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Reply To: What’s In a Name?” with Stephen Gerringer”


shaheda rizvi 

What wonderful observations, especially regarding the meaning of hamsa in Arabic as the Hand of Fatima. As far as I can tell, there’s no direct connection between haṃsa in Sanskrit and خمسة‎ (khamsah) in Arabic, but the resonance is compelling (I’ll touch more on the hand as a mythic image in a response to Robert, since that plays through his stream-of-consciousness post).

What really speaks to me, however, is how that image lives in your heart. That is the value of a potent mythic image – it keeps opening out, on to ever greater depth and dimensions. And the same holds for words when we move beyond the literal, as in poetry – or myth; so much below the surface, working on our unconscious.

One relatively minor correction re the following passage:

This is a song we all sing. If you focus on your breath, you’ll hear the sound ‘ham,’ just barely audible, every time you inhale—and the syllable ‘sa’ sounds with every exhale. ‘Ham-sa, ham-sa,’ sings our breath all day, all night, all one’s life, making known the inner presence of this wild gander to all with the ears to hear. ”

Those aren’t Joseph Campbell’s words, but Stephen Gerringer’s (though I am thrilled to have my elucidation mistaken for Joe!). I can understand that can be hard to tell, given the lay-out on the page (appears our design team faced a challenge trying to navigate the text around the images).

Something similar happens for me in the four volumes, published posthumously, of Heinrich Zimmer’s work [Myths and Symbols in Indian Art and Civilization (1946), The King and the Corpse (1948), Philosophies of India (1951), and The Art of Indian Asia (1955)], all edited by Joseph Campbell. In the essay I liberally cite Zimmer, whose books I think think of as “proto-Campbell”: can’t help but hear Joe’s voice coming through in the rhythm of his words and the delight he takes in the subject – which I find missing in Zimmer’s Artistic Forms and Yoga in the Sacred Images of the East (Kunstform und Yoga im indischen Kunstbild), translated into English by Gerald Chappie and James B. Lawson (an excellent work, by the way – but missing that Campbell charm).

The point that’s made, though, is what’s important, and that you get right – there is more to a mythic image than what’s contained on the page.