“The Power of Myth” by Joseph Campbell

It is a great book. A wealth of treasures to awaken your hungry imagination. Myths contain such depth of meaning that one needs an experienced guide to help reveal their wisdom. No doubt, Joseph Campbell was an amazing guide who had a life-long passion for myths (ever since his boyhood!). If you have ever tried reading him and found it somewhat difficult, I recommend this book – The Power of Myth. It is essentially a reproduction of a long and profound conversation between Bill Moyers and Joseph Campbell that took place in the mid-80s. I found it highly accessible, extremely interesting and simply a pleasure to read.

In this article, I share with you some quotes from the book with a few reflections from my side. A discussion with oneself of sorts. Curious things reveal themselves in your mind when you immerse yourself in the deeply creative waters of the myths. So let’s start with that – imagination.

“Myths are clues to the spiritual potentialities of the human life.” Where else do we experience such clues in very symbolic forms? In our dreams. “Myths and dreams come from the same place. They come from realizations of some kind that have then to find expression in symbolic form.” 

Both dreams and myths are manifestations of symbolic images that speak to us, acting as a deep source of self-knowledge. But how are myths different from dreams?  

“.. a dream is a personal experience of that deep, dark ground that is the support of our conscious lives, and a myth is the society’s dream. The myth is the public dream and the dream is the private myth. If your private myth, your dream, happens to coincide with that of the society, you are in good accord with your group. If it isn’t, you’ve got an adventure in the dark forest ahead of you.”

The depth of meaning in the myths is a reflection of our own potentialities. That is why myths can help us know ourselves better. 

“All of the references of religious and mythological images are to plans of consciousness, or fields of experience that are potential in human spirit.”

For example, the theme of the virgin birth. It is to be understood metaphorically, as a second birth, a spiritual rebirth into a higher level of consciousness. 

“It happens when you awaken at the level of the heart to compassion, com-passion, shared suffering: experienced participation in the suffering of another person.” 

And who is the deity born to a virgin? It is you. 

“All of these symbols in mythology refer to you… Have you been spiritually reborn? Have you died to your animal nature and come to life as a human incarnation of compassion?”

But a word of caution – our animal nature should not be refuted or denied. It is very real and valid. That is our first, physical birth. The spiritual rebirth, however, can happen when I transcend this level and when my animal nature “becomes subject to and servant to the heart.”

And so you come to your own hero’s adventure, which is enacted through your life. 

“That’s the basic motif of the universal hero’s journey – leaving one condition and finding the source of life to bring you forth into a richer or mature condition. /…/ If you realize what the real problem is – losing yourself, giving yourself to some higher end, or to another – you realize that this itself is the ultimate trial. When we quit thinking primarily about ourselves and our own self-preservation, we undergo a truly heroic transformation of consciousness.”

That is what all myths deal with – self-transformation of some sort. The adventures we get in our lives are symbolic of our characters, of our current states of being when we arrive at a metaphorical fork in the road. 

I finish with a view into the future and some eternal wisdom from the past.

“When you see the earth from the moon, you don’t see any divisions there of nations or states. This might be the symbol, really, for the new mythology to come.” 

The following words were written by Chief Seattle in 1850-s in his response to an inquiry by the US government about buying the tribal lands: 

“This we know: the earth does not belong to man, man belongs to the earth. All things are connected like the blood that unites us all. Man did not weave the web of life, he is merely a strand in it. Whatever he does to the web, he does to himself.”

keep exploring!   

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