Thou Art That

Thou Art That: Transforming Religious Metaphor

By Joseph Campbell

Thou Art That is a compilation of previously uncollected essays and lectures by Joseph Campbell that focus on the Judeo-Christian tradition. Here Campbell explores common religious symbols, reexamining and reinterpreting them in the context of his remarkable knowledge of world mythology. According to Campbell, society often confuses the literal and metaphorical interpretations of religious stories and symbols. In this collection, he eloquently reestablishes these metaphors as a means to enhance spiritual understanding and mystical revelation. With characteristic verve, he ranges from rich storytelling to insightful comparative scholarship. Included is editor Eugene Kennedy’s classic interview with Campbell in The New York Times Magazine, which brought the scholar to the public’s attention for the first time.

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“There’s a word being used here this evening that I don’t understand.” He said, “What’s the word?” I said, “God.” “You don’t understand what God means?” he replied. I said, “I don’t know what you mean by God. You’ve told us that God has hidden his face, that we are in exile. I’ve just come from India, where people are experiencing God all the time.” And do you know what (Martin) Buber said? “Do you mean to compare?” There you have revealed two sides of looking at the idea of God. [share]
It may be a species of impudence to think that the way you understand God is the way God is. [share]
There are mythologies that are scattered, broken up, all around us. We stand on what I call the terminal moraine of shattered mythic systems that once structured society. They can be detected all around us. You can select any of these fragments that activate your imagination for your own use. Let it help shape your own relationship to the unconscious system out of which these symbols have come [share]
How does the ordinary person come to an experience of the transcendent? For a start, I would say, study poetry. Learn how to read a poem. You need not have the experience to get the message, or at least some indication of the message. It may come gradually. There are many ways, however, of coming to the transcendent experience. [share]
Metaphors only seem to describe the outer world of time and place. Their real universe is the spiritual realm of the inner life. The Kingdom of God is within you. [share]
Gods suppressed become devils, and often it is these devils whom we first encounter when we turn inward. [share]
Myth makes a connection between our waking consciousness and the mystery of the universe. It gives us a map or picture of the universe and allows us to see ourselves in relationship to nature, as when we speak of Father Sky and Mother Earth. It supports and validates a certain social and moral order. The Ten Commandments being given to Moses by God on Mount Sinai is an example of this. Lastly, it helps us pass through and deal with the various stages of life from birth to death. [share]
Apocalypse is not about a fiery Armageddon, but about the fact that our ignorance and our complacency are coming to an end. [share]
The sun is our second symbol of rebirth ... When you realize that eternity is right here now, that it is within your possibility to experience the eternity of your own truth and being, then you grasp the following: That which you are was never born and will never die; that is the insight rendered in term of the solar mystery, the solar light. [share]
We are all born as animals and live the life that animals live: we sleep, eat, reproduce, and fight. There is, however, another order of living, which the animals do not know, that of awe before the mystery of being, the mysterium tremendum et fascinans, that can be the root and branch of the spiritual sense of one's days. That is the birth––the Virgin Birth––in the heart of a properly human, spiritual life. [share]
We are the sensing organs of the Earth. We are the senses of the universe. We have it all right here within us. And the deities that we once thought were out there, we now know, were projected out of ourselves. They are the products of our human imagination seeking to interpret, one way or another, the mysteries of the universe.... [share]
We must not understand apocalypse literally, not as some physical destruction and judgment of the world, or as something that is going to occur in the future. The kingdom is here; it does not come through expectation. One looks at the world and sees the radiance. The Easter revelation is right there. [share]
Half the people in the world think that the metaphors of their religious traditions, for example, are facts. And the other half contends that they are not facts at all. As a result we have people who consider themselves believers because they accept metaphors as facts, and we have others who classify themselves as atheists because they think religious metaphors are lies. [share]
One must remember the central truth about Easter and Passover. We are called out of the house of bondage, even as the Jews were called out of their bondage in Egypt. We are called out of bondage in the way in which the moon throws off its shadow to emerge anew, in the way the life throws off its shadow of death. Easter and Passover have the same roots; we are called out of bondage to our old tradition. Easter is not Easter and Passover is not Passover, unless they release us even from the tradition that gives us these feasts. [share]
Apocalypse does not point to a fiery Armageddon, but to our ignorance and complacency coming to an end. [share]
The exclusivism of there being only one way in which we can be saved, the idea that there is a single religious group that is in sole possession of the truth--that is the world as we know it that must pass away. What is the Kingdom? It lies in our realization of the ubiquity of the divine presence in our neighbors, in our enemies, in all of us. [share]
Mythology may, in a real sense, be defined as other people's religion. And religion may, in a real sense, be understood as a popular misunderstanding of mythology. [share]
It is inevitable that children should be taught in purely concrete terms. But then the child grows up and realizes who Santa Claus is. He is really Daddy. So, too, we must grow in the same way in learning about God, and the institutional churches must grow in presenting the message of the symbols to adults. [share]
People feel panicky at the thought that we might all have something in common, that they are giving up some exclusive hold on the truth. It is something like discovering that you are a Frenchman and a human being at the same time. That is exactly the challenge that the great religions face in the Space Age. [share]
Metaphors only seem to describe the outer world of time and place. Their real universe is the spiritual realm of the inner life. The Kingdom of God is within you. [share]

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