“It is the purpose of the present book to uncover some of the truths disguised for us under the figures of religion and mythology by bringing together a multitude of not-too-difficult examples and letting the ancient meaning become apparent of itself. The old teachers knew what they were saying. Once we have learned to read again their symbolic language, it requires no more than the talent of an anthologist to let their teachings be heard. But first we must learn the grammar of the symbols, and as a key to this mystery I know of no better tool than psychanalysis. Without regarding this as the last word on the subject, one can nevertheless permit it to serve as an approach. The second step will be then to bring together a host of myths and folktales from every corner of the world, and to let the symbols speak for themselves. The parallels will be immediately apparent; and these will develop a vast and amazingly constant statement of the basic truths by which man has lived throughout the millennia of his residence on this planet.
Perhaps it will be objected that in bringing out the correspondences I have overlooked the differences between the various Oriental and Occidental, modern, ancient, and primitive traditions. The same objection might be brought, however, against any textbook or chart of anatomy, where the physiological variations of race are disregarded in the interest of a basic general understanding of the human physique. There are of course differences between the numerous mythologies and religions of mankind, but this is a book about the similarities; and once these are understood the differences will be found to be much less great than is popularly (and politically) supposed. My hope is that a comparative elucidation may contribute to the perhaps not-quite-desperate cause of those forces that are working in the present world for unification, not in the name of some ecclesiastical or political empire, but in the sense of human mutual understanding. As we are told in the Vedas: ‘Truth is one, the sages speak of it by many names.’”
~ Joseph Campbell from The Hero with a Thousand Faces
Joseph Campbell was an American author and teacher best known for his work in the field of comparative mythology. If you’ve ever heard of the “Hero’s Journey,” you have him and his lifelong commitment to studying mythology to thank.
We have Notes on three of Campbell’s books so far (Pathways to Bliss, The Power of Myth, and A Joseph Campbell Companion), but THIS book (written in 1949) is the one that captures the essence of his thoughts on the “monomyth” that shows up across all cultures. (Get a copy here.)
One universal hero. A thousand faces.
I’m excited to share some of my favorite Ideas we can apply to our lives TODAY so let’s jump straight in.
P.S. We also have the great work of the Joseph Campbell Foundation to thank for preserving and extending Campbell’s legacy. Check out the site for more.
And… If you haven’t watched the interview series Bill Moyers did with Campbell shortly before he passed away, I think you’ll LOVE it. What I love most about it is the effervescent enthusiasm and love of life you feel emanating from Campbell!
Finally, if you haven’t watched Finding Joe yet, I think you’ll dig it. It’s a modern take on the Hero’s Journey. I’m honored to be in it along with Laird Hamilton, Deepak Chopra, and others. I’m even more honored that my Notes on Campbell’s work served as a catalyst for the director, Pat Solomon, to create the film. (My soul smiles as I type that.)
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