Storytelling is an important part of what it means to be human, and the myths of a culture group are the stories that the people of a particular culture tell about themselves. Today, many people think that myth is only relevant to past cultures; but we are still telling stories about ourselves (in a way, anthropology is one long story about the human family), and those stories have a lot to say about us. Understanding the stories of past cultures can help us to understand our own stories. Mythologist Joseph Campbell (1968) believed that “the prime function of mythology and rite” is “to supply the symbols that carry the human spirit forward” (p. 3). From George Washington chopping down the cherry tree to the stories of the Australian Aborigines’ Dreamtime, myth gives us profound incite into what is important to people.
This site focuses specifically on the hero’s journey motif in myth. Campbell labeled this theme in mythology the monomyth (taken from James Joyce’s Finnegan’s Wake) because, according to him, the hero’s journey is a universal theme in mythology (Leeming, 2005, p. 179). According to Campbell (1968) the hero’s journey is a mythic representation “of the formula represented in the rites of passage: separation-initiation-return (p. 30). Campbell (1968) further divided the three primary stages of the journey into sub-sections: the call to adventure, refusal/acceptance of the call, supernatural aid, the crossing of the first threshold, and entering the belly of the whale comprise the separation stage; the road of trials, the meeting with the Goddess, woman as temptress, atonement with the father, apotheosis, and the ultimate boon comprise the initiation stage; and the return stage is comprised of refusal of the return, the magic flight, rescue from without, the crossing of the return threshold, master of two worlds, and freedom to live (pp. 36-37). In every hero’s journey the call to adventure begins a period of separation from the world into a liminal state (a kind of death) that ends with the hero’s return (rebirth) to the world (Campbell, 1968, p. 51).
Each page of this site is devoted to a particular hero myth. From myth to myth the details will be different and not all of the sub-sections will be represented, but the basic pattern of separation, initiation, and return will be followed. On this site you will journey with Greece’s Jason, India’s Rama, Mesopotamia’s Gilgamesh, New Zealand’s Maui, South East Alaska’s Dukt’ootl, and the Mayan twin heroes Huhnapu and Xbalanque. Six very different heroes on six very different journeys will remind us that although the cultural adaptations of people around the world vary greatly, we are still all members of the human family.
Sea Thiasos Nereis Glytothek, Munich, Via Wikiimedia Comons, CC BY-SA 3.0 https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Sea_thiasos_Nereis_Glyptothek_Munich_239_front.jpg.