gestalt • myths • vitality -------

The hero's journey

In 1989, Paul Rebillot publishes The Hero's Journey: Ritualizing the Mystery, his contribution to Spiritual Emergency: When Personal Transformation Becomes a Crisis, a collective book edited by Stanislav Grof et Christina Grof.

Excerpts of the introduction by

Stanisla Grof et Christina Grof

[Rebillot's] quest took him to Esalen Institute in Big Sur, California. During his long stay there, he met Fritz Perls, the founder of Gestalt therapy, and became one of his closest and most dedicated disciples. Gestalt practice is a unique experiential approach to psychotherapy that uses intense focus of awareness on the emotional and physical processes occurring in the here and now, to psychologically complete various unfinished traumatic issues in one's life.

Another influential thinker and teacher whom Rebillot met at Esalen was Joseph Campbell, generally considered the greatest mythologist in the world. Campbell's book The Hero with a Thousand Face, describing the universal myth of the hero's journey, became for him an extraordinary source of inspiration. Drawing on his background in theater, his unusual musical talent, his personal experiences of non ordinary states, Gestalt therapy and Campbell's mythological insights, he created an original form of therapeutic ritual called The Hero's Journey.

We have been fortunate enough to work with Rebillot several times and have been very impressed by the depth of experience and self-exploration that participant reach in this amazing amalgam of theater, ritual, music, song, mask making, therapy, and exquisite entertainment.

After exploring our attitudes and feeling about ourselves, home, work and the beloved, The Hero's Journey takes us in our inner world to identify our heroic self and our demon. Under Rebillot's guidance, we experience a confrontation of these two aspects of ourselves, a resolution and an integration. Upon return to everyday reality, we explore how this inner transformation has changed our feelings about ourselves, our home, our work, and our beloved.

Excerpts of  Paul Rebillot's chapter

The Buddhists say that one of the basic fears is the fear of unusual states of mind. We fear these in ourselves, and we fear them in others.

A way to deal with that fundamental fear is to experience an unusual state of mind in a safe situation, in order to discover how to go into it and, most important, how to come out of it.

Trance-dancing, breath-meditation, certain forms of yoga, and dervish twirling techniques are some of the different ways to enter altered states voluntarily. For me, the most interesting and familiar is ritual-drama.

The value of such a form is that it allows people to realize that they can both enter into and come out of an extraordinary space with full consciousness.

The Hero's Journey is a chance to play out a story of transformation within the framework of ritual, where eternity and chronological time interpenetrate. When we take an archetypal structure and act it out in the here-and-now, our daily life is illuminated by the eternal. This creates the possibility of an interchange between the two dimensions; a doorway is opened through which the archetypal world can enter our life, thus bringing new energy and form into the everyday world. This interpenetration of the two worlds is the essential nature of ritual-drama.


When I created the process, the first step was to discover a pattern, a plot that I might use to construct the ritual-drama. In Joseph Campbell's book The Hero with a Thousand Face such a plot is outlined. […] By using the plot line of the hero monomyth, I designed a process to guide a group of people through the archetype of transformation so they can then apply what they experienced to their own lives.

Whether the change be of home, partnership, job or point of view, all seem to go through a similar process. By experiencing the patten of The Hero's Journey, many people have found that they know the form of transformation, so that, when change happens in their lives, it no longer threatens them. They know it will have a certain sequence. They have the map.


What have I learned from The Hero's Journey now that I have been guiding people through it for fifteen years?

That it is possible to find terror within the human psyche: monsters, ghouls, 'things that go bump in the night.' But I have also learned that looking long enough and deeply enough into the eyes of the most frightening inner monster can transmute it into treasure.

Frequently I suggest to people, as they are about to enter into the confrontation between their heroic and demonic selves, that they look deeply into the demon's eyes, because if they can look deeply enough, the demonic mask may fall away and they can then discover what is behind it. There is always something behind the resistance.

If the hero, contrary to what Percival asks: “What is troubling you?” he can, perhaps, experience the healing that comes with the awakening of compassion. And compassion towards others begins with the acceptance of the maligned or wounded inner self.

Often one discovers that what one experienced as the apocalyptic war to end all wars is really nothing more than a lovers' quarrel.”

I have also learned that we can approach the experience of chaos with more security if there is a form around it. And all change requires passage through chaos.

The Hero's Journey gives structure to what is essentially a destructuring experience — an experience in which old forms and points of view are being destroyed in order for new ones to emerge. So it is a fragmenting experience, and this can be very frightening.

The structure of ritual can provide the security for orderly unfoldment. Knowing that after this there is something else enables people to confront event the most frightening of images; they know this is not the end.

Since change is the one thing we can be sure of in the world and in our lives, it is important to be able to move through the chaos toward our future selves. For as Fritz Perls said, 'The only way out is through'.


Spiritual Emergency — When Personal Transformation Becomes a Crisis edited by Stanislav Grof and Christina Grof, 1989

“He created an original form of therapeutic ritual

named The Hero's Journey

“By experiencing the patten of  The Hero's Journey, you know the form of transformation”

“To look long enough and deeply enough into the eyes of the inner monster”

“We have been very impressed by the depth of experience”

The Hero's Journey is a chance to play out a story of transformation within the framework of ritual”

The structure of ritual provides the security for orderly unfoldment

Yayoi Kusama , Gleaming Lights of the Souls

The Hero's Journey: Ritualizing the Mystery

by Paul Rebillot