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

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      Stephen ,

      Lovely video !!
      So Joseph wore a Coat of Many Colors a quilted  trappistry  and garment of mythology woven from a motley mixed multitude of threads   !!! So much is packed in the garment and name Joseph !!  Does rhyme with history … Dolly would be proud !!!

      It seems the lots have been cast. You have inherited the seamless tie-died multicolored garment and wear it with distinction and flair.


        As a special tribute to Dennis and his work with teaching about personal mythology I would like to post a link to a special hour long lecture he gave specifically explaining about the many different aspects of this topic which is “extremely” insightful. Dennis if I may say how very fortunate we have been to have you among us for this brief time and hope you’re next visit will not be too long in forthcoming. Namaste

        10 ways to understanding one’s Personal Myth


          Hello my Dear Dennis, “art thou that Virgilius”?

          As I read your mythblast I was transported to our unforgettable classes at Pacifica Graduate Institute, hearing your cadence and ponderous tempo deliver your sweet discourse, “that fountain [of myth] Which spreads abroad so wide a river of speech” (Inferno 1). Art thou that Virgilius? Where you write:

          “I have sensed, as have other lovers of Campbell’s work, that his rich mythodology is 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.”

          This is where I was first forced to pause and wonder, spontaneously recalling MLK’s phrase: “We shall overcome because the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice.”

          I was struck at once with the image of this archetypal arc of the universe and our ability to know its fundamental tendency in time, in precisely the mytho-historic terms you describe: “Which persuades us to glance with double vision at both myth and history, one inside the other, one connecting and transforming the other.” As you well know, this was the first lesson I had to learn in my dissertation on The Esoteric Dimensions of the Popol Vuh (2009). Myth and history are dialectical poles of the self-same reality of human existence on this earth in time.

          Temporality is the thing that gets lost in a view of myth sub specie aeternitatis, that is, as fixed constellations of “eternal” and static archetypes. I think we both agree that it would be a mistake to pin myth against history as if it were the Manichean war of the literal vs the symbolic, the “spiritual” vs. the material, etc. But do you not find precisely such a Manechian frenzy in the archetypal-Hillmanian approach to myth?

          In the work of James Hillman no less than in Campbell, the literal seems to be cursed with the Midas touch of soullessness, making the “tough-minded” dimension of concrete existence a symbol of privation and starvation of the soul’s psychic reality. In the guise of “religion” and its institutional force, the same disdain for the “literal” can be felt in both writers. The literal interpretation of reality is branded as an enemy of “soul-making” and imagination rather than as a vital part of the process of mytho-historic creation.

          This is my first question, if you will. Or, actually, my second question. I rushed past the first prompted by the image of the arch of the universe and its drive towards unity, as you suggest. So I’ll ask my first question last and let my last be my first. That is, after all, letting the dialectical play of opposites play into our texts!

          So my first question would have been about the implications of this drive towards unity between the human psyche and the world soul. As we know, especially with Jung’s concept of the Collective Unconscious, the human psyche is viewed as already containing within itself the collective dimensions of the world soul (anima mundi). In other words, what we experience subjectively as our “personal psychology,” in the Jungian view, is precisely the very union (or disunion) between the personal and the collective psyche, which Jung came to refer to as the difference between the subjective and the objective psyche. I like that latter formulation as it lays stress on the collective objectivity into which our subjective mind or personal “soul” is embedded—our precious “personality” having everything to do with the performance of the persona rather than some hidden unreality.

          When I think about this transcendent drive towards unity, I am implicitly endorsing the notion of the universe as opposed to the specular and multitudinous phenomenality of the open world otherwise known as the epic cosmos. Be that as it may, I still want to know what a complete unity of subjective and objective psyche could possibly mean in time? What would the ultimate unity of conscious and unconscious mind mean in the course of mytho-history? Or is it perhaps a moral question we should ask with MLK as to whether it matters if this posited unity is just or unjust? Or are we simply leading up to some kind of Nirvana of total extinction?

          Similarly, do we lean on the Freudian notion of the death-drive—the psychoanalytic notion of mortal transcendence—which Freud defined precisely as the desire of the psyche for the eternal return of life to its original state, namely, its “unorganized” inanimate state. Life as desiring death in order for death to come alive?

          But is such mythic unity the ultimate goal of history?

          Having no access to a “metalanguage” outside of history, I ask myself, from what perspective is it even possible to envision such a goal? I cannot entirely suppress a doubt that we are dealing with an ideological construction rather than a real existential possibility. To quote Karl Jaspers on The Origin and Goal of History with my brackets at end:

          “Who ever turns to history involuntarily adopts one of these universal viewpoints, which reduce the whole of history to a unity. These viewpoints may be accepted uncritically, may even remain unconscious and therefore unquestioned. In the modes of historical thought they are usually taken as self-evident presuppositions [i.e., ideological phantasies]. (xiv)

          Nevertheless, despite his critical attitude and mine, Jaspers encourages us to think further while being honest enough to admit his own bias of ignorance:

          “My outline is based on an article of faith: that mankind has one single origin and one goal. Origin and goal are unknown to us, utterly unknown by any kind of knowledge. They can be felt in the glimmer of ambiguous symbols. Our actual existence moves between these two poles; in philosophical reflection we may endeavor to draw closer to both origin and goal.” (xv)

          What do you think and feel? Are we with Jaspers on this or can we think even further?

          Dennis Slattery

            Hi Norland: So good to hear from you. I had not received a notice that you had responded. Stephen alerted me that you had and here I am. Or hear I am. I recollect with great joy working with you on your magnificent dissertation and the marvelous images you painted to accompany it. In my study hangs a framed drawing of yours portraying James H. and me. James looks like a bird and I look like a blimp. I am saying to James: “Get out of my class, Thou vile miscreant!” To which James responds: “Who let the Ass come in?” The date on the email is Monday 13 June 2005. James is no longer with us and I weigh far less these days.

            The thoughtful missive you post above is deep and wide-ranging. It moves between the tensions of particularity and universality. When I seek some clarity around this tension I tend to gravitate to the poets, epic and otherwise.

            I would have to go back to James’ work to see if he carries the argument that the literal is soulless. I do remember him making a distinction between getting caught in the literal; his response was that some may see that the concrete is not the same as literal and that is where soul is lost, in the literal; the concrete, on the other hand is a poetic quality and without that “poetic basis of mind,” one can be stymied in the literal.

            I am all for unity, Norland, but you rightly point out what might be lost or jettisoned if unity is where the imagination tends. James was always very insightful about the particularity of things in their specificity, their phenomenal life. And I further recalls that in the Introd to Revisioning Psychology he states that soul is what turns events–literal?–into experience–the imaginal life of our lives? I am mixing James’ insight with my own naming of parts, as it were.

            What your insights light up in me is the area I am exploring these days: the mythology of belief. What do our beliefs contribute to our myth, both personal and collective. What beliefs do we cling to regardless of their basis in the literal, in history, in facts and which do we leave by the side of the road because their reality no longer serves our evolving myths? These last four years in both politics and in culture more broadly give us opportunities to rework or reimagine what Reality even is. That is an exciting area for those like us who are fascinated by yet questioning what mythos is.

            Much appreciate you, Norland for the time you gave to your reflections. I in turn have enjoyed a chance to respond to them so that we may indeed “think even further” about them (your words in quotes). Much gratitude.

            Dennis Slattery

              James: thank you so much for posting the video of my talk on characteristics of personal mythology. I had not seen it before and am grateful to you for discovering it and bringing it forward.


                Dennis; if you’ll allow me; it has been a real privilege to have you among us and share your deeply sensitive and considered knowledge with us. Your insights have been both meaningful as well as helpful not only in our understanding of how to apply writing to our individual journeys; but your kindness that shows through in every word.

                Norland; this applies to you also. The deep well you draw from through you scholarship has been so very appreciated throughout these discussions; and I hope we will continue to hear more from both of you as these discussions move forward. As Dennis suggests the world is in deep need of all of us right now to think in a different way as the ongoing concerns we face continue to challenge our humanity in ways never before encountered. (Especially concerning Covid and it’s effects on all of us in a multitude of ways we could have never conceived.) Thank you both sincerely for what you bring to the table for us to consider looking forward from here!  Namaste

                Dennis Slattery


                  Thanks for the video of Joseph and his delineation of the spiral. What a rich way to think about Dante and Beatrice. I love the Commedia’s spiralic world: 67 of the 100 cantos that comprise the poem are spiralic journeys. In Inferno Virgil and Dante travel a sinestra–to the left in a downward spiral. Those who were left handed were considered sinister individuals. When they begin to climb Mt Purgatory, they travel a destra–to the right, the direction of righteousness. So the spiral is the geometry of the journey down and up. Jung also thought that all psychic development was spiralic because we are always folding back on ourselves in a spiral, but never landing on the same spot. Very rich is this geometry.

                  Dennis Slattery

                    James it is an honor to be part of these discussions. I am still feeling my way around this site and so don’t always get responses out to you all as quickly as I might. A learning curve, but not impossible. Your own insights have been a joy to read and ponder as well. Many thanks for your generous spirit, James and Norland.

                    Dennis Slattery

                      Stephen, I do not know where your posting went. I was about to go to it to respond and I cannot find it. Can you advice?

                      Many thanks for your help.



                        Dennis; it is just wonderful to have you here. Concerning your thoughts about the Spiral and Dante’ it occurred to me that the Labyrinth motif that was utilized on the floor in so many of the Gothic Cathedrals; (i.e. some of my links); that this meditative symbol had much to do with one’s internal journey; (much like the spiritual pilgrimages undertaken throughout Europe); that was symbolized in much this same way.

                        Although this was rather clumsily described on my part; I recall in another video podcast of yours a panel discussion you had with several other people describing a kind of spiritual journey you undertook in New Mexico I think it was to different locations like a monk or an individual would travel on a trip to the Holy Land; but “internally’ if that makes sense. In other words when walking the Labyrinth in the Cathedral you were internally evoking this quest of spiritual awakening or transformation. And your shared “reflective” insights with the other members was so informative of how one might invoke their own “meditations” of their individual personal myth in everyday life; just like in your (W)riting rituals. The devotee or monk or individual is internally or meditatively traveling this same road in everything they do as a meditation to the wonder of their own life; even though it includes the Opera that hurts or Ouroboros of life eating life. Joyful sorrow/ sorrowful joy participation of life as is and must be. Rubbing the prayer beads of our own life as we circle down through the Spiral through our own: “House of Mirrors” to meet our Minotaur and listen to what he has to tell us about who we are.

                        I loved what Joseph recalled in “The Power of Myth” where he recounts the story of the policeman who risked his life to save an individual from committing suicide by grabbing him by the legs as he was about to jump off a bridge. When another policeman grabbed them both and pulled them up to safety he was asked why he did not let go knowing he was about to be pulled to his own death. His response Joseph recounted was: “If I had let go I could not have lived another day of my life.” Joseph revealed this was a one pointed meditation of realization: “that you and the other (are) one”.

                        It seems this is what your referring to in these spiritual themes one might contemplate while walking or writing or meditating or whatever they are doing while going about the daily tasks of living seem to be symbolized by this psychological  focus Joseph is pointing out; this: “thou art that”; this journey the everyday hero of us all as we stand on the corner waiting for the light to change while watching “Beauty and the Beast” or any number of manifestations of our mythic landscape while trying to figure out who we are and what is our next step we must take to get there.

                        Please forgive these all too elaborate descriptions; but your book has been such a joy in conjuring up so many of these themes as I sit each day with pen in hand in amazement with what comes out.  Thank you for this gift!

                        Dennis Slattery

                          Thank you Stephen for your generosity in inviting me into this rich conversation and your graciousness in tutoring me into the workings of this site. I look forward to more exchanges with publications of two other mythblasts that Brad has. It is a wonderful way to see how others are responding to Campbell’s works.

                          Dennis Slattery

                            Thank you James for recalling the story I told of visiting 12 monasteries and retreat and Buddhist centers in the Southwest US.

                            I put them all together in a first volume, then expanded it in the second: A Pilgrimage Beyond Belief. I guess you could call it a spiritual memoir that was cleansing and deepening both for me. I think I am still a Roman Catholic because of the monastic tradition in the West. When I can get to my favorite place, New Camaldoli Monastery in Big Sur, I am right next door to heaven.

                            Highway One keeps collapsing, making it hard for people to get to the monastery, so their income is slashed considerably. Post-covid, I hope to fly out to Santa Barbara, rent a car and head north to that sacred place, about 8 miles south of Esalen. I have enjoyed all your posts, James; they are so insightful.


                              Dennis; you are incredibly kind to say that and I’m wondering if when you have a free moment you might share some of your thoughts about the creative process. People have such a difficult time finding their place in life; finding the thing that takes them where they feel they need to go. Joseph Campbell had much to say about this but often I think the world reflects outer value instead of inner meaning. They look around and think to themselves their life has to have fame or notoriety; something that mirrors that what they “do” is who they are; when persona isn’t necessarily the true reflection of what is looking back at them. That what moves them internally isn’t necessarily the accurate picture of what is going on under the surface.

                              Your book dives deep into this introspective assimilation to recognize the many faces of the (S)elf archetype which is informing the ego/self/hero of what is happening on the outer conscious plane that isn’t always what the inner subconscious of the individual needs or wants. Joseph talks about the arc-of-life process as it evolves and how the inevitable change from youth through the various stages is going to affect how someone sees themselves and what drives them will start to change as they age. So that when we write within this self-reflective process our awareness will be affected also. I love how your book goes down into the depths of these various dimensions and asks the individual to explore them as they process their own inner world. Can you share some of your thoughts on this in how it has affected your own life and Journey?

                              For instance after waking from dreaming last night I remember James Hillman use to talk about waking: “to” the night instead of from; (his emphasis on the aging process changing how our inner focus and alchemy is now changing it’s calling); so that the things one is concerned with are looking backward as well as forward; (Janus principle); and negotiating where it wants to go next because now the life journey is considering it’s trajectory toward death and the legacy of what will be left behind begins to enter the picture. The first half of life is focused on achievement as a vehicle of expression; the self-responsible individual has achieved life and all these inner dynamics are shifting and wondering where to go next. So that as we journal or explore these feelings at whatever life stage we find ourselves how do you think about these things and the way you process your feelings as a writer? We use writing as a vehicle to explore but I think sometimes it’s the things we’ve already done or experienced that give us clues where we are instead of looking outward for new horizons.

                              Yesterday and last night I was captivated by the story behind the making of: “Dances With Wolves”; and now coming up for public view on PBS is the biography documentary on Ernest Hemingway by Ken Burns. Both of these projects go deep into huge themes that reflect the life process; and Joseph reminds us that no matter what the Journey or what it entails the alchemy involved to bring it forth isn’t necessarily what it appears. The end game of the endeavor is a reflection of something deeper and these are some of the things you write about in helping the individual to discover as Joseph said to Bill Moyers in “The Power of Myth” of: (what is ticking in them). Hope this makes sense. Thank you again for sharing your time with us.


                              (Addendum: Sorry my humble apologies; but I missed you prior entry and you may be winding up this truly wonderful MythBlast . If time is running short and you have other things that need attending we can certainly pick this up another time. If so thank you for sharing these truly delightful moments with us; and will look forward to when you can return.)


                                Shaaheda; yes; “What is ticking inside them”; because this represents the modern dilemma surrounding having a “Personal Myth”. It gives you something to navigate with within a social structure that is without a myth of it’s own. This is what Joseph is talking about in the Hero’s Journey.

                                Dennis Slattery

                                  Thank you so much, Marianne, for your rich response. What I enjoy about it most is the river of associations that it brought up for you. The concrete image of the coat with a lining brought you back to your mother’s dress and the lavendar soap. You have the memento of those moments in the last bar of soap that you treasure. I think that Campbell’s mythodology is analogical and comparative in that his keen imagination senses forms that repeat themselves in literature and mythology and he nurtures them through his writing, always inviting us into the world that he lays out.

                                  I share with you his informal style, his twinkling prose and his keen ability to peel back the layers to show the infrastructure–a word getting a lot of currency today–that supports the whole but is largely invisible, like myths themselves. Much gratitude to you for your rich response

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