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Realizations Upon Reading the Hero With a Thousand Faces

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  • #72936

    There are so many thoughts of Campbell’s in The Hero With a Thousand Faces that were life-altering when I first read it–and in looking through it now–in that they seemed to relay to me more understanding of experiences I had in my life by putting feelings so aptly into words and offering his studied understanding of them. One of my favorite Campbell quotes from this book (this post could just as easily go under the forum topic of quotes) put into words my feelings during an experience I had as a small child when on a field trip to the Cleveland Museum of Art, when our second-grade class walked into the Egyptian room. I had read children’s books on mythology and have had a lifelong love of Egyptian myth and Egyptology. When I entered the room, I was filled with awe, and felt pulled then to the mummies like a magnet. So in awe I was of a mummy that I stood there just gazing or staring at it in fascination and wonderment. I stood there so long that I did not even notice that our teacher and class had moved on to go into the next room display. A couple moments later, the teacher noticed I was not with the rest of the class and looked back into the room I was still in and back at me and called my name to get back to the rest of the class. I could have stood there all morning, and though excited to see more of the museum, was rather disappointed I couldn’t just stay where I was with the amazing mummy! I found myself lingering just a moment to say goodbye to it, to bid it farewell!

    Here are the words of Campbell which helped describe what I was experiencing:

    “The agony of breaking through personal limitations is the agony of spiritual growth. Art, literature, myth and cult, philosophy, and ascetic disciplines are instruments to help the individual past his limiting horizons into spheres of ever-expanding realization. As he crosses threshold after threshold, conquering dragon after dragon, the stature of the divinity that he summons to his highest wish increases, until it subsumes the cosmos. Finally, the mind breaks the bounding sphere of the cosmos to a realization transcending all experiences of form – all symbolizations, all divinities: a realization of the ineluctable void.”
    ― Joseph Campbell, The Hero With a Thousand Faces

    A personal limitation as a child can be wishing one could quickly jump over that threshold of spiritual understanding or growth. None of my family members had died yet at that time, but I did often find dead birds and other dead animals in the woods around where I lived which of course brought up many questions about death and dying. I had seem some Egyptian mummies in illustrations in books, but this time at the museum was my first time seeing a real mummy–or as some people joked, “a real live mummy!”

    The words “ascetic disciplines are instruments to help the individual past his limiting horizons into spheres of ever-expanding realization” which I read in this section when I was older, reminded me not only of myself in those moments of my life, but seemed like synchronicity to me or musical pennies for my thoughts as it brought to mind also the discipline of mummification I had read about and the instruments used to perform the art of mummification, as well as how the process and practice of mummification was so that the deceased may go past the horizon of life on this earth and into the expanses of the afterlife of the heavens. I also had always wondered/hoped for what truths (realizations) we might find once we died and were in some kind of afterlife, if there would be awareness, if any mysteries would be revealed, etc.

    #72951
    David
    Participant

    Thanks so much for sharing that, Mary Ann!

    That process of breaking through the restricting bonds of limitation — of experiencing the “spheres of ever-expanding realization” is, I think, the crux of what Campbell was talking about when he set out to describe the Hero’s Journey in The Hero with a Thousand Faces. It’s the psychological and spiritual process through which we grow and change.

    Not always a fun or happy process — more blisters sometimes than bliss — but important nonetheless, right?

    #72950

    And now, Mary Ann, here you are, all these decades later, still that little girl looking at the mummy.

    Curious how you’re coming on those truths and realizations from beyond the grave . . .

    #72949

    Sorry, I’m afraid my vocabulary isn’t so colorful..but Mary Ann, on the part where you said you’d find dead birds around where you lived as a child, I found myself facing a similar situation. I never came across death at an early age, never came across dying of anything other than killing cockroaches and insects. But about a year ago, I couldn’t really understand what made me do the thing I did. While my girlfriend was watering her garden outside the house, I came out and suddenly found a bird getting stuck beneath the hose, it was still alive and it didn’t move. So I called my girlfriend to see what’s going on. The little bird just stood there not moving, but her eyes are still opening and head moving. So an old gardener from the neighbor came by and checked on the little bird, and says maybe she’s sick, because the poor thing wouldn’t fly and won’t walk away. Then after a moment the little bird slowly slumped and fell over. I was shocked and tried to support it, did what I could to put her in a shoe box support with clothes and water, and we drove her to the animal vet.
    I don’t know what was going on in my head, but the thoughts weren’t like in logical order, not like a thought process of a computer. But rather, I found myself and my girlfriend just looking at the bird at every moment and anticipating what happens next. I remembered I looked at the bird’s eyes, and wondered if she knew we’re trying to help her. Was she scared? Maybe..Was she conscious? Perhaps, But why was she here? outside the doorstep of my girlfriends house? The little bird passed away in the shoe box while my girlfriend was driving to the clinic. Right before she died, I heard from the shoe box, the little bird calling out twice then her body went still and stiff. The clinic doctor felt sorry, because out of the blue, two strangers walk in with a bird in a box. We never thought of anything else, or maybe how ridiculous we may look to others….all we were trying to do is to save the little bird….then we took her back to my girlfriend’s garden and buried the little bird in the back yard.
    Now is there life after death? What happened to that little bird, all of sudden her body went stiff, and her eyes stopped moving? What happened when she wouldn’t move? Where did she go? These questions now still come to me. It might be the precious opportunity that showed up that’s trying to teach me about something…what is it? It felt like a riddle, but it certainly doesn’t feel good at all, when something just dies….you could see it, you could feel it, the differences of life and death. But is death really the end of life itself??? I think maybe this question can relate to Mary Ann’s (yours) childhood fascination with mummies. So I think I’ll just return the question back to her…Mary Ann, could you remember what was going on in your thoughts as a child when you looked at the mummies?

    #72948

    Hi David!
    No, not always so fun and not always bliss, as you say! I just thought of the saying, “No pain, no gain!” I often think about how yes the joy of discovery or life lessons learned are well worth the pain! And then when the pain has subsided, oh then the bliss is that much more blissful–in appreciation of the beauty returned that remains!

    #72947

    Stephen, I have to chuckle here as you are absolutely correct! I am still the little girl still looking at the mummy! From beyond the grave, wow, I love the poetics of that and now I will have to chew on that idea for a while–maybe forever!

    #72946

    Hi savemysoul, I love your story of trying to save the little bird! You described it and what you were feeling so well I felt like I was there with you. I can feel your sadness and disappointment that the little bird did not live long enough to get it to the vet to possibly save it. I love your story in that it shows the empathy and tenderness for the lives of living creatures and the whole cycle of birth and death. And then like you are questioning at the end how we all wonder about rebirth (beyond that of the seasons which is more seemingly impersonal to us as humans living our lives than the here and now of the individual lives we humans and all the creatures around us are living. I would like to share a couple stories with you too about trying to save baby birds, one from my own childhood and another story from my daughter’childhood and hope to do that soon. But here for now I will try to answer the wonderful question you asked me about how I felt when looking/gazing at the mummy.

    It is hard to describe how I felt back then, but the first thing I noticed was the incredible beauty of the sarcaphagus. I probably should have mentioned I didn’t see the actual mummy or mummified body at the museum–I had seen illustrations in books of mummies though. The sarcaphagus with so artful with all its golden and blue and coral colors and the black lines accents of the eyes and the decor on it, plus it was large and seemed larger-than-life itself. I was awe-struck with the brilliance and the art. I did wonder moments later about the body inside, and I marveled that there was a body once alive in there. I grew up attending a Catholic school so I was used to seeing the statues with the glowing eyes in the hallways at every turn as if the statues of the saints were somehow alive and their eyes always watching or following you (meaning the general you as in me or you), so i perceived it much as I perceived the statues of the saints in the Catholic school–like statues almost alive or alive in some sense in that they seemed to still possess “soul.” In that sense, I perceived it as mystical and in its own way rather magical of some sort. I felt so in awe of it that it was as if it were almost some kind of miracle that I was able to be there seeing it. It had a stately appearance, as if in all its beauty it was so beautiful that it was also solemn, and in that sense, sacred, then. So very still. I do remember wanting to speak with it somehow, wishing I could ask it questions. I do feel like I was hoping to try to identify with it somehow as to how it felt to know the “:secrets” of eternity! The longer I stood there, I think (if I recall correctly–or perhaps I am editing in later details of my own personal myth!), the more I wondered about the mysteries of death that might be answered by the ancient Egyptians. Thank you for asking! It was fun to think back into what I was feeling! I kind of feel put back on a track now, like a life-track, after posting this and reading the responses. It does kind of tell me a lot about what my personal myth has been about and still is. Like everyone else, I suppose, I do wish I knew all the mysteries and “secrets” about death. It is sad but it does loom larger than life and in that way is amazing. But most of all, I felt the beauty of the art. The art of living? The art of dying? The art of the ancient Egyptians who made such things so beautiful with the craft of paint and dyes?

    I have been to the Cleveland Museum of Art a couple times in the past couple years, and again was drawn to the Amazing Mummy Room! I had my photo taken in front of an open and empty sargaphagus! As if to say I survived all I have survivved at this point, and look, it (I) live! lol! I will have to review how to post/include pics in this forum! I am not very high tech, but will try to decipher the mysterious mummmy code!

    I can also ask you if there are birds around where you live now or have you ever wanted a bird? What type of bird was it, or colors? What are your favorite birds? I love herons, ducks, and I love wild canaries (had a big dream of one once) and love the folklore of “the bluebird of happiness.”

    I think one thing I felt when seeing dead baby birds on the forest ground was also helplessness. Like you trying to save the bird but being helpless in the larger face of time. You and your story made me think of that, of “helplessness.”

    Nice meeting you and hearing your story!
    Mary Ann

    #72945

    Mary Ann and savemysoul,

    I love how your personal experiences mirror what Campbell believed was the origin of mythic thinking. Here’s an excerpt from a manuscript being prepared for publication (from a Q and A with Campbell):

    WHERE DO MYTHS COME FROM?

    It’s the experience of death that I regard as the beginning of mythic thinking – the actual seeing of someone dead who was alive and talking to you yesterday – dead, cold, beginning to rot. Where did the life go? That’s the beginning of myth.

    That’s what happened, I think, in the Paleolithic caves when burials came in. “I thought that was all you were, but now, my gosh, there’s another dimension to this.” And if that can be recognized after death, well, to have it recognized before death, look what it does!

    Whether a Neanderthal hunter-gatherer, or a small child in our contemporary era, the imaginal process would appear to be the same . . .

    #72944

    Stephen,
    Thank you, I love this quote and your remarks. Where was that Q & A from, from The Power of Myth? Parts of that quote are familiar to me. Are you editing that new publication? That will be a great read. That “other dimension” is what so many of us attempt to project, into the sky, into the big “beyond” and then being little and burying a dead bird found in the woods or one’s yard, or burying a pet goldfish. I remember seeing a butterfly with a broken wing barely moving as if it was dying on the ground and trying to put it back onto a flowering bush so it could have its last taste of nectar, of the sweetness of life, or else be somehow strengthened back to life and healing. I sat there with it for a while and then later I put it back on the ground under the bush so that it would not suffer failing out of the bush since it had a torn wing. I remember feeling so sad for the butterfly and wanting to do something for it. The next day I went back to the flowering bush and the butterfly was gone. I wish I had known how to mend its wing.
    –Mary Ann

    #72943

    The question is my own; Campbell’s answer stitches together a sentence from a book tour interview, and the rest from the unaired part of a radio interview. (Sometimes on book tours Joe would be interviewed by a local reporter who did not know myth from meth, and simply asked generic questions; in his replies Joe tended to ignore those and segue instead into answering the question he felt should have been asked.)

    The manuscript has been completed and handed off for the next step in the pre-publication process. Eventually it will come back to me with corrections and suggestions for revision before moving along to the next stage – but that may not be completed this year, as there are other projects in the pipeline that need to be addressed first.

    #72942

    Hi Mary, thanks for the reply but unfortunately I’m not a bird person, nor do I ever wanted one, and I wish I’d knew what kind of bird it was, because I never paid attention to what species it was or what kind of bird it was…all I knew was that its not doing well and dying here in front of my girlfriend and I.  Now that you mentioned it, it was strange because I knew it was a bird, but I didn’t categorize with a logical mind, or look at it with ‘scientific view?’ but if it was a pigeon or perhaps other animals, that point of encountering a life that’s dying on your door step, I guess I would like to ask all of us (as people), what would you do? If its an insect, well I’ll be honest, its also a life, but I don’t think I would feel the same compare to a bird.  Strange…its biased.  But for the bird, it’s more apparent to ‘feel’ because I was able to see it’s head movements, and the little expressions? and was able to look at its eyes.  Honestly, insects are another form of life that has a spirit too….but I’m no Holy man.

    When I saw the bird slowly dying away, honestly…I was also recalling the same moment when I was with my grandpa alone in the hospital during his last breath.  When I was with my grandpa, I recalled the dying bird on the door step.  That quiet, and solemn glow in the eyes, I’d like to think that perhaps its the sparkling spirit that still dances in that material body.  Is this why that bird came to my girlfriend’s door step? was it a sign? Or somehow was it because it knew that it was a peaceful place to release it’s spirit? And why am I the one end up seeing this? (why Me? the bird could be anywhere to die?) And why am I the only person who’s there with my grandpa for his last breath? (I did call out to him to stay longer so that the whole family would get here since their on their way.  He had heard me because his eyes got teary, but something just calmly tells me to let him go.)  The bird’s look in the eyes, that stillness before leaving this world…its the same for all life with the spirit in the world.  I would say, my grandpa and the bird both passed away peacefully.  I’m not a smart business man, or an entrepreneur, or some optimistic business inherit person in my family..but I always find fascination with Native American spirituality, their view point with this world, just their way of life and so on.

    I didn’t feel any helplessness or guilt, because it was a different situation.  I didn’t understand exactly what was happening with the bird, and we were just doing what we could to save it.  I knew there maybe other factors to break down the details of what went wrong, but there’s no point to force anything.  Maybe it’s a blessing? to have the chance of looking at a life going away? Maybe the bird is telling me something, just as my grandpa is telling me still to this day, the mysteries of life and our spirit.

     

    #72941

    WHERE DO MYTHS COME FROM?

    It’s the experience of death that I regard as the beginning of mythic thinking – the actual seeing of someone dead who was alive and talking to you yesterday – dead, cold, beginning to rot. Where did the life go? That’s the beginning of myth.

    That’s what happened, I think, in the Paleolithic caves when burials came in. “I thought that was all you were, but now, my gosh, there’s another dimension to this.” And if that can be recognized after death, well, to have it recognized before death, look what it does!
    Whether a Neanderthal hunter-gatherer, or a small child in our contemporary era, the imaginal process would appear to be the same . . .”

    Dear Stephen, I had to read this over and over again because although it sounds really simple to understand, but actually I felt that was just the surface of the ocean.  But there’s something that just keep coming into my head and that is the object of a circle.  At the end or once where the last breath was given by the dying, after the spirit has left its body, where does it go? I remembered looking around for my grandpa after he just gave his last breath.  I tried to imagine (the childish side), but I just knew quietly that he’s getting a different kind of view from where he’s at.  We will never know of course.

    The circle that I kept thinking about after talking to my girlfriend, she said it’s the circle that I go back to the beginning again.  The place that I have to start again with myself. What happened was, I felt my grandpa was telling me to let go all of the anger and accusations I had with one of my family members from what they’ve done before to my dad.  During my grandpa’s last breath, that message just somehow came into me as I watched him.  Like he knew what was holding me hostage on the inside…so after that message he passed away.  Then right after, my uncle came in (he was the one) with my cousins, and he wept.  Then I knew what my grandpa meant (he didn’t speak, I just only looked at him.) So it began a new relationship with my uncle and my cousins.  I have to say that I am so grateful and finally able to open up to him.  For me, that’s just one of the circles in life, and yet more will come and they’ll all be together like a Native American tapestry or weaved circles intertwined together. (I came in full circle for this part, because I realized mankind can spend their whole lives hating and killing each other.  What good does that ever do to anybody?)

    So death perhaps isn’t so much the end…its not the end, it maybe the end for a certain material body, but the spirit will transcend.  Or maybe the spirit was never meant to remain on this material world ever, the spirit was never from this place in the beginning.

    #72940

    savemysoul writes

    “But there’s something that just keep coming into my head and that is the object of a circle.  At the end or once where the last breath was given by the dying, after the spirit has left its body, where does it go? I remembered looking around for my grandpa after he just gave his last breath. “

    I have to appreciate your timing. Right now I’m working on a MythBlast focused on “the mythology of breath” (for lack of a better term). Life outside the womb for every human begins with that first breath. Every breath thereafter marks our existence as a separate, individual being growing into our own conscious awareness of the world around us—until our final breath, when consciousness recedes, to we know not where.

    Breath washes in, breath washes out; consciousness washes in, consciousness washes out—but whence the source of consciousness, and where does it go? Mythology associates consciousness with the breath—so what, then, is the Source of Breath?

    “And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living soul. ” Genesis 2:7, King James Version (KJV)

    and then from the Brhadaranyaka Upanishad (3.7.1):

    “He [the Divine Self] dwells in the breath, He is within the breath; the breath, however, does not know Him: the breath is His body, He controls the breath from within. He dwells in the mind, He is within the mind; the mind does not know Him: the mind is His body, He controls the mind from within.”

    Of course, I read God / Brahman as a metaphor – perhaps for the circle you mention. And what is breath but a circle – we breathe in, the oxygen circulates through our body, we breathe out, and repeat the cycle again. And when we deliver that last breath into the atmosphere, consciousness leaves as well … which circles around to your final thought:

     

    “So death perhaps isn’t so much the end…its not the end, it maybe the end for a certain material body, but the spirit will transcend.  Or maybe the spirit was never meant to remain on this material world ever, the spirit was never from this place in the beginning.”

    #72939
    Mars
    Participant

    Realizations or revalations are experienced by everyone and everything on mostly unexpected moments and thus not understood and absorbed fully in their extend. That’s not what we’re busy with. We’re surviving, not revelating our life. That would not work. But some are given it, and somethimes a sudden peeking through a keyhole may reveal a landscape, smaller or larger then expected, as through a magnifying or reducing mirror (Alice in WL), which is so much beyond understanding, being it a mummy or a bird, messengers from our now or a distant past, not intentionnally for our benefit, but as a changeover, like changing currency to enter another country, another realm, a share on mutual grounds.

    What was one of the secrets of life (rehearsal of previous lesson): in order to live we have to consume what has lived only recently and has offered itself out of life and polarized experience we’re still engaged in. Until our time has come and our blessings will be devoured by others, feeding them with our nutrients and possibly an echo of those previous revelations.

    All rituals, performed by humans (!), are based upon this guilt, as we, the same humans, ourselves framed as gods or blessed by our invented gods, are not as such and seek for redemption of this awareness our grasp into eternity. (I did not looked this up, my fingers just typed it while I was pooring myself a hartly drink at 2:15am). Ritualized, the deceased and the wingless are carrying us upward accordingly, in their proper virtue. So they, as we, now or whenever, are blessed as well, dead and buried, alive or unborn. And next morning, the mummified birdface gaze at you in that same mirror.

    #72938

    Hi Mars,

    I enjoy the poetic quality of your response here, the poetic language. Meanwhile, I have the following thoughts:

    I consider that the experience is different for different people. It seems to me that I have spent my life in the activity of experiencing things and ‘revelating’ my life in/with that experience ever since I can remember as if reflection of this sort is simply in my nature. I live a lot of my moments on earth in retrospect, review, memory, memoir, and building upon them. I don’t always will it so–often it just so happens, even while I am busy surviving, as you say.  The symbols in life often re-occurring  with their re-occurring themes, as Stephen noted here in his responses.

    Nothing more, nothing less–it comes natural to me to think and ‘revelate’ /reveal. I think this is a common urge and way of being for those people who enter a mythic forum like this one–isn’t it that we are all in one way or another constantly unpacking things? All these relics to unwrap! All these mythologems!

    Then, perhaps, in the arts!

    A stroke of thought becomes a stroke of revelation becomes a brushstroke! Or a stroke of thought becomes a new line in a poem becomes a stanza and there is that revelation of the moment!  Life being full of revelation, always telling us each a story about this earth and its creatures or elements or aspects of life! A stroke of thought becomes the urge to hear a certain song we love! Or to respond here in the forum upon reading someone’s post!

    Blessings,

    Mary Ann

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