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What is stage 3 of Joseph Campbell’s hero’s journey? What is the significance of supernatural aid?
Supernatural aid is the stage of a hero’s journey during which the hero meets an otherworldly helper. This supernatural aid is a personification of the hero’s destiny. Supernatural aid is stage 3 of Joseph Campbell’s hero’s journey, from The Hero with a Thousand Faces.
We’ll cover what forms this supernatural aid may take and look at an example of a hero encountering supernatural aid.
Some heroes respond to the call immediately. They are then guided along the path of adventure by a supernatural helper, as part of their first steps along the hero-journey. This helper is the personification of destiny. Often, supernatural aid takes the form of an old man or old woman, like the fairy godmother, wizard, shepherd, smith, or woodsman figures of European fairy tales. But supernatural aid can also take on other forms, like that of the Virgin Mary in many Christian saints legends from the Middle Ages. In the ancient mythology of Egypt and Greece, this figure was the boatman or ferryman, the conductor of souls to the afterworld—Thoth in Egyptian lore and Hermes-Mercury in Greek legend.
The supernatural helper is a benign, guiding figure who protects the hero and steers them along to meet their destiny. Supernatural aid exists to comfort the hero and assure them that, though the way may be unsure and frightening (as all of our journeys through life will be at one time or another) they will endure and come through their adventure stronger than when they initially set out.
In the mythology of the American Indians of the southwestern United States, there is Spider Woman, a grandmotherly figure and figure of supernatural aid. Spider Woman assists the Twin War Gods of the Navajo in their quest to reach their father, the Sun. She warns them that they must pass four places of danger and that their father may be hostile when they reach him (the theme of unconscious desire for the mother and hatred for the father is a common one across the world’s folklore and mythology). Spider Woman gives the Twin Gods an amulet and teaches them a magical formula that will negate their enemies’ anger.
Supernatural Aid Example: Maymunah
We see the supernatural aid theme as we return to the story of Kamar al-Zaman and Budur. A shape-shifting figure named Maymunah crawls out of an old well in the tower where Kamar al-Zaman has been locked up by the sultan (the well symbolizes the unconscious and Maymunah the flowing up of unconscious thoughts into the realm of the conscious).
Finding the prince sleeping, she is awed by his physical beauty. Flying away, Maymunah encounters another supernatural being called Dahnash, who declares that he has just returned from China, where he has laid eyes on the most beautiful woman in the world—none other than Princess Budur. The two spirits argue about which royal youth is fairer. Each of them brings the other to their preferred candidate’s resting-place, but they cannot decide who is more beautiful unless they see them lying side-by-side.
Thus, these two otherworldly helpers begin the process of uniting the two fated youths, without either the prince or princess exerting any conscious will. The helpers of supernatural aid are moving the hand of destiny.
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Here's what you'll find in our full The Hero with a Thousand Faces summary:
- 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