The Importance Of Mythology To Manhood

One of the most profoundly insightful books I’ve ever read is The Hero with a Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell. In this book Campbell uses myths from around the world and psychoanalytic theory to reveal the Monomyth, the archetypical hero journey that underlies the many-varied myths and folklore from the world’s cultures, past and present.

In this article I can only give an introduction to the basic concepts of the Monomyth, with a few examples and some notes on the importance of mythology and the usefulness of understanding it better. In The Hero with a Thousand Faces, Campbell goes into much more detail, discusses the nuances and variations of the Monomyth, and provides a ton of interesting examples. I encourage you to read it.

Why Mythology Is Important

Myths are psychological. The symbols and metaphors of mythology are the outer representations of the inner spirit—the animating force that shapes meaning, purpose, and our connections with each other, society, and the world. This animating force is powerful and transformative, but it lies deep within, beneath and behind the solid forms of the everyday world and the small fancies of human reason. Myths are able to guide us to that animating force and help us on our own spiritual journeys. According to Joseph Campbell:

“Myth is the secret opening through which the inexhaustible energies of the cosmos pour into human cultural manifestation.”

“It has always been the prime function of mythology and rite to supply the symbols that carry the human spirit forward, in counteraction to those other constant human fantasies that tend to tie it back.”

Some knowledge of mythology is especially important for men today because modern society has been transformed by rationalism, mechanistic paradigms, and a preoccupation with the material world. Many people no longer believe in a formless, unfathomable, yet enduring spirit-energy, and instead they see only forms that can be understood by the human mind—the ephemera of ideas, feelings, and material stuff.

As a consequence, people discard rites and traditions when they become inconvenient, and they often treat myths as nothing more than entertaining stories, thereby casting aside the guidance and wisdom of the past. This, of course, is destructive. As Campbell notes:

“It may well be that the very high incidence of neuroticism among ourselves follows from the decline among us of such effective spiritual aid. We remain fixated to the unexorcized images of our infancy, and hence disinclined to the necessary passages of our adulthood. In the United States there is even a pathos of inverted emphasis: the goal is not to grow old, but to remain young; not to mature away from Mother, but to cleave to her.”

Campbell published this in 1949, pointing out the social and spiritual breakdown of manhood that has only worsened since then. Modern culture does little to foster spiritual growth, and so many men have fumbled in the dark, trying to make their own spiritual journey without the kind of guidance and wisdom available to men of the past. Luckily, though, myths both old and new are waiting to speak to those who know their language.

The Monomyth

The hero journey is one of rejuvenation. It begins with a problem, with society out of balance and in decay. The hero is called to adventure, and must leave the ordinary (human) world and enter the dangerous and mysterious world of the divine, such as a magic realm or the wilderness. The hero is tested, and his reward is the Ultimate Boon. He carries this boon back with him to the ordinary world and uses it to rejuvenate, to redeem the world.

My favorite illustration of this is the story of Perseus from the film Clash of the Titans (the 1981 version). At one point in the movie, the queen of the city of Joppa blasphemes against the goddess Thetis. As punishment, Thetis demands that Joppa sacrifice the princess Andromeda to a giant sea monster, the mighty Kraken. If the people of Joppa do not comply, then the Kraken will destroy the city and all its citizens.

To stop the Kraken, Perseus must defeat Medusa, whose eyes turn all who look at them into stone. Perseus defeats Medusa and brings her severed head back to Joppa where he confronts the Kraken, a monster so huge and terrible that not even an army could defeat it. And yet Perseus, armed with the Ultimate Boon, defeats the Kraken—he reveals the severed head of Medusa and turns the giant monster to stone, saving both the princess and the city.

Here is a succinct diagram of the Monomtyh from the book:


This model is the archetype, the complete hero journey. Some of these elements are obvious from their names, but others are not. The Sacred Marriage is also called the Meeting with the Goddess, and it’s the stage wherein the hero tempers himself with a feminine force, such as intuition or compassion, to gain the knowledge or power unobtainable by a purely masculine approach. The Father Atonement is when the hero no longer resists the father figure, but reconciles with him, and the Elixir is another name for the Ultimate Boon.

Among the myths of the world, these components are manifested in different ways. Each component can have more or less prominence, and some components may be absent in some myths. Here are some examples of these components drawn from a few contemporary stories:

Call to adventure:    Neo gets a call from Morpheus

Helper:    Morpheus

Threshold crossing: Taking the Red Pill

Tests: Martial Arts and Jump programs

Helpers: Obi Wan Kenobi and Yoda

Sacred Marriage: Luke switches off targeting computer, trusts his feelings, and uses The Force

Father Atonement: Luke stops trying to fight his father and surrenders to him

Apotheosis: Neo becomes Matrix Jesus

Elixir Theft: John Connor destroys Cyberdyne Systems, steals parts from original Terminator

Flight: The T-1000 chases John Connor and friends

Threshold Struggle: T-1000 is defeated / John must accept the death of the good Terminator

Elixir (after return): The world is safe from Judgment Day and John has become a man

What does it all mean?

After you understand the basic cycle of the Monomyth, you can recognize it again and again in stories and in the rhythms of life. People every day cross the threshold into the energetic abyss of sleep, and later they return to the waking world, renewed. The hunter leaves his village and crosses into the wilderness to test his strength and skill—if he succeeds, then he will return with life-sustaining meat.

The young man leaves his family in search of a mate, and if he passes the tests and wins his bride, he brings her back to become part of his family and to create new life. Out of the darkness of the womb we come into this world of tests and growth, and inevitably we pass into the darkness of the grave.

More practically, familiarizing yourself with the Monomyth will allow you to appreciate stories in new ways, and may help you learn some valuable lessons. After all, there are plenty of myths and folklore in which the would-be hero fails. There is a high price for he who takes the journey unprepared—he who doesn’t control his id, or can’t set aside his ego; who abandons his duties; who disrespects the forces of nature.

In your own life, what might these components represent? What journeys are you on? What are the thresholds you need to cross? What are the tests you need to pass? How is the world of your life in decay, and what do you need to do to redeem it? Listen for the call of adventure, and then strive to become a more heroic man.

Read More: How To Become A Superhero

65 thoughts on “The Importance Of Mythology To Manhood”

  1. The Star Wars films hold particularly close to Joseph Campbell’s model – mainly because George Lucas was an aficionado of mythmaking and consulted Campbell while writing the film. On the other hand, Hollywood has just about turned the model into a cliche specifically because Lucas had such success with it, and has watered down the masculine aspects of it such that it simply resembles a cookie-cutter for an action movie these days.

    1. Red Dawn was a likable movie because some of the characters succeeded and others failed. The two weakest characters walked out alive.

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  2. I highly urge every young man to seek his own financial independence, free from family connections, in the world. I have been on my own since July and in the last 6 months I have learned how to:
    use a table saw
    grind/weld/cut metal
    cook my own food
    spot scams
    I’m not against accepting help from parents, but at least for a year its important to try to do it yourself completely to gain perspective on the world. Becoming independent isnt killing Medusa, but these days its the most practical way to venture out into the world on your own personal myth making journey.

    1. And if you have abusive, manipulative parents, particularly an abusive, manipulative mother, it’s *doubly* important to get out there and independent and pick up some scars.

  3. This is by far one of the best ROK articles I’ve read in a long time. Very well done, sir. Thoughtful but concise examination of the hero archetype. I agree that a lot of guys have lost or are not exposed to the wisdom from previous generations.
    Some of my favorite posts have discussed great thinkers or leaders from history espousing the same “red pill” truths that we mistakenly believe we’ve newly discovered. I’m hoping other guys enjoyed this one as much as I did.

  4. In each of the scenarios or stories, great things only come from great effort and sacrifice. The central figure succeeds not by the sheer awesomeness of their lifestyle and personal flair. Rather, he is broken down and remade only after sacrificing what is held dear.
    Any comments as to why women are absent from these monomyths? Patriarchy? Sacrifice? Lifestyle?

    1. Partly any and each of these, but some writers (Victoria Lynn Schmidt) have identified a female version of the hero’s journey which is distinct from that of the male. You can find a rough summary of it here:
      Basically, it’s–
      Act I
      The Illusion of the Perfect World Stage: The main character has a false sense of security and is trapped in a negative world that stops her growth. She avoids reality of her situation by using a coping strategy.
      The Betrayal or Realization Stage: Everything important to her is taken away and she is pushed to a fork in the road.
      The Awakening Stage: She actively prepares for her Journey and wants to reclaim her “power.”
      Act II
      The Descent Stage: Also known as passing the Gates of Judgement. She faces one of the fears or obstacles and may want to turn back but can’t. Her weapons won’t work; they are useless here.
      The Eye of the Storm Stage: She comes to terms with the ordeal she just faced and thinks her Journey is over; Supporting Characters may want her to come back; but it is not over yet.
      The Death Stage: All is lost. A total Reversal happens. She faces her own death, or a symbolic one, and learns more about herself.
      Act III
      The Support Stage: She accepts her connection to the larger whole. Hopefully someone or something supports her now or she may not make it.The heroine can’t fit into society in the way she wants so death may be her only answer.
      The Moment of Truth Stage: She has found her strength and goes for her goal with gusto She has awakened and sees the whole world differently. She faces her worst fear and still remains compassionate and complete.
      The Full Circle Stage: She returns to the perfect world to see how far she’s come. She may pick the next person to go on the descent now so this person can grow as the hero has.
      Look at most of the older Disney princess movies, or indeed fairytales with a feminine (as opposed to female) protagonist and they tend to follow this cycle. In essence a female’s journey in myth comes down to being an inner journey of personal discovery rather than the male’s outward journey for the purpose of bringing back something of value to his entire community.
      Anyone who understands sexual dimorphism or differing gender roles won’t be threatened by the existence of a female journey. At its heart the male monomyth speaks to men’s needs to compete, to build, to achieve, and to do positive things for their communities. At its heart the female version of this story speaks to women’s inner (and these days, unacknowledged) needs to nurture families.
      Put in pregnancy as the “Realization” of Act I and it’s not hard to see the monomyth is about teaching women via mythology about the process they’ll be going through to become a mother and a full, complete woman. Naturally, feminism will fight hard against this myth because it’s repugnant to them: they would rather stay at stage 1.

    2. The main reason is that the monomyth is profoundly masculine. Hence women are absent.
      Hell Jesus Christ’s life reflects the monomyth very well.

      1. I wrote on this years ago. Here’s the part that references the monomyth and some biblical character examples.

    3. There’s a theory on this in “The Church Impotent:”
      “At first an infant, male or female, exists in an oceanic consciousness…Gradually, the child realizes mother is a distinct person, and a boy realizes further that his mother is in some way alien to him…[According to Nancy Chodorow] ‘growing girls come to define and experience themselves as continuous with others…Boys come to define themselves as more separate and distinct…”
      “…As Ruchard Haeley writes, ‘Masculinity is best understood as a trajectory…a journey or quest.’ It is always a journey from something, especially feminine. ‘The male trajectory first begins with the gesture of separation from the mother. This need to differentiate sets the boy on a life-long path of, literally, proving himself.’”
      This separateness and search for something missing that underpins the Hero’s metaphysical quest is mirrored in theology. “God is always masculine…He transcends creation: it is not a part of Him, nor did it come out of Him – He spoke and it was. God is, therefore, utterly separate from creation; that is, holy…to be holy is to be separated.”

  5. What a weird coincidence. This book arrived at my door yesterday. I felt like there was a big gap in my library because I didn’t have anything by Joseph Campbell.

    1. Best mythos follower you will ever encounter. Any other pales in comparison to the knowledge he oozes.

  6. Unfortunately most guys don’t have lives anywhere near this interesting. Grow up in Ferguson, Missouri. Shoplift from convenience store. Encounter cop and go “Oh, shit!” Get shot after assaulting cop. Die. The end.

    1. That’s why we must maintain untamed wildernesses where those interesting things happen and not let urbanization destroy such environments.

  7. This was one of the best articles on this website I have seen and a nice change of pace. Nothing better than a good Hero all young boys can get behind, especially if there is a struggle to overcome and an overall goal. Even if the Hero does not achieve all of his goals the fact that he is trying to reach that goal is inspirational and can teach many lessons a person can use in everyday life.

    1. Slightly(actually hugely) off topic, but remember the hologram scene with Leia (“Help me, obi won, youre my only hope)? Well, cel phones are gonna have this tech in the next year or two.

      1. “cell phones are gonna have this tech in the next year or two.”
        Yes, with battery tech still stuck in the stone age.

    2. The interview is also in a book format, “The Power of Myth”. It’s a good read as well. I especially like his analysis of the US Dollar bill.

    1. I’d never have guessed that from your avatar 😛
      Good Christ, when are they going to give us Conan The King featuring Arnie? Surely he’s old enough to do the role now?


        2. Too bad the second one was horrendous. The remake wasn’t exactly great but had moments I really liked here and there.

      1. If Milius doesn’t direct and/or they have the audacity to make it PG-13 (like rumor is they will do with this terrible looking Terminator Sega Genysis) then there’s no good reason for them to.
        Besides, Poledouris has been dead for a while, so the music wouldn’t even be the same.

  8. Amazing article and great way to illustrate one of the greatest literary minds of our time, Joseph Campbell. I cannot say enough good things about this man and his way of thinking. As an aspiring writer you must look at his work as he is one of the few minds to bridge myths together from an array of cultures and combine their thresholds into a simple truth that worked for him and may work for us all. Life is myth and myth is life.
    Once upon a time certain myths were discussed openly and with intent knowing full well, the next stage of life was upon us. For many people, they would experience a dream at some point in life where a snake would devour them. The snake while a link of destruction also has the birthright of shedding it’s old skin to embrace a newer more solid set of scales. This was usually the marker that things in your life were to be discarded as they have outlived their usefulness.
    Another story relating to men, would be that of some tribes. In some tribes (I don’t remember the exact tribe off the top of my head), the boys would be pried from their mothers in the middle of the night. Mothers would cry for their son and wail that they were to be spared as the adult males would drag their sons and nephews off into the woods kicking and screaming. The boys would then have their uncircumcised penises relieved of the foreskin. The adult males would laugh and then call them men. This abandonment and destruction was the marker into becoming men.
    Even tattoos held a similar weight. Tribes would only give tattoos to men who made a heroic sacrifice, as they must, and it was their marker of being a man. That woman with a dolphin tattoo on her chest is trying her best to emulate this rite on an unconscious level but as their was no sacrifice, there was no true crossing of any thresholds. Ever wonder why a tattooed person had to get another? It is not the pain they are addicted to, but the false hope that they are crossing a threshold. Also the extra reason why they must show off the tattoo as they have nothing else to show to make the marks valuable. Long story short, Myths rock especially when you draw parallels with people’s lives.

  9. As, far as modern movies, go, which actor embodies this most?
    In my opinion, it would be Robert Redford, I cant think of any movies hes not the masculine hero type. Its carefully crafted image, but at least its a positive one for men to emulate…

      1. You grew up watching gary cooper? Are you the real Napoleon 😉

        1. Yeah but after my death, my consciousness uploaded itself in the body of a millenial newborn baby.
          And here I come.

    1. “In my opinion, it would be Robert Redford,”
      Redford has done a lot of douchie movies, but also some very good ones too. I just recently viewed Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid and it has to be one of my all time favorite Westerns.

      1. right, but he never plays against this archetype. You have instances of Eastwood playing in comedy, romantic leads too.

  10. This article puts women on piedestal and it’s totally blue pill. Forget about these heroes, they were red pill too. They kneeled down in front of the woman and proposed marriage. You call it “sacred” I call it “a sacred trap”. We live in different age. In order for men to be a fearless hunter, warrior and heroes we need our Dulcinea del Toboso – but she’s dead anyway.
    Women are no more ladies like. They are no longer an inspiration for heroes. Heroes are born when the time requires them. Our time does not need heroes. We can’t be bothered. Yes, we live in cynical and less heroic times but so what? Be a real red pill – independent, aloof, manipulative and cynical.
    You don’t need to be a hero, you don’t need to prove yourself worthy for the woman. Don’t be a stupid Don Quixote.

    1. It doesn’t put women on a pedestal, for goodness sake. He was talking about men in the past, and like it or not, starting and raising a family used to be a net good for both individuals and society at large.

      1. It does. It talks about Goddesses, feminine force and the tests the hero must endure in order to please his woman. It romanticises the past, which always a sign of blue pill victims mentality.

        1. It did because those things were in the past. You cannot whitewash history, or rather shouldn’t. Speaking of the past is unavoidable when speaking of myths.

        2. I’ll jump in here and clarify.
          When stories function as myths, the characters become metaphors or archetypes. The Sacred Marriage or the Meeting with the Goddess is the stage in which the hero has to temper his masculinity with the feminine force. This is not to please some woman because he’s a bitch–it’s to reach a productive balance or harmony within himself.
          The example I gave was Luke Skywalker turning off his targeting computer and trusting the Force. In order to succeed he had to relinquish control, submit. Does that make him a bitch? He did what he needed to do in order to destroy the Death Star.
          Remember the Yin Yang. Each element in its fullest also contains some of it’s opposite. Consider hierarchy, the good and natural order of things. Even the King is lower than God, and to be a good King he must serve the interests of his Kingdom. There is a time for boldness, and a time for caution; a time to control, and a time to let free; a time to be in control, and a time to submit; a time for a hard heart, and a time for mercy.

  11. My ignorance almost made me skip reading . But once I did, it turned up to be an excellent read.
    I wish we could somehow touch the excellence of manhood and masculinity. Our forefathers were lucky enough to be born in eras where men were men. How can one developing male even begin to touch the absolute of manhood (besides women, money and working out)? Oneline comes to mind. Tyler Durden :,,sticking feathers up your but does not make you a chicken”. These must be some clear methods or activities that enhance your being into a true male (perhaps even alpha).

    1. THERE IS NO BATHROOM. He should drive that thing on the 405 during rush hour…clear a path out.

  12. Great article. The Bible, Norse myth, and Greek myth and good fiction are important for men even if they are atheist. You will learn about human nature, and apply stories to navigate your own life.

  13. Good article. The hero’s journey is the oldest kind of story. From Adam, to Joseph in Egypt, to modern stories like Wizard of Oz and Indiana Jones, there is deep symbolism and meaning if it is told correctly. Our bushman ancestors were greatly helped by mythological story-telling, and its importance has not gone away. Modern films like Thor try but don’t even come close to the old classics.
    I don’t think we see just how little mythopoetry we have. In part, it is because we think the help of technology can replace it. But also it goes back to the progressive contempt for religion. Women teach their kids that Santa Claus isn’t real because they deserve to know. Classic mythology is a patriarchal institution and modern progressives prefer to live in reality.

    1. I have yet to meet a Progressive who is even marginally acquainted with reality.

  14. Excellent article.. thanks for writing it.
    Myths have always fascinated me.. Religious texts and stories are full of mythic
    archetypes and overtones that consists of deep truths and shouldn’t be discarded as simplistic “fairy tales” or wish-fulfillment fantasies as some smug atheists seem to do.
    Here’s an excellent lecture by Jordan Peterson on myths and the hero archetype and the deeper truths contained in them:
    Jordan Peterson on Reality and the Sacred
    See also my comment here ( ) on why it makes sense for these hero archetypes and mythic journeys to be inherently masculine and consist of male heroes. The reason we today don’t have powerful myths and movies like “Star Wars” that struck such a powerful chord with so many people is that feminism and the current feminist culture has utterly corrupted this monomyth by denigrating masculinity, patriarchal order and male heroism and mocking those things as being archaic and “sexist,” and by injecting female protagonists and female “heroes” into the classical mythic tale.. and these cultural adjustments and changes to stories and mythological narratives just doesn’t ring true on a deep level to most people.
    It is men who go out an conquer.. and bring order to chaos. It always has been the case and always will be the case, notwithstanding attempts by feminism to subvert this masculine mythic archetype by introducing female heroes and protagonists such as in the “The Hunger Games.” First, because it is women who are the child-bearers and the physically weaker of the two sexes, It makes biological sense for males to be the ones risking their lives to conquer and “tame the wild”. Secondly, for a man who takes a risk and is rewarded by conquering a new land or wilderness, he rises in the dominance hierarchy and receive as his reward the most attractive of females as a mate or mates. Women, like most female primates, mate across and over the dominance hierarchy and so it makes sense for men to take big risks to rise in the dominance hierarchy and stand out from other males. For females, there is no such reward.. her choice of male mates actually decreases rather than increases if she stands out and succeeds in anything. .because women will never tolerate or find attractive a man below her level. The more successful and accomplished a woman is, the smaller the pool of men she’s interested in and who she thinks is good enough for her.
    So on a primal and fundamental level, monomyths that consist of female protagonists and female “heroes” make no sense. .and just don’t ring true. They are empty and hollow.. like the feminist ideology and delusions that inspire them.

  15. Good storytelling tends to follow a predictable arc. Everything from Christianity to Star Wars needs to have a likable hero, an entertaining struggle against all odds, and a dynamic bad guy for the consumer to love to hate. In other words, Darth Vader is Satan.

  16. The author of the book this writer is gushing over strikes me as probably being an aging baby boomer who after a lifetime of decadence and hedonism now finds himself asking why he’s so miserable and hates his life.
    So he gets in deep with new age mysticism. Rejecting the more rational empiricist outlook that freed Europe from papist oppression.
    Really any mention of “cosmic energies” in this sort of context should make you suspicious.
    But of course all this does nothing to alleviate the mental anguish of a worthless life spent wallowing in your own misery trying to hide it with drugs, alcohol and feelgood political ideologies. It will always come back so you need a new salve to help soothe your aches.
    What makes it worse is that he applies his half backed hippy thinking to a consistent human phenomena. Thinking there is something “spiritual and like totally cosmic maaan” when in reality it is just humans responding to human needs. About as spiritual as taking a shit. Although I have no doubt that a man like him would be more than capable of finding some deep inner spiritual meaning in that too.

      Born 1904, died 1987. Not a baby boomer at all; Greatest Generation and witness and victim of the Great Depression and two world wars. Whatever his thought, it was not half-formed and influenced by some of the finest minds of his generation, from Nietszche to Maslow.

      1. Oh a member of the self proclaimed greatest generation? That actually makes even more sense.
        A generation who rejected all of human civilisation and history in the pursuit of spoiling their children. Creating those who would turn out to be the most destructive and self centred generation in modern history.
        Of all the problems we face today, many can be traced back to those who claim to be the greatest generation. The Boomers just continued their parents work and expanded upon it.
        Also calling Nietszche a fine mind is a bit much. He never really managed to get over his initial plans of becoming a priest no matter how much he claimed to have lost his faith.
        Nihilism is stuffed full of his desire for a messianic saviour. Christianity by any other name.

  17. The replies show me how weak men are now. The Myths are there as ways to show on being a man. I suggest most people watch David De Angelos being Mr. Right or something like that.
    That is what the Myths are about. Look at society now look at what you are saying, you are weak, and full of fear.
    The Myths Create leadership and Alpha Male.

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