The Heroine's Journey: Descent, Sacrifice, and Self-Discovery
By Maegan Kenney, MA, LPC, Owner of Third Realm Integration
The Heroine's Journey
For many, the term descent evokes an image of “crisis, depression, loss, tragedy, or madness” (Meador, 2018, p. xi). In the journey of the descent, the heroine experiences disorientation, turmoil, and chaos. She is destabilized when she encounters nakedness and vulnerability. Her former life in which she adapted to the patriarchal culture bears no service to her here. It is the shedding of her outdated psychic conditioning that embodies the stage of descent for the heroine.
She falls to the bottom of her depths alone, often afraid, and stripped bare. She is unable to escape the grip of her own unconscious. However, her conscious vulnerability is what opens the portal to a healthy transmutation and subsequent integration of the meaning between life and death. She becomes the new carrier of “the ruling ebb and flow of nature’s vital process” (Meador, 2018, p. xii) and the ancient wisdom of natural law to return home reorientated with a new “jeweled matrix” operating from within (Meador, 2018, p. xiv).
When the heroine understands that the descent bestows upon us the “gift of our full individual, creative nature, placing us firmly in the reality of our circumstance on this planet, we can perhaps be more tolerant of the suffering the process demands” (Meador, 2018, p. xiv). Only when the heroine is willing to surrender to the depths of her own suffering does she become reborn. The heroine has peeled away her defenses and egoic persona (i.e., the socially conditioned acceptable parts of the personality). She is now ready for the dangerous adventure.
One way for the heroine to build tolerance and the capacity to integrate her suffering is to develop skills to equip herself for the deep dive. The anchor of the heart center provides her a container of safety and stability that she needs to venture into the depths of her own darkness (Lowe, 2011). The compassion she has for herself allows her to detach from her conditioned self and initiate the descent. Her heart’s wisdom is her centering force that helps her navigate the unchartered waters of her own devouring unconscious (M. Lowe, personal communication, 2022).
The heroine must make peace with her body, forgive herself for abandoning her soul’s highest desires in her former life, and carry her suffering consciously (M. Lowe, personal communication, 2022; Murdock, 2020). During this phase, the heroine enters a voluntary period of isolation to find her feminine self. She may sink into a deep existential depression and experience an ego death known as the dark night of the soul. Here, the heroine is navigating a controlled therapeutic regression (Houston, 2012; Perera, 1981).
In the myth of the goddess Inanna (or Ishtar), the descent into darkness is a dangerous pilgrimage (Prakasha, 2010). The depths of one’s own suffering can annihilate the psyche into oblivion if broached without preparation, containment, and higher consciousness (M. Lowe, personal communication, 2021).
As depicted in the patriarchal Greek mythological story of Persephone and her descent into Hades, she is captured by a rape of the underworld as she is forcibly taken into the depths against her will (Petric, 2023). Persephone’s inexperience with the darkness of her own psyche is symbolized by the uncharted waters of Hades and wreaks havoc on her most devoted companion, her mother Demeter. Demeter is left grief stricken as she searches feverously for her missing daughter.
Persephone’s rape by the underworld showcases the need for the heroine to enter the shadows of her own unconscious with adequate discernment and protection. She must utilize her own inner resources, ask for help when needed, and receive help when granted (Houston, 2012).
The allies she encounters along the way function to support her through the obstacles of the path. While the hero is tasked with slaying the dragons of his own psyche that get projected out as formidable opponents and obstructions (Campbell, 1968), the heroine experiences her suffering as her most worthy opponent.
As the shedding process gains momentum, the transformation of healing ensues. The heroine’s womb of feminine power delivers her a new life and a reborn version of herself, one that she is consciously co-creating. She births this new creation with courage. Her Divine creativity pushes her to heroically evolve.
As Segal (2004) said, “Heroism is the glorification of creativity, not aggression. The creative person is a successful hero; the neurotic, a failed one” (p. xviii).
The heroine must now take responsibility for healing her own suffering patterns. She must learn to face her fears and embrace her wounds. She reflects on her life’s course as the father’s daughter (Murdock, 2020) who became suffocated by the bondage of external demands who now offers compassion to this conditioned version of herself.
The heroine grounds her newfound revelations of her inherent value into her body and courageously ventures into the underworld. She embraces the opportunity to release attachments that kept her handcuffed to an unfulfilled former life. She employs the wisdom and intuition of her feminine body, heals the wounds in her heart, and surrenders to the process of rebirth.
At this stage, the heroine has successfully passed the tests and is rewarded with what Campbell (1949) called the “ultimate boon.” The heroine knows her worth. She has successfully stripped herself bare of the masculine standards that have raped the feminine of her connection to the Divine upper and lower realms (Perera, 1981).
She realizes that she already possessed everything she thought she lacked. Those around her experience the same revelation. As she is reborn, the heroine takes on the integration of her own masculine and feminine and speaks from the place of the Oracle where deep intuition, wholeness, and completion rule (J. DiRuzza, personal communication, 2023).
In The Wizard of Oz, the Cowardly Lion discovers he has courage, the Tin Man feels he has a heart, and the Scarecrow finds he has a brain. The heroine and her guides finally dissolve the spell of believing they weren’t good enough. In fact, they already had everything they needed. They simply needed to let go of their fears and turn towards themselves with care, curiosity, and compassion to awaken to what already existed (Lawson, 2005).