What Are the Stages of the Spiritual Journey?

what are the stages of the spiritual journey

Are there stages of spirituality? I do not know. 

The other day, while doing a human design reading, the human design analyst told me that according to human design perception, we are not here for the path of illumination anymore. Still, we are here to help each other to illuminate. 

The first time I heard such a thing. 

It could be true; who can know? 

Still, there is something that I love and adore so much about reading Joseph Campbell. 

Reading Joseph Campbell’s books is like drinking a big glass of water when thirsty. 

In this blog post, I will inspire you with Joseph Campbell’s words from his book The Hero With A Thousand Faces.

What is a spiritual journey called?

He interprets that all mythologies and tales are about the hero’s journey. So, in a way, they are talking about the stages of spirituality!

So for him, the spiritual journey is called the hero’s journey.

“The wonder is that the characteristic efficacy to touch and inspire deep creative centers dwells in the most miniature nursery fairy tale—as the flavor of the ocean is contained in a droplet or the whole mystery of life within the egg of a flea. 

The symbols of mythology are not manufactured; they cannot be ordered, invented, or permanently suppressed. On the contrary, they are spontaneous productions of the psyche, and each bears within it, undamaged, the germ power of its source.

What is the secret of the timeless vision? 

From what profundity of the mind does it derive? 

Why is mythology everywhere the same, beneath its varieties of costume? 

And what does it teach?”

Josep Campbell, The Hero With A Thousand Faces

There is a humbling effect of such a generalization. Yet, one can not help but ask, is my journey not that special?

It is special; it is unique, just like all others!

“And, looking back at what had promised to be our own unique, unpredictable, and dangerous adventure, all we find in the end is such a series of standard metamorphoses as men and women have undergone in every quarter of the world, in all recorded centuries, and under every odd disguise of civilization.”

Josep Campbell, The Hero With A Thousand Faces

And once I can find my uniqueness and my specialness in the garden of all other unique and specials. So then, accepting that I am exceptional and not that special to be that special, I began to learn to let it go. To surrender!

“A hero is a man of self-achieved submission. But submission to what? That precisely is the riddle that today we have to ask ourselves and that it is everywhere the primary virtue and historic deed of the hero to have solved.”

Josep Campbell, The Hero With A Thousand Faces

What is an example of a spiritual journey? 

From now on, I am inviting you to a journey in the words of Joseph Campbell. 

Not just listen to them with your mind, but also with your heart. 

Feel his wisdom about the example of a spiritual journey, just from the heart of the mythologies, the human heritage. 

He describes the hero’s journey in two unique parts. The departure and initiation are the first part, and the return is the second. 

“In a word: the first work of the hero is to retreat from the world scene of secondary effects to those causal zones of the psyche where the difficulties reside, and there to clarify the difficulties, eradicate them in his case and break through to the undistorted, direct experience and assimilation of what C. G. Jung has called “the archetypal images.”

This process is known in Hindu and Buddhist philosophy as Viveka, “discrimination.”

His second solemn task and deed, therefore (as Toynbee declares and as all the mythologies of humankind indicate) is to return then to us, transfigured, and teach the lesson he has learned of life renewed.

The journey of spiritual awakening

DEPARTURE: The first great stage of the separation or departure can be shown in five subsections: 

(1) “The Call to Adventure,” or the signs of the vocation of the hero; 

(2) “Refusal of the Call,” or the folly of the flight from God; 

(3) “Supernatural Aid,” the unsuspected assistance that comes to one who has undertaken his proper adventure; 

(4) “The Crossing of the First Threshold;” and 

(5) “The Belly of the Whale,” or the passage into the realm of night.

INITIATION: The stage of the trials and victories of initiation appears in six subsections: 

(1) “The Road of Trials,” or the dangerous aspect of the gods; 

(2) “The Meeting with the Goddess” (Magna Mater), or the bliss of infancy regained; 

(3) “Woman as the Temptress,” the realization and agony of Oedipus; 

(4) “Atonement with the Father;.” 

(5) “Apotheosis;” and 

(6) “The Ultimate Boon.”


(1) “Refusal of the Return,” or the world denied; 

(2) “The Magic Flight,” or the escape of Prometheus; 

(3) “Rescue from Without;” 

(4) “The Crossing of the Return Threshold,” or the return to the world of the ordinary day; 

(5) “Master of the Two Worlds;” and 

(6) “Freedom to Live,” the nature and function of the ultimate boon.

Where to start a spiritual journey? 

For Joseph Campbell, the spiritual journey starts before the initiation, by departure. 

Let’s hear some wisdom from his book for each related part of the departure and initiation of a spiritual journey.

Start a spiritual journey: departure

1) The Call to Adventure

“But whether small or significant, and no matter what the stage or grade of life, the call rings up the curtain, always, on a mystery of transfiguration—a rite, or moment, of spiritual passage, which, when complete, amounts to a dying and a birth. 

The familiar life horizon has been outgrown; the old concepts, ideals, and emotional patterns no longer fit; the time for passing a threshold is at hand.

2) Refusal of the Call

The myths and folk tales of the world make clear that refusal is a refusal to give up what one takes to be one’s interest.

One is harassed, day and night, by the divine being that is the image of the living Self within the locked labyrinth of one’s disoriented psyche. 

The ways to the gates have all been lost: there is no exit. 

One can only cling, like Satan, furiously, to oneself and be in hell, or else break and be annihilated at last, in God.

3) Supernatural Aid

For those who have not refused the call, the first encounter of the hero- the journey is with a protective figure (often a little old crone or older man) who provides the adventurer with amulets against the dragon forces he is about to pass.

4) The Crossing of the First Threshold

5) The Belly of the Whale

The idea that the passage of the magical threshold is a transit into a sphere of rebirth is symbolized in the worldwide womb image of the belly of the whale. 

The hero, instead of conquering or conciliating the power of the threshold, is swallowed into the unknown and appears to have died.

Here, instead of passing outward beyond the confines of the visible world, the hero goes inward to be born again. 

The disappearance corresponds to the passing of a worshiper into a temple —where he is to be quickened by the recollection of who and what he is, namely dust and ashes unless immortal. 

The temple interior, the belly of the whale, and the heavenly land beyond, above, and below the world’s confines are the same. 

That is why the approaches and entrances to temples are flanked and defended by colossal gargoyles: dragons, lions, devil-slayers with drawn swords, resentful dwarfs, and winged bulls. 

These are the threshold guardians to ward away all incapable of encountering the higher silences within. 

They are preliminary embodiments of the dangerous aspect of the presence, corresponding to the mythological ogres that bound the conventional world or to the two rows of teeth of the whale. 

They illustrate that the devotee undergoes a metamorphosis at entry into a temple.

What is the last stage of spiritual awakening?

The second part of the spiritual awakening is initiation. Again I am leaving you with Joseph Campbell’s wisdom in his words. 

The last stage of spiritual awakening: initiation

1) The Road of Trials

Once traversed the threshold, the hero moves in a dream landscape of curiously fluid, ambiguous forms, where he must survive a succession of trials. 

This is a favorite phase of the myth-adventure. 

It has produced a world literature of miraculous tests and ordeals. 

The hero is covertly aided by the advice, amulets, and secret agents of the supernatural helper he met before entering this region. 

Or it may be that he here discovers for the first time that soft power is everywhere, supporting him in his superhuman passage.

 2) The Meeting with the Goddess (Magna Mater) 

The ultimate adventure, when all the barriers and ogres have been overcome, is commonly represented as a mystical marriage of the triumphant hero-soul with the Queen Goddess of the World. 

This is the crisis at the nadir, the zenith, or the uttermost edge of the earth, at the central point of the cosmos, in the tabernacle of the temple, or within the darkness of the deepest chamber of the heart.

The meeting with the goddess (incarnate in every woman) is the final test of the hero’s talent to win the boon of love which is life itself enjoyed as the encasement of eternity.

3) Woman as the Temptress

The mystical marriage with the queen goddess of the world represents the hero’s total mastery of life; the woman is life, and the hero is a knower and master. 

And the testings of the hero, which were preliminary to his ultimate experience and deed, were symbolical of those crises of realization utilizing which his consciousness came to be amplified and made capable of enduring the full possession of the mother-destroyer, his inevitable bride. 

With that, he knows that he and the Father are one: he is in the Father’s place.

 4) Atonement with the Father

 In this ordeal, the hero may derive hope and assurance from the helpful female figure, by whose magic (pollen charms or power of intercession) he is protected through all the frightening experiences of the Father’s ego-shattering initiation. 

For if it is impossible to trust the terrifying Father’s face, then one’s faith must be centered elsewhere (Spider-Woman, Blessed Mother); and with that reliance for support, one endures the crisis —only to find, in the end, that the Father and mother reflect each other, and are in essence the same.

 5) Apotheosis

Like the Buddha, this godlike being is a pattern of the divine state to which the human hero attains who has gone beyond the last terrors of ignorance. 

When the envelopment of consciousness has been eradicated, he becomes free of all fear beyond the reach of change.

This is the release potential within us all, and which anyone can attain— through hero hood; for, as we read: “All things are Buddha-things;” or again (and this is the other way of making the same statement): “All beings are without self.”

6) The Ultimate Boon

The agony of breaking through personal limitations is the agony of spiritual growth. 

Art, literature, myth and cult, philosophy, and ascetic disciplines are instruments to help the individual past his limiting horizons into spheres of ever-expanding realization. 

As he crosses threshold after threshold, conquering dragon after dragon, the stature of the divinity he summons to his highest wish increases until it subsumes the cosmos. 

Finally, the mind breaks the bounding sphere of the cosmos to a realization transcending all experiences of form—all symbolizations and divinities- a culmination of the ineluctable void. 

So it is that when Dante had taken the last step in his spiritual adventure and came before the ultimate symbolic vision of the Triune God in the Celestial Rose, he still had one more illumination to experience, even 

beyond the forms of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. 

“Bernard,” he writes, “made a sign to me, and smiled, that I should look upward; but I was already, of myself, such as he wished; for my sight, becoming pure, was entering more and more, through the radiance of the lofty Light which in Itself is true. 

My vision was more incredible than our speech, which yields such a sight, and the memory fails to such excess.” 

What happens at the end of the journey?

According to Joseph Campbell, a spiritual journey does not end when the hero finds the answers. It is halfway. 

Now it is time to go back and share what the hero learned with others. 

End of the journey: return

1) Refusal of the Return

When the hero—quest has been accomplished, through penetration to the source or through the grace of some male or female, human or animal, personification, the adventurer still must return with his life-transmuting trophy. 

The whole round, the norm of the monomyth, requires that the hero shall now begin the labor of bringing the runes of wisdom, the Golden Fleece, or his sleeping princess, back into the kingdom of humanity, where the boon may redound to the renewing of the community, the nation, the planet, or the ten thousand worlds.

But the responsibility has been frequently refused. 

Even the Buddha, after his triumph, doubted whether the message of realization could be communicated, and saints are reported to have passed away while in supernal ecstasy. 

2) The Magic Flight

If the hero, in his triumph, wins the blessing of the goddess or the God and is then explicitly commissioned to return to the world with some elixir for the restoration of society, the final stage of his adventure is supported by all the powers of his supernatural patron. 

On the other hand, if the trophy has been attained against the opposition of its guardian, or if the gods or demons have resented the hero’s wish to return to the world, then the last stage of the mythological round becomes a lively, often comical, pursuit. 

Marvels of magical obstruction and evasion may complicate this flight. 

3) Rescue From Without

The hero may have to be brought back from his supernatural adventure with assistance from without. 

That is to say; the world may have to come and get him. 

The bliss of the deep abode is not lightly abandoned in favor of the self-scattering of the awakened state. 

“Who having cast off the world,” we read, “would desire to return? He would be only there.” 

And yet, life will call so far as one is alive. 

Society is jealous of those who remain away from it and will come knocking at the door. 

If the hero—like Muchukunda—is unwilling, the disturber suffers an ugly shock; but on the other hand, if the summoned one is only delayed—sealed in by the beatitude of the state of a perfect being (which resembles death)—an apparent rescue is effected, and the adventurer returns. 

4) The Crossing of the Return Threshold

The two worlds, the divine and the human can be pictured as distinct from each other—different from life and death, day and night. 

The hero adventures out of the land we know into darkness; there, he accomplishes his adventure or, again, is lost to us, imprisoned, or in danger, and his return is described as a coming back out of that yonder zone. 

Nevertheless—and here is an excellent key to understanding myth and symbol—the two kingdoms are one. 

The realm of the gods is a forgotten dimension of the world we know. 

And the exploration of that dimension, either willingly or unwillingly, is the real sense of the hero’s deed. 

The values and distinctions in everyday life seem important to disappear with the terrifying assimilation of the Self into what formerly was only otherness. 

As in the stories of the cannibal ogresses, the fearfulness of this loss of personal individuation can be the burden of the transcendental experience for unqualified souls. 

But the hero-soul goes boldly in—and discovers the hags converted into goddesses and the dragons into the watchdogs of the gods.

5) Master of the Two Worlds

Freedom to pass back and forth across the world division, from the perspective of the apparitions of time to that of the causal deep and back- not contaminating the principles of the one with those of the other, yet permitting the mind to know the one by the other is the talent of the master. 

The Cosmic Dancer, declares Nietzsche, does not rest heavily in a single spot but gaily, lightly turns and leaps from one position to another. 

It is possible to speak from only one point at a time, but the insights of the rest still need to be validated. 

6) Freedom to Live

“Even as a person casts off worn-out clothes and puts on others that are new, the embodied Self casts off worn-out bodies and enters into new ones. Weapons cut It not; fire burns It not; water wets It not; the wind does not wither It. This Self cannot be cut nor burnt nor wetted nor withered. Eternal, all-pervading, unchanging, immovable, the Self is the same forever.”

Man in the world of action loses his centering in the principle of eternity if he is anxious for the outcome of his deeds, but resting them and their fruits on the knees of the Living God, he is released by them, as by a sacrifice, from the bondages of the sea of death. 

“Do without attachment the work you have to do. Then, surrendering all action to Me, with mind intent on the Self, freeing yourself from longing and selfishness, fight—unperturbed by grief.”

Powerful in this insight, calm and free in action, satisfied that through his hand, the grace of Viracocha should flow; the hero is the conscious vehicle.


How can one explain the unexplainable? Tales, stories, and mythologies are the best way to feel non-understandable. 

 I hope Joseph Campbell’s wisdom helps you answer the question about the stages of the spiritual journey if one can answer. 

Check out our other articles:

What Happens on a Spiritual Journey?

How to Begin Your Spiritual Journey?

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