"...a mythology is a control system, on the one hand framing its community to accord with an intuited order of nature and, on the other hand, by means of its symbolic pedagogic rites, conducting individuals through the ineluctable psychophysiological stages of transformation of a human lifetime - birth, childhood and adolescence, age, old age, and the release of death - in unbroken accord simultaneously with the requirements of this world and the rapture of participation in a manner of being beyond time."

                                                                              - Joseph Campbell


Joseph Campbell (1904-1987)

An excerpt from Phil Cousineau's introduction to  The Hero's Journey: Joseph Campbell on His Life and Work:

Joseph Campbell's long odyseey through the seas of ancient mythology was as much a spiritual quest as it was a scholarly one. Through his prodigious readings, writings, and travels, as well as his crossroad meetings with many of the century's most influential men and women, he discovered remarkable parallels in our world's mythological heritage and reinforcement for the deep conviction he had held since he was a young student: that there is a fundamental unity at the heart of nature.

"Truth is one, the sages speak of it by many names," he often quoted the Vedas. To synthesize the constant truths of history became the burning point of his life; to bridge the abyss between science and religion, mind and body, East and West, with the timeless linkage of myths became his task of tasks.

"My hope," he wrote in his preface to The Hero with a Thousand Faces, "is that a comparative elucidation may contribute to the perhaps not-quite-desperate cause of those forces that are working in the present world for unification, not in the name of some ecclesiastical or political empire, but in the name of human mutual understanding."

Campbell's comparative historical approach to mythology, religion, and literature, in contrast to the conventional scholar's emphasis on cultural differences, concentrated on similarities. He was convinced that the common themes or archetypes in our sacred stories and images transcended the variations or cultural manifestations. Moreover he believed that a re-viewing of such primordial images in mythology as the hero, death and resurrection, the virgin birth, and the promised land--the universal aspects of the soul, the blood memories--could reveal our common psychological roots. They could even show us, as seen from below, how the soul views itself.

"Myths are the 'masks of God'," he wrote, "through which men everywhere have sought to relate themselves to the wonders of existence." The shock of recognition we receive from the timelessness of these images, from primal cultures to the most contemporary, he believed, was an illumination not only of our inward life but of the same deep spiritual ground from which all human life springs.

So as Albert Einstein pursued a unified field theory for the energies of the outer realms, Joseph Campbell dedicated himself to forging a kind of unified field theory of the equally prodigious energies of the inner realms, the personifications of which we call "the gods." And what physicists call the "fabric of reality" Campbell called "the net of gems," a sparkling metaphor from Hindu cosmology that is also a keen image of his own unique weaving together of myth, religion, science, and art. His teachers in those disciplines, he concluded, were all saying essentially the same thing: that there is a system of archetypal impulses that have stirred the human spirit throughout history. It is, as he synthesized it, "one grandiose song."

The iconoclast road he took as scholar, teacher, and writer was not unlike the "left-hand paths" he discovered in myriad myths: what the Kena Upanishads call the crossing of "a bridge as sharp as the edge of a razor"; the taking of the "middle way" of the Buddhists; or the entering of the dark forest of the Grail Quest "where there is no way or path." Intuitively he followed his Tao of Scholarship beyond the hallowed halls of traditional academia and into a spiritual and psychological view of mythology, which embraces the transcendent Reality referred to by saints and shamans that can be directly experienced. This form of direct perception of what the mystics called cosmic consciousness is nothing less than a personal encounter with the gods. It is the healing vision of order underlying apparent chaos, the seizure of life-affirming Beauty in the heart of darkness. If "snatching the eternal out of the ever-fleeting is one of the great tricks of human existence," as Tennesee Williams said, then those who can experience eternity now, from Campbell's challenging perspective, become our tricksters, our spiritual guides.

Campbell's decidedly unconventional career deprived him, he used to joke, of some prestige from his fellow scholars. But it was obvious to those of us who knew him that he took great pride in being the maverick of the "dilettante," "the one who takes delight in," as he once described his own mentor, the Indologist Heinrich Simmer. He could afford to. His enthusiasm--literally his being full of the gods--had won him the hearts and minds of students early on in his career at Sarah Lawrence, and later, scores of artists. His own fascination with the "great stuff of myth" turned thinking into an adventure, translated knowledge into wisdom, and revealed the personal relevance of mythology to those who heard or read him. To them he was far more than the popularizer who trivializes his subject; he was what the French elegantly call the "animateur," the charismatic teacher who not only animates complex material for the average audience, but evokes what Vladimir Nabakov called the frisson, the telling shiver of truth about your own life. For that gift alone he became one of the most beloved teachers of our time.

Yet after more than fifty years of teaching and more than twenty books, Campbell felt that his contribution was simply that he gave people "the key to the realm of the muses," that marvelous realm beyond the visible one from which imagination and inspiration guide us in shaping our lives. In that role he was a modern mystagogue, a guide through the often inscrutable mysteries of the ancient texts of Beowulf, Gilgamesh, the Tibetan Book of the Dead, the Egyptian mysteries, the Iliad and the Odyssey, the Arthurian romances, the American Indian myths, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Christianity, as well as such modern myth-makers as James Joyce, Thomas Mann, and Pablo Picasso. In his rendering of these majestic narratives and images, he taught us the poet's way of "How to Read a Myth" (the original title for The Hero with a Thousand Faces): symbolically, metaphorically, soulfully.

But beyond his talent for "metamorphosis," that is, his ability to read into these transformative riddles of life and death, Campbell personalized the classics like few scholars before him. To complement the rigorous methods of scholarship, he revived the art of hermeneutics--inventive interpretations in the spirit of Hermes, the soul-guide--and fused them with the glint-in-the-eye-regaling of a wise Irish storyteller. In so doing he breathes new life into the old myths, as Albert Camus said each generation must do. As he did with one of his favorite tales, the Parsifal legend, when he threw down the gauntlet at the end of his Arthurian romance seminars. So is it goiing to be the Grail Quest or is it going to be the Wasteland? he would ask. Are you going to go on the creative soul's quest or are you going to pursue the life that only gives you security? Are you going to follow the star of the zeal of your own enthusiasm? Are you going to live the myth or is the myth going to live you?

--Phil Cousineau, Introduction, The Hero's Journey: Joseph Campbell on His Life and Work, pp. xi-xiv.


Joseph Campbell Foundation
Campbell Corner
Joseph Campbell at Young Dubs
Excerpt from Joseph Campbell's The Hero with A Thousand Faces
Excerpt from The Power of Myth by Joseph Campbell with Bill Moyers
Mythic Reflections: An interview with Joseph Campbell, by Tom Collins
"Joseph Cambell's Mythic Journey" by Jonathon Young
"Star Wars as Personal Mythology" by Jonathon Young
"The Lost Coin" by Jonathon Young
"Madness and Liberation: Journey to Cader Idris" by Brent Dean Robbins
"Move Over, Odysseus, Here Comes Luke Skywalker" by Steve Persall
"Storytelling, preaching, meet in ‘golden age’" by Judy Tarjanyi
"Sacred Stories We Live By: An Interview with Jonathan Young, Ph.D." by Brian Stocker
"Sacred Stories, Holy Paths" by John Dutro
"The Book of Star Wars" by Tom Kisken
"Jonathan Young's  world-shaking, psyche-healing stories" by Rob Wipond
"Campbell-influenced Shrink Counts on Folklore's Faces" by Dan Ord
"You are the Starring Character in the Story that is Life" by Donna Kennedy
"Psychologist Uses Myths to Get Point Across" by David McIntyre
"Mythic Stories Help Unravel Meaning of Life" by Gordon Legge
"Myth Perceptions, Joseph Campbell's Power of Deceit" by Dr. Tom Snyder
"Joseph Campbell's Ten Commandments for Reading Mythology"
"Adults Gain an Insight to Fairy Tales"
Campbell and Gimbutas Library: The Joseph Campbell Collection
The Center for Story and Symbol
Mythic Realm by Jonathon Young
The Magic Web: Mythology and Folklore
Vision in Mind and Religion by Steve Schlarb
Association for Cultural Mythology
Foundation for Mythological Studies
Joseph Campbell Festival--New Hampshire
The Eranos Foundation

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