invites the initiate into the adventure, offering an opportunity to
face the unknown and grow physically or spiritually. The initiate may
choose willingly to accept the call or s/he may be thrust into the
Often the call comes when the initiate has had something taken from
him, his family or his society. He accepts the quest to reclaim what
was taken. The call may involve a sensation that there is something
lacking in life. Often the call involves a need to save honor.
A hero first must encounter "threshold guardians,"
beings who block the way to the adventure. These guardians may attempt
to destroy the initiate, or to protect her from entering the adventure
before she is ready.
Often the inexperienced hero finds that he cannot proceed without supernatural aid, in the form of a "wise and helpful guide" who provides advice and amulets to further the quest.
The hero must leave his familiar life behind to begin a journey from childhood to adulthood and to a life-transformation. The threshold
of the journey is the point at which the initiate leaves the known
world to enter the unknown. At this point a helper or guide may appear
to provide assistance or direction. Helpers often appear when the
initiate is in the greatest danger.
The Descent — “into the labyrinth”
The descent is a voyage into uncharted territory, either physical or
psychological. The initiate becomes more at risk. A labyrinth has
always symbolized a difficult journey into the unknown, and in one way
or another it is often incorporated into tales of the hero’s journey.
Tests and Ordeals
On his journey the initiate faces a series of tests and ordeals which
challenge him, and force him to grow physically or mentally. The tests
validate the initiate’s right to be hero. The hero faces mortal combat,
but in the end good triumphs over evil and the hero is recognized for
his deeds of valor.
Into the Abyss
abyss represents the greatest challenge of the journey. Usually the
initiate must face the abyss alone and overcome her greatest fears.
Here is where the initiate must “slay the dragon.” The dragon is the
thing the hero most dreads and needs to overcome.
Common mythic motifs at this point in the adventure are the “swallowing up of the hero by a large monster” or the “sacred grove—a
magical forest where trees may have creative energy and enchanters
dwell.” Each of these ancient motifs represents enclosures where the
hero is transformed and attains new insight.
The opening of the mind and heart to spiritual knowledge requires a sacrifice
from the hero. At this difficult and dangerous place on the hero path,
the initiate reaffirm the meaning and importance of his life by his
willingness to sacrifice himself. Continued on back. . . . .
As a result of successfully meeting the challenge of the abyss, the
hero is transformed. The transformation is the moment of death and
rebirth. Often the transformation involves a change of consciousness, a
change in the way the hero views life.
initiate has become stronger, a better leader, or spiritually
enlightened. The hero accepts his/her new transformed self. He/she is
given a gift bestowed because of a new level of skill and awareness.
The initiate is now a hero. The imbalance which sent the hero on the
quest has now been corrected—until the next call.
“Atonement with the father” is another common motif of the hero
journey. The hero comes to an understanding or a peace with his/her
The "hero’s return" marks the end of the "trials and ordeals." The hero must return from his adventures with the means to benefit his society.
In some cases, when the hero returns things do not go well. Either the
society rejects the message of the hero or the hero becomes
disillusioned by society and leaves.
Sources for this handout: Jean O’Connor and Colleen Hansen from HHS English Department; Wikipedia;