The last eight posts on the Hero’s Journey have been from the subsection called “Transformations of the Hero.” They taught us about the link between the primordial hero and the human race, the hero’s childhood and death, and the different roles of the hero (warrior, lover, emperor/tyrant, world savior, and saint). We’re now moving into the last subsection of “The Cosmogonic Cycle” called “Dissolutions,” which tells us about the end of life as we know it. We start with the microcosm, the death of the individual. Then Campbell discusses the death of the macrocosm or the end of the world.
Death of the Individual
The death of the individual in myths is depicted as a journey into a dark place. It’s a long and dangerous journey. In the death journey, purification is important. Many cultures describe some process of divesting ourselves from the life we just came from. Sometimes a judgment is involved, which has the purpose of keeping us morally in check in life. The end result is to unite with the Divine.
We see this, for instance, in the Egyptian Book of the Dead in the “Chapter of Driving Away the Slaughterings Which Are Performed in the Underworld.” The soul compares every body part to the body part of a god or goddess.
[T]he soul comes to the fullness of its stature and power through assimilating the deities that formerly had been thought to be separate from and outside of it. They are projections of its own being; and as it returns to its true state they are all reassumed.
This is a lot like the Hero’s Journey: moving from the known into the unknown, fighting many obstacles, receiving help (from the stories of the death journey, and in some cultures, the things buried with the dead), and eventually reaching that place where the hero understands his true divine nature and unites with the One.
But the journey of death and the Hero’s Journey are two different things. The death journey happens to all of us, whether we want it or not. In some cultures, it’s the final journey. In others, it depends on the life you lived before death. Some tell us the knowledge that we are divine comes to everyone while others tell us it might take a while or it might never happen, depending on how we lived our life.
The Hero’s Journey, which is the subject of Campbell’s book The Hero with a Thousand Faces, is about taking the journey of death in life. It’s an incredibly empowering experience. We gain the knowledge of our divine nature in a realm where we can do something amazing with it–communicate it to others, especially those who don’t know it. That is the biggest difference between the journey of death and the Hero’s Journey. With one, we take it only for ourselves. With the other, we take it for ourselves and others.
When we consider the Hero’s Journey on a psychological level, the journey of change rather than the journey of spiritual enlightenment, we see this too. What we learn from the journey of change, we can pass onto others in some way. We might not teach them what we learned directly, but it comes out in everything we do.
The End of the World
Campbell’s discussion of the end of the macrocosm is just a short section where he quotes from various myths describing the end of the world. They’re all violent and terrifying. We see a picture of the fury of nature. Fire burns. Water drowns. Thunder and lightening. The earth caves in. Campbell offers no commentary on these stories, leaving us asking why they even exist.
Recall the cosmogonic cycle. We start with a divine world which gradually degenerates. It ultimately gets so bad that it’s completely destroyed. This is the dissolution of the macrocosm. But then what? The cosmogonic cycle begins its upward spiral. A new world is born, one slightly better than the one destroyed. It gradually gets better and better till it becomes almost divine. Then begins the downward spiral all over again.
So according to this, the destruction of the world is necessary for rebirth. What we can see here is the fate of humanity. Like the individual, it goes through cycles for better or for worse. But the general trend of humanity is towards positive evolution: slightly greater wisdom, slightly greater understanding, slightly greater godliness.
To me, the destruction of the macrocosm forces us to widen our vision. We don’t know what’s really possible in this universe, and it deserves greater respect for its indecipherable mysteries. As far as each individual is concerned, everyone is a spark of humanity’s destiny. Are you going to enlighten as many people as you can in your lifetime about what it is to be fully human, and thus fully divine (which just means sharing your experiences with the good, the bad, the ugly, and the beautiful)? Or are you going to cater to your personal needs and block humanity’s evolution? The choice is very real, and so are its consequences.