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The Power of the Personal,” with Mythologist Dennis Slattery, Ph.D.”

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    Dennis Slattery

      Thank you both Robert and James. I am still working on naming people correctly!

      Gard, your keen insights reveal how a culture that moves to the literal almost exclusively and leaves out the metaphoric, the symbolic and the figural reality of imagination, is doomed to suffocate in its own ideology. I think that ideologies are the last vestige of an exhausted imagination. I love JC’s sense of a mythic imagination: it is to introduce the connotative elements of life in a society that has fiercely denotative.

      Your emphasizing evolving is central to a vital mythology. When the myth freezes up and becomes arthritic, all movement stops or is sharply curtailed. And speaking of the imaginal, Hermes is indeed a rascal. He snuck into your communication and ruptured the circuits. So glad Steve was able to reclaim your words.

      Finally, to where you began James: to lose the vitality of life, the essence of why we are alive is already to experience a death. I think that culturally the old myth is dying off and the rigor mortis is fierce right now. We are being given signs of how bad things are in some pockets and what needs to be done, but if so-called leaders, like we have in Texas, continue to ignore them, then what so many millions are suffering here this past week–and it is snowing heavily right now–then these power breakdowns in power will continue. What a rich metaphor! The breakdown in power is reflective of the breakdown in those in power–so, as Campbell intimates, the signs are right in front of us to be read and followed for the improvement of the many over the power grabs of the few. Did not mean to veer into politics, but Texans are suffering the incompetence of their leaders and there is no justice in that. So appreciate your responses, James.


        Dennis; your kind and thoughtful reply sent me off into a reflective reverie today where I was held in a kind of aesthetic arrest thinking about all sorts of mythical related material in relation to your book and the things we have been discussing. The metaphor of: “My Fathers House has many rooms” seems to fit as I began comparing some of the different books and approaches I have been utilizing over the years and how many of these ideas seem to run along similar pathways leading back to one’s personal myth. One is Sam Keen’s and Ann Valley-Foxe’s: “Your Mythic Journey” where the various forms of the “self” engage with our interior processes of assimilation; (thinking about how both the personal and collective unconscious connect within the dream and waking states that connect to one’s constant “becoming” Jung talks about; these things called archetypes); and how these things manifest themselves in our lives. Both in our self-image and that ever illusive thing that pulls us forward. Sometimes they come out through our emotions; sometimes they are expressed in our pens as we write; sometimes we try to see and understand them and sometimes we are successful but often they seem to be just out of reach as they lead us ever onward toward some unknown destination we are not aware of.

        Joseph’s conversations with Michael Toms in: “An Open Life” brought up an interesting thing that always grabs my attention in a powerful way when I think about the relationship between Jung’s ideas and how people mistake Joseph for a Jungian which he defiantly refuses. I thought you might have some thoughts about this since you are so familiar with his work and it deals specifically with how one should approach their own myth they are constructing.


        On page 123 the conversation states:

        “Jungian psychology seems to be more open than other more traditional forms of interpretation.”

        “You know for some people, “Jungian” is a nasty word, and it has been flung at me by certain reviewers as though to say, “Don’t bother with Joe Campbell; he’s a Jungian. ” I’m not a Jungian! As far as interpreting myths, Jung gives me the best clues I’ve got. But I’m much more interested in diffusion and relationships historically than Jung was, so that the Jungians view me as a kind of questionable person. I don’t use those formula words very often in my interpretation of myths, but Jung gives me the background from which to let the myth talk to me.

        If I do have a guru of that sort, it would be Zimmer—the one who really gave me the courage to interpret myths out of what I knew of their common symbols. There is always a risk there, but it’s the risk of your own adventure instead of just gluing yourself to what someone else has found.”


        I think this is a huge statement because to me he is saying: (You) are the God that is creating your own life; and you are the one deciding what your myth is to be not someone else. This is the left hand path Joseph talks about that informs the modern hero archetype the individual must listen to in traversing out of and beyond their ropes in order to find and know who and what they are to become. They are not only flying blind making their path up as they go; but they are not obeying any kind of set rulebook on how this is done.

        This links back to our earlier conversation of our: “freefall into the future” we were discussing Joseph seems to be pointing out. The older mythic prototypes or stories no longer work because they are out of date; and “all” of these older global myths seem to be combining into some kind of new unknown form. In one comment he made to Bill Moyers in “The Power of Myth” he says: “We can’t have a new myth for a long time because things are changing too fast. So the individual has to find their own way”. So the old tribes we are accustomed to only keep us within the Village Compound of the Right Hand Path that the hero must leave to find or answer their own call of their life. (Then of course we get into these other components and dimensions of the mythical applications of the Jungian cosmology Joseph uses to describe what these things mean and how this quest can be accomplished through the individual’s own interpretation.

        On a lighter note Shaheda, Marianne, Stephen, and I were discussing how we all name things and their significance to our lives. We started exchanging stories about this sort of thing and objects that we name came up and one included Joseph’s car he named “Gander”. Well come to find out from Stephen that Joseph gave this car to Sam Keen as a wedding present; and there is a lovely little metal sculpture of a Gander Joseph uses as a paper weight on his desk that Jean gave him that’s now on display in a recreation of Joseph’s writing desk where he composed all his work. (I just love these kinds of things because it gives you a sense of connection to how he created his own: “sacred space” where he wrote all this stuff that is putting you right there with him. Kind of like how you show others how they might create their own inward path.)

        Again Dennis; thank you so much for what you do and taking the time out to share it with us.  Namaste


          I want to add an addendum to specifically clarify the distinctions I was referring to between the Right and Left hand paths Joseph states in his own words because I think it is critical to the point he is making about what he calls the Hero/Journey/Quest of the Left Hand Path of the individual to find and live their own personal myth which is presented in this clip.


          Dear Dennis and Dear All,

          Dennis, thank you for this Mythblast that touches upon the personal and the image of the gander and for sharing your background of how you came across Joseph Campbell. I think it is so fitting that Stephen asked you the question about your background and finding Campbell’s works due to the topic of your Mythblast on the personal.

          Here are some thoughts that come to my mind as I read this Mythblast on the personal myths and the gander.

          Dennis writes, “Campbell’s storytelling gene is a part of all of his utterances, but especially when he works a concept by morphing it into a narrative.” From this, I reflect how Campbell’s writing is pleasant to read and perhaps it is because he has a storytelling quality to his writings in general. When he gives us facts about various mythologies, it still feels like he is telling us Myth’s story. It has that personal feel somehow.

          Reading onward, with the following quotes from Dennis in this Mythblast, “the crack, the gap, the thin membrane that allows him to glimpse and discern the symbolic, transcendent nature of the world winking back at us with not a little seduction, through the mask of the sensate realms of the human- and world-body in their fragility and mystery” is where I think of the egg and hatching egg, or the Orphic Egg, and the gander taking its first peek from out of the egg at the “nature of this world.” Inside the egg (as in a womb) is still a sensate world, but it is a whole new sensate world outside the egg (or womb). This is the first time I have ever thought of the yogi as a hatchling, for when the gander cracks through the shell to emerge into this world it is “passing from the sphere of waking consciousness. . .to the unconditioned, nondual state ‘between two thoughts,’ where the subject-object polarity is completely transcended. . .”

          I also think of Madame Blavatsky’s books, Isis Veiled and Isis Unveiled; I read these years ago and found their style much more tedious than Campbell’s style. I can almost feel the fireplace hearth whenever I read Campbell. I am reminded of them only because of the idea/symbol of the veil and because her writings were based on concepts from the Eastern world combined then with her form of occult mysticism.

          I also want to mention how much I like this description of Campbell’s work that Dennis gives us: “Syncretistic, gathering and clustering, then ultimately clarifying the connective tissue between disciplines to uncover the vast complexity of the human and world psyche on their arc towards unity. He is both hunter and gatherer.” People from all ‘walks of life’ find a core or foundation in their work and philosophy thereof in Campbell’s writings. Musicians, visual artists, deep sea divers, fiction writers, non-fiction writers, poets, anthropologists, historians, teachers, other mythologists, psychologists, etc. all find inspiration from Campbell as we find or seek to find our bliss, enter the caves we are afraid to enter, and find doors where there were only walls and read about Black Elk’s vision of White Buffalo in Flight of the Wild Gander and seek to find our own visions. For these reasons, there is a touch of the mystic in these articles as shamanic and shamanic guide that inspire us to shamanic thought and travels whether in mind or spirit or body. Reading Campbell, I might go back in time in my mind to the days of the buffalo roaming the Great Plains or I might be inspired to travel to modern-day Greece to see the ancient temples. Reading Campbell, I gain insight for living my own life. We see how the personal microcasm can reflect the microcosm, or the little chicken in the egg reflect the archetypal symbol of the Orphic egg.

          Then the ““Syncretistic, gathering and clustering, then ultimately clarifying the connective tissue between disciplines to uncover the vast complexity” like the gander or the yogi being formed inside the egg, the tissue connecting…

          I very much enjoy Dennis’s metaphor of the jacket lining and the turning of the sleeve inside out to see the hidden myth, the hidden lining. I imagine a golden silk lining because I get such a precious image from that.

          That metaphor brought me a memory from my personal myth: That image I received from that metaphor above then became the image of my mother’s coats with their satiny linings hanging in the coat closet where I grew up; from that image,  I can smell English Yardley lavender bar of soap she always kept in that closet. I still have the last bar that ever was in that closet.

          From there I think of Shaheda and her story about her uncle’s perfume, from her personal myth.

          Thank you for this Mythblast,



          Thank you James for all your thoughts and inclusions about the right-hand and left-hand paths.


          I can add that I first encountered Campbell while in a creative writing program at BGSU during my undergraduate years in college. It just felt right and true as I read it–true for me, in one of those eureka I found something moments! His ideas rang true for me and expanded my mind back into time and out into those ancient communities and then to bring those “truths” back into community today of today’s world and that transcendent travel back and forth feels like the universality of the human condition throughout eons of time which I marvel at. The Flight of the Wild Gander and The Inner Reaches of Outer Space are both so transforming to my life in what I felt to be a powerful inspiration. By powerful, I mean life-changing and life-affirming. It helped affirm things I had wondered about or as far as life’s mysteries as a child. It goes back to Alison’s dead bird story way back at the beginning opening of this new Forum and memories of finding a dead baby bird fallen in its nest from a tree when I was little and feeling so sad and so puzzled about death. When Campbell traces the growth of folklore historically in Flight of the Wild Gander, I can almost see and feel the emigration as if I am walking in it with the ancients across land and time.

          As for Jung, I encountered Jung’s work in the same writing program. I had a prof who studied at the Jungian Swiss Institute who talked about archetypes and symbols and for me that rang true too. Encountering ideas like synchronicity were never something I found out about then had to adopt–for me what I found was that Jung’s theories had already been at work in my life throughout its entirety. His theories were things I already had sensed and experienced. I had always been interested in my dreams ever since I was little and frequently experienced synchronicity with encounters with symbols/words/events.  That is why I always say that I like to use to my personal experience of “lived experience” as it can be called or my personal myth when I write about Jung’s theories, as if my lived experience is “testimonial” to Jung’s theories, and I would add a smiley face emoji here.



          James, Shaheda, Stephen, All

          I loved the conversation about Joe naming his car in lieu of Stephen’s “What’s in a Name?” and all the ways we name things. Should we add more about that here in this Mythblkast thread or go back to the “What’s in a Name?” blast?



          Thanks, dear Shaheda,  for sharing the story and newspaper article about Campbell’s talk. Whenever I watch and hear Campbell’s lectures, there is always that sense of immediacy, as if I am in an audience in the same room with him hearing him talk. He has such a wonderful presence!

          Same here as you, Shaheda, and Dennis, and as many, I came to Campbell through his Power of Myth with Bill Moyers. I rad the book before I saw or heard the TV PBS series or any audio series though–got the book from the campus library when first I heard about it.



          Dear Dennis Slattery,

          Thank you for your very generous  response to my post. Also, there are so many poignant and fascinating posts, from  Marianne, James, R(cubed) and Stephen that I feel I must read many times, and formulate a decent response, so as to stay in the loop.

          One other topic that I wish to extend is again “ the invisible lining of a jacket or coat is what I would call history’s inner myth; it gives shape and contour to the outer sleeve, which is history itself. Yes, the sleeve can be turned inside-out to reveal the hidden myth, and that is part of Campbell’s mode of excavation: he turns the sleeve inside-out in order to explore the mystery shaping history.”  Is it possible for you to shed light on what could happen or has happened if the sleeve is never outside, it’s turned inside out right from the start, and the myth is no longer hidden.

          I think Rene Girard, whom Prof. Norland Téllez introduced here in this forum, says  that Christianity failed to become a myth, the myth was killed,  because the church maintained that Jesus was innocent. (hope I am right in citing Rene Girard). First Jesus had to be found guilty of disobeying the law, then later when the sleeve is turned inside out the myth would be revealed.  So, my first big question is, do myths always have to have that time lapse?

          James wrote, “I particularly like the image you use of the Spiral; which reminds me of the: “Ariadne thread and the Labyrinth” as symbolic of one’s inner journey of transformation; and I very much look forward to your thoughts on this. ” James thank you for this insightful reference. I too look forward to your thoughts on the spiral. Is unravelling of the spiral =  revealing the hidden myth?

          Thank you all and looking forward to the podcast




            Shaheda; your questions to Dennis should be very interesting and helpful for I’m not familiar with the inside out sleeve reference you mentioned.

            However; I should add concerning my cross references between the Spiral and the Labyrinth with the Ariadne thread was related to the important floor depiction of Chartres Cathedral that is used as a meditative device. This can be a very large topic and I should have been a lot more specific. Although not a true Spiral per se; in this particular case it represents a metaphoric inward spiritual journey often referred to in spiritual pilgrimages. Joseph loved Chartres and spent much time there which he talks about in his conversations with Bill Moyers in “The Power of Myth”. This link shows other Labyrinths as well.


            James – Shaheda’s reference is to this paragraph from Dennis’s MythBast essay:

            Which persuades us to glance with double vision at both myth and history, one inside the other, one connecting and transforming the other. We might, in Campbellian fashion, play with our own metaphor here at the end. Here is my image: the invisible lining of a jacket or coat is what I would call history’s inner myth; it gives shape and contour to the outer sleeve, which is history itself. Yes, the sleeve can be turned inside-out to reveal the hidden myth, and that is part of Campbell’s mode of excavation: he turns the sleeve inside-out in order to explore the mystery shaping history. Ok, not quite a veil, but certainly another form of fabric-ation. “



            Shaahayda (figured I would follow your lead and adopt the phonetic spelling of your name),

            Though it’s not quite the same thing, I thought you might find this anecdote about Joseph Campbell relevant, in light of Dennis’ coat-sleeve metaphor:


              Okay; now I get it! Thanks Stephen; yes; I was a bit unclear on that. And I also loved the video as well.


                Shaheda; here is one representation of the Spiral Joseph describes in this short clip from the JCF YouTube channel. But as I was mentioning these are huge symbolic subjects with different applications. (Especially concerning the Labyrinth at Chartres Cathedral which has a connection to the Greek version.)  Dennis is much more informed on this than I am so it will be interesting to hear if he has any thoughts he would like to share on this subject. Stephen or anyone else is invited to join in on this connection between the two as well.

                As I mentioned these two symbols earlier in the thread I will restate the request so as to cut down on any confusion because we have a lot going on here.  Below is the quote:

                “I particularly like the image you use of the Spiral; which reminds me of the: “Ariadne thread and the Labyrinth” as symbolic of one’s inner journey of transformation; and I very much look forward to your thoughts on this. Again a warm welcome and so glad you are here.”


                Dr. Slattery,

                I’d like to officially thank you, Dennis, for giving so generously of your time this past week in JCF’s Conversations of a Higher Order. Though we understand you have other commitments and demands on your time, looks like this conversation has legs and a life of its own – thanks for getting it started! (Of course, you’re always welcome to participate as much or as little as you’d like, but no need to feel obligated – I look forward to doing more of this with future MythBlasts).


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