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Releasing the Dreamings

BY Joanna Gardner July 3, 2022


Joseph Campbell with his sister Alice Chartres in Paris, c. 1928. Copyright ©Joseph Campbell Foundation ( All rights reserved.

When I was in graduate school studying mythology, I volunteered in the archives that housed Joseph Campbell’s papers. My job was to create high-resolution scans of Campbell’s personal photos—baby pictures, childhood, youth, adulthood, snapshots from his later years. Sitting at a workstation in that windowless basement office, I positioned each piece of paper on the glass face of the scanner, clicked the Scan button, then zoomed way in on the digital file to make sure to capture clean edges of the original. I often found myself staring at those close-up images, captivated by the eyes of the people in the scenes. My impression of Campbell himself changed as I worked. He became less of a disembodied voice on the page, and more of a real, actual person who seemed to have lived intensely and intentionally.  

Campbell’s book, Correspondence: 1927 – 1987, includes a letter he wrote to the artist Angela Gregory in 1928, when he was twenty-four years old. He writes: 

I know that the constant drumming of things around one can upset the pulse of one’s heart. But after all it’s inside our own hearts that beauty reposes. Pleasures and pains affect the body; and if our dreamings have never released our souls, then pleasures and pains will upset our mental and emotional tranquility. Aggravations and disappointments—and even a certain blankness can help the soul to grow in understanding, once the soul has learned to feed upon whatever comes its way. (13)

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Correspondence by Joseph Campbell - coverI can picture the passion in his young face as he composed these words. I can hear the urgency that would drive his voice if he were to speak them out loud. If our dreamings have never released our souls—he’s talking about loosening the tendency to over-identify with the trappings of our lives, our religions and belief systems, desires, political ideas, relationships, and even our bodies, and mistake them for who we really are. The alternative to letting those dreamings hold our souls captive, he suggests, is to release our souls not from our ideas about life, but from confusing them with our ideas about life. To grant our souls the freedom to observe our experiences the same way Campbell demonstrates how to observe myth—staying alert for truth and beauty. 

Further down the page he completes the thought: 

When we shall have lived this intensely we should have truth in our hearts and beauty—then our work will be great because we shall be great ourselves.

Living intensely. Living wide awake, with our souls free and released. These are aspirational ideas, no doubt, but Campbell seems to have done a reasonable job of it, releasing his soul from identification with his dreamings, living intensely in the direction of truth and beauty, doing great work. This is one of the boons that Campbell found on the journey of his own life, and he brought it back to share with us, his community: not only his work itself, but also his way of working. He showed us that aspirations like these are within reach. 

This boon also opens the possibility of communities that support their members living intensely and doing great work. For what is a community if not an aggregate of individuals, and what is an individual if not a representative of their community? The souls of individuals affect the community, and the soul of the community affects individuals. This dialectic is fundamental to creative work. Creative people, like Joseph Campbell and Angela Gregory, continually move back and forth between their communities and their individual imaginations to generate images and ideas, bring them into being, and share them. I see this pattern play out again and again in the community of mythologists—a community that owes so much to Campbell’s contributions.

So perhaps we might be permitted to imagine a revision of Campbell’s reflections to Angela Gregory, this time as a message to his extended community:  

I know that the constant drumming of things around us can upset the pulse of our hearts. But after all it’s inside our own hearts that beauty reposes. Pleasures and pains affect us all; and if our collective dreamings have never released our community’s soul, then pleasures and pains will upset the community’s mental and emotional tranquility. Aggravations and disappointments—and even a certain blankness can help the community’s soul to grow in understanding…

When the community shall have lived this intensely, the community will have truth in its heart and beauty—then our work will be great because we shall be great.

And isn’t myth itself intense? Its outsized imagery, its larger-than-life deities and heroes, its clashings and collaborations among characters who represent the great powers of Earth and cosmos? Myths are collective dreamings of Earth’s human communities, and so they represent a perfect practice ground for zooming in on their images and ideas, freeing our souls from identifying with those ideas, and thereby cultivating truth and beauty in our own creative hearts.

How might a community release its soul from false beliefs, dis-identifying from myths that cause misery and harm? How can a community enter more fully into the realm of truth, beauty, and creativity? Join me in our Conversations of a Higher Order to share your reflections.

Joanna Gardner, PhD is a writer, mythologist, and magical realist. She is a founder of the Fates and Graces Mythologium, a conference for mythologists and friends of myth. Joanna serves as Senior Editor on the Educational Task Force of the Joseph Campbell Foundation, and as a thought leader with the think tank iRewild, where she works on the Healing Stories initiative. She completed her doctoral degree at Pacifica Graduate Institute in mythological studies with an emphasis in depth psychology. Joanna’s fiction, poetry, and nonfiction appear in a variety of venues, available at

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Wanderings (Esingle from Correspondence)

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The opening section of the exciting collection of Joseph Campbell’s selected letters, Correspondence: 1927—1987, this fascinating follows the fledgling scholar from his early, exciting days as a graduate student in 1920s Paris to his life-changing stay working on the California coast and beyond. Through his correspondence with two of his closest friends, artist Angela Gregory and scientist Eddie Ricketts (the model for “Doc” in John Steinbeck’s Cannery Row), these letters show Joseph Campbell’s evolution as a unique student of a field that bridges both science and art, the new field of comparative mythology. They also show a glimpse of some of the amazing characters Campbell was fortunate to rub shoulders with, from sculptor Antoine Bourdelle and philosopher Jiddu Krishnamurti to author John Steinbeck and composer John Cage.

News & Updates

It’s July: Humpback Salmon are returning from a life spent at sea to be greeted ritually by Indigenous peoples throughout the Pacific Northwest. The practice may be in numerical decline because the salmon population is consistently in decline due to the excesses of our unsustainable treatment of the local waters.

The Zoroastrian festival of Ghambar Maidyoshem ends July 3, but its celebration of the creation of water will continue to resonate across our warming planet.

Happy birthday to the 14th Dalai Lama, born this day, July 6, 1935.

Millions of Muslim men and women will converge at Mt. Arafat on the Day of Hajj, July 8, to commemorate the Prophet’s “farewell sermon,” when he said, “All those who listen to me shall pass on my words to others and those to others again; and may the last ones understand my words better than those who listen to me directly.”

The next day:  the Festival of Sacrifice. Sheep, goats and camels will be slaughtered, the meat distributed to the poor on ´Ῑd Al-aḍḥá, July 9, the third day of the Islamic Hajj.

Weekly Quote

Myths – that is to say, religious recitations – [are] conceived as symbolic of the play of eternity in time.  These are rehearsed not for diversion, but for the spiritual welfare of the individual or community.

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Myth Resources

NYPL Archives: Joseph Campbell Papers

The Joseph Campbell papers date from 1905 to 1995 (bulk dates 1930s-1980s), and consist of materials related to Campbell’s career as a college professor, lecturer, researcher, and author. The collection is arranged into eight Series, and holds Campbell’s original writing; teaching materials; files from his appearances in film and television; his research files; correspondence; photographs; and press clippings. Campbell’s files detail his research and writing work on mythology and literature, and chronicle the many lectures he gave throughout his career. The papers were previously held and processed by The OPUS Archives & Research Center at the Pacifica Graduate Institute, and include some materials that were added posthumously, such as lecture transcripts and outgoing correspondence. Projects started by Campbell in his lifetime and completed after his death, such as The Historical Atlas of World Mythology, are also held in the collection.

Visit the Joseph Campbell papers at the NYPL Archives

The Joseph Campbell papers are arranged in eight series:

Series I: Diaries and Journals

Series I contains an assortment of handwritten notebooks and some typescripts composed by Campbell between 1917 and 1977. This includes the Grampus journals, in which Campbell discusses his time in California in the 1930s, and his trip to Alaska with Ed Ricketts. The Grampus materials also contain a typed copy of an Ed Ricketts manuscript, and some materials related to John Steinbeck. Of note are Campbell’s journals from his trip to Asia in the 1950s, which encompass an assortment of handwritten diaries, notes, outlines, an address book, and typed journals. Additionally, there are four bound books of original writings that were assembled posthumously. The writings are original, but the order is artificial. These bound writings contain project plans, notes, schedules, banking information, seminar outlines, lecture notes, and lists.

Series II: Writing

31.38 linear feet (77 boxes)

Series II dates from 1927 to 1995, and holds Campbell’s original writings, comprising a mixture of manuscripts, drafts, materials intended for publication, and unpublished items. This includes pieces Campbell edited or produced in collaboration with other scholars; typed manuscripts; proposals for writing projects; published articles; and materials related to Campbell’s published books.

Editing and Collaborations comprises writings in which Campbell served as an editor, as well as pieces he authored with other writers. In the 1930s and 1940s, Campbell edited lectures from the Eranos conferences in Ascona, Switzerland, and prepared them for publication as Papers from the Eranos Yearbooks for Bollingen press. Campbell’s notes and reports for this project are compiled in the Eranos Papers files. Also included are Campbell’s notes and annotations on the papers of Heinrich Zimmer that he edited for publication. Of special interest is a handwritten draft script and notes from an opera collaboration with John Cage that was never produced, and a folder of Maya Deren’s writings that Campbell edited.

Among Campbell’s writings is also a selection of manuscripts, most notably his 1927 Master’s thesis, “A Study of Dolorous Stroke.” There is also an assortment of partial drafts which were posthumously separated, arranged by topic, and labeled as “outtakes.” These materials comprise handwritten drafts, typed excerpts, manuscript fragments, outlines, and notes. Many of these items also contain handwritten page numbers, but it is not evident where the writings originated, or with which work they are associated. Also included in the manuscript files are Campbell’s fiction and short stories and a number of unpublished works.

The Series also holds a small selection of proposals, most of which are from the 1950s. These proposals are for various writing and research projects, as well as Campbell’s 1953 study trip to India.

The Published Articles contain an assortment of Campbell’s early pieces, reviews, and chronologically arranged published works in their final form.

The Published Books files comprise notes, images, and manuscripts from Campbell’s books. Included are materials from A Skeleton Key to Finnegans WakeThe Hero with a Thousand FacesMasks of GodThe Mythic ImageInner Reaches of Outer SpaceFlight of the Wild Gander, and Historical Atlas of World Mythology. The most comprehensive materials are from the Historical Atlas of World Mythology files, some of which were compiled after Campbell’s death. There are handwritten and typed manuscripts, notes, research files, proofs, and many files of images intended for inclusion in the final text. The research materials are arranged alphabetically by topic, and also include some posthumously bound research notes.

Series III: Teaching

7.33 linear feet (18 boxes)

Series III contains files related to Campbell’s work as a college professor and lecturer. The Series holds Campbell’s CVs and a few certificates; files from Campbell’s teaching work at Sarah Lawrence College, the Foreign Service Institute, and Theater of the Open Eye; a comprehensive collection of his lecture notes and outlines; some lecture texts and transcripts; and programs and flyers from various speaking engagements.

The Sarah Lawrence files contain course lecture notes, outlines, and typed lecture texts and transcripts from Campbell’s tenure at the college. These course materials were filed by year, but typically do not state the class title to which they correspond. The Foreign Service Institute files hold contracts, schedules and a lecture transcript, while the Theater of the Open Eye materials include board minutes, brochures, financial records, and schedules.

The Lectures files are all arranged chronologically, and include each lecture’s title, date, and the location, when this information was documented. The files comprise an assortment of notes, outlines, and transcripts that span over five decades. Materials from Campbell’s lectures further assist to provide a detailed record of his public speaking and travel itinerary throughout his career.

Series IV: Film and Television

Series IV holds files that relate to Campbell’s appearances and work in film and television. Files from Mask, Myth and Dream and The Power of Myth both contain transcripts of Campbell’s televised lectures and conversations. The Series also hold a television proposal for The Mythic Landscape, and filmmaker’s logs and notes for The Hero’s Journey. All files are arranged chronologically by project.

Series V: Research Files

27.92 linear feet (69 boxes)

Campbell’s Research Files consist of handwritten notes and outlines, as well as some images, prints, and slides. The materials are all arranged alphabetically by subject matter, most of which are the names of countries or regions. The major exception is the Authors and Philosophers files, which comprise Campbell’s notes on individuals such as William Blake, Franz Boas, Geoffrey Chaucer, James Joyce, Immanuel Kant, Marcel Proust, Claude Lévi- Strauss, Friedrich Nietzsche, and W.B. Yeats.

The Series also holds files of reading notes, which includes materials removed from Campbell’s personal book collection. The items removed from the book collection were placed in folders and labeled with specialized call numbers by OPUS. A list of Campbell’s book collection and the numbering system can be found as an additional resource to the finding aid.

Additionally, the Series holds a selection of posthumously bound notes. The arrangement of the research files, as well as the assigned subjects were likely applied after Campbell’s death.

Series VI: Correspondence

7.5 linear feet (18 boxes)

Series VI contains Campbell’s professional and personal correspondence, which dates from 1929 to 1987. The majority of the files are incoming letters, and are generally professional in nature. While most correspondence is arranged alphabetically by correspondent or organization name, there is a selection of letters to Campbell commenting on his books and lectures, which are filed by title. Most folders in the Series contain a single letter, and include a label displaying a typed summary of the letter’s content. The major exception is correspondence between Campbell and Jean Erdman, where an abundance of incoming and outgoing letters is present, none of which were individually described. There is additional personal correspondence from Campbell’s parents, immediate family, and close friends found in the Series as well.

Series VII: Photographs

6.33 linear feet (15 boxes)

Prints, slides, and negatives that were held by or depict Campbell are in Series VII. Most of the images are personal photographs, and portray Campbell’s immediate family, friends, colleagues, his travels, and Campbell himself. The Series includes photographs of Campbell as a child, as a participant in college sports, and on vacation with his family. There are also professional portraits of Campbell, and photographs of such individuals as Christine Eliade, Simon Garrigues, Angela Gregory, C.G. Jung, Einar Palsson, Ed Ricketts, Dick Roberts, Carol Henning Steinbeck, Herbert K. Stone, and Heinrick Zimmer. While most of the photographs appear to have originated from Campbell and Erdman, there are some images of Campbell which were obtained from others to be used in posthumous book projects. All materials are arranged chronologically by topic, with the exception of two albums of photographs from the 1920s.

Series VIII: Press

2.75 linear feet (7 boxes)

Series VIII contains clippings of articles about Campbell and his work. The press files were previously arranged in a manner similar to the correspondence files in Series V. Most articles are in individual folders, and include a description of the material it holds. These files have been subsequently arranged by topic, which includes Awards; Books; Film and Television; Interviews and Profiles; Lectures; Reviews; and a scrapbook of press clippings dating from 1924 to 1944. All press files are further arranged chronologically within each topic.

Correspondence cover

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This brand-new collection of letters features illuminating conversations between Joseph Campbell and a fascinating cast of correspondents, ranging from friends and cowriters to renegade scholars and fellow visionaries. Including letters from both Campbell and his correspondents, and spanning the course of his entire adult life (1927–1987), the collection demonstrates the lasting influence of Campbell’s work, which inspired creative endeavors and radical shifts in so many people’s lives. Included are exchanges with artists such as Angela Gregory and Gary Snyder; colleagues including Alan Watts, Ananda K. Coomaraswamy, and Maud Oakes; editors of his books, from The Hero with a Thousand Faces to The Mythic Image; and many others who engaged with Campbell in his exploration of humanity’s “one great story.”

Book Club

“The pupil and the teacher. A relationship as old as time. In Daniel Quinn’s 1992 novel Ishmael, we, and our narrator, become curious pupils to the lessons of our unconventional teacher, Ishmael. Ishmael examines the mythology of “Mother Culture,” a global framework so omnipresent that many of us never recognize it. A world in which there are Takers and Leavers and how the way they live and the stories they tell have led us to where we are today. During a time of global warming, unequal distribution of resources, and war, Ishmael remains prescient. Quinn’s novel encourages us to look at our way of life and ask ourselves, is this sustainable?”

Torri Yates-Orr
Editorial Advisory Group
Joseph Campbell Foundation

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