The Hero's Journey

Healing Circles writer Roger Fernandes (University of Washington) is from the Lower Elwah S'Klallam reservation located on the Olympic Peninsula. An educator for 30 years, Fernandes has developed the structural model for our curriculum project which is using Hero's Journey stories to teach people health and wellness. He especially acknowledges elders as that primary source of guidance saying, "It's a very important aspect of the journey."

"You need an elder to guide you - to help you to figure things out. In the story, Elder appears to help you. "And so that's the hero's journey of transformation - of transforming from one person who's alone, confused and wandering into a person who has a place in their culture and has an understanding of who they are."

Life is transformation. Often times the transformations in our lives seem random and unpredictable. People are often stuck in a circumstance they seek to change, but are unclear as to how to even begin or understand that the change they seek is a struggle they must prepare for.

However our ancestors understood the powerful patterns involved in human life changes and explained them through mythic stories we call the Hero’s Journey. This universal story tells how a human being transforms from one level of development to a higher level; how a human transforms from a young person to an adult; how a person must struggle to make this transformation. These stories then become a rough guide to understanding how transformation occurs in our lives. The story itself does not give answers. Rather it gives a framework for someone to find their own answers, for that is the key. We must each find the answers to our own lives.

Five Transformations

The Hero’s Journey adheres to the pattern that follows. Remember the characters listed are archetypes, a person who represents a certain part of the journey. These are not 5 different characters, but one person who as they journey, transform into different beings. There are various experts and authors who explain the pattern of the journey including Joseph Campbell and Rollo May. This version is drawn from the book, “The Hero Within” by Carol Pearson.

  • The Orphan

The story begins with a person who is an orphan; or someone who feels like an orphan, alone, separate, different, and misunderstood. This character has questions about their circumstance (for example:”Why did my parents die?”, “Why doesn’t anyone like me?”, Why am I always in trouble?” , “What will I do with my life?” , etc.). These questions set off the journey.

  • The Wanderer

The Orphan needs to find answers to their questions, but they don’t know where they are. They begin to wander, hoping they might find the answers. They often go to unfamiliar places, places they’ve never been to before, feeling that somehow they might discover the answers.

  • The Caretaker

As the person is wandering, they meet people and befriend them. As the relationship develops the wanderer learns to care more for the others than they do for themselves. This is a very important part of the journey for if they still only care for themselves, they won’t put themselves at risk and will not transform.

  • The Warrior

The person on the journey must now fight a battle or enter a struggle. This segment of the journey is what most people feel is what the Hero does (i.e. fight the enemy, slay the dragon, find the treasure, save the baby from the burning building, etc.), but it must be recognized that the Hero went through an important process to reach this point. They succeed in meeting the challenge.

  • The Changer

The Hero, having met the challenge, returns to where they started. They return a new person, transformed. They do two things in this final stage; first they realize they knew the answers to their questions that set off the journey all along. Somewhere inside them they understand they always had the answer. And second, they bring back a gift to their people. It could be a treasure or an enemy flag, or the baby saved from death, or a teaching.

  • The Elder

This character in the Journey is not the Hero, but rather someone who helps the Hero on their journey. The Elder has taken the journey before and wants to help and instruct the Hero. They tell them what words to say, what paths to take, etc. They are a guide and a teacher.

This pattern of the Hero’s Journey is told around the world by Native and modern cultures in the Americas, Africa, Asia, Europe and Australia. Mythologists theorize that it is universal because all human beings ask the same basic questions about life and we find the answers in the same stories.

Keep in mind that sometimes we don’t succeed in our struggle, we can lose the battle. Perhaps we did not prepare adequately in our first steps (maybe asking the wrong questions, maybe not taking the right turn in our wanderings, perhaps not really shifting our consciousness to doing for others. Maybe we turned our back on the Elder trying to guide us.)

Try answering some of the questions in the following Lesson of the Hero’s Journey: