by Maria Popova
“It has always been the prime function of mythology and rite to supply the symbols that carry the human spirit forward.”
Nearly four decades before Joseph Campbell(March 26, 1904–October 30, 1987) refined his enduring ideas on how to find your bliss and have fulfilling life, the legendary mythologist penned The Hero with a Thousand Faces (public library) — his seminal theory outlining the common journey of the archetypal hero across a wealth of ancient myths from around the world. Campbell’smonomyth model has since been applied to everything from the lives of great artists to pop-culture classics like Star Wars.
This wonderful short animation from TED Edpresents a synthesis of Campbell’s foundational framework for the eleven stages of the hero’s quest — from the call to adventure to the crisis to the moment of return and transformation — illustrating its timeless potency in illuminating the inner workings of so many of our modern myths and the real-life heroes we’ve come to worship:
But perhaps Campbell’s most important and enduring point from the book has to do not with the mechanics of the hero’s journey but with the very purpose of hero-myths in human life. He writes in the opening chapter:
It has always been the prime function of mythology and rite to supply the symbols that carry the human spirit forward, in counteraction to those that tend to tie it back. In fact, it may very well be that the very high incidence of neuroticism among ourselves follows the decline among us of such effective spiritual aid.
The first work of the hero is to retreat from the world scene of secondary effects to those causal zones of the psyche where the difficulties really reside, and there to clarify the difficulties, eradicate them in his own case (i.e., give battle to the nursery demons of his local culture) and break through to the undistorted, direct experience and assimilation of what [Carl] Jung called “the archetypal images.”
Complement The Hero with a Thousand Faces with pioneering anthropologist Margaret Mead on the role of “mythic ancestors” in how we form our identity, then revisit Campbell on how to find your bliss.
For more treasures from TED Ed, see these animated primers on how you know you exist, why playing music benefits your brain more than any other activity,how melancholy enhances creativity, why bees build perfect hexagons, andPlato’s parable for the nature of reality.