The underappreciated wisdom of Joseph Campbell

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We’re not on our journey to save the world but to save ourselves. But in doing that we save the world. The influence of a vital person vitalizes.

~ My tribute to Joseph Campbell and reasons for it ~

The meaning of a hero, the importance of heroism and ritual in shaping of civilization, the need to differentiate between metaphor and fact, the significance of individual – his daily life journey, his vitality and his potential to influence the others, the ability to recognize that myths are not lies and that modern world is not mythless and disenchanted, delivering the timeless call for self-actualization, self-perfection and tolerance on sensible grounds, reminding us to seek higher goals than ordinary experience allows in order
to escape from routine and remembering that we are significant to the world if we are significant to ourselves and that the entirety of the existence is wondrous, mysterious and worth of praise and attention, otherwise we become tools of death – dreadful, stagnant, lacking aspirations, ungrateful and directionless. Joseph Campbell taught and left behind big lessons for everyone to give his own thought to. The proper application of his work could be invaluable for the advancement of cultural tolerance in our world, because Joseph Campbell seems to have possessed a rare and unique understanding that whatever cultural narrative any historical group of people develops and clings to, it is equally true and important as cultural narrative of any other group of people, if and only if understood metaphorically and within the appropiate context and not literally and presentially. My story and your story or my story and his story do not have to be in conflict! This universal message didn’t lose its relevance, it is as up-to-date today as it was in the past and it could make a difference if it were more widely known.


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~ Collection of powerful and insightful words ~

A hero is someone who has given his or her life to something bigger than oneself.”

The usual hero adventure begins with someone from whom something has been taken, or who feels there is something lacking in the normal experience available or permitted to the members of society. The person then takes off on a series of adventures beyond the ordinary, either to recover what has been lost or to discover some life-giving elixir. It’s usually a cycle, a coming and a returning.

It’s only when a man tames his own demons that he becomes the king of himself if not of the world.”

The tribal ceremonies of birth, initiation, marriage, burial, installation, and so forth, serve to translate the individual’s life-crises and life-deeds into classic, impersonal forms. They disclose him to himself, not as this personality or that, but as the warrior, the bride, the widow, the priest, the chieftain; at the same time rehearsing for the rest of the community the old lesson of the archetypal stages.”

The achievement of the hero is one that he is ready for and it’s really a manifestation of his character. It’s amusing the way in which the landscape and conditions of the environment match the readiness of the hero. The adventure that he is ready for is the one that he gets The adventure evoked a quality of his character that he didn’t know he possessed.”

People have the notion of saving the world by shifting things around, changing the rules, and who’s on top, and so forth. No, no! Any world is a valid world if it’s alive. The thing to do is to bring life to it, and the only way to do that is to find in your own case where the life is and become alive yourself.”

Wherever the poetry of myth is interpreted as biography, history, or science, it is killed.”

When you translate the Bible with excessive literalism, you demythologize it. The possibility of a convincing reference to the individual’s own spiritual experience is lost.”

Every religion is true one way or another. It is true when understood metaphorically. But when it gets stuck in its own metaphors, interpreting them as facts, then you are in trouble.”

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.”

Mythology may, in a real sense, be defined as other people’s religion. And religion may, in a sense, be understood as popular misunderstanding of mythology.”

Myths are public dreams, dreams are private myths.”

In the absence of an effective general mythology, each of us has his private, unrecognized, rudimentary, yet secretly potent pantheon of dreams.”

I think the person who takes a job in order to live – that is to say, for the money ( not for purpose or passion ) has turned himself into a slave.”

Everywhere, no matter what the sphere of interest (whether religious, political, or personal), the really creative acts are represented as those deriving from some sort of dying to the world; and what happens in the interval of the hero’s nonentity, so that he comes back as one reborn, made great and filled with creative power, mankind is also unanimous in declaring. We shall have only to follow, therefore, a multitude of heroic figures through the classic stages of the universal adventure in order to see again what has always been revealed. …the singleness of the human spirit in its aspirations, powers, vicissitudes, and wisdom.”

People say that what we’re all seeking is a meaning for life. I don’t think that’s what we’re really seeking. I think what we’re seeking is an experience of being alive, so that our life experiences on the purely physical plane will have resonance within our own innermost being and reality, so that we actually feel the rapture of being alive. That’s what it’s all finally about.”

It is not only that there is no hiding place for the gods from the searching telescope and microscope; there is no such society any more as the gods once supported.”

All the gods, all the heavens, all the hells, are within you.”

The big question is whether you are going to be able to say a hearty yes to your adventure.”

Marx teaches us to blame society for our frailties, Freud teaches us to blame our parents, and astrology teaches us to blame the universe. The only place to look for blame is within: you didn’t have the guts to bring up your full moon and live the life that was your potential.”

Our story of the fall in the Garden sees nature as corrupt; and that myth corrupts the whole world for us. Because nature is thought of as corrupt, every spontaneous act is sinful and must not be yielded to. You get a totally different civilization and a totally different way of living according to whether your myth presents nature as fallen or whether nature is in itself a manifestation of divinity, and the spirit is the revelation of the divinity that is inherent in nature.”

The multitude of men and women choose the less adventurous way of the comparatively unconscious civic and tribal routines. But these seekers, too, are saved – by the virtue of the inherited symbolic aids of society, the rites of passage, the grace-yielding sacraments, given to mankind of old by the redeemers and handed down through the millenniums. It is only those who know neither an inner call nor an outer doctrine whose plight is truly desperate; that is to say, most of us today, in this labyrinth without and within the heart. Alas, where is the guide, that fond virgin, Ariadne, to supply the simple clue that will give us the courage to face the Minotaur, and the means to find our way to freedom when the monster has been met and slain?

The agony of breaking through personal limitations is the agony of spiritual growth. Art, literature, myth and cult, philosophy, and ascetic disciplines are instruments to help the individual past his limiting horizons into spheres of ever-expanding realization. As he crosses threshold after threshold, conquering dragon after dragon, the stature of the divinity that he summons to his highest wish increases, until it subsumes the cosmos. Finally, the mind breaks the bounding sphere of the cosmos to a realization transcending all experiences of form all symbolizations, all divinities: a realization of the ineluctable void.”


I hope that you learned something useful. I have personally found these insights very powerful, even experiencing the ‘aha!’ effect. Joseph Campbell’s inner universe was fascinating. Maybe it can inspire you as it has inspired me.abc4RE 3

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5 thoughts on “The underappreciated wisdom of Joseph Campbell

  1. I am glad. Joseph Campbell made a huge impression on me, which is perhaps hard to explain, but thanks to him something has once again woken up in me. I have this feeling that his understanding went really deep, even to the level somewhat comparable to Carl Jung, and as it is with Jung that he remains such a big inspiration and light for so many people around the world, so it is with Joseph Campbell, that he can be of tremendous help, especially relevant in our modern times with its terrorism, extremism, globalization, mass migrations and cultural clashes.

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  2. Campbell’s work should be taught in high school; imagine the effect on society if people were taught how to confront their inner demons, trust the hero’s journey that also brings wise mentors to help us along the way, and stop blaming others or the world for their problems. The effect on religion would be transformative, and it would certainly make it much harder to recruit terrorists. Thanks for posting this!

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