what is joseph campbell's hero's journey?

Hero’s Journey

Mythologist Joseph Campbell discovered recurring themes in myths and other stories from cultures around the world. From these he created a narrative structure, the “Hero’s Journey.” And he showed us the profound human need for symbolic stories that reflect our transformative journeys. Understanding the different phases—such as the urge to adventure, meeting the mentor, or crossing the threshold—can help us better meet our own potential and challenges.

These universal aspects of our stories help us navigate and make sense of our own experiences. They also foster empathy, connect us with others, and inspire us to embark on our own heroic quests of discovery and transformation.

Marco Aslan put toether this remarkable step-by-step Hero’s Journey description. 34 min.

Short description of the Hero’s Journey concept. 3 min.

12 Phases of the Hero’s Journey

Screenwriter and educator Christopher Vogler developed a 12-stage structure based on Joseph Campbell’s “Hero’s Journey” that outlines the typical narrative pattern of many myths and stories. Here’s our brief summary of each stage, along with examples of people who have gone through them:

1. Ordinary World

The hero begins in their normal, everyday life before their adventure begins.

Even though his intellectual passion foreshadows his future, Martin Luther King Jr. is a Baptist minister in Montgomery, Alabama before becoming a leader in the Civil Rights Movement.

2. The Call to Adventure

The hero is called to leave their ordinary world and embark on a journey.

A student in Sweden, Greta Thunberg was drawn to learn about climate change and its impact on the world. After realizing the severity of the climate crisis, she decides to take action by staging a solo climate strike outside the Swedish Parliament in August 2018.

3. Refusal of the Call

The hero may initially resist the call to adventure, either out of fear or a desire to stay in their comfort zone.
Nelson Mandela initially pursued a career as a lawyer instead of joining the African National Congress, which was fighting against apartheid in South Africa.

4. Meeting the Mentor

The hero encounters a mentor figure who provides guidance, advice, or magical tools to help them on their journey.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg was mentored by feminist legal scholar Brenda Feigen-Fasteau, who helped her navigate the male-dominated legal profession. Oprah Winfrey was mentored by Maya Angelou, a poet and writer who became a close friend and confidante. Angelou taught Winfrey about the power of storytelling and encouraged her to pursue her dreams.

5. Crossing the Threshold

The hero finally decides to embark on their journey and crosses the threshold into the unknown.
Malala Yousafzai, a Pakistani activist for girls’ education, crossed the threshold when she began advocating for girls’ education in a region controlled by the Taliban. At the age of 11, Malala started writing a blog under a pseudonym, detailing the Taliban’s efforts to ban girls’ education in the Swat Valley. And Lois Gibbs left her ordinary world when she discovered that her child’s school was built on a toxic waste dump.

6. Tests, Allies, and Enemies

The hero faces a series of tests and challenges, and may encounter allies or enemies along the way.

David Hogg and Emma González became activists for gun control after surviving the Parkland school shooting in 2018. David and Emma answered the call to become vocal advocates for gun control. Besides facing death threats, for David and Emma, the test, allies and enemies phase might include facing opposition from gun rights activists and politicians, as well as building alliances with other activists and lawmakers.

7. Approach to the Inmost Cave

The hero faces their greatest fear or obstacle, which often takes place in a symbolic “cave” or inner sanctum.

Frida Kahlo was known for her self-portraits that depicted her physical and emotional pain, which she endured throughout her life due to polio and a bus accident.

8. Ordeal

The hero faces a life-or-death struggle or sacrifice that tests their limits.

Legal clerk turned environmental activist Erin Brockovich helped build a case against the powerful Pacific Gas and Electric Company of California for contaminating the drinking water of a small town.

9. Reward

The hero achieves their goal or gains a valuable insight or treasure.

Miami, Florida journalist and author in Marjory Stoneman Douglas wrote a book in 1947 on the beauty and importance of the Everglades. Her call to adventure was learning about their destruction. Battling developers, politicians, and the “airport of the future,” she helped lead an effort that protected the Everglades, leaving a lasting legacy for future generations.

10. The Road Back


The hero prepares to return to their ordinary world, but may face one last challenge or temptation.

After years of fighting for justice as a public defender and founding the Equal Justice Initiative, Bryan Stevenson faced burnout and disillusionment with the criminal justice system. However, he used his experience to write a best-selling book and continue to advocate for criminal justice reform.

11. Resurrection


The hero experiences a metaphorical death and rebirth, often symbolized by a descent into darkness or a near-death experience

Maya Angelou experienced trauma and abuse in her childhood, but used her writing to heal and inspire others.

12. Return with the Elixir

The hero returns to their ordinary world with a newfound wisdom, skill, or treasure, which they may use to benefit themselves and others.

Aldo Leopold is known for his contributions to the field of wildlife ecology, conservation, and environmental ethics, particularly through his book “A Sand County Almanac”. His work inspired a new way of thinking about the relationship between humans and nature.

The Hero's Journey — A Podcast for Action and Hope

Podcast featuring a number of heroes in the field of food justice. The Center for Food Safety: “organizing a powerful food movement that is fighting the industrial model and promoting organic, ecological, and sustainable alternatives.”

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The Hero with a Thousand Faces

By Joseph Campbell


A narrative structure that identifies a common pattern in myths, legends, and other stories from around the world. Understanding the framework’s phases can help us understand our own challenges and opportunities of changing the world.

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