Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Heros from Every Culture

Written by: on November 11, 2021

The Hero with a Thousand Faces is a classic that integrates mythology with psychology and philosophy to discuss heroism. Building on the remarkable contributions of Sigmund Freud, Carl Jung and other respected psychologists, Campbell argues that “ by entering and transforming the personal psyche, the surrounding culture, the life of the family, one’s relational work, and other matters of life can be transformed too.” [1] Perhaps more than ever before, the world needs heroic change agents to address the dysfunctions within contemporary families and institutions. Therefore, it is not surprising that Campbell’s in-depth, cross-cultural research is well received by a significant number of readers and has even inspired the production of Star Wars and various TV shows.

Divided into two parts focusing on Monomyths (the hero’s journey) and the Cosmogonic cycle, Campbell provides a template for heroism (and leadership) based on lessons from cultures and religious traditions all over the world. From the Judeo-Christian perspective for example, Campbell’s “Call to Adventure[2]” may be seen as the Cultural Mandate of Genesis 1:28, where humanity is called upon to be responsible stewards of God’s creation. The “Refusal of the Call[3]” might be equated to our fall from grace in Eden; disobedience in general; as well as the reluctance of followers of Jesus to provide the leadership needed by the world today. Likewise, “Supernatural Aid[4]” points to God’s direct intervention in the early phase of a leader’s journey. One example of this could be God miraculously transforming Moses’ staff into a snake after mandating him to tell Pharaoh to set the Israelites free (Exodus 4). This highlights every leader’s need for reassurance in the assignment before them, especially in the early phase of their leadership when the leader has little or no experience in walking with God. Campbell’s “Crossing of the First Threshold[5]” symbolizes a leader’s initial victory, a development that usually strengthens the leader’s resolve to lead with confidence. Moses and Aaron illustrate this theme of Campbell’s description of the initiation of a leader when Aaron’s staff turns into a snake and swallows the staffs of Pharaoh’s magicians (Exodus 7). The last theme of the initiation of a leader, “The Belly of the Whale[6],” highlights a season of discouragement in the early phase of a leader or hero’s journey. Additionally, this shows that heroes are as human as anyone else, with moments of victory and failure. Perhaps no other Biblical character exemplifies this more than Jonah, who tried to disobey God and ended up inside the belly of a fish (Jonah 2). Fortunately, Jonah repented and ultimately fulfilled God’s mandate for his life.

However, as remarkable as The Hero with a Thousand Faces is, I do not fully agree with it because it presents the ideas of all religions, including Christianity, as myths. In contrast, historical and archaeological evidence prove the reality of several of the claims of the Bible, thereby disqualifying the idea that Biblical stories could be myths. Indeed, the personal transformation of countless individuals globally testifies to the reality of Christianity. Otherwise, Campbell has given the world an excellent resource that will probably continue to inspire researchers for many more years.




[1] Campbell, Joseph. The Hero with a Thousand Faces. (Princeton University Press: Princeton, 2004). P. xxvi.

[2] Ibid, p45

[3] Ibid, p 54

[4] Ibid, p 63

[5] Ibid, p 71

[6] Ibid, p 83

About the Author


Henry Gwani

Disciple, husband, father, community development practitioner and student of leadership working among marginalized communities in South Africa

7 responses to “Heros from Every Culture”

  1. mm Troy Rappold says:

    Great synopsis of this thick book, Henry. I especially liked your last paragraph. Campbell is so insightful and learned, but he doesn’t grasps the uniqueness of Christ. He is never disrespectful of Christianity but he does lump it together with all the other myths and stories from different cultures. God, together with his Christ, is the source-waters of the world’s myths and motifs, so naturally there will be an echo in other religions. But he falls short of seeing that.

  2. mm Roy Gruber says:

    Henry, I appreciate how you always integrate the reading into the Bible and faith. Are there stories in your culture that follow the pattern of the hero’s journey? You also mention the need for “heroic change agents.” What kind of characteristics are most important for a person like that?

  3. mm Jonathan Lee says:

    Hi Henry! I loved your bibical examples you illustrated and I too totally agree with your voice on how our world needs “heroic change agents to address the dysfunctions within contemporary families and institutions.” As you work with precious people in your ministry setting, what would be considered a helpful display of heroic change agents for children and teenagers in your ministry context?

  4. Henry, this is an excellent summary of Campbell – not easy to do, but you did it! Campbell expounds on the definition of myth in other works. He describes myths as a series of lies meant to reveal the truth. If we can see Christianity through a non-modern lens which is less concerned with facts and more with Truth, I wonder how the biblical stories would open up to us and open us up to them. I’d love to read your thoughts.

  5. Kayli Hillebrand says:

    Henry – What wonderful biblical connections to the larger themes Campbell lays out in his work. While I agree that it could be easy to equate Christianity to a myth given this context, I appreciate your ability to still tie the hero’s journey to the various biblical characters and leaders we see throughout scripture.

  6. Elmarie Parker says:

    Henry, thank you for your summary of Campbell’s book and for the wonderful way you draw from it the connections to the biblical story.

    I found Bill Moyer’s interviews with Joseph Campbell very helpful to further unpack his understanding of Myth. (https://billmoyers.com/content/ep-2-joseph-campbell-and-the-power-of-myth-the-message-of-the-myth/). What I like about his understanding is that myth gets at our human struggle to describe what is beyond our knowing or experience or capacity to fully understand. Story is our human way to interact with transcendence and mystery. What I also find fascinating is the way the authors of scripture, inspired by the Holy Spirit, took stories of their time (for example, the Babylonian creation myth Enuma Elish) and refashioned them to proclaim what the ancient Hebrews had come to know and experience of Yahweh, the great I AM. This helped me to shift my understanding, especially the creation account, to be not a scientific ‘how did God create the universe’ passage, but rather a profound story of witness to the ancient world about the nature of Yahweh and how this God contrasted to the gods worshipped at that time. The peoples of that era knew the Babylonian account, so they would have caught the contrast. We are so far removed from that ancient context, that we are more tempted to read the creation account through the scientific lens of our modern era. I have found, as a preacher, that by knowing more about the context of the ancient myths that influenced the evangelistic approach of the early biblical writers, I can better look for how this same biblical passage connects and contrasts with the shaping stories told today about origins and power and transcendence. I’m still on a learning curve with all of this, but I find it fascinating.

  7. mm Eric Basye says:

    Henri, I would agree with you at the end of your post. I do appreciate Cambell’s understanding of the Hero call, and while I do find a lot of his plot to be accurate, I would agree that it falls short in regard to Jesus and the Way. As Christ followers, we know there is but ONE Hero.

Leave a Reply