I learned of Joseph Campbell through his 1988 PBS special, The Power of Myth, which details in expansive description how myths support, transform and renew the world and human experience. Campbell defines myth as an organization of symbolic images, which metaphorically communicate the possibilities of the human experience and fulfillment within a given culture.  Myths do not simply tell a good story, but a full story – they do not simply reflect the human ideal, but its opposite as well. Campbell writes, “[Myth], then, is ubiquitous. And since it is the source of all existence, it yields the world’s plentitude of both good and evil. Ugliness and beauty, sin and virtue, pleasure and pain are equally its production […] Virtue is but the pedagogical prelude to the culminating insight, which goes beyond all pairs of opposites.  He writes further, “It has always been the prime function of mythology and rite to supply the symbols that carry the human spirit forward.”  Symbolism in mythology reflects or illuminates that which is ultimately transcendent and common to all humanity – symbols, which are culturally generated, metaphorically communicate the transcendent reality behind them. Carl Jung coined the term archetypes of the collective unconscious (commonly called archetypes) to refer to the energies that animate the symbols and metaphors found in myth.
In The Hero With A Thousand Faces, Campbell expounds on one of these archetype, specifically the archetype of the hero. Because the hero is archetypal and transcendent, its image and energy is found across time and culture. This archetype is vital for both the individual and the collective evolutional development. Humans likely activate the hero archetype when choosing to marry someone, move into a career, relocate to a distant land or start a doctoral program. Collectively the hero is imaged through cinematic colossals such as Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings and Star Wars (George Lucas was profoundly influenced by Joseph Campbell). The hero archetype is accessible to children as well, which Pixar has done well to employee through its countless blockbusters from Moana to Frozen, from Finding Nemo to Coco.
Campbell provides three movements of the hero’s journey, departure, initiation and return. Robert Moore writes extensively about this threefold process in his book, The Archetype of Initiation.  Departure comes as the “call to adventure” grows. If the hero says yes to this call, he will leave all he knows and be thrust into a process of psychological death (pysche meaning soul, not simply mind or cognition), otherwise known as initiation. If the hero is successful he will emerge from his initiation more integrated and connected to self and the world around him. This emergence is the hero’s return.
Theologically, I see the archetype of initiation to be true definition of salvation. Jesus tells his disciples, “If anyone wants to come after Me, they must deny themselves, take up their cross, and follow Me.”. He implores Nicodemus, “[…] no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.”  Baptism symbolizes the initiatory process as we depart from our former lives, are buried, and are born again to new life. Of course, baptism is ultimately a reflection of God’s initiation into humanity through Christ. To follow Christ is to follow the archetype of initiation from life, to death, to rebirth. This seems to be the meta-myth of Scripture – an initiatory process book-ended by departure from and return to the garden.
Unfortunately, the dominate religious attitude in the West is often one which refuses the call to initiation. This can be seen when a religious institution defines itself by a set of credal beliefs. Jung writes in Psychology of Religion, “A creed is always the result and fruit of many minds and many centuries, purified from all oddities, shortcomings and flaws of individual experience. So, whereas myths provide the array of possible human experience, creeds tend to distill said experience into an ideal. Campbell writes:
“…half the people in the world think that the metaphors of their religious traditions, for example, are facts. And the other half contends that they are not facts at all. As a result we have people who consider themselves believers because they accept metaphors as facts, and we have others who classify themselves as atheists because they think religious metaphors are lies.”
Campbell’s work is vital for my research surrounding theological reflection. If truths are lies, and lies are truths, as we see displayed across culture, then we must look for a window into the mythic world which unifies and transcends such opposites. This work requires us to answer the call to adventure into theological reflection. The growing cultural disillusionment with Christianity must be seen as the call to the heroic journey – not to stay in the land we know, but to travel to a land we do not yet know. 
- Essay: The Womb of the Tomb, by Michael Simmons
- Blog: Good Friday: A Hero’s Funeral, by Michael Simmons
- Podcast: Humanizing the Hero, This Jungian Life
- Podcast: Being Born When We Are Already Old, The Profaned Ordained
- A few “Paradigm” Books
- Joseph Campbell, Thou Art That: Transforming Religious Metaphor, ed. Eugene Kennedy (New World Library, 2013), 1.
- Joseph Campbell, The Hero With a Thousand Faces, 2nd edition (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1968), 44.
- Ibid, 11.
- Robert L. Moore, The Archetype of Initiation: Sacred Space, Ritual Process, and Personal Transformation (City: Xlibris Corporation, 2001).
- Matthew 16:24
- John 3:3
- Gen. 12:1