The Heroic Journey

What qualities do heroes have?
who Are Your Heroes?

The Pattern of Human Experience

Most of us were introduced to the Heroic Journey through mythology. Mythological heroes take great journeys: to slay Medusa, to kill the Minotaur, to find the Golden Fleece. But The Hero's Journey isn't just a pattern from myth. It's the pattern of life, growth and experience -- for all of us. We see it reflected everywhere, from a television comedy show to the great works of literature to the experiences in our own lives.

Why Study The Heroic Journey?

Why study The Hero's Journey? Why learn a pattern that dates from before recorded history? The answer is simple: we should study it because it's the pattern of human experience, of our experience. We live it now, and we will live it for the rest of our lives. The Journey is a process of self-discovery and maintaining balance and harmony in our lives. As with any process of growth and change, a journey can be confusing and painful, but it brings opportunities to develop confidence, perspective and a new way of being in our world. Understanding the Journey pattern can help us understand the literature we read, the movies we see, and the experiences which shape our life. By recognizing the Journey's stages and how they function, we will develop a sense of the flow of our own experience and be better able to make decisions and solve problems. More importantly, we will begin to recognize our own points of passage and respect the significance they have for us.

Inkshed: What is the cave you fear to enter?

Anti-Heroes and Sympathetic Villains

The Heroic Journey: Steps

1. Ordinary World
2. Call to Adventure
3. The Threshold
4. Trials
5. Into the Abyss
6. Transformation
7. Return

Ordinary World

Heroes exist in a world that is considered ordinary or uneventful by those who live there. Regardless of the positive or negative attributes of the world, it is considered the status quo. Oftentimes the heroes are considered odd, or feel out of place in the ordinary world.  

Call to Adventure

The Call invites us into the adventure, offers us the opportunity to face the unknown and gain something of physical or spiritual value. We may choose willingly to undertake the quest, or we may be dragged into it unwillingly. The Call may come boldly as a "crisis," a sudden, often traumatic change in our lives. Or it can sneak up on us gradually, with our first perception of it being a vague sense of discontent, imbalance or uncertainty in our lives. Within this range the Call can take many forms.

The Call may come when:

  • we have had something taken from us, our family, or our society; our quest is to reclaim it.
  • we want to save or restore honor: our own, our family's, or our country's.
  • we realize that something is not permitted to members of our society, and we must win these rights for our people.
  • we sense that there is something lacking in our life, and we must find what is missing.
  • an awareness that the world in which we live no longer provides the stimulation or possibilities we need to grow.
  • a realization that the life we are living no longer matches the person that we are; our world has become constricting rather than liberating.
  • Call to Adventure can be cyclical -- we see it in all three Hunger Game novels.

    The Threshold

    Once called to the adventure, we must pass over the Threshold. The Threshold is the "jumping off point" for the adventure. It is the boundary between the known and the unknown. In the known world, we feel secure because we know the landscape and the rules. Once past the threshold, however, we enter the unknown, and because it is unknown, it is a world filled with challenges and dangers.

    Often at the threshold, we encounter people, beings, or situations which block our passage. These "threshold guardians" have two functions. They protect us by keeping us from taking journeys for which we are unready or unprepared. However, once we are ready to meet the challenge, the guardians step aside and point the way, often becoming a helper or mentor in our quest. More importantly, to pass the guardian is to make a commitment, to say: "I'm ready. I can do this."

    Also at the threshold (and very often later in the journey), we will encounter a helper (or helpers). Helpers provide assistance or direction. Often they bring us a gift, from simple wisdom, to a talisman, which will help us through the ordeal ahead. The most important of these helpers is the mentor or guide. The mentor keeps us focused on our goal and gives us stability, a psychological foundation for when the danger is greatest. The helper does not complete the quest for the hero!


    Once past the Threshold, we begin the journey into the unknown. The voyage can be outward into a physical unknown or inward to a psychological unknown. Whichever direction the voyage takes, our adventure puts us more and more at risk, emotionally and physically.

    On our quest, we face a series of challenges or temptations. The early challenges are usually relatively easy. By meeting them successfully, we build maturity, skill and confidence. As our journey progresses, the challenges often become more and more difficult, testing us to the utmost, burning away old, ineffective understandings and beliefs to make way for the new self.

    One of our greatest tests on the journey is to differentiate real helpers from "tempters." Tempters try to pull us away from our path. They use fear, doubt or distraction. They may pretend to be a friend or counselor in an effort to divert our energy to their own needs, uses or beliefs. Their temptations may take the form of rationalizations and excuses or the form of escapes, such as drugs or alcohol. It is when we face these temptations that we must rely on our sense of purpose and judgment and the advice of our mentor to help keep us on our quest.

    Whatever the challenges we face, they always seem to strike our greatest weakness: our poorest skill, our shakiest knowledge, our most vulnerable emotions. Furthermore, the challenges always reflect needs and fears, for it is only by directly facing these weaknesses that we can acknowledge and incorporate them, turn them from demons to gods. If we can't do this, the adventure ends and we must turn back.

    Into the Abyss

    When we reach the Abyss, we face the greatest challenge of the journey.

    The challenge is so great at this point that we must surrender ourselves completely to the adventure and become one with it. In the Abyss we usually face our greatest fear, and we must face it alone. Here is where he must "slay the dragon," which often takes the shape of a confrontation we dread, a great fear we have repressed or a deep need we must resolve.

    "Ron's right…it has to be me"


    As we conquer the Abyss and overcome our fears, our transformation becomes complete. The final step in the process is a moment of death and rebirth: a part of us dies so that a new part can be born. Fear must die to make way for courage. Ignorance must die for the birth of enlightenment. Dependency and irresponsibility must die so that independence and power can grow.

    Part of the Transformation process is a Revelation, a sudden, dramatic change in the way we think or view life. This change in thinking is crucial because it makes us truly a different person. The Revelation usually occurs during or after the Abyss, but sometimes it may actually lead us into the Abyss.

    There is typically a reward for the hero at this point in the journey. This can be the knowledge gained from the Revelation, a gift they need to bring back to the ordinary world, or it can be a more literal treasure (ex. a kingdom).  

    “With great power, comes great responsibility” Must use powers to help others, even in the face of personal sacrifice


    Upon our Return to everyday life, we discover our gift, which is the result of our new level of skill and awareness. We may become richer or stronger; we may become a great leader; or we may become enlightened spiritually. The essence of the return is to begin contributing to our society. In mythology, some heroes return to save or renew their community in some way. Other mythological heroes return to create a city, nation, or religion.