Most traditional societies hail one or more figures as heroes. The widespread presence of hero figures in world cultures led Carl Jung to postulate that the hero is a universal archetype. From a Jungian perspective, the sacred stories of traditional cultures embody certain psychological truths or express certain psychological processes. The hero, in this view, reflects every person’s quest for achievement and self-understanding. Thus, dreams in which we see ourselves as dashing heroes fighting fantastic battles against monsters may actually represent more mundane struggles in our daily lives.
A very different way of viewing the hero and dreams—from the standpoint of depth psychology is found in Joseph Campbell‘s The Hero with a Thousand Faces, originally published in 1949. Campbell suggests that our nightly plunge into sleep is a kind of hero quest involving being drawn across the threshold of adventure (often involuntarily) into a realm of fantasy and risk. After a struggle, some important resolution occurs—a gift is won, a maiden is married, a challenge is met—and the hero returns to normal, everyday life. It is not difficult to see how journeying into sleep and returning the next day is a kind of mini hero adventure. If, upon reflection, we gain increased knowledge about ourselves from the adventure, then we have even brought back the boon or gift that represents the goal of the hero.