IF: Myth and the Hero Cycle

Hero Cycle

Sometimes an artist will squint to better see the general tones in a composition.  Where are the darks?  The lights?  And yet, we don’t spend our whole lives squinting – we would be rather clueless if we did.  Joseph Campbell spent a lot of time squinting at world myths and proposed that all hero myths share the same general composition of tones.  He proposed what is called the “Hero Cycle”.

You can read more about his ideas in The Hero with a Thousand Faces.  As the title implies he wouldn’t say that he was squinting.  For him all myths were different ways of saying the same types of things – fulfilling needs and understanding ourselves.  But it is easy to forget, as he forgot, that he was observing a pattern.  To see that many poems follow the pattern of a sonnet is not to know all of these poems.  In general his observations can be helpful and intriguing but they do not negate the need for seeing the particulars of each myth.

To understand we must see with eyes wide open that each particular myth speaks to something completely different than the next.  This is why I will never understand the call for all religions to coexist.  When you squint at all religions you can see general similarities.  However, to see each religion for itself is to see completely different ideas about world, God and man.  How can those who disagree coexist?  Only when there is an overarching power that compels them to tolerate one another.  The call for religions to coexist in our day is actually a call for secularism to be that power above all worldly powers.  The question is, can secularism be trusted with that kind of power?  Or does it squint too much?

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About Rebecca

Christian, artist, wife, mother, teacher, tea drinker View all posts by Rebecca

3 responses to “IF: Myth and the Hero Cycle

  • wmbollen

    As we have discussed the hero cycle is in fact the basis for many (if not all) great books. Further, it is a form of general revelation in that it is a reflection of the triune God (particularly Jesus). Since God made us in his image it is natural that we resonate then with this cycle since it is in fact a reflection of Him, just as all creation is also a reflection of Him (ie general revelation).

    • Rebecca

      I do think that the hero cycle is very poignant. I’m not sure however that it is the basis for stories. Are statistics the basis for who we are as human beings? I think generalizations have their place but we must remember that they are often oversimplifications when we shrink down to particular religions, people or places.

      I agree with you that if Christianity is true, as I believe it is, it would not be surprising to see in the other religions of the world similar themes and motives. As C S Lewis pointed out, it would be more shocking if there were not other Christ-types.

      • wmbollen

        I did not say it was the basis for stories. I suggested it was the basis for most GOOD stories. What defines beauty in literature? Ultimately beauty is a reflection of good (in my opinion). Thus, beauty is a form of general revelation. We are drawn to good stories then because they reflect aspects of God (and good aspects of us since we are made in his image) This assumes of course that beauty is not in the eye of the beholder, but there is such a thing as true beauty.

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