When the concept of the hero began repeatedly interrupting my daily reality – in articles and books on writing, in television news stories of local and national heroes, and in my own reflections on unsung heroes who devote their lives to helping others without ever expecting or receiving praise, I decided to explore what defines a ‘hero’ a bit more deeply.
Words and phrases jumped out: endowed with great strength, admired for achievements, noble qualities, great courage, ingenuity, bravery.
A voice in my head screamed – doesn’t this sum up midlife? Don’t so many women experience this journey as they work to find their voice, honor their gifts and talents, and pass on their life lessons to others?
I decided to create a 12-wk series, exploring the different stages of Joseph Campbell, Maureen Murdock, and Victoria Lynn Schmidt in relation to how a woman finds her voice, learns to be content, and shares joy. Week 1 and Week 2
- Campbell: Meeting the mentor
- Murdock: Road of trials and meeting ogres & dragons
- Schmidt: The awakening and preparing for the journey
What the experts say
Campbell presents a protective figure who provides amulets against dragon forces they will pass. This protective creature is often portrayed as an elderly, eccentric, or benign female – a Spider Woman in one Native American tradition, the Virgin Mary of the Christian tradition, the fairy godmother but can also be masculine – a hermit, shepherd, wizard – who takes on the role of initiating the adventurer in the ambiguities of the unconscious.
Murdock focuses on the importance of the woman seeking her truth, finding her voice, and choosing her own destiny. The road of trials she encounters once she leaves the safety of her parents’ home can be both external and internal. The external obstacles manifest in the societal expectations and myths about women being dependent, inferior, and in need of romantic love to be true to herself. The dragons try to convince her that she can’t be successful, isn’t qualified enough, or must put her own needs last. One of the worst dragons convinces her that she can do whatever she wants as long as she conforms to society’s expectations too.
The Myth of Dependency – relies on the myth that for the man to be strong the woman must be weak and that it is noble for her to maintain equilibrium through self-sacrifice.
The Myth of Inferiority – this myth insists that the woman has no intrinsic value and is less than the man. The woman develops an “If I just…then” complex, always trying to make up for some deficit.
The Myth of Romantic Love – perpetuates the idea that a woman must find herself in a romantic relationship with a man and that she lives vicariously through him. She waits patiently in the home while he is her connection to the outside world.
Murdock mentions that these myths may not be perpetuated by the males in the woman’s life, but they are internalized regardless, and given that women are socialized to rage against themselves, they often turn their rage on other women in their lives, particularly their mothers. [Murdock, Maureen. The Heroine’s Journey: Woman’s Quest for Wholeness (pp. 46-61). Shambhala. Kindle Edition.]
Finally, Murdock states, “When the transformation of the heroine really occurs, however, it is usually the result not of rescue from without but of strenuous growth and development within, and over a long period of time.” [Murdock, Maureen. The Heroine’s Journey: Woman’s Quest for Wholeness (p. 58). Shambhala. Kindle Edition.]
Schmidt begins step three with the heroine finally shedding her coping strategies because she realizes that they did not serve her well but kept her from facing reality. Although disillusioned and believing herself to be alone, she ventures onto a journey with no idea where it will lead. She is tempted by “depression, rage, and bitterness” and must choose between taking the passive road or the active road.
On the passive road, she might blame others or herself, play the victim, keep busy, or even decide to commit suicide. On the active road, she sees the end of her perfect world as a lesson, an invitation to freedom and change, a challenge to chase her desires. Of course, she may move from the passive road to the active as part of the journey, and if she is mired in the passive response, others may encourage her to move forward. Once she finally decides to say “no” to what she doesn’t want and “yes” to what she does, she reaches a turning point.
And that is when she faces the demons and critics (sometimes within) that try to convince her she can’t make it alone, that she is crazy, that she’ll never reach her goals. The suffering she has already endured, often with supportive friends, pushes her to victory. She stands up for what she believes in, speaks her truth, confronts her nemesis, refuses to put everyone before herself. She finds courage to strike out on new adventures, try new things in a search to find herself or confront those who have wronged or hurt her in the past.
The entire course of her life is changed by the decision she makes at this stage to embrace her destiny. [Schmidt, Victoria Lynn. 45 Master Characters, Revised Edition: Mythic Models for Creating Original Characters (Kindle Locations 2184-2210). F+W Media. Kindle Edition.]
Unaware that her courage, smarts, and intuition are her greatest weapons, she also begins to gather her tools and weapons for her journey. Schmidt gives examples: “Documenting all the wrongs that have been done to her, as victims of sexual harassment or those being stalked must do. Gathering clothing and other items she thinks she needs to be seen as beautiful or professional as the women in Working Girl do. If she’s an activist, she may gather tools to chain herself to a tree she wants to save or create signs that make strong statements. If she’s battling the corporate establishment, she may make copies of files and data. If she’s a mother running away from an abusive husband, she’ll gather her children, clothing, and money before she leaves.” Schmidt, Victoria Lynn. 45 Master Characters, Revised Edition: Mythic Models for Creating Original Characters (Kindle Locations 2217-2224). F+W Media. Kindle Edition.
At this point, the ogres interfere trying to dissuade her, convincing her that she’s not ready, prepared, or strong enough and that she needs a man to save her. External forces complicate her progress as work or school policies change making it more difficult for her to pursue a promotion, a career, or a degree – or she gets pulled into other people’s drama as she struggles to say “no” to other’s demands on her time and energy. [Schmidt, Victoria Lynn. 45 Master Characters, Revised Edition: Mythic Models for Creating Original Characters (Kindle Locations 2224-2236). F+W Media. Kindle Edition.]
In My Experience
I find the concept of a mentor who guides the adventurer along the way quite familiar. From my earliest childhood, I’ve been encouraged to look to the wisdom and protection of the Saints – and particularly the Virgin Mary. But in the process of finding my own voice through the years, I’ve realized that the patriarchal patterns that portray Mary as docile, pure, and submissive did not serve me well but instead reinforced the very myths that Murdock discusses: dependence, inferiority, and romantic love. I spent 13 years as the “Bride of Christ”, chaste and pure like Mary – allowing myself to be lost in the shadows of what men thought was best for me. Even in the process of leaving the convent, I was sent by my ‘superiors’ (all women) to numerous priests who were somehow supposed to know God’s will for me.
During this stage of the journey (in 1994-95), I traveled a rollercoaster between the passive and active roads described by Schmidt interweaving the lows of blaming others and myself, wallowing in “depression, rage, and bitterness,” and facing the ogres and dragons of self-doubt with the highs of chasing my desires, embracing freedom, and learning from the lessons that my suffering taught me.
On the journey away from the convent, I found myself returning to the safety of the masculine ally of the Church (from Murdock’s Step 2) – and began the process all over again. Twenty years later (in 2014-15), when my career imploded, I was faced with the Campbell’s Call to Adventure and Schmidt’s disillusionment of the perfect world. This second time around, I have faced the journey with more courage and wisdom – embracing the active road and finding my voice and my truth more quickly. The rollercoaster lows are not as low nor as long.
Perhaps, unlike the hero/ines in literature and movies, where Steps 1 – 12 happen within a few hundred pages or a few hours, in real life these phases twist and turn through years of insight, struggles, maturing, and starting over – and with age comes wisdom. I find it interesting that we are just reaching the threshold of this hero’s journey – and can’t wait to discover what comes next.
Your Heroine’s Journey Experience
- With which step do you most identify – Campbell, Murdock, or Schmidt?
- Do you have a wise woman in your life who has acted as your guide and mentor along your journey as Campbell describes?
- Have you bought into the myths of dependence, inferiority, and romantic love described by Murdock? Are you bombarded by self-doubt? How do you find the courage to speak your truth?
- When you’ve faced disillusionment, do you tend towards the passive road of blame and depression or do you take the active road of challenge and embracing freedom and change?
Next week we’ll reflect on:
- Campbell: Crossing the Threshold
- Murdock: Experiencing the boon of success
- Schmidt: The descent – passing the gates of judgment