THE HERO’S JOURNEY
Carol Lynn Pearson
Joseph Campbell (1904-1987) is perhaps the pre-eminent mythologist of our time. The author of Hero With a Thousand Faces and many other works, Campbell won popular recognition for his collaboration with Bill Moyers in the remarkable 1988 PBS series, "The Power of Myth."
His lifelong passion for mapping the cohesive and seemingly universal threads in mythology, particularly the archetype of the hero, has strongly influenced modern culture. Filmmaker George Lucas credits Campbell’s influence on hisStar Wars films, as do the creators of The Lion King and numerous other movies and plays.
Can the entire human race, as Campbell suggests, be seen as reciting a single story of great spiritual importance? Is each of us called to be a hero in our own story? And are there steps we can discern that might help us make more sense of the journey?
I have come to specialize in the stories of the gay and lesbian members of our Mormon Tribe, who often are made to feel that their life story is a shameful one, or at least a lesser one. But what if, in fact, their calling can more truthfully be seen to have the value and the power of a Hero’s journey?
Even though this story is set in Mormondom, it is, of course, applicable to gay people of any Tribe.
And to all of us, Campbell challenges:
The modern hero … who dares to heed the call … cannot, indeed must not, wait for his community to cast off its slough of pride, fear, rationalized avarice, and sanctified misunderstanding. "Live," Nietzsche says, "as though the day were here." It is not society that is to guide and save the creative hero, but precisely the reverse.
In the following story, the portions in italics are direct quotes from Joseph Campbell, with slight grammatical changes.
You were a gift to the Tribe, the Mormon Tribe. And the Tribe was a gift to you. It kept you safe and warm. By the fire the Elders taught you of God, of goodness, of the divinity that pulsed in your heart, warming you like embers, sometimes like flames. The Elders drew in the sand the straight and narrow way that you must walk if you are to please God and return to his presence.
You learned very early what God and the Tribe expect of everyone. You knew we are on this earth to have joy. You knew the roles that had been assigned. You knew that boys become
men who become leaders. You knew that girls become women who marry and have children. You knew this would happen because women and men fall in love with one another and it feels like a beautiful and a right thing and the future of the Tribe depends upon it. You knew that one day you too would follow this path and that God and the Tribe would continue to smile on you.
Look around, sister, brother of the Home Tribe. Times are bad and the country all around seems lifeless. The people grow weak before our eyes. Someone must go out beyond the familiar territory. A figure emerges from the campfire smoke, pointing to you. Yes, you have been chosen as a Seeker and called to begin a new quest, an adventure in which the only sure thing is that you’ll be changed. You’re uneasy.
"Me?" you ask fearfully.
"Not you alone," comes the reply from the Wise One. "Many sooner or later will be calledto a special path. You are called to be a Seeker in a particular way, and if you say yes to the calling and succeed in your venture you will become a Hero. The Tribe is badly in need of Heroes, even though many in the Tribe would sacrifice your growth for your safety. This is what we call paradox. Listen."
You hear the drumbeat that you have heard all your life. But then it changes. You look around and realize that no one else seems to hear it the way you do. You say to yourself–
"There’s something odd about me."
Then it becomes clear. "I am a boy and I like boys the way I’m told I should like girls."
"I am a girl and I like girls the way I’m told I should like boys."
"This can’t be right. There’s a word for it and the word ishomosexual. It’s not a good word. There’s something wrong with me!"
Some hesitate, some are tugged at by families who fear for your lives and don’t want you to go. You hear people mutter that the journey is foolhardy, doomed from the start. You feel fear constricting your breathing and making your heart race. Should you stay with the Home Tribe? Are you cut out to be a Seeker?
"No!" you think as you pull the blanket tight and shut your eyes. "I don’t want to be different. I want to be like everyone else!"
You listen to the words of your family as they speak of the feelings you secretly have. It is clear that those feelings are not acceptable, in fact they are alarming and shameful.
Later you speak to several of the Elders and confess to them what you are experiencing. They look at you with surprise and sadness. "No!" says one. "That path is forbidden. It leads only to sorrow and death."
"We love you!" says another. "Stay here where it is safe. Conform!"
You determine that you will not go. You shut your ears to the call of the one who spoke from the campfire, and you devote yourself to keeping the rules of the Tribe with all the energy of your soul. On your knees by day and by night you pray to the heavens to make you like the others. You go for days without food to prove how earnest, how worthy you are. Daily you study the holy books. You are called to serve and you serve to perfection. Perhaps you are driven to perfection out of fear, wanting so badly to hide your difference.
But still something within pulls you to the forbidden path.
Then a respected member of the Tribe, who claims to have special knowledge, tells you that he can repair the damage that made you different in the first place, and you can be like everyone else, which is what God wants for you. You put yourself in his care for a very long time, and afterwards, when you are still quite different, you feel worse than ever and you do not believe that is what God wants for you.
"Still," you promise yourself. "I will stay strong no matter what."