The Masks of God™ Volume 1: Primitive Mythology
By Joseph Campbell | Edited by David Kudler
This title is part of the The Masks of God series
This title is part of the The Collected Works of Joseph Campbell series
Masks of God™
Volume 1: Primitive Mythology
In this first volume of The Masks of God — Joseph Campbell’s major work of comparative mythology — the preeminent mythologist looks at the wellsprings of myth. From the earliest expressions of religious awe in pre-modern humans to the rites and art of contemporary primal tribes, myth has informed humankind’s understanding of the world, seen and unseen. Exploring these archetypal mythic images and practices, Campbell examines the basic concepts that underlie all human myth, even to this day.
The Masks of God is a four-volume study of world religion and myth that stands as one of Joseph Campbell’s masterworks. On completing it, he wrote:
Its main result for me has been the confirmation of a thought I have long and faithfully entertained: of the unity of the race of man, not only in its biology, but also in its spiritual history, which has everywhere unfolded in the manner of a single symphony, with its themes announced, developed, amplified and turned about, distorted, reasserted, and today, in a grand fortissimo of all sections sounding together, irresistibly advancing to some kind of mighty climax, out of which the next great movement will emerge.
This new digital edition is part of the Collected Works of Joseph Campbell series. Joseph Campbell Foundation has worked with scientists and academics to bring the anthropological and paleontological information Campbell explores in line with the best twenty-first century scholarship.
(Comparative Mythology: paleontology, Neanderthal and Cro-magnon culture, neolithic and paleolithic art and religion.)
“[T]he mask in a primitive festival is revered and experienced as a veritable apparition of the mythical being that it represents — even though everyone knows that a man made the mask and that a man is wearing it. The one wearing it, furthermore, is identified with the god during the time of the ritual of which the mask is a part. He does not merely represent the god; he is the god.”— Joseph Campbell, Primitive Mythology
Mythology — and therefore civilization — is a poetic, supernormal image, conceived, like all poetry, in depth, but susceptible of interpretation on various levels. The shallowest minds see in it the local scenery; the deepest, the foreground of the void; and between are all the stages of the Way from the ethnic to the elementary idea, the local to the universal being, which is Everyman, as he both knows and is afraid to know. For the human mind in its polarity of the male and female modes of experience, in its passages from infancy to adulthood and old age, in its toughness and tenderness, and in its continuing dialogue with the world, is the ultimate mythogenetic zone — the creator and destroyer, the slave and yet the master, of all the gods. [share]
It may well be that a good deal of what has been advertised as representing the will of “Old Man” actually is but the heritage of a lot of old men, and that the main idea has been not so much to honor God as to simplify life by keeping woman in the kitchen. [share]
Clearly, mythology is no toy for children. Nor is it a matter of archaic, merely scholarly concern, of no moment to modern men of action. For its symbols (whether in the tangible form of images or in the abstract form of ideas) touch and release the deepest centers of motivation, moving literate and illiterate alike, moving mobs, moving civilizations. [share]
Furthermore, the old in many societies spend a considerable part of their time playing with and taking care of the youngsters, while the parents delve and spin: so that the old are returned to the sphere of eternal things not only within but without. And we may take it also, I should think, that the considerable mutual attraction of the very young and the very old may derive something from their common, secret knowledge that it is they, and not the busy generation between, who are concerned with a poetic play that is eternal and truly wise. [share]
First among the features of the great [paleolithic] caves that are of paramount importance to our study is the fact that these deep, labyrinthine grottos were not dwellings but sanctuaries . . . The enigmatic figures painted into the crypts and deepest recesses of the caves almost certainly hold in their silence the myths of the ultimate source of the magical efficacy of these magnificent shrines. [share]
For the human mind in its polarity of the male and female modes of experience, in its passages from infancy to adulthood and old age, in its toughness and tenderness, and in its continuing dialogue with the world, is the ultimate mythogenetic zone—the creator and the destroyer, the slave and yet the master, of all the gods. [share]
Nobility of spirit is the grace—or ability—to play, whether in heaven or on earth. [share]
The mask in a primitive festival is revered and experienced as a veritable apparition of the mythical being that it represents-even though everyone knows that a man made the mask and that a man is wearing it. The one wearing it, furthermore, is identified with the god during the time of the ritual of which the mask is a part. He does not merely represent the god; he is the god. [share]
Whenever men have looked for something solid on which to found their lives, they have chosen not the facts in which the world abounds, but the myths of an immemorial imagination. [share]