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Life, the Universe and Myth

June 10, 2009
Joseph Campbell's "The Hero With a Thousand Faces"

Joseph Campbell's "The Hero With a Thousand Faces"

Life is but a series of transitions: we move into a new domain, experience life in this new mode of being and then move out of that domain and into the next. Childhood, adolescence, adulthood, for example, are three consecutive phases of life, each requiring a different approach to the one before. At the start of each phase, you shed your old identity and are, in a sense, reborn.

These are all adventures undertaken in the course of a lifetime, with the greatest adventure of all being the challenge of life itself.

Birth, life, death: the act of setting out on an adventure, experiencing the challenges it presents and then returning with the newfound knowledge and wisdom. Departure; initiation; return.

This is the pedagogical function of mythology. The hero of the myth journeys out from his known sphere, enters a whole new, unknown realm and fights the demons, battles the dragons, gets the gold and returns home — if you live your life as a re-enactment of the myth, you aren’t then merely stumbling along blindly; you’re partaking in an ancient ritual in which you are joined by all those who have gone before you. You are the hero of your own life.

As this function manifests in various myths, the result is the Hero’s Journey, Campbell’s archetypal retelling of the story of human experience. Its relationship to Star Wars is well-known and well-documented, inspiring (among other things) the glorious Magic of Myth exhibit that toured the world.

In episodes 4-6, for example, Luke Skywalker departs from his homeworld of Tatooine in order to become a Jedi and help save the galaxy; along the way, he faces many challenges, both internal and external, before eventually returning with his new powers, thereby being a catalyst for the redemption of his own father.

Meanwhile, in the prequel trilogy, Anakin Skywalker also departs from Tatooine in the hopes of becoming a Jedi. Along the way, he faces temptation and succumbs, dying and being reborn as the cyborg villain Darth Vader. In episodes 5 and 6, the new challenge Anakin faces is that of recognising his own humanity beneath the cold exterior of his pitch-black suit.

And now, in The Clone Wars, Ahsoka Tano faces her own “hero’s journey” as she finds her feet as a Padawan amidst a war that places the Jedi in a morally precarious position.

In "The Clone Wars", Ahsoka Tano must now begin her own Hero's Journey.

In "The Clone Wars", Ahsoka Tano must now begin her own "hero's journey".

There is, however, another dimension to the Hero’s Journey. It is at the point of departure — the “crossing of the first threshold” — that the hero moves out of the field of time and space and into the transcendent realm. This is how the pedagogical function of mythology is related back to the mystical function: by experiencing life as a ritual, you are re-enacting the myth and thus bringing the transcendent into the world of ordinary goings-on.

This is the true magic of myth. It isn’t just about abstract ideas that have no relevance to our everyday lives; it unites the ordinary and the extraordinary, revealing the mystery behind life within life, acting as a source of light that both illuminates the path ahead and path behind. It is the guide that speaks from within.

In all our journeys in life, myth is the beacon of the soul.

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