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Things Joseph Campbell Never Said

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    1) “Love is a friendship set to music.”

    The author of this quote is E. Joseph Cossman (a successful door-to-door and mail order salesman who pioneered the infomercial and is best known for marketing “spud guns,” shrunken heads, and the ant farm.).

    Easy to see how this happened. Back in the 1990s, a list of inspirational quotes was forwarded and re-forwarded countless times via email, with quotes organized in alphabetical order according to the name of the author. Someone who loved this quote by E. Joseph Cossman misread the list and assumed it was said by the author of the quote immediately above it – our own Joseph Campbell. That unknown individual apparently shared it on a bulletin board or webpage, where it was seen and copied and re-pasted so often over the last two decades that it has gone viral (aided by the fact that Campbell is far better known than Cossman, and hence more memorable in the public consciousness).

    Even though we have posted countless corrections, anyone doing a cursory search will still find this saying attributed to Campbell. Though I’m sure Joe would heartily approve of this definition of love, he would never accept credit for another man’s work.

    2) “The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure that you seek.”

    This at least has some connection to Joe – it’s a paraphrase of the following passage from A Joseph Campbell Companion, which is something Joe did say:

    The very cave you are afraid to enter turns out to be the source of what you are looking for. The damned thing in the cave that was so dreaded has become the center.”

    David Kudler (Managing Editor of the Collected Works of Joseph Campbell), Michael Lambert (who handles Rights and Permissions for JCF), and I have conducted multiple exhaustive searches through Campbell’s work over the years, published and unpublished, for ”The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure that you seek,” to no avail, which is too bad as it’s an elegant and succinct re-statement of a key Campbellian concept).

    Much of my work with the Joseph Campbell Foundation (JCF) over the years has involved following up on quotes attributed to Campbell. Given our collective familiarity with Campbell’s corpus, most we’re able to find with relative ease – but then there are quotes that sound like Campbell which may or may not be him: tracking the source of those is no easy task (given intellectual property laws, those who would cite him in their work need permission from JCF, which is Joe’s designated literary heir – but we can’t give permission for things he didn’t say).

    Over time we’ll add more faux Joseph Campbell quotes to this thread.

    But if you’re looking for things Joseph Campbell really did say, visit our database of known Campbell quotes. So far we have compiled 436 properly sourced sayings (many are from books, essays, and audio or video lectures, and several are from interviews). Every month we’ll keep expanding this database.

    And if you can’t find it there, feel free to ask it here in the Joseph Campbell Quotes forum (though please be patient and bear with us: sometimes this quest is less hero’s journey and more needle-in-a-haystack).


    3. “When you follow your bliss, the universe will open door where there were only walls.”

    To the best of our knowledge, though Joseph Campbell would certainly agree with this point, he didn’t say exactly this anywhere that we can find. This specific statement comes from Rebecca Armstrong, who had known Campbell, a good friend of her parents, from her childhood on; Rebecca may well have been paraphrasing, rather than using a direct quote.

    Rebecca is accurately conveying Campbell’s sense of the phrase; JCF just can’t guarantee it’s an exact quote. Better to use one of the many other verified versions:

    “If you follow your bliss, you put yourself on a kind of track that has been there all the while, waiting for you, and the life that you ought to be living is the one you are living.”

    Joseph Campbell and the Power of Myth, with Bill Moyers

    “Follow your bliss and don’t be afraid, and doors will open where you didn’t know they were going to be.”

    Joseph Campbell and the Power of Myth, with Bill Moyers

    “But each incarnation, you might say, has a potentiality, and the mission of life is to live that potentiality. How do you do it? My answer is, “Follow your bliss.” There’s something inside you that knows when you’re in the center, that knows when you’re on the beam or off the beam. And if you get off the beam to earn money, you’ve lost your life. And if you stay in the center and don’t get any money, you still have your bliss.”

    Joseph Campbell and the Power of Myth, with Bill Moyers

    “How do you find the divine power in yourself? The word enthusiasm means ‘filled with a god.’ So what makes you enthusiastic? Follow it.

    That’s been my advice to young people who ask me, ‘What shall I do?’ I taught once in a boys’ prep school. That’s the moment for young boys (or it used to be; I don’t know what’s going on now) when they had to decide their life courses. You know, where are they going? And they’re caught with excitement. This one wants to study art, this one poetry, this one anthropology. But Dad says study law; that’s where the money is. Okay, that’s the decision. And you know what my answer would be—where your enthusiasm is. So I have a little word: ‘Follow your bliss.’ The bliss is the message of God to yourself. That’s where your life is⁠.

    From Understanding Mythology: an interview of Joseph Campbell by Jeffrey Mishlove.”



    4. “History is just journalism, and you know how reliable that is.” 

    Though this does sound like something Joseph Campbell would say, it’s actually Deepak Chopra at Mythic Journeys in Atlanta, 2006.


    5. “Life is like arriving late for a movie, having to figure out what was going on without bothering everybody  with a lot of questions. And then being unexpectedly called away before it ends.”

    Some places where this appears on the Internet list the source as Creative Mythology (the fourth and final book in The Masks of God tetralogy). Not sure how that happened – hard to imagine any volume where this line would be more out of place! Nor does it sound like something Joseph Campbell could relate to as, after talkies came out, he pretty much gave up going to the movies (apart from serendipitously catching 2001 Space Odyssey on a fluke when it came out in 1968 – which Stanley Kubrick and Arthur C. Clarke have admitted was influenced by Campbell’s work – and then nothing until invited by George Lucas, sometime after Return of the Jedi was completed in 1983, to view all three films in the initial Star Wars trilogy at once).

    JCF has been trying to track the source of this quote since at least 2004. At least with “Love is a friendship set to music,” we were able to determine who actually said it (E. Joseph Cossman), but no such luck here. It’s difficult proving a negative (how do you prove someone never said something?), but after 16 years of combing through Campbell’s published work, audio and video lectures, and multiple interviews, we have found no evidence that supports crediting Joseph Campbell with this humorous observation.


    6. “You are yourself the divine mystery you wish to know.”

    This isn’t original to Joseph Campbell; it’s Campbell quoting the Chāndogya Upanishad.



      Yes. Though I think Joseph Campbell does a good job of conveying the sentiment and spirit of this quote here.

      Ep. 6: Joseph Campbell and the Power of Myth — ‘Masks of Eternity’


      Indeed, Robert.

      In fact, that’s a large part of what makes verifying Joseph Campbell quotes so difficult. Most faux quotes are very much in sync with observations Campbell makes, and sound enough like something he said that it’s difficult to rule them out with a cursory search. I find myself looking for a needle that may not exist in literally hundreds of haystacks (books, essays, interviews, and lectures galore). It’s one thing to find a needle in a haystack, but it can be a pain to prove a needle you can’t find never existed.

      And the misquotes are almost always accidents rather than malicious misdeeds. Someone loves something Campbell said and quotes a line or two, then adds their own commentary, not making clear the difference between their words and Campbell’s words, and so a mishmash of “Joe and not-Joe” gets re-posted as Campbell’s own words and goes viral. Or someone writes something Campbell said that they loved, but they don’t have the quote in front of them so paraphrase, or misremember, creating something that sounds like it could be Campbell but is something he never said. They mostly mean well.

      On the other hand, Michael Lambert recently managed to remove a publication being sold over Amazon that consisted of 100 Campbell “quotes.” Of course, the creators of that publication didn’t have permission to use those quotes – they were just riding Joe’s chi to make a quick buck. What’s more, after an exhaustive search, we found dozens of those “quotes” were seriously inaccurate or completely nonexistent (that’s what we have to do to remove the profiteers).

      So thanks for sharing that clip – the message is what’s essential.


      6. “The job of the educator is to teach students to see vitality in themselves.”

      This is attributed to Joseph Campbell, but it actually Bill Moyers responding to Campbell, who had just said “. . . The influence of a vital person vitalizes . . .”

      Campbell’s reply to Moyer’s indicates agreement with the point Bill makes, but it is not something Joe said himself . . .

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