Did Joseph Campbell convert?

Who was Joseph Campbell? What is a myth? What does "Follow Your Bliss" mean? If you are new to the work of Joseph Campbell, this forum is a good place to start.

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Post by akaar » Fri Feb 23, 2007 3:22 am

A friend of mine mentioned that Joseph Campbell died a Catholic. Is this true? I know he was a baptized Catholic, but did he die believing in the authority of the Pope and all that jazz?
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Post by Barry Stephens » Fri Feb 23, 2007 3:22 am

I would strongly recommend reading any of Joseph Campbell's writings, or listening to any of his recorded matter, to answer your question for yourself.
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Post by Martin_Weyers » Fri Feb 23, 2007 3:22 am

Akaar,

On another thread called Joseph Campbell's personal mythic beliefs , David Kudler wrote about Campbells appreciation for the Christus triumphans representation in his hospital room. Maybe the appreciation of this symbol lead to some misunderstandings.



According to the biography A Fire in the Mind Campbell in his last days had a preference for the Hindu cosmology.
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Post by David_Kudler » Fri Feb 23, 2007 3:22 am

Martin--Thank you so much for your answer.



Akaar--your friend seems to have read or heard the story published by writer Pythia Peay in the liberal Catholic journal, Common Boundary, entitled "Campbell and Catholicism." Based on an interview with Campbell's widow, Jean Erdman, Peay's article paints the picture (or, at least, strongly implies it) of a death-bed conversion on the part of Campbell. It is important to note that Ms. Erdman, however, strongly denied the story and claims that Peay misquoted her.



Here's what I said in the earlier reponse that Martin alluded to:



Campbell was a voyager on the left-hand path that leads away from institutional Roman Catholicism. He stopped attending mass as a communicant in his twenties. A passionate student of spiritual explorations from around the world and across time, he was finally more in love, I think, with the individual questors than he was with the goal they were attempting to achieve. They were his heroes.



In the weeks before he died, Campbell was in a Catholic hospital. In his room hung a crucifix. Campbell, apparently, was very moved that the cross showed Christ, not wounded and beaten, as he so often is, but triumphant: a symbol of the zeal of eternity for incarnation in time, which involves the breaking-up of the one into the many and the acceptance of the sufferings in a confident and joyful manner.



I'm going to quote Eugene Kennedy, in the editor's foreword from Thou Art That: Transforming Religious Symbolism. He's discussing an interview with Campbell's widow, Jean Erdman by Catholic journalist Pythia Peay entitled "Campbell and Catholicism":
According to Peay, Campbell “experienced profoundly the depths of the Christian symbol” during what were the last weeks of his life. She quotes his wife Jean Erdman as saying, “He was thrilled to see that, because for him this was the mystical meaning of Christ that reflected the state of at-one-ment with the Father. It had been through this image that he had come to a resolution the problem of his Catholic religion.… While he didn't say it in so many words, he was probably preparing himself for eternity.” In the hospital room, according to his wife, “he experienced emotionally what he had before understood intellectually.”


(I want to point out that Ms. Erdman was less than content with the way in which Ms. Peay portrayed Campbell's last days--this paragraph, however, she stands by.)



There was no formal religious service at Campbell's burial.



I think you might be interested in Thou Art That, in which Dr. Kennedy edited together a fairly comprehensive overview of Campbell's views on the Judeo-Christian tradition, using lectures, notes and interviews that Campbell left behind.






David Kudler<br>Publications<br>Joseph Campbell Foundation<br>publications at jcf dot org
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Post by Poncho » Fri Feb 23, 2007 3:22 am

I was interested by David's comments above and in particular by his observation that Joseph Campbell "... was finally more in love, I think, with the individual questors than he was with the goal they were attempting to achieve."

This got me thinking (a rare occurrence these days I'm afraid).

Since a young age Campbell had been interested in myths, beginning with the Red Indians as he progressed from the junior section to the seniors. Eventually he was able to break out of our Judeo Christian straitjacket (an heroic journey in itself) and find common links with the belief systems of other cultures and civilisations past and present -Aldous Huxley's Perennial Philosophy.

As I understand it, in Campbell's view, Christ had "died" at his human animal level (fear, desire etc) and had "awoken" or "resurrected" at his human heart level, or the level of the spirit. In Campbell's view this was the great insight that Saul/Paul had had about Christ on the Road to Damascus.

Campbell suggests in his various writings and recordings that other great spiritual leaders such as the Buddha had similar deep experiences. They had realised that God or "the gods" or whatever were not out there, but were psychological manifestations of the godhead or of the Christ within each of us - the Hindhu teaching of "you are it".

One of Campbell's great interests was in the Arthurian tradition (albeit the French/Continental one rather than in the British/Celtic version) and the symbolism of the Grail. In his view, the whole world was a wasteland and that it was the great mistake of politicians and others to believe that they should seek to change the world out there.

Instead, he felt that each individual should seek the Grail within their own lives. By finding the Grail in our own inner worlds (i.e by following our bliss) we bring life to our own individual wastelands and thereby change the world out there. This I think was the most consistent thread in his own life: first teaching at Sarah Lawrence and then through his travels, talks and tapes after his retirement. His personal charm and charisma made other people sit up and then seriously consider what he had to say.

Having meandered around the various country lanes I am reaching the point that I am trying to make!

These great spiritual teachers were initially ordinary human beings like the rest of us, but became more highly evolved. Campbell over a long life probably understood better than most other people what these great men were trying to teach... and yet...and yet, he didn't seem to be able to have a similar mystical experience (he would of course describe it as a psychological insight).

There is no doubt watching him on tape or listening to his voice on cassette (the voice, like the eyes, can be a window to the soul) that he was a great man. Certainly the various myths helped him to pass through the various stages of his life and the psychological crises that these can cause e.g. finding a new purpose or goal in life on retirement; or accepting the physical restrictions of growing old. And yet...and yet... there still seemed to have been some sort of block on his having a similar experience to a Christ or a Buddha.

Christ, Buddha and all the others were ordinary men initially who subsequently had similar psychological insights which they tried to teach to the rest of us. It was basically a psychological transformation, but was classified (in those pre Freudian days) in mystical terms. In theory, it should be an experience that any of us should be able to have too (shouldn't it?!) That after all was the goal these great teachers set themselves, yet none of us, including Campbell, seems to have been able to reach a similar level.

We can blame the demands of modern day living (the English writer, Graham Greene, made some comment about the pram in the hallway being a block on the creative process – I can’t remember the exact words), but one of the underlying principles of the American Dream is that if you want something badly enough you will find a way of achieving it (e.g. Napoleon Hill’s “What the mind can conceive and believe, it will achieve” in his book, Think and Grow Rich – a book about making money but the principles apply in all areas of our lives).

Campbell warned against "quick fix" religious experiences or against becoming wise before you have actually experienced Life... and yet I find it sad, because I admire him so much, that he didn't seem to have had that great psychological breakthough(or mystical experience) himself.

It is interesting to wonder aloud (in a non critical way I hasten to add) why he didn't. The reason I guess is contained in David's observation that I quoted at the beginning.

By analogy, I think that if I were an author I would be unhappy if I were to win the Pulitzer Prize or the Nobel Prize for Literature because it would mean that although lots more people would buy my books (and so make me pots of money) nobody would actually read them. Somehow such great prizes would convince people that what I had to say was beyond their understanding.

Similarly, what the spiritual teachers have to say is straightforward enough to understand, thanks to Campbell, but because we have placed them on pedestals we have set up a mental block that prevents us from having the same spiritual/psychological experience.

Maybe that was what the Catholic journalist picked up from Ms Erdman's comments about Campbell's last weeks. He had spent his life seeking an academic, intellectual understanding, but it was only at the end that he understood things more clearly at the emotional, heart level. Perhaps at the end he did "break through". As Campbell himself said: "If you don't get it here, you won't get anywhere (else)." The journalist for her own reasons chose to interpret that as a deathbed conversion; the rest of us on the other hand can see it for what it really was.


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Post by Martin_Weyers » Fri Feb 23, 2007 3:22 am

Ivor Orr,
I agree with your estimation. The Grail quest is related to the attitude of the artist.

In BAKSHEESH AND BRAHMAN, Chapter V - A Guru and his Devotees, Campbell writes about his meeting with Sri Krishna Menon.

He was invited by the guru to stay for another periode of five days, because the guru was convinced, that he was not far from illumination - and Campbell decided to leave! He wrote "I think what he gave me today will be enough for me." Why did he decide this way?

Jane, another associate, supposed:
What Joseph Campbel was looking for would have taken much more time in my opinion, if he indeed was looking for a actual experience
My own answer is: because he was an artist, who had so much ideas for his writings, based on his actual experiences, that he had no time for illumination, not even for 5 days; He had to write, and illumination would have distracted him from working on his books.



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Post by Guest » Fri Feb 23, 2007 3:22 am

And yet ... and yet ... maybe having an experience comparable to that of a saint was not what he was after.

And maybe becoming a mystic or spiritual leader or a guru and having people wear his picture on a rope around their necks was not what he was after.

And maybe we don't know what he did and did not experience on a personal level throughout his life because he didn't want us to know.

Maybe he wanted us to have our own realizations.

And maybe it says something totally remarkable about the man that in his 80s, in the last days of his life, he was still ready, willing, and able to have a new experience, one he was fully prepared for.

If I recall correctly, he said he didn't need faith; he had experience. Again and again and again, right up until the end.

Maybe his intellectual and scholarly pursuits prepared him for a psychological breakthrough right at the crucial moment and maybe Mrs. Erdman-Campbell understood what he was saying about Christ Triumphant and was kind enough to share it with us, thinking that we, too, would understand.
Campbell: A fairy tale is the child's myth. There are proper myths for proper times of life. Of course, the whole story of the crucifixion, which is a fundamental image in the Christian tradition, speaks of the coming of eternity into the field of time and space, where there is dismemberment. But it also speaks of the passage from the field of time and space into the field of eternal life. So we crucify our temporal and earthly bodies, let them be torn, and through that dismemberment enter the spiritual sphere which transcends all the pains of earth. 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.

Moyers: So there are truths for older age and truths for children.

Campbell: Oh, yes, I remember the time Heinrich Zimmer was lecturing at Columbia on the Hindu idea that all life is as a dream or a bubble; that all is maya, illusion. After his lecture a young woman came up to him and said, "Dr. Zimmer, that was a wonderful lecture on Indian philosophy! But maya -- I don't get it -- it doesn't speak to me."

"Oh," he said, "don't be impatient! That's not for you yet, darling." And so it is: when you get older, and everyone you've known and originally lived for has passed away, and the world itself is passing, the maya myth comes in. But, for young people, the world is something yet to be met and dealt with and loved and learned from and fought with -- and so, another mythology.

~The Power of Myth, pp. 138-9.~



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Post by ALOberhoulser » Fri Feb 23, 2007 3:22 am

Maybe his intellectual and scholarly pursuits prepared him for a psychological breakthrough right at the crucial moment ...
Tree Hugger,
Are you saying that a synchronistic experience on an emotional level that transcends intellectual categorical thought is possible?

If so, why do you use the term "psychological breakthrough" instead of mystical experience? Isn't "psychological breakthrough" contradictory to emotional synchronistic experience because of the irrational connotation of the latter and the "explainability" (in scientific terms) of the former?
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Post by David_Kudler » Fri Feb 23, 2007 3:22 am

Very interesting.

I just ran across a piece of a New York Times Book Review interview with DJR Bruckner from 1983 that I think is somewhat appropos, in regards to the impact that Campbell felt he would like to have on others:
Q: Does it bother you to be a guru to so many young people?

A: Oh, I withhold the guru. You see, in the crazy period of the 60's, young people were throwing themselves out of the culture. I had been thrown out years before, and was out there for five years mooching around and discovered this wonderful stuff. It gave li fe to my life. It gives life today. Since I retired from teaching 12 years ago, I've been lecturing at human potential places--Esalen, the California oasis, in Chicago and elsewhere. I'm running into people in their 30's and 40's and I see the things I have been working on working on them--the world of the muses, the place out of which imagination and inspiration come. It helps them shape their lives.

Q: But do you present yourself as a guru?

A: No, I do not. No. I try to hold the position of a scholar who knows this stuff, and I'm not telling you what to do with it--I'm not giving it to you. I'm not directing anybody. My idea of a top scholar in this field is Mircea Eliade at the University of Chicago. He is magnificent. I don't know how much influence he has on young people. His address is more to the scholarly com munity. I feel almost that he and I are standing in the same place back to back, I facing a popular community and he the academic co mmunity. He has enormous respect in the academic world. And properly so.

My own feeling is gratitude that I've been able to help people. And I have. I know it. People come to me all over the place, say ing "You've changed my life, your book changed my life." And that's a beautiful report. It really is.
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Post by Martin_Weyers » Fri Feb 23, 2007 3:22 am

"Standing in the same place back to back" with Mircea Eliade, "I facing a popular community and he the academic community" - that's an interesting self-assessment!

If "popular" does not only mean something of a lesser, but of a different value - not only referring to the quantitative aspect but also denoting a different kind of approach - could we also call it an artistic attitude, instead of an academic? With the aim of psychological effectiveness more than of pure augmentation of knowledge?

Everything else would sound for me like an easy-to-read version of the same stuff, Eliade has worked out, but with a lower demand. I understand Campbell in the following way: I'm talking not only to academics or people with a historical interest, but to everyone who could be attached by myth in a transformative way. I'm trying to give you some effective tools. For the way you are using them, everyone has to be selfresponsible.

Campbell has accentuated several times, that, for a Western individual, to go to a yogi is not an appropriate way to insight or illumination!


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Post by Guest » Fri Feb 23, 2007 3:22 am

David,

Thanks for sharing that little portion of interview with us.

One of my little fantasies about Joseph Campbell is that he chose to be the Indra of his own life -- a reference to the wonderful myth from India that he told on pp. 62-64 of The Power of Myth. It's also recounted in the video.

He sums it up this way:
So each of us is, in a way, the Indra of his own life. You can make a choice, either to throw it all off and go into the forest to meditate, or to stay in the world, both in the life of your job, which is the kingly job of politics and achievement, and in the love life with your wife and family. Now, this is a very nice myth, it seems to me.
Instead of throwing it all off to become a yogi or guru, Campbell chose his scholarly career of researching, teaching, lecturing, and writing; and he embraced a love life with his wife and equal life partner.

When I first heard him recount the story of Indra, I couldn't help but smile. But perhaps I am merely projecting.

:smile:

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Post by Poncho » Fri Feb 23, 2007 3:22 am

Thank you to those who have responded with their comments. There are one or two points that I would like to add, but I shall not be able to do so until next week.

I'm not very quick. Creative thinking is exhausting - a bit like Merlin recovering his energies after having summoned the dragon power to change Pendragon into Cornwall's likeness so that he can ravish Igraine.

Also I no longer have a home computer. At present I only have access to the one at work.

I'm writing now because I've read Tree Hugger's comments on the topic above (The Art of Discourse). She expresses disappointment that there are occasions when she makes a big effort to supply an answer to a question but gets no acknowledgement or recognition afterwards.

Anyway in the meantime I do appreciate everyone's comments and I shall make some response. No discourtesy is intended.
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Post by Guest » Fri Feb 23, 2007 3:22 am

Ivor, thank you for your very considerate response.

I honestly don't expect everyone to have the time or inclination or a computer handy to respond to every post. I know I don't respond to every post, even ones I really like, simply because of time constraints or because I don't really have anything to say that adds to the discussion.

However, I'll tell you this ... I have really enjoyed all of your posts and look forward to reading more of them.

This idea of whether or not Campbell converted or had mystical experiences and what he did or did not experience on a personal level is one that is rather dear to my heart.

As I've said before (ad nauseum by now for long-time associates,) I stumbled across Campbell in the library at a young age. I came to understand (with the help of my parents) certain themes in his writing.

One of the most important themes was that he would tell us about mythology and outline the Hero's Journey, but it was up to us to take that journey on our own and that he was going to be rather stubborn, in a good-natured sort of way, and not tell us what to do. He would point the way, but the final trick was up to us.

At that very young age (middle school age) I came to the conclusion that he would not let us know what his personal religious beliefs or personal spiritual experiences were.

The reason he wouldn't tell us is because he didn't want to be a preacher or guru. He was happy to be a teacher, one who points the way, who provides information, who inspires his students to think and feel and experience life. But he was not going to demand that we follow any path that he laid out for us.

I remember coming to those conclusions, but I don't remember exactly what specifically caused me to interpret Campbell's work in that manner. After all, it was 40 years ago. I have wondered if my child's interpretations were way wrong, but then I do remember discussing Joseph Campbell at the dinner table with my parents. I'm quite sure they did their best to point me in certain directions and to help me figure things out that were over my head.

I did not know until I started participating in these forums that other people read Campbell in an entirely different way. Now, I find that fascinating.

The conversion story is one that piques my interest. Campbell talked about Christ Triumphant, maya, and the end of life before he was ever in that Catholic hospital room looking at the Crucifix on the wall.

Perhaps it was a wonderful serendipitous synchronistic happy coincidence that while he was in bed with his last illness that Christ Triumphant was staring him in the face. How could he not talk to Jean about it?

To me, it's a beautiful story, one that coincides with his idea of a track being laid down for you if you're following your bliss. The right thing comes at the right time.

I love it. But then I could be Projecting my Self into the story and not know it. We all do that. I'm sure I do, too.


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Post by Martin_Weyers » Fri Feb 23, 2007 3:22 am

Ivor,
Tree Hugger stumbled across Campbell in the library, when she was young. I'm sure, in your library, you will find a computer with internet access. I hope, you will continue posting from there.

Just to promote Heinrich Zimmer a little bit: The Indra story, Tree Hugger mentioned, is taken from Heinrich Zimmer, MYTHS AND SYMBOLS IN INDIAN ART AND CIVILIZATION. Washington 1946, pp. 3-11.

I feel fine with everything that has been said in this thread so far. But I think, we sometimes misinterpretated the role, the mystic plays. Many mystics teached, that it is a misunderstanding to think, the mystic has to stay in the forest. He has to return, like the hero does. Campbell saw that attitude reflected in the idea of the Bodhisattva.

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Post by Tree Hugger 2 » Fri Feb 23, 2007 3:22 am

Martin, I agree with your statements that the role of the mystic has often been misinterpreted. Our Western culture teaches us to think in an either/or kind of way. It can be deeply ingrained in the Western mind. I'm not sure why.

I try to avoid either/or thinking, but sometimes I fall into it without realizing it. But to me, it seems possible to be both a mystic and a person of the world. I have had the good fortune of knowing such people. I have wanted to know how they managed such an extraordinary way of operating in the world without becoming disconnected from their mystical center.

However, I never asked such questions about Joseph Campbell. I always had the sense that Joseph Campbell did not want to reveal his own personal experiences of the mystical, although I think he came close several time in the book version of "The Hero's Journey." Close. But I tried not to speculate too much.

For some reason, it felt important to me to respect that he had placed a boundary around that aspect of his life. I always thought he did it out of a principled position of not wanting to unduly sway his students and admirers into trying to have experiences like his. I always believed that, in his heart, he wanted to be a teacher who pointed the way for his students much more than he ever wanted to be ... hmmm, the word that came to mind is worshipped. I don't think he wanted to be placed upon a pedastal and worshipped as a guru.

I formed those opinions when I was very young. I realize I could be wrong. That's why his personal religious or mystical beliefs and experiences don't seem important to me. It feels like a matter of respect.

My husband brought home Campbell's biography. I didn't read it. My husband did. He kept saying, "Hey, listen to this..." That was great. Tidbits. Snapshots. Maybe I'll read that book soon.

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