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Reply To: Themes in Joseph Campbell’s Thought

Toby Johnson

I think that what has gone wrong with the modern world is that the traditional myths don’t make sense anymore; they don’t further cooperation for the good of the human race and the planet.

We need some new myth that explains in logical, scientific, truthful, realistic sounding language how we are all part of this reality, and happiness, success, and evolution of the species comes from getting along together and being truthful and well-motivated.

This idea of the “new myth” was a major theme in the later thought of  Joseph Campbell. What is the metamyth, the all-encompassing myth that shows how all the various myth systems of the past all fit together.

There is a wonderful story Campbell used to tell of how he’d been lecturing one night on the theme of the hero cycle in myth, and during the Q&A at the end, a stern looking woman got up and said “Prof Campbell, I’ve been listening to you all night and, well, I think you’re an atheist,” and Campbell said he stepped forward to the edge of the stage and replied, “Madam, anyone who believes in as many gods as I do can hardly be called an atheist.”

I think that anecdote sums up the new myth. In ecological / eco-scientific jargon, this is the Gaia Hypothesis, that Earth is a living organism of which we are parts (I think, you know, it’s even more true to say that the Sun is the living organism and we’re on the brain part that has to be kept in a cooler region–just as the human male’s testicles have to be kept outside the heat of the body; Remember Jung’s story: “The Sun is God, everyone can see that.”).

The “new myth” is the explanation of how all the disparate myths around the world and down through time fit together to point to something higher than any of them individually.