The Psychology of the Hero

As the mythologist Joseph Campbell pointed out, all cultures on the earth have produced hero stories, and many of the same recognizable motifs recur from one to the other. Religions have been built upon them; people have fought and died for them since time immemorial. What's always fascinated me about these myths is the psychology of the hero. What spurs a man or woman to venture out beyond the proscribed boundaries of society in order to face the unknown?
One factor that I've discovered time and again - and this could apply as much to a modern musician that I may be intrigued by as it does to a hero from myth or antiquity - is that such a person is deeply dissatisfied with the status quo, the mental climate of his or her surrounding culture. That lack of satisfaction provides the necessary impetus for the hero to undertake the journey. To put it bluntly, this is probably necessary due to basic human complacency. When life is pleasant we tend to settle into contentment and routine and don't ask - or seek answers to - the deeper questions regarding human existence. It's only when we're in pain that we're motivated to start questioning the greater entities in life. This is why the "suffering artist" is such a recurring phenomenon.
The folklore surrounding the tribal shaman succinctly illustrates the way in which the hero is set apart from normal society and then undertakes the journey to recover something that is missing and sorely needed. Shamans commonly weathered traumatic experiences at least twice in their lives: once in childhood and then again in adolescence. These traumas altered the trajectories of their lives, so that they were denied many of the pleasures and satisfactions enjoyed by their brethren but were also opened up to dimensions of experience that the common man is typically blind to. Essentially, shamans had to be wounded before they could become healers.
The motivation for the hero's journey, then, is primarily a desire to heal one's self. The healing of the tribe, society, or world at large occurs later and is in many cases an afterthought - or even unintentional. The hero's questions cannot be satisfied by the traditional beliefs and rituals surrounding him or her. Such a person must set out in search of personal revelation. That this revelation, once achieved, comes to be perceived as a "boon" to the rest of society suggests that the status quo is never as satisfying as it seems to be and that people are really longing for change even though they may fear it.
A hero can be defined as a person with an inner sense of reality and truth that finds no corresponding echo of itself in the surrounding culture. Lacking that affirmation, which might have brought a sense of belonging, the hero must venture forth alone to find it - and in the process, he or she will discover much that the rest of humanity has been unconsciously longing for.

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