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Reply To: The Power of the Personal,” with Mythologist Dennis Slattery, Ph.D.”

Dennis Slattery

    Good morning Steve and all who have taken time to read this conversation, initiated so beautifully by Steve.

    I am honored to add my thoughts to the rich conversations I have read and to the fine commentaries from many, several of whom I know as colleagues and as former students. I am responding here on Sunday morning in the Texas Hill Country, which right now has a thin glaze of ice over everything, so dangerous to go out. Yesterday I spoke to a fine group at the Phoenix Friends of Jung group on personal mythology and then posed some questions to them to write on re. their personal myth. So today it is a joy to stay within the cone of myth a bit longer.

    Like so many millions, I came to Campbell’s work through the Bill Moyers series on PBS. I was mesmerized by both his knowledge, his passion and the visuals that accompanied his talks. I ran to the bookstore and bought The Power of Myth that I still return to. What a threshold crossing intellectually and emotionally that journey was for me.

    My excitement grew when I took a teaching position as Core faculty at Pacifica Graduate Institute; here, I thought, I could soak myself in the writings of Campbell and because of his love of and excellent reading of literary classics, for I had found a kindred soul mingling the poetic with the mythic imagination; let’s call it then a mytho-poetic imagination. I felt truly AT HOME in an academic setting.

    As to your quote from Campbell, Steve, as to being only a scholar, well, that is only the tip of the iceberg. Not many scholars can rouse an audience with the Eros that Campbell had a reputation for doing; when I watched him on videos, it seems that he goes into a bit of a mystical state of mind and body and speaks from that deeply incarnated place. His passion is rare and anyone who has heard him speak–I did once in 1974 when he came to the University of Dallas to lecture on Hero–I was entranced by his level of knowledge and the ease of his presentation.

    Thanks too for your two points of view on archetypes, Steve. I think we might speak about an archetype and an archetypal image. The former is universal and constant, but the image it is birthed in is organic and dynamic. I believe Jung writes that archetypes are shaped and formed into an image depending on the cultural pressures that work on it as it comes into being. So, paradoxically, the archetype is unchanging and changeable, shaped by the particular cultural impressions that work on it. I do think we can have it both ways on this point.

    For instance, I can have very much alive in me the archetype of the Trickster, but when I behave according to this archetypes imaginal influence on me, I will customize its embodiment in a unique way.

    As I leave this first foray into COHO, a privilege I feel so grateful for, I want to comment on Campbell’s writing style. I would choose various works of his when I taught the course on his thinking for many years at Pacifica. I think his prose is both lyric and epic in its expression. I think Campbell, if not a poet, although I was delighted to read his short stories when they were published, his sensibility is that of a poet.

    For example, in speaking of a Living Myth In Gander, he writes: “And so, finally, neither a stale and overdue nor a contrived plastic mythology will serve; neither priest nor sociologist takes the place of the poet-seer–which, however, is what we all are in our dreams” (xiv). A profound insight, delivered in delightful poetic-prose. It is part of the reason I will be reading Campbell for the duration.

    Thank you Steve for asking such provocative questions, and gratitude to all who read this exchange.