Joseph John Campbell (March 26, 1904 – October 30, 1987) was an American mythologist, writer and lecturer, best known for his work in comparative mythology and comparative religion. His work is vast, covering many aspects of the human experience. His legacy is summed up in the phrase “follow your bliss.” He preached that every person is a hero who does “what puts [them] in touch with the feeling of being alive.” This piece of mystical wisdom is the essence that he has extracted from the myths of the world. Joseph Campbell, from childhood, was captivated by the divine presence permeating all life. By following his bliss, Campbell became one of the foremost experts in the fields of comparative religion and literature, and brought mystical teachings in to the mainstream. He was a true mystic who sought not “the meaning of life, but the experience of feeling alive”. Through him the imagination, intellect, and spirit of humans have been transformed; each one of us is a hero and the star of our very own myth.
Joseph Campbell devoted his life to the study of mythology, and through this lens he glimpsed a unique mystical understanding of the divine. His insights have had a profound effect on inter-spiritual relations by emphasizing the common threads woven throughout world mythology. Because he was so well versed in a multitude of stories and spiritualities, he could draw lines between seemingly disparate cultures, effortlessly. This is perhaps his greatest legacy; he opened long shut doors of communication between peoples of all different faiths by presenting a universal language with which to speak of God: Myth.
Though raised Roman Catholic, the religion of his adulthood resembled an amalgam of “Eastern Mysticism and Western Gnosticism”. From an early age Campbell was drawn to Native American lore. This was in the early 1900’s and subjugation of the Natives was prolific, so it was rightly unusual for a Catholic boy to be more enthralled with Indians than cowboys. He practiced Catholicism into his twenties uniting Biblical mythology with the Native American culture, which was still the predominant fuel for his imagination. It is perhaps this practice that was preparation for what would become his life’s work: comparing myths and religions from different cultures.
Joseph Campbell was born in White Plains, New York, in an upper-middle-class Irish Catholic family. He later moved with his family to nearby New Rochelle, New York. In 1919 a fire destroyed the family home in New Rochelle, killing his grandmother. In 1921 Campbell graduated from the Canterbury School in New Milford, Connecticut. While at Dartmouth College he studied biology and mathematics, but decided that he preferred the humanities. He transferred to Columbia University, where he received a BA in English literature in 1925 and an MA in Medieval literature in 1927. At Dartmouth he had joined Delta Tau Delta. An accomplished athlete, he received awards in track and field events, and, for a time, was among the fastest half-mile runners in the world.
In 1924 Campbell traveled to Europe with his family. On the ship during his return trip he encountered Jiddu Krishnamurti; they discussed Asian philosophy, sparking in Campbell an interest in Hindu and Indian thought. In 1927 Campbell received a fellowship from Columbia University to study in Europe. Campbell studied Old French, Provençal and Sanskrit at the University of Paris in France and the University of Munich in Germany. He learned to read and speak French and German.
On his return to Columbia University in 1929, Campbell expressed a desire to pursue the study of Sanskrit and Modern Art in addition to Medieval literature. With the arrival of the Great Depression a few weeks later, Campbell spent the next five years (1929–34) living in a rented shack on some land in Woodstock, New York. There, he contemplated the next course of his life while engaged in intensive and rigorous independent study. He later said that he “would divide the day into four four-hour periods, of which I would be reading in three of the four-hour periods, and free one of them… I would get nine hours of sheer reading done a day. And this went on for five years straight.”
Campbell traveled to California for a year (1931–32), continuing his independent studies and becoming close friends with the budding writer John Steinbeck and his wife Carol. On the Monterey Peninsula, Campbell, like Steinbeck, fell under the spell of marine biologist Ed Ricketts (the model for “Doc” in Steinbeck’s novel Cannery Row as well as central characters in several other novels). Campbell lived for a while next door to Ricketts, participated in professional and social activities at his neighbor’s, and accompanied him, along with Xenia and Sasha Kashevaroff, on a 1932 journey to Juneau, Alaska on the Grampus. Campbell began writing a novel centered on Ricketts as hero but, unlike Steinbeck, did not complete his book.
Bruce Robison writes that “Campbell would refer to those days as a time when everything in his life was taking shape…. Campbell, the great chronicler of the ‘hero’s journey’ in mythology, recognized patterns that paralleled his own thinking in one of Ricketts’s unpublished philosophical essays. Echoes of Carl Jung, Robinson Jeffers and James Joyce can be found in the work of Steinbeck and Ricketts as well as Campbell.” Campbell continued his independent reading while teaching for a year in 1933 at the Canterbury School, during which time he also attempted to publish works of fiction.
In 1934 Campbell accepted a position as professor at Sarah Lawrence College. In 1938 Campbell married one of his former students, dancer-choreographer Jean Erdman. For most of their forty-nine years of marriage they shared a two-room apartment in Greenwich Village in New York City. In the 1980s they also purchased an apartment in Honolulu and divided their time between the two cities. They did not have any children.
Early in World War II, Campbell attended a lecture by Indologist Heinrich Zimmer; the two men became good friends. After Zimmer’s death, Campbell was given the task of editing and posthumously publishing Zimmer’s papers, which he would do over the following decade. In 1955–56, as the last volume of Zimmer’s posthuma (The Art of Indian Asia, its Mythology and Transformations) was finally about to be published, Campbell took a sabbatical from Sarah Lawrence College and traveled, for the first time, to Asia. He spent six months in southern Asia (mostly India) and another six in East Asia (mostly Japan). This year had a profound influence on his thinking about Asian religion and myth, and also on the necessity for teaching comparative mythology to a larger, non-academic audience.
In 1972 Campbell retired from Sarah Lawrence College, after having taught there for 38 years. He would go on to speak publicly on world myth at colleges, churches and lecture halls and on radio and television stations. He would continue to do so for the rest of his life. Campbell died at his home in Honolulu, Hawaii, on October 30, 1987, from complications of esophageal cancer. Before his death he had completed filming the series of interviews with Bill Moyers that aired the following spring as The Power of Myth.
Campbell’s ideas regarding myth and its relation to the human psyche are dependent in part on the pioneering work of Sigmund Freud, but in particular on the work of Carl Jung, whose studies of human psychology greatly influenced Campbell. Campbell’s conception of myth is closely related to the Jungian method of dream interpretation, which is heavily reliant on symbolic interpretation.
Jung’s insights into archetypes were heavily influenced by the Bardo Thodol (also known as The Tibetan Book of the Great Liberation). In his book The Mythic Image, Campbell quotes Jung’s statement about the Bardo Thodol, that it “belongs to that class of writings which not only are of interest to specialists in Mahayana Buddhism, but also, because of their deep humanity and still deeper insight into the secrets of the human psyche, make an especial appeal to the layman seeking to broaden his knowledge of life… For years, ever since it was first published, the Bardo Thodol has been my constant companion, and to it I owe not only many stimulating ideas and discoveries, but also many fundamental insights.”
Campbell’s concept of monomyth (one myth) refers to the theory that sees all mythic narratives as variations of a single great story. The theory is based on the observation that a common pattern exists beneath the narrative elements of most great myths, regardless of their origin or time of creation. Campbell often referred to the ideas of Adolf Bastian and his distinction between what he called “folk” and “elementary” ideas, the latter referring to the prime matter of monomyth while the former to the multitude of local forms the myth takes in order to remain an up-to-date carrier of sacred meanings. The central pattern most studied by Campbell is often referred to as the hero’s journey and was first described in The Hero with a Thousand Faces (1949). An enthusiast of novelist James Joyce, Campbell borrowed the term “monomyth” from Joyce’s Finnegans Wake. Campbell also made heavy use of Carl Jung’s theories on the structure of the human psyche, and he often used terms such as “anima/animus” and “ego consciousness”.
As a strong believer in the psychic unity of mankind and its poetic expression through mythology, Campbell made use of the concept to express the idea that the whole of the human race can be seen as engaged in the effort of making the world “transparent to transcendence” by showing that underneath the world of phenomena lies an eternal source which is constantly pouring its energies into this world of time, suffering, and ultimately death. To achieve this task one needs to speak about things that existed before and beyond words, a seemingly impossible task, the solution to which lies in the metaphors found in myths. These metaphors are statements that point beyond themselves into the transcendent. The Hero’s Journey was the story of the man or woman who, through great suffering, reached an experience of the eternal source and returned with gifts powerful enough to set their society free.
As this story spread through space and evolved through time, it was broken down into various local forms (masks), depending on the social structures and environmental pressures that existed for the culture that interpreted it. The basic structure, however, has remained relatively unchanged and can be classified using the various stages of a hero’s adventure through the story, stages such as the Call to Adventure, Receiving Supernatural Aid, Meeting with the Goddess/Atonement with the Father and Return. These stages, as well as the symbols one encounters throughout the story, provide the necessary metaphors to express the spiritual truths the story is trying to convey. Metaphor for Campbell, in contrast with comparisons which make use of the word like, pretend to a literal interpretation of what they are referring to, as in the sentence “Jesus is the Son of God” rather than “the relationship of man to God is like that of a son to a father”. For example, according to Campbell, the Genesis myth from the Bible ought not be taken as a literal description of historical events happening in our current understanding of time and space, but as a metaphor for the rise of man’s cognitive consciousness as it evolved from a prior animal state. In the 2000 documentary Joseph Campbell: A Hero’s Journey, he explains God in terms of a metaphor:
“God is a metaphor for a mystery that absolutely transcends all human categories of thought, even the categories of being and non-being. Those are categories of thought. I mean it’s as simple as that. So it depends on how much you want to think about it. Whether it’s doing you any good. Whether it is putting you in touch with the mystery that’s the ground of your own being. If it isn’t, well, it’s a lie. So half the people in the world are religious people who think that their metaphors are facts. Those are what we call theists. The other half are people who know that the metaphors are not facts. And so, they’re lies. Those are the atheists.”
Functions of myth:
Campbell often described mythology as having a fourfold function within human society. These appear at the end of his work The Masks of God: Creative Mythology, as well as various lectures.
The Metaphysical Function: Awakening a sense of awe before the mystery of being
According to Campbell, the absolute mystery of life, what he called transcendent reality, cannot be captured directly in words or images. Symbols and mythic metaphors on the other hand point outside themselves and into that reality. They are what Campbell called “being statements” and their enactment through ritual can give to the participant a sense of that ultimate mystery as an experience. “Mythological symbols touch and exhilarate centers of life beyond the reach of reason and coercion…. The first function of mythology is to reconcile waking consciousness to the mysterium tremendum et fascinans of this universe as it is.”
The Cosmological Function: Explaining the shape of the universe
For pre-modern societies, myth also functioned as a proto-science, offering explanations for the physical phenomena that surrounded and affected their lives, such as the change of seasons and the life cycles of animals and plants.
The Sociological Function: Validate and support the existing social order
Ancient societies had to conform to an existing social order if they were to survive at all. This is because they evolved under “pressure” from necessities much more intense than the ones encountered in our modern world. Mythology confirmed that order and enforced it by reflecting it into the stories themselves, often describing how the order arrived from divine intervention. Campbell often referred to these “conformity” myths as the “Right Hand Path” to reflect the brain’s left hemisphere’s abilities for logic, order and linearity. Together with these myths however, he observed the existence of the “Left Hand Path”, mythic patterns like the “Hero’s Journey” which are revolutionary in character in that they demand from the individual a surpassing of social norms and sometimes even of morality.
The Pedagogical Function: Guide the individual through the stages of life
As a person goes through life, many psychological challenges will be encountered. Myth may serve as a guide for successful passage through the stages of one’s life.
Evolution of myth
Campbell’s view of mythology was by no means static and his books describe in detail how mythologies evolved through time, reflecting the realities in which each society had to adjust. Various stages of cultural development have different yet identifiable mythological systems. In brief these are:
The Way of the Animal Powers: Hunting and gathering societies
At this stage of evolution religion was animistic, as all of nature was seen as being infused with a spirit or divine presence. At center stage was the main hunting animal of that culture, whether the buffalo for Native Americans or the eland for South African tribes, and a large part of religion focused on dealing with the psychological tension that came from the reality of the necessity to kill versus the divinity of the animal. This was done by presenting the animals as springing from an eternal archetypal source and coming to this world as willing victims, with the understanding that their lives would be returned to the soil or to the Mother through a ritual of restoration. The act of slaughter then becomes a ritual where both parties, animal and mankind, are equal participants. In Mythos and The Power of Myth, Campbell recounts the story he calls “The Buffalo’s Wife” as told by the Blackfoot tribe of North America. The story tells of a time when the buffalos stopped coming to the hunting plains, leaving the tribe to starve. The chief’s daughter promises to marry the buffalo chief in return for their reappearance, but is eventually spared and taught the buffalo dance by the animals themselves, through which the spirits of their dead will return to their eternal life source. Indeed, Campbell taught that throughout history mankind has held a belief that all life comes from and returns to another dimension which transcends temporality, but which can be reached through ritual.
The Way of the Seeded Earth: Early agrarian societies
Beginning in the fertile grasslands of Europe in the Bronze Age and moving to the Levant and the Fertile Crescent of Mesopotamia, the practice of agriculture spread along with a new way of understanding mankind’s relationship to the world. At this time the earth was seen as the Mother, and the myths focused around Her life-giving powers. The plant and cultivation cycle was mirrored in religious rituals which often included human sacrifice, symbolic or literal. The main figures of this system were a female Great Goddess, Mother Earth, and her ever-dying and ever-resurrected son/consort, a male God. At this time the focus was to participate in the repetitive rhythm the world moved in expressed as the four seasons, the birth and death of crops and the phases of the moon. At the center of this motion was the Mother Goddess from whom all life springs and to whom all life returns. This often gave Her a dual aspect as both mother and destroyer.
The Way of the Celestial Lights: The first high civilizations
As the first agricultural societies evolved into the high civilisations of Mesopotamia and Babylonia, the observation of the stars inspired them with the idea that life on earth must also follow a similar mathematically predetermined pattern in which individual beings are but mere participants in an eternal cosmic play. The king was symbolised by the Sun with the golden crown as its main metaphor, while his court were the orbiting planets. The Mother Goddess remained, but her powers were now fixed within the rigid framework of a clockwork universe.
However, two barbarian incursions changed that. As the Indo-European (Aryan) people descended from the north and the Semites swept up from the Arabian desert, they carried with them a male dominated mythology with a warrior god whose symbol was the thunder. As they conquered, mainly due to the superior technology of iron smithing, their mythology blended and subjugated the previous system of the Earth Goddess. Many mythologies of the ancient world, such as those of Greece, India, and Persia, are a result of that fusion with gods retaining some of their original traits and character but now belonging to a single system. Figures such as Zeus and Indra are thunder gods who now interact with Demeter and Dionysus, whose ritual sacrifice and rebirth, bearing testament to his pre-Indo-European roots, were still enacted in classical Greece. But for the most part, the focus heavily shifted toward the masculine, with Zeus ascending the throne of the gods and Dionysus demoted to a mere demi-god.
This demotion was very profound in the case of the Biblical imaginary where the female elements were marginalized to an extreme. Campbell believed that Eve and the snake that tempted her were once fertility gods worshiped in their own rights with the tree of knowledge being the Tree of Life. He also found significance in the biblical story of Cain and Abel, with Cain being a farmer whose agrarian offering is not accepted by God, while herder Abel’s animal sacrifice is. In the lecture series of Mythos, Campbell speaks of the Mysteries of Eleusis in Ancient Greece, where Demeter’s journey in the underworld was enacted for young men and women of the time. There he observed that wheat was presented as the ultimate mystery with wine being a symbol of Dionysus, much like in the Christian mysteries where bread and wine are considered to incarnate the body and blood of Jesus. Both religions carry the same “seeded earth” cosmology in different forms while retaining an image of the ever-dying, ever-resurrected God.
The Way of Man: Medieval mythology, romantic love, and the birth of the modern spirit
Campbell recognized that the poetic form of courtly love, carried through medieval Europe by the traveling troubadours, contained a complete mythology in its own right. In The Power of Myth as well as the “Occidental Mythology” volume of The Masks of God, Campbell describes the emergence of a new kind of erotic experience as a “person to person” affair, in contrast with the purely physical definition given to Eros in the ancient world and the communal agape found in the Christian religion. An archetypal story of this kind is the legend of Tristan and Isolde which, apart from its mystical function, shows the transition from an arranged-marriage society as practiced in the Middle Ages and sanctified by the church, into the form of marriage by “falling in love” with another person that we recognize today. So what essentially started from a mythological theme has since become a social reality, mainly due to a change in perception brought about by a new mythology—and represents a central foundational manifestation of Campbell’s overriding interpretive message, “Follow your bliss.”
Campbell believed that in the modern world the function served by formal, traditional mythological systems has been taken on by individual creators such as artists and philosophers. In the works of some of his favorites, such as Thomas Mann, Pablo Picasso and James Joyce, he saw mythological themes that could serve the same life-giving purpose that mythology had once played. Accordingly, Campbell believed the religions of the world to be the various culturally influenced “masks” of the same fundamental, transcendent truths. All religions can bring one to an elevated awareness above and beyond a dualistic conception of reality, or idea of “pairs of opposites” such as being and non-being, or right and wrong. Indeed, he quotes from the Rigveda in the preface to The Hero with a Thousand Faces: “Truth is one, the sages speak of it by many names.”
One of Campbell’s most identifiable, most quoted and arguably most misunderstood sayings was his admonition to “follow your bliss”. He derived this idea from the Upanishads:
“Now, I came to this idea of bliss because in Sanskrit, which is the great spiritual language of the world, there are three terms that represent the brink, the jumping-off place to the ocean of transcendence: Sat-Chit-Ananda. The word “Sat” means being. “Chit” means consciousness. “Ananda” means bliss or rapture. I thought, ‘I don’t know whether my consciousness is proper consciousness or not; I don’t know whether what I know of my being is my proper being or not; but I do know where my rapture is. So let me hang on to rapture, and that will bring me both my consciousness and my being.’ I think it worked.”
He saw this not merely as a mantra, but as a helpful guide to the individual along the hero journey that each of us walks through life:
“If you follow your bliss, you put yourself on a kind of track that has been there all the while, waiting for you, and the life that you ought to be living is the one you are living. Wherever you are—if you are following your bliss, you are enjoying that refreshment, that life within you, all the time.”
Campbell began sharing this idea with students during his lectures in the 1970s. By the time that The Power of Myth was aired in 1988, six months following Campbell’s death, “Follow your bliss” was a philosophy that resonated deeply with the American public—both religious and secular. During his later years, when some students took him to be encouraging hedonism, Campbell is reported to have grumbled, “I should have said, ‘Follow your blisters.'”
A special Thank You to Stella Bonnie for sharing her comprehensive PDF on Campbell’s mysticism, entitled The Mystical Myth of Joseph Campbell, excerpted here:
Quotes from Joseph Campbell:
“The very cave you are afraid to enter turns out to be the source of what you are looking for. The damned thing in the cave that was so dreaded has become the center. You find the jewel, and it draws you off. In living the spiritual, you cannot despise the earthly.”
“It is impossible to communicate an experience to someone who has not had the experience. Try to communicate the experience of skiing down a wonderful mountain slope to someone who has never been on skis. Try to communicate the experience of being in love when it happens to people who have never known this experience. It cannot be done. You can speak only by analogy. For a system of mythological symbols to work it must be operating in the field of a community of people who have essentially analogous experiences; otherwise, nothing is happening there.”
“Life has no meaning. Each of us has meaning and we bring it to life. It is a waste to be asking the question when you are the answer.”
“We must be willing to let go of the life we planned so as to have the life that is waiting for us.”
“The privilege of a lifetime is being who you are.”
“People say that what we’re all seeking is a meaning for life. I don’t think that’s what we’re really seeking. I think that what we’re seeking is an experience of being alive, so that our life experiences on the purely physical plane will have resonances with our own innermost being and reality, so that we actually feel the rapture of being alive.”
“If you can see your path laid out in front of you step by step, you know it’s not your path. Your own path you make with every step you take. That’s why it’s your path.”
“Find a place inside where there’s joy, and the joy will burn out the pain.”
“Sit in a room and read–and read and read. And read the right books by the right people. Your mind is brought onto that level, and you have a nice, mild, slow-burning rapture all the time.”
“If you are falling….dive.”
“Life is like arriving late for a movie, having to figure out what was going on without bothering everybody with a lot of questions, and then being unexpectedly called away before you find out how it ends.”
“Your sacred space is where you can find yourself over and over again.”
“Myths are public dreams, dreams are private myths.”
“The goal of life is to make your heartbeat match the beat of the universe, to match your nature with Nature.”
“All religions are true but none are literal.”
“We’re not on our journey to save the world but to save ourselves. But in doing that you save the world. The influence of a vital person vitalizes.”
“Where you stumble and fall, there you will find gold.”
“A bit of advice given to a young Native American at the time of his initiation: as you go the way of life, you will see a great chasm. Jump. It is not as wide as you think.”
“Regrets are illuminations come too late.”
“Myth is much more important and true than history. History is just journalism and you know how reliable that is.”
“You enter the forest at the darkest point, where there is no path. Where there is a way or path, it is someone else’s path. You are not on your own path. If you follow someone else’s way, you are not going to realize your potential.”
“The first step to the knowledge of the wonder and mystery of life is the recognition of the monstrous nature of the earthly human realm as well as its glory, the realization that this is just how it is and that it cannot and will not be changed. Those who think they know how the universe could have been had they created it, without pain, without sorrow, without time, without death, are unfit for illumination.”
“We’re so engaged in doing things to achieve purposes of outer value that we forget the inner value, the rapture that is associated with being alive, is what it is all about.”
“Gods suppressed become devils, and often it is these devils whom we first encounter when we turn inward.”
“As you proceed through life, following your own path, birds will shit on you. Don’t bother to brush it off. Getting a comedic view of your situation gives you spiritual distance. Having a sense of humor saves you.”
“We have not even to risk the adventure alone for the heroes of all time have gone before us. The labyrinth is thoroughly known … we have only to follow the thread of the hero path. And where we had thought to find an abomination we shall find a God. And where we had thought to slay another we shall slay ourselves. Where we had thought to travel outwards we shall come to the center of our own existence. And where we had thought to be alone we shall be with all the world.”
“We’re in a freefall into future. We don’t know where we’re going. Things are changing so fast, and always when you’re going through a long tunnel, anxiety comes along. And all you have to do to transform your hell into a paradise is to turn your fall into a voluntary act. It’s a very interesting shift of perspective and that’s all it is… joyful participation in the sorrows and everything changes.”
“The big question is whether you are going to be able to say a hearty yes to your adventure.”
“I don’t have to have faith, I have experience.”
“All the gods, all the heavens, all the hells, are within you.”
“The black moment is the moment when the real message of transformation is going to come. At the darkest moment comes the light.”
“God is the experience of looking at a tree and saying, ‘Ah!”
“Instead of clearing his own heart the zealot tries to clear the world.”
“Myth is what we call other people’s religion.”
“Not all who hesitate are lost. The psyche has many secrets in reserve. And these are not disclosed unless required.”
“Opportunities to find deeper powers within ourselves come when life seems most challenging.”
“The fates lead him who will; him who won’t they drag.”
“Wherever the poetry of myth is interpreted as biography, history, or science, it is killed.”
“When we quit thinking primarily about ourselves and our own self-preservation, we undergo a truly heroic transformation of consciousness.”
“The experience of eternity right here and now is the function of life. Heaven is not the place to have the experience; here is the place to have the experience.”
“Computers are like Old Testament gods; lots of rules and no mercy.”
“Just as anyone who listens to the muse will hear, you can write out of your own intention or out of inspiration. There is such a thing. It comes up and talks. And those who have heard deeply the rhythms and hymns of the gods, can recite those hymns in such a way that the gods will be attracted.”
“I think the person who takes a job in order to live – that is to say, for the money [not for purpose or passion]- has turned himself into a slave.”
“We save the world by being alive ourselves.”
“I always feel uncomfortable when people speak about ordinary mortals because I’ve never met an ordinary man, woman or child.”
“A hero is someone who has given his or her life to something bigger than oneself.”
“Myth must be kept alive. The people who can keep it alive are the artists of one kind or another.”
“The agony of breaking through personal limitations is the agony of spiritual growth. Art, literature, myth and cult, philosophy, and ascetic disciplines are instruments to help the individual past his limiting horizons into spheres of ever-expanding realization. As he crosses threshold after threshold, conquering dragon after dragon, the stature of the divinity that he summons to his highest wish increases, until it subsumes the cosmos. Finally, the mind breaks the bounding sphere of the cosmos to a realization transcending all experiences of form – all symbolizations, all divinities: a realization of the ineluctable void.”
“Mythology is not a lie, mythology is poetry, it is metaphorical. It has been well said that mythology is the penultimate truth–penultimate because the ultimate cannot be put into words. It is beyond words. Beyond images, beyond that bounding rim of the Buddhist Wheel of Becoming. Mythology pitches the mind beyond that rim, to what can be known but not told.”
“Preachers err by trying to talk people into belief; better they reveal the radiance of their own discovery.”
“The demon that you can swallow gives you it’s power, and the greater life’s pain, the greater life’s reply.”
“How to get rid of ego as dictator and turn it into messenger and servant and scout, to be in your service, is the trick.”
“Is the system going to flatten you out and deny you your humanity, or are you going to be able to make use of the system to the attainment of human purposes?”
“You become mature when you become the authority of your own life.”
“The way to find out about happiness is to keep your mind on those moments when you feel most happy, when you are really happy — not excited, not just thrilled, but deeply happy. This requires a little bit of self-analysis. What is it that makes you happy? Stay with it, no matter what people tell you. This is what is called following your bliss.”
“You must have a room, or a certain hour or so a day, where you don’t know what was in the newspapers that morning, you don’t know who your friends are, you don’t know what you owe anybody, you don’t know what anybody owes to you. This is a place where you can simply experience and bring forth what you are and what you might be. This is the place of creative incubation. At first you may find that nothing happens there. But if you have a sacred place and use it, something eventually will happen.”
“Shakespeare said that art is a mirror held up to nature. And that’s what it is. The nature is your nature, and all of these wonderful poetic images of mythology are referring to something in you. When your mind is trapped by the image out there so that you never make the reference to yourself, you have misread the image.
The inner world is the world of your requirements and your energies and your structure and your possibilities that meets the outer world. And the outer world is the field of your incarnation. That’s where you are. You’ve got to keep both going. As Novalis said, ‘The seat of the soul is there where the inner and outer worlds meet.’”
“All life stinks and you must embrace that with compassion.”
“What is a god? A god is a personification of a motivating power of a value system that functions in human life and in the universe.”
“Love is the burning point of life, and since all life is sorrowful, so is love. The stronger the love, the more the pain. Love itself is pain, you might say -the pain of being truly alive. […] But love bears all things. […] Love itself is pain, you might say – the pain of being truly alive.”
“How does the ordinary person come to the transcendent? For a start, I would say, study poetry. Learn how to read a poem. You need not have the experience to get the message, or at least some indication of the message. It may come gradually.”
“Man should not be in the service of society, society should be in the service of man. When man is in the service of society, you have a monster state, and that’s what is threatening the world at this minute. …Certainly Star Wars has a valid mythological perspective. It shows the state as a machine and asks, “Is the machine going to crush humanity or serve humanity?” Humanity comes not from the machine but from the heart. What I see in Star Wars is the same problem that Faust gives us: Mephistopheles, the machine man, can provide us with all the means, and is thus likely to determine the aims of life as well. But of course the characteristic of Faust, which makes him eligible to be saved, is that he seeks aims that are not those of the machine. Now, when Luke Skywalker unmasks his father, he is taking off the machine role that the father has played. The father was the uniform. That is power, the state role.”
“There’s nothing militant about Jesus. I don’t read anything like that in any of the gospels. Peter drew his sword and cut off the servant’s ear, and Jesus said, “Put back thy sword, Peter.” But Peter has had his sword out and at work ever since.”
“It may be a species of impudence to think that the way you understand God is the way God is.”
“Apocalypse does not point to a fiery Armageddon but to the fact that our ignorance and our complacency are coming to an end… The exclusivism of there being only one way in which we can be saved, the idea that there is a single religious group that is in sole possession of the truth—that is the world as we know it that must pass away. What is the kingdom? It lies in our realization of the ubiquity of the divine presence in our neighbors, in our enemies, in all of us.”
“Perhaps some of us have to go through dark and devious ways before we can find the river of peace or the highroad to the soul’s destination.”
“[Comedies], in the ancient world, were regarded as of a higher rank than tragedy, of a deeper truth, of a more difficult realization, of a sounder structure, and of a revelation more complete. The happy ending of the fairy tale, the myth, and the divine comedy of the soul, is to be read, not as a contradiction, but as a transcendence of the universal tragedy of man…. Tragedy is the shattering of the forms and of our attachments to the forms; comedy, the wild and careless, inexhaustible joy of life invincible.”
“The schizophrenic is drowning in the same waters in which the mystic swims with delight. Edgar Cayce made the same observation in his readings.”
“The creative act is not hanging on, but yielding to a new creative movement. Awe is what moves us forward.”
“To become—in Jung’s terms—individuated, to live as a released individual, one has to know how and when to put on and to put off the masks of one’s various life roles. ‘When in Rome, do as the Romans do,’ and when at home, do not keep on the mask of the role you play in the Senate chamber. But this, finally, is not easy, since some of the masks cut deep. They include judgment and moral values. They include one’s pride, ambition, and achievement. They include one’s infatuations. It is a common thing to be overly impressed by and attached to masks, either some mask of one’s own or the mana-masks of others. The work of individuation, however, demands that one should not be compulsively affected in this way. The aim of individuation requires that one should find and then learn to live out of one’s own center, in control of one’s for and against. And this cannot be achieved by enacting and responding to any general masquerade of fixed roles.”
“Participate joyfully in the sorrows of the world. We cannot cure the world of sorrows, but we can choose to live in joy.”
“Mythology may, in a real sense, be defined as other people’s religion. And religion may, in a sense, be understood as popular misunderstanding of mythology.”
“The modern hero, the modern individual who dares to heed the call and seek the mansion of that presence with whom it is our whole destiny to be atoned, cannot, indeed, must not, wait for his community to cast off its slough of pride, fear, rationalized avarice, and sanctified misunderstanding. ‘Live,’ Nietzsche said, ‘as though the day were here.’ It is not society that is to guide and save the creative hero, but precisely the reverse. And so every one of us shares the supreme ordeal––carries the cross of the redeemer––not in the bright moments of his tribe’s great victories, but in the silences of his personal despair.”
“You don’t ask what a dance means, you enjoy it. You don’t ask what the world means, you enjoy it. You don’t ask what you mean, you enjoy yourself; or at least, so you do when you are up to snuff. But to enjoy the world requires something more than mere good health and good spirits; for this world, as we all now surely know, is horrendous. ‘All life,’ said the Buddha, ‘is sorrowful’; and so, indeed, it is. Life consuming life: that is the essence of its being, which is forever a becoming. ‘The world,’ said the Buddha, ‘is an ever-burning fire.’ And so it is. And that is what one has to affirm, with a yea! a dance! a knowing, solemn, stately dance of the mystic bliss beyond pain that is at the heart of every mythic rite.”
“When you realize that eternity is right here now, that it is within your possibility to experience the eternity of your own truth and being, then you grasp the following: That which you are was never born and will never die. . . .”
“God is a metaphor for that which transcends all levels of intellectual thought. It’s as simple as that.”
More Quotes from Campbell here: