Fig 1. Joseph Campbell
Because one of the aims of coaching-in-depth is to come to terms with one’s personal myth, it is helpful to explore the work of the mythologist Joseph Campbell (Figure 1) who introduced the idea of the monomyth (i.e., hero’s journey)—the universal template that appears in literature, myth, religion, and psychological development. The myth of the hero is universal and can be found in every culture and at every juncture in human history, however obscure. One could say that the monomyth is as infinitely varied as the human species; and yet its archetypal representation remains the same, an incredibly diverse range of characteristics that originate from what the Swiss psychologist C. G. Jung (Figure 2) called the collective unconscious. In a tongue and cheek manner, the late American author Kurt Vonnegut satirized the monomyth as follows: “The hero gets into trouble. The hero gets out of trouble.” Campbell borrowed the term from James Joyce’s novel Finnegans Wake.
Fig. 2. Carl Jung
The monomyth traces the development of the archetypal hero or heroine and, according to Campbell, through three principal acts: 1) Departure, 2) Initiation, and 3) Return. Each act is further divided into seventeen stages. The stages represent key milestones within the journey of the hero or heroine, or put in psychological terms, the development of the ego. One could say that each stage is characteristic of a psychological condition or turning point.
Fig. 3. Heinrich Zimmer
The depth psychological aspect of the monomyth should come as no surprise. Campbell relied heavily on both the theories of Jung and the Indologist Heinrich Zimmer (Figure 3) throughout the course of his long career. The monomyth ostensibly provides a template by which the average person can use to better understand his or her own life. One could say that at the core of the monomyth are the very archetypes that structure and define the human condition. The monomyth aspires to throw light on the mystery of human experience by offering a universal narrative that most, if not all, people can relate to.
Toward the end of Jung’s life, he tried to tell his story in mythological terms, referring to his own personal myth:
Thus, it is that I have now undertaken, in my eighty-third year, to tell my personal myth. I can only make direct statements, only “tell stories.” Whether or not the stories are “true” is not the problem. The only question is whether what I tell is my fable, my truth. (1961/1989, p. 3)
Therefore, the monomyth can provide a psychological road map through which the individual may orient him or herself to the world at large. The archetypal foundations of mythology may present guideposts and “signs,” as it were, during the journey toward wholeness. Because of its reliance on myth, we also might add the monomyth functions in four primary ways: pedagogical, sociological, cosmological, and mystical.
Campbell, J. (2008). The hero with a thousand faces. Novato, CA: New World Library. (Original work published 1949)
Jung, C. G. (1989). Memories, dreams, reflection. ( A. Jaffe, Ed.) (R. Winston & C. Winston, Trans.). New York: NY: Vintage Book. (Original work published 1961)