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  • Rewilding the Waste Land

    Emerging from his castle in search of a quest, the young king Amfortas—shouting his war cry, “Amour!”—sees another knight, a pagan, emerging from the forest. The two immediately level their lances and charge: the pagan knight is killed, but his lance slips, castrating Amfortas. The injury is so grievous that the king’s impotence soon spreads to the land around his castle, creating a Waste Land where nothing will thrive. In The Power of Myth, Joseph Campbell tells Bill Moyers this version of the Grail King legend, as written by Wolfram von Eschenbach in his 13th century poem, Parzifal. Campbell offers some guidance to understanding von Eschenbach’s telling, most notably including the distinction of the second knight’s pagan identity: He was a person from the suburbs of Eden. He was regarded as a nature man, and on the head of his lance was written the word “Grail.” That is to say, nature intends the grail. Spiritual life is the bouquet of natural life, not a supernatural thing imposed upon it. And so the impulses of nature are what give authenticity to life, not obeying rules [that] come from a supernatural authority—that’s the sense of the Grail. (15:20-15:57) Medieval Christians saw spirit and nature as inherently at odds; to triumph over nature was to triumph spiritually. Von Eschenbach’s version of the Grail King legend claims that this division, rather than strengthening the spiritual, has damned both. The king and the land need a savior—although he may not look like a hero, that savior is Parzifal, the compassionate fool, who heals by asking the right question: “What ails thee, Uncle?” This simple act of compassion begins closing that severing wound. “The key to the Grail,” Campbell once wrote, “is compassion, suffering with, feeling another’s sorrow as if it were your own. The one who finds the dynamo of compassion is the one who’s found the Grail” (A Joseph Campbell Companion: Reflections on the Art of Living 53). Authenticity can only come from the realignment of spirit and nature. Campbell often uses the concept of “authenticity” to describe humanity’s balanced and ideal state. Authenticity can only come from the realignment of spirit and nature. Without it, he says, we are left with this “enchantment of sterility”: The Waste Land. “In the Waste Land,” he writes, “life is a fake. People are living in a manner that is not that of their nature; they are living according to a system of rules.” A pall, cast over society as a whole; a spell that needs breaking. The Waste Land, then, is the land of people living inauthentic lives, doing what they think they must do to live, not spontaneously in the affirmation of life, but dutifully, obediently, and even grudgingly, because that is the way people are living. That is what T. S. Eliot saw in the Waste Land of the twentieth century; and that is what Wolfram von Eschenbach—Eliot’s model—saw in the Waste Land of the thirteenth. (The Romance of the Grail: The Magic and Mystery of Arthurian Myth 169-70) In another essay, “Our Notions of God,” Campbell connects this concept to the most fundamental of human experiences, and one at the core of the Grail legend: love. What, we may ask, is an authentic marriage? It is a mystery in which two bodies become one flesh; it is not a negotiation in which two bank accounts merge into one. (Thou Art That: Transforming Religious Metaphor 23) Parzifal was written at a time when troubadours of early medieval Europe were beginning to weave an image of courtly love and drive a return to the romantic. This distinction between a marriage of love and compassion—an authentic one—and a marriage of business for convenience, strategy, or material gain, nevertheless resonates today. This type of authentic marriage has been out of reach for most of humanity for nearly all of history, and remains so for many. In the West, “spirit” has long been synonymous with “the Church,” our own limiting wound still in need of healing. The concept of two people marrying for love alone remains a revolutionary one, even centuries later, because it hinges on the wild idea of compassionate and egalitarian partnership. In cultures that are examining their collective view of marriage, things are changing: Young people are waiting longer to get married, but also stay married at a higher rate. Wedding ceremonies themselves have become more secular and more varied, taking place not only in churches but on beaches and backyards. Couples may keep the old traditions that resonate, then add new traditions alongside them, reflecting an organic ebb and flow as they mold their ritual to resemble the life they want to lead together. The secret to rewilding marriage lies in returning it to the lovers. The spiritual and the natural, given space and compassion, are entwining again. Successful marriage is leading innovative lives together, being open, non-programmed. It’s a free fall: how you handle each new thing as it comes along. As a drop of oil on the sea, you must float, using intellect and compassion to ride the waves. (A Joseph Campbell Companion: Reflections on the Art of Living 47) MythBlast authored by: Gabrielle Basha is a writer, illustrator, and educator based in Cambridge, Massachusetts. She is a working associate for the Joseph Campbell Foundation and a member of the executive communications team at the Wikimedia Foundation. In addition to an informal yet life-long study of where pop culture meets folklore, Gabrielle holds a BFA in art history and illustration and an MFA in creative writing, both from Lesley University. This MythBlast was inspired by The Power of Myth Episode 5, and Romance of the Grail Latest Podcast In this episode we welcome Chris Vogler. Chris is a Hollywood development executive, screenwriter, author and educator. He is best known for working with Disney and for his screenwriting guide, The Writer's Journey: Mythic Structure For Writers. Chris was inspired by the writings of Joseph Campbell, particularly The Hero with a Thousand Faces. He used Campbell's work to create a 7-page company memo for Hollywood screenwriters, A Practical Guide to The Hero with a Thousand Faces which he later developed into The Writer's Journey. He has since spun off his techniques into worldwide masterclasses. In the conversation, John Bucher of the Joseph Campbell Foundation speaks with Chris about his life, his work, the Hero’s Journey, the art of storytelling, and Joseph Campbell. Listen Here This Week's Highlights "What, we may ask, is an authentic marriage? It is a mystery in which two bodies become one flesh; it is not a negotiation in which two bank accounts merge into one.' -- Joseph Campbell,  Thou Art That, 23 The Goddess Embodied (see more videos) Subscribe to the MythBlast Newsletter

  • Each Enters the Forest on Their Own Terms

    On a journey to a cave in the midst of the Belizean forest, I lost my way. Mesmerized by the lush surroundings, I fell behind the procession. I looked ahead, and no one was in front of me. Alone, my heart started racing in fear. I did not know where I was or how to find my way out. In myth, the forest is an unknown terrain that is both dangerous and transformative. Adventures lead heroines and heroes into the forest, and few leave unchanged. In Wolfram Von Eschenbach’s Parzival, one could argue that the forest is itself a character in the story. Parzival spends his childhood in the forest, born to a mother who has renounced society. And once Parzival establishes himself as a knight, he returns to the forest in search of his mother, which leads him to the Grail Castle—the adventure that is his destiny. The Grail Castle is hidden in the forest. Others could walk right past it and never know it was there. Thus, one must gain the perception to see that which the forest hides. This magical space presents itself when the seeker is ready. Parzival, proving himself a worthy knight, is granted the ability not only to see the Grail Castle but to cross the threshold into its magical domain. Within its walls, the Holy Grail nourishes all inhabitants with the sustenance they desire. However, Parzival soon realizes that the Grail King is wounded, and so too is the land he presides over. The pinnacle of Parzival's quest is saving the wounded Grail King and the wasteland. When the grande procession brings Parzival to the Grail King, he is moved by the king’s suffering. His intuition tells him to ask about the king’s ailment, but he has been told by his mentor that it is improper to ask such questions. Parzival has to choose between his inner knowing and society’s expectation of him as an honorable knight. Maintaining his societal image wins the debate, and Parzival remains silent. This decision is a grave omission, and the Grail Castle, with all its bounty, disappears. In failing to ask about the Grail King's ailment, Parzival fails his quest. He offends the Grail King, and, more importantly, he betrays his own soul. Because of his neglect to follow his intuition, Parzival is shunned from King Arthur’s court. Eschenbach’s story then shows a connection between one’s societal duty to the community and one’s inner duty to the soul. When one is sacrificed, the other suffers as well. It is as if we lose everything when we lose our own integrity, even our status in society. Parzival is driven solely by societal expectations of him, and thus, he is out of alignment with who he truly is. The Forest Adventurous Failing the quest enrages Parzival, and he expresses his hatred of the cultural systems that have guided him to this moment. Determined to right this wrong, he returns to the forest. In Romance of the Grail: The Magic and Mystery of Arthurian Myth, Joseph Campbell refers to Parzival’s return to the forest as the Forest Adventurous (58). This adventure is not merely walking into a wooded area; it is the act of entering a space of not knowing with the openness necessary for personal transformation. Each person enters the forest on their own terms. It is a magical space where Parzival searches within himself for his own answers, not the ones he has been told. Having found societal success, he is now embarking on a spiritual quest, what Campbell calls the “dark woods of the soul” (63). Social opinions and societal norms often compromise and limit the authenticity that drives one's life. The spiritual adventure requires that Parzival determine for himself the driving force in his life. Campbell states that the “forest brings forth our own world” (58). All the things we find therein are of our own making, so “If you hate, hate is going to come to you. If you love, love is going to come to you” (62). The forest reflects Parzival’s inner world. His contempt for the societal ideals that shaped him shows up as other knights whom he engages in combat. Eventually, he realizes that he is fighting his own blood. He is fighting himself. Society taught Parzival some of his greatest strengths: the fearlessness with which he enters a fight, his prioritization of his duty to society above all else, and his refusal to allow desires to consume him. And yet, Parzival lacks the knowledge of when to release these societal ideals for the greater power of his inner authenticity. The Power of Love For Parzival and the Arthurian romances, love binds all things together. It is the life force that animates the world. The forest teaches Parzival to trust this life force. He learns that to heal the land, his actions need to be grounded in love. Parzival spends five years wandering through the forest to earn a second chance to prove himself to the Grail King, a feat he was told was impossible. But, as Campbell tells us, “Through your own integrity, you evoke your destiny, which is a destiny that never existed before” (79). Driven by the force of love, Parzival now knows his purpose, both socially and spiritually, and therefore evokes his destiny without fear. Now that he is ready, figures begin to appear in the forest to guide Parzival back to the Grail Castle. Upon his presentation to the Grail King for a second time, Parzival asks, “What ails thee?” And this seemingly simple question, asked from a source of love, heals the Grail King and the land. It is such a compelling idea—curiosity centered in compassion heals. Eschenbach’s Parzival shows how vital curiosity is to the human endeavor, in our societies and in our own psychology. From a centered space of compassionate listening, asking someone what ails them can be a transformational question. The text seems to tell us that conscious curiosity is capable of healing not only those we love but also the world in which we live. As for my own journey into the Belizean forest, I reunited with my group—eventually. And while I observed a multitude of sites that day, one of the most profound takeaways at the time was to get comfortable with feeling lost. Life’s unknown terrain, the Forest Adventurous, is terrifying and transformative. Getting lost is an essential part of finding our way. Life’s unknown terrain, the Forest Adventurous, is terrifying and transformative. Getting lost is an essential part of finding our way. If the path before us is clear, someone else has paved the path. This is completely counterintuitive to my own sense of stability. I want everything laid out before me, with mile markers corresponding to the map in my hands. But to evoke one’s destiny and feel the heartbeat of the life force—the love that animates all things—I find that not knowing what comes next is essential. Self-discovery outside the bounds of social constructions means we are in uncharted territory, wandering until a path presents itself. Developing the capacity to step into unknown terrain and consciously maintain a space of not knowing is a muscle I continue to stretch and grow. Eventually, the love that binds all things pulls me into its animating force, and another journey begins on the path less traveled. MythBlast authored by: Stephanie Zajchowski, PhD is a mythologist and writer based in Texas. She serves as the Director of Operations for the Joseph Campbell Foundation and is a contributing author of Goddesses: A Skeleton Key Study Guide. Stephanie is also a co-founder of the Fates and Graces, hosting webinars and workshops for mythic readers and writers. Her work focuses on the intersection of mythology, religion, and women’s studies. For more information, visit stephaniezajchowski.com This MythBlast was inspired by The Power of Myth Episode 5, and Romance of the Grail Latest Podcast In this episode, originally released in May 2023, JCF's John Bucher speaks with Elise Loehnen. Elise is a writer, editor, and podcast host who lives in Los Angeles. She is the host of Pulling the Thread, a podcast focused on pulling apart the stories we tell about who we are—and then putting those threads back together. Ultimately Elise is a seeker and synthesizer, pulling together wisdom traditions, cultural history, and a deep knowledge of healing modalities to unlock new ways to contextualize who we are and why we’re here. She’s also the author of the upcoming, On Our Best Behavior: The Seven Deadly Sins and the Price Women Pay to Be Good (May ‘23, Dial Press/PRH). In this conversation, John and Elise discuss consciousness, what it means to be good, and of course...Joseph Campbell. To find out more about Elise visit: https://www.eliseloehnen.com/ Listen Here This Week's Highlights "You enter the forest at the darkest point, where there is no path. Where there's a way or path, it is someone else's path; each human being is a unique phenomenon." -- Joseph Campbell,  Pathways to Bliss, xxvi Parzival: A Tale with Many Tellings (see more videos) Subscribe to the MythBlast Newsletter

  • Love & Marriage: Roses & Thorns

    When it comes to love and marriage I have to say that, on a personal level, myth and metaphor have done me more good than anything else and, especially, Campbell’s observation: “Marriage is not a love affair.” (The Power of Myth: “Sacrifice and Bliss”) That is still the best advice I ever received, or ever heard, about how to keep a marriage working well. –but, apart from being a useful reminder that a good marriage depends on a good relationship (e.g. take out the garbage, empty the dishwasher, rub her feet, occasional roses), love and marriage are a useful bridge to grasping the relationship between myth, metaphor, and real life. Here’s what I mean. Campbell once noted that understanding life isn’t as important as having the experience of living a life. It is equally true that many myths hover just beyond being fully meaningful–until, that is, you’ve had the experience of whatever the myth, or the metaphor, is pointing to. I have a favorite example. Early on in life I discovered that one of the best guarantees of a happy long-term relationship was “random acts of flowers.” I confess this is a bit cliché, but there is no doubting the efficacy of random (and persistent) small gestures of love. To this end I would periodically stop by the local grocery store on the way home from work, rummage through the bucket of roses typically found in their refrigerated flower case, pick out a good one, and then leave it somewhere in the house to be discovered later: under a pillow, in the microwave, in her sock drawer. It is always a good idea.  Just saying. And then one day…. I’m on my way home, and I stop in at the grocery store to pick up a single rose. Digging through their selection, I discover that every rose is missing its thorns. I’m sorry, but a rose without thorns on it just doesn’t work. “Hmm,” I think, “this won’t do. The metaphor requires thorns.” At which point, the fourteen-year-old assigned to stock the flower section comes over. “Can I help you find something?” she asks helpfully. “Yeah, thanks,” I reply. “I can’t find a rose in here that still has thorns on it.” “Don’t worry,” she reassures me. “We always cut the thorns off.” I protest, “I see that, but I’m looking for a rose with thorns.” Her face squinches up with confusion. “Why would you want thorns on your roses?” “It’s a metaphor,” I answer. “How is a rose a metaphor?” she wonders. [By the way, as a matter of metacommentary, do you see what an excellent question that was?  Just wait.] “Well, there’s the beautiful and intoxicating scent of the rose, the delicacy of the petals, and then you have the thorns…you know, to remind you about the rest of it.” “The rest of what?” she persists, still confused. At which point the idiot assistant manager comes over and says, “Uhhh, April? Is there a problem here?” I interrupt him. “No, no problem. She was explaining why there aren’t any thorns on the roses.” “Oh, don’t worry,” he croaks, misunderstanding the situation and turning his assistant manager’s irritability on the fourteen-year-old. “We cut the thorns off right away, you know, for safety–April? did you forget to cut the thorns off??” “No, he wants a rose with the thorns still on it.” Deep furrows appear on the assistant manager’s face. “Why would you want thorns on your roses?” he queries. “It’s a metaphor,” I insist. “It’s a metaphor for love,” I repeat, as gently and slowly as I can. And then the fourteen-year-old asks the Best. Question. Ever. “Why would anyone want thorns on their love?” See?  Turns out the fourteen-year-old is a wizard. The assistant manager scoffs at what he takes to be the ignorance of her question–which probably tells us everything about assistant managers. “Hey, that is exactly the right question,” I say. “Love has both a flower and thorns, so if you’re looking for a metaphor, you’ll need both of those.” I was going to follow up by quoting something from Campbell on the Grail Romances like “the only thing that can cure the pain of love is the thing that causes it,” but the assistant manager was already too confused. You’re probably ahead of me here, so let me cut to the chase. Here’s the interesting part: why didn’t the fourteen-year-old know that a rose, if it’s to be a metaphor for romantic love, needed thorns? Answer: because she hadn’t experienced romantic love yet. Only after we’ve had the experience toward which the myth is directing us does the myth become meaningful. What’s required to understand a metaphor is the experience of whatever the metaphor is a metaphor for. The same is true of myth. Only after we’ve had the experience toward which the myth is directing us does the myth become meaningful.  Before that it’s just an interesting story; once we know what it means, it puts our lives into a new and richer context. Once you’ve been in love, you know full well why a rose needs thorns to be an accurate, adequate, meaningful metaphor for love. I hope the fourteen-year-old gets the chance. When I go through this example in class I typically finish up with some Shakespeare, who provided a lot of metaphors in poetry I didn’t understand–until I’d fallen in love. This also taught me just how sophisticated Shakespeare could be and how, like mythology, it is most often an experience that reveals the truth of things. I’ll just leave this here. Shakespeare’s Sonnet 138: When my love swears that she is made of truth, I do believe her, though I know she lies, That she might think me some untutored youth, Unlearnèd in the world’s false subtleties. Thus vainly thinking that she thinks me young, Although she knows my days are past the best, Simply I credit her false-speaking tongue: On both sides thus is simple truth suppressed. But wherefore says she not she is unjust? And wherefore say not I that I am old? Oh, love’s best habit is in seeming trust, And age in love loves not to have years told. Therefore I lie with her and she with me, And in our faults by lies we flattered be. Here’s a brilliant walk through of the sonnet itself and, as a public service, here’s the best ever analysis of Shakespeare’s work from the BBC’s Playing Shakespeare. Thanks for musing along. MythBlast authored by: Mark C.E. Peterson, Ph.D. is Emeritus Professor of Philosophy and Religious Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Washington County and past president of the International Society for the Study of Religion, Nature, and Culture (ISSRNC.org). Philosopher, gadfly, poet, cook, writing along the watermargins of nature, myth, and culture. A practitioner of taijiquan and kundalini yoga for over 40 years, Dr. Peterson is also a happy member of the Ukulele World Congress. This MythBlast was inspired by The Power of Myth Episode 5, and Romance of the Grail Latest Podcast EP 11: Kundalini, The Serpent Power Joseph Campbell speaks at the Asia Society in New York City on November 30, 1967, discussing the kundalini and the relationship between yoga and depth psychology. Host, Brad Olson, offers an introduction and commentary after the talk in this episode of the Pathways podcast. Listen Here This Week's Highlights “But from a psychological standpoint—trying to recognize where humanity is, in all of this—one sees everywhere the same symbols, and this becomes then the problem of first concern. And what transforms the consciousness is not the language but the image; it’s the impact of the image that is the initiating experience.” -- Joseph Campbell,  Myth and Meaning, 6 The Great Goddess (see more videos) Subscribe to the MythBlast Newsletter

  • Re-Imagining Love into Marriage

    The past decade, I've been a part of creating over 200 weddings. And that surprises me a bit. While I believe in romance and love as an artist, a scholar, and a human being who has been relatively happily married for almost thirty years, I have never been fully convinced that weddings or marriages were inherently good ideas. In most cultures worldwide, monogamous marriage has been primarily a social and economic construct that strengthens patriarchy, frequently casting women as secondary, as lesser, and often ultimately as a form of property. This perception of marriage centers procreation and strengthens reductive ideas about gender and gender roles that become self-perpetuating and actually don’t serve anyone particularly well, as I wrote about in a MythBlast last year. Current wedding ceremonies still echo traditions from ancient Greece when marriages were first, in Western culture, identified as a state-sanctioned benefit to the public interest. Wedding partners were chosen by the kyrios, guardian of the bride, usually the father. Potential suitors would show off their plumage with extravagant gifts, feasts, and games, and the victor and kyrios would then perform a ritual engysis, literally a “pledging into the hand,” where the two men would make a commitment to the marriage over a handshake. The woman being pledged wasn’t even in the room. Then, as women stepped into marriage, Hera as the archetypal image of wifehood was hardly an encouraging exemplar. Seduced by her brother Zeus in the form of a cuckoo (there’s a metaphor!), she got her version of a Big Fat Greek wedding that women are supposed to want, but then was continually condemned to rebelliously but often ineffectively stand on the sidelines as Zeus romped through affairs and seductions. In an institution defined by the importance of offspring, even bearing children became a place of competition; in revenge for Zeus’ creation of Athena, Hera bore Hephaistos without a father, and Zeus threw him to earth, crippling him. In The Iliad, Homer describes her character as “not of a very amiable kind, and its main features are jealousy, obstinacy, and a quarreling disposition, which sometimes makes her own husband tremble”(i. 522, 536, 561, v. 892. William Smith, ed. A New Classical Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography, Mythology, and Geography). In pop culture and media, wives are frequently still buffooned this way: the old ball-and-chain who nags and talks too much, gaining power by needling and conniving. As I work with couples who are optimistically seeking wedding rituals and meaning that can set the stage for a marriage that reflects their aspirations together and as individuals, they most often instinctively recoil from these echoes, but aren’t sure how they might supplant them. An entire industry has risen from this uncertainty, seducing couples into perceiving weddings as performative, gigantic overblown selfies, which in their own ways echo the extravagance of Greek suitor-competitors and the consolation prize of a grand wedding designed to impress observers. In spite of how ubiquitously it sits in our collective imagination in the West now, the idea of love being required for marriage is a remarkably new idea. In spite of how ubiquitously it sits in our collective imagination in the West now, the idea of love being required for marriage is a remarkably new idea. Emerging out of the courtly love longings of the medieval troubadours and trobairitz (for whom love and marriage were distinctly not intertwined), it wasn’t until the 18th century that society began to encourage young people to even consider romance as an antecedent to marriage. Interestingly, in the core definitions of kinds of love in the ancient Greek imagination, there isn’t an delineated image for love between married partners.They include: Eros, erotic love Agápe, unconditional love, primarily of god Philia, affectionate love between equal compadres Storge, the love between parents and children Xenia, the love of hospitality Philautia, self love, which can be either positive or negative In 1973, in his book Colours of Love: An Exploration of the Ways of Loving, psychologist John Alan Lee made a valiant effort to broaden these qualities, including borrowing the word pragma as an image to evoke the love between long-time partners. In spite of its eager adaptation by many in the psychological community, there really isn’t much evidence that the Greeks utilized the word in this way. It’s also problematic etymologically, pulling from the Greek pragmatikos, or business-like, which holds layers of its Renaissance connotations of being meddlesome or impertinently busy. What a dreary way to imagine long-term love! How then, might we re-imagine love into marriage? How can we hope to touch the essence of the bliss and the pain of an enduring love such that it amplifies our multitudes: of who we are, of how we love, of how we choose to live into that love? I think the answer lies in two ideas: First, rather than trying to narrow what a long term love might look like to a single word or idea, we can instead understand ongoing love of a partnership as an intertwined dance of all of the ways we might love others or ourselves. We can love ourselves and partners as flawed and sometimes self-involved creatures who also have allure and divinity, are companions and family and sometimes strangers. This begins to give us a vocabulary of metaphors that could help us to expand into love that can both meet us in the moment and invite us to imagine beyond that. Second, as Campbell argued in this month’s highlighted book, The Romance of the Grail: The Magic and Mystery of Arthurian Myth, reflecting on the Grail legends and the lessons of the wounded Fisher King, installed by ritual rather than rightness: we find love when we follow our own nature, rather than simply respond to the expectations of society. If we build a wedding and a marriage following the essence of ourselves as two and one, we can begin to redefine marriage itself, and re-imagine love into its heart. MythBlast authored by: Leigh Melander, Ph.D. has an eclectic background in the arts and organizational development, working with inviduals and organizations in the US and internationally for over 20 years. She has a doctorate in cultural mythology and psychology and wrote her dissertation on frivolity as an entry into the world of imagination. Her writings on mythology and imagination can be seen in a variety of publications, and she has appeared on the History Channel, as a mythology expert. She also hosts a radio who on an NPR community affiliate: Myth America, an exploration into how myth shapes our sense of identity. Leigh and her husband opened Spillian, an historic lodge and retreat center celebrating imagination in the Catskills, and works with clients on creative projects. She is honored to have previously served as the Vice President of the Joseph Campbell Foundation Board of Directors. This MythBlast was inspired by The Power of Myth Episode 5, and Romance of the Grail Latest Podcast In this episode we welcome Chris Vogler. Chris is a Hollywood development executive, screenwriter, author and educator. He is best known for working with Disney and for his screenwriting guide, The Writer's Journey: Mythic Structure For Writers. Chris was inspired by the writings of Joseph Campbell, particularly The Hero with a Thousand Faces. He used Campbell's work to create a 7-page company memo for Hollywood screenwriters, A Practical Guide to The Hero with a Thousand Faces which he later developed into The Writer's Journey. He has since spun off his techniques into worldwide masterclasses. In the conversation, John Bucher of the Joseph Campbell Foundation speaks with Chris about his life, his work, the Hero’s Journey, the art of storytelling, and Joseph Campbell. Listen Here This Week's Highlights “Love is born of the eyes and the heart; it is an individual experience. The eyes quest in the outer world for the object of inspiration, and the heart receives the image, and this image then becomes the idol of individual devotion” -- Joseph Campbell,  Romance of the Grail, 27 The Goddess and the Madonna Q&A (see more videos) Subscribe to the MythBlast Newsletter

  • From Abstract Knowledge to Embodied Wisdom

    Joseph Campbell pondered his future in 1932 in a letter to a friend and mentor that he met while studying in Europe: The thought of growing into a professor gives me the creeps. A lifetime to be spent trying to kid myself and my pupils into believing that the thing that we are looking for is in books! I don’t know where it is – but I feel just now pretty sure that it isn’t in books (Letter to H.K. Stone, January 22, 1932, Grampus Journals). What Campbell is speaking about here is often called ‘book knowledge.’ We could assume that on this occasion, Campbell is not disparaging the worth of books as containers and interpreters of facts, information, and knowledge. Rather, he’s reminding us that there’s a ‘felt reality’ around us – and perhaps also permeating us – transcending the capacities of books to articulate. This may be so, even if the book is written by a sophisticated, proficient scholar. The reality around and within us is just too expansive and too subtle to be captured by books and their words (which is why the poetic mode is sometimes most fit for purpose in this respect). However, having said this it’s possible that Campbell is also referring to ‘book knowledge’ in another sense. Meaning that we may have conceptual knowledge of a subject while not yet having internalized it yet in our heart and soul. Even if we’re  polymaths, and even if our abstract knowledge is vast, if we’ve not internalized it to the extent that we’ve made the book’s material entirely our own, then it remains at a distance from us. But if we do fully assimilate the knowledge, and wholly interiorize it within our own souls, then there’s no longer any duality between ourselves and it. The knower and the knowledge breathe together. Metaphorically, when such rich assimilation has occurred, the ‘scroll’ has been eaten: “So I went to the angel [and he told me] ‘take it, and eat it’” (KJV Bible, Revelation, 10:9). A popular way of expressing this is by picturing a car and its driver. Most drivers, however proficient they might be as drivers, merely have a dashboard understanding of their car. They’re familiar with the settings on the dashboard, whilst having almost no knowledge of the inner workings of the motor. The dashboard understanding is sufficient for most occasions, but there may come a time when – usually during a crisis – a more thorough understanding of the motor would be helpful. And in a way, it’s disrespecting the full potential of the vehicle, if we don’t also appreciate its deep mechanisms. Through this allegory, I recognize in my own experience that much of my conceptual and abstract knowledge hasn’t deepened or translated into assimilated understanding. As such, I’ve been a consumer of information that hasn’t been soul-incorporated, and so therefore, it’s not transformed into embodied wisdom deep in my bones. In public speaking, if we’ve not fully embraced our subject, then only concepts wrought from instrumentalist words can be conveyed to the audience. But if in our speaking we’ve been able to embody our subject, then our words come alive and transmit both a life and an energy. When an alignment occurs between the speaker’s words and their integrated, lived experience, they’ve moved beyond mere words and concepts. There’s no alienation of the subject material from the communicator. As such, an inner knowing is conveyed to the audience because the subject has become ‘beloved’ by its bearer. The intellect and the heart have combined and the audience is touched accordingly. It’s as if we’ve encountered something of the living essence of the subject. And it’s this ‘aliveness’ that induces a change in the feeling field of the audience because a heightened sense of the topic presents itself. One reason I believe that the documentary Joseph Campbell and The Power of Myth with Bill Moyers became so popular is because Campbell and Moyers, for all their erudite scholarship, were well aware that their research and analysis doesn’t, on its own, enable an audience to experience and embody myths as mighty pictures of the human experience. (Just like detailed footnotes to a thesis won’t assist a reader in meeting the transcendental mysteries of the mythological landscape.) Only when the lecturer or writer has soul-absorbed their material can we glimpse the endless depths of a topic. We can witness this enfleshed wisdom in the conversation between Campbell and Moyers in The Power of Myth, Episode 5: Love and the Goddess. The subject being discussed is the Grail and its mysteries. Moyers postulates to Campbell at 15 minutes, 58 seconds, And the Grail that these romantic legends were searching for is the union once again of what had been divided?” [Although Moyers and Campbell in this conversation were alluding to a different kind of union, in respect to my topic for this MythBlast, I’m focusing more on the union of the outer concept with the inner life that they both demonstrate.] And though I can’t fully explore this now within the word limits of this essay, it can be posited that with early humanity there was no firm divide between speech and the inner soul. All consisted of one spontaneous flow, springing from the womb of the human being. Later in the same discussion Moyers encapsulates this by saying, “Well, that’s why I’m not so sure that the future of the race and the salvation of the journey is in space. I think it is well right here on earth in the body, in the womb of all of our being. So how might we arrive at such a fluent union between our outer words and inner lives like the masters, Campbell and Moyers? Lectio divina (divine reading) was  – and still is – a monastic practice involving the reading of sacred text, accompanied by prayer and meditation. This, the senior monks and nuns claimed, assisted the more junior monks and nuns to enter into a communion with the text and indeed, with God. I’m suggesting that, where possible and with similar modalities, we too could choose to engage with our subjects of study much more contemplatively. We’d then meet the subject with minds and hearts in unison and cultivate the possibility for embodied wisdom. For myself, I’m attempting to read and think more slowly. Much, much more slowly. (A New Year’s resolution!) And with more mindful and heartful reverie, too! By decelerating the speed of this reflective process, I refrain from degrading or soiling the subject I’m studying with a consumerist or superficially expedient attitude. Rather, the subject requires – and receives – my genuine, loving attention. Only then will it disclose its inner truths. MythBlast authored by: Kristina Dryža is an ex-futurist, author, TEDx speaker, archetypal consultant, one of the Joseph Campbell Foundation’s Editorial Advisory Group, and a steward for The Fifth Direction. Based between Australia and Lithuania, her work focuses less on the future and more on the unknown. Presence. Not prediction. What’s sacred? Not ‘what’s next?’ Kristina is passionate about helping people to perceive mythically and sense archetypally to better understand our shared humanity, yet honor the diverse ways we all live and make meaning. This MythBlast was inspired by The Power of Myth Episode 5, and Romance of the Grail Latest Podcast In this episode which originally aired in March 2023, John Bucher of the Joseph Campbell Foundation and Satya Doyle Byock discuss her book Quaterlife, and how her life and work have been influenced by Joseph Campbell. Satya is a psychotherapist in private practice in Portland, Oregon, and the founding director of The Salome Institute of Jungian Studies, where she teaches and hosts other speakers online. Her book “Quarterlife: The Search for Self in Early Adulthood,” was published in July 2022. Her articles have been published in Psychological Perspectives, The Utne Reader, goop, and elsewhere, and she is the co-host of the podcast on Carl Jung’s Red Book. Satya’s clinical work, teaching, and writing draw influences from a few primary areas, including Jungian psychology, trauma research, and social justice advocacy. She holds a Master’s in Counseling, with an emphasis on Depth Psychology, and a Bachelor’s in History. Find out more about Satya and her work at https://satyabyock.com/ Listen Here This Week's Highlights "Change the focus of the eye. When you have done that, then the end of the world as you formerly knew it will have occurred, and you will experience the radiance of the divine presence everywhere, here and now." -- Joseph Campbell,  Mythos I, Episode 3: “On Being Human" The Virgin Birth (see more videos) Subscribe to the MythBlast Newsletter

  • Cowboys and Archetypes

    “This first stage of the mythological journey—which we have designated the “call to adventure”—signifies that destiny has summoned the hero and transferred his spiritual center of gravity from within the pale of his society to a zone unknown.” (Joseph Campbell, The Hero With a Thousand Faces, 48). The conditions under which destiny summons the hero are reconfigured and recast in every time, every place, and every generation. How about you? What was it like when you heard the “call to adventure?” I’ll bet many of our readers experienced a moment of vocational clarity and gave up one life to pursue another. That’s classic. Eligibility for that sweet moment of mystical awakening is not reserved for Buddhas and Brahmins but extends even to common laborers. I speak of my grandfather. I come from a long line of such heroes beginning with my namesake, John Bonaduce, born in the lovely Abruzzi region of Eastern Italy by the shores of the Adriatic in 1902. As a teen he dug ditches while his father became a carrettieri, or freight handler, driving two decrepit mules across several Italian provinces. This was the time just after the end of World War I when Nonno (the Italian familiar for “grandfather”) and his myth found one another.  At the time, Nonno was angry because he felt his father had betrayed the family. Instead of purchasing a new four-cylinder truck to replace the mules he’d worked to death, the paterfamilias returned to Abruzzi with two more mules. The little Italian boy had visions of a technological future—internal combustion engines, electricity, telephones—but simultaneously, he was gripped by images of a romantic past, a non-Italian past, indeed, he yearned to embrace what was then arguably the greatest myth of the Americas. He wanted to be a cowboy. He told his father that very night that he was leaving for America. It was not a sensible decision. It was not grounded in any of the pressing necessities of life.  He had the kind of single-hearted madness which Campbell notes in artists, but certainly applies to my Italian forebear in particular. “Survival, security, personal relationships, prestige, self-development—in my experience, those are exactly the values that a mythically inspired person doesn’t live for. They have to do with the primary biological mode as understood by human consciousness. Mythology begins where madness starts. A person who is truly gripped by a calling, a dedication, by a belief, by a zeal, will sacrifice his security, will sacrifice even his life, will sacrifice personal relationships, will sacrifice prestige, and will think nothing of personal development; he will give himself entirely to his myth. (Pathways to Bliss, 138) Blame it on the movies. Campbell’s monomyth translates very well to celluloid and the Westerns of the day not only tended toward depictions of the hero’s journey but also inspired the desire to live that adventure in the hearts of impressionable peasants. Destiny summoned my grandfather that day in the new medium of motion pictures and his plan came into sharp relief at exactly 26 minutes into a full-length silent film, The Squaw Man, when he saw a close up of a man’s finger pointing to a map. It was a map of Wyoming in letters that spanned twenty feet of silver screen. From this point, the narrative seemed to speak to him not so much as an entertainment, but a prefigurement of the rest of his life. In DeMille’s epic, the hero crosses a wine dark sea to seek his fortune and escape from his European circumstances. He experienced Campbell’s “road of trials” as surely as any Argonaut, slipping the clashing rocks of competing cultures to find his singular path. There were many dangers at every turn but there were also unseen hands helping him in the form of a Native American woman who would save his life, and whom he would marry. Racists call it miscegenation. Mythologists call it the heiros gamos, the sacred marriage. America, already saturated in its own mythology, triggered some innate releasing mechanism in my grandfather who saw his own future projected at 24 frames per second, demonstrating that a European can wear a Stetson, strap on a six-shooter, and who knows, marry a Native American and live happily ever after (although the Native American love interest called “Nat-U-Rich,” a member of the Ute tribe, dies at the end of the movie). The transAtlantic passage was brutal on a teenager whose experience of the sea was limited to the gentle lapping of the Adriatic where he had grown up. Ellis Island was the crossing of the threshold for generations of displaced Europeans and here he met his first threshold guardians, the ones whose job it is to screen aliens for Typhus and misspell their names—this is where Berkowitz becomes Burk and Rossini, Ross. (Nonno stubbornly clung to every vowel of his noble surname). Remember what Campbell said about the “blunder” as oftentimes key to the ongoing quest. “A blunder—the merest chance—reveals an unsuspected world.” The mistake upon which the subsequent family fortune rests took place the second night in the New World. When Nonno got to the train station in Philadelphia he had the word W-Y-O-M-I-N-G block printed on a piece of paper just as he had seen it in the DeMille silent film. Overland passage by train cost far less than he imagined and after boarding, the scruffy Italian wayfarer slid his front-snap Gatsby cap over his eyes and tried to sleep… “Wyoming!” shouted the conductor. Really? How long had he been asleep? It seemed that even with his rudimentary grasp of geography, a trip to Wyoming should have taken much longer. He got off the train. Thus, would my grandfather spend the next twenty-two years digging for anthracite in the mines of Wyoming, Pennsylvania alongside other men who had made similar journeys, whose dreams slowly died in the daily katabasis into the mines. I will resist the temptation to check all the boxes of the monomyth because the value is diminished if too rigidly applied. However, we could make the case for Nonno’s “meeting of the goddess,” resulting in the heiros gamos (his marriage to the beautiful Michaelina Minicozzi) or the atonement with the father (Nonno’s eldest son, Joseph, returned to Italy after the war to keep his father’s promise only to arrive two weeks after the old freight handler had passed away). Long before Star Wars turned our attention to the hidden framework of the hero’s adventure, there were the Westerns with Wyoming, Montana, Utah, and the whole American southwest standing in for the eternal void of space, and populated by the same cast of archetypes, albeit armed with Colt .45’s instead of lightsabers. Campbell’s insights are great by virtue of their astonishing universality, equally applicable to an Achaean mariner washed up naked on a Phaeacian shore or an Italian laborer asleep in a Philadelphia lumber yard dreaming of Wyoming. MythBlast authored by: John Bonaduce, PhD, a seasoned writer for Norman Lear and for most of the major Hollywood studios (Fox, Paramount, Warner Bros, et al.) developed a profound interest in story structure beyond the commercial objectives of the industry. His exploration led him to conclude that much of what we call myth derives from a biological origin. This insight inspired his pursuit of deeper relationships between biology and narrative through his theory of Mythobiogenesis, which he explored in his dissertation at Pacifica Graduate Institute and was recognized as a “discovery” in the field of prenatal psychology by Dr. Thomas Verny. John was recently appointed to the editorial board of the Journal of Prenatal and Perinatal Psychology and Health (JOPPPH) where he advocates for an unrecognized level of human consciousness which exists at the border of biology and mythology. As a featured writer for the Joseph Campbell Foundation’s MythBlast, he passionately showcases Joseph Campbell’s enduring relevance to a modern audience. Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to John J. Bonaduce, 12437 Sylvan St., No. Hollywood, CA 91606 or jbonaduce52@gmail.com This MythBlast was inspired by The Power of Myth Episode 4, and Pathways to Bliss. Latest Podcast In this episode we welcome Ben Katt. Ben has been helping people experience deep transformation and access lives of greater joy, compassion, and purpose for the past twenty years. His first book, The Way Home: Discovering the Hero’s Journey to Wholeness at Midlife, is a guidebook and memoir about the inner journey we all must embark on in order to live our fullest lives. He writes regularly about identity, purpose, creativity, and belonging in his STILL newsletter on Substack. He is a certified advanced meditation teacher with 1 Giant Mind, holds a Master of Divinity degree, and was an ordained minister for over a decade. Previously, he led The On Being Project’s work in supporting religious and spiritual leaders in social healing. In the conversation, Ben and Tyler Lapkin of the Joseph Campbell Foundation speak about Ben’s life, why he based his book around Campbell’s hero’s journey, what it means to have your heart, the necessity of following your weird, and why midlife is such an important crossroads for us all. To learn more about Ben and his book, visit https://www.benjaminkatt.com/ Listen Here This Week's Highlights "The modern hero, the modern individual who dares to heed the call and seek the mansion of that presence with whom it is our whole destiny to be atoned, cannot, indeed must not, wait for his community to cast off its slough of pride, fear, rationalized avarice, and sanctified misunderstanding . . . It is not society that is to guide and save the creative hero, but precisely the reverse. And so every one of us shares the supreme ordeal — carries the cross of the redeemer — not in the bright moments of his tribe’s great victories, but in the silences of his personal despair." -The Hero With A Thousand Faces, 337 Kundalini Yoga: Solar & Lunar Energy Pathways (see more videos) Subscribe to the MythBlast Newsletter

  • Science May Sometimes Blind Us to What We're Mything

    Sometimes science can blinker us to what we’ve been myth-ing. How can you know what you already knew? When the now becomes new, that’s how. For instance: I’ve enjoyed annoying my colleagues over in psychology for some decades now by reminding them that they are, technically and by definition, engaged in a science (“-ology”) of the soul (“psyche” in ancient Greek). They don’t always think that’s funny. Sometimes the great success of our scientific approach to the world blinkers us with a set of cultural lenses that can keep us from coming to know what we already knew, and keep us from knowing it in new ways. Like this: when it comes to the psyche we might feel smugly moderne, but the Indus Valley civilization will always be a few thousand years ahead of the West when it comes to thinking about the soul. What “the West” once understood as superstition comes back to us now as a rather advanced, and useful, description of human psychology. Kundalini yoga. I’ve dipped my toes into contemporary psychology and have a pretty good grasp of Jung and Freud and Skinner, but none of them have ever been more useful to me as a way of understanding my fellow human beings than Campbell’s interpretation of the first three chakras in the kundalini system. If you need a touchstone, imagine these symbolic representations as a prefiguration of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs (check out the video of Prof. Campbell’s lecture: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eG5Ml82A3vA). Now, of course, we’re accustomed to hearing New Agers talk about “balancing their chakras,” glowing mystical orbs floating in the candy box of contemporary esoterica, but fixating on the woo woo of occult glamor can distract us from the useful implications these ancient observations have for real life in the twenty first century West. What “the West” once understood as superstition comes back to us now as a rather advanced, and useful, description of human psychology. Kundalini yoga. The system starts at the base of the spine with chakra one. This is where we find a concentration of the psychological complexes associated with our instinctive processes: the reflexive clinging to what we believe, rightly or often wrongly, is required for survival. Campbell’s insight is that this can be represented symbolically by the idea of western dragons. Now western dragons are well-known hoarders – unlike Asian dragons which represent the fullness of prosperity in life – and they famously hoard two things in particular: gold and virgins.  Here’s the key: these are two things for which dragons have no use whatsoever. Even as a youngster reading The Hobbit I remember wondering what it was, exactly, that Smaug found so compelling about hoarding gold. It’s shiny, but you know something else must be going on there. You know people like this – sometimes it’s ourselves. We cling to things out of reflex, very often things we don’t truly need or even want. And it is possible, for many people, to go through their entire lives at this level. It is a rather wonderful explication of the role tanha, craving or desire, plays in Buddhist analyses of suffering. If we’re able to resolve or sublimate these impulses, we find ourselves ready to confront chakra two: sex. This encounter typically occurs as we move from childhood into adulthood. After freeing ourselves from the reflexive clinging to what we believe we need for survival, sex is usually the next set of complexes that confront us. While just as psychologically fraught as the fears that characterize life lived purely for survival, sex is a lot more fun. Addictive, even. I’ll leave you to fill in your own examples of people stuck at this stage of their spiritual or psyche-ological development. I suspect this set of complexes is common to all of us – and we all know people who never quite manage to get further along in life than this but, if you do, you end up immersed in the complexes of chakra three: a fire-in-the-belly for worldly success. Chakra three is, appropriately, at the level of the belly. Looking back you can trace this developmental pathway in most humans: childish fears about life which, when conquered, allow us to migrate into a time of sexual awakening and preoccupation that in turn eventually gives way to a sense of social responsibility, family life, career, and attention to the financial and political power structures that govern our adult lives. These first three spheres of human development characterize the world of daily experience: navigating the psychological impulses surrounding fear, sex, and social interactions. It’s where most of us live most of the time.  Let’s add one more chakra for some perspective. Chakra four, at the level of the heart, is characterized by compassion – the ability to experience the suffering of others. Achieving a grasp of chakra four is generally the stated goal of most of the world’s religions and you can find plenty of evidence for the psyche-ological insight this hierarchy of complexes provides, but here’s the easiest way to think about it: as compelling as any one of these psychological complexes might be for someone, they’ll find that the next level up is even more compelling. Fear is trumped by the desire for sex and sex can be trumped by the desire for worldly power – and, most remarkably when you think about it, the desire for worldly power is very often trumped by compassion for others. The wealthy will often walk away from their source of power, wealth, and self-validation to commit themselves to the welfare of others. That’s exactly what history describes as a religious awakening. But at this point we move into rather more rarefied psyche-ological development.  Saints are more difficult to understand than those committed to business. as compelling as any one of these psychological complexes might be for someone, they’ll find that the next level up is even more compelling. Fear is trumped by the desire for sex and sex can be trumped by the desire for worldly power – and, most remarkably when you think about it, the desire for worldly power is very often trumped by compassion for others. But, contributions like these, from what we often characterize merely-as-myth can help us fill in exactly what we were myth-ing – and makes what we know, (k)new. Thanks for musing along. MythBlast authored by: Mark C.E. Peterson, Ph.D. is Emeritus Professor of Philosophy and Religious Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Washington County and past president of the International Society for the Study of Religion, Nature, and Culture (ISSRNC.org). Philosopher, gadfly, poet, cook, writing along the watermargins of nature, myth, and culture. A practitioner of taijiquan and kundalini yoga for over 40 years, Dr. Peterson is also a happy member of the Ukulele World Congress. This MythBlast was inspired by The Power of Myth Episode 4, and Pathways to Bliss. Latest Podcast Joseph Campbell speaks at the University of Arkansas, in 1973, discussing personal myth and the life of the soul. Host, Brad Olson, offers an introduction and commentary after the talk in this episode of the Pathways podcast. Listen Here This Week's Highlights "What the virgin birth represents is the birth of the spiritual life in the human animal. It has nothing to do mythologically with a biological anomaly. In the Indian kuṇḍalinī system the first three cakras are our animal zeal to life, animal erotics, and animal aggression. Then at the level of the heart there is the birth of a purely human intention, a purely human realization of a possible spiritual life which then puts the others in secondary place. " -Goddesses: Mysteries of the Feminine Divine, 258. The Radiance Behind All Things (see more videos) Subscribe to the MythBlast Newsletter

  • The Seeds of Bliss: Gladiator and Sacrifice

    Unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. (John 12:24, NIV) The term sacrifice has become somewhat of a dirty word over the course of my life. This changeover began in the 1970s with the ascent of the “Me Generation” of Baby Boomers. However, the creeping selfishness of this period of time has not diminished. Reinforced by social norms, an ever-present pressure to acquire rather than to give up, lurks behind much of our modern thoughts and actions. Even the literary and filmic heroes we so admire, with whatever sacrifices that they make on their journeys, almost always in the end get to participate in what Joseph Campbell called “the boon” or the benefit they bring back to the collective. Very rarely does a fictional hero climb to the heights of popular culture whose story involves making the ultimate sacrifice—forfeiting their very life for a boon that they cannot experience. However, inevitably such “A Hero Will Rise” and this is indeed the subtitle of the 2000 DreamWorks film Gladiator, directed by Ridley Scott and starring Russell Crowe. With a sequel to this movie currently in production, I will turn my mythic inquiry to the original film–set in a highly fictionalized Imperial Rome–to see what a fresh examination of it, incorporating Campbell’s ideas of The Power of Myth episode “Sacrifice and Bliss,” could offer us (please note the typical warning of spoilers to come). Even before we are introduced to Gladiator’s protagonist Maximus (Crowe) as the head of the Roman army, we see daydream images of him walking through a wheat field, his hand brushing the sheaf tops, which are ready for harvest. Soon after he awakes from this reverie, we learn that General Maximus is actually a farmer who longs to return home to his agrarian life after an epic battle that ends a long campaign. Yet Emperor Marcus Aurelius (Richard Harris) has one last duty for him: to become “The Protector of Rome” and oversee its transition from an imperial state to a Republic after Caesar’s death. Making Endings and Beginnings Sacred The archetypes of birth and death are, for Campbell, the main concerns of sacrifice. The loss of something—its being given up or dying—is “made sacred” (sacer: “sacred”; facere: “to make”) because something is being born. “Unless there is death, there cannot be birth,” he asserts to Bill Moyers in the Sacrifice and Bliss episode of The Power of Myth. “Every generation has to die in order that the next generation should come. As soon as you beget or give birth to a child, you are the dead one; the child is the new life, and you are simply the protector of that new life.” In the fictional Rome of Gladiator, the dying generation is that of the Caesars, and the “child” coming into being is the Republic. Echoing Campbell’s word, Marcus wants to pass the initial protector role to Maximus. Maximus’s self-concept is as a farmer first, a warrior second, and not at all a political participant. He views himself as the wheat we see in the film’s first image: ready for harvest in a rural backwater of the Empire, at the end of a journey, not at the start of another. Both longing for the comfort of his old way of life and not wanting to take on a new one, Maximus hesitates, an action which Campbell has labeled “the hero’s refusal of the call” (see Michael Lambert’s January 28th MythBlast). Consequently, Marcus’s immoral son, Commodus, kills his father and assumes the throne, ostensibly ending Marcus’s “dream of Rome.” In doing so, Maximus falls under the power of Commodus, who orders him and his family killed. While Maximus escapes, his family does not, and his farm is burned. Remarking on the refusal of the call Campbell states, “Whatever house [the refuser] builds, it will be a house of death” (The Hero with a Thousand Faces, pg. 49). Thus, Maximus’ clinging to the life he planned led to its demise. He is eventually enslaved, becomes a gladiator, and must fight his way to Rome to fulfill the role at which he initially balked, and to exact his revenge on Commodus. No Death, No Birth The metaphorical death of Maximus the Farmer/General is the seed of his new journey, for, as Campbell paraphrased the idea found in John 12:24, “If the seed does not die, there is no plant” (A Joseph Campbell Companion, pg. 19). Under the mentorship of the retired gladiator Proximo (Oliver Reed), Maximus learns the ways of “winning the crowd.” This idea of pleasing the people will eventually be sublimated into benefiting the people, as Maximus’ goal is to end Commodus’s tyranny for the sake of all of Rome. As a general, he had fought for one person—his father-figure, Marcus Aurelius. Now he fights for the collective. The film's ending beautifully merges the themes of sacrifice and bliss, death and birth. Commodus agrees to face Maximus in single combat in the Colosseum but treacherously stabs him before the duel to gain advantage. As Maximus fights and bleeds to death, he begins to see visions of the bliss of the afterlife—a reunion with his wife and son, and a return to his agrarian life. Elysium awaits and even tempts him, but he has not yet bestowed on Rome the ultimate boon. Maximus, in a final burst of herculean effort, kills Commodus. As he openly declares Rome’s transition to a republic before dying, Maximus succeeds in being the Protector of Marcus’s dream. His death marks the birth of the new Rome, a Rome from which he himself will not experience benefit. His sacrifice produces the seeds of freedom from imperial authority. At the same time, he himself is born into immortality and a much more spiritual wheat to harvest than his original, mundane goal. Time to Harvest, Time to Plant How are all of us non-gladiators supposed to see ourselves in this story? We are all, at the same time, both the wheat and the seed within. We are growing and evolving where we are planted, yet there exists within us potential for more in life, more that might require death and replanting. The call to extend beyond our current paradigm (like Maximus’s Farmer/General) may come when we think we are ready for harvest and the enjoyment of our labors. But as Campbell often repeated, “We must be willing to get rid of the life we’ve planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us” (A Joseph Campbell Companion, pg. 18). That getting-rid-of process is the symbolic death and sacrifice. Yet our losses are made sacred through the boons that come through our new callings, new paradigms, and new crops. Many folks have adopted Campbell’s saying “Follow your bliss,” but perhaps more accurate would be to say “Follow your sacrifices to your bliss.” Even though it contains that “problematic word,” it would more deeply reflect the wisdom of what I believe Campbell was conveying. MythBlast authored by: Scott Neumeister is a literary scholar, author, TEDx speaker, and mythic pathfinder from Tampa, Florida, where he earned his Ph.D. in English from the University of South Florida in 2018. His specialization in multiethnic American literature and mythology comes after careers as an information technology systems engineer and a teacher of English and mythology at the middle school and college levels. Scott coauthored Let Love Lead: On a Course to Freedom with Gary L. Lemons and Susie Hoeller, and he has served as a facilitator for the Joseph Campbell Foundation’s Myth and Meaning book club at Literati. This MythBlast was inspired by The Power of Myth Episode 4, and Pathways to Bliss. Latest Podcast In this episode we welcome Ben Katt. Ben has been helping people experience deep transformation and access lives of greater joy, compassion, and purpose for the past twenty years. His first book, The Way Home: Discovering the Hero’s Journey to Wholeness at Midlife, is a guidebook and memoir about the inner journey we all must embark on in order to live our fullest lives. He writes regularly about identity, purpose, creativity, and belonging in his STILL newsletter on Substack. He is a certified advanced meditation teacher with 1 Giant Mind, holds a Master of Divinity degree, and was an ordained minister for over a decade. Previously, he led The On Being Project’s work in supporting religious and spiritual leaders in social healing. Ben is a perpetual student of religious, spiritual, and cultural wisdom and an expert at adapting ancient personal development practices for modern contexts to help people wake up to who they are and why they are here. He lives with his wife, three children, and a bunny in Milwaukee, WI where he enjoys walking by the lake, trail running, karaoke, and volunteering as a hospice companion. In the conversation, Ben and Tyler Lapkin of the Joseph Campbell Foundation speak about Ben’s life, why he based his book around Campbell’s hero’s journey, what it means to have your heart, the necessity of following your weird, and why midlife is such an important crossroads for us all. To learn more about Ben and his book, visit https://www.benjaminkatt.com/ Listen Here This Week's Highlights "Unless there is death, there cannot be birth. The significance of that is that every generation has to die in order that the next generation can come. As soon as you beget or give birth to a child, you are the dead one. The child is the new life, and you are simply the protector of that new life ." -Joseph Campbell and the Power of Myth with Bill Moyers, 137. The Ego and the Tao - Q&A (see more videos) Subscribe to the MythBlast Newsletter

  • Passing Through Nature to Eternity: A Valediction for Jimmy Maxwell

    Sigmund Freud wrote that in our mourning, the world becomes “poor and empty.” I felt something like that sensation in the days after hearing the news that a dear friend and JCF colleague passed away. Some of you reading this were fortunate enough to have met or known the magical Jimmy Maxwell, a beguilingly kind, generous, good-humored man who seemed to have never met a stranger. Jimmy was a Joseph Campbell Foundation Fellow, one who achieved success in their individual field and volunteered their time and talent to JCF. For years Jimmy has been helping us sort through, compile, cross reference, digitize, and otherwise clean up our extensive audio collection of recorded Joseph Campbell lectures. It was an Augean task, and his efforts in this regard were invaluable. Jimmy was a gifted and well-known bandleader, the pied piper of New Orleans live music generally and Mardi Gras specifically. The Jimmy Maxwell Orchestra is synonymous with the music of the New Orleans Mardi Gras and additionally, he was also the director of the Louis Armstrong Society Jazz Band. He has performed for U.S. presidents as well as members of the British royal family. He’s performed with the Neville Brothers, Harry Connick, Jr. (and Sr.), and for several years in the ‘80’s Jimmy partnered with Peter Duchin, the famed society band leader from New York City. In addition to being a first rate musician, he was a self-educated philosopher, but perhaps most of all, he was a story-teller. Whether musically or in quiet conversation, Jimmy enchanted, surprised, and captivated with his stories. In addition to being a first rate musician, he was a self-educated philosopher, but perhaps most of all, he was a story-teller. Whether musically or in quiet conversation, Jimmy enchanted, surprised, and captivated with his stories. But the one story he had the hardest time talking about, which is also the story that eventually brought Jimmy into our lives here at JCF, was the devastation wrought by 2005’s Hurricane Katrina upon his beloved New Orleans, her people, and his own psyche. Fortunately, Jimmy and his family were able to evacuate the city, but the loss of life among those who were unable to leave was staggering. The city was left in chaos, emergency services were overwhelmed, and the damage inflicted by the hurricane was appalling. Eighty percent of the city remained flooded for weeks and most of New Orleans's transportation and communication infrastructure were destroyed, leaving tens of thousands of residents struggling to survive with little access to food or shelter, and largely unable to meet even their most basic needs. The life he had been living was gone, people he cared about, landmarks—both personal and public—were gone, wiped away by a pitiless, “once-in-a-century” flood. Jimmy once told me he felt “broken” by these events, and in their aftermath he had lived a strange sort of half life, not really alive but not dead either, feeling helpless to know what to do for himself. Jimmy had begun reading Joseph Campbell years before in his longstanding, determined effort to make sense of life’s vicissitudes and complexities, and the March following Katrina, searching for ways out of his despair, he decided to dive more deeply into Campbell’s work by attending a “playshop” called “Your Hero’s Journey: A Mythological Toolbox,” which was facilitated at Esalen by Robert Walter, who at that time was the Joseph Campbell Foundation president. During the six-day playshop, through a range of deceptively playful exercises, participants in the playshop remember and explore significant life events and learn to recognize the human propensity to mythologize at work in their own lives. They gain a deeper understanding of the ways in which myth grows, evolves, and coalesces into a single, and singular, narrative. Participating in this workshop, one sees that the way one became oneself—how one was shaped and the patterns one’s life formed—isn’t accidental, nor is there at work a kind of supernaturally assigned destiny. The “self” is formed by a narrative woven together from a unique constellation of biological manifestations and personalized perspectives. And when life brings us to our knees, when we lose ourselves, it’s our helplessness that becomes our greatest asset. In the universe of the Grail Legends it seems that everything and everyone is connected—in Wolfram’s Parzival this is particularly so, and by recognizing those connections Parzival receives help at every turn. In the beginning, Parzival is utterly helpless, it’s true, but it is precisely that helplessness which becomes the greatest tool in his toolbox; helplessness inspires magic—another way to say this may be to say that helplessness catalyzes creativity, it’s the activator of enchantment. Perhaps it is helplessness itself that desires and searches for the Grail. Helplessness is also the spring from which morality flows, it helps us recognize the good and the just and, importantly, love. In his book, The Future of an Illusion, Sigmund Freud saw helplessness as “…the primal source of all moral motives” and we learn through the experience of helplessness that what’s good for us is often good for others. I want it to be clear that I’m speaking of a particular kind of helplessness, a generative helplessness, a helplessness that is curious and determined to learn, helplessness that is anxious without panicking, earnest without being innocent, a helplessness born of the awe one feels standing in uncertainty overwhelmed by the sublime mystery of existence. Neurotic helplessness is needy, desperate, dependent, grasping, and greedy; the wrong sort of helplessness repels and nullifies love, but generative helplessness inspires love, perhaps that’s why the grail romances spend so much time describing romantic love and the helplessness and vulnerability that attend it. Jimmy returned to the Esalen playshop the following year, and again for a third year, and every year thereafter for nearly two decades, because he found the playshop to be so nourishing and transformative. His relationship with Bob and with Campbell’s work became supremely important in developing his ability to make some sense of, to contextualize and reimagine the catastrophe of Katrina. Not only did Jimmy spontaneously provide and coordinate musical entertainment in the evenings after the day’s activities (as well as a grander production for the celebration of Campbell’s birthday which always fell during the week of the playshop), that third year at Esalen he began discussing ways to become more involved in the foundation. These discussions led Jimmy to take on the responsibilities for curating the audio database—digitizing, organizing, and enhancing the numerous lectures Campbell recorded over the course of his career, dating back to wire recordings made in 1941. Jimmy was something of an autodidact, teaching himself not just sound engineering, the new digital technologies which were rapidly evolving, or Campbell and Schopenhauer. Most recently, right up until some weeks before his death, he was exploring and teaching himself about AI and all its diverse applications. Working with Joseph Campbell’s material helped him to make meaning out of seemingly meaningless tragedies and gave him exciting new insights into events with which he was long familiar. For instance, Campbell’s work helped him understand, for the first time, the mythic meaning underlying the Mardi Gras celebration. “They don’t realize what they’re doing!” he once remarked excitedly to Bob Walter as he unpacked the symbolism of Mardi Gras. Finally, with a musician’s impeccable timing, Jimmy made the Great Leap into the mysterium on Leap Day, February 29th. Over the past several years Jimmy and I had conversations about death, his own and death in general—after all, it’s an irresistible topic and virtually dripping with inevitability. And yet, his indomitable joy in living, and his resolute determination to continue to do so, made it difficult to imagine that that day, Leap Day, would in fact, arrive. Death is a fundamentally impenetrable mystery of life, and it’s a mystery that, no matter how desperately we seek answers from it and for it, remains indifferent to human inquiry. What we do know is that life and death define one another; we wouldn’t recognize the one without the other. They’re inextricably linked in such a way that it suggests to me that they are likely one and the same. It appears to be impossible to know with certainty anything about the most important features or aspects of life, and death is no exception. We lurch through life hoping to uncover some vital piece of information that will, at long last, free us from an existential detention center and let us finally and freely live, rather than merely survive. But science, theology, and philosophy have been epistemologically inadequate when it comes to navigating what the poet Theodore Roethke called that “dark world where the gods have lost their way.” Therefore, we must here turn away from words and rather, feel or sense our way through the dark world, for this world is not made up of clearly drawn boundaries: up is not always up and down is not always down. Evil wins more often than it should, and good is sometimes mistaken for evil. That indistinctness, that grayness, covers the universe and embeds itself in time so that the very flow of it–its seconds, minutes, hours, and days–distorts, transforming one into another, making the languid second seem like days, while decades pass in the blink of an eye. But there are hints of something in us, Walt Whitman insists, that is without name. It is a word unsaid, it is not in any dictionary, utterance, symbol. Something it swings on more than the earth I swing on, To it the creation is the friend whose embracing awakes me. … Do you see O my brothers and sisters? It is not chaos or death—it is form, union, plan—it is eternal life—it is Happiness. Whitman goes on to say that he wishes he could find words to give to this presence, this indivisibility, this homogeneity, this indomitable, this perfect, inexhaustible dynamism of life… All goes onward and outward, nothing collapses, And to die is different from what any one supposed, and luckier. Has any one supposed it lucky to be born? I hasten to inform him or her it is just as lucky to die, and I know it (Song of Myself). It’s lucky to die?! I wish I could ask Jimmy if this is so. Pour a dram or two of a nice scotch and sit back while he regales me with tales of his sojourn through that “undiscovered country.” Perhaps he’d tell me the same thing Dante wrote in the Inferno: “Do not be Afraid; Our Fate Cannot be Taken From Us; it is a Gift.” Our fate is a gift. It’s lucky to die. Those like Walt Whitman, whose imagination was able to reach far enough into the Mysterium and pick up the straws in the wind, have always described an experience of death that is far, far removed from the mawkishly saccharine, schmaltzy idea of heaven or the ghastly, unrelenting and overdetermined image of hell. It seems, judging from such “letters from the front,” that the reality of it remains largely unimaginable, but death is without a doubt “different from what anyone supposed.” The great challenge is to see that one’s own fate—the one life that we have and must live—is also the life that we must love and experience as fully as possible, despite everything and no matter what happens in the living of it. However, there lies within the explorations of our own mortality an even greater achievement, a boon, if I might borrow a word from Campbell, and it is precisely this: to understand, as Dante did, that our fate will not, nor cannot, be taken from us. Our fate won’t be altered, renovated, or retrofitted. Despite all our efforts, we must live the life that we have. The great challenge is to see that one’s own fate—the one life that we have and must live—is also the life that we must love and experience as fully as possible, despite everything and no matter what happens in the living of it. The gift is discovered living this way, and it’s the most precious gift we could possibly receive, for by accepting our lives as they are, not needing or wanting anything to be different than it is, we make it possible to experience complete freedom. Jimmy Maxwell certainly aimed to do that and, suffering his loss, sad are the daughters of Mnemosyne. Silent, too, is the house of weeping, wine-dark Dionysos. Thanks for reading, To learn more about the extraordinary life of Jimmy Maxwell, go to https://everloved.com/life-of/james-maxwell/ MythBlast authored by: Bradley Olson, Ph.D. is an author, speaker, and a psychotherapist. He serves as the Publications Director for the Joseph Campbell Foundation, as well as the Editor of the MythBlast Series and the host of JCF's flagship podcast, Pathways With Joseph Campbell. Dr. Olsonholds a Ph.D. in Mythological Studies from Pacifica Graduate Institute. Dr. OIson is also a depth psychologist in private practice in Flagstaff, Arizona, where he has lived since 1995. Dr. Olson has graduate degrees in psychology from the University of Oklahoma. Dr. Olson offers mythic life coaching at What's Mything in Your Life (bradleyolsonphd.com). This MythBlast was inspired by The Power of Myth Episode 4, and Pathways to Bliss. Latest Podcast In this episode originally released in December 2022, Joseph Campbell Foundation’s Tyler Lapkin interviews British Explorer, Levison Wood. Levison is a world renowned explorer, writer & photographer who has written nine best-selling books and produced several critically acclaimed documentaries which have been aired around the globe. He has travelled and filmed in over one hundred countries worldwide, and his expeditions include walking the length of the river Nile, the Himalayas, all of central America and circumnavigating the Arabian Peninsula. His most recent project followed the migration and conservation of elephants in Botswana. He also has a new book, "Endurance: 100 Tales of Survival, Adventure and Exploration". John Bucher introduces the guests and follows up with commentary about their conversation. Find out more about Levison at http://www.levisonwood.com/ Listen Here This Week's Highlights "It’s the experience of death that I regard as the beginning of mythic thinking: actually seeing someone dead who was alive and talking to you yesterday—dead, cold, beginning to rot. Where did the life go? That’s the beginning of myth.” -Joseph Campbell -Myth & Meaning, 15 Life is Always on the Edge of Death (see more videos)

  • Homo: The Story-Telling Animal

    “We were not new. They were. Sapiens are just the improved model of Homo. Erectus was the first to journey. They were the original imagination-motivated travellers.” ---Daniel Everett (How Language Began: The History of Humanity’s Greatest Invention, 48) As we all know from Greek Mythology, Prometheus was the Titan and Creator God who stole Fire from the Olympian Gods and gave it to the benefit of humankind. What is often not recognized, however, is that the treasured Promethean Fire that made us human first came from the Goddess Athene, who “taught [Prometheus] architecture, astronomy, mathematics, navigation, medicine, metallurgy, and other useful arts, which he passed on to mankind” (Robert Graves, Greek Myths: Vol. I, p. 141). Athena was the source of the technological and scientific knowledge of the day, already mediated through the collective activity of Zeus as the principle of established social order among homo sapiens. The relationship between Prometheus and Athene has given rise to an abundance of mythic speculation. There is even a suggestion that the Titan and the Goddess had, at one point, a love affair. What we can say with more certainty is that Prometheus was there in attendance to the birth of Athene. He assisted Hephaestus, another Fire God, in the procedure of splitting open the head of Zeus “from which Athene sprang, fully armed, with a mighty shout” (Greek Myths, 51). As we recall the myth, Zeus fell into this state of pregnancy after swallowing the Goddess Metis, who was herself made pregnant by Zeus. The old fear that haunted Olympian lineage, punctuated by the image of a castrated Chronos, came back to Zeus. For it was prophesied that Metis would give birth to a son that could depose Zeus, just as he had done with Chronos, and Chronos Uranus. The great fear of castration at the heart of a patriarchal lineage is indicated here in the powerful connection between Athena and Metis. Although Athene thenceforth became branded as her “Father’s daughter,” she was fully functioning as herself within the new patriarchal order established by Zeus. The Titaness Metis, daughter of Okeanos and Tethys, was the original figure of archetypal wisdom. She was one of the Okeanides, a colossal sea-nymph, “Titan-goddess of good counsel, planning, cunning and wisdom” who “hatched the plan through which Kronos (Cronus) was forced to regurgitate his devoured children” (theoi.com). Metis thus played a crucial role during the great war of the Titanomachy, when the Olympians fought against the primeval order of the Titans. This tactical wisdom in war passed over to Athene, who thus carries her mother’s legacy into the patriarchal era. Even the ploy to steal the Fire back from the Olympians was possible only because of Athene. It was she who helped Prometheus gain access to the halls of Olympus through the back door. Only then could he steal a glowing piece of the Sun’s Chariot, wrap it in the pith of a fennel-stalk, and bring it back to humanity, thereby achieving general acclaim. Although Prometheus is the poster boy for human knowledge and inventiveness, a closer reading of the mythology can show a slightly different meaning. From the angle of the Goddesses, we can see the chthonic and tactical wisdom of the Goddesses irrepressibly pass through Zeus, from Thetys to Metis and finally Athene, before landing into the thieving hands of Prometheus as the vaunted “archetype of human existence” (Kerényi). Prometheus was not the Apollonic Hero that so enthralled the romantic period. He was a wily trickster figure and not the figure of an ideal humanity raised to the Divine. It was Prometheus’s treachery that provoked Zeus into punishing humans “by withholding fire from mankind. ‘Let them eat their flesh raw!’ he cried.” (The Greek Myths Vol. I, p. 141). Before Prometheus had to steal it back, humans already had fire at their disposal. Prometheus was not the Apollonic Hero that so enthralled the romantic period. He was a wily trickster figure and not the figure of an ideal humanity raised to the Divine. Although some will say it was originally Zeus, others insist it was Prometheus, who first gave fire to humanity, the fact remains that “humans” (hominins) have been using fire for well over a million years. Humanity had fire even before we became “human” (sapiens). If there was ever any fire theft, it did not come from some Olympian height but from the savage earthly origins of homo erectus and its kin, the first creatures on earth to use and control fire. These fellow humans, you might say, were entirely enveloped by the wisdom of the Goddess Gaia. They would fit “the mood […] of Mother Goddess thinking” where there is a perfect sense that “we are one with the deity” as Campbell says in Goddesses (228). These distinguished hominins not only possessed fire in the literal sense, they also possessed the Fire of the human mind, or as Daniel Everett argues, “Humanity’s Greatest Invention”: the symbolic power of Language (logos). Prometheus appears more like a propagandistic figure for sapienkind, appropriating the goods and discoveries of others as our own. For we did not invent fire or hunting and cooking technologies. These fundamental homo skills, which point to the use of language and its higher functions, are already present with homo erectus and its kin, who are the true Promethean figures of humanity as we know it today. We were not the first storytellers, they were. Theirs were the first conversations on earth. With them, the faculty of human language first emerged as a multi-dimensional symbolic order independent of sense perception. And Fire, both literal and symbolic, was their supreme invention. MythBlast authored by: Norland Tellez is an Artist and Teacher with over 25 years of experience in the animation industry. He graduated from CalArts in 1999 with a degree in film animation, while training and working at Walt Disney Studios, Turner Feature Animation, and Warner Brothers Feature Animation. As a Writer and Director, Norland has produced award-winning educational properties in Once Upon a Sign mini-series which features deaf actors using American Sign Language. As a teacher of Life Drawing and the animated arts, Norland has taught at CalArts and Santa Monica Academy of Entertainment and Technology, as well as AIC-LA. Norland completed a Masters and Doctorate degrees in the study of mythology at Pacifica Graduate Institute in 2009 with a dissertation on the Popol-Vuh, a classic of Mayan mythology. This MythBlast was inspired by The Power of Myth Episode 3, and Goddesses. Latest Podcast In this episode, Trudy Goodman speaks with Tyler Lapkin of the Joseph Campbell Foundation. One of the earliest teachers of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), Trudy taught with its creator, Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn at the MBSR clinic at University of Massachusetts Medical School in 1983. In 1995 she co-founded, and is still the Guiding Teacher at the Institute for Meditation and Psychotherapy, the first center in the world dedicated to exploring the synergy of these two disciplines. She was an early adopter and now smiles seeing mindfulness everywhere. In the conversation today, Tyler and Trudy discuss her life, meditation, mindfulness, and her perspective on the famous Campbell quote, "Participate Joyfully in the sorrows of the world". To learn more about Trudy visit: https://www.trudygoodman.com/ Listen Here This Week's Highlights "There is one bit of evidence earlier [of mythological thinking], and that comes from the period of Homo erectus (before Homo sapiens, before Neanderthal man) about 500,000 B.C. from the River Thames. A hand axe that’s very long, too big to use, but is symmetrically beautiful. This is what Robinson Jeffers called “divinely superfluous beauty,” and is the first signal we have of a tool that’s not simply a practical tool, but something that is a beautiful, beautiful piece of stone. No animal would do a thing like that. The only thing you can guess from it is for a ritual of some kind . . ." -Joseph Campbell -The Hero's Journey, 87 The Mythic World of the Navajo: The Vision of Black Elk (see more videos)

  • Entering the Mythscape of Pan’s Labyrinth

    Spoiler alert and content warning: This MythBlast discusses details of the film Pan’s Labyrinth, a movie that contains great beauty and graphic violence. Pan’s Labyrinth is rated R. If I could wave a magic wand and invite Joseph Campbell over for dinner tonight, the instant he walked in the door I would sit him down to watch Guillermo del Toro’s film Pan’s Labyrinth (2006). No pleasantries, no chit-chat, no snacks except popcorn and soda, not until he sees the movie. I can already imagine the look on his face when young Ofelia circles down the spiral stone staircase into the realm of the Underground, when the woodland faun first shudders awake, when Ofelia sets out to complete harrowing fairytale tasks to prove her true identity. Set in rural Spain in 1944, Pan’s Labyrinth weaves imagery of wonder with images from history, recreating the early years of Franco’s fascist rule after the Spanish Civil War. The main character, Ofelia, hovers on the brink of adolescence. Her father died in the war, and her mother remarried a cold-blooded captain in Franco’s army who embodies the patriarchal brutality of the regime. Ofelia and her mother, who is pregnant with the stepfather’s child, move to a remote mill where the captain runs a command post dedicated to wiping out “underground” resistance rebels in the forested hills. But the forest holds a mythic Underground as well as a human one. Ofelia's initiation in Pan's Labyrinth Near the end of his life, in the companion book to his conversations with Bill Moyers, Campbell mused that movies might function as substitutes for the ritual re-enactments of myth that serve as initiation rites in other cultures, “except that we don’t have the same kind of thinking going into the production of a movie that goes into the production of an initiation ritual” (The Power of Myth with Bill Moyers 102). Maybe that was the case in the 1980s when Campbell and Moyers created The Power of Myth, but Pan’s Labyrinth presents exactly what Campbell describes: a young woman’s passage into adulthood as a mythic initiation into maturity. When Ofelia first arrives at the mill, she is an innocent with a free spirit and a fixation on fairy tales. Wearing a green dress, green coat, and green leather shoes, she follows a flying bug into the forest and then down into the Underground, where she meets the faun and undertakes the terrifying tasks that pit her against monsters of many kinds: a giant toad, a cadaverous child-killer with eyes in his hands, and worst of all, her own stepfather. From the toad she learns the power of trickery, from the cadaver she learns to follow her intuition, and from her stepfather she learns who she isn’t: she isn’t him. She is, instead, someone who will bleed and die to protect those who are weaker, rather than hurting them for her own supposed benefit. Pan’s Labyrinth presents exactly what Campbell describes: a young woman’s passage into adulthood as a mythic initiation into maturity. None of these tasks is easy. Initiation never is. But each task teaches Ofelia something vital, something imperative. By learning these lessons in emotionally charged, dangerous situations, she changes forever. She is initiated into a new way of being. In this context, the terms learning, initiation, and transformation are nearly interchangeable. The final scene makes this point by showing the new Ofelia now wearing blood-red: red coat, red shoes, and a dress embroidered with red flowers. Having sacrificed her innocence in her initiation out of virginal, vegetal, unconscious childhood, she steps into her true identity. The cool greenery of leaves blossoms into the brilliant flowers of her authentic, mature, passionate self. Relocating the sacred toward greater equality I grew up in a religion that valued purity, obedience, heaven, and men. Women were literally and spiritually subordinate, a word that means “below ordination.” Only men were ordained to religious authority, which meant there were no women in the room when men decided how to run things—from the smallest congregation all the way up to church headquarters—and for guidance, the men consulted scriptures full of overt and covert misogyny. Pan’s Labyrinth, on the other hand, values dirt, disobedience, earth, and women. For example, Ofelia gets covered in mud in her confrontation with the toad, while the most well-groomed person in the film is the fastidious, hollow-hearted captain. Ofelia learns to follow her intuition and conscience rather than blindly obeying outside forces. Instead of a distant heaven, the movie presents a majestic Underground Realm, an earth-centered image of the divinity beneath the everyday world containing a trinity of Father, Mother, and Holy Daughter. “You are not born of man,” the faun pointedly tells Ofelia (0:23:17), in a clear revision of the sexist Biblical phrase, “son of man.” Pan’s Labyrinth relocates the sacred away from patriarchy, thereby initiating the viewer into a spiritualized, co-creative vision of gender equality. Ofelia learns to follow her intuition and conscience rather than blindly obeying outside forces. Joseph Campbell taught at a progressive women’s college for thirty-eight years, from 1934-1972. Year after year, from the Great Depression through World War II, the post-war years, the civil rights movement, and the Vietnam War, Campbell inspired classrooms full of young women with the transformational possibilities of myth in a time when society hadn’t yet allowed them the right to hold credit cards. “All I can tell you about mythology,” he would say, “is what men have said and have experienced, and now women have to tell us from their point of view what the possibilities of the feminine future are” (Goddesses 263). Many women have accepted that challenge, before and after Campbell issued it, but what gives me even more hope for gender equality is when men imagine into and champion the experience of women, as del Toro does in Pan’s Labyrinth. With empathy and affection, the film portrays complex female characters, exposes the soul-violence of patriarchal oppression, and shows male characters who treat women as honored, beloved equals. Pan's Labyrinth and Campbell's four functions of myth In his interviews with Bill Moyers, Campbell said that the artist’s task is “the mythologization of the environment” (The Power of Myth with Bill Moyers 107). For Campbell, that would mean shaping some aspect of the world into a narrative, Spanish fascism under Franco for example, imbuing the narrative with wonder and awe, showing how to cope psychologically with the situation, and pointing to the mystery that lies just behind it. In other words, illustrating Campbell’s four functions of myth. Pan’s Labyrinth accomplishes exactly that. Sociologically, the film reveals the brutality of fascist oppression and the possibility of gender equality. Psychologically, Ofelia develops her intuition and conscience. Cosmologically, an ensouled natural world of beauty and vitality encompasses the built world. Metaphysically, everything springs from the animating source of the Underground Realm, an enchanted font of earth energy that gives rise to all and imbues the world with magic. The faun embodies an especially poignant image of sacred, animate earth. With woody limbs and curving horns, he serves as an earthen-animal-human shaman-priest, facilitating Ofelia’s initiation. Del Toro plays a similar role, facilitating the initiation viewers experience. Everything springs from the animating source of the Underground Realm, an enchanted font of earth energy that gives rise to all and imbues the world with magic. When the movie ends, my imaginary dinner party would move to the kitchen table. Because I have a magic wand, I might as well invite del Toro over as well. I’d conjure spaghetti with homemade tomato sauce, fresh bread, olive oil for dipping, and wine to wash it all down. For dessert, walnut brownies with a glossy frosting of melted chocolate and butter—anything to keep my guests talking. So much has happened since The Power of Myth and Pan’s Labyrinth were released. I’d love to hear what the creators of these works have to say about our current mythic moment. MythBlast authored by: Joanna Gardner, PhD, is a writer, mythologist, and magical realist whose research and teaching focus on creativity, goddesses, and wonder tales. Joanna serves as director of marketing and communications for the Joseph Campbell Foundation and is the lead author of the Foundation's book Goddesses: A Skeleton Key Study Guide. She is also an adjunct professor in Pacifica Graduate Institute’s Mythological Studies program, and a co-founder of the Fates and Graces, hosting webinars and workshops for mythic readers and writers. To read Joanna's blog and additional publications, you are most cordially invited to visit her website at joannagardner.com. This MythBlast was inspired by The Power of Myth Episode 3, and Goddesses. Latest Podcast Joseph Campbell speaks at Cooper Union in New York in 1967 on the many images of the divine mystery -- a topic he famously wrote about in his book series, The Masks of God. Host, Brad Olson, offers an introduction and commentary after the talk in this pilot episode of the Pathways podcast. Listen Here This Week's Highlights "What we are taught today mainly has to do with economics and politics. We are not nurturing our spiritual side. So we are left with this void. It's the job of the artist to create these new myths. Myths come from the artists." -Joseph Campbell - Myth and Meaning, 177 Living in Accord With Nature (see more videos)

  • Myth Comes for the Archbishop

    Joseph Campbell liked to say that mythology may be defined as “other people's religion,” a way of dismissing foreign orthodoxies as fiction while recognizing our own as truth. For Archbishop Juan de Zumárraga, the gods and goddesses of 16th Century Mexico were mere fictions, mythology at its most pernicious. Though he seemed to have exercised genuine pastoral concern for his illiterate flock, Zumárraga would not have gained his high rank by being soft on paganism. Indeed, as a former inquisitor, he demanded strict obedience from his native Nahua congregations and once even ordered the execution of a heretic. Most people have some familiarity with the historical and a-historical events associated with Our Lady of Guadalupe but may have forgotten Zumárraga’s role in the story: A peasant named Juan Diego starts tripping on a vision of Mary, mother of Christ, who appears uncharacteristically dressed as a native of Juan’s own Nahuatl tribe, whose skin is dark, like his, and who speaks in his indigenous language. But the archbishop, Zumárraga, demands proof that a miracle has taken place in the desert. The proof, as many will recall, comes in the nature of a two-part miracle. First, Our Lady produces fresh Spanish roses, a clear impossibility since it is the dead of winter. The second part of the miracle has sustained the cult for the last half-millennium. Contravening the laws of nature, an image of mysterious origin appears on the rough maguey cloth of the peasant tilma worn by Juan that day, a visual reproduction of the very woman Juan encountered at the top of the hill. The image is rich in mythological symbolism but, at its core, it appears to be a kind of self-portrait of Mary, the mother of God. Thus, the Archbishop is convinced of the supramundane provenance of the picture and the rest is the History of Mexico. So goes the story. The problem is this: The Archbishop never publicly endorsed the devotion of Our Lady of Guadalupe, never openly recalled his December encounter with a peasant named Juan Diego and seems to have had nothing but disdain for popular devotions based on miracle accounts. His words, years after the “miracle:” You ought not, brethren, give way to the thoughts and blasphemies of the world, which tempts souls with the desire to see by marvel and miracles what they believe by faith...The redeemer of the world no longer wants miracles to be worked because they are not necessary, because our holy faith is so well established by so many thousands of miracles we have in the old and New Testaments. (Pool, qt. Zumárraga, 35) Zumárraga would have probably been reluctant to recognize the validity of the apparition because of its problematic location. Tepeyac wasn’t just a grassy knoll outside Mexico City. It was the holy precinct of Tonantzin, the Great Mother, the snake woman, a deity sometimes called Coatlicue (serpent skirt), sometimes Cihuacoatl (woman serpent). Called by any name, one stands out: Goddess. She takes the pronoun thou. Tonantzin is a Goddess and belongs to that sacred sorority which Campbell had reduced to a familiar litany, one he loved to recite: “In Classical myths, she appears as Aphrodite, Artemis, Demeter, Persephone, Athena, Hera, Hecate, the Three Graces, the Nine Muses, the Furies, and so on. In Egypt she appears as Isis, in old Babylon as Ishtar, in Sumeria as Inanna; among the western Semites she’s Astarte. It’s the same goddess, and the first thing to realize is that she is a total goddess and as such has associations over the whole field of the culture system” (Goddess: Mysteries of the Feminine Divine, p. 22). Patriarchies often seem to be natural-born goddess hunters and Western civilization has waged an on-again, off-again war against the Goddess—by whatever name—for at least 4000 years. One thinks of Marduk dethroning his own grandmother, Tiamat, so that a panel of male deities might run the Babylonian heavens as they see fit. Or the Indo-European warlords subjugating peaceful, Neolithic villages of Old Europe and eliminating its goddess cults as they encounter them. Or Israel, fighting a war against the “Abomination,” their preferred title for the goddess. Campbell notes that “when the Semites moved in as conquerors, then, they dislodged deities to make way for their own…” (The Power of Myth, p. 55). By the 1200’s, the centuries-long push to eliminate the feminine aspect of the divine throughout Europe had resulted in a kind of sacred subterfuge. The Goddess wasn’t gone. Not at all. She was just hunkering down in her somewhat reduced role as the mother of Jesus. “The goddess comes back into the Christian, anti-Goddess tradition by way of Mary, Mother of God, and there has been, particularly in Catholicism, a steady magnification of the Virgin from the fifth century A.D. to the present” (Goddesses, 350). Despite the sentimental role history has assigned to him, Zumárraga probably had doubts about Guadalupe for the rest of his life suspecting that this “Mary” was nothing more than Tonantzin in disguise. Here is a report which probably came across his desk which he probably endorsed. Near the mountains are three or four places where they used to offer very solemn sacrifices, and they would come to them from very distant lands. One of these is here in Mexico [City], where there is a hill that is called Tepeyacac [sic] and the Spaniards call Tepeaquilla and is now called Our Lady of Guadalupe. In this place they used to have a temple dedicated to the mother of the gods, whom they called Tonantzin, which means “our mother.” …Now that the church of Our Lady of Guadalupe has been built there, they also call her [or it] Tonantzin… It is something that should be remedied because the proper name for the Mother of God, Our Lady, is not Tonantzin but Dios inantzin. This appears to be an invention of the devil to cover over idolatry under the ambiguity of this name Tonantzin” (Stafford Poole, Our Lady of Guadalupe: The Origins and Sources of a Mexican National Symbol, 1531-1797, p. 78). Mythology is other people’s religion. It is always an archbishop’s job to know the difference and so, just in case there was any ambiguity, a 1694 episcopal edict was read publicly at the church of Guadalupe forbidding all associations with former religious practices at the site so that “no remnant of heresy or error should remain in the land… not even superstition of the former heathenism that had its adoration on the hill of Guadalupe” (Poole, 155). Five centuries later, history has rendered its verdict. Tonantzin is virtually unknown, all former rites are forgotten, and meanwhile some twenty million pilgrims have annually visited the shrine at Guadalupe for the merest glimpse of the famous pictograph hanging in a frame above the altar outside of Mexico City. Goddess or not, the woman who brought roses to a recent convert to Catholicism accomplished for the natives of Mexico what Yahweh accomplished for the people of Israel at Sinai.  The Hebrew God conferred upon his chosen people an historical identity in the form of ten written principles or commandments by which they were to define themselves as a culture. Our Lady of Guadalupe arrived on Tepeyac one brisk December morning in 1531 for the same purpose, leaving behind neither treatise nor tract, conveying the birth of a new people wordlessly in the language of pictograph--the textile as text. In the pursuit of truth over fiction, the inescapable theme of Tepeyac is sometimes overlooked or ignored altogether. Quite simply, “The lesson taught by Guadalupe was the value of the natives as persons” (Poole, 165). The message falls short of the miraculous but must have appeared so to Juan Diego when he was admitted seeing the Archbishop of Mexico without an appointment. The Virgin had made herself visible to Juan. In doing so, an indigenous people became visible to those who preferred not to see them. MythBlast authored by: John Bonaduce, PhD, a seasoned writer for Norman Lear and for most of the major Hollywood studios (Fox, Paramount, Warner Bros, et al.) developed a profound interest in story structure beyond the commercial objectives of the industry. His exploration led him to conclude that much of what we call myth derives from a biological origin. This insight inspired his pursuit of deeper relationships between biology and narrative through his theory of Mythobiogenesis, which he explored in his dissertation at Pacifica Graduate Institute and was recognized as a “discovery” in the field of prenatal psychology by Dr. Thomas Verny. John was recently appointed to the editorial board of the Journal of Prenatal and Perinatal Psychology and Health (JOPPPH) where he advocates for an unrecognized level of human consciousness which exists at the border of biology and mythology. As a featured writer for the Joseph Campbell Foundation’s MythBlast, he passionately showcases Joseph Campbell’s enduring relevance to a modern audience. Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to John J. Bonaduce, 12437 Sylvan St., No. Hollywood, CA 91606 or jbonaduce52@gmail.com This MythBlast was inspired by The Power of Myth Episode 3, and Goddesses. Latest Podcast In this episode, we are joined by Trudy Goodman. One of the earliest teachers of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), Trudy taught with its creator, Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn at the MBSR clinic at University of Massachusetts Medical School in 1983. In 1995 she co-founded, and is still the Guiding Teacher at the Institute for Meditation and Psychotherapy, the first center in the world dedicated to exploring the synergy of these two disciplines. She was an early adopter and now smiles seeing mindfulness everywhere. After becoming a mother, Trudy was fascinated by human development, and studied w Jean Piaget in Geneva, Carol Gilligan, Lawrence Kohlberg, and Jerome Bruner at Harvard. Trudy co-founded a school for distressed children, practicing mindfulness-based psychotherapy with children, parents, teenagers, couples and individuals. She enjoys the company of kids of all ages and has kept her own child-like wonder and curiosity about the world she loves. Since 1974, Trudy has devoted much of her life to practicing Buddhist meditation with great Asian and Western teachers in the Zen and Theravada traditions. From 1991 to 1998, Trudy was a resident Zen teacher at the Cambridge Buddhist Association. She then moved to Los Angeles and founded InsightLA, the first center in the world to combine training in both Buddhist Insight (Vipassana) Meditation and non-sectarian mindfulness and compassion practices. Trudy has always been a connector of people, spiritual traditions, cultures, and communities, carrying her Zen delight across the divides. Trudy has trained a new generation of teachers, mindfulness humanitarians who make mindfulness and meditation classes available for professional caregivers, social justice and environmental activists, first responders, teachers, and unsung individuals working on the front lines of suffering – all done with tenderness, courage and a simple commitment to holding hands together. Trudy conducts retreats and workshops worldwide – from the hallowed halls of Mazu Daoyi’s Ch’an monastery in China, to leading trainings on the ground in the intense heat of Darfuri refugee camps in Eastern Chad on the Sudanese border. She has loved it all. Trudy is still creating new projects and good trouble wherever she can. Details to be found in her forthcoming memoir! In the conversation today we discuss her life, meditation, mindfulness, and her perspective on the famous Campbell quote, "Participate Joyfully in the sorrows of the world". To learn more about Trudy, visit: https://www.trudygoodman.com/ Listen Here This Week's Highlights "In Classical myths, she appears as Aphrodite, Artemis, Demeter, Persephone, Athena, Hera, Hecate, the Three Graces, the Nine Muses, the Furies, and so on. In Egypt she appears as Isis, in old Babylon as Ishtar, in Sumer as Inanna; among the western Semites she’s Astarte. It’s the same goddess, and the first thing to realize is that she is a total goddess and as such has associations over the whole field of the culture system. In later periods these different associations became specified and separated off into various specialized goddesses." -Joseph Campbell - Goddesses, 22 Psyche & Symbol: The Origin of Elementary Ideas (see more videos)

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