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 Windhorse » Fri Feb 23, 2007 3:22 am

Tree Hugger, welcome! It is very good to hear your voice. JCF has missed you.
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Post by Martin_Weyers » Fri Feb 23, 2007 3:22 am

Tree Hugger,

welcome back in a new incarnation! I was missing your voice so much! :smile:

I have an idea, why Campbell rejected to explain his beliefs explicitly.

You know, that I think he was a kind of an artist. Of course, that's only part of the truth, but I'm interested especially in that aspect; Others may choose other aspects of his personality. Campbell can not be captured by the use of one or two categories. He was a comparative mythologist AND a teacher AND a kind of artist and so forth.

He was an artist, in the same way Jung was an artist. Many of his interpretations are speaking of a real genious. But he developed those interpretations for many times by introspection, and that's a very effective method, if you are a kind of artist, but it's not scientific in the closer sense of the word. Any psychological interpretation of a symbol - if it's worth to be read! - is not only an act of analyzing, but also of CREATING an image.

Now, do you remember him explaining, that if an artist wants to offend you, he will start to explain the meaning of his artworks? To explain your belief would be like explaining a symphony. But if you are an artist, then what you believe will shine through those images you are creating.


(You must have a great husband! I suppose, it's the fifteenth book he is donating within a period of about 14 days! :wink: )

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

Martin,

On reflection, I would have to say that your comments are quite brilliant and on the mark.

I wonder how other people, those who know Campbell's work well and those who are beginners, view these issues. Perhaps we need to start a new thread. I will think about it. I'm not very good at thinking up titles.

Windhorse, thank you for your welcome back. I missed not being here. I tend to come and go in an unpredictable fashion. I hope my foibles will be forgiven by all my friends here. I tried for days to access the site, but my user name didn't work. I don't know why. I have a lot of posts to read to get up to speed again.


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

Tree Hugger,

I contacted Manny because of that technical problem and he promised to help. He's currently very busy.

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

I enjoyed Tree Hugger’s comment about being one’s own Indra! That’s a great image to have in one’s life.

Martin has kindly referred to “Baksheesh and Brahman” and asks why Campbell does not accept the guru’s invitation to stay another 5 days so that he can gain illumination. A copy of this book has recently washed up on my side of the Silver Sea (in a local branch of Borders Bookshop, which I understand is American anyway).

On page 287, Campbell gives three reasons for not going back to the guru. The third reason is:

“… I am pretty close to understanding what the Indian scriptures are teaching.”

The key word is “understanding”; he avoids the word “illumination”. Why? Further down the same page, he goes on:

“The main difference between this [Indian] teaching and the Jungian goal of integration – as I now see it – is that in the Jungian psychological literature one is not invited to identify the Self with the Universal: this identification is what gives to the Indian teaching its religious tone, which is precisely the tone that Jung rejects in his commentary to the Golden Flower.”

In the note on page 337, Jung warns (I’m paraphrasing because it’s quite long) against getting so carried away by Eastern spiritual ideas that we contemptuously turn our backs on the one safe foundation of the Western mind: science. The Eastern ideas and words would never have originated in Western minds and so cannot be usefully grafted onto them. We should not imitate or adopt with missionary zeal what is organically foreign but instead make use of the ideas and words that derive from our Western culture.

This is interesting, because it could be argued that the Judeo-Christian culture, which belongs to another time and another place, consists of organically foreign ideas and words which have been grafted onto the European and American mind.

By coincidence this ties in with my contribution on page 22 of Clemsy’s “Drums of War” which is on the “Conversation with a Thousand Faces” part of this website. I had quoted an article from an English newspaper on the current Gulf crisis. It’s not about oil; it’s about religion. Americans like Bush, thanks to the early English Protestant settlers, regard themselves as the Chosen People with a World Mission. God help the rest of us.

http://www.jcf.org/new/forum/viewtopic. ... rum=27&340

I’m sure that Tree Hugger and David are right when they are argue that JC did not want to be seen as guru. He believed in self reliance and pulling yourself up by your own bootstraps. In his view you enter the forest on your own where it is darkest and where there is no path; you don’t follow someone else’s path.

Although he may not directly say “These are my beliefs” or “This is my experience” it is still possible to sense what these may have been:

First, he admired the ancient cultures. As the members of those ancient tribes over many generations became self aware they realised that Life continues by killing and eating itself. The tribes came to terms with this through their myths and were able to say “yes” to Life: joyful participation in the sorrows of the world.

Campbell does not support those who believe in running away from this horror e.g. the little monk ferry boat Buddhism, where you renounce the world and over several reincarnations put flowers on the altar and ring bells as you seek the yonder shore of rapture. Instead, Life is great just the way it is.

Second, Campbell believes in the eternal now. Heaven and Hell are not real physical places out there that you go to after death, but are psychological experiences within yourself. I can’t remember the exact quote from the Thomas gospel: the kingdom of the Lord is spread upon the Earth yet men do not see it. This is it; here and now. “If you don’t get it here, you won’t get it anywhere [else].” Joyful participation in the sorrows of the world. The myths help you to achieve this so long as you see them as symbols and not as historical facts; you still need science.

Third, Campbell believed, I think, that on death your consciousness returns to the eternal consciousness. This is one area of Campbell’s ideas where I still feel shaky on. I don’t know much about Jungian ideas, apart from what I’ve read in self help books which at times use Jungian words with free abandon. The quote I gave above from Baksheesh and Brahaman:

“…in the Jungian psychological literature one is not invited to identify the Self with the Universal…”

implies that on death there is a full stop. Another good reason for experiencing the eternal now! Towards the end of his life, however, I suspect that he was moving towards the Hindu idea of Brahman which lies beyond the field of maya. As I’m still only a beginner in Campbell’s work I’m not sure yet whether he actually believed in reincarnation.

Anyway I would agree with David there was no deathbed conversion - either “real” or “pretend”. If there had been a “real” conversion there would have been a priest present to hear his last confession and to give the last rites.

To explain “pretend” the image that comes to mind is of James Cagney in “Angels With Dirty Faces”. Cagney is a hard hoodlum, who has a boyhood friend who grows up to be a Catholic priest. Cagney kills someone, is caught, and is sentenced to death. The Dead End Kids idolise Cagney and the priest fears for their future. Cagney intends going to the chair with defiance (as a bridgegroom to his bride?) The priest pleads with him that the Kids will only copy his wicked ways and suffer the same fate. Cagney rejects his old friend. The priest is standing sadly outside the execution room, when he suddenly hears Cagney screaming to the warders and journalists for mercy, because he’s scared. The priest walks away with a quiet smile; the Kids are safe. There is no indication that Campbell did something similar to save us!

I agree with Tree Hugger that it is significant that there is a Christ Triumphant crucifix in his room. I’m sure that as a former staunch Catholic there were moments throughout his life when perhaps he regretted his rejection of the Mother Church. Having taken the left hand path out of the village compound, the crucifix showed that his life had come full circle. He was able to use that symbolism, which of all the different religious emblems and myths was probably the most familiar to him, not as a means of re-entering the Catholic faith, but as a way back to the field of eternity.


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

On 2003-03-03 12:53, ivor orr wrote:
He was able to use that symbolism, which of all the different religious emblems and myths was probably the most familiar to him, not as a means of re-entering the Catholic faith, but as a way back to the field of eternity.
Ivor orr,

beginner or not, you gave a very convincing estimation of Campbell's spiritual beliefs. Your quotations from BAKSHEESH AND BRAHMAN I found very elucidatory, and in the closing sentence you are making the most significant point about Campbell's relationship to the image of the "Christus triumphans".

There are only certain restrictions:
“The main difference between this [Indian] teaching and the Jungian goal of integration – as I now see it – is that in the Jungian psychological literature one is not invited to identify the Self with the Universal: this identification is what gives to the Indian teaching its religious tone, which is precisely the tone that Jung rejects in his commentary to the Golden Flower.”
Campbell talks about Jung's psychological interpretation of a spiritual text. In fact, Jung was (I think in general, but at least in his later years) convinced, that there is a part of our consciousness that is independent from time and space.

In his autobiographical memories, written down by Aniela Jaffé, he is wondering about the possibility of a personal life after death. Not because he had a desire to live forth, he says, but because he had some experiences which made it believable for him.

What is much more important, and here, I think, he is very near to Campbell, is that he was convinced that there is an eternal consciousness: A part of our consciousness, he says, is beyond time and space. This is the same mystical view, like that which the Hindus call mythologically "Atman".

I think Kant was the philosopher (and in his tradition Schopenhauer) who made this point of view, which is known as "Philosophia Perennis", believable both for Jung and Campbell. (At least Jung had, in addition to that, shamanic visions and mystical experiences which consolidated this metaphysical view.)
Second, Campbell believes in the eternal now. Heaven and Hell are not real physical places out there that you go to after death, but are psychological experiences within yourself.

[...]

Third, Campbell believed, I think, that on death your consciousness returns to the eternal consciousness. This is one area of Campbell’s ideas where I still feel shaky on.

[...]

I don’t know much about Jungian ideas, apart from what I’ve read in self help books which at times use Jungian words with free abandon. The quote I gave above from Baksheesh and Brahaman:

“…in the Jungian psychological literature one is not invited to identify the Self with the Universal…”

implies that on death there is a full stop. Another good reason for experiencing the eternal now!
Jung used "the self" generally related to personal psychological potentials, not in the sense of "Atman".
(Look at CALL TO ADVENTURE-forum!)
http://www.jcf.org/new/forum/viewtopic. ... forum=28&8

In my opinion, the return of personal consciousness to eternal consciousness is a mythological description of the philosophical insight, that "a part of your consciousness" belongs to eternity. (I don't like the expression "a part of our consciousness", because what is indeed eternal is not a part, but the non-separated TOTALITY of consciousness.) After death "you" (= your eternal self) will still be there, in the same sense like it is there now, while you are wondering about it. (After death you will not have to wonder about it anymore!) Today's "now" would not be eternal, if it would be separated from any "now" after your death or before you were born. "Now" is always the same: The eternal now is beyond time: Time and space are thought to be an expression of consciousness, not the other way round.
Towards the end of his life, however, I suspect that he was moving towards the Hindu idea of Brahman which lies beyond the field of maya. As I’m still only a beginner in Campbell’s work I’m not sure yet whether he actually believed in reincarnation.
In POWER OF MYTH, Campbell interprets the idea of reincarnation as a mythological visualization of "Thou art That", which is the mystical insight, that it is always the same (unseparated) transcendental mystery, which incarnates in the (separated) forms of time and space.

That's why, in my opinion, Campbell's central spiritual belief was the Philosophia Perennis: The mystical insight into identity of all separated forms beyond the separating categories of time and space.

The "Christus Triumphans" is a Chritian symbol for exactly the same mystical insight: That it is always the same godlike mystery, which incarnates in the separated and mortal forms of time and space. I'm sure, that Campbell would have appreciated any other symbol, which represents the same idea, in the same way. Maybe he would have interpreted Tree Hugger's cyclic retreats and returns in the same way: Just another funny symbol for the same mystical insight. To come and go, come and go, ..., but in the essence to be always the same.


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

Thanks Martin,

I’ve printed off your comments, which I shall need to give some thought to before I can respond. I feel a bit out of my depth on some of the things simply because as a beginner I haven’t read as widely as you. I wanted to post my appreciation as soon as possible because you had obviously gone to a lot of trouble with your comments. I’ve just started looking at some of the other topics in other parts of the website. The range is much more extensive than I had realised; your name along with those of Tree Hugger, David, Clemsy, Al and others pop up all over the place.

I can understand Tree Hugger wanting to respect JC’s boundaries, but it’s still interesting to speculate about his inner experiences. I would suspect that he didn’t have a saint like experience of illumination. I remember somewhere his saying that a dancer has an inner space from which they perform. He then went on to say that he had had such experiences on only two or three occasions. These were when he was an athlete and on such occasions he knew that no one would be able to beat him.

My own feeling is that he had a deeper experience than most other people of simply being alive. He was able to do this because he did things that interested him (followed his bliss), because he cherished his friends and family and was happily married. He still suffered loss however e.g. his parents and Heirich Zimmer. I’m sure that he suffered the frustrations of living around other people that we all suffer e.g. departmental politics at Sarah Lawrence. That’s why reading his two volumes of the Asian journals is so fascinating; some of his responses to people and events are more human than saintly!

Any way thanks for your very considered and full response. I’m sure other readers found it useful too.

Finally, like every one else I'm pleased that Tree Hugger has found her way back. This site wouldn't have been the same without her (hope that doesn't sound too creepy!)


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

On 2003-03-05 05:26, ivor orr wrote:
I wanted to post my appreciation as soon as possible because you had obviously gone to a lot of trouble with your comments.
Ivor orr,
we have had some nice and passionated discussions so far, but I didn't regard it as trouble at all - otherwise I would have quitted this place. I like bubbly discussions, like those I have seen in a film about Tibetian monks, who are in a kind of way dancing while they have their metaphysical conversations, empasizing their words with strong gestures all the time.

I'm frequently getting new ideas by disagreeing. So it's bliss, not trouble. But it was very kind to be concerned about my feelings!Your quotations from BAKSHEESH AND BRAHMAN are very interesting. I have read this book only in parts so far.
Finally, like every one else I'm pleased that Tree Hugger has found her way back. This site wouldn't have been the same without her (hope that doesn't sound too creepy!)
From Tree Hugger's preoccupation with Campbell's ideas you can learn, that it's not necessarily a matter of being a beginner or a long-time connoisseur, which position you represent. She has dealt with those subjects during several decades. I'm quite new to Campbell. The first book (POWER OF MYTH) I read in 1999.

(Tree Hugger has currently a technical problem. Don't worry if she disappears for another few days. I believe, she is a scepticist who causes damage to machines by PSI effects. :wink: But Manny is working on it. She will be back soon.)


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

Thanks Tree Hugger

Gosh you know how to make a shy chap blush!

"Peak experiences" was the phrase I was looking for. It's the term coined by Abraham Maslow. Freud had analysed neurotics; Jung had analysed psychotics. Maslow, as I'm sure you know, was interested in people who were high achievers and who weren't mentally ill. I guess JC would quite easily fit into that category.

A joke:

A neurotic builds a castle in the sky
A pyschotic lives in it
And the psychiatrist collects the rent.

Ha ha.

Anyway thanks for the quote on reincarnation. I hadn't seen that one before. I shall mull it over.

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

I have to admit that this idea of reincarnation is well above my head. I am having trouble understanding what this spirit or monod actually is.

My outer person/personality that everyone knows and loves and hates dies when my physical body/brain dies, is killed or simply "conks out" through over-use and dissipation. On death my spirit or monad or Witness or Christ within is released.

In some of the things I have read this inner part is pure and untouched by the way I’ve lived my life. It may have tried to help me through intuition or if I have accidently come into contact with it through for example a “peak experience”. If that view is correct, I don’t understand why it has any sins or blemishes that need to be burned off in purgatory or that must be resolved through another life. The things that have happened in this life are as a result of the way that I have chosen to live my life.

This week is the 50th anniversary of the death of Stalin, who was responsible for the deaths of at least 10 million people. I pity the poor monod who got the short straw and ended up inside him.

I guess that I had always assumed that the spirit within me was in some way linked to me. If you could separate it from my body it would be formless but it is still in some sense "me". When I physically died it is that inner part of me that is then transferred to another form up or down the scale of physical forms from Indra to ant or blade of grass (Prince Charles once told Camilla Parker Bowles, in a telephone conversation, that someone recorded and sent to the newspapers, that he wished that he could be reincarnated as one of her tampons/sanitary towels –and they say the English have no sense of romance!)

What’s interesting for instance is "near death experiences", where people have died on the operating table, have had an “out of body” experience and have entered a tunnel and approached a bright white light. Sometimes they’ve entered a room where hooded men were sitting and have gone through their past lives and then been given the opportunity to return. When they’ve returned they’ve surprised the staff by recalling some of the doctors’ conversation during their out of body experience.

I’m not sure therefore that I would agree with JC that reincarnation is a myth in the sense of being a symbol. What do others think? Thanks for your help.


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

Hi Ivor!

I believe that models for spirit, whether it be reincarnation, heaven/hell, nirvana, etc., are essentially metaphors which are meant to direct us beyond to that for which language fails and fails utterly. Some people need these images to focus their attention on the Great Mystery, as it were. Very similar to Campbell's Masks of God analogy. Many get stuck on the mask. Reincarnation was discussed briefly HERE and HERE.

I am looking forward to your reaction.

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

Ivor Orr,

maybe you should start a new thread about the idea of reincarnation as fact and as metaphor.

Campbell interprets the term in the mystical tradition. It is related to the mystical experience of the metaphysical unity of all phenomenal appearances. Aldous Huxley called it “perennial philosophy”, and Campbell frequently referred to Huxley. Huxley interpreted his own mystical experiences. (They were evoked by drugs, but millions of people have had the same mystical experiences without external chemical support.) The philosophical concept he calls “perennial philosophy” is based on the concept of “philosophia perennis”, coined by German philosopher Gottfried Wilhelm Leibnitz (1646 - 1716). The idea is briefly, that there’s one transcendental mystery, that incarnates in the forms of time and space. We are incarnations of transcendence, and in this sense we are eternal, because the transcendental mystery is eternal. That is meant, when Campbell suggested to identify with the light, not with the bulb. Our bodies are like bulbs; What incarnates is the one transcendental light.

Works of art are indeed always products of having been in danger, of having gone to the very end in an experience, to where man can go no further. -- Rainer Maria Rilke
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Post by JR » Fri Feb 23, 2007 3:22 am

On 2003-03-07 08:40, Clemsy wrote:
Hi Ivor!

I believe that models for spirit, whether it be reincarnation, heaven/hell, nirvana, etc., are essentially metaphors which are meant to direct us beyond to that for which language fails and fails utterly. Some people need these images to focus their attention on the Great Mystery, as it were.
Don't forget that the metaphor reaches beyond mere words, death and temporal existence itself can be a metaphor for the our own transcendent existence. I always liked the Light bulb analogy martin mentioned, but to expand on that I thought of a new one.

Imagine instead of a body you had a musical instrument (genetics, socio-economic variables, and developed beliefs allow for what kind and quality of instrument), and the music that is played is the life you lead (peak experiences being the times at which the music is at its most resonant). Of course no man is an island, So, all of existence playing together form a symphony (or million piece hard rock band, depending on your viewpoint). Now comes the question of reincarnation.

If some part of what you identify with as yourself returns after death, what part is it? The instrument? Perhaps you were a beat up old violin in a past life and now you're a Stratavarious, no we are mostly perfect when we are born, quality comes through use. So, we must be the music, playing the same tune over and over till we get it so right that the whole piece, from start to end, is a peak experience, maybe ... I just don't think that leads itself to individuation. More likely it marks the eternal memory of an individual life (this is what the Buddhists would call dharma). Though once everyone is playing in perfect harmony, it might as well all be the same song.

No I think we, our eveternal spirits, are the musicians, unseen, unheard, only capable of speaking through their music, but without whom there would be no music. Indeed many of us rarely, sometimes never, play even one note (though I don't think that includes anyone here). Those are the musicians certainly destined to return until they learn how to play. Of course that only leave explanation of the conductor. But I'll leave that one to you to think up.


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