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There are so many thoughts of Campbell’s in The Hero With a Thousand Faces that were life-altering when I first read it–and in looking through it now–in that they seemed to relay to me more understanding of experiences I had in my life by putting feelings so aptly into words and offering his studied understanding of them. One of my favorite Campbell quotes from this book (this post could just as easily go under the forum topic of quotes) put into words my feelings during an experience I had as a small child when on a field trip to the Cleveland Museum of Art, when our second-grade class walked into the Egyptian room. I had read children’s books on mythology and have had a lifelong love of Egyptian myth and Egyptology. When I entered the room, I was filled with awe, and felt pulled then to the mummies like a magnet. So in awe I was of a mummy that I stood there just gazing or staring at it in fascination and wonderment. I stood there so long that I did not even notice that our teacher and class had moved on to go into the next room display. A couple moments later, the teacher noticed I was not with the rest of the class and looked back into the room I was still in and back at me and called my name to get back to the rest of the class. I could have stood there all morning, and though excited to see more of the museum, was rather disappointed I couldn’t just stay where I was with the amazing mummy! I found myself lingering just a moment to say goodbye to it, to bid it farewell!
Here are the words of Campbell which helped describe what I was experiencing:
“The agony of breaking through personal limitations is the agony of spiritual growth. Art, literature, myth and cult, philosophy, and ascetic disciplines are instruments to help the individual past his limiting horizons into spheres of ever-expanding realization. As he crosses threshold after threshold, conquering dragon after dragon, the stature of the divinity that he summons to his highest wish increases, until it subsumes the cosmos. Finally, the mind breaks the bounding sphere of the cosmos to a realization transcending all experiences of form – all symbolizations, all divinities: a realization of the ineluctable void.”
― Joseph Campbell, The Hero With a Thousand Faces
A personal limitation as a child can be wishing one could quickly jump over that threshold of spiritual understanding or growth. None of my family members had died yet at that time, but I did often find dead birds and other dead animals in the woods around where I lived which of course brought up many questions about death and dying. I had seem some Egyptian mummies in illustrations in books, but this time at the museum was my first time seeing a real mummy–or as some people joked, “a real live mummy!”
The words “ascetic disciplines are instruments to help the individual past his limiting horizons into spheres of ever-expanding realization” which I read in this section when I was older, reminded me not only of myself in those moments of my life, but seemed like synchronicity to me or musical pennies for my thoughts as it brought to mind also the discipline of mummification I had read about and the instruments used to perform the art of mummification, as well as how the process and practice of mummification was so that the deceased may go past the horizon of life on this earth and into the expanses of the afterlife of the heavens. I also had always wondered/hoped for what truths (realizations) we might find once we died and were in some kind of afterlife, if there would be awareness, if any mysteries would be revealed, etc.
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