Today, we will begin an exploration of the Heroine’s Journey. In researching the topic, I came across several models of the Heroine’s Journey. This was in stark contrast to the Hero’s Journey, where Campbell’s model dominates.
I thought about comparing and contrasting the various models of the Heroine’s Journey. But a nice compendium of these approaches already exists at the Word Hunter blog. One compelling model developed by Victoria Lane Schmidt in her book 45 Master Characters is summarized at Writing Hope. (Incidentally, that blog from 2013 is my inspiration for 31 Magic Days of NaNoWriMo prep… I used Amy Jane’s work to help me prepare for victory in 2016).
All the models I’ve found agree that the Heroine’s Journey differs from the Hero’s because it is more of an interior process. There is less to see of this inner journey.
Before I get too far, I want to be clear about terms. The use of ‘Feminine’ in this article is not meant to be synonymous with ‘female.’ Everyone, male and female, has a Feminine aspect. Likewise, ‘Masculine’ should not be taken to be synonymous with ‘male.’ The process of individuation described in Jungian psychology is the journey of integrating these aspects so that the person can be whole.
In our contemporary Western culture, the Feminine has been devalued. As Nor Hall writes, “…the female void cannot be cured by conjunction with the male, but rather by an internal conjunction, by an integration of its own parts, by a remembering or a putting back together of the mother-daughter body.”
The model that I want to present today, that of Maureen Murdock, seems unique in that it addresses this rejection of the Feminine. As Murdock explains, her journey explores the uniquely Feminine wound of those who have embraced the Masculine hero’s journey—the outer journey of worldly successes—at the cost of their relationship with the Feminine. Thus, Murdock’s model of the Heroine’s Journey holds as its elixir the reintegration of the Feminine.
To assist the writer in the use of this model, I have sought to adapt the journey to the three-act structure.
Act I: Separation
1. Separation from the Feminine
This stage involves the necessary separation from the Feminine. While this initial schism is painful, it allows the heroine to later reintegrate at a higher level of consciousness. Often rejection of the Feminine is seen in a conflict with the Mother. While this can literally be the character’s mother, I am referring to the Mother in the archetypal sense (hence the capitalization). So, it is a rejection of the maternal qualities both external and internal to the character.
Motifs in this stage include rejection; embodiments of the Terrible Mother (often seen in the Evil Step Mother), including stasis, suffocation, and death; abandonment; betrayal; asserting independence from the Good Mother; and rejection of the female body.
How does your character split off from and/or reject the Feminine?
2. Identification with the Masculine and Gathering of Allies
Our culture values Masculine attributes over the Feminine. This is seen, for example, in our society’s inability to honor the economic contribution of caretaking. This can lead quite naturally to females identifying with the Masculine. Striving for perfection as defined by a patriarchal society can lead females into a syndrome where, despite Herculean effort and achievement, they never feel ‘enough.’ A persistent feeling of ‘otherness’ undermines their satisfaction.
In this stage, prominent themes include absorption in patriarchal values; allegiances with the Masculine; identification with the Father; embracing of the Daddy’s Girl archetype; and learning the rules of the game.
In what ways does your character identify with the Masculine?
Act II A: Departure
3. Road of Trials: Meeting Ogres and Dragons
In this stage, the character must leave that cloak of security known as ‘home’. She sets off on a journey where she encounters trials that will help her get in touch with her true strengths and abilities. Here she will conquer dependencies and self-doubt.
In this stage, themes include independence; accepting of help; awakening to how internalized values have controlled her; confronting myths of dependence, inferiority, and romantic love; finding her own voice; and taking responsibility.
What tests does your heroine encounter and what are the lessons she must learn along the way? How does this reveal the traits she will need for her final integration? How does she find her own voice?
4. The Illusory Boon of Success
Murdock explains the lie of this stage: “The heroine’s reaction to her mother’s total dependence on husband and children for fulfillment has made her feel that she has to be more independent and more self-sufficient than any man in order to achieve anything at all.” And temporarily she may ascend to the heights of “having it all.” She may delude herself into thinking that she can be a Superwoman—succeeding in a man’s world while simultaneously fulfilling all the expectations of a traditional female role. Feminine values are relegated to second place. Meanwhile, she is still haunted by the feeling of never being enough. What she lacks is a relationship to the Feminine.
The Heroine has been entranced by the Illusory Boon of Success, something Murdock calls the betrayal of the Father—the internal Father, that is. According to Helen Luke, “Jung says that the creative process in a woman can never come to fruition if she is caught in an unconscious imitation of men or identifies with the inferior masculine in her unconscious. He defined the masculine as the ability to know one’s goal and to do what is necessary to achieve it.” The heroine’s goal will be to bring the Masculine identity to consciousness. But for now, she is unconsciously controlled by it.
How are your heroine’s victories in this stage hollow? How are feelings of not being enough manifested?
Act II B: Descent
5. Awakening to Feelings of Spiritual Aridity: Death of the King
In this stage, the King must die, meaning that the heroine finally finds the courage to say ‘no’ to the old order of things. With that death, the heroine will confront extreme discomfort. “She must be willing to hold the tension until the new form emerges,” Murdock writes.
The death of the old ways opens the heroine up for growth, but this is a painful stage to endure. For now, she is flung into a great void. Jean Shinoda Bolen explains that this period of transition demands, “a change by going through chaos, of losing the way, of being lost in the forest for some time before we get through and find our path again.”
This stage is characterized by a sense of betrayal; yearning for the Feminine; spiritual aridity; a dawning sense of what has been lost along the way.
How does your heroine usher in the death of the King? To what does she say ‘no’?
6. Initiation and Descent to the Goddess
While the journey of the Masculine is characterized by a moving out into the world and embracing the light, the Feminine journey involves an inevitable downward movement into darkness for a reunion with the repressed goddess. The ancient goddesses of fertility were usurped by the Father-God.
The motifs here are well-known. Murdock names them as “a journey to the underworld, the dark night of the soul, the belly of the whale, the meeting of the dark goddess, or simply as depression.”
As Murdock explains, “A woman moves down into the depths to reclaim the parts of herself that split off when she rejected the mother and shattered the mirror of the feminine.” In this realm, we encounter the Goddesses Kali (Hindu Goddess of Destruction) and Ereshkigal (Goddess of the Underworld) and the Goddess in her three-part aspect: Daughter-Mother-Crone (Persephone-Demeter-Hecate).
Themes in this phase include: excavating, depression, searching for what has been lost, dismemberment, waiting for rebirth, introversion, barrenness, decay.
What is the darkness that your heroine descends into? What is it that she finds there?
7. Urgent Yearning to Reconnect with the Feminine
As the Goddess was subjugated by the Father-God so has Mother Nature been treated as something to be conquered. This has been mirrored by a lack of respect for female bodies. Patriarchal societies have sought to control female sexuality as surely as they have sought to control the means of production in industry. This denigration of the Feminine is seen in the names man has bestowed upon her: “temptress, evil seductress, and devourer.”
Part of the drive to reconnect with the Feminine is for women to reclaim their bodies. Another important aspect of this reconnection is to untangle from the busyness that may have kept emotions at bay. As the busyness unwinds, rage, helplessness, sadness, and confusion will likely seep in. The specific loss that must be acknowledged is grief over separation from the Feminine.
The qualities that are being sought are compassion, nurturing, instruction, preparation, community, creativity, inter-connectedness, and a trust in “the mystery of manifestation.”
How can your heroine symbolically or literally reclaim her relationship to her body? How does she reconnect with the various qualities of the Feminine? What uncomfortable emotions might she express in the process?
Act III: Integration
8. Healing the Mother/Daughter Split
The Mother/Daughter split is an archetypal wounding. To heal the split, our emotional and spiritual natures must be reclaimed. Healing must be centered around feelings of abandonment, restoring nurturing connection, and honoring Mother Nature. The heroine can take back the dark by developing the wisdom and courage to reclaim the discarded, including Stepmothers, Witches, and Madwomen.
Paths to healing include gathering support from others (especially those who embody the Good Mother), celebrating the Divine Feminine found in myths, and learning to ask for help.
How can your heroine repair the Mother/Daughter split? Who is the real or figurative Mother?
9. Healing the Wounded Masculine
Our Masculine nature has been over-extended and is out-of-balance. In this phase, Murdock asks us to consider the story of the Fisher King. The King has a wound in his thigh and he is dying. As a result, his kingdom has become an infertile wasteland. Parsifal encounters the King on his quest to find the Grail. Parsifal asks the King, “What ails thee?” and the King responds that he is thirsty. Parsifal fills a cup with water and hands it to the King who drinks and is healed. This was no ordinary cup, but the Grail itself.
There are a few important pieces to unpack here. Parsifal, who is sometimes characterized as a Fool or an Innocent, poses the obvious question that no one had asked. This brings the wound to consciousness. Quite unawares, he reaches for the Grail itself, not recognizing its significance. “The Grail is the symbol of the sacred, creative feminine principle which is accessible to all of us. The Grail can heal the King just as the feminine can heal our masculine nature,” Murdock writes.
This unleashes the potential for the unbalanced Masculine to be restored. The traits of combativeness, criticality, destruction, coldness, and inhumanity can fall away.
The heroine must “bring the light of consciousness into the darkness. She must be willing to face and name her shadow tyrant and let it go. This requires a conscious sacrifice of mindless attachments to ego power, financial gain, and hypnotic, passive living. It takes courage, compassion, humility, and time.”
How is the Masculine out-of-balance in your story? How is this manifested? What must the heroine do to heal the Masculine?
10. Integration of Masculine and Feminine
Our current culture is plagued by duality, according to Murdock. This dominant paradigm tends to view polarities and cast one side as “other,” meaning inferior, or sometimes even sinful. To achieve the integration of Masculine and Feminine such dualities must be transcended to find the greater truth beyond.
Themes present in this stage include the ideal of the circle, uncovering the inadequacy of duality and transcending it, balance, a deep acknowledgment and appreciation of our inter-connectedness, harmony, and transformation.
To embrace the positive attributes of the Masculine it is helpful to look at some common archetypes. The website of Sunyata Satchitananda is a great resource for understanding each of these archetypes in detail: God, King, Priest, Warrior, Lover, Sage. Likewise, to embrace the Feminine look to the archetypes of Goddess, Queen, Priestess, Warrioress, Lover, Wisewoman, also available at Satchitananda.
What dualities have plagued the Heroine and how does she transcend them? How does she restore balance and harmony? What positive attributes of the archetypes does she embrace (try to select traits from both the Masculine and Feminine archetypes)?
Maureen Murdock, The Heroine’s Journey
Nor Hall, The Moon and the Virgin
Helen Luke, Woman, Earth, and Spirit
Jean Shinoda Bolen, Goddesses in Everywoman
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