A Heroine's Journey Unfolds
A Heroine's Journey is unique, yet also universal.
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I was lying in bed during the middle of the day with hours-old dried tears on my cheeks the first time I fully surrendered. It was 2013 and I had tail-spun into a space I had visited previously, but always managed to escape. This place was an infinitely dark, lonely hole that had a gravity so strong it kept me there no matter how hard I tried to scrape my way out.
I had not planned on surrendering, but now all of the tools that I usually used to escape this type of depression before were suddenly not working. Self-help books, calling friends and family, and “thinking positively” not only failed miserably but cynically mocked me as if to say, “Really, you think that is going to work? HA!”
I did not know it at the time, but I had reached the point on my Heroine’s Journey that Maureen Murdock calls the “Descent to the Goddess”. At that time, I was not sure how I had gotten into that dark hole, but looking back now it is fairly clear that an ancient, universal pattern of existence led me down that path without me even knowing it.
Later, I would use my doctoral research to dive into all transformation-based frameworks to better understand just how and why transformation occurs inside all of us, but until then I was stuck in the muck—viscerally feeling all parts of my descent to the dark.
But a Heroine's Journey goes through darkness... and once I stopped resisting the dark, it transformed from a scary, black void into a warm, womb-like holding space. I felt my brain stop trying to think my way out of the hole and gave my soul permission to exist there without limits.
Only then did very interesting—and somewhat unbelievable—things start happening to me (some I can explain to people, others would make me sound too crazy!). For example I had visions, gained insight and empathy, grew creativity, and added depth in ways I could not in the light. More on this in a moment…
WHAT IS A HERO/INE'S JOURNEY?
The term “Heroine’s Journey” comes primarily from the work of Joseph Campbell and Maureen Murdock. Campbell coined the term “Hero’s Journey” in his book “The Hero with a Thousand Faces” to describe the overwhelming similarities in myths from all cultures and all eras. Simply put, nearly all myths describe the same concept: how humans experience personal transformation and tend to follow somewhat predictable phases to reach authentic wholeness. Namely, a Separation, an Initiation, and a Return.
Later, Maureen Murdock used Campbell’s work with the Hero’s Journey and focused on how women specifically explore a “Heroine’s Journey” throughout their lifetime. She too found very prominent and predictable phases in both ancient myths and modern women’s experiences.
Side-note: I often say “No myths are true, but all are Truth”. Similarly, I could say, “No frameworks are true, but all work”. Both myths and frameworks do a great job of describing human experiences, but should always be taken as one of many ways to interpret our lives. That said the Heroine’s Journey is a framework that can easily be applied to most women’s lives, and certainly my life as a whole.
Double Side-note: It is important to note that I see each phase of a Heroine's Journey as a spectrum of completion with much more room to be experienced and will never be fully completed. In other words, I think I have experienced more of my "Descent" than "Integration" but I will likely continue to have many more brushes with both as I age...
LEADING TO MY DESCENT
As I mentioned, I had visited the dark many times prior to 2013 (and will likely visit again), losing shame each time I slipped into situational depressions. It can probably go without saying there is a stigma related to depression, but ancient mystics and modern scholars agree this form of suffering is actually one of the most common human experiences. In fact, many times it is a sign from our unconscious that there is imbalance in our system.
Using this framework, interestingly I see now that many of my imbalances have arisen during the transitions between each phase of the Heroine’s Journey. The liminal spaces between phases can be quite disorienting, leading to temporary dips into depression. In this blog, I tried to capture a brief version of my personal experience with each of Maureen Murdock’s phases in the journey.
Side-note about Feminine and Masculine energy:
When reading this, keep in mind that some of the descriptors of “feminine” and “masculine” are energetic, not gender-specific. If it helps to replace feminine with yin, and masculine with yang please do. Both genders have both energies within, and the balance of the two is said to be an aspect of Jungian individuation, which Campbell and Murdock both reference.
In general a feminine energy is one that can be described as non-linear, spontaneous, playful, creative, embodied, nurturing, and free. Often it is referred to as “Mother Nature” as it develops freely and is easily associated with natural, living things. In general a masculine energy can be described as linear, structured, productive, rational, disembodied, competitive, and rigid. It can be referred to as “Father Culture” as many aspects of culture are “man-made” human attempts at controlling nature. Men and women have both aspects within them and the Hero and Heroine’s Journey are frameworks for how to integrate opposite energies in balanced, healthy ways.
THE HEROINE'S JOURNEY: SEPARATION FROM THE FEMININE
All journeys begin with a “Separation”. In a Heroine’s journey, young girls begin their lives strongly connected to the feminine, but begin to separate around their teenage years or early twenties…