Karen Armstrong, in her book, A short history of myth, writes that in old times the hunter and shaman of the tribe had to turn their backs on the familiar world, enter the unknown and face fearsome trials. Their journey took them out into uncertainty where they would risk death, before returning with gifts to nourish the community. This is the heroic quest in which the hero feels that something is missing from their lives, or from the life of their community. The old ideas no longer speak to them, they no longer hold true. So, the hero leaves home and endures death-defying adventures. The fight demons, travel through perilous lands – up mountain passes, through dark forests, across rushing rivers – and in the process, they are transformed. Their old sense of self dies away and a new self is born. They gain insight and skill which they bring back to share with community. This journey was about becoming a full human being, fulfilling one’s destiny and potential.
Everyone must take this journey. Even the act of being born – leaving the safety of the womb – is a heroic journey.
But you cannot be a hero unless you are willing to give up everything. No new life can come without some kind of death. There is no moving into the heights without a prior decent into the darkness. When we come to situations in our life where we are forced to face the unknown, the heroic myth can guide us.