Forum Replies Created
In anticipation of Mark’s posting about The Spiritual Use of Psychedelic Drugs, I’d posted a story about my being given Ketamine during a demonstration of “Psychedelic Therapy” at the Mann Ranch Seminars, summer 1974.
My account is in #3516. It’s in this place in the Conversations: https://www.jcf.org/resources/discuss/topic/hello-from-an-old-friend/
My experience echoed what Mark describes above of losing the sense of ego self and realizing the deeper, larger Self that underlies all consciousness.
In writing that I mention that Campbell compared taking LSD to driving your car off a cliff to see what happens. And—synchronistically— the next day after I wrote this, Facebook popped up with a video of a car (actually a well-equipped SUV in the Australian outback) driving off a cliff/ i.e., dry waterfall, right down the vertical face, and then continuing on along the stream bed.
Stephen, thanks for asking about the book. Here’s a link to a page on my website with an extended description:
Here’s the cover with the tiger image–see the tiger is presenting the double dorje, as a symbol of enlightened wisdom.
Johanna, you are right that it is terribly difficult–and maybe impossible and maybe wrong–to just accept things the way they are when they are the way they are now in this crisis of the coronavirus and imminent ecological collapse of the Earth.
I think Joe’s saying has to be understood as forcing you to speak from the God-within-you. And the reason for doing that is to exercise your mystical, enlightened identity. And that is the real function of religion.
Within the last couple of weeks, I came upon this wonderful quote from Campbell made up as a Facebook slide–maybe originating here in the JCF.org site. I have been sharing it on Facebook. It’s the answer to the dilemma you confound us with–and that I certainly share with you.
You know, I met Joseph Campbell when I was a work-scholar, as cook and bottlewasher and general factotem, for several summers at The Mann Ranch Seminars in the 1970s. During a conversation over dinner before the first seminar he taught there, I was quite surprised to discover how “conservative” Joe presented himself. Tho’ he said he meant it in the most traditional sense and not in a strictly political (i.e., Republican) way, but it was not very “hippie-friendly.” He commented that he thought taking LSD was like driving your car off a cliff to see what would happen when you hit bottom.
On the other hand, many of us around that seminar program in those days were quite hippie ourselves. One summer we had a bottle of tabs of blue acid and various ones of us had some marvelous experiences of seeing what happened when the car came to the edge of the cliff. It never went crashing down for any of us. It always just took off and we went flying with it.
One summer a Mexican psychiatrist named Salvador Roquet gave a seminar on Psychedelic Therapy. Two people were selected by drawing straws to be the guinea pigs in a demonstration, using injectable Ketamine because it was fast acting and quickly over (as opposed to LSD which lasted hours). I was one of the lucky two who drew the long straws.
Dr Roquet explained (through a translator) that ketamine, which was an unusual and strictly surgical drug at the time and not at all a “drug of abuse,” anesthetized the ego function leaving consciousness alert (and in surgery was accompanied with a sedative so you’d sleep through it). I can still recall the experience of being unable to distinguish between myself and the other people in the room. They were sitting in a circle observing the demonstration and asking questions. I couldn’t tell whether I was asking them or they were asking me. There were just questions. Then I couldn’t tell the difference between myself and the furniture, then between myself and empty space, and then finally between myself and God. They said I rose up on my knees and spread my arms and announced: “I am God.” Then even God disappeared and, I think, I was floating in emptiness before creation and observed the Big Bang in the far distance.
That was an “hallucination,” of course, but I think the fundamental experience is actually true—deep beneath the part of us that assembles our egos is that collective consciousness that in myth we call God. That consciousness is the observer/experiencer in all our experiences.
Joe would have liked that, I think.
Let me add a note to this posting a couple of days later. Synchronicity is one of the fundamental and neatest ideas in the Jungian universe. Campbell spoke about being on the track of your bliss–and one of the ways of knowing you are on it is that you experience meaningful coincidences which seem to affirm the events of your life.
In my story above I told about Joe’s attitude to LSD–that it was like driving your car over a cliff to see what happened. So now, a couple of days later, Facebook has presented to me a video of driving a car off a cliff. It’s Australian trekkers driving an SUV over a dry waterfall, but it’s 10 or 12 feet down. And they are driving the car “vertically.” And they get through it fine and continue on driving downstream.
But it is exactly the image of driving your car off a cliff.
If I may speak mythically, perhaps “Joe” was agreeing from beyond eternity.🙃
Hi Mark, I think you’re right about 1966 being the “best year” in the Haight. I first visited in ’67. I was still in Catholic religious life; I stayed at the Servite House at Stanyan and Fulton. One evening we walked down to Haight Street for a pizza. And there was the “Summer of Love” all over the place. I was amazed. I’d done LSD the previous year, and sort of understood what was going on, though didn’t know about the term “Summer of Love” yet. I bought an ankh made out of leather, and wore it as the crucifix with my Servite habit. I remember the street was crowded with people and it was a little scary.
I moved to 602 Ashbury in 72 or 73. My room in the top floor flat looked out onto Haight Street. There was a vacant storefront across the street. The junkies hung out along there because there were no shop owners to shoo them away. One of my roommates was a medical student at UCSF and was an occasionally heroin user himself (tragically cause it killed him the day he completed his residency and got his MD). He became a sort of doctor to the junkies; he’d bring all sorts of people to the flat where he treated minor wounds and infections. We had stuff ripped off quite regularly.
I loved living at that address, and really liked the flat. We had a turret in the livingroom, which was actually another roommate’s bedroom, and a two story staircase and upstairs landing. It was very elegant, but shabby.
But the neighborhood was long past hippie prime. The junkies made it hard to live there. I’d borrowed my roommate’s car (not the doctor) one day, and parked very briefly in front of the flat to check my mail and the car was broken into and, among other things, my journal was stolen.
That was a major turning point in my life. The anonymous thief was what Joe would have called a “guide” or maybe a “boundary guardian.”
Hi Mark, I resonated with points in your introductory letter. I was in attendance at that event you mentioned with John Densmore and Mickey Hart. AND I lived on the same block as you on Ashbury. For six months in 1973, I lived in 602 Ashbury. One of the rooms in the flat had the turret overlooking the intersection of Haight & Ashbury. Toby Johnson (my story of knowing Joseph Campbell is earlier in the Meet and Greet section here)
Mars, I appreciate your observation that the Earthrise photo and the 1969 Moonlanding are from an earlier time.
Perhaps the Hubble Deep Field photograph would be more appropriate for now. The universe as we know it today is vaster than anybody ever imagined.
But, you know, I offered Joe’s suggestion of the Earthrise photo as iconic of the “new myth” not about technology or achievement, but about perspective. We can look at the stories people have told, and can understand from a higher perspective from which they are neither true nor false, right or wrong.
And from such a perspective, I think, we can understand and craft our own stories. At least, from what I learned from Joseph Campbell, the stories now are about our own lives. In Joe’s terms, we see that “the central character in every myth is you.” SO we are creating myth by finding these archetypal themes in our own lives, by creating our own stories for ourselves.
Maybe the Hubble Deep Field can be called upon as an icon for that process because it reveals the incredible multiplicity and the vastness of the universe. Each star a story. So many stories.
The image of the “new myth”
Campbell said the image in popular culture that best signified the new myth was the photo, Earthrise, of planet Earth rising above the lunar horizon. He said it signified humankind looking back on the Earth from outside and over and above.
I think that perspective is what generates the new myth, i.e., the modern idea that the planet is a “living organism” — Gaia — that reveals itself to itself through the religions and myths of old, and that we are all part of it.
Johanna, I liked how you described your sense in the store that human beings need to see ourselves as parts of a bigger consciousness.
Mars observed above that the Gaia is is a little geocentric. Maybe a way to understand Gaia is as not so much the Earth, but Sol, the star. And the star evolved planets for it to have a place for the cooler processes of its consciousness.
This is still a myth, of course. But the understanding that “we’re all in this together” may be one of the most important teachings in all the myths.
I think the most immediately relevant book is Jeffrey Kripal’s The Serpent’s Gift: Gnostic Reflections on the Study of Religion.
The basic theme is that the study of religions from over and above naturally results in a kind of gnosticism, i.e., an intuition that you now know something more about all the religions because you understand what they are, not just what they say. That is certainly what I got out of reading The Hero with a Thousand Faces. Here’s how Campbell said that:
And so, to grasp the full value of the mythological figures that have come down to us, we must understand that they are not only symptoms of the unconscious (as indeed are all human thoughts and acts) but also controlled and intended statements of certain spiritual principles, which have remained as constant throughout the course of human history as the form and nervous structures of the human physique itself. Briefly formulated, the universal doctrine teaches that all the visible structures of the world—all things and beings—are the effects of a ubiquitous power out of which they arise, which supports and fills them during the period of their manifestation, and back into which they must ultimately dissolve.
…The function of ritual and myth is to make possible, and then to facilitate, the jump—by analogy. Forms and conceptions that the mind and its senses can comprehend are presented and arranged in such a way as to suggest a truth or openness beyond. And then, the conditions for meditation having been provided, the individual is left alone. Myth is but the penultimate; the ultimate is openness—that void, or being, beyond the categories—into which the mind must plunge alone and be dissolved… Therefore, God and the gods are only convenient means… mere symbols to move and awaken the mind, and to call it past themselves.
Understanding that that last sentence transforms you forever, and initiates you in a new wisdom–that’s what neo-gnosticism means.
I think that what has gone wrong with the modern world is that the traditional myths don’t make sense anymore; they don’t further cooperation for the good of the human race and the planet.
We need some new myth that explains in logical, scientific, truthful, realistic sounding language how we are all part of this reality, and happiness, success, and evolution of the species comes from getting along together and being truthful and well-motivated.
This idea of the “new myth” was a major theme in the later thought of Joseph Campbell. What is the metamyth, the all-encompassing myth that shows how all the various myth systems of the past all fit together.
There is a wonderful story Campbell used to tell of how he’d been lecturing one night on the theme of the hero cycle in myth, and during the Q&A at the end, a stern looking woman got up and said “Prof Campbell, I’ve been listening to you all night and, well, I think you’re an atheist,” and Campbell said he stepped forward to the edge of the stage and replied, “Madam, anyone who believes in as many gods as I do can hardly be called an atheist.”
I think that anecdote sums up the new myth. In ecological / eco-scientific jargon, this is the Gaia Hypothesis, that Earth is a living organism of which we are parts (I think, you know, it’s even more true to say that the Sun is the living organism and we’re on the brain part that has to be kept in a cooler region–just as the human male’s testicles have to be kept outside the heat of the body; Remember Jung’s story: “The Sun is God, everyone can see that.”).
The “new myth” is the explanation of how all the disparate myths around the world and down through time fit together to point to something higher than any of them individually.
The “New Myth” Theme:
One of the things Joseph Campbell liked to talk about was what would be the myth of the future, what will be the content of the religious doctrines in the future?
He opined that we can no more predict the myth of the future than we can predict tonight’s dream. And in that context, it sounded like he was talking about the birth of a new religion with a new savior: a new Jesus (or Maitreya or whatever) who’d rise to prominence with a new religion to spread.
But that is NOT really what the new myth is going to be about. And Joe knew that perfectly well.
Way back in the 1970s, when Joe was starting to achieve prominence with the West Coast counterculture, this current writer was on the crew that regularly hosted and put on (and ushered, cooked, cleaned, stuffed envelopes, put up posters, etc.) his Northern California appearances. I met Joe originally at the Mann Ranch in 1971. I was fresh out of Catholic religious life, studying Comparative Religions –especially “hippie” neo-Buddhism– at the California Institute of Asian Studies (which later changed its name to Integral Studies). I was fascinated with Campbell’s ideas because of the implication they had for my own religious belief: it meant my Catholicism was a myth like all the others and that “Truth” transcends all the various traditions.
I told him that in a conversation over dinner that first time I met him. I told him I thought his vision of religion as myth and metaphor was in fact the insight that would found a new paradigm spiritual consciousness. In my own rhapsodizing, I guess, I told him I thought his ideas were the “new myth.” Joe was gratified to have fans–especially bright-eyed young men. I think because he didn’t have sons of his own and he taught at a girls’ college, his young male fans represented something like his legacy. BUT he didn’t want to be seen as a guru of any sort. That is something he did not like among the hippies and counterculturalists who were drawn to his lectures. He was an academician and a scholar, not a spiritual teacher or guru. He didn’t want to be anybody’s priest or psychological guide.
And so he always deflected my enthusiastic rantings during the question and answer parts of his talks when I’d get up and proclaim the meta-myth of myth–i.e. understanding the nature of religion as myth and understanding one’s own understanding as yet an example of more mythological thinking.
But this is THE important idea in Campbell. He referred to the evolution of myth in the conclusion to The Hero with A Thousand Faces:
The descent of the Occidental sciences from the heavens to the earth (from seventeenth-century astronomy to nineteenth-century biology), and their concentration today, at last, on man himself (in twentieth-century anthropology and psychology), mark the path of a prodigious transfer of the focal point of human wonder. Not the animal world, not the plant world, not the miracle of the spheres, but man himself is now the crucial mystery. (Hero, p. 391)
That prodigious transfer has continued on into the twenty-first century now with brain study, DNA research, bio-feedback studies of meditators, and complex theories of consciousness (including, of course, the role of consciousness in determining the outcome of scientific experimentation). Ken Wilber’s work, by the way, is another example of this shift in the human experience toward greater and greater reflexivity and self-consciousness.
To paraphrase the last sentence in the quote from The Hero: Not the supernatural world of the gods of old, but consciousness itself in now the powerful image of the essence of existence. Not an external personality watching over the earth, but the spark of consciousness itself is the appropriate image for God today. God isn’t “out-there”; God is “in here,” in the sense that our own awareness of our being aware and creating images for ourselves of what our experience is is the thing that inspires us to feel wonder and to sense a place within the cosmos.
Hi Priscilla, you wrote that you are interested in contemporary pop culture myths. Are you familiar with the work of Jeffrey J Kripal?
Kripal is a professor of Comparative Religions at Rice University. He is a very prolific writer. He writes a lot about how the study of religion and myth necessarily changes how one understands the nature of religious/mythological truth (i.e., into a kind of neo-gnosticism). I think these discussions resonate with Joseph Campbell’s thoughts about “the new myth.”
Kripal also writes about comic book heroes and character in pop culture. One of his titles, for instance, is Mutants and Mystics: Science Fiction, Superhero Comics, and the Paranormal.
He has also written a (very thick) definitive history of Esalen Institute. Of course, Campbell has a place in that discussion, both as an historical character who presented at Esalen but also as a contributor to what Kripal calls “the religion of no religion” (quoting Frederic Spiegelberg).
I’ve read a number of Kripal’s books and have learned from them all.
The High Culture Form Theme:
Fans and followers of Joseph Campbell’s–like Campbell himself–like stories. They like aphorisms like that of Eli Wiesel that “God created human beings because He loves stories.” Campbell liked to tell stories. His audiences liked to listen to him. And they probably went home and repeated those stories to other people.
One theme then in Campbellian thought is that we ought to read and listen to and analyze the great treasury of mythological stories that come down to us from around the world because they’re great art in themselves. Religion and creative art are aspects of one another.
In the same way you go to art museums to appreciate the high culture forms of past artisans and artists, so you might read the mythological stories from the past and even participate in the religious practices of those people who still practice religion (and believe in it as literal truth–“God’s own Truth”) but with your own enlightened perspective.
This results in even more valorization of myth for its own sake. And further raises the spectre of the “pre/trans fallacy.” Just because you–as a modern, sophisticated, intelligent person well-read about religion–can see deep and profound meaning for you in the stories of the past, it doesn’t follow that the prophets and evangelists who composed the religions knew or intended such profound wisdom.
Hi Stephen, thanks for the welcome. I’ll share more about what I think the important consequences and lessons are from Joseph Campbell’s thought.
I have, indeed, had a wonderful life, filled with so many curious coincidences/ synchronicities. Sometimes, I wonder if it’s all a dream. To wit, my grand experience of having for my “wise old man” on my spiritual/archetypal journey, Joseph Campbell himself.
That reference to “dream” reminds me both of the inevitable explanation of consciousness as a solipsism, but also of Joe’s speaking of the Bodhisattva’s consciousness as “the long world-dream of the All-Regarding, whose essence is the essence of Emptiness.”