Archetypes: an archetype is a symbol, image, character, theme, or plot pattern that has been repeated in many places that are very different, either historically or culturally. Flood myths and the Cinderella tale, for instance, seem pervasive. Mythographer Joseph Campbell sees the "monomyth," the myth of the hero's life, as pervasive and therefore as representing not just a tale about particular people but rather each individual's quest to become a human being. As Bruno Bettleheim puts it in The Uses of Enchantment,

Many adults today tend to take literally the things that are said in fairy tales, whereas they should be viewed as symbolic renderings of crucial life experiences. The child understands this intuitively, though he does not "know" it explicitly.

David Leeming's book isolates the parts of the monomyth as defined by Campbell and then shows how numerous mythic heroes from Hercules to Buddha and Jesus Christ enact the myth in their lives. He points out what experiences had by children are reflected symbolically in the myth of the hero.

David Leeming, The Voyage of the Hero

  1. Birth of the Hero: "the conception or the birth or the events immediately following the birth (or all three) are miraculous or unusual in the extreme. This is not surprising. For all humans birth is the first experience of trauma and the first miracle of life. For the hero who will burst through the limitations of the local and historical, this first event must be special" (7).
  2. Childhood Trial : "the child is suddenly aware of forces infinitely larger than himself which he cannot fully comprehend. In myth this is expressed by struggles with wild animals or with giants. To get through this stage the child often requires outside assistance. [The intervention of a powerful being] often becomes [a] divine sign [that the hero is special]" (7).
  3. Withdrawal and Initiation (Rite of Passage): "the hero withdraws for meditation and preparation. Anyone in search of personal destiny must use intellect and spirit to find the god within the self. This is a major step in the losing of the self to find the self. Often the hero, like any individual in this stage, is tempted by "the world," which is represented mythically by a devil figure who attempts to disrupt the lonely vigil" (7).
  4. Trial and Quest: "the agony and rewards of adult life. For the hero this might be a quest for a Golden Fleece or a Holy Grail, or it might be the labors of Hercules or Christ. The source of these myths is people's need to cope with the externals of life, as they have coped with the internals in their stage of meditation" (7).
  5. Death and the Scapegoat: "For the hero, death, like birth, is miraculous or unusual. . . . Often he is dismembered. In death the hero acts, psychologically, for all of us; he becomes a scapegoat for our fear and guilt. Of course, he also serves as a reminder that we all must follow" (7-8).
  6. The Descent to the Underworld: the hero "is now the representative of the wish that death might somehow be known and understood. So he descends ot the underworld to confront the forces of death" (8).
  7. Resurrection and Rebirth: "the dismemberment and the descent into the earth hold promise of a new life. Fertility and death are inseparable in the cycle of nature, whether that cycle be expressed by the seasons, the moon, or the sun. And logically enough the hero, usually with the help of a woman -- woman representing both fertility and the hope of the eventual union of all things -- ascends from the underworld and arises from the dead. He thus acts out people's most elementary desire -- he overcomes death physically and is united with the natural cycle of birth, death, and rebirth" (8).
  8. Ascension, Apotheosis, and Atonement: here "the hero represents [the desire for] . . . eternal life, for immortality. Thus the hero in Part 8 ascends to heaven, achieves atonement, or is made a god himself if he was not one already. In a purely psychological sense this is the individual's final step. Having dealt with his childhood, his inner self, his adult life, and the problem of death, he is prepared to discover God once and for all. The wonderful song of the soul's high adventure is complete" (8).

Lord Raglan, The Hero: A Study in Tradition, Myth, and Drama (pp. 177-179)

  1. The hero's mother is a royal virgin
  2. His father is a King (often a near relative of his mother)
  3. The circumstances of his birth are unusual
  4. He is reputed to be the son of a god
  5. At birth, an attempt is made, usually by his father or maternal grandfather, to kill him
  6. He is spirited away
  7. He is reared by foster parents in a country far away
  8. We are told nothing about his childhood
  9. On reaching manhood, he returns or goes to his future kingdom
  10. He fights and is victorious over the King and/or giant, dragon, or wild beast
  11. He marries a priestess, often the daughter of his predecessor
  12. He becomes King
  13. He reigns -- uneventfully for a time
  14. He prescribes laws
  15. He loses favor with the gods or his subjects
  16. He is driven from the throne or the city
  17. He meets a mysterious death (often at the top of a hill, on a tree or cross)
  18. His children, if any, do not succeed him
  19. His body is not buried
  20. He has one or many holy supulchres