Finding Manhood: 12 Steps of the Hero’s Journey

finding manhood

Does nature hold secrets to finding manhood? Men’s movement pioneer Robert Bly thought so.

What does it mean when a man falls in love with a radiant face across the room? It may mean that he has some soul work to do. His soul is the issue. Instead of pursuing the woman and trying to get her alone…he needs to go alone himself, perhaps to a mountain cabin, for three months, write poetry, canoe down a river, and dream. That would save some women a lot of trouble.

Six years ago, I wanted to be in a relationship, but I wasn’t ready. Like Robert Bly mentions in his classic book, Iron John: A Book about Men, I had soul work to do.

With the many distractions in Los Angeles, I had to get away. So, I flew out to North Carolina and retreated to the mountains. I enrolled in a program called Restoring the Foundation. Each morning I met with a couple to guide me through my soul work. With them, I faced my deepest fears and darkest secrets.

Getting everything off my chest was exhausting. But, I discovered a National Forest was situated near the bed and breakfast. The waterfall scenes from one of my favorite movies, The Last of the Mohicans, were filmed here. During my free time, I would drive to and hike up to these natural wonders.

Something about hiking and running through the wilderness allowed me to experience a new kind of freedom. I pictured myself as a Native American many moons ago. As John Dryden wrote,

But know that I alone am king of me. I am as free as nature first made man, Ere the base laws of servitude began, When wild in woods the noble savage ran.

Living in a huge city, I’m around friends who have no interest in camping, hunting, or fishing. But, almost everyone recognizes the power of nature. Perhaps, as writer John Eldredge mentions, it’s equally important to uncover the hidden recesses of the soul.

If you are going to know who you truly are as a man, if you are going to find a life worthy living, if you are going to love a woman deeply…you simply must get your heart back. You must head up into the high country of the soul, into wild and unchartered regions and track down that elusive prey.

Maybe it’s not hunting or fishing, but a manhood journey must begin with the idea of getting outside your comfort zone. Once you are outside of your familiar surroundings, you may find a piece of yourself you may have never discovered otherwise.

Your manhood journey might look different from another man’s, but the story is universally the same. Joseph Campbell, an American mythologist identified elements that make up every hero’s journey in his book, The Hero with a Thousand Faces. (On a side note: George Lucas created Star Wars based on Campbell’s work.)

A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.

A “boon” is a blessing, an advantage, or anything than can help others around us. And that’s a characteristic of every hero: he gains something, not for selfish reasons, but to share his teachings and blessings with everyone.

The 12 Steps of The Hero’s Journey are summarized below:

The Hero's Journey


1. THE ORDINARY WORLD. The hero, uneasy, uncomfortable or unaware, is introduced sympathetically so the audience can identify with the situation or dilemma. The hero is shown against a background of environment, heredity, and personal history. Some kind of polarity in the hero’s life is pulling in different directions and causing stress.

2. THE CALL TO ADVENTURE. Something shakes up the situation, either from external pressures or from something rising up from deep within, so the hero must face the beginnings of change.

3. REFUSAL OF THE CALL. The hero feels the fear of the unknown and tries to turn away from the adventure, however briefly. Alternately, another character may express the uncertainty and danger ahead.

4. MEETING WITH THE MENTOR. The hero comes across a seasoned traveler of the worlds who gives him or her training, equipment, or advice that will help on the journey. Or the hero reaches within to a source of courage and wisdom.

5. CROSSING THE THRESHOLD. At the end of Act One, the hero commits to leaving the Ordinary World and entering a new region or condition with unfamiliar rules and values.

6. TESTS, ALLIES AND ENEMIES. The hero is tested and sorts out allegiances in the Special World.

7. APPROACH. The hero and newfound allies prepare for the major challenge in the Special world.

8. THE ORDEAL. Near the middle of the story, the hero enters a central space in the Special World and confronts death or faces his or her greatest fear. Out of the moment of death comes a new life.

9. THE REWARD. The hero takes possession of the treasure won by facing death. There may be celebration, but there is also danger of losing the treasure again.

10. THE ROAD BACK. About three-fourths of the way through the story, the hero is driven to complete the adventure, leaving the Special World to be sure the treasure is brought home. Often a chase scene signals the urgency and danger of the mission.

11. THE RESURRECTION. At the climax, the hero is severely tested once more on the threshold of home. He or she is purified by a last sacrifice, another moment of death and rebirth, but on a higher and more complete level. By the hero’s action, the polarities that were in conflict at the beginning are finally resolved.

12. RETURN WITH THE ELIXIR. The hero returns home or continues the journey, bearing some element of the treasure that has the power to transform the world as the hero has been transformed.

The hero begins with a feeling of unsettledness. While he might feel a call to adventure, he doesn’t want to leave what he’s always known. But, a mentor helps to equip the hero for the journey.

Nature provides a background that symbolizes the journey into the soul. Gazing into the stars means so much more. “The imagery is necessarily physical and thus apparently of outer space,” Campbell says, “The inherent connotation is always, however, psychological and metaphysical, which is to say, of inner space.”

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