Mythic Dimension

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Provocative and personal writings on mythology, culture, and modern life by our century's foremost interpreter and teacher of myth.

Gathered together here for the first time are twelve eclectic,far-ranging, and brilliant essays exploring myth in all its dimensions:its history; its influence on art, literature, and culture; and its role in everyday life. Written at the height of Joseph Campbell's career -- and showcasing the lively and learned intelligence that made him ...

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Overview

Provocative and personal writings on mythology, culture, and modern life by our century's foremost interpreter and teacher of myth.

Gathered together here for the first time are twelve eclectic,far-ranging, and brilliant essays exploring myth in all its dimensions:its history; its influence on art, literature, and culture; and its role in everyday life. Written at the height of Joseph Campbell's career -- and showcasing the lively and learned intelligence that made him thepremier writer on mythology of our times -- these essays investigatethe profound links between myth and history, the arts, and modern life.From psychology to the occult, from Thomas Mann to the Grateful Dead, from Goddess spirituality to Freud and Jung, these playful anderudite writings reveal the threads of myth woven deeply into thefabric of our culture and our lives.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780060966126
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 5/28/1997
  • Pages: 272
  • Product dimensions: 6.23 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 0.79 (d)

Meet the Author

John Campbell (1904-1987) wrote, among other works, the classics The Hero with a Thousand Faces, Inner Reaches of Outer Space, and The Masks of God. A prolific writer, lecturer, and scholar of art, history, religion, and culture, he taught at Sarah Lawrence College.

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Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

The Historical Development of Mythology

The comparative study of the mythologies of the world compels us to view the cultural history of mankind as a unit; for we find that such themes as the Firetheft, Deluge, Land of the Dead, Virgin Birth, and Resurrected Hero have a worldwide distribution, appearing everywhere in new combinations, while remaining, like the elements of a kaleidoscope, only a few and always the same. Furthermore, whereas in tales told for entertainment such mythical themes are taken lightly — obviously in a spirit of play — they appear also in religious contexts, where they are accepted not only as factually true but even as revelations of the verities to which the whole culture is a living witness and from which it derives both its spiritual authority and its temporal power. No human society has yet been found in which such mythological motifs have not been rehearsed in liturgies; interpreted by seers, poets, theologians, or philosophers; presented in art; magnified in song; and ecstatically experienced in life-empowering visions.

Indeed the chronicle of our species, from its earliest page, has been not simply an account of the progress of man the toolmaker but — more tragically — a history of the pouring of blazing visions into the minds of seers and the efforts of earthly communities to incarnate unearthly covenants. Every people has received its own seal and sign of supernatural designation, communicated to its heroes and daily proved in the lives and experiences of its folk. And though many who bow with closed eyes in the sanctuaries of theirown tradition rationally scrutinize and disqualify the sacraments of others, an honest comparison immediately reveals that all have been built from the one fund of mythological motifs, variously selected, organized, interpreted, and ritualized according to local need, but revered by every people on earth.

A fascinating psychological as well as historical problem is thus presented to us by our science. Man, apparently, cannot maintain himself in the universe without belief in some arrangement of the general inheritance of myth. In fact, the fullness of his life would even seem to stand in a direct ratio to the depth and range, not of his rational thought, but of his local mythology. Whence the force of these unsubstantial themes, by which they are empowered to galvanize populations, creating of them civilizations, each with a beauty and self-compelling destiny of its own? And why should it be that whenever men have looked for something solid on which to found their lives, they have chosen, not the facts in which the world abounds but the myths of an immemorial imagination-preferring even to make life a hell for themselves and their neighbors in the name of some violent god, rather than to accept gracefully the bounty the world affords?

Are the modern civilizations to remain spiritually locked from each otherin their local notions of the sense of the general tradition? Or can we not now break through to some more profoundly based point and counterpoint of human understanding? For it is a fact that the myths of our several cultures work upon us, whether consciously or unconsciously, as energy-releasing, life-motivating, and directing agents; so that even though our rational minds may be in agreement, the myths by which we are living, or by which our fathers lived, can be driving us, at that very moment, diametrically apart.

No one, as far as I know, has yet tried to compose into a single picture the new perspectives that have been opened in the fields of comparative symbolism, religion, mythology, and philosophy by the scholarship of recent years. The richly rewarded archaeological researches of the past few decades; astonishing clarifications, simplifications, and coordinations achieved by intensive studies in the spheres of philology, ethnology, philosophy, art history, folk lore, and religion; fresh insights in psychological research; and the many priceless contributions to our science by the scholars, monks, and literary men of Asia all have combined to suggest a new image of the fundamental unity of the spiritual history of mankind. Without straining beyond the treasuries of evidence already on hand in these widely scattered departments of our subject, therefore, but simply gathering from them the membra disjuncta of a unitary mythological science, I shall attempt in the following pages the first sketch of a natural history of the gods and heroes, such as in its final form should include in its purview all divine beings — just as zoology does all animals, and botany all plants — not regarding any as sacrosanct or beyond its scientific domain. For, just as in the visible world of the vegetable and animal kingdoms, so also in the visionary world of the gods; there has been a history, an evolution, a series of mutations, governed by laws. To show forth such laws is the proper aim of science.

Moreover, just as our science of biology came to maturity only when it dared to reckon man among the beasts, so will that of mythology only when God is reckoned among the gods. It is true that the ultimate nature and being of what has been called God are beyond all human knowledge and consequently beyond science; but so also are the ultimate nature and being of the gods — and of the bees and flowers. Books have been written, however, not only about God, but also about his commandments, program for mankind, and arrangements for eternity; thrones and altars have been fixed upon the tablets of his law; services instituted in his name. It is to such historical curiosities that our science will be addressed, leaving the ineffable unnamed.

Like the aim of Bacon's Advancement of Learning, that of our work will be to point out what part of knowledge has been already labored and perfected, and what portions left unfinished or entirely neglected." To that end the subject can be conveniently divided into four parts: The Psychology and Archaeology of Myth; Oriental Mythology; Occidental Mythology; and Poetic Mythology.

Mythic Dimension, The. Copyright © by J. Campbell. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
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Table of Contents

Editor's Foreword
Comparative Mythology as an Introduction to Cross-Cultural Studies 1
The Historical Development of Mythology 10
Renewal Myths and Rides of the Primitive Hunters and Planters 29
Johann Jacob Bachofen 67
The Mystery Number of the Goddess 92
Creativity 151
The Interpretation of Symbolic Forms 156
Mythological Themes in Creative Literature and Art 180
The Occult in Myth and Literature 204
Erotic Irony and Mythic Forms in the Art of Thomas Mann 220
App. 1 Select Bibliography of the Works of Joseph Campbell 243
App. 2 Reading List for Joseph Campbell's Class on Mythology at Sarah Lawrence College 245
Endnotes 247
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