The Traveller as a Hero

#02. Azerbaijan, prehistoric rock art at Gobustan

The Traveller as a Hero

All travellers are heroes, travelling on their own unique and often mystical journeys, facing similar ordeals as the mythical hero. And if they are successful, they will return as a different person, carrying the gifts of cultural understanding, personal development, and universal enlightenment, to ideally share with the world.

In his book “The Hero with a Thousand Faces”, a cornerstone of comparative mythology, Joseph Cambell discusses the archetypal hero and their journey. So which are the common attributes shared between a mythical hero and a traveller? The Hero’s/Traveller’s journey can be broken down into different stages, and we will discuss the most relevant ones.

Initially, we hear the Call to Adventure. The call of distant drums. The allure of places further of the horizons, beckoning us to explore them.
But do we always dare to head the call? How ready are we to leave our comfort zone, and embrace the unknown? Are we willing to cross the Threshold of our front door? And what are we really searching to find? What questions will be answered? And how the journey will help our personal development?
Because often we refuse the call. At the last moment we decide against it. That place is too far, too exotic, too alien, too dangerous. We find excuses. We miss our loved ones, our work, our daily routine. And we settle back to our snug home, back inside our all too familiar boundaries of our mind.

But happily we often have little helpers, to provide aid and support in our decisive moment. Our friends and companions in our journey, urging us forward (although others are keeping us back). A travel coach, which helps us organise our journey, and provides a tailored itinerary according to our wishes and needs. A travel guide to inspire us, and websites to find information and make our bookings. And one by one, our inhibitions fall. And we finally get on that (different) plane (of existence).

So we managed to arrive at the destination, and now we must face the local challenges and win the local quests. We must cope with harsh weather conditions, strange cultures, alien people and traditions. We must wade through the mire of mass tourism, narrowly escape the pitfalls of travel scams, battle the dragon of the fear of the unknown, break free of the chains of our perspective bubble. We often feel lost in the middle of nowhere, in places so wondrous and alluring, yet also unfamiliar and even apprehensive.
Are we willing to accept realities different from our own? Are we willing to step into different cultural shoes? Are we able to sense empathy in the face of miscommunication? Can we shift our perspectives, and learn something new?

If we do, we will manage to reach that sacred pond of our ultimate intimate goal, often hidden from us at the beginning of our journey, and drink from the elixir of cultural awareness. Atone for our pampered and superfluous way of life. Help and give back to communities in real need. Climb to the peak of understanding, and look beyond the horizon of our protective comfortable bubble. Glimpse and touch a small portion of Truth, to carry back home. And return as a slightly different, better person.

However, once we manage to return, we must face the most difficult task of all. What do we do with our newfound gift? How do we use the images we crossed in our paths, the knowledge we acquired, for the betterment of our whole community? What can we do to help others to follow on our tracks, towards personal, cultural, and universal enlightenment?
Are we going to squander our journey on social bragging? Are we going to encapsulate ourselves back in our cosy microcosm? Are we going to withdraw from a society so unwilling to understand the beauty that was unveiled before our very eyes? Or are we going to accept the challenge, and try to share it with the world, no matter how difficult the task is, and how odd we look to their still blindfolded minds?

The choice is always ours.