Campbell, Jung, and the Heroic Archetype

Heroism and the Psychological Life

At the start of this week, I want to break down the role of heroism in our psychological life. I suspect, we have all, to one degree or another, heard of the hero’s journey. Joseph Campbell introduced it first in his famous book, The Hero With a Thousand Faces. In it, Campbell identifies the motif of the hero across mythologies and extracts the key ‘arche’ of the heroic archetype. Campbell captures a series of stages to the hero’s journey that characterize his or her story. This journey in a series of stages opens the terminus imaginalis for the intra-psychic journey of the ego-self. To put it another way, imagine heroism as the role the ego must take on in order to achieve redemption.

The Journey of the Soul

Campbell observed this pattern across cultures and religions and understood this to be of a primordial (instinctual) drive of the human soul. To Campbell, as well as C.G. Jung, the hero archetype was fundamental to the human psyche as the vessel of our transformation. Indeed, putting the lens of the hero archetype on as we conceive and engage in our own lives and the lives of our clients can help us to move toward the presenting obstacles to wholeness. Our psychological health, the journey of the soul, to individuate and stand en-souled as a personality and self is a heroes’ journey par excellence. While much can be said about the stages offered to us by Campbell, I want instead to look at the hero archetype in its light and shadow.

Affirm and Endure

From a heroic lens, we can say that to accept wholeness as foundational to mental health is to choose a journey through the dark and painful contents of the unconscious into the discovery of what Campbell refers to as the “field of bliss”. Both Jung and Campbell understood this tenant as true. If suffering is inherent to the human experience, the horrors and suffering of life are, in Campbell’s words, the “foreground to wonder”. Jung was less idealistic, suggesting that the best we can do is affirm the “yes” of life – the pleasure, happiness and, joy – and to “endure” the “no,” – the pain, suffering, and misery. As life is the interplay of opposites both a yes and a no are fundamental. To come into the subjective experience of the hero is to enter these confrontations willingly.

The Beautiful Revelation

This week I want to encourage everyone to consider removing the armor. Remember that we must find peace amidst the confrontations with the unconscious. Additionally, recognize outside the archetype in what ways the archetype is necessary and active. Jung was clear that we fight to conquer the ground of peace that is outside of our own psyches. The goal is to achieve a sense of self-acceptance and fullness. Heroism is a confrontation with what stands in the way of a resting peace. How can we tease out the role of the hero while identifying spaces where the armor can come off and the vulnerability of being can thrive? Remember to move gently through our change. Practicing self-compassion and deflating from heroism reminds us that we are a part of this here and now. Here is our restoration and the beautiful revelation that we are enough.

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