What is a myth? This question-and the vast concepts that go along with it-doesn’t come up very often, if at all. Perhaps this is due to the fact that myths are not popularly observed in depth; therefore, the answer to such a simply-put, yet broad question usually doesn’t exceed a standard myth’s generalities. Most people will conclude that a myth is fiction and neglect to realize that the overall definition goes far beyond that.
According to Joseph Campbell, neither a myth nor the hero’s story from within the myth is manufactured by its author; moreover, a myth is a collective and unconscious exploitation of the mind in which it dwells. It thrives off of representations and ideas from within the mind of the author, who unconsciously desires such happenings in reality.
Campbell’s reference to the unconscious is similar to that of Sigmond Freud’s, who has referred to the unconscious time and time again. He stated that the unconscious is what our memory cannot retain; for instance, they are things we dream of, or memories that we may forget. With that in mind, the myth comes into play.
Campbell states that myths are primarily based on the hero and his journey. He goes on to say that the hero’s journey consists of three parts: his retreat from the world, trials and victories he makes along the way, and his return. Some may disagree with this idea, convinced that Campbell holds the belief that all myths are the same. However, that disagreement is a mere misunderstanding of Campbell’s explanation, which is not that myths are exactly alike, but that their general construction follows the same idea.
Even with that clarification, still, some may wonder if there is true evidence that myths solely rely on the journey. Without a doubt, any myth could promptly defend Campbell’s theory, but two that most prominently demonstrate the truth behind his perception are the stories Ramayana and Yeelen.
As Campbell concludes, the journey of a hero begins with his first mission: retreating from the world. When Campbell says this, he means that this is the phase where the hero begins to put emphasis on his internal motives instead of his external motives. Rama’s retreat begins in in Ramayana when he is banished from the kingdom by his stepmother. Rama is the oldest of his siblings, so he is destined to become king once his father’s reign comes to an end.
However, Rama’s stepmother does not accept this unwritten rule; she wants to see her son, Bharata, (one of Rama’s brothers) take the throne. She recalls that prior to coming upon this desire, the king promised to grant her two wishes in her lifetime. Consequently, she demands the king to banish Rama from the throne, and then declares that Bharta will take over, as she had desired.
Since Rama becomes banished, he leaves the kingdom without question and right then and there, his journey begins. In Yeelen, Niankoro is portrayed as a young and powerful man. Nevertheless, he is still cursed by his evil father, who is able to reach out to him with help from prayers to the gods.
Niankoro’s mother does not like that his father has this ability, so in order to make it more difficult for them to come into contact, she sends Niankoro to his uncle’s to escape. Niankoro’s escape from his father (which is condoned by his mother) is defined as his retreat from the world, whereas Rama’s retreat is the consequence of banishment from his father, who could not deny the desires of his stepmother. Although the reasons for each of their retreats is different, it is notable that in both, their mothers play key roles.
The third part of the journey is when the hero returns, but this part of the journey, as Campbell explains, doesn’t hold very high significance. Even so, the second and third part of the journey have a tendency to go hand in hand, which is why Ramayana and Yeelen are better explained with both pieces in alignment. The third piece of the journey has a lot to do with the hero’s grapple with the place of all humans in the universe, as it is better known as the hero’s spiritual reality. In both stories, the idea of “return” correlates with the stronger morale each hero develops due to a significant event that takes place along each of their separate journeys.
Rama’s spiritual reality comes about after the second part of his journey. Things become climatic when Rama’s wife, Sita, is taken in by the hands of a demon. Sita goes with Rama on his journey in the first place because she sees her accompaniment as a stepping stone to achieving her dharma. With that in mind, Rama allows Sita to come with him. When Rama faces the devastation of losing Sita, he realizes his own dharma, which is to his life and those that are close to him. He shows this by doing everything in his
power to save his wife from the demon.
Eventually, Hanumen, a monkey god, saves Sita. The fact that Sita saw her dharma as an important aspect of life strongly influences the way Rama begins to see his own. Although he was banished, Rama’s absence from the kingdom helps him find his moral strength, especially when he has Sita by his side. This incident shows Rama that his power is influenced by his response to the things happening around him, as well as how he treats those he values.
In Yeelen, there is stress put upon corruption in relation to power, which is blatantly stressed in the second part of Niankoro’s journey. In this portion of the story, Nianankoro goes through a series of trials and tribulations. In doing so, he comes to the aid of many; for instance, he uses his special powers to help a tribe in need of defense from warriors, and he even cures the king’s youngest wife of infertility. At the same time, he faces internal struggles, with the most conspicuous one being the affair he has with the king’s wife.
However, a light shines through this unethical act; with the internal knowledge Niankoro builds from it, he ultimately finds his morals and thus, he becomes remorseful of his actions. Mainly, the story shows Nianankoro’s relentless struggle to witness (and take part in) a corrupt society, which results in knowledge for everyone, even himself.
It is clear that both Ramayana and Yeelen fully support Campbell’s theory, and with that, they show that each piece of the journey is fundamental to the understanding of the final outcome of the hero. Both myths explain the major theme of spiritual reality, and how each hero realizes that their priority is their morale. The importance of morals and values is not only demonstrated in these two myths, but these two in particular elaborately display the truth behind Campbell’s ideas.
To conclude, Campbell’s description of the myth focuses on the three part journey, but leaves readers to dig in and find their own understanding of where the journey leads. Surprisingly enough, a myth is like a map of a hero, and the journey usually ends at a door of internal inquisition. Is that a coincidence? Perhaps yet another journey is necessary to find the answer.