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Reply To: Mythologist John Bucher’s A Call to a Collective Adventure””


Hello James,

Refocusing on the theme of this thread (the hero’s journey as a collective adventure), in most instances the hero of a myth or story does not know he or she is a hero – and, conversely, the one who thinks of oneself as the hero is generally either a villain (Vladimir Putin the current example of the latter), or, at best, a fool.

Nor does awareness of the elements and stages of the hero’s journey, as Joseph Campbell describes it, allow us to “manage” that journey. We don’t choose the hero’s journey; rather, it chooses us, emerging from the circumstances of one’s life.

What knowing the trajectory of the hero’s journey provides is the opportunity to locate where we are on that map – but I can’t then decide “okay, I’m going to cross the First Threshold now, start interviewing potential Guides and Helpers, and then plan to Meet the Goddess three weeks from now and schedule Apotheosis by the start of summer.” However, I can recognizes those elements as they unfold, which provides a measure of affirmation and confidence in meeting the moment.

Some of the difficulty of expanding our understanding of the hero’s journey beyond the individual relates to that same dynamic. As Campbell points out, we can’t decide to have a new mythology, nor can we construct a new myth, no matter how much it seems we need one; rather, any coming mythology must emerge naturally. There are any number of possibilities out there, elements that may well contribute to a new worldview – but we are deep in the bubble at the moment, and have no idea what form a new mythology may take (indeed, I doubt it will be thought of as a mythology at all, but simply what is).

Your observation that

There are of course other dimensions to Ukraine’s ongoing nightmare that is literally unfolding by the minute, but the planet now in some ways is so interconnected that one crisis can often affect other countries as well.”

comports well with Campbell’s assertion that

This unification of the planet into one society is becoming apparent to everyone as an economic fact; and when it is an economic fact, then it is a fact indeed . . .” (Interview with E. Bouratinos: Emilios Review, 9-30-85)

In this moment of intense and violent state-sponsored conflict, it’s hard to deny that reality: a war between two nations in eastern Europe spills far beyond their national borders. Even if there were no sanctions at all, the economic impact is global. Obviously energy prices will go up. Ukraine and Russia both export grain around the world (accounting, for example, for a significant share of Egypt’s food supply, which means that nation will have to find other sources on the world market); this interruption in supply, even were there no sanctions at all, can’t help but create a domino effect that will increase poverty and hunger, especially in third world countries, while impacting the entire world.

Factor in the cumulative effect of the unprecedented (and, frankly, unanticipated) massive sanctions on Russia, and we see how interconnected the world is. A century ago such sanctions would have little immediate effect – but because Russia is plugged into the global economy, their national economy is collapsing. A silver lining to this horrible tragedy is that China and, ultimately, all nations (including the U.S.) are learning that political and military actions have unintended repercussions, which increases the incentive for peaceful, diplomatic resolutions to differences between nations.

Events are in motion that may indeed transform the planet – but transformation is not all “happy happy joy joy” – it’s often quite painful.

So, stepping back for a moment and re-imagining the Hero’s Journey as a collective movement, where do we find ourselves on that journey – a question that brings us back to John Bucher’s essay:

There seems to be a universal dissatisfaction with our ordinary world—the type of dissatisfaction that inexorably pushes individuals and cultures toward the next stage that Campbell described, the call to adventure. While we might struggle to articulate it and argue about the language that should be used around it, our collective society is sensing something like a call—a call to adventure.” (emphasis mine)

Will we answer that Call?

Up to this point, it would have seemed not (that call has been sounding for years, with Putin’s attacks on Chechnya and Georgia, his participation in the repression of the uprising in Syria, and the annexation of Crimea) . . . but the Refusal of the Call does not put an end to the Hero’s Journey so much as increase the pain and raise the stakes – which brings us to where we are now.

I have to admit, I am impressed, so far, with the global response to the invasion of Ukraine – I am thrilled, and more than a little surprised, to see the U.S., NATO, and the EU stepping up – and even more so, the near universal condemnation of the Russian warlord’s action at the UN. Perhaps the Call is being heard, and answered.

If so, we have a sense of the road ahead – and that is what gives me hope.