Mamafesta for Mythology
Below is the text of a proposal made at the Study of Myth Symposium which took place at the Pacifica Graduate Campus 31st Aug to 2nd Sept. 2012. The talk, originally titled: Joseph Campbell's use of Mythology as Narrative Superstructure, - is here, in consideration of the influence of James Joyce's writings on Campbell's thinking, given the title: Mamafesta for Mythology.
T.Dolan 12 March 2013 (Symposium Photo Diary)
Note: I've made a few corrections: for instance I used the term 'mythology' in a couple of places where 'cultural history' would have been more exact.
Index of SectionsBack to Index
The Mighty Flowering Tree
The Panoramic View
Most of us are familiar with Black Elk 's words:
Then I was standing on the highest mountain of them all, and round about beneath me was the whole hoop of the world. And I saw that the sacred hoop of my people was one of many hoops that made one circle, wide as daylight and as starlight, and in the center grew one mighty flowering tree to shelter all the children of one mother and one father. And I saw that it was holy.i
So what practically speaking is this one mighty hoop be that binds all the people of one earth and do we have any vantage point today from which we too may behold this wonder?
It is the intention in this presentation to try and show how Joseph Campbell's work reveals this all embracing hoop to be human kind's common story. Furthermore it is proposed that the overarching narrative that Joseph Campbell's works trace from the Paleolithic to the present constitute a framework for the formal study of cultural history using mythology as the superstructure.
We will approach this from three different perspectives:
- Our first and main task will be to discuss and propose ideas for how we handle myths so as to reflect the organisation and approach evident throughout Joseph Campbell's works; what is here referred to as narrative superstructure. In essence we will look at a basic taxonomy of mythology to allow for it to be handled, at least in part, as a science.
- Following naturally from Campbell's works also is what I have termed Campbell's narrative mthod. Campbell opened out the whole field of mythology with his prodigious scholarship, drawing on the fields of the humanities as well as the sciences to amplify his themes. In Campbell's words:
The history and geography of the rise and diffusion of specific myths and mythological systems can be readily reviewed in broad lines today and represented in such a way as to convert the rubble of the great moraine that is about us into a laboratory of revelations.
(J.Campbell - The Way of the Animal Powers p9)
We will give examples as we go along to illustrate the insights to be gleaned by this approach.
- Finally, I would also like to discuss what Campbell means when he refers to mythology as a Pair of Aspect'sii system. If we treat mythology only as a science we will undo Campbell's great achievement of placing the humanities and science in a synergistic relationship.
Structure and Scale
Our first task leads us naturally to the twin issues of structure and scale. Even very specific treatments of a subject can generate a great deal of information let alone the broad approach we're suggesting. And this leads to the question: how do we handle and create relationships between an ever expanding body of knowledge, in a way that is fit for function and, at the same time, doesn't allow the amount of material to overwhelm us?
To investigate how we structure our effort, we will take a quick stroll around the grounds of what we will call Joseph Campbell's Country Estate , the general layout of which gives us an idea as to how Campbell's works can be ordered in such a manner as to constitute a schema for the study of mythology.
Joseph Campbell's Country EstateBack to Index
Where the Two Came to Their Father
Joseph Campbell's Country House sits on extensive parkland. There are several entrances but we will approach a long a quiet leafy back lane and enter the estate between two tall pillars bearing the title: Where the Two Came to their Father . This work was one of Campbell's first contributions in his own name and demonstrates his already masterful grip on the field of mythology. In the interpretation of this Navaho myth he relates its motifs to other hero myths across the world already suggesting many of the themes he will develop more fully in his later works. What is a myth and why does it matter? Well here we have the myth as told to Maud Oakes by Jeff King; we have the complementary ritual which was used to prepare young Navajo men who were about to head off to fight in the Second World War and we have the wonderful pollen paintings used in the ritual and which were copied by Maud Oakes.
The origin of a myth, as often as not, is an image sequence in a dream or vision that appears to a particular type of personality when a local group must adapt to some new situation. The oldest new circumstance is the advent of a dawning consciousness in our species, followed by its use of fire; and so we find Creation and Origin Myths explaining the beginning of things and how the first ancestors came to be, underpinning many of the mythological systems of the world.
So where did this particular myth come from?
One cannot but believe, that from a thorough study of such a legend as the one here given, a rich understanding could be derived of the deep, unconscious attachments that link the Navaho to his world that is to say, which link Man to the specific phenomena of the American Southwest. For this is a tale built out of a wonderful interaction: an interaction between the cactus mesas, the great landscapes and colorations of the primeval silences of America, and the human soul.iiiBack to Index
The Porch of The Hero with a Thousand Faces
On continuing up the driveway and arriving at the main house we note it has a particularly fine and capacious porch called, The Hero with a Thousand Faces. It is illuminated by a roof with stained glass, each panel which illustrates scenes from hero tales from all over the world. Campbell called the narrative pattern common to these tales the monomyth (or as many now call it, The Hero's Journey) and showed how these patterns can provide insights that help us deal with the crises in our own lives in such a way that our humanity is opened out.
Like good literature this space has something about it of the deep silence and solace of eternity. And indeed many visitors who enter this portico find, through some alchemical catalyst, that it helps them find their proper form and many leave it without feeling any need, or inclination, to cross the threshold into the main house. While they partake in its ambience I think they are, in T.S.Eliot's words, at:
..the still point of the turning world. Neither flesh nor fleshless;
Neither from nor towards; at the still point there the dance is,
But neither arrest nor movement. And do not call it fixity,
Where the past and future are gathered. Neither movement from nor towards,
Neither ascent nor decline. Except for the point, the still point,
There would be no dance, and there is only the dance.iv
However, our theme is the Study of Mythology and how to advance the field. So we must leave this space and cross the threshold into the main house. Having been given some insight into the viewpoint of eternity we must hold this knowledge as our adventure continues on into the hard, often brutal, daylight realm of the phenomena of nature and time.
As we stand on the threshold of the four square house that is The Masks of God , and having already declared our intention to use Campbell's works as a narrative, or mythological, superstructure for the formal study of cultural history , I think it is timely to differentiate between the two equally wonderful but different aspects of his legacy.Back to Index
Campbell's Twin Legacy
The Personal Grail Quest
Now we touched on the fact that The Hero with a Thousand Faces can help people find their particular path in life, and I would like to suggest that what Campbell achieved in his teaching at Sarah Lawrence College was that he was able to effect a similar result with his students. We might compare it for instance with Perceval's first visit the Grail Castle. He is granted entry on the basis that he is made of the right stuff, but he has not earned his entry and fails in the task of releasing the castle from its enchanted-suffering due to doing what his mother has taught him rather than acting in accord with the impulse of his own instinct and compassion; but even so he has been incidentally set the task that will now constitute his life. And in fulfilling his own destiny he secures the release of the fisher-king from his suffering and redeems the Wasteland.
Students too , as often as not, will not get it right at the start and may find themselves on the wrong track after a few years in the work place, or to use Campbell's phrase, find the ladder they're climbing is up against the wrong wall. I like to think though that as a teacher, in the syllabus that he developed based on his knowledge of many subjects but primarily mythology, that Campbell was able to coax from the imagination of his students some sense of what their life might be and that this remained as a kind of inner touchstone through life's inevitable vicissitudes. In Occidental Mythology p521, Campbell writes:
The fourth function of mythology is to initiate the individual into the order of realities of his own psyche, guiding him toward his own spiritual enrichment and realization.v
There is plenty of precedent for this sort of insight or maybe more properly, numinous intimation. Certain Native American peoples used have a ritual whereby a youth of twelve was left to fast alone for a few days in a small tepee in a wood to meditate and wait for the dream that would characterise the sense of their life. The age of the initiate, solitude, sleep deprivation and hunger, invariably meant a dream or vision of uncanny vividness and force would eventually come to them. And so when the youth returned to his community as well as continuing to participate in the great communal rituals of the tribe, he would also have the memory of his own direct encounter with the mystery of being and his subsequent life would unfold between the mystery, of a collective and yet also, individual identity.
The Troubling Narrative
Campbell's major works belong to the second half of his life and if we look objectively at the whole corpus, it is very much the smaller fraction that is given over to facilitating this end of the personal life. His greater achievement, already mentioned, is that from the Masks of God onwards, Campbell's works trace the whole history of the flowering of consciousness from Neanderthal Man to the present, following it down all the principle pathways, and diffusions across all the landmasses and oceans of our planet. It is a gripping story and also a terrible one, in which Campbell's deftly woven prose highlights the frequently troubling narrative of the emergent consciousness of our species.
But to what end should we engage with this narrative? Five come to mind:
- The Work: Firstly as Campbell himself indicated that he hoped his works would inspire creative people, which in this day and age, we can be extend to include any human endeavour in which the imagination is deployed.
In the context of traditional mythology, the symbols are presented in socially maintained rites, through which the individual is required to experience, or will pretend to have experienced, certain insights, sentiments and commitments. In what I'm calling creative mythology, on the other hand, this order is reversed: the individual has had an experience of his own - of order, horror, beauty, or even mere exhiliration-which he seeks to communicate through signs; and if his realization has been of a certain depth and import, his communication will have the force and value of living myth-for those, that is to say, who receive and respond to it of themselves, with recognition, uncoerced.vi
- The Story: Campbell, under the influence of Thomas Mann and James Joyce, took a very broad approach to the cultural history of human kind drawing, as we've said, on many fields in both the humanities and sciences.
In particular he used mythology as the loom on which to weave the broad outline of our common story. This approach which we've called Campbell's narrative method , can, as we will see, be fruitful in teasing out and exploring many of the lost strands of human kind's common story.
- In 94BC at Emain Macha the Iron Age Celts in Ireland built a huge wooden structure inside of which they then proceeded to place a mound of stones. They then burned the entire structure and sealed in the ashes using 21 different types of clay. What we know of Celtic mythology and Iron Age ritual may partially answer the riddle of this ritual.
- How archaeological discoveries of the past 20 years confirm Campbell's view of the Lion and Bear being the oldest animal masters and how, as an aside, a study of Christian iconography suggests this motif may have become conflated with Daniel in the Lions Den.
- The Individual: Thirdly, Campbell was certainly influenced by Oswald Spengler's, Decline of the West in his understanding of what makes and unmakes civilisation and his notion of creative mythology points toward a future (at least the near future) whereby it will be the individuals of a society that must constantly renew it.
The rise and fall of civilisations in the long, broad course of history can be seen largely to be a function of the integrity and cogency of their supporting canons of myth; for not authority but aspiration is the motivator, builder, and transformer of civilisation. A mythological canon is an organisation of symbols, ineffable in import, by which the energies of aspiration are evoked and gathered toward a focus.viiFurther along a common mythology of some form will probably arise from the harrowing ordeal of handling climate instability and friction between nation states over limited resources. In the meanwhile the individual will be forced to make more and more ethical decisions ( as consumer as well as citizen) within the privacy of their own mind.
- The Collective Shadow: Finally in Campbell's words, Myths are public dreams, dreams are private myths. It follows that as the psychologist uses dreams to fathom the workings and dysfunction of the individual psyche, it is within the ambit of the study of mythology to attempt to forensically tease out the harmful shadow-patterns manifested in collective behaviour. To quote Campbell again:
There are two pathologies. One is interpreting myth as a pseudo-science, as though it had to do with directing nature rather than putting you in accord with nature, and the other is the political interpretation of myths to the advantage of one group within a society, or one society within a group of nations. (The Way of Myth p152)The price for participation in a state or religion (or indeed any group) is an unconscious suspension of certain critical faculties particularly in respect of other groups, the result of which can be our passive participation in egregious acts nominally carried out under the auspices of some common value, or interest, of the local group, or collective group with which we identify. See The Collective Shadow.
- Collective Trauma: The full implications of the work of Carl Jung and Marie Louise Von Franz have yet to be fully digested by the humanities community. Jung introduced the concept of the collective unconscious with its archetypal patterns and Von Franz described, and interpreted, fairy tales as the simplest expression of collective unconscious psychic processes. With a decent framework for the cultural history of the emergence of consciousness in our species, Homo sapiens, as provided by Campbell's works, we can begin to ask questions about a certain category of fairy tale that uses motifs from the complete spectrum of our known cultural history. Specifically the question we could ask is why the psyche creates certain narrative sequences in apparent response to trauma.
The Main House
The house itself has a large doorway and is flanked by two caryatids. Some have said these as similar to those that flank the entrance to the temple of Athena on the acropolis while others say they put them more in mind of oriental threshold guardians who have one mouth open and the other shut, suggesting the start and completion of the energetic sound of the Universe, AUM.
Others give even different descriptions which are equally true because for those of you who read, and reread Campbell's treatment of mythology there is the remarkable fact that totally new layers of meaning can appear with each reading as hitherto dormant gods and goddesses (i.e. personified energies) suddenly become activated because the conscious part of your psyche is now ready to receive them. People of different ages and temperaments will be sensible to different threads and aspects of the narrative.
But to be clear we are now firmly in the realm of time. For as T.S. Eliot says:
To be conscious is not to be in time
But only in time can the moment in the rose-garden,
The moment in the arbour where the rain beat,
The moment in the draughty church at smokefall
be remembered; involved with past and future.
Only through time time is conquered.viii
For present purposes suffice to say that the Masks of God constitute Campbell's master-work and should form the superstructure for any study of a cultural history of human kind.
Any synopsis of Campbell's work cannot compare with the original and I will not attempt this. However, to just again differentiate between the idea of myth as discussed in the first three volumes: Primitive, Oriental, Occidental Mythology and how myth is used creatively in a modern context the following is illuminating:
...with what I'm here calling creative myth, which springs from the unpredictable, unprecedented experience-in-illumination of an object by a subject, and the labor, then, of achieving communication of the effect. It is in this second, altogether secondary, technical phase of creative art, communication, that the general treasury, the dictionary so to say, of the world's infinitely rich heritage of symbols, images, myth motives, and hero deeds, may be called upon - either consciously as in Joyce and Mann, or unconsciously, as in dream - to render the message.ix
We find contiguous with the main house an airy conservatory called The Mythic Image and two grand sweeping wings called the The Way of the Animal Powers I-II and The Way of the Seeded Earth I-III respectively and these fill out our superstructure. The Mythic Image is one long masterly demonstration of Campbell's Narrative Method with revelation following upon revelation.; the other two sets of volumes amplify, and complete, themes (narratives) set out in The Masks of God I-IV ; particularly in respect of Africa and the America's.
Did Campbell fully complete his grand design? Two further works were planned, The Way of the Celestial Lights and The Way of Man. Personally, I think the former work would have completed the superstructure. While works like Michael Roaf's marvelous Atlas of Mesopotamia provides excellent maps and a good history from the Sumerians to the time of the Persians, there is no work that I'm aware of that covers the evolution of the mythologies under the influence of the richly symbolic system of astrology/astronomy that came into being during the early agricultural period (10,000BC) to the establishment of civilisation in the first city states (3,500BC).
The Lineaments of a New Science
The caption for the prologue in Primitive Mythology is, THE LINEAMENTS OF A NEW SCIENCE, and in his opening paragraph Joseph Campbell says:
The comparative study of the mythologies of the world compels us to view the cultural history of mankind as a unit; for we find such themes as the fire theft, deluge, land of the dead, virgin birth, and resurrected hero have a worldwide distribution - appearing everywhere in new combinations while remaining, like the elements of a kaleidoscope, only a few and always the same.x
On page p5 he develops his idea of a mythological science:
Without straining beyond the treasuries of evidence already on hand in these widely scattered departments of our subject, therefore, but simply gathering from them the membra disjuncta of a unitary mythological science, I attempt in the following pages the first sketch of a natural history of the gods and heroes, such as in its final form should include in its purview all divine beings—as zoology includes all animals and botany all plants—not regarding any as sacrosanct or beyond its scientific domain. For, as in the visible world of the vegetable and animal kingdoms, so also in the visionary world of the gods: there has been a history, an evolution, a series of mutations, governed by laws; and to show forth such laws is the proper aim of science.xi
So having looked at the structure let us look at how we handle the vast scale of this thing. Looking at the myths themselves from the point of view of classification I propose five categories to facilitate an initial cataloguing of myths.Back to Index
- Myth Type (i.e. Creation Myth, Deluge, Fire Theft etc)
- Myth Family (Greek, Celtic or Navajo etc)
- Linguistic (Language underpinning the original myth - Proto-Indo-European for nearly all European myths.
- Geographic (using Frobenius' notion of the paideumatic influence of a place upon the physical and mental development of people)
- Cultural (the cultures in which the myths were formed i.e. Maori, Polynesian, African Bushman, Ainu etc
We will look briefly at each of these in turn and see how such classification flows naturally from Campbell's works.
Example: To see this how this system might work in practice have a look at one or two of the myths we've catalogued.
Myths are often complemented by rituals. We're familiar with how Black Elk's vision was enacted in a ritual by his tribe, and we're familiar with how the death and resurrection of Jesus on the Cross is celebrated as a ritual in the Christian mass. Most people do not pay too much attention to the myth, it is rather its enactment in the ritual which can have a wholesome effect on the psyche of the community. In Europe during the Middle ages, there was a constant tussle for power between the church in Rome and the various kings or princes of Europe. There are many references, particularly in French history, to the anguish of ordinary people when after a prince or king was excommunicated the priests were instructed not to perform masses or any religious rituals. The lack of their weekly mass and proper rituals for births and deaths had a deleterious effect on their psychic well-being of the community.
Marie Louise Von Franz quoted Carl Jung as describing how the Christian Church, through its rituals, engaged the unconscious psyche of the people of Europe down through the centuries. Jung also indicated how this hold was able to influence people's behaviour so that they were not prey to spontaneous impulses of the unconscious. Marie Louise though makes the point that the rather narrow focus of Christianity in some respects meant that not all the psyche was engaged and the unengaged part compensated for this by reference to astrology, pagan practices and fairy tales that reflected processes within the particular collective psyche of a grouping of people on a psychic level antecedent to Christianity. As mentioned earlier the Jungians tell us that the Self tries to express itself in its totality and if a religion or mythology doesn't permit this, the psychic energy will ultimately find another outlet, albeit unconsciously.
James Frazer's epic work the The Golden Bough is now freely available online and catalogues rituals from peoples all over the world. It is an invaluable work but also a frustrating one. In some cases rituals are piled upon ritual, and references to obscure tribes and peoples follow so closely upon one another, that the overall effect can be to give one a headache. If the material in this work was teased out and arranged better the value to anthropology would be considerable. In particular scores of tribes are referenced in the work about which the reader would have very little knowledge so that even the addition of links to Wikipedia articles that give a brief overview of them would be of considerable benefit.Back to Index
In terms of finding out new information; Campbell was, and we are today, dependent on archaeologists making new discoveries to fill in the many gaps and indeed to pose new questions. There are undoubtedly many mysteries that remain to be discovered and explained. For instance Campbell gave a wonderful interpretation of the Raimondi Stela discovered in Peru and dated to around 900BC but further archaeological discoveries will be necessary for a proper elucidation.xvi
An organised system of links to universities or institutions that specialise in archaeology would possibly worth looking at to permit coordination and reduce duplication.
Narrative in Time and Space (timemaps)
One useful tool that occurs in several guises, is open source, and could be used to make very sophisticated indexes in space and time is Timemaps. We might call this the historic-geography method. In practice there has been much work done in this area such as the Pleiades Project.
Concepts of the Cosmos
I ofen looked up at the sky an' assed meself the question - what is the moon, what is the stars?
So said Captain Boyle in Act I of Sean O'Casey's Juno and the Paycock. The answer in one sense depends on who you ask. The writer, Laurens Van der Post on the already mentioned journey into the Kalahari desert in 1957 to find the last Bushmen living according to their ancient ways, one night came across a woman holding her young baby up to the stars and calling out to them. When he enquired to what end, the mother, through his Bushman guide, told him that the stars are great hunters and her prayer to the stars was that some of the heart of the stars should enter that of her child so that he too might have a star heart, the heart of a hunter.xvii
The discovery of Warren Field Lunar observatory in Scotland which consists of a series of Mesolithic pits that appear to constitute a calendar based on the phases of the moon, with an annual recalibration of this cycle with the winter solstice, looks likely to push back our notions about the earliest use of celestial observations in the formulation of calendars.xviii
However it is really only with the rise of agriculture and the importance of the calendar round of the year that the heavens take on a central role. As Campbell puts it succinctly in The Way of the Seeded Earth Vol III :
Regulation of the public affairs of a civilisation of this magnitude, dependent on agriculture for its life...,demanded as a first necessity a binding of the whole to the seasonal tasks of the local year, and this in turn required the maintenance of a seasonal watch on the heavens. The binding of the community was then to be achieved by a year round calendar of festivals articulated by this watch. And as in every other known early agricultural society ... the sense of an essential spiritual accord between the social and celestial orders, with the well being of the community understood as a function of this accord, contributed to the flowering of a mythology of personified cosmic powers functioning simultaneously in the heavens and on earth. Conformance with their celestially announced order yielded health, wealth and progeny, whereas the slightest deviation broke the connection.xix
In Mesopotamia, the Akitu Festival marks of the sowing of barley in the autumn and the reaping of barley in the spring. In this period, starting say, 3200BC in Uruk, the Sun at the vernal equinox used rise in the constellation of the Divine Bull, Gugalanna, now known as Taurus. This is the beginning of civilisation and the activities focused on the priest-king, are choreographed by the priesthood as they interpret the sacred movements of the seven celestial bodies.
The annual lament for Dumuzi (the shepherd-fisherman- spouse of the goddess Inanna) occurs in the summer when the sun shrivels the meadows and the livestock no longer provide milk. In a reversal of the later role of Persephone, it is Dumuzi who spends half the year with Inanna in the daylight world and half in the netherworld where her dark sister, Ereshkigal, was sovereign - at least in this early period. Dumuzi's sister, Gestinanna, the heavenly grape vine, which withstood the withering temperatures of summer, was said to take his place in winter in the netherworld emphasising the agricultural basis of the rites.
And Campbell in his work the Mythic Image gives us a good snapshot of the layered view of the universe which was current in Mesopotamia.xix There is no need to go over this but the gradual evolution of the world view from about 10,000BC onwards needs to be teased out as this is a crucial period in which the myths had to evolve to validate the division of labour into specialised areas in first the town and later the city.Back to Index
Psychology and Fairy Tale (the neighbours)
One interesting facet of Joseph Campbell's Country Estate are the neighbours who in this particular tour are Carl Jung and Marie Louise Von Franz. For the purposes of today's lecture I want to look at Marie-Louise's estate in particular. Campbell says in the Hero with a Thousand Faces:
It is the business of mythology proper, and of the fairy tale, to reveal the specific dangers and techniques of the dark interior way from tragedy to comedy. Hence the incidents are fantastic and 'unreal': they represent psychological, not physical, triumphs.xxi
Marie Louise Von Franz commenting on psychological significance of fairy tales wrote:
Fairy tales are the purest and simplest expression of collective unconscious psychic processes. Therefore their value for the scientific investigation of the unconscious exceeds that of all other material. They represent the archetypes in their simplest barest, and most concise form.xxii
In relation to the society in which it appears what does a fairy tale signify?
In the same way we can put forward the hypothesis that every fairy tale is a relatively closed system compounding one essential psychological meaning, which is expressed in a series of symbolical pictures and events and is discoverable in these.xxiii
As a novice in this area I admit to finding it difficult to determine to what extent fairy tales are symptomatic of particular issues in a society and to what extent they denote a gradual process of bringing to consciousness of facts that would otherwise remain unacknowledged. The endings of such tales are by no means always positive but Von Franz does say near the end of this work that:
The fact that the threads running through the tales all follow the same direction - so that several tales can be linked up into a circular chain of rings of tales, each amplifying the other - suggests that the order they refer to is a fundamental one.xxiv
This is a case for using a certain category of fairy tales to complement the insights we can obtain from myths, and also of asking what forms of modern entertainment correspond to such psychological processes. For instance if we look at popular entertainment in films we note the preoccupation of young people with the figure of the vampire. A vampire is typically a very long-lived savage creature with superhuman powers which, however, cannot show itself in the light of day but nourishes itself on the blood of people who do.
A psychologist looking for a metaphor, to represent a particular type of psychosis or complex, would be hard pushed to find a more apt one than the vampire for how the repressed, or unacknowledged, unconscious content can feed parasitically on the energy of, and induce compulsive behaviour in, the ordinary individual (see Von Franz: Psychic Artefacts such as Vampires). And zombies? Well they're brain-dead and their only apparent function is to make other people brain-dead...
One fascinating additional strand that is becoming prominent is the study of DNA. For instance the male population of much of Europe appears to be mainly descended from Neolithic and Bronze Age farmers rather than the later horse riding Indo-European warrior tribes whose culture became dominant. It is hard not to suspect that there are too many 'successes' in this area at the moment and that there will be a lot of refinements and qualifications added in the future. However, it will throw up useful information in the future particularly because the diversity in the human gene pool is less than might be expected due to cataclysmic events in history like the massive Toba super-volcano eruption circa 70,000 years ago.
What I have wished to suggest today is that the study of mythology is a rich and rewarding undertaking but that to tackle it on the grand scale of a narrative guide to the story of humanity requires in the first instance a proper taxonomy such is typical of many sciences. My own suggestion is that this should be achieved by using a database for the storage of myths and the relevant markers for sorting and organising [creating a formal ontology of cultural history? Autumn 2015]. It is only necessary to take hold of mythology, fairy tales and ritual. Archaeology, linguistics, astronomy, ethnology and such like are all already well served as are literature, art and philosophy.
Campbell's Narrative Method
Campbell's use of mythology as narrative superstructure places all the fields of the humanities and sciences in useful relationship to each other. For those of us with an interest in mythology (which is to say the emergence of human consciousness) it is incumbent upon us to demonstrate the usefulness of mythology, ritual and fairy tale in teasing out the many lost threads of our common story.Back to Index
The Pair of Aspects System
One of Campbell's great achievements is that he heals the breach between art and science that opened up in the Renaissance and in proposing that the mythology should be handled as a science I'm not proposing we undo this achievement for as Campbell himself says in the essay The Symbol without a Meaning:
..art and science constitute a 'pair of aspects' system. The function of art is to render a sense of existence, not an assurance of some meaning: so that those who require an assurance of meaning...must surely be those who have not yet experience profoundly, continuously, or convincingly enough, that sense of existence – of spontaneous and willing arising – which is the first and deepest aspect of being, and which it is the province of art to waken.xxv
Campbell drew this particular reference from Prof Max Knoll in an Eranos lecture. But he himself has said the same thing many times that we need a binocular-like view of life whereby we see and experience it not only from the hard, and sometimes remorseless, standpoint of being bound in time but also from the viewpoint of eternity. In discussing tragedy and comedy at the opening of The Hero with a Thousand Faces, Campbell says:
Tragedy is the shattering of forms, and of our attachment to the forms; Comedy, the wild and careless, inexhaustible joy of life invincible.xxvi
However in the Symbol without Meaning, Campbell elaborates on the difference by consideration of the symbol which he has already defined as: an energy evoking, and directing, agentxxvii.
.. a symbol, like everything else, shows a double aspect. We must distinguish, therefore between the 'sense' and the 'meaning' of the symbol. It seems to me perfectly clear that all the great and little symbolical systems of the past functioned simultaneously on three levels: the corporeal of waking consciousness, the spiritual of dream, and the ineffable of the absolutely unknowable. The term 'meaning' can refer only to the first two but these, today, are in the charge of science – which is the province as we have said, not of symbols but of signs. The ineffable, the absolutely unknowable, can be only sensed. It is the province of art which is not 'expression' merely, or even primarily, but a quest for, and formulation of, experience evoking, energy-waking images: yielding what Sir Herbert Read has aptly termed a 'sensuous apprehension of being'xxviii.
He arrived at this conclusion through his observation and experience of a phenomenon which he referred to as synchronicity, in which events appear to occur, or be grouped as a function of meaning, or the state of the psyche of an individual or group, and which therefore appears to be at odds with the normal cause-effect patterns of science. If this is the case, it is the remit of the humanities to fathom this truth and, by better articulation of it, hold the line better against science in this area.
And if Campbell's use of mythology as narrative superstructure becomes more mainstream it is not just young people starting out on their life's journey that will benefit but also those further along the path where as T.S.Eliot puts it:
We had the experience but missed the meaning,
And approach to the meaning restores the experience
In a different form, beyond any meaning
We can assign to happiness. I have said before
That the past experience revived in the meaning
Is not the experience of one life only
But of many generations — not forgetting
Something that is probably quite ineffable.xxx
i Black Elk and others, Black Elk speaks: being the life story of a holy man of the Oglala Sioux (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2004), p. 56.
ii Joseph Campbell, The flight of the wild gander: explorations in the mythological dimension : selected essays, 1944-1968 (Novato, Calif.: New World Library, 2002), p. 147 (The Symbol without Meaning).
iii Jeff King, Maud Oakes and Joseph Campbell, Where the two came to their father: a Navaho war ceremonial (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1991), p. 62.
iv T. S Eliot, Four quartets (London: Faber, 2001), p. 15 (Burnt Norton) .
v Joseph Campbell, The masks of God. Vol. 3, Occidental mythology (New York [etc.]: Penguin Compass, 1991), p. 521.
vi Joseph Campbell, The masks of God. Vol. 4, Creative mythology (New York [etc.]: Penguin Compass, 1991), p. 4.
vii Campbell, The masks of God. Vol. 4, Creative mythology, p. 5.
viii Eliot, p. 15 (Burnt Norton).
ix Campbell, The masks of God. Vol. 4, Creative mythology, p. 40.
x Joseph Campbell, The masks of God Vol. 1, Primitive mythology. (London: Arkana, 1991), p. 3.
xi Campbell, The masks of God Vol. 1, Primitive mythology., p. 5.
xii Heinrich Robert Zimmer and Joseph Campbell, Philosophies of India (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1951), p. 1.
xiii Leo Frobenius and Eike Haberland, Leo Frobenius on African history, art and culture: an anthology (Princeton, NJ: Markus Wiener Pubishers, 2007), p. IX.
xiv Laurens Van der Post, The lost world of the Kalahari (Harmondsworth, Mddx: Penguin Books, 1979), p. 241.
xvi Joseph Campbell, The way of the seeded earth. the middle and southern Americas Part 3, Mythologies of the primitive planters (New York: Harper & Row, 1989), pp. 377–381.
xvii Laurens Van der Post, The heart of the hunter (London: Vintage, 2002), p. 43.
xviii Prof Vince Gaffney et al, ‘Internet Archaeol. 34. Gaffney et Al. Time and a Place: A Luni-Solar “Time-Reckoner” from 8th Millennium BC Scotland’, Internet Archaeology Journal <http://intarch.ac.uk/journal/issue34/gaffney_index.html> [accessed 8 May 2014].
xix Campbell, The way of the seeded earth. the middle and southern Americas Part 3, Mythologies of the primitive planters, p. 276.
xx Joseph Campbell and M. J Abadie, The mythic image (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1981), pp. 88–89.
xxi Joseph Campbell, The hero with a thousand faces (Novato, Calif.: New World Library, 2008), p. 21.
xxii Marie-Louise von Franz, The interpretation of fairy tales (Boston; [New York]: Shambhala ; Distributed in the U.S. by Random House, 1996), p. 1.
xxiii Franz, p. 2.
xxiv Franz, p. 196.
xxv Campbell, The flight of the wild gander, pp. 151–152.
xxvi Campbell, The hero with a thousand faces, p. 21.
xxvii Campbell, The flight of the wild gander, p. 143.
xxviii Campbell, The flight of the wild gander, p. 152.
xxix ‘Psychology of Self’ <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Psychology_of_self#Jungian_understandings>.
xxx Eliot, p. 34 (The Dry Salvages) .