AND LIVE REJOICING - Houston Smith   Print | 

And Live Rejoicing Book Cover

Below is an excerpt about Joseph Campbell from AND LIVE REJOICING: Details of a Charmed Life


Joseph Campbell was a lifelong friend of mine. His epical achievement was to point out, in The Power of Myth, the six-part television series he did with Bill Moyers, that myths have two sides. They can be inspiring and true, but they can also be destructively false. During World War II, Hitler’s myth of a super race had all but derailed the word myth itself, and Joe’s great accomplishment was to get the word back on track and remind us of the psychological truths that myth offers.

One incident centering on Campbell illustrates his contribution.

After Elmer Greene made his reputation on developing biofeedback, he became interested in fringe phenomena. A number of Asian gurus were offering workshops on how their brand of yoga could increase a person’s energy. Elmer invited a number of them to the Menninger Clinic in Topeka, Kansas, where he mounted a five-day symposium on the subject of human energy. For reasons that escape me, Joseph Campbell and I were both invited.

During the conference people began to notice that Joe seemed to have more energy than the vaunted yogis. On the evening he spoke, his lecture began at 7:00 p.m., and he didn’t let the audience off the hook until 11:00. His parting remark was that he was good for another four hours if anyone in the audience was interested. There were no takers.

The next day someone asked Campbell what his yoga was. They wanted to know what gave him so much energy. Joe brushed the question aside, saying that he had no traditional yoga. His yoga was reading books. But then he did a double take.

“Come to think of it,” he said, “I guess I do have a yoga. It has three parts: eating nearly raw roast beef, drinking good Irish whiskey, and swimming twenty-two laps a day in an Olympic-sized swimming pool in forty-four minutes.”

Someone groaned at the strenuousness of the exercise.

“The hardest part,” Campbell added, “is keeping track of how many laps I’ve swum. So I hit on a method. I visualize in succession the twenty-two cards in the major arcana of the Tarot deck.”

Some years later Joe and I nearly collided in one of the corridors at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport. Glancing at our watches we decided that we had time for a sandwich before proceeding to our connecting flights, and during the lunch he recounted an incident I’ll never forget.

Campbell told me that he was on his way from a lecture tour in the Bay Area, and he told his hosts not to meet him at the San Francisco Airport, for he had many friends in the area and would be renting a car. He just wanted to be told where his first appearance would be.

His hosts told him the event would be held in a synagogue in Marin, and to make sure he would be on time Campbell arrived a half hour early. Spotting the synagogue, he parked his car a decent distance from the entrance, got out, and started walking away, when a small boy about six years old said to him, “You can’t park here.”

Joe glanced around and said, “Why can’t I park here? There’s no NO PARKING sign, and no red stripe on the curb, so why can’t I park here?”

The boy said, “Because I’m a fire hydrant.”

Joe said he told the boy, “Oh, thank you! I could have gotten a parking ticket!”

With that he walked back to his car, unlocked it, and reparked it fifty feet away from the boy.

When we parted I found myself thinking that if there was anyone on the planet who could understand that a small boy could be a fire hydrant, that person would be Joseph Campbell.

From the book AND LIVE REJOICING. Copyright ©  2012 Huston Smith. Reprinted with permission from New World Library.

Order AND LIVE REJOICING and other titles by Huston Smith (as well as by other friends and colleagues of Joseph Campbell) from the Joseph Campbell Foundation Bookstore. When you start your Amazon shopping in our online store, items placed in your cart and purchase within 24 hours - even if NOT books - generate a small fee that benefits the Foundation.

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Gods suppressed become devils, and often it is these devils whom we first encounter when we turn inward.