Upon the hero returning to the material, mundane world after dwelling in the spiritual world, he faced the challenge of protecting himself and others from the power he had acquired. It’s all too easy to be thrown into one extreme or another, either to rise too far above those he wants to communicate with or to sink too low into the mundane concerns of material existence. The hero who manages to avoid these extremes, however, becomes master of the two worlds.
Freedom to pass back and forth across the world division, from the perspective of the apparitions of time to that of the causal deep and back–not contaminating the principles of the one with those of the other–is the talent of the master.
Campbell calls the passing from one world to another a transfiguration, meaning “a complete change of form or appearance into a more beautiful or spiritual state.” He tells of Christ’s transfiguration before Peter, James, and John and the transfiguration of Krishna for Arguna’s benefit in the Bhagavad Gita.
Witnesses to the transfiguration, who are also heroes of their Hero’s Journey, are awestruck by the sight, which Campbell tells us is really about the destiny of humankind. The hero sees further and deeper into the nature of existence, not just intellectually understanding the illusory nature of all that we think is important, but understanding it emotionally in a life-changing way.
The transfiguration of Krishna is particularly interesting. At first, the witness/hero, Arjuna, beholds beautiful sights. But then he’s shown horrifying ones of complete mass destruction. Krishna tells Arjuna, who’s hesitating to go into battle, that he’s merely an instrument of death and that death really comes from the destroyer of all living things, Time.
The disciple [witness/hero] has been blessed with a vision transcending the scope of normal human destiny, and amounting to a glimpse of the essential nature of the cosmos.
In myths, Campbell tells us, the vision comes in a manner that the witness/hero can understand and relate to. The imagery is taken from the local culture in which the myth grew. This initiation, as Campbell calls it, involves exposure to a symbol of the cosmos familiar to the myth’s culture: Cosmic Man, Cosmic Horse, Cosmic Tree, etc. Campbell warns against taking these symbols literally, though, which obscures their real meaning as something deeper and beyond anything we can know on the material plane.
The final point Campbell makes is that the witness/hero to the transfiguration must be Ego-less to receive the vision and understand it.
The individual, through prolonged psychological disciplines, gives up completely all attachment to his personal limitations, idiosyncrasies, hopes and fears, no longer resists the self-annihilation that is prerequisite to rebirth in the realization of truth, and so becomes ripe, at last, for the great at-one-ment.
There’s a bit of a tricky concept here. Clearly letting go of the I-control-everything Ego opens the door to seeing beyond one’s individual destiny to the destiny of humankind. But then we may well ask: If I’m to give up on the things of everyday life and devote myself to a greater spiritual power then what am I doing in the physical world? An Eastern worldview is more comfortable than a Western one with the concept of complete surrender. In the West, we feel like there’s a vital piece of the puzzle missing if we become mere receivers.
Recall that this book was written in the late 1940s. According to Campbell’s biography, A Fire in the Mind, he made his first trip to the East in the mid 1950s and changed some of his views. I don’t think Campbell would have been a fan of this kind of complete surrender. Rather, he recognized that we’re all endowed with certain talents, and we fulfill both our personal destiny and the destiny of humankind by using them to the utmost.
This all strays a bit from the original idea in this section–the hero as the master of two worlds. Perhaps we can see that idea coming out of the knowledge that fulfilling one’s individual destiny (a function of the material plane) is also fulfilling humankind’s destiny (a function of the cosmic plane). I see the individual destiny as involving spiritual development, personal development, and being of service to others, whether it’s through our life’s work or by “paying it forward” to help those going through an experience we’ve gone through. By bringing out our full potential, we push humankind just one step further in our shared evolutionary journey.