Joseph Campbell: Mythos I
The universe and our existence in it are truly amazing concepts. The questions that arise out of them have been thought about and discussed ever since human beings have had the capability to form questions. From philosophers and religious leaders to common folk, everyone has tried to come up with “the answer” to explain it all.
While I don’t think it’s possible for those of us within the universe to completely comprehend its purpose, we each can have moments of epiphany that provide order amongst the chaos. Many get theirs from the teachings of historical figures like Jesus Christ or Muhammad, while others can find it amongst pop culture, like the songs of Bob Dylan, or the television series Star Trek. One of the many people I have experienced moments of clarity from is Joseph Campbell.
Campbell was a noted professor of mythology from Sarah Lawrence College. He has written many books on both comparative mythology and religion of the world’s cultures. His work has influenced a great many, including George Lucas, who has acknowledged Campbell’s impact on the first Star Wars trilogy (Episodes IV, V, & VI) many times, most specifically in 1999’s Mythology of Star Wars with George Lucas & Bill Moyers. Campbell became well known to the general public posthumously a year after his death through 1988’s The Power of Myth, the PBS television series comprised of six interviews conducted by Bill Moyers that still play during pledge drives almost 20 years later.
Mythos was a series that also aired on PBS featuring a series of Campbell’s lectures from the ‘80s. Some graphics have been inserted and Susan Sarandon presents introductions on different subjects covered. Part One presents five programs “Psyche and Symbol,” “The Spirit Land,” “On Being Human,” “From Goddesses to God,” and “The Mystical Life.”
Campbell pulls from all disciplines to better understand the human condition. Science and art, the left and right brain, both provide clues to the mysteries of our unconscious. The psychology of Carl Jung and the anthropology of Jane Goodall tell a part of the story, as does the art of Salavador Dali and the writing of Thomas Mann.
He explores where myths come from and covers how they shape a society. He presents different cultures from early hunter-gathers to Egyptians and Greeks and Native Americans. The questions remain the same, but the stories that offer the answers constantly change because “your mythology, your imagery has to keep up with what you know of the universe.” If the stories are no longer valid, the people will no longer believe them, which is why the stories are updated.
He sees science and religion existing together and talks about the misinterpretations in religion that mistake the figurative for the literal, which certainly makes much more sense. While many religions define the Holy Land as a place, Campbell explains anywhere you are can be the Holy Land. He explains bodies don’t literally ascend to Heaven. It’s a spiritual transformation within not a physical journey without.
His reading of the Native American story “where the two came to their father” covers his work in Hero of Thousand Faces. The listener will notice many common archetypes of characters and events as the boys’ depart on the hero’s journey. Sure to bring to mind your favorite story.
Joseph Campbell: Mythos I is a fascinating look at mankind by a man who has spent his life’s work comparing the answers accumulated by our ancestors. The programs will make you think, and maybe even rethink, about the answers that have worked for you. This great collection of ideas offers something new to learn and investigate with each viewing, reminiscent of revisiting a favorite class by a beloved teacher. I can’t recommend this or any work by Campbell enough.