“What such a figure represents is the benign, protecting power of destiny.” –Joseph Campbell in “The Hero With a Thousand Faces”
When a mythic hero begins his or her journey into the unknown, s/he often receives help from a magical helper or mentor in the form of advice or amulets to ward off or lessen the impact of the dragons and other horrific forces and entities along the hero’s path.
Crones, wise men, elves and other faerie folk, gods and goddesses, totem animals and spirit guides are among the forms of supernatural aid that providence (or the universe) provides.
Campbell writes that no matter how dangerous the evil forces are on the far side of the threshold or portal into the unknown (dark forest, wine-red sea, unconscious), that “protective power is always and ever present within the sanctuary of the heart and even immanent within, or just behind, the unfamiliar features of the world.”
Considering the journey as a spiritual undertaking, the hero–as we learn from mythology–is wise to trust himself and his guardians. In “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” for example, young Harry is called to his journey via mysterious letters arriving from Hogwarts School of Wizardry and Witchcraft; however the nasty Dursley family won’t allow him to read them, much less respond.
But the journey will not be denied. Hagrid, a half giant from the school appears, and rescues Harry via supernatural means. Likewise in “Star Wars,” Obi-Wan Kenobi uses supernatural means (paranormal skills) to extract Luke Skywalker from the planet where he’s been living and then serves as Luke’s mentor as the journey begins.
In my novel “The Sun Singer,” young Robert Adams encounters several magical helpers including a large, black horse named Sikimí. In everyday terms, the horse is a Friesian like the one in the picture. Yet, when Robert meets the horse for the first time, he–and the reader as well–are tipped off that Sikimí is somehow more than a horse:
The horse was excessively here in the present tense as though accentuated by the angle of the light into being more now than now and more visible than normally visible.
And then David Ward–a mentor character in the novel–tells Robert that Sikimí describes himself as “night in the shape of a horse.”
The journey, though, belongs to the hero alone. In “The Sun Singer,” neither Sikimí nor David Ward remain with Robert. He says goodbye to them and is on his way. He must trust that they–or whatever he has learned from them–will serve him well when the need arises.
Each mythic hero must merge the magical powers, amulets, advice of the magical helpers or mentors with his or her own willpower and faith to carry out the quest to its conclusion. The amulets cannot be all powerful nor the mentor always present, for then the “hero” would simply be along for the ride with no risks to face nor crucial decisions to make.
Hero’s path myths–and fiction based on the steps of the hero’s journey–are intended (in addition to their storytelling value) as catalysts for readers and their own life’s journeys. The translation of the mentors concept into daily life can be rather straightforward, for there are teachers everywhere as well as books, workshops and courses everyday heroes can use to their advantage.
Most of us do not expect a wide variety of gods to help us in the manner in which they directly helped (or hindered) Odysseus in Homer’s epic poem “The Odyssey.” Depending on one’s belief system, prayer can serve as supernatural help; so, too, the messages of totem animals and spirit guides in dreams and meditation. For others, the magical helpers of myths transform into the positive synchronicity and “good luck” that seemingly appear out of nowhere as a result of one’s positive thinking, trust in himself or herself, and dedication to a course of action in harmony with the universe (or one’s spiritual views).
The prospective hero hears “the call to adventure” and makes the decision to undertake the journey without guarantees. He does not ask to see the mentor or the magical helpers in advance. He walks out the door of everyday life without a script that shows precisely what will happen and how s/he will survive the tasks ahead and make it safely home.
As Ted Andrews notes in his book “Animal-Speak: The Spiritual & Magical Powers of Creatures Great and Small,” horse symbolism is complex. His keynotes for the horse are travel, power and freedom. These fit my needs for the book since my protagonist is concerned with all of these things.
The black horse appears in my own dreams and meditations often enough to be considered a totem animal: my own magical helper, so to speak. This means that I “know” a lot more about this particular horse than I need for the book, always a plus for an author.
If horses, wise old men, or other magical helpers and guides appear in your dreams, then they are playing the same role as the supernatural powers of classic myths as well as novels and movies that are structured along the lines of Joseph Campbell’s hero’s journey theme.
Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of the contemporary fantasy “The Sun Singer,” a hero’s journey novel.