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

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    John Bucher, JCF’s Creative Director, currently has multiple balls in the air (juggling the production of two podcasts and co-hosting another– Skeleton Key, with the delightful Torri Yates-Orr – along with multiple other projects facing impending deadlines), so he won’t be joining us today, though he will make an effort to pop in if possible later in the week.

    Nevertheless, his most recent contribution to JCF’s MythBlast essay series introduces an important concept – that of the collective hero with “A Call to a Collective Adventure” (click on title to read).

    This idea might seem strange at first to those familiar with Joseph Campbell, who emphasizes the individual nature of what we have come to know as the hero’s journey. And yet, the idea of a collective hero is not entirely foreign to Campbell’s work, as seen in his discussion of the core myth of the Hebrew scriptures – The Legend of the Chosen People:

    The form is of a great cycle of descent into the underworld and return. What entered Egypt (Underworld: Land Below Waves) were the Patriarchs (Joseph into the well and on down to Egypt); what emerged were the People (Passage of the Red Sea).

    As in all such myths of descent and return, what is brought forth is a boon or elixir; in the present case: a) the knowledge of Yahweh, b) the nuclear force of the Chosen People, and c) the promise to that people of a destiny, with the gift of a Promised Land. However, in contrast to all other myths of this order, the hero here is not an individual — not even Moses — but the Jewish folk.” (The Masks of God, Volume III: Occidental Mythology, p. 137-138 in the paperback Viking Penguin edition; p. 125 – 126 in the revised Collected Works edition).

    Campbell continues:

    It is highly significant that the later festival of the Passover which, as we have seen, was first celebrated 621 b.c. in commemoration of the Exodus, occurs on the date of the annual resurrection of Adonis, which in the Christian cult became Easter. In both the pagan cult and the Christian, the resurrection is of a god, whereas in the Jewish it is of the Chosen People — who received the knowledge and support of their God while in the torment of the underworld of the King of Death. Thus a fundamental distinction emerges, which throughout the history of Judaism has remained its second point of high distinction among the religions of the world: namely, that whereas elsewhere the principle of divine life is symbolized as a divine individual (Dumuzi-Adonis-Attis-Dionysos-Christ), in Judaism it is the People of Israel whose mythic history thus serves the function that in other cults belongs to an incarnation or manifestation of God.”

    Joseph Campbell notes that within this collective journey, there are individual heroes who undertake a spiritual adventure of their own (e.g. Joseph, Moses, and so on), just as in every mythology – but it’s the legend of the Chosen People that has had a lasting impact:

    Going down into the land of Egypt and coming out of the land of Egypt, the Jewish people become a whole people and their destiny becomes their own, rather than that of the people around them.” (Thou Art That, 57)

    Campbell calls this “the golden gem of the great Jewish mythos.”

    This very powerful mythology has held the Jewish people together for centuries, indeed, for millennia. And, as such a great story, it will continue to do so.” (Thou Art That, 55)

    As John Bucher notes in his essay, though “the collective heroic will never subvert the importance of the journey of the hero,” the ensemble hero “has been with us since the beginning.” What seems new to me is the awareness of this theme emerging in the public consciousness, perhaps in response to these troubled times when the need for a global mythology seems more urgent than ever. In John’s words,

    The need to embrace the shared journey we travel together has only continued (and will continue) to grow.”

    Along with your thoughts and impressions of “A Call to a Collective Adventure,” I would love to hear where you have encountered the collective hero – whether in myths, art, film, contemporary culture, or your own experience.


    This is good, framing the question that way: Where have I encountered the collective hero. Well, we could start with the American people and I’m not saying that just to get you teary eyed. Seriously, the whole frenzied push across an entire continent and just taking over everything and pushing everybody else out as if they were so many Canaanites. Boy, those Canaanites must have been pretty terrible to deserve such utter desolation.

    But yes, the same archetype of the collective hero cited so beautifully by Campbell seems to animate the western push of the American people who also had a certain sense of divine entitlement. One man’s Promised Land is another’s Manifest Destiny.

    So if the colonization of free peoples ruins the scenario for you, let’s consider a different exodus, a different heroic journey. How about that marvelous eternal pull that drew people across the Atlantic to the New World. How can you beat that kind of adventure. A New World? Now there’s a story, and there’s a world class McGuffin. A new world drew the ancestors of present day United States in vast, sweeping waves of migrations.

    My Great grandfather came to America in 1900 thereabouts and he did not like it. And he went back to Italy where he died. But his son, my grandfather, had the bug and he made his trip to the New World. He was on his solitary adventure. Picture Odysseus, only instead of Phaeacia, Philadelphia. Washed up on shore, naked, exhausted, and in need of kindess. That was my grandfather, Nonno. What made him so brave? How could a kid in Rosetto Italy get his teenage butt on a steamer and make it to America in time for his 18th birthday. He was so brave, so singular. And yet he was part of a phenomenon. A wave of young Italians risking everything to somehow end up in a “new world,” an Italian dream which must have some similarity to the Pure Land visualizations in Mahayana Buddhism.  Something they experienced individually and yet as a collective, a collective unknown to itself. These young poor people, restless upon the face of the earth.

    So I’m glad you brought this whole concept to our collective attention. And, as a bonus, I liked Campbell’s gloss on the correspondences between Adonis resurrection, Easter and Passover. His point being that there was a heroic equivalence between Adonis and Jesus as individuals, and the Jews as a people.





    jbonaduce – Manifest Destiny (and the related concept of American exceptionalism) has definitely played a major role in shaping our identity as one people.

    I do think the example Campbell provides stands out because it is so powerful – one doesn’t have to look for mentors and magical helpers, a descent to into the Underworld and such, because those are readily apparent: by the time “the children of Israel” emerge as a people in history, that origin tale is baked into their collective and individual psyches, with the most sacred rituals practiced over millennia continuing to reinforce that identity.

    Though the American mythos is effective, I can’t imagine it having such a lasting influence: should our country fall and the population be scattered to the four winds, I doubt our descendants two thousands years from now would identify as Americans no matter where in the world they live. Perhaps that is because of a lack of ritual (we do have some, but those are primarily secular and lack a sense of the numinous), and perhaps because we give more credence to the countervailing myth of rugged individualism. In the U.S. we exalt the individual and tend to be suspicious of collective action (often labeling any suggestion of community-based solutions as “socialism”). Even the waves of immigrants that built our nation weren’t part of a mass migration of  one people, but literally millions of individuals from a wide range of nations and ethnicities, each on their own hero’s journey.

    I love your idea of re-framing the American experiment as a collective Hero’s Journey, discussing our history in terms of a collective Call to Adventure (e.g. what pulled us out of the ordinary world where we were colonies subject to an empire, prompting us to seek our own destiny), our guides and helpers, the thresholds we crossed, a death-and-rebirth initiation, etc.

    Which brings us back to John’s essay, and where we find ourselves now. As he points out, we are seeing this theme of “taking the adventure together” emerge in popular art and entertainment (from “the fellowship of the ring” in Tolkien’s work, to the Starship Enterprise), which reflects a deeper sense that something is missing today:

    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.”

    Of course, one can’t stage manage a myth – but an awareness of this dynamic at work in the larger society does help me process what is going on right now, and provides a sense of hope that we will find our way.


      Stephen and jbonaduce, the above is a good counterpoint to the idea of self-governance established first by the Greek/Roman cultures from which the west gets much of its’ ethos. When the “Magna Carta” was signed, pretty much defanging the “Divine Right of Kings”, and the forerunner of the American Declaration of Independence and The Constitution with its’ Bill of Rights; this became a blueprint for many countries that followed up to today. However, as Joseph pointed out the Mythos of the Individual; (i.e., The Hero and what informs him or her), owes no allegiance to a government or a religion but to their own personal mythos so that the idea of being bound except by these older ideas of government alone goes out the window so to speak. Theocracy for example no longer fits the planet’s modern requirements because the idea of: “no God but mine” is just not workable where so many cultures are going to have to get along to survive. And the planet’s ability to feed itself and have enough clean water to drink and clean air to breath will be paramount for populations to endure.

      When we think of a new lens or window toward the future of what these growing pains may look like the view of the earth from the moon serves as a reminder that the human race is still a work in progress. This is dramatically visible when reading the daily news feeds on the internet with constant updates on Covid and now the new crisis in Ukraine where entire populations are being affected along with the coming climate challenge from fossil fuels, is forced to consider the term: “New Normal” is no longer just an idea, it’s already here screaming for our attention.

      If there is a challenge for a “Collective Adventure” looking ahead for the planet surely this is it. As Joseph mentions the individual must look inward as well as outward for the answers to the questions that beckon from the collective as well as from one’s inner most being. When we witness the horrific carnage of huge numbers of individuals being turned into refugees from either political conflicts or natural environmental disasters such as violent storms, floods, raging forest fires or droughts, losing everything they have one must consider: “what if this happened to me”; what would keep me going without cracking up in the midst of such total devastation.

      (This to me is the coming storm where Joseph’s understanding of the relationship of the individual to their own mythos is so critical.) The old models are no longer relevant, although one can say a religion as most people think of it would suffice if interpreted metaphorically instead of concretely; even though it might be understood as a “Thou Shalt” system; Joseph also saw the coming critical confrontations between different religions as with the Middle East where allegiance to one interpretation of what we think of as God over another brings even more conflict threatening possible annihilation of one form or another just like conflict between political doctrines.

      These are just a few considerations of hero challenges for both collective and personal or individual journeys or adventures that may lie ahead for both the constantly mutating Covid, or the next virus after that, and the surrounding context of Ukraine and their global implications are very much on our minds at the moment. And the human suffering that is being caused and where it is pointing is a huge concern for us all.

      (John, I hope this fits in with your idea for this topic for it seems very much: “A Call to a Collective Adventure”.)


        I know the above is a lot to cram into this topic; but it seems; (at least to me anyway); a major concern looking ahead that not enough people are dealing with it in the larger scheme of things.


          Although my entries may seem a bit vague here is a link to a PBS news segment from yesterday concerning Ukraine’s multi-dimensional unfolding crisis and how its’ refugee situation is affecting aspects of the global food supply to other parts of the planet. This should help give a sense of at least part of what I’m attempting to describe. 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. (Welcome to our “New Normal 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.



          I need to go back and re-read John’s essay. But had some thoughts in response to some of what you have written above.

          I really like the way John keeps both the collective and individual journey in balance (both of value.) This And/Both approach rings true for me.

          Stephen, when you mention the “rugged individualist,” I know what you reference (i.e. one man testing himself against the elements perhaps of the wilds) so that old ax in hand image, which can go so many ways.

          But this prompted other thoughts.
          What about the need to step outside of the collective fray in order to not only go within but rejoin the collective refreshed?
          Thoreau is probably a too stubborn example for today…

          But what of Thomas Merton (who yes was part of a Monk community) but also emphasized the need for solitude before rejoining with others?

          Kind of an And/Both at play.

          Or Thicht Nahn Hahn? Also part of a Monk community. But between Thicht Nahn Hahn’s “inter being” and David Abram’s “Spell of the Sensuous,” what exactly is solitude?


          Especially if one takes the approach of the more than human world/ecosystems around us and under our feet?

          I thought what Thoreau was seeking and others was more of a re-connection when something was lost in the fray of life.

          Or when some of  the collective/s around are disconnected. Perhaps it’s the call to adventure that helps re-connect the collective/s? As John Bucher suggests?

          I also think of the kid, who has a melt down at their own B-day party.
          Do the parents work out the problem in front of all the guests?
          Or does someone go to the child one on one and talk to them privately to see what’s wrong? And then the child comes out of his/her room to join the collective of the party (doesn’t have to be birthday) and the child is more relaxed? And starts playing with friends again?
          Definitely an And/Both!!

          The other thought was on “Myth being Managed.” Stephen, think you have hit it on the head!  There was a similar idea discussed in a different myth blast. Really rings true to me.

          I have a feeling that “myth can be managed,”  is becoming as much an idea as perception.

          And it’s becoming more popular. I have the impression it’s almost like the idea of myth as a tool, which can be used for a cause, solution or resolution. Not to say one can’t learn useful things from stories or be profoundly impacted by experience or that myths don’t have lessons within. They certainly do!

          But it’s hard not to feel an energy of “managing”  in the other ideas I mentioned above. Not unlike the person who thinks they can “choose” hero like a “career.” Misses the point entirely.

          I heard an interview of this sweet elderly gentleman (a philanthropist but not one of the big names.)  He had read Campbell and gone through his own dark night of soul with an illness.
          He lamented “no one ever talks about the distribution part of the myths, the boons.”
          And then he said “probably because it’s not romantic as the journey.”
          So next he wondered “how can distribution be made to sound romantic like a myth…so people will be interested?”
          He is a sweet man…well meaning…has helped people. But even that felt gently like “managing.” Put perhaps just me. Heh.
          Whereas what both you and John are emphasizing is hearing the call to adventure (and answering it.) But you might not know where the road takes you (or us collectively as humans on space ship earth.)

          And that’s the journey!




          I know John Bucher is juggling many things within his own journey as you say Stephen.
          But I would say to John: I enjoyed your essay very much! And love the way you balance the collective and the individual journey!

          I also love the way you include the more than human on the planet around us and under our feet. Especially  as more is learned about ecosystems and even some hints of consciousness in other living beings.

          I mentioned above to Stephen.
          But how do we define solitude with that in mind?
          We seem to always be part of or amongst other collectives in life all the time.

          But you emphasized isolation. So that is the need for human connection.
          Could it be that isolation is our feeling of disconnection? Apologies, think you have already said this in your essay. Grin.

          What of the irony of feeling lonely in a crowd as well?

          Is it the deeper interaction we crave? With other humans? With something More than ourselves alone?


          When you say a call of adventure for Society, I understand that as a call of adventure to humanity, humanity on spaceship earth or the collective of humanity.
          Love it!
          This is more than the village compounds. It’s about the humans within them. The humans on the planet!
          The collective call, such as seeing the earth from the moon!
          Joseph Campbell definitely referenced that and he emphasized that what myth might come would need to be talking about the whole planet and everyone on it!
          So there is the great collective! Beautiful!
          I did want to ask (John and Stephen) about Campbell’s other paradoxical take on this.
          It seems as though after Campbell mentions the “collective” earth from moon view, he still emphasizes or predicts that smaller groups (in ones, twos or threes) will be metaphorically entering the forest. 
          When I read this, it left me with the impression that Campbell had a preference for the idea of smaller groups taking “the journey.”

          My first thought was his own experiences or how he felt about religion (question? the bigger the group the more likely they will behave like a religion?)

          Or maybe he was bringing the balance between the Collective journey on Spaceship Earth and the individual journeys?

          Or for humor: the bigger the group will the forest be trampled?
          But not necessarily as evidenced by your experiences with Rainbow Stephen.:-)

          And it is true, there are many myths stories with small collective bands from the Fellowship in Lord of the Rings.

          To Dorothy and friends in Oz.
          To Spaceship Enterprise!
          Though Kirk certainly could be a stubborn trickster but it was also needed at times!

          In all these stories as already said…there is a balance between the collective hero bands and also the stories of the individuals within them.

          When it comes to isolation, who felt more isolation than Eowyn?
          But look at her story arc. My goodness.

          And Faramir too. They come together but their stories are woven into the larger tale.

          Sometimes, I have wondered if the Great Collective of which we are all a part is a Story? The story which connects us all as we come and go in the tale? We are the story. The earth and everyone on it. Your essay suggests that to me!

          So as you say John the question is if we will answer that call to adventure when we hear that special  “phone?”

          It is a dangerous business going out all of our doors…

          But adventure may await…

          And I love the idea of how adventures sometimes are not just about some physical goals, but also have the capacity and potential to awaken compassion inside.

          Thank you for an excellent essay John!

          Here is to the call!! To one and all!

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