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The Inner Reaches of Outer Space is Within Reach

BY Dennis Patrick Slattery March 21, 2021

Oblique view of Saha, on the far side of the moon, facing west. Command/Service Module Casper directly above Saha W, and Earth at right above horizon. Taken from the lunar module Orion. Created in 2014, based on an original NASA image from 1972, by James Stuby. Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication.

Some have confused a mythology as nothing more than an elegantly-packaged ideology. Not so. Nor is it true to say that mythic figures are to be read as literal facts. The confusion commonly stems, as Campbell often repeated in his writings, from assuming that something or someone is literal, not metaphorical of another reality that invites the imagination into a world of multiple possibilities. Such a move towards literalism belittles the universal appeal and power of the mythic images to no more than “prosaic reification” (The Inner Reaches of Outer Space: Metaphor as Myth and as Religion, xxiv). 

Making the shift from literal to figural alters one’s entire perception of the phenomenal world, to say nothing of its opening one to the symbolic power of dreams. I can only speculate here as to why this confusion arises. I think one answer may be found in Adolf Bastian’s brilliant understanding of “elementary ideas” and “ethnic ideas.” The former transports us into the rich arena of archetypal images and situations; the latter into the particular  historical and specific ways that such universal realities are embedded in and flourish in a particular culture of a people. 

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The Inner Reaches of Outer Space by Joseph CampbellA brief example may suffice to unfold such a distinction. In their book Your Mythic Journey, Sam Keen and Anne Valley-Fox offer that “a myth can make a cow sacred in one culture and hamburger meat in another” (xi). Same animal. One cultural myth perceives it as sacred, the other reaches for it in an act of consumption. The animal’s universality is bent to conform or to support a local ethnic belief. Beef as belief. Animal as anima. Billions of burgers served. Campbell was keen to see that myths provide a dual vision: the transcendent and universal, but rooted firmly in history’s particularity. 

Such a belief allowed him to retrieve an ancient idea that it was the human body itself,  “in miniature a duplicate of that macrocosmic form,” (13) which conveyed a sense of unity through the great chain of being’s diversity. Correspondence and correlation are the lenses through which to uncover and further this ancient wisdom of analogies linking all diverse parts of creation. Such connective tissue is heightened when we are invited to gaze at a photo of the Earthrise taken from the moon’s surface (Inner Reaches, 19) to reveal that a new cosmological perspective insists on and incites a revisioned mythology. I believe such a miraculous image accelerated our concern for saving the planet by seeing it with all the boundaries of countries removed.

Such a dramatic photo struck Campbell as a vision of a new myth. It also reveals his own mythopoetic way of discovering analogies that reveal relationships we might miss or ignore without his acute insights. He explores patterns closer to home–for example, between native American people and those of India–sensing “equivalences” in their images and beliefs. His method is “to identify these universals. . . archetypes of the unconscious and as far as possible, to interpret them” (69).

Let’s pause to suggest here that the act of interpretation is a mythic move of imagination. Hermes is the god-guide in this human activity and hermeneutics therefore is a god-inspired talent. Without this rich act of being human, and Campbell is one of the most cogent minds in such an uncovering, we would stack up event-after-event with no cohering sense growing from such a futile performance.

Interpretation is a fundamental act in learning. As he creates a unique form of such meaning-making, Campbell uncovers “an implicit connotation through all its metaphorical imagery of a sense of identity of some kind, transcendent of appearances, which unites behind the scenes the opposed actors on the world stage” (81). Life itself is dramatic, but to miss the experience because of an obsession with meaning is to miss the action that is before us and within us. 

Art in all of its guises becomes the delivery system by which myth, history and aesthetics congeal on the same stage. But as is his habitus of finding correlations between worlds, he suggests that “the mystic and the way of the proper artist are related” (111). I do not think it is too much to proclaim that all art is metaphorical to a large degree; Campbell’s own language is that the figural realities on the stage of artistic creation can succeed in opening us to “ a transformation of perspective” (109). 

Like that magnificent image of the Earthrise, the power of aesthesis, a showing forth or an unveiling, is the artist’s sacred inspiration for expression. The artist’s creation provides us with a mimetic reality, a way to activate our sense of analogy to recover our own mythic imagining, to see “with two eyes, and alone to him is the center revealed: that still point. . . (117). 

Draw a circle around the still point. Now you are at the center of it all. 



Discuss this MythBlast with the author, Dennis Patrick Slattery, in our forums: Join us in Conversations of a Higher Order.

Yours, Dennis Patrick Slattery Dennis-Patrick-SlatteryDennis Patrick Slattery, PhD, is an Emeritus Core Faculty member at Pacifica Graduate Institute. where he has taught for the past 25 of his 45 years in the classroom. He is the author, co-author, editor or co-editor of 27 books. He has also published 200 articles in newspapers, magazines, journals, book collections and on-line journals. His books include The Idiot: Dostoevsky’s Fantastic Prince, The Wounded Body: Remembering the Markings of Flesh, with Glen Slater he co-edited Varieties of Mythic Experience: Essays on Religion, Psyche and Culture, and with Jennifer Selig he co-edited Reimagining Education: Essays on Reviving the Soul of Learning. He has authored Harvesting Darkness: Essays on Film, Literature and CultureThe Beauty Between Words: Selected Poetry of Dennis Patrick Slattery and Chris Paris; Simon’s Crossing, a novel co-authored with Charles Asher; Feathered Ladder: Selected Poems of Dennis Patrick Slattery and Brian LandisRiting Myth, Mythic Writing: Plotting Your Personal Story; and Creases in Culture: Essays Toward a Poetics of Depth. More recently he has published Our Daily Breach: Exploring Your Personal Myth Through Herman Melville’s Moby-DickA Pilgrimage Beyond Belief: Spiritual Journeys through Christian and Buddhist Monasteries of the American West; with Evans Lansing Smith he has co-edited Correspondence; with Craig Deininger he has coauthored Leaves from the World Tree: Selected Poems of Craig Deininger and Dennis Patrick Slattery; and with Jennifer Leigh Selig and Deborah Ann Quibell he has co-authored Deep Creativity: Seven Ways to Spark Your Creative Spirit. For the past 9 years he has been taking painting lessons in both acrylic and water color mediums. He offers Riting Retreats exploring one’s personal myth in the United States, Canada, Ireland and Europe. April 16-19, 2020, Dennis will be leading a workshop entitled Questing for Our Personal Myth in Santa Fe, New Mexico. For more information, visit

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The Symbol without Meaning (Esingle)

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“When the symbol is functioning for engagement, the cognitive faculties are held fascinated by and bound to the symbol itself, and are thus simultaneously informed by and protected from the unknown. But when the symbol is functioning for disengagement, transport, and metamorphosis, it becomes a catapult to be left behind.” — Joseph Campbell

Campbell’s famous, mind-expanding essay explores the fundamental connection between myth, symbol, and human culture. In it, he looks at the origins of western culture’s myths and symbols, and asks whether these are still relevant in the modern era. This piece, along with classics such as “Mythogenesis,” “Bios and Mythos” and Campbell’s foreword to Grimms’ Fairy Tales, was published as part of the collection The Flight of the Wild Gander (re-issued by New World Library in 2002). This digital edition has been published by Joseph Campbell Foundation.

News & Updates

Nowruz, meaning “New Day,” is celebrated by 300,000,000 people around the world on the vernal equinox (March 21, 2021). Though celebrated as a secular holiday by some, it has roots in Zoroastrianism and remains a holy day in that community, among Bahá’ís, and by some Muslim nations. The UN was moved to create International Day of Nowruz after receiving a draft proposal from member nations including Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Albania, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Iran (Islamic Republic of), India, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkey and Turkmenistan.

The birthday of Zarathustra himself is celebrated on March 25 or 26.

Joseph Campbell‘s birthday is March 26.

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As viewed by astronauts from the moon, the Earth lacks those lines of sociopolitical division that are so prominent on maps. And as recognized here below, the web of interlacing socioeconomic dependencies that now enfolds the planet is of one life. All that is required is a general change of vision to accord with these contemporary facts. And that this will occur is certain. It is, in fact, already occurring. Moreover, the vision required is nothing new, nor unnatural. What are unnatural, artificial, and contrived, are the separations.

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Musician Valerie June Cites Joseph Campbell as Inspiration

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Inner Reaches of Outer Space, The

Developed from a memorable series of lectures delivered in San Francisco, which included a legendary symposium at the Palace of Fine Arts with astronaut Rusty Schweickart, this book–the last Campbell completed in his lifetime–explores the space age. Campbell posits that the newly discovered laws of outer space are actually at work within human beings as well and that a new mythology is implicit in this realization. He examines the new mythology and other questions in these essays.

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“The Trickster’s divine disruptions turn the status quo inside out. In Lewis Hyde’s Trickster Makes This World, we’ll meet this multifaceted archetype’s many hungers, deceptions, and creations…”

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