“It is good to have an end to journey towards; but it is the journey that matters in the end.”—Ursula K. Le Guin
At the beginning of The Hero with a Thousand Faces, (Princeton University Press, 1949 & 1968) arguably Joseph Campbell’s finest book, the author asserts, “It would not be too much to say that myth is the secret opening through which the inexhaustible energies of the Cosmos pour into human cultural manifestation.”
In our time myth is considered to be more like a fairy tale or a fictional flight of fancy. But this was not always the case. In ages past myth was a mechanism for describing profound truths in a way that could be recognized and remembered. Myths are carefully crafted stories which transmit timeless truths through the language of archetypes. Linguistically the word myth equates with “mouth” and carries the meaning of truth transmitted orally or through stories.
Campbell was the premier scholar of myth in modern times. Drawing on myths and traditions through time and across diverse cultures he demonstrated how the stages of the archetypal hero’s journey had the same pattern everywhere. The hero’s journey is structured as a circle or a cycle which is roughly divided into three phases: separation (departure), initiation and return. The hero always ventures forth from a world of safe and ordinary reality and enters a realm of supernatural wonder where strange forces are encountered. The journey penetrates the heart of some mystic power, and eventually the hero wins a decisive and life-enhancing victory, returning from the magical journey transformed and possessing power to bestow boons on those left behind.
Since this cyclic journey appears in stunning consistency in myths and sacred writings around the world, it should come as no surprise that this archetypal pattern is also expressed in the twelve signs of the zodiac. We can view zodiac, the great wheel of astrology, as the circular frame of this familiar story.
In Atlantis Rising #62 I examined how the span of the astrological ages, the cosmic months of Precession, might serve to affect the evolution of the collective consciousness of humanity. The ages are driven by a stellar mechanism, and at a macro level Precession acts like a massive clockwork. The astrological signs on the other hand are a function of time and the solar year, and their mythic content influences our psyches in a more individual manner. Astrology is living myth. What follows compares the archetypal nature of the twelve signs to the stages of the hero’s journey as described by Joseph Campbell.
Stages of the Hero’s Journey DEPARTURE
1. Aries: Call to Adventure A seminal trigger acts like a jolt and activates the impulse to begin the journey. Like birth itself the hero is expelled from Paradise into the cold, cruel world. Usually, the call comes in the form of a life crisis or loss which shatters the safe and bucolic nature of the hero’s previous life. The resonance between the hero’s call to adventure and the nature of the first sign, Aries, is easy to see. The rambunctious energy of new life and springtime and the “headfirst” character of the first sign propels energy into experience. The hero responds to the ageless call and sets forth on the quest, signaling the onset of spiritual awakening.
2. Taurus: Supernatural Aid As the hero or heroine sets out, the first experience is an encounter with a guide. This figure may be an old man in the guise of a hermit but is just as often a gnarly old crone possessing wisdom or a key. Campbell says this meeting represents the “benign, protecting power of destiny,” and like the wonder of a fragile green shoot pushing through a concrete highway, the force of new life is tremendous because sufficient power is required to sustain the initial impulse. To quote Campbell again, “Mother Nature herself supports the mighty task.” The inherent wisdom of the forces of nature are embodied in Taurus. Fertility and growth are automatic processes and provide early support. Ponder the stability of a grazing cow and the power of a charging bull.
3. Gemini: Crossing of the First Threshold Now supported in a mysterious way as a result of the guide, the journey moves into the realm of the unknown. Diverse experiences await and at this stage of the quest the hero, our psyche, is driven by Gemini curiosity to acquire as much knowledge as possible. In mythical tales this phase is filled with lures, traps, wily tricksters and temptations to snare the unwary. The emphasis is on quantity and diversity. Likewise in astrology the paramount lesson of Gemini is gathering data and cultivating discernment.
4. Cancer: Belly of the Whale Mythically this stage is often called the “belly of the whale” and stories involve being swallowed, experiencing a symbolic death, or entering a womb, with the implication of a potential rebirth. The previous sense of limited and separate identity is “swallowed up” and a sense of being part of something larger takes its place. The insular shell of Cancer and the womb it symbolizes acts as a nurturing container. Symbolically Cancer’s lessons uncover the deep roots of being and the processes of creation and birth.
5. Leo: Road of Trials The stage of the journey termed “road of trials” contains themes of bravery and courage as the hero faces trials and ordeals which test his or her mettle and build character. “Here there be dragons,” as the old maps said. What is at stake is proving oneself, and along the road of trials the hero recognizes his true spiritual nature. The significance of this phase is gaining personal dominion. Disney’s movie The Lion King wove these themes and this specific archetype into a powerful and timeless story which touched a deep chord.
6. Virgo: Meeting with the Goddess Having attained awareness of his divine nature the hero is ready to meet the Goddess. A mystical marriage occurs as the hero, representing the soul, unites with the Queen, Goddess or Mother of the World—the Cosmic Mother principle. The sacred feminine energy, called Kundalini in Sanskrit, represents the sacred mysteries and the power which must be embraced and embodied to achieve enlightenment. This transformation of love and metamorphosis occurs at the Virgo stage of the astrological journey. If the mythic sojourner is female it is here she becomes the consort of a god.
7. Libra: Atonement (At-one-ment) with the Father The hero is now elevated to divine status and challenged to apply the experience gained thus far to the flesh-and-blood beings in his or her own life. How do the revelations apply to the dynamics of ordinary human relationships? Astrologically this is certainly a question for Libra and the lessons of the sign involve reconciling the pairs of opposites. Part of the deeper realization is the androgynous nature of the Divine, so the pairs of opposites have a new significance.
8. Scorpio: Ultimate Boon The next stage is truly magical as the quester reaches a point where he or she now lives consciously in eternity. The psyche moves into a realm where duality is left behind. Finally free of all fear, the two dark masters of pain and pleasure no longer rule. Stories include drinking magic elixirs and eating the food of the gods. The sign of Scorpio likewise provides lessons of life, death, regeneration and immortality. This segment of the zodiac is the gateway to the unseen and eternal realms.
9. Sagittarius: Magic Flight By virtue of supernatural powers the hero returns to the realm of ordinary reality and back to the world left behind. It is now the responsibility of the enlightened and transformed hero or heroine to share their wisdom with still-slumbering humanity. The Buddha chose not to enter Nirvana but instead to remain and offer his enlightenment so that the souls of earth could take the same journey. The sign of Sagittarius is the domain of dreams, shamanic journeys and otherworldliness. All of these experiences are meant to widen our horizons and confer wisdom.
10. Capricorn: Crossing of the Return Threshold At this stage our returning hero realizes that the two kingdoms are actually one. Although he seemed to travel in a magical realm peopled with gods and demons, the journey was in fact an inner one. Appearances have been deceiving, and an enlightened consciousness is a matter of degree of the same awareness. There is no separation and matter is actually crystallized light. Capricorn is the Seagoat who partakes of the sum total of the depths and heights of manifest existence and contains the entirety of evolutionary experience.
11. Aquarius: Master of the Two Worlds Perceiving the true nature of reality the hero is now able to travel from the Above to the Below and back like Hermes moving from Hades to Mount Olympus by virtue of his Caduceus wand. The hero now moves in a spiritual manner along the Mystical Caduceus at will and by choice. This represents the Aquarian realm of higher mind and ethereal states of consciousness and rarefied energies which most of us have not yet glimpsed.
12. Pisces: Freedom to live Campbell describes this last phase as “Individual consciousness reconciled to universal will.” Having come full circle the hero achieves the sublime surrender aptly represented by the twelfth sign of Pisces. This stage involves the capacity for sacrifice on behalf of others which is not suffering but instead a complete alignment with the One through understanding. The hero or heroine now possess true compassion which is the result of sharing the hearts of humanity and recognizing the essential unity of all life.
The hero’s journey is the eternal quest which has been chronicled in every land and tongue. The hero represents the Soul of Everyone who journeys through space-time on an epic return to the Source. Heroes and heroines from the great stories stand out as shining examples, but sooner or later we must all place our feet on the “yellow brick road.” As metaphor this journey contains a map of the inner quest we all embark upon: an ancient Path of illumination. Life has a grand purpose and we are not meant to be merely spectators.
The Wheel of the Zodiac contains the blueprint of our becoming and is another symbolic map we all follow. Likewise the individual horoscope contains the archetypal focus for each lifetime, revealing lessons we must meet and master. At the dawn of the Aquarian Age the pathway into the forest seems more like a moving sidewalk.