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Would Joe Campbell Challenge Us?

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    This is a strange question: Would Joe Campbell challenge us? Back to this in a moment.

    I have very messily brought up semi-challenges to Joseph Campbell in other posts. Hope later to condense those with a few other thoughts in an inverse post.

    Back to the question: Would Joseph Campbell challenge us? (If he was here in modern times?)

    Yes, I am completely indulging in the “imaginal realm.”

    Is the question of Campbell challenging us, something which might haunt the mind? I’m stretching here but ‘tis the spooky season!

    When Bill Moyers interviewed Campbell, Moyers was shocked by Campbell’s emphasis on experience rather than meaning in life.

    Joseph Campbell was stubbornly pushing against the grain of what was expected. He stood firm.

    Is it possible that Joseph Campbell could surprise or even shock us in the same way? Even now? And yes I know as Stephen said Campbell was open to changing his mind.

    But sometimes, I wonder if Campbell would startle us…? (Remembering how he at times stubbornly held on to certain ideas?)
    The other question is would we expect him to be a certain way? Or to react a certain way? Because of how we think?

    This came up especially after Listening to a brief podcast and recording of a Joseph Campbell lecture and reflecting on his works…(bit of a trickster muse perhaps)

    To me, there always seemed to be this rascally, and stubborn side of Campbell  who like Parcival…came at the story from a new angle and ventured fearlessly beyond the village gate no matter the odds or bounds.

    So I am curious to see what other JCF participants think.




    You ask a great question, “ Would Joseph Campbell challenge us? (If he was here in modern times?)”

    Yes, Joe Campbell would challenge us – challenge us to remain open to wonder and mystery of the universe, and to experience the wonder.  Not to give in to despair. Referencing John Bucher’s article, who quotes Campbell, “Wonder was a recurring idea in Joseph Campbell’s writing as well, and a concept he took very seriously. In The Inner Reaches of Outer Space, he lays out this challenge for mythologies looking to assert themselves into our culture: “Indeed, the first and most essential service of a mythology is this one, of opening the mind and heart to the utter wonder of all being.” (Inner Reaches, xx) ” While so much of his work is articulated with academic detail, Campbell fully recognized that the power of myth defies description, as wonder is an experience. We might search for the words to define the feelings we have when a myth has enraptured us, but it is in the experience itself that wonder is found.”

    1. He would remind us to remain radiant in the filth of the world. To know that beyond the horror lies a mystery, ‘mysterium tremendum et fascinas’.

    2. He would ask us not to just interpret the old myths, but to face our daily struggles heroically.

    3. He would challenge us to listen to our own spiritual demands ..if we don’t then we have put ourselves out of center. This is the threat to our lives. We all face it. We all operate in our society in relation to a system.  … “Now, is the system going to eat you up and relieve you of your humanity, or are you going to be able to use the system to human purposes?”  Episode 1, Chapter 12 The Power of Myth (1988) 

    Your next question sunbug, The other question is would we expect him to be a certain way? Or to react a certain way? Because of how we think?” 

    I am not very clear as to what you mean by “Because of how we think?

    Would love to hear back.



    What a beautiful and poignant response!
    I almost was going to take this post off…so I suppose could say the 2nd question was muddy and uncertain.
    And in reflection later…felt like i might be standing on a bridge.
    Everyone approaches from a different path in the forest but all participate in the mythic dynamic…the wonder…Perhaps Campbell puts it much better in reference to staying in touch with ones spiritual center. I might erase my confusing question and replace it with #3.
    It felt kind of awkward so it’s an uncertain out loud musing that’s trying to work through to something else and I have no clue what. Maybe it was momentarily imagining a parallel universe in which the system is mistaken for the center? And in that Universe Campbell would point out pointing beyond to point back IN…to the transcendent and Journey of the spirit which we all share? I kind of think it was a limb heh heh. And I keep seeing/hearing/experiencing enough beauty and wonder and am continually surprised…so in better reflection no weird parallel universe system will swallow us. And that’s a very hopeful place to be! I prefer trees and starlight  over black holes!
    After reading your post Shaahayda, that funny little limb is no longer necessary, because whatever 2nd subconscious question was rumbling and rambling inside my head was answered.
    Thank you!!


    Difficult to determine what Joseph Campbell would do and say today, but I do believe he would remain relatively consistent – which to me suggests his challenge for most of us would be to “say yea to it all”:

    Well, I’ll tell you. This is a big confession. I’m a minority of one. I think what’s happening is okay. I’m very optimistic. And I tend to like what’s going on. Most of my intellectual friends are superior to it. I’m not. War? Fine. The human race lives in a way that may not be comfortable to all of us, but this is the way life has proceeded. And for me I say yes. I don’t think the world has to be corrected. . . . The very attempt to correct the world is what complicates it. I mean, they’re part of the problem. And, then that’s fine. One says, Yes, that’s the way it is.

    Well that – good people killing people in wars – the wars of conquest began about 2350 B.C. in the Near East and that’s the hot spot today. Seems to be the tendency in that part of the world more than any place else. And that’s the result of tribalism. But I’m not the one to say this should not have been. There’s a line in Schopenhauer’s World as Will and Idea where he says, ‘Life is something that should not have been.’ And I think that’s what a lot of people really feel. Because of the way it goes, it’s reprehensible, holocausts and other things of the kind. Storms that wash California into the sea.

    I just write my books. I feel that what I have to say is something that suggests the harmony of peoples. That it’s a symphony of celebration of mankind that we find in the myths. And I know that what I have written already has made a little bit of a dent. But you can’t turn yourself into Hercules to carry the globe on your back, and say, ‘What are you doing, and now gonna do with it.’ You’ve got a little job, and do it well. That’s all I can see that anybody would do. And if you think the thing to do is to reform the world politically, go into politics. Personally I don’t think that’s the best way to make a difference . . .

    Now I’ve started a little society and this is probably the place to advertise it. It’s called the Society To Stop the Continental Drift. I don’t think you realize the seriousness of this thing. In a couple of hundred years, Santa Barbara is going to be up by Nome, Alaska. What’s that going to do with the ecology, and everything else in the United States? I don’t know anybody who’s really taking this seriously enough to do anything about it. ”

    (Excerpted from a question and answer session at Esalen with Fritjof Capra and Sogyal Rinpoche)

    I’m willing to bet that seeming indifference (the operative word is “seeming”) to activism would be difficult for many Campbell followers, myself included, to fully embrace today, though I can’t help but appreciate the humor with which he makes his point in that final paragraph.



    I enjoyed your response to Sunbug’s question. It could very well be that ‘seeming’ indifference to activism would be difficult for many Campbell followers is what I feel strongly, and that is how Campbell might want us to be.

    To Campbell a convincing mythology is one that is in sync with the cosmology of the the time. Although  cosmology is “the scientific study of the large scale properties of the universe as a whole.”, it has an enormous impact on us culturally.

    Our perception of the world has changed because of cosmology. “If we select four fundamental causes of changes in our perceptions of the world in the last century, then they would be first relativity, second quantum mechanics, third the expanding universe and fourth, the space programme.”  The human space program continues to grow and expand.  Cosmology has impacted our culture, our arts, and our way of life, and it’s this impact in every sphere of our lives is what Joe would challenge us to probe, to observe, to study.



    That’s brilliant Stephen! I don’t even need questions (ha ha.) That’s it to a T! And it would be very difficult, yes. That is an excellent point and observation! I’m sure it ties into the joyful sorrows of the world. I think can see something from that side of it…if one imagines a child being born and experiencing joys of being alive and learning should one tell the child to never smile or laugh because the world is a sorrowful place where others are hurting? What if the child’s joy is what leads to her/him making a positive dent? Compassion to (suffer with) comes from Love not guilt…my take.
    I probably would struggle more with Campbell’s take on War (there are more nuances around that subject today even beyond “tribalism,” and “ignorance,” alone.) And the word has almost become a household metaphor for any kind of “activism,” for change. BUT I much prefer to lean into Peace, Love and Understanding (Elvis Costello) to “give that more of a chance” in my thoughts!! ( or Maybe because  it was John Lennon’s B-day yesterday?)And yes I re-edited this in case the post looks different today Stephen.  I don’t want to be a gloomy harbinger or ruminator…these times are hard enough! The Native raven is my happier metaphoric totem…even if alas there is some scots/Irish in my background too! If the melancholy psyche does come out to play, I find it goes much better with music and rain…healing places to be! (And transform!) But back to subject!

    Thank you so much for your answer Stephen! That is the same rascally sense of Campbell I have gleaned!
    Also love the way you say his “seeming,” indifference…which suggests to never read a book by its surface…Campbell would want us to “see,” deeper.

    Campbell’s “mythic take on Fear,” would be very challenging as well. Though looking deeper one might sense Campbell would be “saddened,” by it.
    One also wonders if Joe Campbell would go charging out that gate beyond the bounds even if we were all yelling and begging him to stop…to turn around and come back because he “has to!”
    BUT I think there IS one thing that would stop him…Jean.
    If Jean told him to stay and not charge with worry in her eyes…that she needed him not to charge…he would turn towards her…

    Because just like the knight who was asked to become Christian that Joe Campbell once referenced…the knight who became Christian because the woman he loved/admired was Christian

    so too I think Joe Campbell would turn to his Goddess because where she was the world would fall away…and he would do it for her!

    You are right too Shaahayda love Stephen’s answer as well as both of yours. (The cosmology of the time…now that opens thoughts out a bit…love that!)

    and apologies for the tangents and straying into the weeds! Perhaps mornings might (chuckle) bring more succinct clarity!

    Next round maybe challenging Campbell. But will try to give it a space.



    One correction addendum: when referencing the joy of a child, I meant on a deeper level (not indulgence)…and taking in mind raising of the child as well…so the child is Aware of the world and other people in it.
    Linda McCartney comes to mind and I don’t remember the exact quote, but it had to do with raising her children to be “kind.” (Or to be good humans) noticing there is no strict punishing force in that statement or anything holding them back from finding their passions. Through passions? Compassion? Caring? Ok will sign off.


    Shaheda writes

    To Campbell a convincing mythology is one that is in sync with the cosmology of the the time.

    An essential point, indeed! (Campbell might be more likely to use the phrase ” a living mythology,” but he would agree with your thought).

    To the scientific sources of a fundamental change in our perception of the world (the discoveries of relativity, quantum mechanics, the expanding universe, and the space program), I would add the Information Age – specifically, the invention of the internet and cyberspace. These have impacted us in ways both good and bad: on the one hand, making the world a smaller place in many ways, creating a universal monoculture often at odds with local culture; and on the other, upending norms and fostering a divided society.

    In my daily life I am often caught up in the fray – the “fighting over sandwiches” that Campbell notes marks the priority of most humans – but I’m also aware, on a deeper level, that it’s all an amazing Dance.


    I hope Shaahayda sees your response to her on this Stephen.

    Seems like it’s been a while since she has posted. Certainly understandable these days!

    I think she would enjoy your response very much.

    Have other thoughts on myth and “social order” and “universal order,” but perhaps better to let them brew a while (like coffee not a storm!) 😅

    And maybe post them elsewhere.
    Also think Shaahayda will love the Diane McGhee myth blast and discussion. Thanks for letting me know about it!

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