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Reply To: Seeking Answers


Shaahayda writes

Is Joe referring to one’s personal mythic forms?”

Not exactly – or rather, yes and no. Campbell is discussing what he discovered in the books in his library, which, unless they are addressed to him specifically, don’t contain “personal mythic forms”; rather, they reveal the workings of the unconscious in general, which does seem the subject under discussion. That’s the “no” part.

At the same time, it’s his introduction to the depths of the unconscious that allowed him to recognize how these were playing out in his own life – which is the “yes” part.

Sam Keen had just asked Campbell about the use of LSD and psychedelics in the Sixties. Here is a little more context:

“I think drugs have uncovered the unconscious depths in a society that is lopsidedly rational and evaluative. They have shown many people that the archetypes are in the unconscious. They are as real as tables and chairs. But the drug culture has been caught in the fuzzy end of things . . .

I prefer the gradual path––the way of study. My feeling is that mythic forms reveal themselves gradually in the course of your life if you know what they are and how to pay attention to their emergence. My own initiation into the mythical depths of the unconscious has been through the mind, through the books that surround me in this library. I have recognized in my quest all the stages of the hero’s journey. I had my calls to adventure, guides, demons and illuminations. In the conflict between the Celtic-Arthurian and the Roman Catholic myths, I discovered much about the tensions that shaped my past. I also studied primitive myths and Hinduism and later Joyce, Mann, Jung, Spengler and Frobenius. These have been my major teachers.”

“Man and Myth: A Conversation with Joseph Campbell,” Psychology Today, July 1971

For me, it was both. Psychedelics – particularly LSD – opened that door. It wasn’t something I did to “party,” but to explore and find out more about myself – the deep Self – a task I approached with discipline and commitment, akin to the decades-long study of my dreams (in the process discovering the amazing resonance between the dream state and the psychedelic state).

The works of Campbell, Jung, Grof, and others helped me process those psychedelic experiences, in the same way Jung and Campbell and Hillman and others helped me process my dream life – these scholars, and the myths they explore, providing the clues that helped me “to pay attention” to the emergence of mythic forms in my own life.

But it started with acid, which provided an in-depth encounter with the personal and collective unconscious, along with the certainty that, in Joe’s words, archetypes  “are as real as tables and chairs.”

What I did with that, and how I engaged those pre-existing energies, is where the personal comes in to play.