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Campbell on Personal Mythology

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    Joseph Campbell’s lecture in August on the Joseph Campbell: Pathways podcast is titled “Living Your Personal Myth” (click on title to listen or learn more – it’s free – or find this series on whatever platform you listen to podcasts).

    This talk from 1973, delivered shortly after Campbell retired from teaching, couldn’t be any more on topic for this thread. At the start of August my wife and I were winging our way across the continent for a couple weeks vacation exploring Boston, Connecticut, and New York City, so only just listened to it a couple days ago on my morning walk through the neighborhood – otherwise, I would have thought to post a link much sooner.

    Bradley Olson, Ph.D., editor of JCF’s MythBlast essay series (Brad will be joining us in COHO’s MythBlast forum next week to discuss his latest essay), provides an introduction and commentary at the end. He makes a compelling point about the difference between “personal myth” (uncovering and engaging the mythological dynamics moving your life) and “personalized myth” (an all-too-common misunderstanding of the concept); your personal myth isn’t something you choose – rather, it’s the myth that’s living you.

    Campbell shares several valuable insights as to how one might do this. Worth a listen to see what resonates for you.


    Thank you Stephen for another gem. Still listening and re-listening.

    Joe Campbell: “When you are in a situation of total disaster, what would make you go on living? What do you have in your life that will have you keep going?”

    Answer: Myths to live by and Joe Campbell’s words.

    Addendum: Stephen, I have n0 more regrets, no more sorrow, no more blame. I needed to hear that podcast at this particular time in life (that is when living my full moon) to make sense of  why it is my own self I should be blaming.

    Joe’s Quote (jcf. org) “Freud tells us to blame our parents for all the shortcomings of our life, Marx tells us to blame the upper class of our society. But the only one to blame is oneself.”
    — Joseph Campbell
    Featured in: Joseph Campbell Quotes

    Podcast: segment 42:00 >> Marx tells us to blame the society for our frailty, Freud tells us to blame the parents for our frailty The only place to look for blame is when you didn’t have the guts to bring up your full moon – and live the life that was your ( true) potential. 

    Shaahayda (in gratitude)


    I’ve always been interested in the intersection between narrative therapy and Joseph Campbell’s commentary on how we see ourselves and our struggles in myth. Now I’m wondering if that would fall more under the category of personal myth or personalized myth?

    ~Aaron K.


    Good question, Aaron.

    I saw this post a couple days ago, but this is the first chance I’ve had to reply (you may have noticed by now that discussions in Conversations of a Higher Order unfold at a much more leisurely pace then over social media, where a Facebook post, no matter the depth and profundity of the comments it generates, tends to scroll off the screen and into the ether within a few hours, or a day or two at most, never to be seen again; here in COHO it’s not unusual for individuals to take a day or two, or even a week or two or more, to digest a post and let thoughts simmer a bit before seeing what bubbles up to the surface and posting a reply – nor do we shy away from longer posts).

    There does seem more than a little resonance between narrative therapy and Campbell’s conceptualization of personal mythology, especially in the initial stage of the therapeutic process (can’t change the story until one knows what story has been playing out in our lives – definite overlap between that and discovering one’s personal myth).

    My sense is that “personalized myth,” as opposed to “personal myth,” is an ego choice – more of a want or desire than necessarily an act grounded in self-reflection, whereas changing one’s story under the aegis of narrative therapy is, like finding one’s personal myth, ground in the dictum “Know Thyself.”

    Just for my own benefit, I find myself conceiving the difference between discovering one’s personal myth and employing narrative therapy as analogous to the difference between traditional dreamwork and lucid dreaming: similar dynamics at work, albeit with a different inflection.


    Thank-you Stephen for that clarification!


    Happy to share, Aaron – but that is just my perspective. I’m curious how you approach these concepts in your teaching and workshops, where what counts might not be the terminology used so much, as what actually works.


    Understood, thank-you! In teaching Joseph Campbell (primarily to high school students), I typically focused on the Hero’s Journey, along with excerpts from Power of Myth. The students almost always adhered to a familiar arc, a sort of Hero’s Journey meta-journey!

    1. Skepticism about the universality of the stages of the Hero’s Journey.

    2. Acceptance of the universality of the Hero’s Journey (often after experimenting with applying it to unlikely material such as a TV show).

    3. Disbelief/wonderment about the universality of the Hero’s Journey.

    4. An exploration of personal connections to various stages of the journey, inspired by the prevalence of archetype in mythology (aka “Maybe there’s something to all this!”).

    5. Sometimes mind-blowing personal connections to individual or cumulative stages of the Hero’s Journey, often achieved through journaling, small group discussion, or guided meditation.

    And one of the most useful things about studying Joseph Campbell for me as the teacher was that it then gave the class a collective vocabulary for discussing other texts, with a focus on situational, symbolic, and character archetypes.  For the rest of the year, any time we read something new, a student was bound to notice an archetypal aspect of the text, i.e. “Character X is an example of Situational Archetype Y!”

    We also had some interesting discussions about the relationship between Campbell describing the Hero’s Journey, the concepts then being exploited for commercial purposes by Hollywood, and the ensuing ouroboros of aspects of the journey continuing to show up media. Students are often struck by the fact that Campbell shared the journey as a way of facilitating an understanding of myth and meaning only for (some) media creators to adapt it as a means of popularizing their content, which was fodder for all sorts of great discussion about artistic creation, intent, myth and commerce.

    Hope that gives you some idea!


    I love this, Aaron!

    I too, spent a couple decades in public education, mostly at the junior high level, and especially focused on myth and the Hero’s Journey in particular in literature classes. No surprise, my students (especially the 7th-graders) were generally a touch less skeptical than full-fledged adolescents in high school; I would often begin with a discussion of The Lion King, as something just about every student is familiar with that hits all the markers.

    What I like about your analysis of the trajectory of student reactions is that it pretty much seems to apply to adults as well. I do notice the “sometimes mind-blowing personal connections to individual or cumulative stages of the Hero’s Journey” is often what seals the deal. It’s one thing to see Hollywood moviemakers applying the hero’s journey, but quite another when you recognize that dynamic playing out in your own life.


    Thanks, Stephen!

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