My first encounter with Joseph Campbell was when I read his book, "The Hero With A Thousand Faces". Campbell's work continues to have a profound affect on my life. His perspective provides key guideposts in my, decision making, daily practices, and relationships to other beings.
Exemplar Director, P. Hay
“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.”
― Joseph Campbell
The following is a truncated and revised version taken from Wikipedia's write up on Joseph Campbell. He was born in White Plains, New York, on March 26, 1904 and was from an upper-middle-class Irish Catholic family... Campbell received BA degree in English literature from Columbia University, where English literature and a Master of Arts degree in medieval literature. In 1934, Campbell accepted a position as Professor of Literature at Sarah Lawrence College. In 1972, Campbell retired from Sarah Lawrence College, after having taught there for 38 years.
Campbell often referred to the work of modern writers James Joyce and Thomas Mann in his lectures and writings, as well as to the art of Pablo Picasso. He was introduced to their work during his stay as a graduate student in Paris. Campbell eventually corresponded with Mann. The works of Arthur Schopenhauer and Friedrich Nietzsche had a profound effect on Campbell's thinking; he quoted their writing frequently.
The "follow your bliss" philosophy attributed to Campbell following the original broadcast of The Power of Myth (see below) derives from the Hindu Upanishads; however, Campbell was possibly also influenced by the 1922 Sinclair Lewis novel Babbitt. In The Power of Myth, Campbell quotes from the novel:
Campbell: Have you ever read Sinclair Lewis' Babbitt?
Moyers: Not in a long time. Campbell: Remember the last line?
"I have never done a thing that I wanted to do in all my life." That is a man who never followed his bliss.
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".
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.
Some scholars have disagreed with the concept of the "monomyth" because of its oversimplification of different cultures. According to Robert Ellwood, "A tendency to think in generic terms of people, races ... is undoubtedly the profoundest flaw in mythological thinking."
Fr. Richard Rohr
Is a Franciscan Priest of the New Mexico Province , religious thinker, writer, activist and former prison chaplain. He has been criticized by some Catholics for being too "New-agist", but then again, towing the party line may not be in the interest of genuine progress in our respect and compassion for one another. Richard is the found of the Center for Action and Contemplation (CAC). He is a globally recognized ecumenical teacher bearing witness to the universal awakening within Christian mysticism and the Perennial Tradition. His teaching is grounded in the Franciscan alternative orthodoxy—practices of contemplation and lived self-emptying, expressing itself in radical compassion, particularly for the socially marginalized.
Drawing upon Christianity's place within the Perennial Tradition, the mission of the Living School is to produce compassionate and powerfully learned individuals who will work for positive change in the world based on awareness of our common union with God and all beings. Fr. Richard is the author of numerous books, including Everything Belongs, Adam’s Return, The Naked Now, Breathing Under Water, Falling Upward, Immortal Diamond, and Eager to Love: The Alternative Way of Francis of Assisi.
Adapted from the CAC's website. Click here
You can also tune in to an interview with Richard Rohr on CBC Radio in 2010 entitled, "The Naked Now" on "Tapestry". Click here