The Wasteland...

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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The Wasteland...

Post by gewamser » Wed May 02, 2007 9:54 pm

What does Joseph mean when he says: "Coming out of the wasteland..." What specifically does the metaphor refer to? Thanks! GEW :roll:
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Post by Martin_Weyers » Wed May 02, 2007 10:31 pm

Hello Gewamser,

Joseph Campbell understood the wasteland as a metaphor of inauthenticity: You don't marry the one you love, you don't work within the domain you love, you just work and love for any social benefit.

I'd say you either experience the world as a wasteland, or there is none. So if you're asking "where's wasteland" -- that probably does not make sense. It's the same as it is with all mythic images: If you feel it, it's there; If you don't, it's a lie.

It depends on your personality and your situation, of course.

If you're asking for a personal reply, I'd say the wasteland is the contemporary Western worldview, with its promise of individualism, but it's punishing of all real individualism; and with its focus on fun and egoism, and it's condemnation of any serious life-task, understanding all serious spiritual work as a leisure time activity, that may benefit to a more profitable work routine.
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 gewamser » Wed May 02, 2007 11:06 pm

Thanks...thats the kind of answer I had in mind. I have been reading the section of Creative Mythology entitled "The Wasteland" and the chapters encompass so much material, I felt it was a little vague as to the essence of the title. I took it to mean something like: "living a life with no valid mythology"...but I'm, sure your definition is correct.
Much abliged.
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Post by Vissi » Wed May 02, 2007 11:59 pm

gewamser, Martin, All,

Brilliant reply, Martin! If I may, I'd add that Campbell also states that the wasteland can be transformed through the vitalization of living authentic lives --- a vital person vitalizes. Not to denigrate Campbell's findings or those of Eliot or others, I would say that lately my own thinking has been that the world is not a wasteland. After all, Earth is the only location in the universe where we know without doubt that love resides.

Love More, Save Earth, Peace,
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Post by Martin_Weyers » Thu May 03, 2007 9:12 am

Vissi's right: The world is no wasteland. The wasteland is a way of experiencing the world. A proper mythology may help to experience the world in a deeper and more pleasurable way, as you pointed out, Gewamser. It's a problem of consciousness or awareness, but some societies provide the right setting for the right experience, some have lost it. The inner wasteland turns the outer world into a wasteland and the other way round, because both kingdoms are one.
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 Psyche » Thu May 03, 2007 3:01 pm

Martin_Weyers wrote:Vissi's right: The world is no wasteland. The wasteland is a way of experiencing the world. A proper mythology may help to experience the world in a deeper and more pleasurable way, as you pointed out, Gewamser. It's a problem of consciousness or awareness, but some societies provide the right setting for the right experience, some have lost it. The inner wasteland turns the outer world into a wasteland and the other way round, because both kingdoms are one.
Hello all!

Martin, this is very eloquent. Your reply and Dixie's reminded me again of the elegance of the Wasteland/Grail explanation of being within and without the world. The inner is the outer. How we experience our internal world, we project onto the external...which re-inforces the internal. Learning to notice that this is illusive in being states of mind (some are extremely foundational and well-rooted (hence, difficult to identify, if at all), and many are accessible to us.

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Post by The Cove » Thu May 03, 2007 6:34 pm

The Waste Land


APRIL is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.
Winter kept us warm, covering 5
Earth in forgetful snow, feeding
A little life with dried tubers.
Summer surprised us, coming over the Starnbergersee
With a shower of rain; we stopped in the colonnade,
And went on in sunlight, into the Hofgarten, 10
And drank coffee, and talked for an hour.
Bin gar keine Russin, stamm' aus Litauen, echt deutsch.
And when we were children, staying at the archduke's,
My cousin's, he took me out on a sled,
And I was frightened. He said, Marie, 15
Marie, hold on tight. And down we went.
In the mountains, there you feel free.
I read, much of the night, and go south in the winter.

What are the roots that clutch, what branches grow
Out of this stony rubbish? Son of man, 20
You cannot say, or guess, for you know only
A heap of broken images, where the sun beats,
And the dead tree gives no shelter, the cricket no relief,
And the dry stone no sound of water. Only
There is shadow under this red rock, 25
(Come in under the shadow of this red rock),
And I will show you something different from either
Your shadow at morning striding behind you
Or your shadow at evening rising to meet you;
I will show you fear in a handful of dust. 30
Frisch weht der Wind
Der Heimat zu.
Mein Irisch Kind,
Wo weilest du?
'You gave me hyacinths first a year ago; 35
'They called me the hyacinth girl.'
—Yet when we came back, late, from the Hyacinth garden,
Your arms full, and your hair wet, I could not
Speak, and my eyes failed, I was neither
Living nor dead, and I knew nothing, 40
Looking into the heart of light, the silence.
Od' und leer das Meer.

Madame Sosostris, famous clairvoyante,
Had a bad cold, nevertheless
Is known to be the wisest woman in Europe, 45
With a wicked pack of cards. Here, said she,
Is your card, the drowned Phoenician Sailor,
(Those are pearls that were his eyes. Look!)
Here is Belladonna, the Lady of the Rocks,
The lady of situations. 50
Here is the man with three staves, and here the Wheel,
And here is the one-eyed merchant, and this card,
Which is blank, is something he carries on his back,
Which I am forbidden to see. I do not find
The Hanged Man. Fear death by water. 55
I see crowds of people, walking round in a ring.
Thank you. If you see dear Mrs. Equitone,
Tell her I bring the horoscope myself:
One must be so careful these days.

Unreal City, 60
Under the brown fog of a winter dawn,
A crowd flowed over London Bridge, so many,
I had not thought death had undone so many.
Sighs, short and infrequent, were exhaled,
And each man fixed his eyes before his feet. 65
Flowed up the hill and down King William Street,
To where Saint Mary Woolnoth kept the hours
With a dead sound on the final stroke of nine.
There I saw one I knew, and stopped him, crying 'Stetson!
'You who were with me in the ships at Mylae! 70
'That corpse you planted last year in your garden,
'Has it begun to sprout? Will it bloom this year?
'Or has the sudden frost disturbed its bed?
'Oh keep the Dog far hence, that's friend to men,
'Or with his nails he'll dig it up again! 75
'You! hypocrite lecteur!—mon semblable,—mon frère!'


THE Chair she sat in, like a burnished throne,
Glowed on the marble, where the glass
Held up by standards wrought with fruited vines
From which a golden Cupidon peeped out 80
(Another hid his eyes behind his wing)
Doubled the flames of sevenbranched candelabra
Reflecting light upon the table as
The glitter of her jewels rose to meet it,
From satin cases poured in rich profusion; 85
In vials of ivory and coloured glass
Unstoppered, lurked her strange synthetic perfumes,
Unguent, powdered, or liquid—troubled, confused
And drowned the sense in odours; stirred by the air
That freshened from the window, these ascended 90
In fattening the prolonged candle-flames,
Flung their smoke into the laquearia,
Stirring the pattern on the coffered ceiling.
Huge sea-wood fed with copper
Burned green and orange, framed by the coloured stone, 95
In which sad light a carvèd dolphin swam.
Above the antique mantel was displayed
As though a window gave upon the sylvan scene
The change of Philomel, by the barbarous king
So rudely forced; yet there the nightingale 100
Filled all the desert with inviolable voice
And still she cried, and still the world pursues,
'Jug Jug' to dirty ears.
And other withered stumps of time
Were told upon the walls; staring forms 105
Leaned out, leaning, hushing the room enclosed.
Footsteps shuffled on the stair.
Under the firelight, under the brush, her hair
Spread out in fiery points
Glowed into words, then would be savagely still. 110

'My nerves are bad to-night. Yes, bad. Stay with me.
'Speak to me. Why do you never speak? Speak.
'What are you thinking of? What thinking? What?
'I never know what you are thinking. Think.'

I think we are in rats' alley 115
Where the dead men lost their bones.

'What is that noise?'
The wind under the door.
'What is that noise now? What is the wind doing?'
Nothing again nothing. 120
'You know nothing? Do you see nothing? Do you remember
I remember
Those are pearls that were his eyes. 125
'Are you alive, or not? Is there nothing in your head?'
O O O O that Shakespeherian Rag—
It's so elegant
So intelligent 130
'What shall I do now? What shall I do?'
'I shall rush out as I am, and walk the street
'With my hair down, so. What shall we do to-morrow?
'What shall we ever do?'
The hot water at ten. 135
And if it rains, a closed car at four.
And we shall play a game of chess,
Pressing lidless eyes and waiting for a knock upon the door.

When Lil's husband got demobbed, I said—
I didn't mince my words, I said to her myself, 140
Now Albert's coming back, make yourself a bit smart.
He'll want to know what you done with that money he gave you
To get yourself some teeth. He did, I was there.
You have them all out, Lil, and get a nice set, 145
He said, I swear, I can't bear to look at you.
And no more can't I, I said, and think of poor Albert,
He's been in the army four years, he wants a good time,
And if you don't give it him, there's others will, I said.
Oh is there, she said. Something o' that, I said. 150
Then I'll know who to thank, she said, and give me a straight look.
If you don't like it you can get on with it, I said.
Others can pick and choose if you can't.
But if Albert makes off, it won't be for lack of telling. 155
You ought to be ashamed, I said, to look so antique.
(And her only thirty-one.)
I can't help it, she said, pulling a long face,
It's them pills I took, to bring it off, she said.
(She's had five already, and nearly died of young George.) 160
The chemist said it would be alright, but I've never been the same.
You are a proper fool, I said.
Well, if Albert won't leave you alone, there it is, I said,
What you get married for if you don't want children?
Well, that Sunday Albert was home, they had a hot gammon,
And they asked me in to dinner, to get the beauty of it hot—
Goonight Bill. Goonight Lou. Goonight May. Goonight. 170
Ta ta. Goonight. Goonight.
Good night, ladies, good night, sweet ladies, good night, good night.


THE river's tent is broken: the last fingers of leaf
Clutch and sink into the wet bank. The wind
Crosses the brown land, unheard. The nymphs are departed. 175
Sweet Thames, run softly, till I end my song.
The river bears no empty bottles, sandwich papers,
Silk handkerchiefs, cardboard boxes, cigarette ends
Or other testimony of summer nights. The nymphs are departed.
And their friends, the loitering heirs of city directors; 180
Departed, have left no addresses.
By the waters of Leman I sat down and wept...
Sweet Thames, run softly till I end my song,
Sweet Thames, run softly, for I speak not loud or long.
But at my back in a cold blast I hear 185
The rattle of the bones, and chuckle spread from ear to ear.

A rat crept softly through the vegetation
Dragging its slimy belly on the bank
While I was fishing in the dull canal
On a winter evening round behind the gashouse 190
Musing upon the king my brother's wreck
And on the king my father's death before him.
White bodies naked on the low damp ground
And bones cast in a little low dry garret,
Rattled by the rat's foot only, year to year. 195
But at my back from time to time I hear
The sound of horns and motors, which shall bring
Sweeney to Mrs. Porter in the spring.
O the moon shone bright on Mrs. Porter
And on her daughter 200
They wash their feet in soda water
Et, O ces voix d'enfants, chantant dans la coupole!

Twit twit twit
Jug jug jug jug jug jug
So rudely forc'd. 205

Unreal City
Under the brown fog of a winter noon
Mr. Eugenides, the Smyrna merchant
Unshaven, with a pocket full of currants 210
C.i.f. London: documents at sight,
Asked me in demotic French
To luncheon at the Cannon Street Hotel
Followed by a weekend at the Metropole.

At the violet hour, when the eyes and back 215
Turn upward from the desk, when the human engine waits
Like a taxi throbbing waiting,
I Tiresias, though blind, throbbing between two lives,
Old man with wrinkled female breasts, can see
At the violet hour, the evening hour that strives 220
Homeward, and brings the sailor home from sea,
The typist home at teatime, clears her breakfast, lights
Her stove, and lays out food in tins.
Out of the window perilously spread
Her drying combinations touched by the sun's last rays, 225
On the divan are piled (at night her bed)
Stockings, slippers, camisoles, and stays.
I Tiresias, old man with wrinkled dugs
Perceived the scene, and foretold the rest—
I too awaited the expected guest. 230
He, the young man carbuncular, arrives,
A small house agent's clerk, with one bold stare,
One of the low on whom assurance sits
As a silk hat on a Bradford millionaire.
The time is now propitious, as he guesses, 235
The meal is ended, she is bored and tired,
Endeavours to engage her in caresses
Which still are unreproved, if undesired.
Flushed and decided, he assaults at once;
Exploring hands encounter no defence; 240
His vanity requires no response,
And makes a welcome of indifference.
(And I Tiresias have foresuffered all
Enacted on this same divan or bed;
I who have sat by Thebes below the wall 245
And walked among the lowest of the dead.)
Bestows on final patronising kiss,
And gropes his way, finding the stairs unlit...

She turns and looks a moment in the glass,
Hardly aware of her departed lover; 250
Her brain allows one half-formed thought to pass:
'Well now that's done: and I'm glad it's over.'
When lovely woman stoops to folly and
Paces about her room again, alone,
She smoothes her hair with automatic hand, 255
And puts a record on the gramophone.

'This music crept by me upon the waters'
And along the Strand, up Queen Victoria Street.
O City city, I can sometimes hear
Beside a public bar in Lower Thames Street, 260
The pleasant whining of a mandoline
And a clatter and a chatter from within
Where fishmen lounge at noon: where the walls
Of Magnus Martyr hold
Inexplicable splendour of Ionian white and gold. 265

The river sweats
Oil and tar
The barges drift
With the turning tide
Red sails 270
To leeward, swing on the heavy spar.
The barges wash
Drifting logs
Down Greenwich reach 275
Past the Isle of Dogs.
Weialala leia
Wallala leialala

Elizabeth and Leicester
Beating oars 280
The stern was formed
A gilded shell
Red and gold
The brisk swell
Rippled both shores 285
Southwest wind
Carried down stream
The peal of bells
White towers
Weialala leia 290
Wallala leialala

'Trams and dusty trees.
Highbury bore me. Richmond and Kew
Undid me. By Richmond I raised my knees
Supine on the floor of a narrow canoe.' 295
'My feet are at Moorgate, and my heart
Under my feet. After the event
He wept. He promised "a new start".
I made no comment. What should I resent?'
'On Margate Sands. 300
I can connect
Nothing with nothing.
The broken fingernails of dirty hands.
My people humble people who expect
Nothing.' 305
la la

To Carthage then I came

Burning burning burning burning
O Lord Thou pluckest me out
O Lord Thou pluckest 310



PHLEBAS the Phoenician, a fortnight dead,
Forgot the cry of gulls, and the deep seas swell
And the profit and loss.
A current under sea 315
Picked his bones in whispers. As he rose and fell
He passed the stages of his age and youth
Entering the whirlpool.
Gentile or Jew
O you who turn the wheel and look to windward, 320
Consider Phlebas, who was once handsome and tall as you.


AFTER the torchlight red on sweaty faces
After the frosty silence in the gardens
After the agony in stony places
The shouting and the crying 325
Prison and place and reverberation
Of thunder of spring over distant mountains
He who was living is now dead
We who were living are now dying
With a little patience 330

Here is no water but only rock
Rock and no water and the sandy road
The road winding above among the mountains
Which are mountains of rock without water
If there were water we should stop and drink 335
Amongst the rock one cannot stop or think
Sweat is dry and feet are in the sand
If there were only water amongst the rock
Dead mountain mouth of carious teeth that cannot spit
Here one can neither stand nor lie nor sit 340
There is not even silence in the mountains
But dry sterile thunder without rain
There is not even solitude in the mountains
But red sullen faces sneer and snarl
From doors of mudcracked houses
If there were water 345
And no rock
If there were rock
And also water
And water
A spring 350
A pool among the rock
If there were the sound of water only
Not the cicada
And dry grass singing
But sound of water over a rock 355
Where the hermit-thrush sings in the pine trees
Drip drop drip drop drop drop drop
But there is no water

Who is the third who walks always beside you?
When I count, there are only you and I together 360
But when I look ahead up the white road
There is always another one walking beside you
Gliding wrapt in a brown mantle, hooded
I do not know whether a man or a woman
—But who is that on the other side of you? 365

What is that sound high in the air
Murmur of maternal lamentation
Who are those hooded hordes swarming
Over endless plains, stumbling in cracked earth
Ringed by the flat horizon only 370
What is the city over the mountains
Cracks and reforms and bursts in the violet air
Falling towers
Jerusalem Athens Alexandria
Vienna London 375

A woman drew her long black hair out tight
And fiddled whisper music on those strings
And bats with baby faces in the violet light
Whistled, and beat their wings 380
And crawled head downward down a blackened wall
And upside down in air were towers
Tolling reminiscent bells, that kept the hours
And voices singing out of empty cisterns and exhausted wells.

In this decayed hole among the mountains 385
In the faint moonlight, the grass is singing
Over the tumbled graves, about the chapel
There is the empty chapel, only the wind's home.
It has no windows, and the door swings,
Dry bones can harm no one. 390
Only a cock stood on the rooftree
Co co rico co co rico
In a flash of lightning. Then a damp gust
Bringing rain

Ganga was sunken, and the limp leaves 395
Waited for rain, while the black clouds
Gathered far distant, over Himavant.
The jungle crouched, humped in silence.
Then spoke the thunder
D A 400
Datta: what have we given?
My friend, blood shaking my heart
The awful daring of a moment's surrender
Which an age of prudence can never retract
By this, and this only, we have existed 405
Which is not to be found in our obituaries
Or in memories draped by the beneficent spider
Or under seals broken by the lean solicitor
In our empty rooms
D A 410
Dayadhvam: I have heard the key
Turn in the door once and turn once only
We think of the key, each in his prison
Thinking of the key, each confirms a prison
Only at nightfall, aetherial rumours 415
Revive for a moment a broken Coriolanus
Damyata: The boat responded
Gaily, to the hand expert with sail and oar
The sea was calm, your heart would have responded 420
Gaily, when invited, beating obedient
To controlling hands

I sat upon the shore
Fishing, with the arid plain behind me
Shall I at least set my lands in order? 425

London Bridge is falling down falling down falling down

Poi s'ascose nel foco che gli affina
Quando fiam ceu chelidon—O swallow swallow
Le Prince d'Aquitaine à la tour abolie
These fragments I have shored against my ruins 430
Why then Ile fit you. Hieronymo's mad againe.
Datta. Dayadhvam. Damyata.

Shantih shantih shantih

- T. S. Eliot
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Post by gewamser » Sun May 06, 2007 12:59 pm

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Post by AlexG » Thu Jul 19, 2007 11:56 am

Enjoyed reading all the comments on this topic of the wasteland interpretation. I have only read a couple of Joeseph Campbell books and the ones I've read have been very thought provoking. I agree with some early comments on the wasteland being a place that the majority of people end up...i.e.... due to not breaking away from societial influences and leaving a truely authentic life. I think the journey is all connected to breaking away from conventional thinking and pursuing your passion...Coming out of the wasteland to me means the true release of conscience filters thus breaking those chains and following your life's passion... And this is why I enjoy reading Campbell because his words resonate so deeply.....
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Post by Caermeddyg » Wed Aug 01, 2007 7:30 pm

I see the waste-land as a personal everyday cyclical experience. In Campbell's writings the notion of the hero is laminated into the notion of the wasteland. You do not get one without the other.

The heroes journey if successful reinvigorates the wasteland. Again and again a life is invigorated and then goes dead again. Each cycle of adventure begins with a wasteland issue, somewhere that we are stuck, and is only changed when we heed the risky 'call to adventure'.
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Post by noman » Fri Aug 03, 2007 12:31 am


1. Land that is desolate, barren, or ravaged.
2. A place, era, or aspect of life considered as lacking in spiritual, aesthetic, or other humanizing qualities; a vacuum: a cultural wasteland.
Campbell gives a great explanation of Eliot’s idea of the Wasteland in his lecture Transformations of Myth Through Time. In this series of lectures he speaks of Wolfram Von Eschenbach’s 13th century poem Parzival. Eliot took the line, “Here one can neither stand nor lie nor sit” directly from Eschenbach’s poem. Its line 340 in the poem JCF associate ‘The Cove’ posted above.

In Eschenbach’s 13th century story, the Grail King, the guard of the Holy Grail, was sick. He was sick because he was involved in a joust where the opponent’s lance had castrated him. So he had to be carried around in something like a lounge chair where ever he went. He could neither stand, nor lie, nor sit. (Just like people today who sit in thier easy chair and channel surf.)

Campbell said that the ailing Grail King represents the spiritual impotence of Europe at this time. Europe was sick because the natural goodness and natural compassion that gave rise to Christian morality had been replaced by a sort of programmed or systematic goodness as dictated by the Church. It was a top-down prescription of holiness and it wasn’t working. Even Pope Innocent III at the time called his clergy, ‘a sty of pigs.’

And what was to save Europe from this sad state of affairs was the single act of natural compassion from a truly noble heart. So when Parzival first visits the Grail castle he is given audience with the Grail King. The King is brought out on his stretcher and Parzival is moved to ask ‘what ails you?’ Just those three words would have broken the spell and saved Europe from the wasteland. But instead, Parzival remembers from his knight training that a proper knight does not ask unnecessary questions. Parzival was thinking in terms of what he was told was right and not what he felt was right. So he fails the test and is politely shown the way out of the castle.

When Joseph Campbell came of age in the 1920s, his generation was known as ‘the lost generation’. The Great War (WWI) and a subsequent worldwide flu epidemic had a devastating effect on the collective psyche. There was also the sense that the mythology that had served the West for so long was no longer tenable. Eliot’s The Wasteland, Spengler’s Decline of the West, and Yeat’s The Second Coming, all published in the 20s, were premonitions that the enthusiasm of the ‘roaring 20s’ concealed an ominous decline of the spirit.

Campbell preached that the problem of the wasteland is the same in our time as it was in the 13th century. What in theory could heal the spiritual impotence in the 13th century can also heal the dysfunctional and outdated mythologies we have today.

To give but one example, the American constitution clearly emphasizes that there should be a separation of church and state. But in 2001 President Bush created an Office of Faith-based and Community Initiative. Faith-based organizations, or FBOs as they are called, receive grants from the government for charity work not to include the proselytizing of their religion. This seems to me like a top-down prescription of charity – as a matter of show. If the government, in their wisdom, wants to encourage charity, wouldn’t it be better to give tax breaks to those organizations, ‘faith-based’ or not, that are contributing to the welfare of the nation?

Coming out of the wasteland means recognizing the difference between a prescribed goodness as dictated by family, government, or religion, and a goodness that is the natural expression of a truly noble heart.

- NoMan
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Post by chloemarie » Tue Sep 16, 2008 4:31 pm

T.S Elliot's "the wasteland" is a metaphor taken from grail legends. It basically refers to a spiritual barreness. Where the common mythic themes or archetypes are no longer providing benefit. I would recommend volume 4 of the Masks of God series."Creative Mythology"
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Post by chloemarie » Tue Sep 16, 2008 4:34 pm

oops didnt realize my point had already been made about the poem
sorry :oops:
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Post by bodhibliss » Wed Sep 17, 2008 4:43 pm

Hey There, Chloemarie,

That's a point that can't be made too often (in fact, you'll notice Campbell makes it over and over and over).

The Wasteland is definitely a state of mind - as we can see when perception changes, the Grail King is healed, and the wasteland blooms.

Creative Mythology is one of my favorite Campbell works - definitely worth revisiting, as is The Hero with a Thousand Faces.

After all, we don't encounter just one Wasteland in life, or embark on only one hero quest. So no worries about "repeating" a point already made - the more voices we hear, the more likely it is to remain with us.

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The Wasteland is a physical reality

Post by Battleship » Mon Nov 10, 2008 1:56 pm

Oh contraire my friends. the consensus being built on this thread is that "The world is no wasteland. The wasteland is a way of experiencing the world." While it is true that the wasteland is a metaphor for a world without spirit, it is jugular to understand the relationship between the King and the Kingdom. When the King's spiritual life dries up his kingdom too becomes barren. Carl Jung addresses the issue by asking why we should interested in the Soul and how do we know that the Soul is a reality. He answers his own question by stating that we know the soul is a reality because it manifests itself on the physical plane. In other words the physical realities we witness on the evening news are manifestations of the inner life of man."
Robert Langley