This is a red-blooded book from a man who lived a very full life. Campbell was essentially a storyteller, spending his days uncovering and telling old stories that he felt had the power to soak up the alienation of technological society. Though he was a respected academic mythologist, Campbell also played a key role in the creation of a definitive modern tale, Star Wars. Director George Lucas said that Campbell's The Hero With A Thousand Faces (1949) was the catalyst in dreaming up the film, and that the inspiration for Yoda, the ancient and wise one, was Campbell himself.
The Power of Myth is a sort of campfire dialogue between Campbell and writer/journalist Bill Moyers, covering the stories and symbols of civilization. Filmed for a television series at George Lucas' Skywalker ranch, the series caught the American public's imagination, and the book became a bestseller.
The power of myth
Campbell's big question was: 'How can myth be powerful for a person living today?' Are our lives really comparable to the amazing characters that appear in these old stories? He believed that mythical characters act as archetypes of human possibility; they are confronted with problems, and their ensuing action gives us an idea about how life might be handled. To identify ourselves with, for instance, the young warrior Arjuna in the Bhagavad-Gita, is not an inflation of our ego, but is an acceptance that this figure has something to teach us. In mythology we could never really feel alone, for within it were guides for the human spirit belonging to everyone, providing a map for every cycle of life or experience we may go through. He called mythology 'the song of the universe', put into tune by a thousand different cultures and peoples. With myth, all experience can be empowering; without it, life can seem just a meaningless series of ups and downs.
The Power of Myth calls us to 'follow our bliss'. Our bliss is an activity, work or passion with the power to endlessly fascinate. It is unique to us, yet may come upon us as a total surprise, and we may resist it for years. In modern psychological phraseology, bliss is the state of 'flow' (see Cziksentmihalyi) that we experience when we are doing what we are best at; time seems to stand still, and we feel effortlessly creative. This is about joy, as distinct from merely pleasure. Campbell portrays bliss as the track that has always been waiting for you, with 'hidden hands' seeming to help you attract the right circumstances for the fulfilment of your work. In mythological terms, bliss is represented by the Cosmic Mother, who guards an inexhaustible well offering solace, joy and protection from mundane life.
We don't look to myth to find the meaning of life, Campbell said, its purpose is to make us appreciate 'the adventure of being alive'. Without some sense of ourselves within a larger history of human imagination and experience, our life would inevitably lack romance and depth. The stories and imagery we have in our heads are only a tiny fraction of what is available to us, and in increasing our knowledge of past culture and art, life is enriched immeasurably.
Following your bliss
In The Power of Myth Campbell talks about the medieval idea of the Wheel of Fortune, a metaphor for life that has had us in its thrall for millennia. The wheel has a hub, radiating out to its rim. As it turns through time, we hang on to its rim, either going up or down, experiencing the great highs and lows. In modern terms, chasing rewards like a higher salary or power or beautiful bodies are all rim-hanging things. We hang on, sometimes for dear life, in this relentless cycle of pleasure and pain.
The Wheel of Fortune idea, though, contains its own solution: the possibility of learning to live at the hub, centred, focusing on what Campbell calls one's 'bliss'. Our bliss is an activity, work or passion with the power to endlessly fascinate. It is unique to us, yet may come upon us as a total surprise, and we may resist it for years. In modern psychological phraseology, bliss is the state of 'flow' (see Cziksentmihalyi) that we experience when we are doing what we are best at; time seems to stand still, and we feel effortlessly creative. Here is joy, as distinct from merely pleasure. Campbell portrays bliss as the track that has always been waiting for you, with 'hidden hands' seeming to help you attract the right circumstances for the fulfilment of your work. In mythological terms, bliss is represented by the Cosmic Mother, who guards an inexhaustible well offering solace, joy and protection from mundane life.
In another book, The Way of Myth, the author talks about the people he has seen who have spent their lives climbing 'the ladder of success', only to find that it was put up against the wrong wall. Kevin Spacey's character in American Beauty is a portrayal of a man whose whole life has been dictated by other people's expectations, who then decides to do what he wants. He's had enough of rim-life. The message of this film, and of the sum of Campbell's writings, is that the banality of your current life is always waiting to yield to a greater story.
The hero's journey
Campbell's voluminous reading was legendary. He came back from Europe to the United States just a few weeks before the Wall Street Crash, and didn't have a job for five years. But it was a rich time: 'I didn't feel poor. I just felt that I didn't have any money.' His bliss was basically reading every day, all day, in a shack rented for nothing. What began as a simple thirst for knowledge became a quest to find 'the key to all mythologies'. The more he read of the world's stories, the clearer it became that there was an underlying template which most followed: the 'hero's journey' - a sequence of experiences that both tests and proves the person-cum-hero.
Myths typically begin with the protagonist on home turf, living a quiet but unfulfilled life. Then something happens, and he or she gets the 'call' to leave on an adventure with some specific goal or quest. In Arthurian legend, Arthur begins a search for the grail; in The Odyssey, Odysseus simply tries to return home; in Star Wars, Luke Skywalker must rescue Princess Leia. Following numerous smaller trials, the hero endures a supreme ordeal in which all seems lost, followed by a triumph of some sort. The hero must then try to bring his 'magic elixir' (some secret knowledge or thing) back home, to reality. There are many subtleties and variations to the pattern, but these are the basic stages.
What is the relevance of the hero's journey to our age? Or as Moyers puts it to Campbell, how is the hero different to the leader? The leader, Campbell says, is one who sees what can be done and accomplishes it, who is good at organizing a company or a country; a hero actually creates something new. (With today's business focus on innovation, personal journeys clearly become important.)
Myths reveal to us the incredible potential for more life - in whatever form it comes. 'I always feel uncomfortable when people speak about ordinary mortals because I've never met an ordinary man, woman or child,' Campbell states. Yet he acknowledged that too many accept the sadness and desperation of inauthentic lives, living without their bliss or not even knowing it exists.
Campbell was a polymath, fascinated by everything. He noticed the trend of Western civilization was towards specialization, yet was proud of being a generalist, able to see the commonality of all human stories and life experience. His resurrection of the idea of the hero has given people a template onto which they can mount their own experiences and dreams; being present in all human myths, it knows no national boundaries. The idea involves no grasping or hurry (Campbell's life - see above right - itself is a good example), but enjoyment of the richness of the moment. And significantly, it focuses on self-knowledge rather than aggrandizement of the ego.
The 'human potential' movement of the 1960s and 70s may have been important, but it took Campbell to remind us what myths have been saying for thousands of years: that everyone is really a hero-in-waiting.
|50 Self-Help Classics:
• Insightful commentaries on 50 key books.
• 300 pages of life-changing wisdom and advice.
• Expanded features and profiles not
on this site.
|"A tremendous resource for anyone seeking a 'bite-sized' look at the philosophies of many self-help legends, including sacred scriptures of different traditions. Because the range and depth of sources are so huge, the cumulative reading effect is amazing. Alternatively, it educates and edifies, affirms and inspires. Often both."|
|Stephen R Covey,
author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People
"Butler-Bowdon has summarized some of the most remarkable thoughts - thoughts with wisdom I must add - that will enlighten and lead the reader to understand the very nature of human nature. It will soon become the 51st self-help classic!"
Warren Bennis, author of
On Becoming A Leader
LITERATURE OF POSSIBILITY NEWSLETTER
Reflections on the great teachings and lessons from self-development, psychology and philosophy. Free, please join!
Your details will not be shared with anyone.
Born in New York City in 1904, as a boy Campbell loved Native American mythology. When he was 15 the family home burned down, killing his grandmother and destroying his collection of Indian books and relics. At Dartmouth College he studied biology and mathematics, but later transferred to Columbia University where he wrote a Master's thesis on the Arthurian legends. He excelled as an athlete, setting the New York City record for the half-mile, and played saxophone in jazz bands.
In 1927 a scholarship took him to study old languages at the University of Paris, before transferring to the University of Munich to read Sanskrit literature and Indo-European philology. Back in the US, and based at his shack near Woodstock, Campbell travelled out to California where he met John and Carol Steinbeck and their neighbour Ed Ricketts, the biological collector immortalised in Steinbeck's Cannery Row .
His first real job was a modest post at the newly founded women's college, Sarah Lawrence. He remained there for 38 years, marrying former student and dancer Jean Erdman, and slowly increasing his list of publications, including A Skeleton Key to Finnegan's Wake (1944) and co-editing and translating the Upanishads. The Hero With a Thousand Faces was published in 1949.
Campbell lectured to diverse audiences including the US State Department, the Soviet Academy of Sciences and the Esalen Institute, and travelled widely. Notable later works include the series The Masks of God (1969), The Mythic Image (1974) and The Inner Reaches of Outer Space (1986). He died in Honolulu in 1987, not long after the taping of the television series, The Power of Myth.
--- parameterHolder: symfony/default: action: show edit: false module: sfSimpleCMS slug: powermyth attributeHolder: symfony/default: culture: en
--- app_sfAssetsLibrary_upload_dir: media app_sf_guard_plugin_remember_key_expiration_age: 259200 mod_sfsimplecms_enabled: 1 mod_sfsimplecms_is_internal: mod_sfsimplecms_view_class: sfPHP propel_behavior_actasnestedset_sfSimpleCMSPage_columns: left: sf_simple_cms_page.TREE_LEFT right: sf_simple_cms_page.TREE_RIGHT parent: sf_simple_cms_page.TREE_PARENT scope: sf_simple_cms_page.TOPIC_ID sf_admin_web_dir: /sf/sf_admin sf_app: frontend sf_app_config_dir: /var/www/cms/apps/frontend/config sf_app_config_dir_name: config sf_app_dir: /var/www/cms/apps/frontend sf_app_i18n_dir: /var/www/cms/apps/frontend/i18n sf_app_i18n_dir_name: i18n sf_app_lib_dir: /var/www/cms/apps/frontend/lib sf_app_lib_dir_name: lib sf_app_module_action_dir_name: actions sf_app_module_config_dir_name: config sf_app_module_dir: /var/www/cms/apps/frontend/modules sf_app_module_dir_name: modules sf_app_module_i18n_dir_name: i18n sf_app_module_lib_dir_name: lib sf_app_module_template_dir_name: templates sf_app_module_validate_dir_name: validate sf_app_module_view_dir_name: views sf_app_template_dir: /var/www/cms/apps/frontend/templates sf_app_template_dir_name: templates sf_apps_dir_name: apps sf_autoloading_functions: sf_available: 1 sf_base_cache_dir: /var/www/cms/cache/frontend sf_bin_dir: /var/www/cms/batch sf_bin_dir_name: batch sf_cache: sf_cache_dir: /var/www/cms/cache/frontend/prod sf_cache_dir_name: cache sf_calendar_web_dir: /sf/calendar sf_charset: utf-8 sf_check_lock: sf_check_symfony_version: sf_compressed: sf_config_cache_dir: /var/www/cms/cache/frontend/prod/config sf_config_dir: /var/www/cms/config sf_config_dir_name: config sf_data_dir: /var/www/cms/data sf_data_dir_name: data sf_debug: sf_default_action: index sf_default_module: default sf_doc_dir: /var/www/cms/data/doc sf_doc_dir_name: doc sf_enabled_modules: - default - sfGuardAuth - sfSimpleCMS sf_environment: prod sf_error_404_action: error404 sf_error_404_module: default sf_error_reporting: 341 sf_escaping_method: ESC_ENTITIES sf_escaping_strategy: bc sf_etag: 1 sf_i18n: sf_i18n_cache_dir: /var/www/cms/cache/frontend/prod/i18n sf_in_bootstrap: 1 sf_lib_dir: /var/www/cms/lib sf_lib_dir_name: lib sf_log_dir: /var/www/cms/log sf_log_dir_name: log sf_logging_enabled: sf_logging_history: 10 sf_logging_level: err sf_logging_period: 7 sf_logging_purge: sf_logging_rotate: 1 sf_login_action: signin sf_login_module: sfGuardAuth sf_max_forwards: 5 sf_model_dir_name: model sf_model_lib_dir: /var/www/cms/lib/model sf_module_cache_dir: /var/www/cms/cache/frontend/prod/modules sf_module_disabled_action: disabled sf_module_disabled_module: default sf_no_script_name: 1 sf_orm: propel sf_path_info_array: SERVER sf_path_info_key: PATH_INFO sf_plugins_dir: /var/www/cms/plugins sf_plugins_dir_name: plugins sf_prototype_web_dir: /sf/prototype sf_rich_text_js_dir: js/tiny_mce sf_root_cache_dir: /var/www/cms/cache sf_root_dir: /var/www/cms sf_routing_defaults: sf_culture: en sf_secure_action: secure sf_secure_module: sfGuardAuth sf_standard_helpers: - Partial - Cache - Form sf_strip_comments: 1 sf_suffix: . sf_symfony_data_dir: /var/www/cms/config/../data/symfony sf_symfony_lib_dir: /var/www/cms/config/../lib/symfony sf_template_cache_dir: /var/www/cms/cache/frontend/prod/template sf_test: sf_test_cache_dir: /var/www/cms/cache/frontend/prod/test sf_test_dir: /var/www/cms/test sf_test_dir_name: test sf_timeout: 1800 sf_unavailable_action: unavailable sf_unavailable_module: default sf_upload_dir: /var/www/cms/web/uploads sf_upload_dir_name: uploads sf_url_format: PATH sf_use_database: 1 sf_use_flash: 1 sf_use_process_cache: 1 sf_use_security: 1 sf_validation_error_class: form_error sf_validation_error_id_prefix: error_for_ sf_validation_error_prefix: ↓ sf_validation_error_suffix: ↓ sf_web_debug: 1 sf_web_debug_web_dir: /sf/sf_web_debug sf_web_dir: /var/www/cms/web sf_web_dir_name: web
--- cookie: env: files: get: post: server: CONTEXT_DOCUMENT_ROOT: /var/www/cms/web CONTEXT_PREFIX: DOCUMENT_ROOT: /var/www/cms/web GATEWAY_INTERFACE: CGI/1.1 HTTP_ACCEPT: text/html,application/xhtml+xml,application/xml;q=0.9,*/*;q=0.8 HTTP_ACCEPT_ENCODING: x-gzip, gzip, deflate HTTP_ACCEPT_LANGUAGE: en-us,en-gb,en;q=0.7,*;q=0.3 HTTP_HOST: www.butler-bowdon.com HTTP_USER_AGENT: CCBot/2.0 (http://commoncrawl.org/faq/) PATH: /usr/local/sbin:/usr/local/bin:/usr/sbin:/usr/bin:/sbin:/bin PHP_SELF: /index.php QUERY_STRING: REDIRECT_STATUS: 200 REDIRECT_URL: /powermyth REMOTE_ADDR: 220.127.116.11 REMOTE_PORT: 58520 REQUEST_METHOD: GET REQUEST_SCHEME: http REQUEST_TIME: 1436298372 REQUEST_TIME_FLOAT: 1436298372.669 REQUEST_URI: /powermyth SCRIPT_FILENAME: /var/www/cms/web/index.php SCRIPT_NAME: /index.php SERVER_ADDR: 18.104.22.168 SERVER_ADMIN: [no address given] SERVER_NAME: www.butler-bowdon.com SERVER_PORT: 80 SERVER_PROTOCOL: HTTP/1.0 SERVER_SIGNATURE: | <address>Apache/2.4.7 (Ubuntu) Server at www.butler-bowdon.com Port 80</address> SERVER_SOFTWARE: Apache/2.4.7 (Ubuntu) session: lang: home
--- php: 5.5.9-1ubuntu4.5 os: Linux butler-bowdon 3.13.0-37-generic #64-Ubuntu SMP Mon Sep 22 21:28:38 UTC 2014 x86_64 extensions: - Core - date - ereg - libxml - openssl - pcre - zlib - bcmath - bz2 - calendar - ctype - dba - dom - hash - fileinfo - filter - ftp - gettext - SPL - iconv - mbstring - session - posix - Reflection - standard - shmop - SimpleXML - soap - sockets - Phar - exif - sysvmsg - sysvsem - sysvshm - tokenizer - wddx - xml - xmlreader - xmlwriter - zip - apache2handler - PDO - json - mysql - mysqli - pdo_mysql - readline - mhash - Zend OPcache