him his true nature.
After trials, the hero must negotiate with his feminine side or anima. He tends to meet a goddess and/or temptress, though this is not present in all myths and religions. The goddess tends to represent sacred marriage (union between masculine and feminine parts), while the temptress attempts to sway the hero from the continuing on his path. In Grail legends, women offer sexual gratification to tempt the knights. When an offer is accepted, the quest is a failed Hero's Journey. Knights like Galahad or Percival refused such offers and revealed such women to be demons.
The final conflict prior to returning to the normal world is confrontation with the father figure. In some cases this means killing the father, while in others it means in some way vanquishing the father’s power over oneself. In The Return of the Jedi for example, Luke offers his father Darth Vader a chance to redeem himself, instead of taking up his light saber to slay him. Luke saves Vader from his own evil nature, and though Vader dies, Luke has now dealt with that which exhibited ultimate control over him.
This step can lead to either deification or a time of rest and relaxation prior to returning as individuated self to the normal world. The return may be fraught with difficulties, where the hero must prove himself or be rescued. Conversely, it may prove uneventful.
The result of the return in the hero’s journey can be living with wisdom throughout the rest of one’s life, or becoming truly transcendental like the Buddha or Christ. This result in the Hero's Journey means true individuation has been achieved. Living and dying are not feared. Variants include deification, ascension into heaven or dramatic changes in the direction of a hero’s life.
The hero’s journey applies very well to male heroes. It seems more artificial to apply it to heroines, though some aspects of the journey may be similar. Women, however, have the power to create, and many feminists argue that a Hero's Journey not marking women’s ability to conceive and give birth is considerably off the mark. Nevertheless, the similarities between different cultural conceptions of the Hero's Journey for males are striking and well worth examination.