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Artistic Origins, with Professor Andrew Gurevich

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    Professor Andrew Gurevich is our guest this week in Conversations of a Higher Order for a discussion of “Artistic Origins,” his most recent entry in JCF’s MythBlast essay series (which you can read here). Professor Gurevich teaches Writing, Religion, Literature, and Mythology in Portland, Oregon, and is the current president of the Society for the Anthropology of Consciousness, (a subsection of the American Anthropological Association), where he leads an international group of scholars and practitioners who explore the interdisciplinary and multicultural approaches to understanding symbolic, nonlocal, and mythological consciousness. He has written and lectured about the deep psychology of the climate change denial movement; epigenetics, neuropsychology and religious symbolism; Goddess mythology in the United States and in “Old Europe”; and the resurgence of the sacred feminine in the mystical traditions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

    Professor Gurevich served as the lead academic on the team which edited and fact-checked the reissue of The Masks of God: Primitive Mythology and heads the team updating the research for the on-going digital edition of Joseph Campbell’s final work, The Historical Atlas of World Mythology. In addition, he plays an active role in a number of ongoing projects with the Joseph Campbell Foundation.

    I’ll get us started with a few questions and comments, but it will be your thoughts, reactions, observations and insights that expand this beyond just another interview into a communal exchange of ideas – true “conversations of a higher order.” Please feel free to join the discussion and engage Professor Gurevich directly with your questions and observations.

    So let’s begin.

    Professor Gurevich, what strikes a chord for me as I read your essay is the value of direct experience over intellectual analysis when it comes to engaging myth. Yet our access to mythology today is primarily through the written word – and then the academic field of mythology generates countless dissertations, studies, and journal articles that dissect and analyze myth: they tell us about myths, but do not provide an experience of myth.

    You do offer valuable clues in this week’s MythBlast relating myth to art, and to the wonder of childhood. So many today, however, are prisoners of the rational mind – those for whom ego-consciousness is all there is. I’ve met more than a few whose understanding of everything, art as well as myth, is measured in words (even fell into that category myself during a youth enamored of the ideas of Ayn Rand: visiting a museum with friends I could recite chapter and verse about a painting’s provenance, the life of the artist who created it, the theories of different experts about what it “means,” but all that head knowledge only served as a substitute for direct experience – took years before I experienced a genuine “aha!” moment on viewing a work of art).

    So I’d like to ask if you have any thoughts on how to reach those like the younger me, those for whom the wisdom of “painting like a child” only brings to mind messy scribbles that look nothing like the object they’re meant to portray? When identity with rational ego-consciousness blocks a direct experience of myth, any suggestions on how to pierce that veil?

    And I have a second question, which may or may not be related to the first (depending, perhaps, on how one looks at it). Where does ritual fit in this – or does it? Joseph Campbell observed that “A ritual is the enactment of a myth. And, by participating in the ritual, you are participating in the myth” (from an interview with Michael Toms on the New Dimensions  radio program). But today most myths are divorced from a ritual setting; might rituals have provided an immersion experience of sorts for the myth thus enacted? Does the absence of that connection between myths and rituals hold any significance today, or does it really matter?


    Well hello Stephen, and everyone, it is an honor to be with you and discuss Campbell’s work and legacy. These are great questions and deserve entire essays of their own, but a few things come to mind. (Likely my future responses will be a bit more brief! )

    My short responses are: we have to get beyond language, and beyond our preoccupation with death.

    Now, for a slightly deeper dive…

    Mythology, to me, is an algorithmic code of symbol systems meant to enact a profound transformation of consciousness within the individual and the community. Individually and collectively, the myth must be enacted or experienced for the person or the group to truly expect to share in its transformative bounty.  This is not unique to mythology. If I read extensively on health and fitness but never get off of the couch, I cannot expect to end up being very physically fit. But with mythology, there is yet another layer to this dynamic we must consider.

    Let me offer an explanation by way of example: the God of the Israelites blasts the people in the opening chapters of the book of Isaiah for enacting the rites and festivals of their religion, but for not doing so with pure and open hearts; for not being authentically engaged in the process. The act alone is not enough. Transformation cosplay will actually lead the individual further from the Source. This is not the case with my example above about exercise. If I get up and run a few miles every day or hit the gym for an extensive workout several times a week, I can expect to see the results, no matter if “my heart is in it” or not. Sure, studies have shown that when you authentically engage in any activity, you are more likely to stick with it and experience better results. But the reluctant runner will still burn the calories. The complaining cross fitter will still shape their core. But Yahweh calls the rituals of the disenchanted “a stench in his nostrils,” however. Why might this be?

    As you state in your original question, to “know” mythological truths only in the mind is to not allow oneself to fully inhabit their embodied rewards. And I would add to that observation, to inhabit these spaces inauthentically or with a predominance of ego is to unleash their vital forces in service of the self. This starts a chain reaction that inevitably leads one further from the Source, further from the Ground of Being, and into the world of illusion. The world of delusion. Until they become so enchanted with the self, that they are utterly disenchanted from everything else, except that which is in service of ego. They cut themselves off from the divine essence in a perpetual distraction, like in the Narcissus myth. And the primary vehicle by which we enshrine and perpetuate the distraction is language. Yahweh is not a being but being itself. And the rituals are meant to introduce the community, experientially, to a covenantal relationship with their own hearts. With their own mysterious and glorious emergence. But not only as separate, created things, but also as carriers of the divine reflection. Mirrors of that which is beyond time and space, and thus beyond the capacity for language to contain.

    The child exists, for a brief time anyway, within a prelinguistic bubble of direct experience. Words define, which mean words limit, which means words inevitably constrict potential. Words project standards which introduce the child the the world of rules. The world of “should” and “shouldn’t.” And everything changes at that moment. They no longer experience the world directly as an infinite and immediate passion play of love between the self and the Source. They now begin a long dance away from primary consciousness and into the world of linguistic binaries, cognitive limitations, and perpetual distractions. This is where myth and religion come in, and in the modern world, psychotherapy and new therapeutic techniques like EMDR and IFS. The goal is to integrate the adult by healing the child within. The child that has been brutalized by language. This is done by helping the adult get in touch with who they were before they were told who they are. And this is done through the various forms of mythological enlightenment: of removing the limitations and barriers that have arisen between the individual and their original, authentic self, or Moksha in the Hindu tradition. Indeed, the One they are reintroduced to, in the Brahmanic traditions, is referred to as “the One before whom all words recoil.” The One that resides at the core of their very own being. Tat Tsvam Asi, or Thou Art That.

    Embodied mythological experiences can reintroduce the adult to a proxy of that pristine childhood awareness. Before they become snared by the pairs of linguistic opposites. The mysterious and awe-inspiring world that quickly dissipates and becomes subservient to their linguistic containers. Language, in the disenchanted self, now uses us, rather than us continuing to use it as a vehicle for the enhanced expression of the ineffable experience of the absolute. This is part of what Jesus means when he says, “The law was made for man, not man for the law.” But it is a tough existential frame to hold onto. Everything in the modern world is stacked against it. So to “grow up” is to become, inevitably to some extent, disenchanted with the world. Fragmented by the disruptive encounter with linguistic limitations.

    Campbell says something similar in Pathways to Bliss when he states, ”The principle of compassion is that which converts disillusionment into a participatory companionship. This is the basic love, the charity, that turns a critic into a living human being who has something to give to––as well as to demand of––the world.”

    Now the second part of my response, our preoccupation with death. Not much to say here other than that this preoccupation fills the individual with a constant existential fear of NOT being. One that cannot be overcome unless one experiences a transformation of who and what they believe being to “be.” A return to a childlike “ignorance” of death which does not experience life as anything but a transformative and mesmerizing encounter with the transcendent and eternal NOW. This is an expansive transition back into the complete and embracing bliss of one’s essential and instinctual connection to Source.

    “The immortal is the reality; the mortal is the unreality. During each period of life, reality thus dwells in unreality, to be liberated from it temporarily by death and permanently by illumination,” said the astrologer and mystic Manly P. Hall.

    So, finally, it is my suggestion that through a full, authentic, and open engagement with the rituals, rites, and ceremonies of living myth, we are able to return to a prelinguistic mode of experience that allows us to step away from our preoccupation with death and our linguistically confined categories of binary opposition and reenter a space where we can, like the child, encounter the sacred directly, immediately, and without a chaperone. Without the learned need to name it, categorize it, and define ourselves in opposition to it. The child at play is a manifestation of the Cosmos recognizing itself in an immediate and full embrace of divine love. Campbell was adamant about this in Thou Art That. Whether we follow the Hindu tradition or the Judaic one, all that is has its grounding in the absolute, that which is beyond words and beyond time. And that ineffable truth is, whether itself proceeding into the universe to become all forms (as is the case in Hindu cosmology) or calling all forms into existence in relation to itself (as is the case in Judaic cosmology) singular, timeless, without description, and at the core of our essential selves. The child, having recently emerged from this timeless space of nonbeing, already “knows” this, even though they do not yet have the language of separation needed to analyze it, and thus stand apart from it. This, to me, is what it is to “paint like a child.” This is what Picasso was after. Not a stylistic or skill based perspective, but one of immediacy, transparency, and few, if any, intermediary conduits to the bliss of existential becoming.

    As for the role of ritual in enabling the individual to participate fully in the mysterium tremendum, some wonderful insights come to us from the world of anthropology. I work with a research organization called The Society for the Anthropology of Consciousness. Our work is centered on exploring all of the ways humans interact with, define, engage, and interpret the contours of individual and collective consciousness. And several of our founders were insistent on the vital role of direct experience in the process of encountering and relating to nonlocal consciousness. In other words, the vital role of ritual in the process of the transformation of self. Scholars from our group like Edith Turner and Carlos Castaneda insisted that many of the deepest truths of our human journey could not be understood unless directly experienced. To know them intellectually was only a small part of encountering their full transformative potential.

    My advice, if I could be so elemental, is for people to try to NOT be guided by fear or intellectual curiosity but to follow the body. The childlike wonder of direct communion with the other is a very powerful tonic against the childish mental states we often find ourselves in because we have been separated from the ground of our being, disenchanted from the world by the world of linguistic mazes that always promise more than they can deliver. My advice is to stop, breathe, and remember that all which we seek we already contain. And the work is to uncover, to liberate that unbridled knowing from its culturally informed container. To engage myth fully and authentically through ritual and ceremony is to be reintroduced to the eternal NOW. To step away from the private, separate, and finite self and back into an awareness that binds one so strongly to the other that the space between the two evaporates, and one is left with such a profound experience of Other that the boundaries of the self dissolve into a harmonious, eternal dance of divine, expansive, transformative, becoming.

    This may seem like a paradox because we do this through engaging the cultural myths, rituals, and linguistic traditions of the mythological scaffolding we are born into. But we must remember that the purpose of all mythic symbols is to provide a dharma gate, an opening, to the transcendent reality that exists beyond the symbol. The myths are gateways to assist us in becoming, again, as we once were, utterly transcendent to transcendence.

    There is a humility in this action. A profound and effusive gratitude of presence. As my friend the poet Alberto Moreno says, engaging in transformative mythological rituals “is the adult in me inviting the child in me to be a child once again and receive this holy benediction. This simple gesture is a hundred, hundred years in the making.” A return. A restoration. After all what is faith but a remembering? What is myth but an existential restoration of our original inheritance, enacted in the liminal spaces of our ancestral memory?


    How do you see the impact of COVID-19 on the arts, modern myth and the “consciousness of the universe”?


    Wow! Thank you! Well put!





      Great MythBlast article and thumbnail photo Andy. The eye of providence takes on a humbling Hubble Cosmic perspective. Does put the earthrise photo in perspective. Yet The Laniakea supercluster dwarfs it and then there is that which dwarfs the Laniakea supercluster. Humans and their eyes that see …


      Love the Picasso

      “The 1968 series known as the ‘347 Suite’: named after the number of etchings in it and produced by Picasso, aged 86, in a remarkable burst of intense working. ‘I have less and less time,’ he told Françoise Gilot, ‘and yet I have more and more to say.’

      The images reveal, with some frankness, the erotic fantasies of an old man lacking the vigour of years past. The 347 Suite caused a scandal when exhibited at the Art Institute of Chicago: it was deemed pornographic and the exhibition was closed down.

      Showing zero diminution of his powers, Picasso worked on his final series, the ‘156 Suite’, after turning 90 — completing it in June 1972, less than a year before his death.”


      I was fascinated and haunted by Guernica when young having viewed it in a coffee table art book of my parents. Do you think Picasso’s cubism and James Joyce’s Coach with six insides informed and influenced each other ?


      Picasso, son oeuvre, et son Public, 1968

      Etching reminds me of Blake and Albrecht Dürer .


      For me the “paint like a child perspective” quote is meant to rhyme with “Isaac Newton Quote I do not know what I may appear to the world, but to myself I seem to have been only like a boy playing on the seashore, and diverting myself in now and then finding a smoother pebble or a prettier shell than ordinary, whilst the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me.” Picasso is an interesting pebble !!! along with Joyce , Newton and other artistic intellectual giants …


      “”A drawing of a tree shows not a tree, but a tree being looked at.”” I enjoy the contemplation of a tree. How looking through a window, walking outside , driving, and seeing a tree instantaneously triggers many associations, bringing me back to Eden’s Tree of Life, Tree of Knowledge, and all their prototypical antecedents in ancient literature, plus all the fractal pattern recognition a tree elicits. So many associations emerge in my mind creating new narratives from my memory.


      I enjoy trying to empathize with my children’s and grandchildren’s perspective full of youthful wonder and exuberance always keeping in mind this poem …




      Thanks for reading it and for the kind response, Matthew.


      Robert those are great observations about scope, scale, and meaning with regard to Laniakea, etc. In some ways, these observations must alter our understanding of the mythological truths held in the ancient texts but in another capacity they only seem to enhance and enliven the teachings.

      As Joe was fond of mentioning the following: “‘God is an intelligible sphere whose center is everywhere and circumference nowhere.’ So we are told in a little twelfth-century book known as The Book of the Twenty-four Philosophers. Each of us — whoever and wherever he may be — is then the center, and within him, whether he knows it or not, is that Mind at Large, the laws of which are the laws not only of all minds but of all space as well.”
      — Joseph Campbell, Myths to Live By

      An astrophysicist friend confirmed this observation to me. That is, in an infinite and expanding Cosmos, one is both always and never in the center of it. God is that which is not you but also you. The great mystery wrapped in the paradox of subjectivity. Tat Tsvam Asi.

      I shall have to ponder the connection you make between Joyce and Picasso but it seems a relevant and informed one. Wonderful observation.

      Connecting the child at play sentiment to Newton is also quite illuminating. It reminds me of the following quote:

      “The Aeon is a child at play with colored balls.”

      (translation/paraphrase: Terence McKenna)

      ― Heraclitus, Fragments

      Your kids and grandkids are fortunate to have you as such a generative and compassionate elder.


      The first line of that Gibran poem is a showstopper. Wow.


      Mythicwarrior, this is a great question. The pandemic has initiated, among other effects, a profound transformation of our dreams and thus, our participation in myth and meaning making.

      A few articles that make the point:

      Dreams and culture (and the place the two intersect, which is living myth) are primary mechanisms through which humans participate in the process of creating shared models of reality. And the pandemic has greatly altered that. If not forever than for the foreseeable future. And our dreams help us, in a therapeutic context, to process and make sense of ill-fitting cultural creations. So at this moment, with the failing of traditional mythic institutions and structures to adequately speak to the souls of the suffering, and our dream lives irrevocably altered by the scope and size of the pandemic and its rising wake, we are in a time of profound realignment. This obviously provides great challenges, but also great opportunities. As the poet Rumi once said, “unless the ground is tilled, nothing new can grow.” So I see this as a time of individual and collective rebirthing. After a period of stillness and reshuffling, I expect a Renaissance of sorts to emerge in the arts and in mythology within the next ten years. One that has the potential to redirect the course of the entire species. Death dreams in particular, whether about real or symbolic death, reveal cultural, historical, and psychological anxieties that must be acknowledged, processed, and reintegrated in order for the individual to remain grounded and “transparent to transcendence” as Campbell was fond of saying. This is also true of the collective. What about you? How do you see the pandemic impacting our understanding and participation in myth as artistic expression?



      Thank you so much for your rich, detailed, elegant reply to my initial questions. It’s a joy to read, and re-read, savoring every sentence, every paragraph, and then taking the time to absorb the thoughts you share, allowing them to sink in and simmer on the periphery of consciousness for a few days

      . . . which is part of the reason it has taken me so long to respond – that, plus my tendency towards excessive verbosity, which can sometimes drown out other voices – so I thought I would hang back for a bit and give others a chance to speak first.

      You write

      As for the role of ritual in enabling the individual to participate fully in the mysterium tremendum, some wonderful insights come to us from the world of anthropology. I work with a research organization called The Society for the Anthropology of Consciousness. Our work is centered on exploring all of the ways humans interact with, define, engage, and interpret the contours of individual and collective consciousness. And several of our founders were insistent on the vital role of direct experience in the process of encountering and relating to nonlocal consciousness. In other words, the vital role of ritual in the process of the transformation of self. Scholars from our group like Edith Turner and Carlos Castaneda insisted that many of the deepest truths of our human journey could not be understood unless directly experienced. To know them intellectually was only a small part of encountering their full transformative potential.”

      Intriguing to me how the study of mythology has come to be so closely associated with depth psychology today (understandably so, given Jung’s earnest attention to the archetypal imagery of myth), yet often glosses over the contributions of anthropology – a mistake Joseph Campbell does not make; in fact, his identification of the Hero’s Journey trajectory recurring throughout the myths of so many different cultures owes much to ethnographer/folklorist/cultural anthropologist Arnold van Gennep’s 1909 work, Les Rites de Passage (Rites of Passage); on a related note, Victor Turner is one anthropologist whose fieldwork among the Ndembu in Zambia (e.g. The Ritual Process: Structure and Anti-Structure) independently arrives at – and serves to confirm – many of the same observations, though without seeming to take any notice of Campbell’s work.

      Your observations in your reply to Mythicwarrior, re the intersection of dreams and culture, also relates to the above. I have a whole shelf of volumes on dreams and dreamwork, most written either by Jungians (and a couple Freudians, including, of course, Sigmund himself) or lay people heavily influenced by Jung – but one of my favorites is a collection of essays published by the School of American Research and edited by Barbara Tedlock (Distinguished Professor of Anthropology at SUNY, Buffalo), titled Dreaming: Anthropological and Psychological Interpretations: eleven anthropologist share papers describing their observations of how indigenous peoples, from the Zuni in New Mexico to the Kalapalo of Brazil or the Sambia in Papua New Guinea, experience, share, and work with (or sometimes ignore) dream experiences (which are often closely entwined with their mythologies).

      Many of these essays, at least to my mind, go beyond Jung – not to diss Carl Jung’s contributions, which have brought dreams out of the shadows and legitimatized this field of study in the modern world – but these are cultures that have been working with dreams for hundreds if not thousands of years. Understanding, at least to the limited degree I am able, how different cultures have worked with, ritualized, and embodied the imagery they encounter in dream has helped enhance the way I engage my own dream images.

      In another post I’d like to follow-up on a few of your observations, but I’d like to take a personal turn here and ask what first drew you to the field of anthropology? How much of your choice was conscious, and how much serendipity?  And was your initial focus on “exploring all of the ways humans interact with, define, engage, and interpret the contours of individual and collective consciousness,” or did that emerge gradually over time for you?

      I hope you don’t mind the personal questions – but, since we are all drawn here because of Joseph Campbell’s inspiration, I’m trusting taking a brief tangent into how you discovered and followed your bliss (e.g., was it full blown from the beginning, or did it slowly dawn on you as you followed bits and pieces into your future) might shed some light on an important but much misunderstood Campbellian insight.



      Thank you for these thoughtful, transparent, and relevant observations and questions. I will actually try to be brief in my responses as you observation about verbosity taking up space is one that resonates with me as well.

      So much here to explore. first a few academic and historical points and then I will finish with the personal turn you requested. Anthropology is the study of human behavior as mediated through the complex matrix of biology, culture, psychology, history, and topography. And consciousness is the foundational informational interface by which we can meaningfully inhabit any transformative sense of “knowing” in these spaces. So for me, the anthropology of consciousness was a natural fit. The study of how human beings engage, relate to, and are transformed by modalities of consciousness is, after all, what we study as mythologists and students of religion. And the plot only thickens when we add the “new” physics to the mix. A “new” spin on the very first science is arriving at some of the same conclusions that the authors of the Vedas explored in their conversations “overheard on the wind,” some 3500 years ago. Scientific Materialism is now in question as a foundational assumption regarding the makeup of the universe, as more and more scientists are coming to the conclusion that Max Plank did in 1931: “I regard consciousness as fundamental. I regard matter as derivative from consciousness. We cannot get behind consciousness. Everything that we talk about, everything that we regard as existing, postulates consciousness.”

      So if this is indeed true, than the entire Cosmos is the product of a unified, nonlocal, infinitely creative consciousness that is both the source, sustainer, and destination of all forms. It is truly as if the Vedic phrase, Tat Tsvam Asi, so central to Joe’s later work, is finally getting the hearing it deserves in Western academic enclaves. It is also reminiscent of one of Joe’s favorite quotes, “God is an intelligible sphere whose center is everywhere and circumference nowhere.” So we are told in a little twelfth-century book known as The Book of the Twenty-four Philosophers. Each of us — whoever and wherever he may be — is then the center, and within him, whether he knows it or not, is that Mind at Large, the laws of which are the laws not only of all minds but of all space as well. — Joseph Campbell, Myths to Live By (p. 274)

      Stanley Krippner, another prominent founder of our anthropology organization, spent the better part of his career studying the connections between dreams, liminal states of consciousness, and mystical knowledge, both in the field and as a senior member of the famed Maimonides Research Lab. The first recorded dream in literary and mythological history comes to us from the Gilgamesh epic, and involves a mortal in conversation with a deity, in a non-ordinary experience of co-creative emergence. All of this involves the ability to experience various modalities of consciousness, and also to be able to move between them. Activities that trigger the awareness of liminal space, and thus both establish and question the notion of subjectivity as stable category of identification. It seems the Other is all we have. And we are it. Or in the other direction, there is only Self. Distinctions, obstructions, even deeply felt ones, are Maya.

      Joe’s work was heavily informed by another anthropologist of his day, the great Adolf Bastian, whose distinction between the “elementary” and “folk” ideas provided a very workable, adaptable, and integral model for Joe to explore the similarities AND differences of the world’s great wisdom traditions. I’m glad you mentioned Victor Turner’s work on ritual. I would also add the great book “Boiling Energy” by Richard Katz about the Kalihari Kung. There is a quote that is misattributed to the late anthropologist Ruth Benedict that goes, “The purpose of anthropology is to make the world safe for human differences.” I didn’t know it was a misquote at the time I first encountered it, and it is one of the many things that drew me to anthropology. That along with the work of Carlos Castaneda and the way Joe relied on anthropology, as you have already noted.  Now, for the personal part of your question…

      Part of what drew me to Joe’s work was that it provided a way for me to reengage the sacred. I was trained as a fundamentalist evangelical pastor and when I left that particular faith tradition, I believed, like many so-called “ex-vangelicals,” that my time in relationship to the ground of being was all an illusion and that nothing was left in the well to satiate my thirst for an authentic encounter with spirit. You are taught as an evangelical that all other explorations of the sacred are toxic, so when you walk away from the faith, you often feel, subconsciously, that all traditions are utterly now bankrupt. So for me, Joe changed all of that and provided the basis for me to begin to restructure my relationship to the Great Mystery in ways that weren’t built on sand. Ways that were adaptive, expansive and energized by awe, gratitude, and deep compassion for self and other.

      During that process, I became aware of the work of Marija Gimbutas, the late Lithuanian-American archaeologist and anthropologist known for her research into the Neolithic and Bronze Age cultures of “Old Europe.” She was embraced and amplified by Joe back in the day, and her work on the Goddess traditions of the Neolithic and Paleolithic had a profound effect on me. I dove in with a ravenous hunger and ended up writing several articles about Goddess religion that were published in a few books and in magazines such as Reality Sandwich, The Ecologist, and Popular Archaeology.

      What I didn’t realize at the time was what was truly, deeply, driving my fascination with Goddess religion. Oddly, tragically, it was a deep and embedded fear, mistrust, and anger at women. A toxic relationship born out of the devastation of my relationship with my own mother. I won’t go into details here but I was raised in an extremely abusive and unsafe home and I grew up resenting my mother for not protecting me from it. And for actually participating in the most severe episodes of the abuse. Her body was at war with me before I was even born. She used to tell me all the time, “I had five miscarriages before you were born. God was trying to tell me something and I should have listened.” So the interest in the Goddess was, ultimately, an attempt to recover my mother, The Mother, and ultimately, the Mother within. It has been a long process to come to this awareness and move from a performative and reactive “feminism” to one of authentic and organic trust and belief in the inherent value, equity, and right to thrive for all the living. Joe kicked open the door for me to start the work of soul recovery. And in the process the way I relate to everything and everyone has grown more authentic, more compassionate, more life-affirming.

      I first spoke about all of this at an Anthropology of Consciousness conference because it was the only place in modern, Western academia that I could find that embraced all of the threads I just mentioned. The religious, the mythological, the anthropological, the depth psychology…all of it was embraced in this transformative web of becoming. I found a home in a subsection of a field that has roots in colonial epistemologies but is working to embrace ways of seeing that are more expansive, more archaic, more equitable, and more resonate with the lived experiences of the majority of our species through history.

      I hope any of this begins to answer your wonderful questions, friend.

      And oh well, I really tried to be brief! 🙂


      So in short, I had a head full of theological knowledge, a broken heart, and no roots. Campbell helped me find my way back to the sacred. Campbell introduced me to anthropology as a mechanism for balancing sameness AND difference. How to be comfortable with complexity. Anthropology helped me find my way back to the human family. Back to the blood covenant between the one and the many, the many in the one. All of this has been a kind of therapy that is akin to things like EMDR and Internal Family Systems. Helping to heal the fragmented self with narrative. With the first narrative. Becoming aware of awareness can, ironically, either throw us out of, or more deeply into, the body. And in the body, consciousness is embodied. Mythology, anthropology, depth psychology helped me learn to listen better to the pulse of the living world. And this helps me feel deeply connected. A path towards learning, finally, how to live and die well.



      Brevity has its place, but really, no worries about that with your posts. In my mind, one of the advantages Conversations of a Higher Order has over social media like Facebook is the luxury to develop and play with a thought. When JCF was sponsoring the Mythic Salon on Facebook, I and others would often contribute posts that dove deep and sparked multiple profound responses – but the thread would then scroll off the screen and disappear into the ether in a matter of hours or days.

      Here, in contrast, we have the leisure to think and write, rather than just react – and our posts aren’t just for an audience in the passing now; someone who registers with the forums six months from now, or six years, will be able to find riches galore.

      I don’t have any burning questions per se, just a couple of observations.

      As you describe the intersection of mythology, psychology, physics, and anthropology, and other fields in both your personal and professional development, I am reminded of what has become a standard criticism of Joseph Campbell: that he’s a generalist, not a specialist (or, to use the imprecise vernacular, a lumper, not a splitter).

      Joe’s response?

      Then there is the problem of what’s known as the generalist against the specialist. Just as in medicine,  sometimes it’s better to go to a generalist than to a specialist—depends on what your problem is. A specialist can come up and say, in all seriousness⁠, ‘The people in the Congo have five fingers on their right hand.’ If I say, ‘Well, the people in Alaska have five fingers on their right hand,’ I’m called a generalist. And if I say that the people in the caves in 30,000 B.C. had five fingers on their right hand, I’m a mystic⁠!”

      (from a yet-to-be-published draft I’ve edited, drawn from dozens of obscure interviews and Q & A sessions at the end of Campbell’s lectures)

      Joseph Campbell was not opposed to specialists, whose work often informed his; it just was not his approach. In fact, I think of Campbell as one of the pioneers of interdisciplinary studies. I know the pendulum swings back and forth within academia, with specialization often in the ascendent – so it does my heart good to see scholars such as yourself making common cause with others outside their immediate field.

      And then a powerful line, as you described your personal history: “Joe kicked open the door for me to start the work of soul recovery.”

      That, to me, is key to Campbell’s wide appeal: he’s not just researching and writing for the sake of expanding human knowledge on a macro scale, but also looking at how what he studies resonates for the individual, answering the question of what is its value to our lives today?

      And one final observation: I know I’m belaboring the obvious, but in case anyone has missed a major theme running through your “Artist Origins” essay and your contributions to this discussion, I’d like to draw attention once again to the emphasis you place on experience, and embodiment. We are not talking head knowledge: the ancients didn’t pull books off the library shelf and read about a myth – they lived their myths

      . . . which, in a roundabout way, brings me back to ritual.

      Today we tend to think of rites as those accompanying critical transitions – birth, coming of age, marriage, death, sacraments all – but ritual once permeated every aspect of life:

      [T]he archaic world knows nothing of ‘profane’ activities: every act which has a definite meaning – hunting, fishing, agriculture, games, conflict, sexuality – in some way participates in the sacred . . . the only profane activities are those which have no mythical meaning. . . . Thus we may say that every responsible activity in pursuit of a definite end is, for the archaic world, a ritual.

      Every ritual has a divine model, an archetype .  . . ‘We must do what the gods did in the beginning.’ ”

      (Mircea Eliade, The Myth of the Eternal Return, p. 27-28, 21)

      Eliade illustrates his point by providing examples of construction rituals in early cultures – required, for example, in ancient Mesopotamia, whether laying the foundation of temple, palace, or peasant’s house. These rites replicate “the primordial act” of the creation of the cosmos (traces of such construction rituals echo today in the rites of the Masonic Order). Yet other examples of “the divine model” abound in rituals still observed, from the Judeo-Christian Sabbath (God rested on the seventh day, after six days of creation) to the marriage ceremony (the divine Hierogamy of the union of Heaven and Earth).

      Campbell arrives at a parallel conclusion:

      Well, the value of mythology in the old traditions, one of the values, was that every activity in life had been mythologized. You saw something of its relevance to the Great Mysteries and your own participation in the Great Mysteries in the performance – in agriculture, in hunting, in military life and so forth. All of these were turned into spiritual disciplines. Actually they were. There were rituals associated with them that let you know what spiritual powers were being challenged, evoked, and brought into play through this action.”

      (Joseph Campbell, The Wisdom of Joseph Campbell, New Dimensions Radio Interview with Michael Toms, Tape I, Side 1.)

      You note in your initial post above, “Individually and collectively, the myth must be enacted or experienced for the person or the group to truly expect to share in its transformative bounty” – and a little later, “So, finally, it is my suggestion that through a full, authentic, and open engagement with the rituals, rites, and ceremonies of living myth, we are able to return to a prelinguistic mode of experience that allows us to step away from our preoccupation with death and our linguistically confined categories of binary opposition and reenter a space where we can, like the child, encounter the sacred directly, immediately, and without a chaperone” (emphasis mine).

      Of course, there’s a lot of context in between I’ve skipped over – but, considering so much of the dominant traditions in our cultures seems tired rather than inspired, and many individuals drawn to Campbell’s work do not participate in any mythological tradition,  I’d like to focus on the question of how you define “living myth” today. What is a living myth, and how does one find it? Would you recommend an individual attach themselves to an existing tradition that speaks to their soul, even if outside their own culture, or perhaps construct their own rituals, maybe draw from a number of mythological and cultural traditions stories, rituals, and other elements that activate centers within their own being (what I think of as the cafeteria model, which Campbell seems to recommend on occasion).

      Or does something else come to mind?



        Everyone; what an incredible conversation this has been and I have learned so much. I was especially moved by the personal aspect of Joseph’s influence on Andrew and the role it played in: “helping you find your way back” as you put it. As it has often been said: “We live on timeless ground”: and indeed one only needs to witness in wonder at the natural world in which we are enclosed as the seasons change and we realize we are only here for a moment as temporary stewards in a never ending cycle of time. We look up at the same heavens others before us have seen for countless generations trying to make some sense of our place in this Grand Opera as Joseph might have put it; and yet we still have many of the same problems as those before us. I really liked the way you and Stephen articulated the many levels of the human experience and how Joseph’s themes helped pull so many of them together into an accessible and reachable whole. I think for many of us Joseph has definitely been the candle in the dark; much like Jung’s: “Telesphorus“. Thank you sincerely for sharing all your insightful personal thoughts and experiences; and look forward to hearing more.


        Dear Professor Andrew Gurevich,

        I love this Mythblast and the concluding paragraph that seems to summarize its content:

        Engaging the emancipatory power of myth as a process of artistic reclamation helps us to unlearn the concrete categories of perceived difference. To ‘paint like a child’ is to forever be the witness of our own shared mythological becoming. Discovering the object only when–and this is essential–the subject is no longer able to see itself as wholly apart from that which it beholds. ‘All great artists draw from the same resource: the human heart,’ the poet and activist Maya Angelou reminds us, ‘which tells us that we are all more alike than we are unalike.’

        I have always felt enthralled with Blake’s idea that, “In order to write we must become like little children”: the idea of childhood innocence of knowing, when we see and hear the world with eyes that are fresh and look at the world in that “new” way of discovery in which the world feels so enchanted and enchanting. Some have also said that the artwork of Miro is childlike. There is such a fun and refreshing simplicity to it yet the lines hold things to weigh in balance that would create transcendence of tension of the lines and shapes. I think too of the game of charades when we use our bodies to “draw” out the most simplest of non-verbal descriptions in the air or on paper, and what and how we relate to things around us or in nature with our bodies as well as our minds. How a tree makes us want to stretch out our arms or climb into the air or see what the birds see. Or the physical sensation we get when watching a seashell or piece of driftwood get carried out on a wave to further out on the lake or sea. I think when we see and feel the wonder of nature we are receiving the gift of being young again, or free from our most constrained older selves. I think dance is a wonderful art form to help release ourselves from this no matter how old we are or how “unlearned” we might be. To engage in the art and in the world more freely is what I get from this Mythblast. I think this makes a great New Year’s Resolution here at the beginning of February.

        I am also enthralled with this Mythblast, Stephen’s questions, and your answers. Lately I have been re-reading Campbell’s The Inner Reaches of Outer Space and it is such a treasure of synchronicity to read this Mythblast while in chapter 3 titled “The Way of Art.”

        I was particularly drawn to that statement in the Mythblast about how God does not enjoy the ritual practice of those who are disenchanted with the ritual or the myth! I recall moments when as I was growing up and had to go to church so much that in the Catholic Mass I was bored with going through the motions of the repetition! If I was bored, how boring I must have been! And could we say that often about any of our moments or activities in which we feel bored, that it is not life that is lacking the artistic quality (or boring) but our attitude towards life or that activity that is lacking the art that could otherwise lift our spirits to the moment (that is boring)? This is such a mindful reminder to be mindful of that!

        I enjoy thinking back to when I was a child, as this Mythblast has me do, and basking in my memories and the sensation of how fun it was to paint a tree the way I felt like painting it (the way I was naturally seeing it or sensing it) or a poem or story the way I was feeling an event whether an imaginal event or a real one—before encountering so many constructs of the should’s and should-not’s. (Sometimes that is what my journal is for.) There is also such joy as an adult when drawing and painting with children or grandchildren when it brings me back to feeling like who I most honestly and truly am—yes, under all the language skills, vocabularies we use, etc. However, I can also say that sometimes language is so much fun and gloriously exhilarating when it can express and with ease a metaphor or myth so perfectly at times! But those metaphors and myths do get us to the hearts of matters as you discuss in this Mythblast.

        Oh and I meant to add after the paragraph quote of yours above that when Maya Angelou as you say tells us that we are more alike than not alike that that means not just the likenesses between people, but people and trees or other flora life, or people and animals (and animal masks), or people and the masks of God. Campbell quoted Shakespeare when he wrote that,

        Shakespeare said that art is a mirror held up to nature. And that’s what it is. The nature is your nature, and all of these wonderful poetic images of mythology are referring to something in you. When your mind is simply trapped by the image out there so that you never make the reference to yourself, you have misread the image.” (Joseph Campbell,  from Joseph Campbell and the Power of Myth with Bill Moyers, p. 57, retrieved from,

        Thank you, Professor Andrew Gurevich, for your inspiration through art and mythology, which feels especially vital in these times of isolation–and thank you to all the deep responses to this Mythblast from those who responded that remind us all how in oh so many ways we are connected.


        Marianne Bencivengo

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