Joseph Campbell, the remarkable mythologist and author of The Hero with a Thousand Faces, uncovered basic patterns, structures and stages that are common to mythologies across time and culture, forming what he terms the Monomyth. The Calling is the opening of the myth, followed by the Initiation or Journey.
Having answered “The Calling,” the hero is now ready to embark upon her or his harrowing journey, frequently beginning with the intervention and assistance of a mentor or supernatural aid. It is often said that when one steps through the door of the unknown, many hands reach out to help; this is perhaps a modern restatement of this classic truth. In The Ring Cycle, by Wagner, the hero Siegfried forges the great sword “Nothung” to defeat the fierce dragon Fafner. The mentor and supernatural aid represent the protective powers of fate and destiny. When one has embarked upon one’s true spiritual journey, to align one’s Ego and Soul, all of what you need will become available to you – because it is all within you.
In this section of what Joseph Campbell refers to as the “monomyth,” or the hero’s journey, one finally enters into the field of unpredictable adventure, leaving behind the known parameters of one’s own world and exploring the unknown and dangerous realm, where rules and limits one has known no longer apply.
Frequently, this stage is followed by what is called entry into the “Belly of the Whale,” taken from the Book of Jonah in the Old Testament and Hebrew Bible. While often described as the low point of a person’s life – being euphemistically swallowed whole by a whale – this is actually the point at which one begins the separation or transition between worlds, or even within oneself. It is the point of recognition by the hero that he or she is willing to undergo transformation, to die to him or herself.
In the metaphorical language of mythologist Joseph Campbell’s Hero Cycle (or Monomyth), the hero’s journey moves from the comfort of the known world into the frightening and dangerous unknown through an unprecedented crisis; using Western mythology, he likens it to Jonah being swallowed by a whale.
The entrance into the belly of the whale represents a metamorphosis, crossing the threshold between the known into the unknown, and being reborn as an entirely new individual. While it may appear to be a low point – one seemingly dies to the world one has always known – it is in fact the beginning of the great and perilous heroic journey of one’s life. In the terms of depth psychology, this is the point in one’s life when exploration of one’s unconscious begins, when the great, heroic inner journey truly takes shape.