Myths to Live By

Myths to Live By

By Joseph Campbell

In Myths to Live By, Joseph, Campbell explores the enduring power of the universal myths that influence our lives daily and examines the myth-making process from the primitive past to the immediate present, returning always to the source from which all mythology springs; the creative imagination.

Campbell stresses that the borders dividing the earth have been shattered; that myths and religions have always followed the certain basic archetypes and are no longer exclusive to a single people, region, or religion. He shows how we must recognize their common denominators and allow this knowledge to be of use in fulfilling human potential everywhere. Foreword by Johnson E. Fairchild

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The modern Western concept of a legal code  is not of a list of unassailable divine edicts but of a rationally contrived, evolving compilation of  statutes, shaped by fallible human beings in council, to realize rationally recognized social (and  therefore temporal) aims. We understand that our laws are not divinely ordained; and we know also that no laws of any people on earth ever were. Thus we know -- whether we dare to say so or not -- that our clergies have no more right to claim unassailable authority for their moral law than for their science. [share]
Now let us ask: What about the symbolism of the Bible? Based on the Old Sumerian  astronomical observations of five to six thousand years ago and an anthropology no longer  credible, it is hardly fit today to turn anybody on. In fact, the famous conflict of science and  religion has actually nothing to do with religion, but is simply of two sciences: that of  4000 B.C. and that of A.D. 2000. [share]
The great German philosopher Schopenhauer, in a magnificent essay on 'The Foundation of Morality,' treats of this transcendental spiritual experience. How is it, he asks, that an individual can so forget himself and his own safety that he will put himself and his life in jeopardy to save another from death or pain—as though that other’s life were his own, that other’s danger his own? Such a one is then acting, Schopenhauer answers, out of an instinctive recognition of the truth that he and that other in fact are one. He has been moved not from the lesser, secondary knowledge of himself as separate from others, but from an immediate experience of the greater, truer truth, that we are all one in the ground of our being. Schopenhauer’s name for this motivation is 'compassion,' Mitleid, and he identifies it as the one and only inspiration of inherently moral action. It is founded, in his view, in a metaphysically valid insight. For a moment one is selfless, boundless, without ego. [share]
But to enjoy the world requires something more than mere good health and good spirits; for this world, as we all now surely know, is horrendous. "All life," said the Buddha, "is sorrowful"; and so, indeed, it is. Life consuming life: that is the essence of its being, which is forever a becoming. "The world," said the Buddha, "is an ever-burning fire." And so it is. And that is what one has to affirm, with a yea! a dance! a knowing, solemn, stately dance of the mystic bliss beyond pain that is at the heart of every mythic rite. [share]
You don’t ask what a dance means, you enjoy it. You don’t ask what the world means, you enjoy it. You don’t ask what you mean, you enjoy yourself. [share]
Significant images render insights beyond speech, beyond the kinds of meaning speech defines. And if they do not speak to you, that is because you are not ready for them, and words will only serve to make you think you have understood, thus cutting you off altogether. You don’t ask what a dance means, you enjoy it. You don’t ask what the world means, you enjoy it. You don’t ask what you mean, you enjoy yourself; or at least, so you do when you are up to snuff. [share]
The first step to the knowledge of the wonder and mystery of life is the recognition of the monstrous nature of the earthly human realm as well as its glory, the realization that this is just how it is and that it cannot and will not be changed. Those who think they know how the universe could have been had they created it, without pain, without sorrow, without time, without death, are unfit for illumination. [share]
Our outward-oriented consciousness, addressed to the demands of the day, may lose touch with these inward forces; and the myths, states Jung, when correctly read, are the means to bring us back in touch. [share]
And one can readily understand, even share in some measure, their anxiety, since lies are what the world lives on, and those who can face the challenge of a truth and build their lives to accord are finally not many, but the very few. [share]
Through a dialogue conducted with these inward forces through our dreams and through a study of myths, we can learn to know and come to terms with the greater horizon of our own deeper and wiser, inward self. [share]
Then it must be conceded, as a basic principle of our natural history of the gods and heroes, that whenever a myth has been taken literally its sense has been perverted; but also, reciprocally, that whenever it has been dismissed as a mere priestly fraud or sign of inferior intelligence, truth has slipped out the other door. [share]
In short, my friends, what I find that I am saying is that our schizophrenic patient is actually experiencing inadvertently that same beatific ocean deep which the yogi and saint are ever striving to enjoy: except that, whereas they are swimming in it, he is drowning. [share]
The inward journeys of the mythological hero, the shaman, the mystic, and the schizophrenic are in principle the same; and when the return or remission occurs, it is experienced as a rebirth: the birth, that is to say, of a "twice-born" ego, no longer bound in by its daylight-world horizon. [share]
All the old bindings are broken. Cosmological centers now are any- and everywhere. The earth is a heavenly body, most beautiful of all, and all poetry now is archaic that fails to match the wonder of this view. [share]
What gods are there, what gods have there ever been, that were not from man's imagination? We know their histories: we know by what stages they developed. Not only Freud and Jung, but all serious students of psychology and of comparative religions today, have recognized and hold that the forms of myth and the figures of myth are of the nature essentially of dream. [share]
"God is an intelligible sphere whose center is everywhere and circumference nowhere." So we are told in a little twelfth-century book known as The Book of the Twenty-four Philosophers. Each of us -- whoever and wherever he may be -- is then the center, and within him, whether he knows it or not, is that Mind at Large, the laws of which are the laws not only of all minds but of all space as well. [share]
Evidently it is not science that has diminished man or divorced him from divinity. On the contrary... we are to recognize in this whole universe a reflection magnified of our own most inward nature; so that we are indeed its ears, its eyes, its thinking, and its speech-or, in theological terms, God's ears, God's eyes, God's thinking, and God's Word; and, by the same token, participants here and now in an act of creation that is continuous in the whole infinitude of that space of our mind through which the planets fly, and our fellows of earth now among them. [share]
The right word, le mot juste, Tonio Kröger had recognized, can wound; can even kill. Yet the duty of the writer must be to observe and to name exactly: wounding, even possibly killing. For what the writer must name in describing are inevitable imperfections [share]
Have we heard? Have we understood? ''All life is sorrowful!' The important word here is 'all,'' which cannot be translated to mean 'modern' life, or (as I have recently heard) 'life under capitalism,' so that if the social order were altered, people then might become happy. Revolution is not what the Buddha taught. His First Noble Truth was that life--all life--”is sorrowful. And his cure, therefore, would have to be able to produce relief, no matter what the social, economic, or geographical circumstances of the invalid. [share]
It is for an obvious reason far easier to name examples of mythologies of war than mythologies of peace; for not only has conflict between groups been normal to human experience, but there is also the cruel fact to be recognized that killing is the precondition of all living whatsoever: life lives on life, eats life, and would otherwise not exist. [share]
Love as passion; love as com-passion -- these are the two extreme poles of our subject. They have been often represented as absolutely opposed -- physical, respectively, and spiritual; yet in both the individual is torn out of himself and opened to an experience of rediscovered identity in a larger, more abiding format. [share]
Is the conscientious teacher––concerned for the moral character as well as for the book-learning of his students––to be loyal first to the supporting myths of our civilization or to the "factualized" truths of his science? Are the two, on level, at odds? Or is there not some point of wisdom beyond the conflicts of illusion and truth by which lives can be put back together again? [share]
'All life,' said the Buddha, 'is sorrowful'; and so, indeed, it is. Life consuming life: that is the essence of its being, which is forever a becoming. 'The world,' said the Buddha, 'is an ever-burning fire.' And so it is. And that is what one has to affirm, with a yea! a dance! a knowing, solemn, stately dance of the mystic bliss beyond pain that is at the heart of every mythic rite. [share]
What is the cause... of the growth of an acorn? The oak that is to come! What is to happen in the future is then the cause of what is occurring now; and, at the same time, what occurred in the past is also the cause of what is happening now. In addition, a great number of things round about, on every side, are causing what is happening now. Everything, all the time, is causing everything else. [share]
Life as an art and art as a game––as action for its own sake, without thought of gain or of loss, praise or blame––is the key, then, to the turning of living itself into a yoga, and art into the means to such a life. [share]
The first condition, therefore, that any mythology must fulfill if it is to render life to modern lives is that of cleansing the doors of perception to the wonder, at once terrible and fascinating, of ourselves and of the universe of which we are the ears and eyes and the mind. [share]
And so, it seems to me, there is a critical problem indicated here, which parents and families have to face squarely: that, namely, of insuring that the signals which they are imprinting on their young are such that will attune them to, and not alienate them from, the world which they are going to have to live; unless, of course, one is dead set on bequeathing to one's heirs one's own paranoia. [share]
Our mythology now, therefore, is to be of infinite space and its light, which is without as well as within. Like moths, we are cought in the spell of its allure, flying to it outward, to the moon and beyond, and flying to it, also, inward. On our planet itself all dividing horizons have been shattered. We can no longer hold our loves at home and project our aggressions elsewhere; for on this spaceship Earth there is no "elsewhere" anymore. And no mythology that continues to speak or to teach of "elsewhere" and "outsiders" meets the requirement of this hour [share]



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