Myth Analysis Methods
Themes (What myths attempt to explain universally)
• Creation of the world and the people in it
• Structure of the universe
Elements/ Heavenly Bodies
• Causes of life and death
• Supernatural beings
Destroyers, preservers, divine specialties
• Cosmic disasters
flood, drought, famine
• Heroes and Tricksters
agents of change
• Animals and Plants
Creation and Kinship
• Body and Soul
Spirit and the Afterlife
• Marriage and Kinship
• Social Mores and Taboos
Otto Rank's Hero (First Half of Life)
1. The hero is the child of distinguished parents, usually the son of a king or
2. His origin is preceded by difficulties.
3. During/before the pregnancy is a prophecy in the form of a dream or an
oracle cautioning against his birth/often threatening the life of his father.
4. Often he is surrendered to the water in a box.
5. He is then saved by animals or by lowly people.
6. After he has grown up, he finds his distinguished parents.
7. He either takes revenge or is acknowledged.
8. He achieves rank and honors.
Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey (Second half of the hero’s life)
From Joseph Campbell (from Hero With A Thousand Faces)
1. The Call To Adventure: Often there is a Herald, summoning the hero to an "unsuspected world"
and "the individual is drawn into a relationship with forces that are not rightly understood." It may be
because of a mistake or because of repressed desires and conflicts. This is the "awakening of self"
which may be the "coming of adolescence" or some dying of old self and birth of new self. A deer is
often a herald.
2. Refusal Of The Call: Often this establishes the link between audience and hero (inability,
weakness, fallibility) but it may also establish the hero's morality (who really wants to go to war?)
3. Supernatural Aid: "For those who have not refused the call, the first encounter of the hero-
journey is with a protective figure (often a little old crone or old man) who provides the adventurer
with amulets against the dragon forces he is about to pass." This figure is a reassurance, the protecting
power of destiny.
* For Catholics, the Virgin Mary may appear to them
* In fairy lore, it may be a wizard or shepherd who appears to supply the amulets and advice the hero
will require. The higher mythologies develop the role in the great figure of the guide, the teacher, the
ferryman, the conductor of souls to the underworld
4. The Crossing of The First Threshold: First the hero meets a Threshold Guardian. Often there is
a struggle with the Threshold Guardian.
5. The Belly Of The Whale: The hero basically annihilates himself to be reborn. The hero is
swallowed into the unknown(symbolic of the womb) and would appeared to have died. The hero thus
undergoes a metamorphosis. "No creature can achieve a higher nature without ceasing to exist"
(metaphorically in some cases.)
1. The Road Of Trials: The hero must survive a succession of trials. This is the favorite phase of the
myth adventure. The hero is covertly aided by the advice, amulets, and secret agents of the
supernatural helper. This can include a trip to the underworld. One by one the resistances are broken.
He (or she) must put aside pride, virtue, beauty, life, and bow or submit to the intolerable. The hero
may see a clue about how to save himself.
2. The Meeting With The Goddess: The ultimate adventure, when all the barriers and ogres have
been overcome, is commonly represented with the mystical marriage of the hero-soul with the Queen
Goddess of the world. This is the ultimate crisis. Woman in this mythological picture represents the
totality of what can be known.
3. Woman As The Temptress: The woman (goddess) has become the totality of sin. After the first
thrill, the hero begins to see the darker side of the love (lust)
4. Atonement With The Father: "The ogre-aspect of the victim's father is a reflex of the victim's
own ego -- derived from the sensational nursery scene has been left behind... sealing the potentially
adult spirit from a better balanced, more realistic view of the father... Atonement consists of the
abandonment of that self-generated double-monster." When a child outgrows the need for the
nurturing of the mother, it passes spiritually into the realm of the father. For Campbell the hero's
dreadfully afraid of the father but must go to meet the father and understand him.
5. Apotheosis: The hero gets to be in a "god-like" state after he or she "has gone beyond the terrors of
ignorance... he becomes free of all fear, beyond the reach of change." "The hero has become, by virtue
of the ceremonial, more than man." "A new and larger paradise is thus established."
6. The Ultimate Boon: Here you find the GOAL of the journey or quest.
* Maui (Hawaiian myth): Fire successfully stolen
* Gilgamesh: The plant
1. Refusal Of The Return: The hero wonders if he or she should remain in the state of apotheosis.
(Remember the Wizard of Oz) or return back to the normal world. Once in a while, the hero doesn't
2. The Magic Flight: "If the hero, in his triumph, wins the blessing of the god or goddess and is then
explicitly commissioned to return to the world with some elixir for the restoration of society, the final
stage of his adventure is is supported by all the powers of the supernatural patron. On the other hand,
if the trophy has been obtained against the opposition of its guardian, or the hero's wish to return to the
world is resented by the gods or demons, then the last stage of the mythological round becomes a
lively, often comical, pursuit. The flight may be complicated by marvels of magical obstruction and
* Jason must flee with the Golden Fleece; he kills Medea's younger brother and tosses pieces of him
into the sea.
3. Rescue From Without: Someone may have to come and get the hero to make him or her return.
"The bliss of the deep abode is not lightly abandoned in favor of the self-scattering of the wakened
state." (See p 376 in World Mythology. Ameratsu is so angry that she must be tricked to get her out of
the underworld with the fine cloth, rich jewels, combs and a mirror on the tree.)
4. The Crossing Of The Return Threshold: Campbell says that the hero finds out that the two
worlds are in some sense one world. The evils and the goods are in both. "There must always remain,
however, ... a baffling inconsistency" so that the return is difficult and disorienting. The hero comes
back insulated (so as not to be emptied of the precious knowledge). The hero must endeavor to
communicate/translate the knowing to resistant others. He may appear to others as mad.
5. Master Of The Two Worlds: The hero..."gives up completely all attachment to personal hopes,
limitations, and fears, no longer resists the self-annihilation that is prerequisite to rebirth in the
realization of truth, and so becomes ripe, at last, for the great at-one-ment. His personal ambition
totally dissolved, he no longer tries to live but willingly relaxes to whatever may come to pass..."
Mapping Trickster Figures
1. ambiguous and anomalous personality of the trickster: “a necessary anomaly involving every set
of extremes: sacred and profane, life and death, culture and nature, order and chaos, fertility and
impotence…he is not defined merely as a series of oppositions or contrasts. His activities are
outlawish, outlandish, outrageous, out of bounds and out of order.
2. deceiver/trick player: “a consummate and continuous trick-player and deceiver. In many
cultures and religions, the trickster acts as the prima causa of disruptions and disorders,
misfortunes and improprieties.” He might be an unconscious numbskull (the trick can be played
back on him) or a malicious spoiler.
3. shape-shifter: “The trickster can alter his shape or bodily appearance in order to facilitate
deception. Not even the boundaries of species or sexuality are safe, for they can be readily
dissolved by the trickster’s disguises and transmorphisms.”
4. situation-invertor: “The trickster exhibits typically the ability to overturn any person, place, or
belief, no matter how prestigious. Profaning or inverting social beliefs brings into sharp relief just
how much a society values these beliefs.”
5. messenger/imitator of the gods: “Often of uncertain or impure birth, the trickster can be both a
messenger and an imitator of the gods.” He can slip back and forth. He may be the messenger of
death or he may bring gifts. Society may be simultaneously disrupted and renewed.
6. sacred/lewd tinker: “noted for his ingenuity in transforming anything at hand in order to find a
creative solution. The trickster seems impelled inwardly to violate all taboos, especially those
which are sexual, gastronomic, or scatological.”
J.F. Bierlin’s account of 6 meanings myth gives to human existence
Our Finitude: “…the realization that there are limits to our understanding and our reasoning, and that life, too,
is limited.” We’re also finite as we recognize that death is inevitable.
Our Estrangement From Deities: The companionable fellowship with the gods is “broken through sin or
perhaps an action on the part of the creator to absent himself or herself from the creation.” The process of
reconciliation is a key theme through myths.
Our Process of Changing, Becoming, Transforming:” The hero might be born to his quest, but although born
to be a hero, he also has to become a hero…He must transcend defeats.” We are all in the process of becoming
who we are.
Both the Freedom and Burden of Human Choice: This is the paradox that the freedom of the exercise of free
will can also be an oppressive responsibility.
Our Existence with, in and through Others: “Children receive and identity from their parents, yet strive to
achieve their own individuality. The myths speak to the power of love to transform both the lover and the
beloved; this love gives meaning to life. The hero cannot be the hero alone; the heroic myths include mentors,
friends, lovers, allies, and, above all, enemies who define the heroes.”
Our Identity and Participation in the Cosmos: “…a perception of our place the entirety of things. Our
identities as citizens, children, lovers, workers, and the minor-league heroes we are in our own houses…”