The beauty of the Hero's Journey model is that it not only describes a pattern in myths and fairy tales, but it's also an accurate map of the territory one must travel to become a writer or, for that matter, a human being.
The Hero's Journey and the Writer's Journey are one and the same. Anyone setting out to write a story soon encounters all the tests, trials, ordeals, joys, and rewards of the Hero's Journey. We meet all of its Shadows, Shapeshifters, Mentors, Tricksters, and Threshold Guardians in the interior landscape. Writing is an often perilous journey inward to probe the depths o f one's soul and bring back the Elixir of experience - a good story. Low self-esteem or confusion about goals may be the Shadows that chill our work, an editor or one's own judgmental side may be the Threshold Guardians that seem to block our way. Accidents, computer problems, and difficulties with time and discipline may torment and taunt us like Tricksters. Unrealistic dreams of success or distractions may be the Shapeshifters who tempt, confuse, and dazzle us. Deadlines, editorial decisions, or the struggle to sell our work may be the Tests and Ordeals from which we seem to die but are Resurrected to write again.
But take hope, for writing is magic. Even the simplest act of writing is almost supernatural, on the borderline with telepathy. Just think: We can make a few abstract marks on a piece of paper in a certain order and someone a world away and a thousand years from now can know our deepest thoughts. The boundaries of space and time and even the limitations of death can be transcended.
Many cultures believed the letters of their alphabets were far more than just symbols for communication, recording transactions, or recalling history. They believed letters were powerful magical symbols that could be used to cast spells and predict the future. The Norse runes and the Hebrew alphabet are simple letters for spelling words, but also deep symbols of cosmic significance.
This magical sense is preserved in our word for teaching children how to manipulate letters to make words: spelling. When you "spell" a word correctly, you are in effect casting a spell, charging these abstract, arbitrary symbols with meaning and power. We say "Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me," but this is manifestly untrue. We know that words have power to hurt or heal. The simple words of a letter, telegram, or phone call can strike you like a hammer blow. They're just words - marks on paper or vibrations of air - but mere words such as "Guilty," "Ready, aim, fire.'" "I do," or "We'd like to buy your screenplay" can bind us, condemn us, or bring us joy. They can hurt or heal us with their magic power.
The healing power of words is their most magical aspect. Writers, like the shamans or medicine men and women of ancient cultures, have the potential to be healers.
WRITERS AND SHAMANS
Shamans have been called "the wounded healers." Like writers, they are special people set apart from the rest by their dreams, visions, or unique experiences. Shamans, like many writers, are prepared for their work by enduring terrible ordeals. They may have a dangerous illness or fall from a cliff and have nearly every bone broken. They are chewed by a lion or mauled by a bear. They are taken apart and put back together again in a new way. In a sense they have died and been reborn, and this experience gives them special powers. Many writers come to their craft only after they have been shattered by life in some way.
Often those chosen to be shamans are identified by special dreams or visions, in which the gods or spirits take them away to other worlds where they undergo terrible ordeals. They are laid out on a table to have all their bones removed and broken. Before their eyes, their bones and organs are split, cooked, and reassembled in a new order. They are tuned to a new frequency like radio receivers. As shamans, they are now able to receive messages from other worlds."
They return to their tribes with new powers. They have the ability to travel to other worlds and bring back stories, metaphors, or myths that guide, heal, and give meaning to life. They listen to the confusing, mysterious dreams of their people and give them back in the form of stories that provide guidelines for right living. We writers share in the godlike power of the shamans. We not only travel to other worlds but create them out of space and time. When we write, we truly travel to these worlds of our imagination. Anyone who has tried to write seriously knows this is why we need solitude and concentration. We are actually traveling to another time and place.
As writers we travel to other worlds not as mere daydreamers, but as shamans with the magic power to bottle up those worlds and bring Them back in the form of stories for others to share. Our stories have the power to heal, to make the world new again, to give people metaphors by which they can better understand their own lives.
When we writers apply the ancient tools of the archetypes and the Hero's Journey to modern stories, we stand on the shoulders of the mythmakers and shamans of old. When we try to heal our people with the wisdom of myth, we are the modern shamans. We ask the same ageless, childlike questions presented by the myths: Who am I? Where did I come from? What happens when I die? What does it mean? Where do I fit in? Where am I bound on my own Hero's Journey?