Notes and Quotes – The Power of Myth (1991), Joseph Campbell

– Notes and Quotes –


Joseph Campbell (1904-1987)

The Power of Myth (1991)



“‘The secret cause of all suffering . . . . is mortality itself . . .’” (xiii).

“‘. . . the power of the judge must be ritualized, mythologized.’” (Campbell, xiv).

“‘. . . technology is not going to save us. Our computers, our tools, our machines are not enough. We have to rely on our true intuition, our true being.’” (Campbell, xiv).

“‘. . . the hero symbolizes our ability to control the irrational savage within us.” (Campbell, xiv).

“. . . the end of the hero’s journey is . . . ‘not to identify oneself with any of the figures or powers experienced.’” (Campbell, xv).

“‘The aim of the quest must be neither release nor ecstasy for oneself, but the wisdom and the power to serve others.’” (Campbell, xv).

“The unpardonable sin, in Campbell’s book, was the sin of inadvertence, of not being alert, not quite awake.” (Campbell, xii).


“. . . myths are clues to our deepest spiritual potential, able to lead us to delight, illumination, and even rapture . . .” (Campbell, xiii).





I – Myth and the Modern World (The Messages of Myth):

II – The Journey Inward:

“These bits of information from ancient times, which have to do with the themes that have supported human life, built civilizations, and informed religions over the millennia, have to do with deep inner problems, inner mysteries, inner thresholds of passage, and if you don’t know what the guide-signs are along the way, you have to work it out yourself.”


Thomas Mann’s Tonio Kröger.

“People say that what we’re all seeking is a meaning for life. I don’t think that’s what we’re really seeking. I think that what we’re seeking is an experience of being alive, so that our life experiences on the purely physical plane will have resonances within our own innermost being and reality, so that we actually feel the rapture of being alive.”


“You changed the definition of a myth from the search for meaning to the experience of meaning.”


“Read myths. They teach you that you can turn inward, and you begin to get the message of the symbols. Read other people’s myths, not those of your own religion, because you tend to interpret your own religion in terms of facts — but if you read the other ones, you begin to get the message.”


“When people get married because they think it’s a long-time love affair, they’ll be divorced very soon, because all love affairs end in disappointment. But marriage is recognition of a spiritual identity.”


Marriage: “we make a commitment for better or for worse” . . . “That’s the remnant of a ritual.”


“If you want to find out what it means to have a society without any rituals, read the New York Times.” . . . “The news of the day, including destructive and violent acts by young people who don’t know how to behave in a civilized society.”



“God is a thought. God is a name. God is an idea. But its reference is to something that transcends all thinking. The ultimate mystery of being is beyond all categories of thought. As Kant said, the thing in itself is no thing. It transcends thingness, it goes past anything that could be thought. The best things can’t be told because they transcend thought. The second best are misunderstood, because those are the thoughts that are supposed to refer to that which can’t be thought about. The third best are what we talk about. And myth is that field of reference to what is absolutely transcendent.”

“What can’t be known or named except in our feeble attempt to clothe it in language.”


“. . . it’s absurd to speak of God as of either this sex or that sex. The divine power is antecedent to sexual separation.”


“Ritual is group participation in the most hideous act, which is the act of life — namely, killing and eating another living thing.”


“So Jesus says, “Judge not that you may not be judged.” That is to say, put yourself back in the position of Paradise before you thought in terms of good and evil. You don’t hear this much from the pulpits. But one of the great challenges of life is to say “yea” to that person or that act or that condition which in your mind is most abominable.”



“”God” is an ambiguous word in our language because it appears to refer to something that is known. But the transcendent is unknowable and unknown. God is transcendent, finally, of anything like the name “God.” God is beyond names and forms. Meister Eckhart said that the ultimate and highest leave-taking is leaving God for God, leaving your notion of God for an experience of that which transcends all notions. The mystery of life is beyond all human conception. Everything we know is within the terminology of the concepts of being and not being, many and single, true and untrue. We always think in terms of opposites. But God, the ultimate, is beyond the pairs of opposites, that is all there is to it.”


“”Eternity is in love with the productions of time,” says the poet Blake.”

Dr. D. T. Suzuki.: “God against man. Man against God. Man against nature. Nature against man. Nature against God. God against nature – very funny religion!””


“Rock with the waves.” “Roll with the punches.”



“. . . from the Upanishads: “Then he realized, I indeed, I am this creation, for I have poured it forth from myself. In that way he became this creation. Verily, he who knows this becomes in this creation a creator.” That is the clincher there. When you know this, then you have identified with the creative principle, which is the God power in the world, which means in you. It is beautiful.”


“The power of life causes the snake to shed its skin, just as the moon sheds its shadow. The serpent sheds its skin to be born again, as the moon its shadow to be born again.”


“The Freudian unconscious is a personal unconscious, it is biographical. The Jungian archetypes of the unconscious are biological. The biographical is secondary to that.”


“. . . standard folk tale motif called The One Forbidden Thing.” . . . . “Life really began with that act of disobedience.”


“Formerly you had a dreamtime paradise there in the Garden of Eden — no time, no birth, no death — no life. The serpent, who dies and is resurrected, shedding its skin and renewing its life, is the lord of the central tree, where time and eternity come together. He is the primary god, actually, in the Garden of Eden. Yahweh, the one who walks there in the cool of the evening, is just a visitor. The Garden is the serpent’s place.”


Baptism or circumcision: “. . . in this tradition we’ve inherited, for Heaven sakes.”


“You yourself are participating in the evil, or you are not alive. Whatever you do is evil for somebody. This is one of the ironies of the whole creation.”


“. . . a mysterium tremendum et fascinans. “All life is sorrowful” is the first Buddhist saying,”

“James Joyce has a memorable line: “History is a nightmare from which I am trying to awake.””


“. . . I have a question. Since in Hindu thinking everything in the universe is a manifestation of divinity itself, how should we say no to anything in the world? How should we say no to brutality, to stupidity, to vulgarity, to thoughtlessness?” And he answered, “For you and for me — the way is to say yes.””


“. . . if you affirm that which you deplore, you are affirming the very world which is our eternity at the moment.”


CAMPBELL: Yes, that is what I’m saying. Eternity isn’t some later time. Eternity isn’t even a long time. Eternity has nothing to do with time. Eternity is that dimension of here and now that all thinking in temporal terms cuts off. And if you don’t get it here, you won’t get it anywhere. The problem with heaven is that you will be having such a good time there, you won’t even think of eternity. You’ll just have this unending delight in the beatific vision of God. But the experience of eternity right here and now, in all things, whether thought of as good or as evil, is the function of life.

MOYERS: “This . . . is . . . it.” (67)




“CAMPBELL: I think of mythology as the homeland of the muses, the inspirers of art, the inspirers of poetry. To see life as a poem and yourself participating in a poem is what the myth does for you.” . . . . “I mean a vocabulary in the form not of words but of acts and adventures, which connotes something transcendent of the action here, so that you always feel in accord with the universal being.”


“. . . verse in Sanskrit, which appears in the Chinese Tao-Te Ching as well: “He who thinks he knows, doesn’t know. He who knows that he doesn’t know, knows. For in this context, to know is not to know. And not to know is to know.””


“MOYERS: Far from undermining my faith, your work in mythology has liberated my faith from the cultural prisons to which it had been sentenced.

CAMPBELL: It liberated my own, and I know it is going to do that with anyone who gets the message.”


“We are all manifestations of Buddha consciousness, or Christ consciousness, only we don’t know it. The word “Buddha” means “the one who waked up.””


“All the gods, all the heavens, all the worlds, are within us. They are magnified dreams, and dreams are manifestations in image form of the energies of the body in conflict with each other. That is what myth is. Myth is a manifestation in symbolic images, in metaphorical images, of the energies of the organs of the body in conflict with each other. This organ wants this, that organ wants that. The brain is one of the organs.” . . . . “as the Polynesian saying goes, you are then “standing on a whale fishing for minnows.” We are standing on a whale. The ground of being is the ground of our being, and when we simply turn outward, we see all of these little problems here and there. But, if we look inward, we see that we are the source of them all.


“Original experience has not been interpreted for you, and so you’ve got to work out your life for yourself.”


Colonialism/unsettled: “You’ve seen what happens when primitive societies are unsettled by white man’s civilization. They go to pieces, they disintegrate, they become diseased.”


CAMPBELL: “The virtues of the past are the vices of today. And many of what were thought to be the vices of the past are the necessities of today. The moral order has to catch up with the moral necessities of actual life in time, here and now. And that is what we are not doing. The old-time religion belongs to another age, another people, another set of human values, another universe. By going back you throw yourself out of sync with history. Our kids lose their faith in the religions that were taught to them, and they go inside.”

MOYERS: “Often with the help of a drug.”

CAMPBELL: “Yes. The mechanically induced mystical experience is what you have there. I have attended a number of psychological conferences dealing with this whole problem of the difference between the mystical experience and the psychological crack-up. The difference is that the one who cracks up is drowning in the water in which the mystic swims. You have to be prepared for this experience.” (12-13)



“You can keep an old tradition going only by renewing it in terms of current circumstances. In the period of the Old Testament, the world was a little three-layer cake, consisting of a few hundred miles around the Near Eastern centers. No one had ever heard of the Aztecs, or even of the Chinese. When the world changes, then the religion has to be transformed.” . . . . “That is in fact what we had better do. But my notion of the real horror today is what you see in Beirut. There you have the three great Western religions, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam — and because the three of them have three different names for the same biblical god, they can’t get on together. They are stuck with their metaphor and don’t realize its reference.” . . . . “Each needs its own myth, all the way. Love thine enemy. Open up. Don’t judge. All things are Buddha things.”



“Myth basically serves four functions. The first is the mystical function — that is the one I’ve been speaking about, realizing what a wonder the universe is, and what a wonder you are, and experiencing awe before this mystery.” . . . . “The second is a cosmological dimension, the dimension with which science is concerned — showing you what the shape of the universe is, but showing it in such a way that the mystery again comes through.” . . . . “The third function is the sociological one — supporting and validating a certain social order.” . . . . “But there is a fourth function of myth, and this is the one that I think everyone must try today to relate to — and that is the pedagogical function, of how to live a human lifetime under any circumstances. Myths can teach you that.”


“Vishnu sleeps in the cosmic ocean, and the lotus of the universe grows from his navel.”


“Religions are addressing social problems and ethics instead of the mystical experience.”


“This watch is now the center of the universe. It is the still point in the turning world.”


“One problem with Yahweh, as they used to say in the old Christian Gnostic texts, is that he forgot he was a metaphor.” . . . . “This is known as the blasphemy of Jehovah — that he thought he was God.”


“”Reincarnation, like heaven, is a metaphor.”” (Purgatory in Christianity)


“Yes, the folk tale is for entertainment. The myth is for spiritual instruction.”


“There are three centers of what might be called mythological and folkloristic creativity in the Middle Ages.” . . . . “The cathedral, the castle, and the cottage — you go to any of the areas of high civilization, and you will see the same — the temple, the palace, and the town.”

“Poetry is a metaphorical language.”


“The person who has had a mystical experience knows that all the symbolic expressions of it are faulty. The symbols don’t render the experience, they suggest it. If you haven’t had the experience, how can you know what it is?”


“For example, a constant image is that of the conflict of the eagle and the serpent. The serpent bound to the earth, the eagle in spiritual flight — isn’t that conflict something we all experience? And then, when the two amalgamate, we get a wonderful dragon, a serpent with wings.”


“The end of living and the beginning of survival.”


“All children need to be twice born, to learn to function rationally in the present world, leaving childhood behind.” . . . . “Corinthians [I]: “When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.””


“. . . in America we have people from all kinds of backgrounds, all in a cluster, together, and consequently law has become very important in this country. Lawyers and law are what hold us together. There is no ethos.”


“[Mythological] stories [are] about the wisdom of life, they really are. What we’re learning in our schools is not the wisdom of life.”


“Specialization tends to limit the field of problems that the specialist is concerned with. Now, the person who isn’t a specialist, but a generalist like myself, sees something over here that he has learned from one specialist, something over there that he has learned from another specialist — and neither of them has considered the problem of why this occurs here and also there.”


“. . . one of the great advantages of being brought up a Roman Catholic is that you’re taught to take myth seriously and to let it operate on your life and to live in terms of these mythic motifs.”


“. . . — creation, death and resurrection, ascension to heaven, virgin births — . . .”


“The themes are timeless, and the inflection is to the culture.”


“For example, the ten commandments say, “Thou shalt not kill.” Then the next chapter says, “Go into Canaan and kill everybody in it.” That is a bounded field.”


“Now, what is a myth? The dictionary definition of a myth would be stories about gods. So then you have to ask the next question: What is a god? A god is a personification of a motivating power or a value system that functions in human life and in the universe — the powers of your own body and of nature.”


“. . . there are two totally different orders of mythology. There is the mythology that relates you to your nature and to the natural world, of which you’re a part. And there is the mythology that is strictly sociological, linking you to a particular society. You are not simply a natural man, you are a member of a particular group.”


“These three mythologies are fighting it out. They have disqualified themselves for the future.”



“[America] is the first nation in the world that was ever established on the basis of reason instead of simply warfare” . . . . All people in the world are thus capable because all people in the world are capable of reason. All men are capable of reason. That is the fundamental principle of democracy. Because everybody’s mind is capable of true knowledge, you don’t have to have a special authority, or a special revelation telling you that this is the way things should be.’


“The number thirteen is the number of transformation and rebirth. At the Last Supper there were twelve apostles and one Christ, who was going to die and be reborn.”


“Novus Ordo Sedorum.” . . . . “A new order of the world.” This is a new order of the world. And the saying above, “Annuit Coeptis,” means “He [the eye, reason] has smiled on our accomplishments” or “our activities.””


“[The eagle] represents what is indicated in this radiant sign above his head . . . . over on the eagle’s head are thirteen stars arranged in the form of a Star of David.”


Solomon’s Seal, Arabian Nights, “composed of thirteen stars, and then I saw that each of the triangles was a Pythagorean tetrakys.” . . . . “a triangle composed of ten points, one point in the middle and four points to each side, adding up to nine: one, two, three, four/five, six, seven/eight, nine. This is the primary symbol of Pythagorean philosophy, susceptible of a number of interrelated mythological, cosmological, psychological, and sociological interpretations, one of which is the dot at the apex as representing the creative center out of which the universe and all things have come.”


“. . . nine feathers in his tail. Nine is the number of the descent of the divine power into the world. When the Angelus rings, it rings nine times.”


“There is a verse in Lao-tzu’s Tao-te Ching which states that out of the Tao, out of the transcendent, comes the One. Out of the One come Two; out of the Two come Three; and out of the Three come all things.”



“. . . in the Great Seal of the United States there were two of these symbolic triangles interlocked was that we now had thirteen points, for our thirteen original states, and that there were now, furthermore, no less than six apexes, one above, one below, and four (so to say) to the four quarters. The sense of this, it seemed to me, might be that from above or below, or from any point of the compass, the creative Word might be heard, which is the great thesis of democracy.” . . . . “That’s what the United States is founded on. If you’re going to govern properly, you’ve got to govern from the apex of the triangle, in the sense of the world eye at the top.”


“Washington said, “As a result of our revolution, we have disengaged ourselves from involvement in the chaos of Europe.” His last word was that we not engage in foreign alliances. Well, we held on to his words until the First World War. And then we canceled the Declaration of Independence and rejoined the British conquest of the planet. And so we are now on one side of the pyramid. We’ve moved from one to two. We are politically, historically, now a member of one side of an argument. We do not represent that principle of the eye up there. And all of our concerns have to do with economics and politics and not with the voice and sound of reason.”


“. . . — the way of man. And of course what destroys reason is passion. The principal passion in politics is greed. That is what pulls you down. And that’s why we’re on this side instead of the top of the pyramid.”

“They are Masonic signs, and the meaning of the Pythagorean tetrakys has been known for centuries.”

“In Egypt, the pyramid represents the primordial hillock. After the annual flood of the Nile begins to sink down, the first hillock is symbolic of the reborn world. That’s what this seal represents.”



“How do you reconcile the role of science, which is reason, with the role of faith, which is religion?” . . . . “you have to distinguish between reason and thinking.” . . . . “If I think, am I not reasoning things out?” . . . . “reason is one kind of thinking . . . . Reason has to do with finding the ground of being and the fundamental structuring of order of the universe.”





III – The First Storytellers:

“The problem in middle life, when the body has reached its climax of power and begins to decline, is to identify yourself not with the body, which is falling away, but with the consciousness of which it is a vehicle. This is something I learned from myths. What am I? Am I the bulb that carries the light, or am I the light of which the bulb is a vehicle?”


“People resist the door of death. But this body is a vehicle of consciousness, and if you can identify with the consciousness, you can watch this body go like an old car. There goes the fender, there goes the tire, one thing after another — but it’s predictable. And then, gradually, the whole thing drops off, and consciousness rejoins consciousness.”


“That is the way life is. Man is a hunter, and the hunter is a beast of prey. In the myths, the beast of prey and the animal who is preyed upon play two significant roles. They represent two aspects of life — the aggressive, killing, conquering, creating aspect of life, and the one that is the matter or, you might say, the subject matter.”


“The hunt is a ritual.”


“Normally the animal preyed upon becomes the animal that is the messenger of the divine.” . . . . “Killing the god.” . . . . “guilt is what is wiped out by the myth. Killing the animal is not a personal act. You are performing the work of nature.”


“A fire is burning — and the fire is the goddess.”



“The Indians addressed all of life as a “thou” — the trees, the stones, everything. You can address anything as a “thou,” and if you do it, you can feel the change in your own psychology. The ego that sees a “thou” is not the same ego that sees an “it.” And when you go to war with people, the problem of the newspapers is to turn those people into “its.””



“A ritual is the enactment of a myth. By participating in a ritual, you are participating in a myth.”


“They’ve forgotten that the function of ritual is to pitch you out, not to wrap you back in where you have been all the time.”


“Myth must be kept alive. The people who can keep it alive are artists of one kind or another. The function of the artist is the mythologization of the environment and the world.”


Shaman are the equivalent of the poets today.


Nietzsche: “Be careful lest in casting out the devils you cast out the best thing that’s in you.””


“”I saw myself on the central mountain of the world, the highest place, and I had a vision because I was seeing in the sacred manner of the world.” And the sacred central mountain was Harney Peak in South Dakota. And then he says, “But the central mountain is everywhere.” That is a real mythological realization. It distinguishes between the local cult image, Harney Peak, and its connotation as the center of the world. The center of the world is the axis mundi, the central point, the pole around which all revolves. The central point of the world is the point where stillness and movement are together. Movement is time, but stillness is eternity. Realizing how this moment of your life is actually a moment of eternity, and experiencing the eternal aspect of what you’re doing in the temporal experience — this is the mythological experience.”


“This Indian boy was saying there is a shining point where all lines intersect.”





IV – Sacrifice and Bliss:

IV – Love and the Goddess:

“Follow your bliss.”


MOYERS: “You write in The Mythic Image about the center of transformation, the idea of a sacred place where the temporal walls may dissolve to reveal a wonder. What does it mean to have a sacred place?”

CAMPBELL: “This is an absolute necessity for anybody today. You must have a room, or a certain hour or so a day, where you don’t know what was in the newspapers that morning, you don’t know who your friends are, you don’t know what you owe anybody, you don’t know what anybody owes to you. This is a place where you can simply experience and bring forth what you are and what you might be. This is the place of creative incubation. At first you may find that nothing happens there. But if you have a sacred place and use it, something eventually will happen.”



“In a wasteland, people are fulfilling purposes that are not properly theirs but have been put upon them as inescapable laws.”



MOYERS: “Is the idea “Thou shalt have no other gods before me” purely a Hebraic idea?”

CAMPBELL: “I’ve not found it anywhere else.”

MOYERS: “Why only one god?”

CAMPBELL: “This I do not understand. I do understand the accent on the local social deity for people who are living in a desert. Your whole commitment is to the society which is protecting you. Society is always patriarchal. Nature is always matrilineal.”



“Jesus uses this image when he says, “I am the vine, and you are the branches.””


“The motif of the plants that you eat having grown from the cut-up and buried body of a sacrificed deity or ancestral personage occurs all over the place, but particularly in the Pacific cultures.”


“. . . the idea is that the plumed man in the vision has to die and be buried before the plant can grow from the remains of his body.”


“If we are to believe what most of our American anthropologists tell us, there is no connection between the Pacific cultures and the cultures of middle America from which our planting myths have come.”


“In the biblical tradition, it is always the second son who is the winner, the good one. The second son is the newcomer — namely the Hebrews. The older son, or the Canaanites, were living there before. Cain represents the agriculturally based city position.”


“Somebody has had to die in order for life to emerge. I begin to see this incredible pattern of death giving rise to birth, and birth giving rise to death. Every generation has to die in order that the next generation can come.”


“Rituals are boring, you know, they just wear you out, and then you break through to something else.”


“In the sacrifice of the Mass, you are taught that this is the body and blood of the Savior. You take it to you, and you turn inward, and there he works within you.”


“. . . when a figure is sacrificed in the planting cultures, that figure itself is the god. The person who dies is buried and becomes the food. Christ is crucified, and from his body the food of the spirit comes. The Christ story involves a sublimation of what originally was a very solid vegetal image.”


“In the Christian tradition, Jesus on the cross is on a tree, the tree of immortal life, and he is the fruit of the tree. Jesus on the cross, the Buddha under the tree — these are the same figures.”


Balance: life and death, being and becoming…

“. . . you have to balance between death and life — they are two aspects of the same thing, which is being, becoming.”


“Going to your sacrifice as the winning stroke of your life is the essence of the early sacrificial idea.”


“. . . gods who are at once of death and of generation. The death god, Ghede, of the Haitian Voodoo tradition, is also the sex god. The Egyptian god Osiris was the judge and lord of the dead, and the lord of the regeneration of life. It is a basic theme — that which dies is born. You have to have death in order to have life.”


“Unless there is death, there cannot be birth. The significance of that is that every generation has to die in order that the next generation can come. As soon as you beget or give birth to a child, you are the dead one. The child is the new life, and you are simply the protector of that new life.”


Schopenhauer: “. . . in which he asks, how is it that a human being can so participate in the peril or pain of another that without thought, spontaneously, he sacrifices his own life to the other? How can it happen that what we normally think of as the first law of nature and self-preservation is suddenly dissolved?” . . . . “psychological crisis represents the breakthrough of a metaphysical realization, which is that you and that other are one, that you are two aspects of the one life, and that your apparent separateness is but an effect of the way we experience forms under the conditions of space and time. Our true reality is in our identity and unity with all life. This is a metaphysical truth which may become spontaneously realized under circumstances of crisis.”


“. . . when Jesus says, “Love thy neighbor as thyself,” he is saying in effect, “Love thy neighbor because he is yourself.””



“Men sometimes confess they love war because it puts them in touch with the experience of being alive. In going to the office every day, you don’t get that experience, but suddenly, in war, you are ripped back into being alive. Life is pain; life is suffering; and life is horror — but, by God, you are alive.”



Woody Allen: “I’m not afraid to die, I just don’t want to be there when it happens.”


Old saying: “Save a man’s life and make an enemy for life.”



James Joyce: Ulysses, Finnegans Wake, 1132, “. . . the number of the Fall, 32, and Redemption, 11; sin and forgiveness, death and renewal.”” . . . . “Phoenix Park thus becomes the Garden of Eden where the Fall took place, and where the cross was planted on the skull of Adam: O felix culpa (“O Phoenix culprit!” says Joyce). And so we have death and redemption.”

“”Romans, Chapter 11, verse 32.””

“Joyce had taken that paradox of the Christian faith as the motto of the greatest masterwork of his life.”


“”Sin bravely,” as Luther said, and see how much of God’s mercy you can invoke. The great sinner is the great awakener of God to compassion. This idea is an essential one in relation to the paradoxology of morality and the values of life.”


Sufi mystic: “”O my Lord, if you had taught these people what you have taught me, they would not be doing this to me. And if you had not taught me, this would not be happening to me. Blessed is the Lord and all his works.””


“. . . three terms that represent the brink, the jumping-off place to the ocean of transcendence: Sat, Chit, Ananda. The word “Sat” means being. “Chit” means consciousness. “Ananda” means bliss or rapture.”


“Wherever you are — if you are following your bliss, you are enjoying that refreshment, that life within you, all the time.”






V – The Hero’s Adventure:

Theft of fire, relay race after to get it back: “. . . it’s to evaluate the fire, its importance to us, and to say something about what has set man apart from the beasts.”

Departure, fulfillment, return (Moses)

Giants vs machines (Quixote)

Fairy-tale motif: “. . . out of the forest with gold and it turns to ashes.”

Motif: “. . . being in deep trouble and then hearing a voice or having somebody come to help you out.” (“All of these dragon killings and threshold crossings have to do with getting past being stuck.”)

Motif: American Indian stories: Iroquois, “the refusal of suitors.”; a mother and two little boys. The mother says, “You can play around the houses, but don’t go north.” So they go north. There’s the adventurer.

Standard worldwide shamanic motif: The heart is not in the body, so the magician can’t be killed. You have to find and destroy the heart.


“A hero is someone who has given his or her life to something bigger than oneself.”

two types of deeds: physical and spiritual

initiation into adulthood, death of childhood, resurrected as adult

“That’s the basic motif of the universal hero’s journey — leaving one condition and finding the source of life to bring you forth into a richer or mature condition.”

Otto Rank, “The Myth of the Birth of the Hero declares that everyone is a hero in birth”


“You have to be transformed from a maiden to a mother.”

Conscious is transformed “by the trials themselves or by illuminating revelations.”


Hero differing from leader: “Tolstoy raises this question: Is the leader really a leader, or is he simply the one out in front on a wave? In psychological terms, the leader might be analyzed as the one who perceived what could be achieved and did it.”


“. . . kinds of heroes, some that choose to undertake the journey and some that don’t.”

Choose: The father quest: “That is the adventure of finding what your career is, what your nature is, what your source is.”

Unchosen: Serendipitous: Army draft: “You didn’t intend it, but you’re in now. You’ve undergone a death and resurrection, you’ve put on a uniform, and you’re another creature.”



“. . . what [heroes] accomplish is shattered by the inability of the followers to see.”


“There are some teachers who decide they won’t teach at all because of what society will do with what they’ve found.”

“What if the hero returns from his ordeal, and the world doesn’t want what he brings back?”

“That, of course, is a normal experience. It isn’t always so much that the world doesn’t want the gift, but that it doesn’t know how to receive it and how to institutionalize it –”




“Alone at last. Alone at last.” (Odysseus, “. . . the end of the tale is ashes.”)


“A legendary hero is usually the founder of something — the founder of a new age, the founder of a new religion, the founder of a new city, the founder of a new way of life. In order to found something new, one has to leave the old and go in quest of the seed idea, a germinal idea that will have the potentiality of bringing forth that new thing.”

“You might also say that the founder of a life — your life or mine, if we live our own lives, instead of imitating everybody else’s life — comes from a quest as well.”


“There’s a form of the crucifix known as “Christ Triumphant,” where he is not with head bowed and blood pouring from him, but with head erect and eyes open, as though having come voluntarily to the crucifixion. St. Augustine has written somewhere that Jesus went to the cross as a bridegroom to his bride.”


Dr. Heinrich Zimmer, maya, “don’t get it”?: “Oh,” he said, “don’t be impatient! That’s not for you yet, darling.”


Thomas Berry: “. . . we are between stories.” (spiritual quest)



“The story of Jesus, for example — there’s a universally valid hero deed represented in the story of Jesus. First he goes to the edge of the consciousness of his time when he goes to John the Baptist to be baptized. Then he goes past the threshold into the desert for forty days. In the Jewish tradition the number forty is mythologically significant. The children of Israel spent forty years in the wilderness, Jesus spent forty days in the desert. In the desert, Jesus underwent three temptations. First there was the economic temptation, where the Devil comes to him and says, “You look hungry, young man! Why not change these stones to bread? And Jesus replies, “Man lives not by bread alone, but by every word out of the mouth of God.” And then next we have the political temptation. Jesus is taken to the top of a mountain and shown the nations of the world, and the Devil says to him, “You can control all these if you’ll bow down to me,” which is a lesson, not well enough made known today, of what it takes to be a successful politician. Jesus refuses. Finally the Devil says, “And so now, you’re so spiritual, let’s go up to the top of Herod’s Temple and let me see you cast yourself down. God will bear you up, and you won’t even be bruised.” And Jesus replies, “Man lives not by bread alone, but by every word out of the mouth of God.” And then next we have the political temptation. Jesus is taken to the top of a mountain and shown the nations of the world, and the Devil says to him, “You can control all these if you’ll bow down to me,” which is a lesson, not well enough made known today, of what it takes to be a successful politician. Jesus refuses. Finally the Devil says, “And so now, you’re so spiritual, let’s go up to the top of Herod’s Temple and let me see you cast yourself down. God will bear you up, and you won’t even be bruised.”


“The Buddha . . . . undergoes three temptations. The first is of lust, the second of fear, and the third of submission to public opinion, doing as told[, social duty].”

  1. Lord of Lust: 3 daughters; Desire, Fulfillment, and Regrets — Future, Present, and Past.
  2. Lord of Death: flung at the Buddha all the weapons of an army of monsters.
  3. Lord of Social Duty: “Young man, haven’t you read the morning papers? Don’t you know what there is to be done today?”

“Desire and fear: these are the two emotions by which all life in the world is governed. Desire is the bait, death is the hook.”




“. . . universal heroes like Mohammed, Jesus, and Buddha bring the message from afar. These heroes of religion came back with the wonder of God, not with a blueprint of God.”

“Well, you find an awful lot of laws in the Old Testament.”

“But that’s the transformation of religion to theology. Religion begins with the sense of wonder and awe and the attempt to tell stories that will connect us to God. Then it becomes a set of theological works in which everything is reduced to a code, to a creed.”

“That’s the reduction of mythology to theology.”

“Mythology is poetry, and the poetic language is very flexible. Religion turns poetry into prose. God is literally up there, and this is literally what he thinks, and this is the way you’ve got to behave to get into proper relationship with that god up there.”


“Three or four times I’ve seen what appear to be magical effects occur: men and women of power can do things that you wouldn’t think possible. We don’t really know what the limits of the possible might be. But the miracles of legend need not necessarily have been facts. The Buddha walked on water, as did Jesus. The Buddha ascended to heaven and returned.”



“Our society today is not giving us adequate mythic instruction of this kind, and so young people are finding it difficult to get their act together.”

“I think that anyone brought up in an extremely strict, authoritative social situation is unlikely ever to come to the knowledge of himself.”

“You’re told exactly what to do, every bit of the time. You’re in the army now. So this is what we do here. As a child in school, you’re always doing what you’re told to do, and so you count the days to your holidays, since that’s when you’re going to be yourself.”



“A good way to learn is to find a book that seems to be dealing with the problems that you’re now dealing with. That will certainly give you some clues. In my own life I took my instruction from reading Thomas Mann and James Joyce, both of whom had applied basic mythological themes to the interpretation of the problems, questions, realizations, and concerns of young men growing up in the modern world. You can discover your own guiding-myth motifs through the works of a good novelist who himself understands these things.”


“[Obi-Wan Kenobi] gives [Luke] not only a physical instrument but a psychological commitment and a psychological center. The commitment goes past your mere intention system. You are one with the event.”


“That old man up there has been blown away. You’ve got to find the Force inside you. This is why Oriental gurus are so convincing to young people today. They say, “It is in you. Go and find it.””



MOYERS: Sometimes we look for great wealth to save us, a great power to save us, or great ideas to save us, when all we need is that piece of string.

CAMPBELL: That’s not always easy to find. But it’s nice to have someone who can give you a clue. That’s the teacher’s job, to help you find your Ariande thread.


“Hamlet asked, “Are you up to your destiny?””

“Hamlet’s problem was that he wasn’t. He was given a destiny too big for him to handle, and it blew him to pieces. That can happen, too.”


Tibetan Buddhist painting: Wheel of Becoming


“”Judge not that you be not judged,” we read in the words of Jesus. “If the doors of perception were cleansed,” wrote Blake, “man would see everything as it is, infinite.””


“. . . the story of Christ assuming the form of a human servant, even to death on the cross, is the principal lesson for us of the acceptance of death.”


Sphinx riddle: “”What is it that walks on four legs, then on two legs, and then on three?” The answer is “Man.” The child creeps about on four legs, the adult walks on two, and the aged walk with a cane. The riddle of the Sphinx is the image of life itself through time — childhood, maturity, age, and death. When without fear you have faced and accepted the riddle of the Sphinx, death has no further hold on you, and the curse of the Sphinx disappears.”



Moral: Gawain and the Green Knight: “the first requirements for a heroic career are the knightly virtues of loyalty, temperance, and courage. The loyalty in this case is of two degrees or commitments: first, to the chosen adventure, but then, also, to the ideals of the order of knighthood. Now, this second commitment seems to put Gawain’s way in opposition to the way of the Buddha, who when ordered by the Lord of Duty to perform the social duties proper to his caste, simply ignored the command, and that night achieved illumination as well as release from rebirth.”



“‘That is a holy man,’ the driver replies, ‘one who has abandoned the goods of this world and lives without desire or fear.’”

“When the Buddha declares there is escape from sorrow, the escape is Nirvana, which is not a place, like heaven, but a psychological state of mind in which you are released from desire and fear.”

“Of course compassion condones suffering in that it recognizes, yes, suffering is life.”


“Nietzsche, of Amor fati, the “love of your fate,””


“My friend had thought, “God did this to me.” I told her, “No, you did it to yourself. The God is within you. You yourself are your creator. If you find that place in yourself from which you brought this thing about, you will be able to live with it and affirm it, perhaps even enjoy it, as your life.””


“”All life is suffering,” said the Buddha, and Joyce has a line — “Is life worth leaving?””


“MOYERS: But what about the young person who says, “I didn’t choose to be born – my mother and father made the choice for me.”

CAMPBELL: Freud tells us to blame our parents for all the shortcomings of our life, and Marx tells us to blame the upper class of our society. But the only one to blame is oneself. That’s the helpful thing about the Indian idea of karma. Your life is the fruit of your own doing. You have no one to blame but yourself.”






VI – The Gift of the Goddess:

“The idea of the Goddess is related to the fact that you’re born from your mother, and your father may be unknown to you, or the father may have died. Frequently, in the epics, when the hero is born, his father has died, or his father is in some other place, and then the hero has to go in quest of his father.”

“In the story of the incarnation of Jesus, the father of Jesus was the father in heaven, at least in terms of the symbology. When Jesus goes to the cross, he is on the way to the father, leaving the mother behind. And the cross, which is symbolic of the earth, is the mother symbol. So on the cross, Jesus leaves his body on the mother, from whom he has acquired his body, and he goes to the father, who is the ultimate transcendent mystery source.”


“Now, the finding of the father has to do with finding your own character and destiny. There’s a notion that the character is inherited from the father, and the body and very often the mind from the mother. But it’s your character that is the mystery, and your character is your destiny. So it is the discovery of your destiny that is symbolized by the father quest.”


“”at-one-ment” with the father.”


“. . . when you have a Goddess as the creator, it’s her own body that is the universe. She is identical with the universe.”



Exodus/Deuteronomy: “”Thou shalt not kill, thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s wife — except abroad. Then you should put all males to the sword, and the women you shall take as booty to yourself.” That’s right out of the Old Testament.”

“. . . love and compassion are reserved for the in-group, and aggression and abuse are projected outward on others. Compassion is to be reserved for members of your own group. The out-group is to be treated in a way described there in Deuteronomy.”     


Hebrew: Goddess = Abomination


Virgin birth: “Leda and the swan, Persephone and the serpent, and this one and that one and the other one. The virgin birth is represented throughout.”


India: “. . . seven psychological centers up the spine. They represent psychological planes of concern and consciousness and action. The first is at the rectum, representing alimentation, the basic, life-sustaining function.”


“. . . the second psychological center is symbolized in the Indian order of spiritual development by the sex organs, which is to say the urge to procreation. A third center is at the level of the navel, and here is the center of the will to power, to mastery and achievement, or, in its negative aspect, to the conquering, mastering, smashing, and trashing of others.”

“. . . the first function, alimentation, is of an animal instinct; the second, procreation, is of an animal instinct; and the third, mastery and conquest, is also of an animal instinct — and these three centers are located symbolically in the pelvic basin.”

“The next, or fourth, center is at the level of the heart; and this is of the opening to compassion.”

“. . . at the heart chakra, there is again the lingam and yoni, that is to say, male and female organs in conjunction, but here they are represented in gold as symbolic of the virgin birth, that is to say, it is the birth of spiritual man out of the animal man.”


A god emerges from the virgin (second) birth: “And do you know who that god is? It’s you. All of these symbols in mythology refer to you. You can get stuck out there, and think it’s all out there. So you’re thinking about Jesus with all the sentiments relevant to how he suffered — out there. But that suffering is what ought to be going on in you. Have you been spiritually reborn? Have you died to your animal nature and come to life as a human incarnation of compassion?”


“. . . the Buddha, with the same meaning, is said to have been born from his mother’s side from the level of the heart chakra.” . . . . “. . . chakra means “circle” or “sphere.””


“What is symbolically referred to is not Jesus’ physical birth but his spiritual significance. That’s what the virgin birth represents. Heroes and demigods are born that way as beings motivated by compassion and not mastery, sexuality, or self-preservation.”





“The antique model for the Madonna, actually, is Isis with Horus at her breast.”


Osiris: “. . . whenever you have the death of such a god as this, you may next expect a resurrection.”

Isis: “This theme of the search for the God who is the spouse of the soul is a prime mythological theme of the period: of the Goddess who goes in quest of her lost spouse or lover and, through loyalty and a descent into the realm of death, becomes his redeemer.”

“. . . she gets a job as nurse to the newborn child.”

“. . . she transforms herself into a swallow . . .” (dove = Holy Ghost)

The child’s mother: “. . . lets out a scream, which breaks the spell . . .”

“Isis removes the lid of the coffin, lies upon her dead husband, and conceives. This is a motif that appears in the ancient mythologies all the time under many symbolic forms — out of death comes life.”(Horus; Isis becomes the model for the Madonna)

“In Egyptian iconography, Isis represents the throne. The Pharaoh sits on the throne, which is Isis, as a child on its mother’s lap.”


Apuleius, Golden Ass: “Isis . . . appears with a rose in her hand (symbolic of divine love, not lust), and when as an ass he eats this rose, he is converted back into a man. But he is now more than a man, he is an illuminated man, a saint. He has experienced the second virgin birth . . . . The second birth is of an exalted, spiritually informed incarnation . . . . We are reborn spiritually by entering and leaving a church.” . . . . “But using this system of symbols, the woman becomes the regenerator.”


“It is from that which is beyond being and nonbeing. It both is and is not. It neither is nor is not. It is beyond all categories of thought and the mind.”


Yin and Yang: “. . . the idea of God as the Absolute Other is a ridiculous idea. There could be no relationship to the Absolute Other.”


MOYERS: “. . . . How do we learn to live spiritually?”

CAMPBELL: “In ancient times, that was the business of the teacher. He was to give you the clues to a spiritual life. That is what the priest was for. Also, that was what ritual was for. A ritual can be defined as an enactment of a myth. By participating in a ritual, you are actually experiencing a mythological life. And it’s out of that participation that one can learn to live spiritually.”


“. . . you come to appreciate the real sanctity of the earth itself, because it is the body of the Goddess.”


“It begins here.”







VII – Tales of Love and Marriage:

Troubadours: Amor, Eros, Agape, Cupid, Karma, Psyche


“So through the eyes love attains the heart: / For the eyes are the scouts of the heart.”


Credo over libido (the beginning of romantic love in the West): “That’s the credo.” . . . . “It’s a condemnation, actually, of the will to life, that’s what the credo is.” . . . . “The libido is the impulse to life. It comes from the heart.”

“. . . romantic love as opposed to lust, or passion, or a general religious sentiment.”


Tristan and Isolde:

CAMPBELL: “What he was saying is that his love is bigger even than death and pain, than anything. This is the affirmation of the pain of life in a big way.”

MOYERS: “And he would choose this pain of love now even though it might mean everlasting pain and damnation in hell.”


“It’s a very mysterious thing, that electric thing that happens, and then the agony that can follow. The troubadours celebrate the agony of the love, the sickness the doctors cannot cure, the wounds that can be healed only by the weapon that delivered the wound.” . . . . “The wound is the wound of my passion and the agony of my love for this creature. The only one who can heal me is the one who delivered the blow. That’s a motif that appears in symbolic form in many medieval stories of the lance that delivers a wound. It is only when that lance can touch the wound again that the wound can be healed.”


“The five main virtues of the medieval knight might be brought in here. One is temperance, another is courage, another is love, another is loyalty, and another is courtesy. Courtesy is respect for the decorum of the society in which you are living.”


Gentle heart: “One that is capable of . . . . compassion” . . . . “Suffering with. “Passion” is “suffering,” and “com-” is “with.””

“The essential idea was to test this man to make sure that he would suffer things for love, and that this was not just lust.”


“A woman who was too ruthless in asking her lover to risk real death before she would acquiesce in anything was considered sauvage or “savage.” Also, the woman who gave herself without the testing was “savage.” There was a very nice psychological estimation game going on here.”




“It was important in that it gave the West this accent on the individual, that one should have faith in his experience and not simply mouth terms handed down to him by others. It stresses the validity of the individual’s experience of what humanity is, what life is, what values are, against the monolithic system. The monolithic system is a machine system: every machine works like every other machine that’s come out of the same shop.”



“The Grail becomes the . . . . that which is attained and realized by people who have lived their own lives. The Grail represents the fulfillment of the highest spiritual potentialities of the human consciousness.”

“He was regarded as a nature man, and on the head of his lance was written the word “Grail.” That is to say, nature intends the Grail. Spiritual life is the bouquet, the perfume, the flowering and fulfillment of a human life, not a supernatural virtue imposed upon it. And so the impulses of nature are what give authenticity to life, not the rules coming from a supernatural authority — that’s the sense of the Grail.”




“”Every act has both good and evil results.” Every act in life yields pairs of opposites in its results. The best we can do is lean toward the light,”


“That’s romance. That’s what myth is all about.”

“. . . sentiment is an echo of violence. It’s not really a vital expression.”



“The vandalism involved in the destruction of the pagan temples of antiquity is hardly matched in world history.” . . . . “[Destroyed] By the organized Church. And why couldn’t Christians live with another religion? What was the matter with them?” . . . . “I think the power impulse is the fundamental impulse in European history. And it got into our religious traditions.”



“. . . the story from Persia that Satan was condemned to hell because he loved God so much.”

“. . . a basic Muslim idea about Satan being God’s greatest lover.”


“God created the angels, he told them to bow to none but himself. Then he created man . . . . And Satan would not bow to man.”

“But in the Persian story, he could not bow to man because of his love for God — he could bow only to God.”


“Now, the worst of the pains of hell, insofar as hell has been described, is the absence of the Beloved, which is God. So how does Satan sustain the situation in hell? By the memory of the echo of God’s voice, when God said, “Go to hell.” That is a great sign of love.”


“That’s the kind of love that eats you up. That’s the kind of love that mothers have to learn to reduce.”

“Lord, teach me when to let go.”



“”Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for he makes the sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the just and the unjust” — you once took this to be the highest, the noblest, the boldest of the Christian teachings.”








VIII – Masks of Eternity:



“You have to go past the imagined image of Jesus. Such an image of one’s god becomes a final obstruction, one’s ultimate barrier. You hold on to your own ideology, your own little manner of thinking, and when a larger experience of God approaches, an experience greater than you are prepared to receive, you take flight from it by clinging to the image in your mind. This is known as preserving your faith.”



“. . . living out of the sense of the Christ in you” . . . . “live not in terms of your own ego system, your own desires, but in terms of what you might call the sense of mankind — the Christ — in you.”


Hindu saying: “None but a god can worship a god.”



“. . . personifications of the energies in play. But the ultimate source of the energies remains a mystery.”


“No, I don’t have to have faith, I have experience.”


“. . . metaphors for the impulses that move and guide me.”

“Why can’t the ultimate mystery be impersonal?”


“How can we be terrified by a dream?”

Jung: “Religion is a defense against the experience of God.”


“”Do you believe in a personal god?”

“No, Father,” I said.

And he replied, “Well, I suppose there is no way to prove by logic the existence of a personal god.”

“If there were, Father,” said I, “what then would be the value of faith?””


Mark 13: “Thomas’ version, Jesus replies: “The kingdom of the Father will not come by expectation. The kingdom of the Father is spread upon the earth and men do not see it” — so I look at you now in that sense, and the radiance of the presence of the divine is known to me through you.”



Circle/Time/Ring/Cycle: “Then there is a deeper experience, too, the mystery of the womb and the tomb. When people are buried, it’s for rebirth. That’s the origin of the burial idea. You put someone back into the womb of mother earth for rebirth.”


“. . . psychologist Maslow called “peak experiences” and what James Joyce called “epiphanies”?” . . . . “peak experience refers to actual moments of your life when you experience your relationship to the harmony of being.”

“Joyce’s formula for the aesthetic experience is that it does not move you to want to possess the object. A work of art that moves you to possess the object depicted, he calls pornography. Nor does the aesthetic experience move you to criticize and reject the object — such art he calls didactic, or social criticism in art. The aesthetic experience is a simple beholding of the object.”

“You are held in aesthetic arrest. That is the epiphany.”


“. . . with this diminishment of your own ego, your consciousness expands to an experience of the sublime.”



“God is qualified as good. No, no! God is horrific. Any god who can invent hell is no candidate for the Salvation Army. The end of the world, think of it! But there is a Muslim saying about the Angel of Death:”When the Angel of Death approaches, he is terrible. When he reaches you, it is bliss.””


“It is the [flaming] sword of discrimination, separating the merely temporal from the eternal. It is the sword distinguishing that which is enduring from that which is merely passing.”


“If you don’t experience it here and now, you’re not going to get it in heaven. Heaven is not eternal, it’s just everlasting.” . . . . “Heaven and hell are described as forever. Heaven is of unending time. It is not eternal. Eternal is beyond time. The concept of time shuts out eternity.”


“It offers an incentive for doing this by teaching you that simply acting in your own self-interest is sin.”


“Goethe says, “All things are metaphors.” Everything that’s transitory is but a metaphorical reference. That’s what we all are.”


AUM: peak experience.

“the sound of the mystery of the word everywhere”

“all vowel sounds are included in the pronunciation. AUM. Consonants are here regarded simply as interruptions of the essential vowel sound. All words are thus fragments of AUM, just as all images are fragments of the Form of forms.”

“”four-element syllable.” A-U-M — and what is the fourth element? The silence out of

which AUM arises, and back into which it goes, and which underlies it.”

“. . . moments of epiphany, of revelation, of the radiance.”


“Words are always qualifications and limitations.”