Releasing the Dreamings

Each month, we explore a theme through weekly MythBlasts, curated works, quotations, etc. This month's theme is The Community.


Joseph Campbell with his sister Alice Chartres in Paris, c. 1928. Copyright ©Joseph Campbell Foundation ( All rights reserved.

When I was in graduate school studying mythology, I volunteered in the archives that housed Joseph Campbell’s papers. My job was to create high-resolution scans of Campbell’s personal photos—baby pictures, childhood, youth, adulthood, snapshots from his later years. Sitting at a workstation in that windowless basement office, I positioned each piece of paper on the glass face of the scanner, clicked the Scan button, then zoomed way in on the digital file to make sure to capture clean edges of the original. I often found myself staring at those close-up images, captivated by the eyes of the people in the scenes. My impression of Campbell himself changed as I worked. He became less of a disembodied voice on the page, and more of a real, actual person who seemed to have lived intensely and intentionally.  

Campbell’s book, Correspondence: 1927 – 1987, includes a letter he wrote to the artist Angela Gregory in 1928, when he was twenty-four years old. He writes: 

I know that the constant drumming of things around one can upset the pulse of one’s heart. But after all it’s inside our own hearts that beauty reposes. Pleasures and pains affect the body; and if our dreamings have never released our souls, then pleasures and pains will upset our mental and emotional tranquility. Aggravations and disappointments—and even a certain blankness can help the soul to grow in understanding, once the soul has learned to feed upon whatever comes its way. (13)

Continue Reading the Mythblast

Correspondence by Joseph Campbell - coverI can picture the passion in his young face as he composed these words. I can hear the urgency that would drive his voice if he were to speak them out loud. If our dreamings have never released our souls—he’s talking about loosening the tendency to over-identify with the trappings of our lives, our religions and belief systems, desires, political ideas, relationships, and even our bodies, and mistake them for who we really are. The alternative to letting those dreamings hold our souls captive, he suggests, is to release our souls not from our ideas about life, but from confusing them with our ideas about life. To grant our souls the freedom to observe our experiences the same way Campbell demonstrates how to observe myth—staying alert for truth and beauty. 

Further down the page he completes the thought: 

When we shall have lived this intensely we should have truth in our hearts and beauty—then our work will be great because we shall be great ourselves.

Living intensely. Living wide awake, with our souls free and released. These are aspirational ideas, no doubt, but Campbell seems to have done a reasonable job of it, releasing his soul from identification with his dreamings, living intensely in the direction of truth and beauty, doing great work. This is one of the boons that Campbell found on the journey of his own life, and he brought it back to share with us, his community: not only his work itself, but also his way of working. He showed us that aspirations like these are within reach. 

This boon also opens the possibility of communities that support their members living intensely and doing great work. For what is a community if not an aggregate of individuals, and what is an individual if not a representative of their community? The souls of individuals affect the community, and the soul of the community affects individuals. This dialectic is fundamental to creative work. Creative people, like Joseph Campbell and Angela Gregory, continually move back and forth between their communities and their individual imaginations to generate images and ideas, bring them into being, and share them. I see this pattern play out again and again in the community of mythologists—a community that owes so much to Campbell’s contributions.

So perhaps we might be permitted to imagine a revision of Campbell’s reflections to Angela Gregory, this time as a message to his extended community:  

I know that the constant drumming of things around us can upset the pulse of our hearts. But after all it’s inside our own hearts that beauty reposes. Pleasures and pains affect us all; and if our collective dreamings have never released our community’s soul, then pleasures and pains will upset the community’s mental and emotional tranquility. Aggravations and disappointments—and even a certain blankness can help the community’s soul to grow in understanding…

When the community shall have lived this intensely, the community will have truth in its heart and beauty—then our work will be great because we shall be great.

And isn’t myth itself intense? Its outsized imagery, its larger-than-life deities and heroes, its clashings and collaborations among characters who represent the great powers of Earth and cosmos? Myths are collective dreamings of Earth’s human communities, and so they represent a perfect practice ground for zooming in on their images and ideas, freeing our souls from identifying with those ideas, and thereby cultivating truth and beauty in our own creative hearts.

How might a community release its soul from false beliefs, dis-identifying from myths that cause misery and harm? How can a community enter more fully into the realm of truth, beauty, and creativity? Join me in our Conversations of a Higher Order to share your reflections.

Joanna Gardner, PhD is a writer, mythologist, and magical realist. She is a founder of the Fates and Graces Mythologium, a conference for mythologists and friends of myth. Joanna serves as Senior Editor on the Educational Task Force of the Joseph Campbell Foundation, and as a thought leader with the think tank iRewild, where she works on the Healing Stories initiative. She completed her doctoral degree at Pacifica Graduate Institute in mythological studies with an emphasis in depth psychology. Joanna’s fiction, poetry, and nonfiction appear in a variety of venues, available at

Weekly Quote

Myths – that is to say, religious recitations – [are] conceived as symbolic of the play of eternity in time.  These are rehearsed not for diversion, but for the spiritual welfare of the individual or community.

-- Joseph Campbell

Featured Work

Correspondence cover


This brand-new collection of letters features illuminating conversations between Joseph Campbell and a fascinating cast of correspondents, ranging from friends and cowriters to renegade scholars and fellow visionaries. Including letters from both Campbell and his correspondents, and spanning the course of his entire adult life (1927–1987), the collection demonstrates the lasting influence of Campbell’s work, which inspired creative endeavors and radical shifts in so many people’s lives. Included are exchanges with artists such as Angela Gregory and Gary Snyder; colleagues including Alan Watts, Ananda K. Coomaraswamy, and Maud Oakes; editors of his books, from The Hero with a Thousand Faces to The Mythic Image; and many others who engaged with Campbell in his exploration of humanity’s “one great story.”

Book Club

“The pupil and the teacher. A relationship as old as time. In Daniel Quinn’s 1992 novel Ishmael, we, and our narrator, become curious pupils to the lessons of our unconventional teacher, Ishmael. Ishmael examines the mythology of “Mother Culture,” a global framework so omnipresent that many of us never recognize it. A world in which there are Takers and Leavers and how the way they live and the stories they tell have led us to where we are today. During a time of global warming, unequal distribution of resources, and war, Ishmael remains prescient. Quinn’s novel encourages us to look at our way of life and ask ourselves, is this sustainable?”

Torri Yates-Orr
Editorial Advisory Group
Joseph Campbell Foundation

Monthly Gift

Wanderings (Esingle from Correspondence)

Our gift to you this month is eSingle. Access this download for free until the end of the month.

The opening section of the exciting collection of Joseph Campbell’s selected letters, Correspondence: 1927—1987, this fascinating follows the fledgling scholar from his early, exciting days as a graduate student in 1920s Paris to his life-changing stay working on the California coast and beyond. Through his correspondence with two of his closest friends, artist Angela Gregory and scientist Eddie Ricketts (the model for “Doc” in John Steinbeck’s Cannery Row), these letters show Joseph Campbell’s evolution as a unique student of a field that bridges both science and art, the new field of comparative mythology. They also show a glimpse of some of the amazing characters Campbell was fortunate to rub shoulders with, from sculptor Antoine Bourdelle and philosopher Jiddu Krishnamurti to author John Steinbeck and composer John Cage.

News & Updates

It’s July: Humpback Salmon are returning from a life spent at sea to be greeted ritually by Indigenous peoples throughout the Pacific Northwest. The practice may be in numerical decline because the salmon population is consistently in decline due to the excesses of our unsustainable treatment of the local waters.

The Zoroastrian festival of Ghambar Maidyoshem ends July 3, but its celebration of the creation of water will continue to resonate across our warming planet.

Happy birthday to the 14th Dalai Lama, born this day, July 6, 1935.

Millions of Muslim men and women will converge at Mt. Arafat on the Day of Hajj, July 8, to commemorate the Prophet’s “farewell sermon,” when he said, “All those who listen to me shall pass on my words to others and those to others again; and may the last ones understand my words better than those who listen to me directly.”

The next day:  the Festival of Sacrifice. Sheep, goats and camels will be slaughtered, the meat distributed to the poor on ´Ῑd Al-aḍḥá, July 9, the third day of the Islamic Hajj.

Featured Video

The Hero with a Thousand Faces

(see more videos)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.