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What is stage 8 of Joseph Campbell’s hero’s journey? What is the significance of the “woman as temptress”?
The woman as temptress is the stage of the hero’s journey in which the hero is tempted by a “bad” mother figure, a goddess who attempts to either harm the hero, spurn his advances, hamper him in his quest, or tempt him into desire. The woman as temptress is stage 8 of Joseph Campbell’s hero’s journey, from The Hero with a Thousand Faces.
We’ll cover what the woman as temptress entails and look at an example of a hero encountering the woman as temptress.
Stage 8: Woman as Temptress
Now we move into the main action of the myth, wherein the hero undergoes a series of trials and tests, with the aid of their supernatural helper. The hero might also discover the existence of a benevolent, omnipotent power guiding all things in the universe.
Connection with Our Subconscious
Removed from the confines of their safe and familiar world, the mythological hero now confronts a land of symbolic and allegorical figures—according to the psychoanalysts, the same imagery we see in our dreams. Just as the images are instrumental in helping the hero achieve their transformation, they are also puzzles that each of us must unlock in order to understand what our subconscious is trying to tell us.
Unlike the ancients, we do not have the benefit of allegory and mythology to help us make sense of the bubbling up of our subconscious. As a secular, rational society, we increasingly lack the language to process this—psychoanalysis may be the closest thing, but it’s not a substitute for the power of mythology and religion. Indeed, we have rationalized and argued our gods away. It is only through studying these ancient soothsayers and shamans and the dead gods they once worshipped that we can truly grasp our fullest humanity.
In mythology, the hero’s journey often requires entering the underworld or the land of the dead before the stage of woman as temptress.
Union with the Goddess
The goddess is the epitome of beauty and represents the feminine ideal in all its aspects—mother, sister, mistress, and bride. This is the classic maternal goddess figure, the “good” mother.
But there is also a dark twist on this theme. For there is a “bad” mother figure, a goddess who attempts to either harm the hero, spurn his advances, hamper him in his quest, or tempt him into desire. This is the woman as temptress.
Needless to say, these figures are deeply rooted in psychological complexes as we grapple with balancing 1) our need for the love and protection of our parents (especially our mothers) 2) with our concurrent need to grow up and become independent adults (and deny the woman as temptress).
Sometimes, the goddess assumes both forms (goddess mother and woman as temptress)—either a decrepit hag who transforms into a beautiful maiden, or vice versa. Only the truly perceptive hero can fully discover the mysterious nature of womankind. The hero who can show her the right type of kindness is the one truly worthy of being king or even reincarnated God.
Woman as Temptress Example: Niall
In an ancient legend of Ireland, five brother princes separately come across an ugly old woman at the bottom of a well. Looking for water to drink, each brother, in turn, asks her if they can drink from her well. She says they may, but only on the condition that they give her a kiss. The first four refuse, remarking that they would rather die of thirst than put their lips to her hideous countenance.
The fifth brother, Niall, consents to the woman’s request and kisses her. After he does so, she transforms into the most beautiful woman in the world. She reveals herself to be the living embodiment of Royal Rule and tells Niall that he has earned the right to his father’s kingdom. He has shown himself willing to embrace the ugly and the beautiful, as a good and noble king should.
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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