When most people think of a hero, the likely images of swords, guns, dragons, and capes come to mind. Popular culture has inspired visions of grown men and women showing up to save the day in everything from black batmobiles to invisible airplanes. Sometimes the hero is accompanied by a faithful sidekick, but always comes equipped with some type of a secret superpower. Perhaps most intriguing, this archetypal figure is dashing, quick-witted, and able to take on at least one nemesis per battle.
My hero is an unlikely one. She possesses neither the typical traits nor the tools of the likely champion. Although she does not have a cape, she can be found floating upon a soft breeze or darting in and out of view of garden plants. Her beauty can be admired as she rests atop a soft petal while taking in the scent of a newly opened bud. When she takes flight, the grace of her fluttering wings is spellbinding to gaze upon and she often inspires children and adults alike to chase after her with reckless abandon. She is delicate and beautiful and bears the name Butterfly.
The adventure of the butterfly is a common theme used in children’s books as a metaphor for growth and change. The notion that a legged critter of the earth could evolve into a winged goddess of the sky is both inspiring and reminiscent of the coveted “Happily Ever After” we are all seeking. What we often forget is that before riding (or in this case flying) off into the sunset, all heroes must embark upon a journey rife with trials, tribulations, and unexpected plot twists. The unlikely hero in this case, the butterfly, is no exception. Joseph Campbell has rightfully coined this experience the “Hero’s Journey”, which is a pattern of narrative all heroes must endure in order to achieve a great deed. Its stages include:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- TESTS, ALLIES AND ENEMIES. The hero is tested and sorts out allegiances in the Special World.
- APPROACH. The hero and newfound allies prepare for the major challenge in the Special world.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
What sets the butterfly apart from other heroes is that her journey is done in a dark and private space away from the light and accolades of onlookers. Luckily, nothing is hidden that will not become evident, nor anything secret that will not be known and come to light (Luke 8:17). Although, we cannot see what transpires behind the protection of the cocoon, we know by the outcome that a miracle has occurred. The journey of a hero has taken place.
The two most celebrated steps of the journey are often “The Call” and “The Resurrection” leaving the rest (in the opinion of many) simply burdensome tasks to be accomplished along the way. Take, for example the heroic journey of the butterfly. Rarely are we exposed to paintings or artistic depictions of cocoons. Instead, we find magnificently illuminated wings in paintings such as “Still Life with a Thistle” by Elias van den Broeck inspiring thoughts of carefree beauty and lightness. While the beauty is to be admired, these depictions only share the triumphant end of her story and not the dark trials of her journey, which is where the real beauty lies.
Within the dark and nebulous womb a mysterious and wonderful journey takes place. Shunning safety and familiarity for the unknown, the caterpillar leaves the ordinary world heeding the call to adventure. Before entering this dark new world, she likely feels fear and tries to refuse the call until her mentor, Mother Nature, convinces her to cross over into the threshold of new beginnings. It is here that she is tested and approaches the ordeal of shedding her legs to grow wings. Her reward is the transformation of body, which will serve her as she begins the road back. To end the journey, she must find the courage to resurrect her new form by pushing out of the cocoon and into the real world. She has now returned home ready to share her powerful story of transformation and rebirth through her newfound gift of flight.
Like the butterfly, you have the opportunity to embark upon a hero’s journey. But, in order to get to your happily ever after, you must embrace each stage in the journey. In heeding the call, you will be tasked with entering a personal cocoon in order to explore, embrace, and then purge anything that no longer serves you. During this adventure, you may be guided into a space of darkness so that transformation can take place. Your ordeal might force you to confront a personal nemesis of addiction, fear, jealousy, anger, control, hatred, or attachment. And, during this time you might have to find the courage to allow for a transformation you never imagined possible.
The triumphant ending to this quest is the sharing of lessons learned. In doing so, the hero inspires change, growth and the betterment of society. In the case of my hero, the most important lesson emerges-the reality that transformation into a higher self is possible. If you listen closely with your ears, eyes, and heart you will hear the calling to embark upon a journey towards your higher self. And, like the butterfly, you too will emerge the unlikely hero.
If this pathlight resonates with you, I invite you to further ignite your spark by engaging in one or more of the following activities:
Turning Faith Into Action
At some point during the journey, every hero encounters an ally. Who has been an ally to you? Write this person a letter or card expressing gratitude for sharing in your journey.
Reflect upon the stages of the Hero’s journey and identify the stage that most resonates with you. Why does this stage stand out to you? Could this be where you are in the journey? Where would you like to be in your journey? How will you get there?
I am a hero!
My grateful heart receives your call.
With rod and staff You guide me.
I am filled with the rewards of Your presence,
and resurrected in Your love.
Grant me the wisdom
and opportunity to share all You have given to me.
Quote Inspired reflections
“ I think a hero is any person intent on making this a better place for all people.” –Maya Angelo
“A hero is someone who has given his or her life of something bigger than oneself.” –Joseph Campbell
“Just when the caterpillar thought the world was over, it became a butterfly.” –Proverb
“And the Lord went before them by day in a pillar of cloud to lead them along the way, and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, that they might travel by day and by night.” –Exodus 13:21
Hero by Mariah Carey