Stages on the Hero's Journey

Wandering, part 2

Wandering can be fun: pleasant or adventurous. Wandering can also be awful. In the Exodus story, wandering is more on the awful side. The Israelites choose this extended time of wandering, (a) because the oppression in Egypt was so severe, and (b) because they believed they’d been promised “a land flowing with milk and honey” at the end of the wandering. Even at that, there were some among them who yearned for "the fleshpots of Egypt." For the people of Israel the ordeal of wandering was a phase to be endured – a period of aimless drifting during which the soul is preparing itself for the new home it will eventually make for itself.

The Israelites weren’t ready to go straight into Canaan from Egypt. They had to learn about who they were. They had to discover the rules, the commandments to which their lives would be dedicated now that they were no longer dedicated to the Pharaoh’s commands. They had to arrive at a shared understanding of a way of being together that would serve them in their new home. They had to test their capacity to stick together and cooperate to survive in hardship – and thus be bound together to make the eventual new land work.

Once home and homeland are established, settled into, then that rhythm of security and risk-taking, home and away, can begin to emerge.

Joseph Campbell’s work on the structure of myth uncovers the archetype of the hero’s journey. There’s a very common pattern in many of our stories of a hero’s journey, a home-leaving, wandering, and returning. What these stories tell us is that the rhythm works to change us. In the rhythm of home and road, the true function of time on the road is to transform us to return different from how we left.

The hero’s journey begins in the “Ordinary World” stage: a safe and familiar place; the point of departure.
  • There’s Harry Potter living in his cupboard under the stairs.
  • Luke Skywalker on a moisture farm on Tattoine.
  • Thomas Anderson living his double life as a regular citizen and as Neo, a hacker.
  • Peter Parker, the nerdy student bullied by classmates.
  • The young lion, Simbha, heir to the throne of the Pride Lands.
  • Frodo Baggins living comfortably in the Shire.
  • Katniss Everdeen living somewhat less comfortably but still getting by in District 12.
Then comes the “Call to Adventure”: an event, or realization, that threatens the safety or disrupts the comfort of the Ordinary World.
  • Harry receives a letter: “Dear Mr. Potter, We are pleased to inform you that you have been accepted at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.”
  • Luke sees a hologram message conveyed by R2D2 from Princess Leia, “Help us Obi-Wan Kenobi, you’re our only hope.”
  • Neo receives a cryptic message referencing something called “The Matrix.”
  • Peter Parker gets bitten by a radioactive spider and suddenly has new powers.
  • Simbha’s father, Mufasa, mysteriously dies and Simbha is told to leave the Pride Lands.
  • Gandalf shows up to tell Frodo to destroy the One Ring.
  • Katniss’ younger sister, Primrose, receives notice she’s being drafted for the Hunger Games.
Stage three: the Refusal of the Call. This is a period when the hero clarifies the fears and self-doubts of answering the Call.
  • Harry doesn’t believe he could be a wizard.
  • Luke is reluctant to accept Obi-Wan’s offer.
  • Neo talks to Trinity, but isn’t sure if it’s a dream.
  • Peter Parker tries out his new powers, using them to win underground wrestling matches for cash.
  • Simbha, scared and alone, retreats into the desert. Though he’s in the wilderness, he has yet to take up his true journey.
  • Frodo is reluctant to leave the life he knows.
  • Katniss wrestles with the horror of losing her sister.
Stage four: Meeting the Mentor. An encounter with a person – or book or object – provides guidance and tools that resolve the Refusal of the Call.
  • For Harry it’s Hagrid, who takes Harry to Diagon Alley, where Harry purchases his school equipment.
  • For Luke it’s Obi-Wan, who gives Luke his father’s light saber and offers to train him as a Jedi.
  • For Neo it’s Morpheus, who tells him to choose the red pill or the blue pill.
  • For Peter it’s Uncle Ben, who tells him “with great power comes great responsibility.”
  • For the royal Simbha, his mentors are exemplars of the common folk, Timon and Pumbaa, who introduce Simbha to life in the jungle.
  • For Frodo its Gandalf, who advises Frodo and introduces him to the Fellowship of the Ring.
  • For Katniss, along with Peeta, the former Hunger Games victor, Haymitch Abernathy, is a mentor.
Stage five: Crossing the Threshold. Our hero, willingly or unwillingly, enters into the unfamiliar world. Retreat from the challenges of that world is no longer possible.
  • Harry Potter steps over that threshold when he learns that his parents were killed by Voldemort.
  • Luke Skywalker goes with Obi-Wan, to travel to Alderaan to deliver the Death Star plans to Leia’s father.
  • Neo chooses the red pill, swallows it, and wakes up from the Matrix.
  • Peter Parker stops Uncle Ben’s killer and the realization dawns on him that, indeed, he must use his powers to stop crime.
  • Simbha’s journey of learning begins with the embrace of “hakuna matata” and life with Timon and Pumbaa.
  • The Council of Elrond dispatches the Fellowship of the Ring on their journey to Mount Doom.
  • Katniss crosses one key threshold when she volunteers in her Sister’s place, and the step is further sealed when she and Peeta depart for the Capitol.
NEXT: Stages 6-9.

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This is part 2 of 3 of "Wandering"
See also
Part 1: The Pain and Pleasure of Wandering
Part 3: Every Departure from Routine...

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