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The Inner Reaches of Outer Space is Within Reach,” with Dennis Slattery, Ph.D”

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    Dennis P. Slattery, Ph.D. is once again joining us in Conversations of a Higher Order, this time to discuss “The Inner Reaches of Outer Space Is Within Reach” (click on title to read), the essay he wrote for this week’s JCF MythBlast. Though I’ll get us started with a comment and a question, this isn’t an interview. Your participation, asking questions and sharing observations, is what’s needed to make this a true “conversation of a higher order” – so please feel free to join us.

    Let’s begin:

    Dennis, in the opening paragraph of your essay you write

    Nor is it true to say that mythic figures are to be read as literal facts. The confusion often stems, as Campbell often repeated in his writings, from assuming that something or someone is literal, not metaphorical of another reality that invites the imagination into a world of multiple possibilities.”

    I am confident that before the foundations of the earth, Thor and Kali and Yahweh and Raven and Isis and Jesus and Coyote and Wakan-tanka and Brigid and Hermes and Vishnu and Legbe and Kuan-yin weren’t all sitting around in the Great Hall of Archetypes somewhere poring over blueprints of the world-to-be and divvying up the map: “Coyote, you get everything west of the Mississippi; Vishnu, since you do well in a humid climate you might as well settle in India; meanwhile Lono says he’ll ride his cosmic surfboard to Hawaii.”

    A playful example to illustrate that mythic figures do not literally exist – and yet, feel the sting of Eros’s shaft as it pierces your heart, the burn of desire that consumes you, the rapture that seizes you as you are overwhelmed by love for some Other, and you know you are in the presence of something greater than yourself, something greater than all the world.

    I know that’s not factual . . . and yet, at the same time, I know it to be True. Such is my experience.

    Joseph Campbell tells us that mythic images are indeed metaphors – and yet,  the way he uses it, metaphor seems more than just a literary device:

    A mythological image is one that evokes and directs psychological energy. It is an energy-evoking and energy-directing sign. A mythology is a system of affect or emotional images; these representations themselves produce this emotion or affect.”

    (Joseph Campbell, Thou Art That, p. 86)

    Metaphors live in the imagination, which is popularly thought of as pretend (“you’re just imagining that”) . . . but those mythic images nevertheless pack a real-world wallop!

    This takes me back to a phrase you use above: ” . . . metaphorical of another reality that invites the imagination into a world of multiple possibilities.” I love the way you link reality and imagination there – sure, another reality, but nevertheless the implication is that there is a reality to the imagination.

    Symbolic images have no substance, but are they real?

    Would you mind expanding on that a bit more, playing with how an image is not concrete, not literal, and yet at the same time can be “true,” with a real-world impact?

    Or maybe the question I’m really reaching for is, “Is it possible to understand Joseph Campbell’s mythic perspective absent a willingness to embrace paradox?”

    Dennis Slattery

      Thank you Stephen for your rich set of questions and statements above. I have a couple of thoughts right out of the chute. First of all, I was so moved by Henri Corbin’s essay on the Imaginal. He takes great pains not to use the word imaginary, which he notes contains an aura of untruth. Rather, he chooses imaginal to signify that terrain between the phenomenal world of matter and the spiritual world of invisible presences. The imaginal exists between them and participates in both.

      When I read different variations of Campbell’s use of metaphor and imagination I believe that he means a place in the soul that allows us to access the invisibles but nonetheless real aspects of the imaginal realm. I guess I would say that the myths, fairy tales and classics of literature, which include writers writing today invite us into the “as-if” realm where presences become powerfully real to us and may influence our dreams, our waking lives and shape our thinking in new or modified ways. I know, for example, that I was changed in my thinking as I taught Dante’s Divine Comedy for years, or my favorite, Moby-Dick, that still haunts me and I find in the circumstances that Dante or Melville laid out in their rich imaginative worlds analogies to my own the life of our culture right now. So the universals that exist in each of our souls are given particularity in these works, that lead our imaginations to these universals. I think the vehicle for these voyages are the metaphors, symbols and actions that the poets and artists pick up on and shape in their own ways to create a world of imaginations.

      Like the psyche, as Jung suggests, these worlds of imagination have their own reality and may, with the great writers and artists, paradoxically, shape worlds that are more real in some respects than our every day realities because they have been artistically shaped by powerful talents into realities that we can participate in while holding the tension of our everyday lives.

      Truly a marvelous quality in being human: to be able to imagine worlds that exist, but on a different plane of reality than our quotidian lives inhabit. Yes, paradoxically, they not only connect with our daily lives but actually deepen and enhance them.

      I believe it was the poet Wallace Stevens in one of his essays who observed that the poets and writers we experience expand the orbit of our own range of understanding by showing us to ourselves by analogy in rich patterns of growth and decay and renewal.

      James Hillman was one of many writers to suggest that the malady of modernity was the curse of literalism–having to have all of our experiences be literally true while leaving what is imaginally true by the roadside. When any of us reads poetry or stories that move us, we have a concrete human experience and often they have more TRUTH attached to them than our daily lives reveal to us. I also love the observations that Tim O’Brien makes throughout his classic story from his experiences in Vietnam, The Things They Carried. I copied many of his remarks on the nature of story from that work; it is a treasure trove of observations on stories. He writes, I think correctly, that stories do not have to have happened to be true. And, that stories that actually happened may not be true. What a paradox these observations rile up!

      Coincidentally, I am reading a new book by T. M. Luhrmann, How God Becomes Real: Kindling the Presence of Invisible Others. Tanya teaches psychology and anthropology at Stanford and is fascinated with how we come to believe what we believe. That is my interest. But she goes further into studies she has done to reveal how capacities in us, like Absorption, the ability to be present to an experience, can open one to invisible presences–God and others. May we include Myths here? We have to. We can become so absorbed in a story, a hunch, an intuition, that it takes on its own life and may muscle its way into our belief system.

      I hope these few responses to Stephen’s fine comments above opens things up for others of you to respond. I look forward to it.


      Thank You, Dennis,

      for that wonderful response. I don’t want to hog the conversation, but you do bring up some of my favorites (James Hillman, and the poet Wallace Stevens), though T.M. Luhrmann’s book has been off my radar until now.

      Frankly, though, I did want to take a moment to note that the link to your website in the bio paragraph at the end of your essay is incorrect (though that is in the process of being fixed). So, for those who missed it, here is the correct URL for your site:

      This is especially important for our fellow Campbellophiles, who should check out your upcoming events at this link. Those who scroll down the page will see that May 12 – 15 of next year (2022) you will be leading a workshop in Santa Fe, New Mexico, entitled “Questing for Our Personal Myth: Writing, Remembering, and Renewing Our Story Through the Teachings of Joseph Campbell.”

      I notice that event was originally scheduled for last week. Though I’m sorry that didn’t happen, it’s good news for the many who responded in our COHO discussion of your previous MythBlast essay, especially given there’s more than a year to plan and prep for a trip (and, in fact, I’d recommend any who have not been to Santa Fe take a few extra days on one end or the other to explore the area – such a magical setting).

      I hope forum participants will forgive me for inserting what may appear to be a blatant promotion into the discussion, but I know this subject is of interest to many, and seemed the least I could do after we posted the wrong link.

      And now, back to our regularly scheduled programming.


      Dear Dr. Slattery,

      A mythological image is one that evokes and directs psychological energy. It is an energy-evoking and energy-directing sign. A mythology is a system of affect or emotional images; these representations themselves produce this emotion or affect.”

      Your essay and Stephen’s nuggets surely evoked psychological energy. A friend once asked, “ When is it that you had a truly good conversation, or in whose company do you have a truly good conversation?” I did not have to think hard and long, because only a week ago, I had had a wonderful conversation with Marianne, and a few days later a number of rich and resourceful text messages from James and Stephen. Moreover all the MYTHBLAST essays in some form or another are the rich soil through which our conversation grows. is that place where I have engaged in good conversations, and in a good conversation, you are not judged, you are engaged. So, thank you  Dr. Slattery for enriching our lives, and allowing us to express and engage with you here.

      When I sat down to write, I only wanted to ask you to elaborate the importance of imagination in living our lives. If we had chosen a certain path in life, using our imagination, would not our lives be entirely different? Perhaps, a  different or better career, a fine soul-mate, great friends, a rich love life? But yes, our environment, family and friends, teachers and peers, did step  in to alter what we had internally imagined. Our deepest inmost thoughts were never realized, just imagined. So many inhibitions and societal constraints derailed that imagination train.

      Right now, I have a simple question based on what I have read and heard of imagination. Possibilities are like imaginations, and let’s say, out of  5 possibilities, I achieve 1, that one becomes a fact, then what happens to the other 4? Do these possibilities or our fond imaginations somehow lurk around, and keep us hopping and hoping until one other possibility becomes a fact too? Or do they all remain unrealized as happens often in unrequited love?

      Additionally I thought of your words, especially, “Truly a marvelous quality in being human: to be able to imagine worlds that exist, but on a different plane of reality than our quotidian lives inhabit.” Then “worlds existing on a different plane” led me to think of Mystics and Shamans, and is it not the mystic’s imagination that helps him see god in all things? Imagination is the ground on which people have spiritual experiences. Julian of Norwich comes to mind, who because of her spiritual experience and mystic trance experienced god’s love. In “Revelations of Divine Love in Sixteen Showings”, we find Julian’s most famous quotation: “Would you learn to see clearly your Lord’s meaning in this thing? Learn it well: Love was his meaning. Who showed it to you? Love. Why did he show it to you? For love. Thus, I was taught that Love was our Lord’s meaning.” God is LOVE, Period, according to Julian. 

      Similarly, a Sufi mystic Idries Shah (1924-1996) refers to Sufism as ‘THE PATH OF THE SUFI”, not a specific religion or some form of spiritual practice related to Islam. He writes that a  “Sufi is known as a seeker, the drunken, the lover, the dervish, the fqkir( the poor homeless ) Kalandar (a person who has excelled in seeing things and imagining things)” Are these all the Sufi’s imagined states?

      It’s said that one of the things that has been neglected in our present day world, is the imagination of God, not the good will or mercy of God. Would love to hear your thoughts on all the above, or just one, if you have time.

      Thank you very much.


      Dennis Slattery

        Thank you so much, Stephen and for helping me draw attention to the Santa Fe Retreat where we will muse over many ideas and passages from Joseph Campbell’s works. We are excited to keep this retreat alive during the covid period and believe that by the time of the retreat things will have made it possible to safely join us.

        And thank you for correcting the website so that folks can read about it. Campbell is one of those special writers that invite readers to engage in reveries on his words and ideas so to enrich their own souls and even extend the possibilities of Campbell’s rich insights. We all can see how he builds on writers that he loved reading and I think would be delighted for us to do the same.

        So we hope you all who read this and Stephen’s response above will consider joining us. Dennis

        Dennis Slattery

          Hi Shaahayda and thank you for such a thoughtful and rich series of insights.

          I love your questions as well. I cannot remember the author of what I am going to write next, that “imagination IS reality.” Sorry about losing the author but the idea is so rich. It may have been the poet and artist, William Blake. It is fascinating and sad to me that we have debased the imagination since the Enlightenment, when reason, quantification and measurement became the gold standards for defining the real. Then, with the Romantics, of which Freud and Jung and later James Hillman and Marion Woodman, Marie-Louise von Franz and others are inheritors, a swing back to imagining became a valid way of knowing. The arts, myths, poetry, literature are all ways into that deeper plane of living, of being in touch with what Campbell called the Transcendent. In fact he believed that myth’s purpose was to move us to a place–a rich journey–  individual would become transparent to transcendence. I think that this is where mythology leads us, as he also believed:

          First, Campbell wrote, there is the literal; behind it is the mythical; and behind IT is the mystical, what cannot be spoken but can be experienced. So myths are pointers to that transcendent realm, the realm of the mystic, which I believe is available to all of us. I find that exciting experience when I read and contemplate classics of literature. I think one of the most mystical epics I have ever read is Melville’s Moby-Dick, published in 1851 when Melville was only 32! Such a genius.

          To your last question: Are these all the Sufi’s imagined states? I think that imagined state is the territory of the most real of human/divine experiences, and is in fact the goal or destiny of the 100 cantos that Dante wrote in his Commedia to get to just that place, of the Primal Love that moves the sun, the stars and the created order.

          Thank you for your inspiring writing that led me to contemplate what I just wrote back to you. I hope there is at least of sliver of light in what I wrote. My warm wishes to you, Shaahayda.


          Dear Dr. Slattery,

          Not to take too much of your time, but I wanted to follow your response with of course, Joe Campbell on imagined god(s).

          “And that’s what Jung is saying in his Answer to Job : it is actually the work of man that is projected in the image of an imagined being called God. And so, historically, the God image is really a mirror image of the condition of man at a given time.” Campbell, Joseph. A Joseph Campbell Companion: Reflections on the Art of Living (The Collected Works of Joseph Campbell Book 2) .

          The current state of man is the Wall Street Economy.  Even after the crisis of 2008, the riches of the billionaire class are unimaginably high. The god of wealth is running the show. Presently, the future of our planet is controlled by a few multi-nationals. These are powerful entities in terms of influence. Therefore, if these entities imagined and implemented a more ethical eco-conscious role for the planet, we’d save our planet and save the image of our future god.  And to the mystics and shamans, and the sufis of the world, would it be fair to  say that it’s awesome to dance and trance, but bring back those imagined images to heal the planet, to clean and detox the earth, to not go to the forest and forget your precious planet.

          Thank You


          Dennis Slattery

            Hi Shaahayda:

            Your posting is very provocative. I think we as a species wrestle constantly with the energies of contemplation and those of action, symbolized in Dante’s poem by the rich feminine figures of Rachel and Leah. How we balance the energies of the more enclosed world of contemplation and perhaps ritual, and when we step into the world to effect change, is a constant tension. Now some will argue that in contemplation and self-reflection and self-awareness one is in fact affecting the planet. I think the assumption here is that if Everyone did so, our world would be much more humane, balanced and moderate in both consumption and expenditures. And it would take too long, as our planet’s shelf life is growing closer to expiration dates.

            I do believe all of us need to be heard, to speak out and up and not to let the rhetoric of the few and the wealthy run the story line when there are so many of us who do not buy it, on any level. All this takes fierce acts of the will and courage. With out our voicing not just our concerns but demands for change we will continue to approach the abyss, led by forces that, to be frank, care not for the health or wealth of anyone but themselves. So greed and narcissism are for me the two great plagues, or viruses on the soul today. Thank you for a very rich posting. I enjoy them.


            Hi Dennis, Stephen, and All,

            In response to # 5153, I would love to go to NM for the event that Dennis is hosting. The event sounds great, and I love NM and would love a return visit there.

            In response to this Mythblast in general, as I read it, I just find myself symbolically nodding in agreement or in recognition of what Dennis expresses as it all rings true to me; after I read it, I find the words and meanings and interpretations have brought me to the still point in the center to draw the circle around, which he expresses at the end of the Mythblast.

            There are times when words for me simply do not much do (even though I am a writer and have been so by vocation); these are the times in which I used to try my hand at visual art to express something I could not quite put words to.

            Thank you for your wonderful Mythblast, Dennis. I especially enjoyed the references to Jung as well as to Campbell about the imaginal realms and characters, stories or our imaginations–comfortable and familiar, like home to me in these matters of imaginal realms. Campbell and Jung so often so wonderfully compliment each other’s ideas and content (imo).

            And Stephen, I enjoyed your questions to Dennis. They helped posit a vantage point for me.

            Thank you, and I will go to Dennis’s website to check out the event next year.


            Dennis Slattery

              Thank you Marianne for your 2 April response. I find, as you have, that reading both JC and CG one discovers a good bit of mirroring of metaphors, images, symbols and a general respect for the mythic realm, a rich treasure house that culturally has been sidelined, along with the imagination itself, that “poetic basis of mind” that J. Hillman believed was at the heart of a life of the soul.

              I am also happy to hear that when you find words failing, you may go to another register of creation rather than words. I find that painting, even painting inspired by one of the masters, is another magical opening into the creative part of myself. I don’t judge what I create, I just do it in joy to the best of my talents, which are modest, but that is no matter.

              I also find it so valuable to read rich responses to what I write; yours and other mirror back to me what I could not language myself. So as a writer I gain at least as much as you all do who take the writing seriously and respond with gems of insights.

              What a treat; thank you so much, Marianne for your reflective, thoughtful and gracious nature.


              I am not sure here is the best place to ask this but being a Mr. Campbell (JC) fan and a John Lennon (JL) fan. I wonder what JC thought of JL song Imagine? Imagine first line is “imagine there is no heaven” I recall JC saying that artist’s imaginations and mythology are closely related and he also said people use to believe and some still do that heaven literally is an actual place in space(physical location). In trying to keep this question short the line finishes by saying, “No hell below us above us only sky.” Thanks,  Lee


              Hi Lee! Welcome to Conversations of a Higher Order (COHO)!

              No evidence Joseph Campbell ever heard “Imagine” – he tended to be oblivious to popular culture (he never heard of Star Wars until he met George Lucas after the first three films – Episodes IV – VI – had all been released), though he did know of John Lennon and the Beatles, per the following exchange with Bill Moyers:

              MOYERS: What did you think of the outpouring over John Lennon’s death? Was he a hero?

              CAMPBELL: Oh, he definitely was a hero.

              MOYERS: Explain that in the mythological sense.

              CAMPBELL: In the mythological sense, he was an innovator. The Beatles brought forth an art form for which there was a readiness. Somehow, they were in perfect tune with their time. Had they turned up thirty years before, their music would have fizzled out. The public hero is sensitive to the needs of his time. The Beatles brought a new spiritual depth into popular music which started the fad, let’s call it, for meditation and Oriental music. Oriental music had been over here for years, as a curiosity, but now, after the Beatles, our young people seem to know what it’s about. We are hearing more and more of it, and it’s being used in terms of its original intention as a support for meditations. That’s what the Beatles started.”

              Joseph Campbell and the Power of Myth (with Bill Moyers)

              As to where best to post, takes a little bit getting used to  navigating these forums. This would be a better  fit in our “catch all” forum near the bottom of COHO’s main page called The Conversation with a Thousand Faces (no worries though – happy to answer your question).

              Feel free to poke around the various forum categories and jump into any conversations that interest you (even those that seem to be relatively quiet – COHO doesn’t move at the frenetic pace of social media), or start a topic of your own.

              Dennis Slattery

                Thanks Lee for your question and to you Stephen for your response to Lee’s  question. I do not have anything to add, but to welcome Lee into the pond to ponder what arises as you continue to read and deepen your own understanding, Lee. I also find that rereading Campbell’s work is also very rewarding as you can gauge your own deepening through rereading. And of course posing your thoughts and insights on this site as well. Many thanks for joining.


                Here was one experience that brought home what I had been reading of Campbell.

                I saw a statue of Christ at the movie theater with his arms opened, palms facing forward. This particular image of Jesus I have probably seen hundred times but this time my reaction to it was directly influenced by Campbell.  For some reason I didn’t look at this image as a man from history but he showed up instead as symbolically representing how much God loves me (us). Then I felt God’s love and God’s presence in the room or should I say felt it within myself.


                Lee Klotz

                Dennis Slattery

                  Hi Lee:  Your short vignette of an experience of the image of Christ is truly profound. Several things hit me when I read it.

                  1. Something familiar became deliciously transformed by seeing Christ through the prism of what you have been influenced by in reading JC–Joseph Campbell and Jesus Christ!

                  2. Your imagination took something familiar and transformed it, or perhaps discovered in it a symbol.

                  3. Your moving from the literal to the symbolic is one of the dimensions that mythic consciousness brings us to.

                  4. You did not ignore your feelings; and yes, I would suggest you felt God’s love/presence in the world and in yourself, perhaps simultaneously. Another writer on myth observes that myths are most vital when they align the outer world with one’s inner cosmos.

                  Your experience is so rich in pointing out both God’s love as a real presence and your shift into mythic awareness.

                  Much gratitude for this Lee.

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