3 Maps for Life’s Journey ll By Rev. Mary Coday Edwards, MA.

Nothing like an old white guy defining and telling a woman what her journey ought to look like. 

And then gaslighting (1) her when she disagrees with his pronouncement.

Joseph Campbell was in his late 70s when he dissed the woman’s journey as outlined by Jungian analyst Maureen Murdock in her 1990 book, The Heroine’s Journey: Women’s Quest for Wholeness. He wouldn’t have approved of Victoria Lynn Schmidt’s 2001 version of the heroine’s journey either. 

When shown Murdock’s model, Campbell is reported to have said there was no need for a feminine version of the hero myth of growth and transformation because they don’t go on journeys—women were just the goal of the hero. 

Backing up:  In 1949 Campbell created a model of the mythological journey of the hero in his book, The Hero with a Thousand Faces.

Campbell uses numerous male-centered heroic myths to develop his theory of the hero transformation, such as that of Odysseus, Gilgamesh, and Percival, where the hero starts out with a Call to Adventure. The hero then crosses the threshold into unknown realms, meets supernatural guides who assist him in his journey, and confronts adversaries who try to block his progress. He undergoes trials that test his skills, overcomes them, and finds the boon he seeks—symbolized by the Holy Grail, the Golden Fleece, or the Rune of Wisdom. He returns to his home with the treasure he has found.

Not only has Campbell’s book been used as a template to plot award-winning novels and films—George Lucas consulted with Campbell over his Star Wars creation—it’s also been used as a model for psychological/spiritual development of the individual—male and female. 

Universal archetypal myths do give our lives meaning and enlighten us as to where we’re at, and where we might end up psychologically and spiritually. They give us hope when life looks dismal: “Oh! This is what’s going on!”

So many women having taken the hero’s journey, only to find it personally empty and dangerous for humanity. Women emulated the male heroic journey because there were no other images to emulate. Maureen Murdock

The last place I want to be is sitting in my rocker, knitting and then unraveling the same, over and over, as Penelope did while waiting years for her unfaithful Odysseus to return. This is where Campbell would have women.

While similarities exist between Murdock and Campbell—she was a student of his—she says the female journey begins with an Initial Separation when a woman rejects feminine values, seeking recognition and success in a patriarchal culture. When this fails, as it will, she experiences a spiritual death. This drive for patriarchal approval isn’t giving her life meaning anymore. The heroine must turn inward to reclaim the power and spirit of the sacred feminine. The final stages contain the assertion and active recognition of the union and power of one’s dual nature—masculine and feminine—for the benefit of all humankind (4). 

In my work as a Spiritual Facilitator, I’ve seen both women AND men unconsciously denigrate the values of the female culture. If the feminine is seen as negative, powerless, or manipulative, the individual may reject any qualities she associates with the feminine, including positive ones such as nurturing, intuition, emotional expressiveness, creativity, and spirituality (5). 

The media portrays women in limited ways that for many women are impossible to identify with, and a dearth of feminine imagery exists in traditional religions. Women, therefore, often have no female role models to whom they can relate. 

Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life? Mary Oliver

Not so influenced by the patriarchy in 2001, Victoria Lynn Schmidt focused both feminine and masculine journeys around the themes of power, support, and perception of the world. 

The hero on the feminine journey awakens when a crisis hits her and then moves toward rebirth. She must go deep inside herself and will change throughout her sojourn. The hero on the masculine journey, on the other hand, still begins with the Call to Adventure, but resists inner change until much later. He must choose to awaken or choose to rebel against his psyche’s drive for inner change (6).

Schmidt’s model says a woman must prove her power to herself, whereas men must give up their power. For example, if a man has done everything society has dictated to become a success, he may wake up one morning realizing how empty he is. His worldly success has not brought him the joy he thought it would and surrenders that power to seek what will fill the spiritual void within him.

Whereas a man will have the support of a community when he goes out to make his mark in the world, it takes courage for a woman to choose a less-traveled path, such as a childless life in the face of familial or community criticism and shaming.  

And women know the world can be a dangerous place for them. When I lived in Pakistan, an educated Pakistani Muslim woman was beheaded not far from my house, in a relatively posh part of Islamabad, when her brothers believed she shamed the family by dating a non-Muslim British man. She stepped away from the norm and paid the price with her life. Women’s life choices are circumscribed by concern for their safety. Men perceive the world as conquerable, with them in charge. 

Life is a journey that must be traveled no matter how bad the roads and accommodations. Oliver Goldsmith, 18th century Irish poet

Murdock and Schmidt have been criticized for their outdated feminist values. However, for those of us wounded by the patriarchy or have given up our power to the status quo, both Murdock and Schmidt provide maps of our psychological/spiritual journeys—where we’ve been and why, and where we’re heading. Both authors describe in detail steps of the feminine journey, with Schmidt adding steps of the masculine journey in her book. 

And gender bending occurs between the feminine/masculine journeys, one size does not fit all. My own journey includes elements from all three maps. 

These three journeys all include a crisis of sorts, setting one out on the path of spiritual/psychological transformation. Embrace the journey. You are not a failure—it’s just time for growth. And walk it mindfully, as Jon Kabat-Zinn taught (7): 

Mindfulness is paying attention on purpose, 

in the present moment, 

and nonjudgmentally, 

to the unfolding of experience moment to moment.


Notes & Sources: 

1. Gaslighting is a form of psychological manipulation in which a person seeks to sow seeds of doubt in a targeted individual or in members of a targeted group, making them question their own memory, perception, and sanity. Using persistent denial, misdirection, contradiction, and lying, gaslighting involves attempts to destabilize the victim and delegitimize the victim’s beliefs. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gaslighting#cite_note-Oxford_Dictionary-1)

2.Murdock, Maureen. The Heroine’s Journey: Women’s Quest for Wholeness. Shambhala Publications, Inc. 1990.

3.Campbell, Joseph. The Hero with a Thousand Faces. Pantheon Books. 1949.

4.Author Sue Monk Kidd expertly details her journey in her memoir, The Dance of the Dissident Daughter. 

5.Murdock, Maureen. “The Heroine’s Journey, Encyclopedia of Psychology and Religion, edited by David A. Leeming, 2016.

6.Schmidt, Victoria Lynn. 45 Master Characters: Mythic Models for Creating Original Characters. Writer’s Digest Books. 2001.

7.Kabat-Zinn, Jon. The founder of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction, calls this practice mindfulness. 


About the Author: Rev. Mary Coday Edwards is a Spiritual Growth Facilitator and People House Minister. A life-long student of spirituality, Mary spent almost 20 years living, working and sojourning abroad in Asia, Southeast Asia, East Africa, and Latin America before finding her spiritual connection at People House and completing its Ministerial Program. Past studies include postgraduate studies from the University of South Africa in Theological Ethics/Ecological Justice, focusing on the spiritual and physical interconnectedness of all things. With her MA in Environmental Studies from Boston University, abroad she worked and wrote on environmental sustainability issues at both global and local levels, in addition to working in refugee repatriation.