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  • To Radiate and Create

    Life among the luminous As the sixth of seven children, I grew up surrounded by people who towered over me and performed feats of astonishing creativity and capacity. My brother was a centaur riding his motorcycle. Dad designed a car wash machine, penciling mysterious schematics of circuitry onto flattened cardboard boxes, as Hephaestus might if he owned a gas station. Mom floated on air when she executed swan dives into the lake, and, in winter, on the frozen pond behind the house, she skated circles around me—forward and backward—like a water spirit of the north. My four older sisters drew, painted, baked, photographed, sewed, played basketball, softball, and piano, and regaled me with stories they invented on the spot. One sister would materialize as though out of nowhere to give me magical elixirs—a bottle heated to just the right temperature, a tiny cup of “jello juice” she scooped from the mixing bowl before the liquid gelatin went into the fridge. I can still taste that sweet, warm, red nectar. When my younger sister arrived, she glowed like the divine child with eyes of clear blue quartz and gleaming coppery hair. It all felt miraculous. Stunning. I had blundered into a pantheon of powers greater than myself, and I adored them all, exactly the way I would so many goddesses and gods. I had blundered into a pantheon of powers greater than myself, and I adored them all, exactly the way I would so many goddesses and gods. With no language to describe it, I was experiencing my family’s transparence to transcendence, as Joseph Campbell calls it ( The Hero’s Journey: Joseph Campbell on His Life and Work  51). My child’s eyes let me see what Campbell calls “the radiance of the presence of the divine” ( The Power of Myth  267). That radiance shone through my family as though through a cluster of suns. Unfortunately, I was hopelessly opaque.   When the light dims So there I was, handed from giant to dazzling giant, tossed in the air like a squealing beach ball, spun in circles then set down to fall over in the grass, laughing with giddy dizziness—much the way religious experience leaves me feeling. But I had no awareness of my own talents. I couldn’t sense Campbell’s radiance shining through me. This luminosity, for Campbell, occurs especially in the experience of art, poetry, myth, and religion ( The Power of Myth  277, 283, 259, 285)—all of which are fields of human creativity. I knew it existed, because I’d seen it from the outside, but I had no experience of it myself. All I had was a desperate desire to participate in the fun everyone else was having. Before long my siblings started going off to college, marriages, jobs, journeys. I wept at the airport when we dropped them off. It was like I lost God, every single time. I self-medicated with books—another form of creative marvel which I had no idea how to make. I longed to write stories, the way the Brontë sisters did. But no one taught me how, not in high school, not in college. So, after graduating, I read about narrative structure. I attended writing classes and conferences. I joined writing groups, and I wrote terrible stories, one after another after another. Ten full years of this went by, and then one day I came across Ray Bradbury’s book Zen and the Art of Writing , in which he advises aspiring writers to write one story a week every week for a year. Well, why not? Nothing else had worked, so I rolled up my sleeves. The first week, I wrote a terrible story. The second week, a horrible story. Weeks three, four, five, and six: awful story after awful story. My settings lacked vitality. Plots petered out. Characters lay flat on the page, stubbornly refusing to stand up and do anything. Looking back, I must have been as stubborn as they were. My grim determination would not let me give up, no matter how much I despaired over each failure. Stubbornness, meet surrender In the seventh week of my Bradbury challenge, I had a vague idea for a character and setting. The first few pages filled up decently well, but the middle slowed down. Words dried to a trickle. Then they stopped. I had no idea what came next. The sun had gone down, and it was a Thursday—late in the week, late in the day, late in my soul. Why was I unable to write a story? None of my siblings would struggle like this, not with their array of talents. But it was time to make supper, so I gave up. This story would be another swing and a miss. I turned off my computer and trudged down the shadowy staircase from my office to the kitchen, letting gravity do most of the work. Downstairs, the windows were squares of the evening’s deepening blue, the furniture all but invisible in the dark. As I stepped off the last stair, I flipped the switch for the kitchen lights, as I always did. Unlike other times, though, this time when the kitchen lit up, so did the story’s ending. There it was, all at once, and it was perfect. Perfect! I loved it! Surprising yet inevitable, it fit the previous pages like a key in a lock, and I had not invented it. The story’s ending arrived in my mind all on its own, at the same moment as that burst of light. Electrical light and story light flooded me both at once, along with a feeling of indescribable joy and impossible delight, wordless, timeless, thrilling, alive. If a camera had recorded that moment, it might have captured Eureka photons beaming from my ears, somewhere on the light spectrum just this side of indigo. The radiance. The divine. Still breathless, I wrote up the ending. That was my first published story. But while I edited, I was looking over my shoulder. Who or what had come up with that ending? It certainly wasn’t me. A creativity credo  I was thirty-five when that story’s ending burst in and lit up my imagination. That’s thirty-five trips around the sun before I found a situation where the radiance could shine through. Afterwards, it became more accessible. That’s why I believe creativity can be cultivated. But chasing the mystery of how that insight happened became more urgent for me than writing more stories. The embodied sensation of light was so overwhelming, so benefic, that I found myself in graduate school learning about creativity and creation myth. I never solved the mystery, and I never will, but I learned that creation myths represent creativity metaphorically, masking the radiance in stories about forces that pour into the world, stop us in our tracks, break through sometimes in the experience of art, myth, and religion. I believe Campbell is right that mythic images represent our spiritual potential, and encountering them, thinking about them, actually activates them in our lives ( The Power of Myth  273). If goddesses and gods embody and evoke cosmic powers, creator deities embody and evoke creativity. And because creator deities are sacred, so is creativity. My siblings remain bathed in wonder to me. I’ll never stop trying to earn my place among them. I have come to believe their exploits were, in fact, so many acts of God, and I believe our birthright—yours, mine, and everyone’s—is to radiate and create. 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 . This MythBlast was inspired by  The Power of Myth  Episode 6, and The Hero's Journey Latest Podcast Pathways Bonus: The Psychological Basis of Freedom Q&A In this bonus Q&A episode, Campbell answers questions about the nature of freedom, the origins of religion, following one's bliss, living out of one's center, and aesthetic arrest. It is taken from the Q&A session after his lecture, "The Psychological Basis of Freedom", recorded at Bennett College in North Carolina in 1970. Listen Here This Week's Highlights "Just as anyone who listens to the muse will hear, you can write out of your own intention or out of inspiration. There is such a thing. It comes up and talks. And those who have heard deeply the rhythms and hymns of the gods, the words of the gods, can recite those hymns in such a way the gods will be attracted." -- Joseph Campbell The Hero’s Journey, 147 Kundalini Yoga - The God Syllable "AUM" (see more videos) Subscribe to the MythBlast Newsletter

  • 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 . 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)

  • Monstrous Weather: Meeting the Sublime in the Sky

    I will never forget the feelings of anticipation I experienced as I was growing up in Florida when June approached every year. Any given summer day would give a chance for nature to unleash thunderstorms. The Florida peninsula’s geography creates bicoastal sea breezes that, combined with high humidity, regularly spawn intense tropical deluges. Never mind that summer also signals the official hurricane season, generating huge cyclones in the Atlantic, Gulf of Mexico, and Caribbean; these localized storms, with frequent lightning, slashing and heavy downpours, and even occasional hail and tornadoes, force residents to always “keep a weather eye out.” So much was I entranced by the power of these sky phenomena that I seriously considered a career in meteorology—that is, until I began the study of physics and found out we didn’t get along well. My love affair with extreme weather lasted far beyond my decision about college major and career. As the technology to track and predict storms improved, so did the number of people with video equipment recording them passively—or actively chasing them. I couldn’t get enough of watching both hurricane and tornado footage, at first in documentaries, then on The Weather Channel, and later via YouTube. But I never quite understood my fascination with and attraction for them, especially given the destructive consequences of these storms in terms of both lives and property…until I learned about “the sublime.” The sublime evolution The concept of the sublime has morphed over the years since its first major introduction in the Greek work On the Sublime , written around the first century C.E. by an unknown author referred to as Pseudo-Longinus. In its most general definition, the sublime is the quality ascribed to something that induces feelings of grandeur or elevation. From the 18th century onward, the sublime evolved to be more descriptive of natural phenomena. It also became distinct from mere beauty in that it included feelings of terror and awe. Beauty, though wonderful, seems more possessable and comforting; the sublime cannot be controlled and thus invokes some fear. In his The Power of Myth conversation with Bill Moyers called “ Masks of Eternity ,” Joseph Campbell discusses the relationship between epiphanies of the Divine and our aesthetic encounters. Moyers contends that this must be a beautiful experience, but Campbell counters, “I tell you, there’s another emotion associated with art which is not of the beautiful, but of the sublime. And what we call monsters can be seen as sublime. And they represent powers too great for the mere forms of life to survive” (36:57-37:22). Moyers wrestles in this moment between the ethical judgment of beauty as good and the monstrous as bad. Shouldn’t the Eternal (behind the “mask”) be only good? Shouldn’t the Eternal (behind the “mask”) be only good? The word sublime still evokes the connotations of both allure and excellence, and the way in which Campbell elucidates it—drawn primarily from Arthur Schopenhauer—seems jarring at first. However, just as in Robert Fagles’ translation of The Iliad the old chiefs of Troy describe Helen oxymoronically as, “Beauty! Terrible beauty!” (3.190), I began to appreciate this more complex and even paradoxical definition of sublime when I began to contemplate my love of storms. If someone were to say, “The weather is beautiful,” most people not only normally think of pleasing qualities (comfortable temperatures, clear skies, etc.) but also a sense of calm , i.e. no ominous displays of the overwhelming power of nature. In its deeper, philosophical sense, saying “The weather is sublime” would have to include not just unpleasant qualities but forces that would be dangerous. In fact, when we call someone “a force of nature,” we mean having a relentless and unstoppable character. And sustained, intense power often becomes life-threatening. Fear and wonder in the wind Witnessing a thunderstorm, a tornado, or a hurricane that instills this realization of how helpless we are in the face of nature can foster a sense of the overwhelming power of Divinity. Moreover, it can deflate our exaggerated sense of self. “Somehow with the diminishment of your own ego,” Campell further explains to Moyers, “the consciousness expands. This is the experience of the sublime…of tremendous power and energy” (37:51-38:08). When the ego senses a threat to survival, the most common human reaction is fear, and anything fear-invoking is labeled as bad. But don’t humans also seek out fear—from horror films to roller coasters? Something in that feeling of ego diminishment and the contact with uncontrollable energy beckons us, and Campbell affirms that it can give us a peek behind one of the masks of eternity. So despite my moral misgivings about enjoying (and sometimes even wishing for) weather events that may cause losses of property and life, this rapture at the sublime is, as Campbell offers, “transcendent of ethics, no didactics.” The very fact that nature can and does destroy helps convey the sublime feeling. Likewise, the dozens of amateur videos I have watched of people filming tornadoes, some within hundreds of yards (which many commenters decry as suicidal and foolish), further indicates the compelling influence of the sublime on people. In these types of phenomena, Campbell suggests in “Masks of Eternity” that “the monster comes through,” something that “breaks all your standards for harmony and ethical conduct” (38:42-38:54), including self-preservation and -protection. I sometimes look back on the twists and turns of my life and wonder what kind of career I might have enjoyed had I pushed through my fear of the study of physics to become a meteorologist. Naturally, the job of storm chaser comes to mind, gathering data on severe weather from the closest of perspectives—on the ground, at least. And while the idea of that activity being “in the name of science” assuages my need for the lost career path to be logical, I can’t help but feel deep down that chasing storms for me would also be chasing the sublime. That realization makes me feel much more connected to humanity than having a purely rational reason. 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 6, and The Hero's Journey Latest Podcast   In this episode, we welcome Dr. Ben Rogers. Dr. Rogers is an Assistant Professor of Management & Organization at Boston College. He the author of a groundbreaking research paper published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, which reveals how framing our own lives a Hero’s Journey is associated with psychological benefits such as enhanced well-being, greater life satisfaction, a sense of flourishing, and reduced depression. “The way that people tell their life story shapes how meaningful their lives feel,” he says. “And you don’t have to live a super heroic life or be a person of adventure—virtually anyone can rewrite their story as a Hero’s Journey.” In the episode, JCF'S John Bucher speaks with Ben about Ben’s research, why Campbell’s Hero’s Journey structure is such a powerful context for storytelling, and how adopting the narrative structure of the hero's journey can enrich our lives with greater meaning and sense of fulfillment. Listen Here This Week's Highlights " Cosmic space and great distances may be experienced as sublime; also, detonations of prodigious power. If beauty so heightens our sense of life that esthetics may be termed “applied physiology,” the sublime, transcending physical definitions, suggests magnitudes exceeding life; not refuting, but augmenting life." -- Joseph Campbell The Inner Reaches of Outer Space , 92 The Heavenly Moment (see more videos) Subscribe to the MythBlast Newsletter

  • The Masks of the Imperial Gaze

    “From very early—around four or five years old—I was fascinated by American Indians, and that became my real studying. I went to school and had no problems with my studies, but my own enthusiasm was in this maverick realm of the American Indian mythologies.” —Joseph Campbell (The Hero’s Journey 6) The maverick realm of Native American mythologies ignited the transcendent passion for mythology that Joseph Campbell is known for. The Native American spirit inspired Campbell to study myth and beyond; it revealed to him a world of wonder and philosophic insight. After all, as Aristotle famously put it, “a man who is puzzled and wonders thinks himself ignorant (whence even the lover of myth is in a sense a lover of Wisdom, for the myth is composed of wonders).” (Metaphysics 982b19) Native American Mythologies extend their wonders and wisdom far south of the border, spreading mythography across three subcontinents: North, Central, and South America. If we were to travel with native leaders across these native lands, we would experience a variety of rituals and customs, strange languages and symbolism, all bearing testimony to the rich creativity of the indigenous mythological imagination. At the same time, we would also be struck by a fundamental sense of agreement, a common-sense wisdom, everywhere shared by indigenous peoples across the Americas—and beyond. The wisdom of the peoples Struck by this remarkable archetypal sympathy among Native peoples, Chief Oren Lyons—a faithkeeper of the Turtle Clan, esteemed member of the Onondaga Council of Chiefs, Haudenosaunee (Six Nations Iroquois Confederacy)—gives testimony to this profound accord of Native American Wisdom. When he visited the Maya in Central America, despite not knowing the language, the specific dances, or rituals, somehow “I know what’s going on,” said the Iroquois Chief. “It’s always the same,” he continued, “Thanksgiving to the creation. Thanksgiving to the life-giving forces of the earth” (“Tree Media: Oren Lyons on the Indigenous View of the World" 15:20-52). There is a shared font of wisdom that unites indigenous peoples across the earth. Rather than a secret anti-rational or “mystical” doctrine reserved for the privileged few, however, the Wisdom of the Peoples gives itself out as the plainest of rational common sense. Otherwise it would not be of the people. There is a shared font of wisdom that unites indigenous peoples across the earth As Chief Lyons reiterated, it comes down to the most elementary lessons of human coexistence, such as the principle of sharing, about which the Council of Iroquois Nations found themselves in “profound agreement,” summing up their treaty in the emblem: “one dish, one spoon.” Everyone deserves one dish, one spoon. No one should go without. Food and shelter, healthcare and education, are all human rights and not privileges for those who can afford them. Understand, we are all in the same boat, etc. Such are the simple lessons we used to pass to our children: don’t think only about yourself, learn to share; don’t fight, make peace. Be grateful to the earth. Respect the natural environment and its biodiversity, your elders, etc. These lessons seem so childishly simple, and yet, as Chief Lyons observes, everything in our capitalist culture is hell-bent on giving us the “opposite instruction”: think only about yourself; care only for your private gains and benefits; amass more wealth and power; be content to serve your corporate masters, and do not concern yourself with the fate of others. “And they’re rewarded for that” (14:00-15:07), says the Chief Elder, thus underlining the madness of so-called Western civilization. For the sake of this narcissistic lifestyle, representing the triumph of hyper-individualism, our society rewards sociopaths, liars, thieves, and scoundrels. Dismantling the colonial gaze This is not a controversial claim. All native people across the globe are in full agreement with a growing consensus among young people: our system, in its current shape, causes a lot more harm than good. Placing profits over people, it is committed to the destruction and ruthless exploitation of our environment, our labor, and our very souls. There is nothing that is not for sale within the frameworks of global capitalism, including the human soul. Rather than promoting “democracy” and “freedom,” the interests of a tiny minority takes precedence over the common good—nay, even over the survival of entire peoples, life forms, and ecosystems. There is something absolutely crazy about the system, something that runs against the exercise of reason and common sense. It is no wonder that its ideological matrix profits from the irrationalist “mythic” core of our belief systems and pet theories. Power centers do not want a population to think rationally, to think critically, structurally, about the economic logic of the system that determines and shapes our entire society. It does not want us to see through the basic ideological fantasy that underlies it, namely, the Hobbesian idea that human beings are fundamentally selfish and greedy, and badly in need of a Master. Enemy of the state If we are true seekers of Native American wisdom, however, we cannot get on board this irrationalist bandwagon which opens the door to a narcissistic appropriation of myth as a tool for our success in a capitalist system. We need to be critically aware that this narcissistic appropriation of the other is an extension of the colonial gaze that already frames our study of mythology. As we approach native cultures, we must wrestle with our own unconscious prejudices and beliefs, powerful ideological fantasies that have been driven into us since we were children playing cowboy and Indians. This objectifying and exoticizing gaze is itself derived from hegemonic power structures and material conditions which we take for granted in the West. These economic and political structures have a powerful ideological or “spiritual” hold over Western readers, who are in every way predisposed—or “educated”—to side with imperialist projects of any description. Smuggling the colonial gaze into the study of Native American Wisdom, we do not notice the fatal contradiction inherent in the “metaphysical” violence of our objectifying quest. The patronizing adoration of indigenous culture, the dismissal of their common-sense wisdom as childish or archaic—all speak to the symbolic violence of this colonial gaze. But this violence of cultural appropriation is only an offshoot of the quite real, murderous violence that has always accompanied colonial projects throughout their history. Placing Native bodies in the killing fields of genocidal conquest, the colonial gaze is by definition in full support of imperialist domination over Native peoples and their lands. As the all-seeing eye of “Western interests” with its well-funded capacity to unleash hell on earth, the imperial gaze is ready to annihilate anyone standing in its way—not excluding women and children, schools and hospitals. Accelerating climate catastrophe and socio-economic breakdown, supporting genocidal wars and courting nuclear holocaust, this disastrous mindset is driving us today, full force, to the literal brink of extinction. In the ideological matrix of cultural capitalism, Native American wisdom can only appear as the enemy. Chief Lyons expressed as much when he said that “the American structure” is everywhere giving us “instructions” to go directly against the principle of sharing, that is, against the communitarian sense and socialist vision of the Wisdom of the Peoples. Within the hegemonic space of this selfish culture, “you have an instruction that’s contrary—very contrary to this concept [of sharing]” (15:08- 15:17). How do we subvert and dismantle the colonial cage? Not without a revolution of thought and vision. MythBlast authored by: Norland Téllez is an award-winning writer and animation director who currently teaches Animation and Character Design courses at Otis College of Art and Design, Cal State Fullerton. He is also conducting a Life Drawing Lab at USC School of Cinematic Arts. He earned his Ph.D. from Pacifica Graduate Institute in 2009 with a dissertation on the Popol-Wuh of the K’iche’ Maya, which he is currently translating and illustrating in its archetypal dimensions as the Wisdom of the Peoples. You can learn more at This MythBlast was inspired by The Power of Myth Episode 6, and The Hero's Journey Latest Podcast Welcome to the fourth season of Pathways with Joseph Campbell! This episode entitled, "The Psychological Basis of Freedom", was recorded at Bennett College in North Carolina in 1970. Host, Bradley Olson introduces the episode and gives commentary after the lecture. Listen Here This Week's Highlights "Black Elk was a Lakota Oglala Sioux who had in his youth a mystical vision of the destiny before his people. He saw “the hoop of his nation,” as he called it, as one of many hoops, and all the hoops interlocking, and all of them expressing the same humanity. The hoop of his little nation had to be opened out and become one of many, many hoops of many, many nations." -- Joseph Campbell, Myth and Meaning, 24 Joseph Campbell — Jung, Pedagogy, and Projection of the Shadow (see more videos) Subscribe to the MythBlast Newsletter

  • Masks of Transformation

    I once attended a workshop that included a day spent reliving one’s teenage years. Participants were divided into high schools and assigned a variety of tasks: adopting a school mascot and motto, painting papier-mâché masks to reflect a school identity, writing a class song, and competing against other schools in a variety of silly, playful contests. A lot of triggers there, but also lots of laughter and fun for all involved . . . except for one couple in their seventies, who seemed at a loss. Yuki and Miko had traveled from Japan for this workshop. Their formal education followed a far different trajectory than those of us born in the United States, which made it difficult for them to relate to the assigned activities. With no shared cultural experience to draw on, they were quiet, reserved, almost painfully shy, in contrast to the casual and convivial informality of their schoolmates. Nevertheless, Yuki and Miko gamely volunteered to represent their school in the dance competition, to the song “Bye, Bye, Miss American Pie.” Rehearsal, however, proved awkward and stiff, despite helpful tips and demonstrations from others––no rhythm, no flow, no sense of joy to their movements. That evening, when the elderly couple stepped up and the lights dimmed, they surprised everyone by donning the full face masks they had painted earlier––and then, as the first notes sounded, Yuki and Miko vanished, replaced by two young, lithe masked dancers who twirled, dipped, bounced, and boogie-woogied through the high energy portions of the piece, then segued into a supple, sinuous, sensual embrace as the music slowed, bodies swaying as one, like two high school sweethearts at the prom. The music stopped. Yuki and Miko removed their masks, bowed, and all forty participants burst into cheers and applause. There was momentary speculation they were professional dancers who had fooled us all; how else could they have spontaneously performed such an intricate, elaborate, well-choreographed dance? Miko, who had a somewhat better command of English than her husband, smiled at the idea. “That not us. Too embarrassing to do alone, and never around people.” Then just who were we watching? “The masks. The masks danced for us!" Acting “as if” The masks of God invite us in the direction of the experience of God; they are composed, you might say, to fit the mentality and spiritual condition of the people to whom these masks are directed. In the naive relationship of popular religion, people actually think that what I’m calling a mask of God is God—but they are intermediates between divorce from God and movement toward the mystery. (Myth and Meaning: Conversations on Mythology and Life 74) How does Joseph Campbell arrive at this metaphor of the mask? Is it simply a clever literary device, no more than instructive analogy? Or does the mask worn in rituals present an embodied experience, serving as the vehicle for archetypal energies that actually transform the wearer? Masks have long provided a gateway to other dimensions, other realms, beyond the senses. According to Campbell, “The mask motif indicates that the person you see is two people. He’s the one wearing the mask and he is the mask that’s worn—that is, the mask of the role” (Goddesses: Mysteries of the Feminine Divine 37). This is very much the way an actor dissolves into a role. The mark of a good actor is to become the character they portray. The audience meets the actor more than halfway; when we watch a movie or attend a play, we expect to suspend our disbelief. We know that Harrison Ford isn’t really a dashing and daring archaeologist, and Nicole Kidman no southern belle, but we go along with the pretense. If the actors are skillful and the drama well written, then we are able to enter into this “play world,” experiencing the adventure and its accompanying emotion as if they are real. It’s not surprising to learn that the earliest theatrical productions in ancient Greece evolved from sacred rituals –– which brings us back to masks, for the actors in these plays wore masks. (That is not unique to Greece: the same can be said for the development of theater in many parts of Asia; even today, in Japan, masks are worn in Noh plays). Initiation The masks that in our demythologized time are lightly assumed for the entertainment of a costume ball or Mardi Gras—and may actually, on such occasions, release us to activities and experiences which might otherwise have been tabooed—are vestiges of an earlier magic, in which the powers to be invoked were not simply psychological, but cosmic. For the appearances of the natural order, which are separate from each other in time and space, are in fact the manifestation of energies that inform all things. (Campbell, The Historical Atlas of World Mythology: The Way of the Animal Powers, Part I 93) According to Campbell, the mask serves as a conduit for the community to powers which transcend the individual. But the mask is also used in many cultures as an agent of individual transformation. Masks have the power to transform even when they are not worn. A classic scene appears on a wall fresco preserved beneath volcanic ash in the Villa of Mysteries in Pompeii. A youth bends over and peers into a silver bowl held up by a bearded figure, generally thought to be playing the role of Silenus, the satyr who served as teacher to Dionysus. The youth is told to look in the metal bowl to see his own true face––but the bowl acts as a concave mirror. Behind the lad an assistant holds up a mask; instead of his own face, the initiate is shocked to see the face of old age: ”the whole body of life from birth to death.” Campbell explains the significance of this reveal: Now suppose one of his friends, before he went in there, had said to him, “Now look, this guy in there is going to have a bowl and he is going to tell you that you’re going to see your own face. You’re not! He’s got another fellow there who’s holding this mask thing up behind you so that what you will see is nothing more than a reflection.” If this happened, there would be no initiation. There would be no shock. This is why mysteries are kept secret. An initiation is a shock. Birth is a shock; rebirth is a shock. All that is transformative must be experienced as if for the first time. (Mythos I: The Shaping of Our Mythic Traditions, Episode 3: “On Being Human”) Masks within masks The indigenous tribes in the American Northwest, from the Kwakiutl to the Haida, are known for their Transformation Masks. This is a double mask, with the outer mask usually in the form of an animal. After fasting in the woods, then dancing into a frenzy in the lodge house, the masked dancer reaches a state of ecstasy and opens the hinged outer mask to reveal the interior: the image of an ancestral spirit. The dancer experiences a double transformation, identifying not just with the Animal whose mask he wears, but also with the Ancestor. The masked dancer enters a realm that once was and yet still is, a dimension where humans and animals are able to change form, hidden behind the world of waking reality. The wearer experiences the unity of all life: hunter and hunted; animal, human, and ancestral spirit––these are but masks for the one Life that animates All. Are such realizations possible today? After all, ceremonial masks seem somewhat archaic in this secular age––art objects to be collected, rather than tools for transformation. Surely, we have moved beyond the magic and the mystery today. And yet, my thoughts keep returning to Miko and Yuki. Their masks put them in touch with something greater than themselves, beyond their lived experience, that connected them with everyone in the room . . . which may be why “mask” is such an apt metaphor for myth: Myths are the “masks of God” through which men everywhere have sought to relate themselves to the wonders of existence. (Campbell, The Hero’s Journey: Joseph Campbell on His Life and Work xx) MythBlast authored by: Stephen Gerringer has been a Working Associate at the Joseph Campbell Foundation (JCF) since 2004. His post-college career trajectory interrupted when a major health crisis prompted a deep inward turn, Stephen “dropped out” and spent most of the next decade on the road, thumbing his away across the country on his own hero quest. Stephen did eventually “drop back in,” accepting a position teaching English and Literature in junior high school. Stephen is the author of Myth and Modern Living: A Practical Campbell Compendium, as well as editor of Myth and Meaning: Conversations on Mythology and Life, a volume compiled from little-known print and audio interviews with Joseph Campbell. This MythBlast was inspired by The Power of Myth Episode 6, and The Hero's Journey Latest Podcast Joseph Campbell speaks at Cooper Union in New York in 1964 on the many functions of ritual and how it shapes the individual, the consequences of the degradation of ritual, and the role of creativity in ritual. Host, Brad Olson, offers an introduction and commentary after the talk in this episode of the Pathways podcast. Listen Here This Week's Highlights "Myths are the “masks of God” through which men everywhere have sought to relate themselves to the wonders of existence." -- Joseph Campbell, The Hero's Journey, xx The Hidden Dimension (see more videos) Subscribe to the MythBlast Newsletter

  • 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 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: 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 ( 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 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 (JOPPPAH) 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 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 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: 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 ( 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

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