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Reply To: Tossing the Golden Ball,” with mythologist Catherine Svehla, Ph.D.”


Hello Catherine. It’s a real treat to have you here for the first time, and one I’ve been looking forward to when Stephen first announced it. Your pdf: “Blisters on the Way to Bliss”; (which you shared with the Foundation a few years back), I personally think should be required reading for anyone who wants to get an understandable introduction to the idea of their own story and what that has to do with one’s “personal myth” that Joseph talks about so much throughout much of his lectures. And you utilized the motif of the Frog Prince in this piece as well as several other ones like Percival and the Buffalo Dance to help people get a sense of how to approach and construct their own process in finding out what this thing is within themselves.

So, what is the idea of “one’s story” compared to one’s bio for instance? What do all these things contained in fairy tales and legends like Chivalrous Knights sitting around Round Tables and then going into the forest to slay Dragons so they can find some castle and marry a princess and live happily ever after; or throwing a Frog against a wall so they can restore some kingdom that’s been asleep “mean”? And what is this Grail business anyway? And what’s this stuff about a “golden ball and a well”? (Those are all metaphors you say?) Well, what the heck do metaphors that have to do with my life? A metaphor is something I learned about when I was half asleep in high school English class I always thought had to do with grammar, and I have no idea what this means with an emotional crisis. I see all this crazy stuff going on watching the news with Ukraine, and I’m just now getting through this pandemic stuff wearing a mask and don’t know if I’m going retire from some job I’m not too fond of and I’m frustrated what all this means. (Help me out here.) Story you say? And then you talk about all this other stuff as if it’s suppose to solve my problems. (Well; this aught to be good.)

Your “pdf” is a masterclass in my humble opinion; but I think the link to it no longer works; so I wonder if you would expound on some of these themes a little bit and share a few of your insights on how one might construct or recognize what their personal myth is. The reason I’m requesting this is I think many who come to Joseph Campbell’s work may have heard about the “Hero’s Journey”; and some may have heard the name Carl Jung; but Joseph left a huge body of work, and for many new to these ideas he talked about might have problems understanding what this means to them and how certain motifs or patterns play very heavily into our modern life and how to navigate it; (like living within a system and getting in touch with one’s inner world can help them unravel some of these Gordian Knots that may be tearing them apart inside). For instance when we say: “Labyrinth, Minotaur, and Ariadne Thread” some may be familiar with the Greek Myth; but transferring this idea and turning it into a learning tool to get at traumas and seeing one’s pain as a possible gift is a huge leap in logic. And embracing one’s emotional past to get a better understanding of one’s life and how to live it more fully can seem a daunting task or a hill too steep to climb.

I’ve been spending time lately getting reacquainted with some of my childhood stories that had powerful themes connected to my early background running through them. You know the ones’ that bring a lump to your throat; and I was reminded that when we share our stories we “witness”. Michael Meade talked about this in one of his lectures a while back, and he mentioned catharsis and sharing our humanity in a vulnerable way with others can often lead not only to deep insights but healing of wounds as well. And your pdf has some very valuable tools for getting at that.

There often is a misconception that “following your bliss” is a kind of happy excursion into the self-help book sections in local bookstores where you find some kind of hobby and you are on your way to your personal adventure. Or if you follow a specific set of steps in a given order you are having an experience that everyone else is supposed to have that you keep hearing about. And when you stumble across some trickster god while you are fumbling around trying to figure out what you are doing the thing to do is to rid yourself of the problem he represents “instead” of going deeper to where the gold may be hidden within your own life. This “lefthand path” hero stuff is not for the faint of heart as is often shown in the motifs you use; and lots of confusion, pain , and emotional suffering may accompany you on your “Quest” to find and live your story. So I hope that what I’m asking is not too much to include into one response. Again, I am thrilled you’re here and so looking forward to whatever you feel like sharing.


Since it’s only been a few hours when I posted the above, I want to add a few things to help clarify some of the themes of what I was attempting to ask. One, my second paragraph was to add a bit of humor to my tone, but humor can be tricky and because of possible misinterpretation can be misunderstood, and my objective was portray how someone not familiar to Campbell might not understand some of the themes and terminology often used through working with him as a guide to one’s inner world.

“Sacred Space” would be another theme where the inner world of the individual can be explored in a multitude of ways and that Joseph felt was extremely import in creating an inner life. This of course leads to other Jungian dimensions people might not understand at first and leads me to the term “temenos” which could be understood as the “sacred field” often created between individuals sharing deep personal secrets not to be disclosed to the outside world for fear of criticism and is also absolutely vital in therapy or analysis where the inner voices from one’s past may be allowed to speak and be recognized; and especially valuable in getting at emotional problems someone may be having and defense mechanisms are preventing this from happening.

Lastly, and I think very relevant to today’s male identity is the “little boy”; that inner child that has been locked up and has become a dragon and shamed if recognized in public. Complexes and their relationship to archetypes as opposed to archetypal images are important in understanding how these inner mechanisms are operating within us; and Joseph was a master storytelling mechanic at getting under the hood and helping people to see what myths were saying and how one’s personal myth, (if understood properly), can become a vehicle for making the unconscious conscious and help us to better live our lives with meaning and purpose. (A little convoluted in my description, but a necessary addition for what I was attempting to explain in the above.)

Sam Keen and Anne Valley-Fox wrote: “Your Mythic Journey” shortly after Joseph died; and knew Joseph personally. Keen was asked by Joseph to help him with his Esalen workshops for years until he passed; and this book is a great outline that connects beautifully with your pdf. Keen also was one of the people who helped establish the: “Men’s Movement” back in the 1990’s; and along with Robert Bly; another friend of Joseph’s, became one of it’s chief mentors for helping men understand a lot of the long unrecognized themes in man’s inner world. Keen’s: “Fire in the Belly”; and Bly’s: “Iron John” are recognized as significant contributions to this legacy.

Again, it’s so great to have you here and I’m so looking forward to your reply.  Namaste