The Stages of a Hero's Journey Archetype The Inward Quest

The Stages of a Hero’s Journey Archetype — The Inward Quest

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 we find in ancient and modern stories. Come and see if it doesn’t resonate with you.

What is a 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 an 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 a Hero’s journey. Even if you’ve never heard of it, you’ve seen it in stores like The Avatar, Star Wars, Harry Potter, and even in religious avatars like Jesus and Buddha. Their stories are all about the inward quest.

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. Three levels of knowledge reveal the important details about the quest.

The Stages of a 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 cycle repeats 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 a 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 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 Inward Quest

We use the swimming analogy to understand the importance of the three phases. If you watch someone else swimming, it may spark your desire to learn how to swim. You have “awoken” to the idea of swimming, similar to the quest’s awakening phase.

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 to swim and practice 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.

what is a hero's journey archetype, the three phases of the hero's journey

First Step or Phase — Awakening

The awakening process has four parts. To make it easier to follow, we’ll follow the number progression.

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 you sense 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 possibly 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 have been asleep and heard the call, we must decide.

Many people decide it’s easier to go back to sleep than 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 resources you need to start the inward quest. The teacher may be a person or 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. We will use these tools throughout our journey.

In the first phase, we identify our strengths and opportunities. We build a trusting community that facilitates sharing and helping. This community is the foundation for learning more advanced practices. These types of tools are found in many ancient systems of self-development.

Our awakening isn’t the goal; it is the first step in opening our potential. We can always achieve higher levels of awareness. So, the stages of a Hero’s journey archetype are cyclical. Sometimes, you use 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 inward quest, which starts at the workshop and continues with partnerships. It symbolizes crossing the threshold of the ordinary by engaging in spiritual practice. Knowing how it works is not enough; you must experience it.

6) Friends and Enemies Emerge in the story narrative; the enemy is always an external villain. However, don’t forget that the story is an analogy of the inner quest. Fear, anxiety, self-doubt, guilt, and shame are inner enemies. 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 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 you.

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 life-changing decisions.

8) Enter the Challenge or the ordeal. The Hero may have prepared and practiced to face 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 achieve victory.

Transformation is about taking time from the daily routines to share, help others, get healing, and recharge 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 possible from any instruction form. Sharing is an integral part of a 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, the online version is a safe substitute when a weekend retreat is impossible.

Third Step or Phase — Inspiring

inspiring helping hand

The third step is to live in the spirit. It’s one of the main stages of the Hero’s Journey archetype, and Dr. Dyer discusses 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 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 unhappy 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. These elements come back to accepting loss and decluttering the heart and mind of religious bias and prejudice. The Ego makes a last-ditch effort to regain control.

Here is another opportunity to relapse or succumb to old habits, which is why the inward quest is cyclical. You may make it this far in the quest several times, just like in a video game, before you finally complete 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, but 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 ourselves to overcome personal roadblocks.

Peer-to-peer learning allows us to allow others to help us just as we help others. We also reach out and partner with other like-minded people and groups, helping 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 are the stages of a hero’s journey archetype. 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.


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