The Heroine’s Journey

This is a book review I originally wrote for Suite 101 in January of 2010.  I think it’s worth mentioning, because I actually refer to it and use it on a regular basis as I go through my own journeys.  I use the imagery, and think about the archetypes when I look at the journeys of my own female characters.  If you need to understand the Hero’s Journey to write the next epic blockbuster, then we all need to understand the Heroine’s Journey for the same reason.

 

Maureen Murdock describes the cyclical nature of women’s quest for wholeness, from achievement to creativity and the challenges everyone faces in order to grow.

A Jungian Psychoanalyst in Atlanta commented on Maureen Murdock’s visit to the Atlanta Jungian Society to speak about her book The Heroine’s Journey. She spoke of her years of study with Joseph Campbell, and of one conversation in particular:

“You always write about the Hero’s Journey” Murdock asked Campbell of his works on archetypes and symbols, “What about the Heroine’s Journey?”

“The Heroine is the object of the Hero’s Journey,” Campbell replied, adding, “She doesn’t go anywhere, she’s what the Hero is journeying to.”

At his response, Murdock rolled her eyes and decided she’d better write her own book on the subject.

Now that might be a skewed memory and it might have occurred exactly as misreported, but the basic message is what’s important. Building on Campell’s work and creating a new vision of the Goddess’ requirements of women, as well as society’s, Maureen Murdock wrote a landmark book.

In her introduction to the 1990 Shambhala Press release, Murdock writes “Working as a therapist with women…I have heard a resounding cry of dissatisfaction with the successes won in the marketplace. This dissatisfaction is described as a sense of sterility, emptiness, and dismemberment, even a sense of betrayal.” because these women had embraced the traditional “hero’s journey” as their own.

The Heroine’s Journey is Far More Complex than the Hero’s

As most women can attest, in current western cultures and societies, the female gender roles and social messages are far more conflicting and more complicated than the “Set out, slay the dragon, bring home the treasure” work that heroes must set out to perform.

In addition to slaying dragons and bringing home a paycheck, most women also contend with motherhood, what it means to be female, and what it takes to find fulfillment and healing as a woman.

The basic steps of the Heroines Journey, as outlined by Murdock are as follows:

  • Separation from feminine
  • Identification with Masculine and gathering allies
  • Road of trials, meeting ogres and dragons
  • Finding the (illusory) boon of success
  • Awakening to feelings of spiritual aridity: death
  • Initiation and Descent to the Goddess
  • Urgent yearning to reconnect with the feminine
  • Healing the mother/daughter split
  • Healing the wounded masculine
  • Integration of the masculine and feminine
  • (the bulleted list is not as useful as a circular diagram, as this journey is experienced as a cycle, often repeatedly throughout life.)

Only the second, third and fourth bullets represent the traditional “Hero’s journey”, whereas the Heroine must descend to “the underworld” and return again, integrated and whole.

What Readers can Expect from The Heroine’s Journey

In addition to Murdock’s personal, and personable writing style, readers will most likely identify with the patterns and cycles of the heroine’s journey and how it appears in their own lives. Men must, naturally, also go through the heroine’s journey (just as women must face the hero’s) but The Heroine’s Journey is written primarily for a female audience.

Just as Murdock shares intensely personal experiences from her own life, many women who read this book find themselves exploring the deeper meanings and patterns in their own lives and behaviors.

Because this book is particularly addressing those times in most people’s lives when they are experiencing aridity, emptiness, and perhaps depression, it can be a great balm to know that this is only one phase of a much larger pattern. Similar to Stephen Cope’s Yoga and the Quest for the True Self, The Heroine’s Journey is a deeply validating work.

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