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MythBlast | The Power of Love Story

BY Neora Myrow February 11, 2019

Creative Mythology (Masks of God 4)

In Creative Mythology (Masks of God, Vol. IV), Joseph Campbell’s exquisite musings on love offer a palliative to the Hallmark-style simulacrum of Valentine’s Day love drenching this month in heart-shaped candies, teddy bears, and flowers. Why not gift your love Campbell’s Creative Mythology, (CM), open up the text to any of the stories, and have a deep conversation? What Campbell give us is the larger story of the archetypal love story as inextricably connected to the story of our becoming. He offers us the Nietszchean ideal of amor fati, the love of our own fate, a strategy with which to face the Hellenic idea of fate as given and unchangeable. Amor fati is a deep acceptance in the face of the irresistible experience of falling in love, and Campbell sees this love of fate emerging in the Grail legends of the twelfth century.

These ideas are heavy. They quite literally organize the understanding of our identities as they unfold through time. The big idea is that our unfolding relationship to love organizes our identity and shows us who we are in light of the choices that we make. Thus we find our story of becoming by witnessing how we behave in the face of the experience of falling in love. In this way our love story becomes our story of becoming. What we discover in this process shows us what is in our hearts vs. who we’ve been told to be. If we can fall in love with what is in our hearts and live out of that truth we have amor fati as opposed to a fate given to us by the gods or society. Our story emerges from within rather than being forced upon us from without.

The stories Campbell tells are the great Grail legends, Tristan and Isolde and Parzival. They road map the relationship to how we find beauty, love, and the divine. The stories model what happens when we experience love and how it can go wrong in Tristan and Isolde, and right in Parzival. The difference lies in whether or not we are true to what we find in the experience of love.

“Love is born of the eyes,” says Campbell, “in the world of day, in a moment of aesthetic arrest, but opens within to a mystery of night” (CM, 186). This is the love story in a nutshell. We all know Act I of this story. It’s the experience we’ve all already had in our first crush, with butterflies in the belly and a racing heart beat the moment “the One” walks into the room. Yet we focus overly on Act I, as if falling in love is the whole story, when it is merely the call to adventure. What happens next, says Campbell, is an opening “within to the mystery of night.” So love is never just love. Love is an experience of liebestod, love-death and its consequences.

Tristan and Isolde: the love-death
Tristan and Isolde: the love-death

Creative Mythology helps us to unpack what this inextricable binding of love and death is all about. The scene where Tristan and Isolde accidently drink a love potion embodies this idea, the moment when Act II begins. Before they were not in love, and now they are. They will never be the same. Tristan and Isolde have become become Tristan-Isolde. In an instant they are re-ordered in their relationship to one another, revolving around the axis of one-another. The shift is not just on the outside. It is at every level of their being and their biographies. Past, present, and future, re-organized. Now begins the death part. The magical middle of the love story.

In Tristan and Isolde, you, me, being re-ordered, we have to deal with having the world we knew shattered. Our relationship to the past is changed. All of our assumptions about what’s true and real are now up for debate. What follows is a line of questioning: who am I going to be in light of this experience? What values am I going to live from? What can I take responsibility for? It is in this way that the two acts of the love story, the love-death, reveal the character within us, first by fate and next by choice. Campbell explains: “Love is born of the eyes and heart…it opens inward towards the mystery of character, destiny, and worth, and at the same time outward, toward the world and the wonder of beauty, where it sets the lover at odds, however, with the moral order” (CM, 187).

Can we shift out of focusing on our origin stories of falling in love to ask ourselves about Act II? Not just love. But love-death? What did we discover about who we are in the face of the experience of falling in love? What was shattered? And what truth emerged? How are we living out of this noble heart? I promise Creative Mythology will help you understand this larger story of living myth.

Tristan and Isolde: the love-death

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