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In these essays, Joseph Campbell explores the origins of myth and their role in everyday life — from Grimm fairy tales to Native American legends. He explains how the symbolic content of myth is linked to universal human experience and how myths and experiences change over time. Included is his acclaimed essay Mythogenesis,” which examines the rise and fall of a Native American legend. Campbell has become one of the rarest of intellectuals ... a serious thinker who has been embraced by the popular culture.” — Newsweek
The first chapter, "The Fairy Tale," was published in 1944 as a Commentary to the Pantheon edition of Grimm's Fairy Tales, and is intended here to introduce the whole problem of the fascination, sources, preservation, and interpretation of those dreamlike images and narratives that reappear in more impressive dress in the holy scriptures both of the Orient and of the Occident, as well as in our higher secular arts. In the second chapter, "Bios and Mythos," which deals with the pedagogical (actually biological) function and necessity both of mythology and of the rites through which its images are displayed and psychologically assimilated, I have set forth my basic thesis-that myths are a function of nature as well as of culture, and as necessary to the balancedmaturation of the human psyche as is nourishment to the body; while in the following chapter, "Primitive Man as Metaphysician," I have revived a formula, first proposed by Kant, for the release of the archetypal symbolic images of mythic thought from their various local matrices of culturally conditioned references and "meaning," so that, viewed apart from the uses to which they have been applied in the social provinces of human life, they may be recognized in themselves as natural phenomena, opening backward to mystery-like trees, like hills, or like mountain streams-antecedent (like the wood of trees) to the "meanings" that have been given them and the uses to which they have been put.
What is the "meaning" of a tree? of a butterfly? of the birth of a child? or of the universe? What is the "meaning" of the song of a rushing stream? Such wonders simply are. They are antecedent to meaning, though "meanings" may be read into them. They are, as the Buddhists say, tathågata, "thus come," the Buddha himself being known as the Tathågata, "The One Thus Come"; and all things, we are told, are "Buddha things." So, likewise, are the images of myth, which open like flowers to the conscious mind's amazement and may then be searched to the root for "meaning," as well as arranged to serve practical ends.
That dream and vision have been, everywhere and forever, the chief creative and shaping powers of myth is generally recognized today by the leading students of mythic lore; and the fairy tale is of the same species. "In the best interpreted dreams," wrote Freud, "we often have to leave one passage in obscurity because we observe during the interpretation that we have here a tangle of dream-thoughts which cannot be unravelled, and which furnishes no fresh contribution to the dream-content. This, then, is the keystone of the dream, the point at which it ascends into the unknown. For the dreamthoughts which we encounter during the interpretation commonly have no termination, but run in all directions into the netlike entanglement of our intellecual world. It is from some denser part of this fabric that the dream-wish then arises, like the mushroom from its mycelium."
C. G. Jung discoursed in the same vein: "A dream, like every element in the psychic structure, is a resultant of the total psyche. Hence we may expect to find in dreams everything that has ever been of significance in the life of humanity. Just as human life is not limited to this or that fundamental instinct, but builds itself up from a multiplicity of instincts, needs, desires, and physical and psychic conditions, etc., so the dream cannot be explained by this or that element in it, however beguilingly simple such an explanation may appear to be. We can be certain that it is incorrect, because no simple theory of instinct will ever be capable of grasping the human psyche, that mighty and mysterious thing, nor, consequently, its exponent, the dream. In order to do anything like justice to dreams, we need an interpretive equipment that must be laboriously fitted together from all branches of the humane sciences."
Jung developed the idea of the compensatory and projecting, guiding function of dream, and the same can be told of myth. "As a rule," he remarked, "the unconscious content contrasts strikingly with the conscious material, particularly when the conscious attitude tends too exclusively in a direction that would threaten the vital needs of the individual. The more one-sided his conscious attitude is, and the further it deviates from the optimum, the greater becomes the possibility that vivid dreams with a strongly contrasting but purposive content will appear as an expression of the self-regulation of the psyche." He further compared this compensatory action of the psyche to that of the body throwing off disease. "Just as the body reacts purposively to Injuries or infections or any abnormal conditions, so the psychic functions react to unnatural or dangerous disturbances with purposive defence-mechanisms." And to that extent and end, of course, the dream, the vision or nightmare, must be said indeed to have "meaning": such a "meaning" as that of a sneeze, the festering of an infected wound, or a fever.
The teachings of a prophet will have a "meaning" of this kind for a whole society: to set and retain it on its path of health. However, the guiding mythic symbols-the notions of divinity, rites of praise or of atonement, festivals of accord, etc.-inspired or renewed by such teachings will have a salutary effect only so long as the circumstance prevails, or threatens to prevail, to which the teachings were addressed. A shift, for example, from a hunting to a pastoral age, or from pastoral to industrial, and the myths also will change-unless artificially retained, in which case they will themselves have become the agents of a disease to the cure of which new visions will arise, new prophecies, new prophets, and new gods.
The common tendency today to read the word "myth" as meaning "untruth" is almost certainly a symptom of the incredibility and consequent inefficacy of our own outdated mythic teachings, both of the Old Testament and of the New: the Fall of Adam and Eve, Tablets of the Law, Fires of Hell, Second Coming of the Savior, etc.; and not only of those archaic religious Testaments, but also of the various, more modern, secular "Utopiates" (let us call them) that are being offered today in their place. Living myths are not mistaken notions, and they do not spring from books. They are not to be judged as true or false but as effective or ineffective, maturative or patho-genic. They are rather like enzymes, products of the body in which they work; or in homogeneous social groups, products of a body social. They are not invented but occur, and are recognized by seers, and poets, to be then cultivated and employed as catalysts of spiritual (i.e., psychological) well-being. And so, finally, neither a stale and overdue nor a contrived, plastic mythology will serve; neither priest nor sociologist takes the place of the poet-seer-which, however, is what we all are in our dreams, though when we wake we may again render only prose. "Just as those not knowing the place," we read in the Chhåndogya Upanißad, "might walk time and again over a hidden treasure of gold without discovering it, so do all creatures here go, day by day, into that world of unconditioned being-consciousness-and-bliss without discovering it, because held astray by false thoughts." Not the promise of any given myth or the claims of any inherited god but the living source of all myths and of all the gods and their worlds is what today is holy and to be sought; and in the following pages I have sought for it-while aware nevertheless of the irony of such questing, inherent in the aim itself. For, as declared in the Kena Upanißad:
There the eye goes not; Speech goes not, nor the mind. We know not, we understand not How one might teach it.
To whom It is unknown, to him It is known; The one knowing, knows It not: Understood not by those that understand, It is understood by those understanding not. And in Lao-tzu's Tao Teh Ching: Those who know do not speak; Those who speak do not know.
Chapters II and III, then, of this present work, treat, as said, of mythology as a production of nature, serving, on one hand, the biological function of fostering a wholesome maturation of the psyche, and, on the other hand, the metaphysical, or mystagogic function of a Buddha-thing, "thus come," tathågata, opening backward to mystery. Both chapters were composed and published in honor of distinguished friends to whose works my own are deeply indebted: "Bios and Mythos" in 1951, for the festival volume Psychoanalysis and Culture, celebrating the sixtieth birthday of Géza Róheim; and the following chapter, "Primitive Man as Metaphysician," for the volume Culture and History, which appeared in 1960, in memory of the truly pioneer anthropologist Paul Radin (1883-1959).
Chapter IV, however, "Mythogenesis"-which is a largely revised redaction of my paper read in Ascona, Switzerland, at the annual Eranos Meeting of 1959-turns from the natural, biological, to the cultural, historical aspect of the rise, flowering, and decline of a mythology, treating of a single American Indian legend and the circumstances of its origin, as well as the personal experiences of the visionary, the old medicine man through whose memory it has been preserved.
Chapter V, "The Symbol without Meaning," was also presented first in Ascona, at the Eranos Meeting of 1957; it culminates the present series of explorations in what I have termed the "mythological dimension." To take into account certain recent findings in the archaeological field, I have had to revise the second section of Part I of this chapter; otherwise, however, the piece remains as written, when it served me as a preliminary sketch for the structuring of my four-volume history of mythological forms, The Masks of God.
And then, finally, in the last of the present chapters, "The Secularization of the Sacred" (which appeared in the first of what is expected to be an annual series of symposiums, The Religious Situation: 1968), my theme is of the present moment in its crisis of confrontation between Europe, with its heritage of respect for individual creativity, and the massive anonymities of a now mechanized, traditionally despotic Asia.
Excerpted from Flight of the Wild Gander by Joseph Campbell Copyright © 2002 by Joseph Campbell
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
|About the Collected Works of Joseph Campbell|
|Ch. I||The Fairy Tale||1|
|The Work of the Brothers Grimm||1|
|The Types of Story||6|
|The History of the Tales||10|
|The Question of Meaning||19|
|Ch. II||Bios and Mythos||27|
|Sociological and Psychological Schools of Interpretation||27|
|The Biological Function of Myth||35|
|The Image of a Second Birth||37|
|The Anxiety of the Misborn||41|
|Ch. III||Primitive Man As Metaphysician||43|
|Tender- and Tough-Minded Thinking||43|
|The Image and Its Meaning||45|
|Imagery of the Manifold and Its "Cause"||46|
|The "Cause" Understood As Absolutely Unknown||50|
|Theology As a Misreading of Mythology||52|
|Esoteric and Exoteric Anthropology||54|
|An American Indian Legend||57|
|The Neolithic Background||67|
|The Paleolithic Background||74|
|The Psychological Base||80|
|The Personal Factor||87|
|Ch. V||The Symbol without Meaning||93|
|The Impact of Modern Science||93|
|The Mythic Forms of Archaic Civilization||102|
|The Neolithic-Paleolithic Contrast||113|
|Problem of the New Symbol Emergent||124|
|The Shaman and the Priest||125|
|The Wild Gander||130|
|Mythologies of Engagement and Disengagement||135|
|The Flight between Two Thoughts||138|
|Ch. VI||The Secularization of the Sacred||157|
|The Tree in the Garden||157|
|Religions of Identity||160|
|Religions of Relationship||165|
|The European Graft||170|
|Eros, Agape, Amor||172|
|The Western Individual||183|
|List of Illustrations||193|
|Acknowledgments for Illustrations||195|
|About the Author||235|
|About the Joseph Campbell Foundation||237|
Posted May 23, 2002
I read the last essay in this collection, 'Secularization of the Sacred' in college twenty-five years ago. Walked through Borders this week and saw the lovely cover, picked it up and found the essay again. Wow. Started reading the rest of the essays. Double-wow. If you know Campbell from his popular material (Power of Myth, etc.), this is him in a much more intense, intellectual vein. Still accessible, but mind-blowing in its depth and breadth.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted January 13, 2011
No text was provided for this review.