LDS Plan of Salvation as Archetype of the Monomyth

[Update:  I just found out that my abstract was accepted and that I’ll be presenting this paper at BYU in October at the Literature and the Sacred Conference! Should be quite an experience! More details will be coming hopefully this week.]

This is the brief summary version of a paper I’m working on.  This clocks in at 3 pages,  the final, full-length will probably be at least ten times that.  Iv’e got a lot of work ahead of me.

    In his book The Hero with a Thousand Faces Joseph Campbell describes seventeen points or archetypes of myths, legends, and religions that almost every culture share.  Campbell posits that there is one story, one monomyth, as he calls it, that is the archetype of all stories that humans tell.  These archetypes are not invented, but “they are spontaneous productions of the psyche,  and each bears within it , undamaged, the germ power of its source” (Campbell  4).  All human tales have repeated symbols which can be traced  back to a single source innately present in all human culture.  Latter-day Saint doctrine, especially that of the Plan of Salvation, provides this source of all mythological archetypes: the truth of the Gospel which has been taught in all ages of this world and is innately recognized as truth by the spirit inside every child of God.  The Plan of Salvation is the archetype of Joseph’s Campbell’s monomyth, with all of his seventeen points described in different aspects of humanity’s eternal journey.

    The monomyth, or archetypal hero journey, as described by Joseph Campbell has seventeen specific aspects divided among three phases of the hero journey: Departure, Initiation, and Return.  The Plan of Salvation is also often divided into three phases, those of Premortal existence, Mortal existence, and Postmortal existence, which correlate well with Campbell’s three phases. In each of these phases are different steps of the hero journey, which correspond to different aspects and principles of the Plan of Salvation.

    In Campbell’s Departure phase  of the hero journey, there is a Call to Adventure, sometimes a Refusal of the Call, a Crossing of the First Threshold and a state of being in the Belly of the Whale, while having Supernatural Aid.   In the Premortal existence a Plan was introduced, and was accepted by some and rejected by others.  Those that accepted came to Earth and received mortal bodies and innate spiritual gifts, having a veil of forgetfulness placed on them removing memory of their call and acceptance. This is the First Threshold, the point after which the hero accepts the call when he cannot return without achieving the goal. The Belly of the Whale is “a form of self annihilation”, where the hero “goes inward to be born again”(Campbell 91), which is exactly how the ordinance of baptism is described: as a death and burial of the old, natural man, and a rebirth as a spiritual being.  Supernatural Aid is given in the form of Spiritual gifts which are given to every child of God, or even as Priesthood leaders with stewardship over individuals.  In myth, there is often an old, wise man with counsel and advice, in the Church there are Bishops and Stake Presidents who are usually older  men, who provide counsel and advice through the Priesthood.

    The next phase of the hero journey is Initiation, the actual journey of mortal life, which Campbell describes as the Road of Trials.  During his journey, the hero also has a  Meeting with the Goddess and meets the Woman as Temptress, the two roles of the female.  The first, also described as a “mystical marriage … in the tabernacle of the temple” (Campbell 109), where the hero meets the paragon of women and beauty and love, which can only be a reference to the principle of celestial marriage, performed in the temple, where a hero is sealed to his wife for eternity.  The latter, though using the phrase “woman as temptress” does not necessarily refer to any specific woman, or women at all, but is used as symbolic of temptation in general. All temptation that seeks to sway the hero from his journey is seen as a female figure, since lust is the temptation that is most used to lure a hero away from his goal.  After this the hero has an Atonement with the Father and an Apotheosis, where he meets the Father-God and is reconciled with him and becomes like him.  In the LDS Temple there is a point where one is symbolically brought into the presence of the Father and there are promises and covenants made which allow one to one day become as God.  Then there is the achieving of the Ultimate Boon, the object of the quest, the goal of the journey.  From an LDS perspective, the purpose of the journey of mortal life is to gain experience and make and keep necessary covenants, such as baptism and celestial marriage, and then enduring faithfully to the end.

    Once a hero has achieved his Ultimate Boon, he must return with it.  Sometimes there is a Refusal of the Return, where the hero would rather stay than return to his previous world.  Then there is the Magic Flight and the Rescue from Without.  After crossing the Return Threshold, the hero becomes the Master of Two Worlds and has earned the Freedom to Live, successfully integrating what he has learned and experienced on his journey with his former life.  This Return can have multiple meanings when seen from an LDS perspective; it can either be a Return to the terrestial world after experiencing the spirituality of gospel covenants, or it can be a Return to the Celestial Kingdom and the presence of God, from whence we came into this mortal journey.  A successful hero is able to incorporate what he has experienced in his physical, mortal life, with what he has learned from his spiritual, eternal life.  He learns how to live ‘in the world, yet not of the world’.

    The hero journey is called the monomyth, the one story that is told and retold universally.  The reason why these elements keep reoccurring in legends and myths is because these elements are based on the eternal truths of the Plan of Salvation.  These truths were taught to Adam, who taught them to his children and so they became part of every culture’s myths and legends.  And when these stories are told, the spirit inside every person recognizes truth.  The Plan of Salvation is not merely another example of the monomyth, it is the archetype of the monomyth, the original telling upon which all others are based.

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