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The Hero's Journey: Refusal of the Call

In our last installment-discussion of Joseph Campbell’s seventeen-part hero’s journey, a.k.a. the monomyth, we explored the hero’s “call to destiny.” In the “call,” the hero becomes aware of something he or she must do—a destiny that must be fulfilled.

Today, we’ll move to step two: “refusal of the call.”

REfuseThe refusal of the call is exactly what it sounds like. The hero, upon becoming aware of her supposed destiny, may balk. She may not believe her own ears, and she may not accept that the call is indeed meant for her. The hero may doubt her own ability to get the job done, or she may be afraid of failure. She may lack confidence, worrying that she isn’t ready or lacks the skills, support, weapons, or other tools needed to complete the quest. She may refuse because she feels needed at home or because she’s in a situation where she thinks she’d imperil others by leaving.

Any or all of these reasons may be in play, and it’s important to remember that the hero-to-be always has a choice. She can accept the call or turn it down—the decision is fully in her hands. If she accepts, the monomythic gears will begin turning and the quest will take on a momentum of its own, setting her on the road quickly. On the other hand, if she refuses….

Refusing the call is something else entirely. The call to destiny typically means that there is a need somewhere that has led to the prospective hero being called. If the hero turns down the invitation, the need goes unfulfilled. In simplest terms, this might result in someone being unprotected, untaught, or something else with fairly mild consequences. It may also mean that the hero refuses initially but then comes to see how serious the need is and eventually accepts.

FrodoFor example, in Lord of the Rings, Frodo first refuses the burden of the One Ring, trying to push it back into Gandalf’s hands. It’s only later, in Rivendell, that he finally understands the situation and takes on full responsibility for the quest. In Star Wars, Luke Skywalker also first refuses Ben Kenobi’s assertion that Luke should become a Jedi knight. It’s only after Luke’s aunt and uncle are killed and his home burned that he realizes he has no choice but to accept his destiny. This kind of temporary refusal is may or may not involve serious consequences: what matters most is that the hero accept the call.

On the other hand, a permanent refusal often brings disaster. Joseph Campbell suggests that if a hero refuses the call, she not only is letting someone or something down, but she often ends up weakened and needing rescue herself. There’s a reason why a hero is chosen and called, and refusing the call upsets the natural order of things—the balance of the Universe—and may make the Gods or powers-that-be pretty darned unhappy, too!

Help wantedHow does this stage apply to us in our magickal, spiritual, and mundane lives? There are many times that we’re made aware of a need or called to undertake a challenge of some sort. Maybe we’re asked to take responsibility in a circle, grove, coven, etc. Perhaps we’re asked to teach or mentor others. We may become aware of a need in our personal life: a job or goal that must be tackled and overcome, or a challenge in terms of our personal health. Refusing these calls for whatever reason may cause disappointment or disadvantage. But accepting the challenge puts the quest in motion, creating a situation that inevitably brings us to strength, accomplishment, and personal growth.

The moral of the story? There’s a reason a hero is called, and who is she to question the fates? As the Roman poet Virgil said, “Let us follow our destiny, ebb and flow. Whatever may happen, we master fortune by accepting it.”


Coming next: “Supernatural Aid,” or as they say, “When a student (hero) is ready, a teacher appears.” Until then, be aware of your own calls to destiny. How will you answer? Who will be affected? How can you grow?


All images are my own, are from Creative Commons, or belong to an artist and are used with permission (and the author credited).


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Susan “Moonwriter” Pesznecker is a writer, college English teacher, and hearth Pagan/Druid living in northwestern Oregon. Her magickal roots include Pictish Scot and eastern European medicine traditions. Sue holds a Masters degree in nonfiction writing and loves to read, stargaze, camp with her wonder poodle, and play in her biodynamic garden. She’s co-founder of the Druid Grove of Two Coasts and the Ars Viarum Magicarum Magical Conservatory (school of magic). Sue has authored Crafting Magick with Pen and Ink and The Magickal Retreat (Llewellyn, 2009-2012) and regularly contributes to the Llewellyn Annuals. Visit her at on Facebook.


  • Arthur
    Arthur Friday, 25 July 2014

    Refusal of the Call is an important part of the monomyth, but there's sooo much more to it - see for a 2100+ stage breakdown.

  • Susan “Moonwriter” Pesznecker
    Susan “Moonwriter” Pesznecker Sunday, 12 October 2014

    Hi Arthur.
    Sorry to have not seen your message sooner. Yes-- of course there is much, much more to this. I mean, we could write an entire book on each of Campbell's seventeen stages of the journey! My goal here is to give a simple overview of each step, which I hope will pique folks' curiosity and encourage them to explore further. :) Thanks for your reply!

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