Master of Two Worlds: The Hero’s Journey, Stage 16 (Explained)

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What is stage 16 of Joseph Campbell’s hero’s journey? What is the significance of being a “master of two worlds”?

Master of two worlds is the stage of the hero’s journey in which the hero can move seamlessly between the two worlds, without destroying or compromising either. Master of two worlds is stage 16 of Joseph Campbell’s hero’s journey, from The Hero with a Thousand Faces.

We’ll cover what being a master of two worlds entails and look at examples of the master-of-two-worlds stage of the hero’s journey.

Dual Kingship: Master of Two Worlds

The true hero is one who can move seamlessly between the two worlds, without destroying or compromising either. Here, he becomes master of two worlds. We see this in the Transfiguration of Christ from the New Testament, in which the body of Jesus becomes radiant with the glory and grace of God. 

Jesus brings Peter, James, and John to a mountain. He becomes radiant before them and converses with the Old Testament figures of Moses and Elias. God then declares from on high that Jesus is His beloved Son, striking fear into the three men whom Jesus had brought. But Jesus touches them and tells them not to be afraid. Suddenly, Jesus has transformed back again into a man. He has crossed and re-crossed the divine threshold, he is the master of both worlds. Jesus tells the men not to share the vision they have seen with anyone, “until the Son of man be risen again from the dead.”

Notably, this vision has only appeared to those who have forsaken worldly pursuits and secular desires. The individual must embrace their own self-annihilation. This is a requirement to be a master of two worlds. These figures of ascetic self-denial are represented across the world’s religious traditions, from the wandering mendicants of the East, to the Wandering Jew and itinerant monks of medieval Europe. The manifestations vary, but the concept is universal.

Culture Heroes

Eventually, there comes a point where the gods and heroes of mythology must yield to actual historical figures. Historical figures also become masters of two worlds. A step removed from origin stories about the creation of the cosmos, we are now dealing with the phenomenon of culture heroes—the founders who appear at the beginning of a culture’s legendary past. Rather than creating the universe, these figures create cultures.

Such figures are shrouded in mystery and their historicity is much-debated by historians, archaeologists, and anthropologists. Often, these are the kings whom legend tells us were themselves gods or demi-gods and used their divine status to create the great cities and kingdoms that we recognize and see today. They were masters of two worlds.

Eventually, the world no longer needs the culture hero either. Society has been established to a sufficient degree so that now, ordinary men and women can take up the burden of sustaining civilization. The first of this kind is an emperor or king in human form who hereafter stands as the model of good political leadership for the kingdom. This is exemplified by the Chinese figure of Huang Ti, who reigned a few centuries after Fu Hsi. He ascended to the throne at the age of 11 and ruled for over a century, during which the Chinese state enjoyed a golden age of peace and prosperity. He introduced mathematics, shipbuilding, woodworking, money, music, and private property.

Return and Exile

These human culture heroes often have a miraculous childhood (despite frequently being born to lowly status) and are endowed with powers from the moment of their birth. Their herohood is predestined, not achieved. They have some special connection to the world of the supernatural, either through dreams or premonitions, and their story is often one of ignominious exile and glorious return. After a childhood where they overcome extraordinary obstacles, they rise out of obscurity and reveal their true character. This is essentially the theme of crucifixion, followed by resurrection. They are masters of two worlds.

Sargon of Akkad (founder of the Mesopotamian Akkadian Empire and an undisputed historical figure from around 2300 BCE) was, as his legend tells us, born to an obscure mother and an unknown father. After being set adrift in the Euphrates River on a basket of bulrushes, he was discovered by a shepherd and bestowed with great favor by the goddess Ishtar. This divine blessing, this endorsement from the gods was what enabled him to found the world’s first empire. 

Similar origin stories of great historical figures abound, from Chandragupta, the founder of the fourth century BCE Maurya empire in India; to the early medieval pope, Gregory the Great; to the first Holy Roman Emperor, Charlemagne. 

Master of Two Worlds: The Hero’s Journey, Stage 16 (Explained)

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  • How the Hero's Journey reappears hundreds of times in different cultures and ages
  • How we attach our psychology to heroes, and how they help embolden us in our lives
  • Why stories and mythology are so important, even in today's world

Amanda Penn

Amanda Penn is a writer and reading specialist. She’s published dozens of articles and book reviews spanning a wide range of topics, including health, relationships, psychology, science, and much more. Amanda was a Fulbright Scholar and has taught in schools in the US and South Africa. Amanda received her Master's Degree in Education from the University of Pennsylvania.

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