The Stages of The Hero's Journey Archetype

The Stages of The Hero’s Journey Archetype —

What draws people on the inner quest?  Many people think the spiritual quest call is a latent, primal desire.  Do you hear this call?

An archetype is a template, pattern, or blueprint.  These processes often resonate with us on a primal level.  This journey or quest is a pattern that we find in both ancient and modern stories.  Come and see if it doesn’t resonate with you.

The Hero’s Journey Archetype

“A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered, and a decisive victory is won: The hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.” — Joseph Campbell, The Hero of a Thousand Faces

Joseph Campbell (1) tells us about the archetype we encounter in many popular stories.  It’s the same theme over thousands of years and across cultures.  They all share the same formula.  It’s a pattern we know as the Hero’s journey.  Even if you’ve never heard of it before, you’ve seen it in stores like The Avatar, Star Wars, Harry Potter, and even in religious avatars like Jesus and Buddha.

The call to the spiritual quest is the heart of many spiritual philosophies and religions.  It is also one that we mirror in our blended learning process.  Although the pattern takes shape using unique characters across many cultures, the story’s core elements remain the same.  This story resonates with us deeply.  It resonates with our desire to seek the unknown.

This quest is a story that we can divide into three phases with twelve parts or stages.  But this is only one way to look at this journey.  There are three levels of knowledge in this story that reveal increasingly important details about the quest.

Stages of The Hero’s Journey Archetype

Sometimes this pattern is hidden within the narrative of religions.  We can see this pattern in the stories of Buddha and Jesus.  We see how they awaken and change through a cosmic metamorphosis.  This change gives them a mission to teach others how to create their paths.

Knowing where we are in this process is helpful.  It’s a way of pinpointing the right actions to get you to the next phase in the cycle.  This pattern cycles repeat over and over, again and again.  It’s also important to remember that these stages may not appear in the classical story order.  Sometimes, they are also combined.

The stages of Hero’s journey archetype revolve around three primary phases, with four parts.  These three phases revolve, intertwine, and overlap.  We find this template in famous literature, but more importantly, we’ll see this pattern in our own lives if we look closely.

The top or superficial level is the story that contains the characters and storyline that helps us remember all the fundamental lessons.   It makes the story a learning device.  The next level under the story is the typologies or archetypes.  Archetypes help connect the elements of the story to the fundamental processes and activities.  It’s not as complicated as it sounds.

stages of the hero's journey

The Three Phases of the Hero’s Journey

To understand the importance of the three phases, we use the analogy of swimming.  If you watch someone else swimming, it may spark the desire for you to learn how to swim.  You have “awoken” to the idea of swimming, which is similar to the awakening phase of the quest.

Next, you read about how to swim.  You know how to do it.  First, you’ll need to learn how to float and overcome your natural fear, but knowing how isn’t the same as swimming.  You must transform your mind and get the courage to try it.  Now you’ve moved beyond the theoretical and embarked on the process.

Last, you’ve learned how to swim and practiced in the shallow end.  Now you test your skills and start swimming.  The third phase of the quest is where you become inspired to go swimming because it is enjoyable.  It is no longer scary, but refreshing.

three phases of the hero's journey

First Step or Phase — Awakening

There are four parts to the awakening process.  We’ll follow the number progression to make it easier to follow.

1) Becoming Aware is the first step.  We are asleep, and we are open to a new realization.  You are surrounded by what used to be ordinary, but sense that there is more.  Gurdjieff tells us that the sleeper must start this step; we cannot force someone to be aware enough to realize they were asleep.  Our reality seems “different. ” We realize there is something more, something greater that we should do.

2) Hear the Call or Conflict.  Once awake, the inner quest presents itself.  Sometimes it presents itself as a challenge or conflict.  We ask ourselves “could what I believe be wrong”?  Or perhaps it shows up as a conflict with friends and family who are still asleep.

3) The Decision.  Every step in the awakening process is crucial to the next.  Now that we are aware we had been asleep and heard the call, we must decide.

Many people decide it’s easier to go back to sleep rather than to continue.  Besides, they don’t know what to do to push forward.  It’s simply easier to ignore that nagging desire.  This way, they avoid any conflicts with friends or family.  They go back into the routine of church, synagogue, or mosque.  Problem solved, they go back to sleep.

4) The First Teacher Arrives.  Something happens once you decide to change.  You’ll find the resource you need to start your journey, the Hero’s Journey.  The teacher may be a person, a book.

hero's journey steps

The first phase in the awakening process is to build a foundation for further development.  In our workshops, we teach how to use a spiritual journal.  We also teach the fundamental meditation progression, including the two-step meditation technique, mindfulness, and guided meditation (Shamanic Journey).  We also cover strategies to troubleshoot both sitting and moving meditation.

We also introduce analytical tools like The Enneagram of Personality, the suite of analytical reasoning tools, and comparative analysis.  These processes are inspiring and transformational in their own right, but they are only the foundation.  These are tools we will use throughout our journey.

In the first phase, we identify our strengths and opportunities.  We build a trusting community that facilitates sharing and helping.  It’s the foundation to learn more advanced practices.  We find these types of tools in many ancient systems of self-development.

Our awakening isn’t the goal, and it is the first step in opening our potential.  There are always higher levels of awareness that we can achieve.  So, the stages of the Hero’s journey archetype are cyclical.  Sometimes you are using all three steps simultaneously.

Second Step or Phase — Transforming

transforming butterflies

After building a common foundation of knowledge and trust, we are ready to practice and explore these new gifts.   Everyone helps and co-facilitates.  This second step in the development process makes us partners.  Learning, sharing, and assisting others to learn is a critical phase.  It expands our focus from individual goals to the group and the community.

Transforming affects everyone in our circle of influence.  Separating from our routine helps us focus on the tools that make change possible.   The virtual or face-to-face retreat enables uninterrupted sequential training and practice.  People describe these retreats as “an oasis.” Here are the typologies.

5) Embark on the quest starts at the workshop but continues with partnerships.  It symbolizes crossing the threshold of the ordinary by engaging in spiritual practice.  It’s not enough to know how it works, and you must experience how it works.

6) Friends and Enemies Emerge in the story narrative; the enemy is always an external villain.  However, don’t forget the story is an analogy of the inner quest.  Fear, anxiety, self-doubt, guilt, and shame are inner enemies.  The external enemies pollute our consciousness with negative programming and cannot support our quest.  Our inner critic can undermine our transformation to keep the Ego in control.

Our internal friends are our mantras, sutras, and affirmations that help us correct the negative thought patterns.  The spirit guides that help us face the fears in our dreams are our internal friends. Our external friends are those who support our quest.

As we realize our friends and enemies, we may need to declutter our inner and outer worlds, which means we may need to assess our relationships on all levels.  Nothing is more transforming than giving away things you don’t wear or need, including beliefs and friends that negatively influence.

7) Challenge Preparation aligns with approaching the inner cave in the typology of most stories.  We’ve learned to use the tools for inner work and have experimented to some extent.  Now it’s time to get ready for some serious inner work where we confront our sacred ground and make some life-changing decisions.

8) Enter the Challenge or the ordeal.  The Hero may have prepared and practiced to meet this battle, but unexpected aspects arise.  Facing the elements of our deepest fear is not undertaken lightly and may take several weeks or months to make it through to victory.

Transformation is about taking time from the daily routines to share, help others, get healing, and re-charge our spiritual and physical bodies.  It brings about a unique learning and awakening of other gifts.  When we help others, we learn the techniques from a new perspective.  You can learn as much from sharing as you do from any other instruction form.  Sharing is an integral part of the Hero’s Journey archetype.

Our weekend and virtual learning retreats go by often too fast for most who want to stay and bask in the synergy and positive energy generated by so many involved in this noble aim.  Transforming doesn’t stop with the weekend.  It continues with us in our practice of sharing knowledge.

Advances in virtual learning platforms make it easier for people to join in a collective learning experience.  We started using virtual learning technology in 2016, well before the pandemic.  So, when a weekend retreat is not possible, the online version is a safe substitute.

Third Step or Phase — Inspiring

inspiring helping hand

The third step means to live in the spirit.  It’s one of the main stages of the Hero’s Journey archetype.  Dr. Dyer talks about it extensively.

“Just as a candle spreads light in a darkened room, people who are living in Spirit give off a higher energy that can bring light to our hearts and minds.” ― Dr. Wayne W. Dyer

9) Seize the Reward is where the Hero has the prize in their grasp.  The Hero overcomes the significant difficulties, but that doesn’t mean the battle is over.  The Hero may have the magic sword or golden challis in hand, but it’s one thing to have the prize and another to bring it back.

10) The Return back to the ordinary is sometimes where many people let their guard down, which is a mistake.  It is symbolized by the road back to “the normal” in many stories.  Here’s the thing: others may not accept your victory or the changes you have made.  They liked the old you, and some are not so happy that you’ve changed.  These issues set the stage for the next steps in growth.

11) The Realization corresponds with rebirth or resurrection in many ancient stories.   You think you are on your way back from the difficulties when the main protagonist returns.  It’s when your deepest fears emerge one more time.  Now that you’ve made your change known to the world, the world will challenge you to see if the change is real.  It is the acceptance of loss, the decluttering of the heart and mind of religious bias and prejudice that these elements come back.  The Ego makes a last-ditch effort to regain control.

Here is another opportunity to relapse or succumb to old habits, and it’s why the Hero’s journey is cyclical.  You may make it this far in the quest several times, just like a video game, before you finally make it through the last challenge.

12) Celebration and sharing are about returning with the elixir or prize.  In religions, the prize is salvation.  But we can use this time to celebrate the victories in our lives.  It’s all about being happy for no reason except that you are alive.  The work may not be complete, that doesn’t mean we should not celebrate.  It’s like climbing the rungs of a ladder.  Each step up is a cause for celebrating.

In this phase, we meet regularly to share and help others.  We continue building, sharing, receiving help, and encouraging us to overcome any personal roadblocks.

Peer-to-peer learning gives up the opportunity to allow others to help us, just as we help others.  We also reach out and partner with other like-minded people and groups.  It helps us create a positive network.  We each walk our “own path” on this quest, but that doesn’t mean we are always alone.  We learn that inspiring others also helps us live in spirit.

Again, virtual groups are an excellent substitute for in-person meetings.  Sometimes, this option is even better.  We can record sessions or have them at a variety of times.

Final Thoughts

At the foundation of the spiritual quest, you’ll find the stages of the Hero’s journey.  Answering the call sets our spiritual journey in motion.  You may have started this journey only to become stuck in one stage, but it’s never too late to return to the quest.

Start over as many times as it takes to learn the lesson and finish the work needed to progress.  Be sure to share and celebrate often.  We do not accomplish the spiritual quest without partners.  If you have questions or comments you’d like to share; please contact us.


(1) Joseph Campbell & Joseph Campbell’s book, The Hero with a Thousand Faces:

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