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July 2, 2013

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Follow your bliss!

Joseph-Campbell2

This is a book review on “The Power of Myth”, which I finished reading a couple of weeks ago, enjoyed it immensely and therefore, I highly recommend it. If you are somewhat familiar with diverse topics such as: history, the Greeks, cultures of antiquity, philosophy, western religions, eastern thought, the Bible, literature, poetry, pre-European American cultures, politics and the workings of the archetypes of the modern-day man, you will be delighted at the plethora of uncanny and revolutionary ideas, which are put forth in this work.

But let me not mislead you into thinking that this book was intended for scholars only. No! This book should be enjoyed by most anyone, for it will probably incite them into researching a myriad of topics and certainly, give the readers a strong starting point to reflect on their own life. And then, if one is incredibly lucky, one will follow his or her own bliss; at least, this is what it did for me.

“The Power of Myth”, is essentially the verbatim transcripts from the outstanding 1988 PBS six-chapter TV series, in which famed journalist Bill Moyers interviews life-long mythologist professor Joseph Campbell. These conversations took place in 1985 and 1986 at George Luca’s Skywalker Ranch, and later at the museum of Natural History in New York. This show became very successful and the good thing is that today, you can see all of the six episodes in YouTube. Mr. Campbell died in 1987 right before the show aired.

“We must be willing to get rid of the life we’ve planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us”.

Perhaps I will not do the book honors in that this review will not be a thoughtful critique, for you could easily write a 100 page dissertation on it. Instead, it will suffice to say that I loved every bit of it. I am glad that I read it as an e-book on the Kindle. This allowed me to use the instant dictionary look-ups a lot, as well as it allowed me to highlight the heck out of it, and highlight, I did.

So what is this book about? In short, it touches upon Campbell’s life long quest into worldwide mythologies. But when Campbell talks about Myths, we are not referring to “urban legends” or lies. Far from it, myths are universal symbols, planetary human archetypes, which allow us to fathom the eternal. Although, symbols could be prone to being faulty, they don’t try to render a “mystical experience” but instead, they merely try to suggest it. It could be construed as legends that allow us to transcend, as he calls it, “the field of time and space” of our everyday existence.

Campbell warns us not to look a religion as historical fact. This is precisely what most western religions do; thus, creating a conflict, a dilemma, for it makes it extremely difficult to reconcile with present day scientific, technological and historical knowledge. However, if we look at these stories as myths or metaphors towards something much greater than the physically bound world in which we live, we can begin to appreciate or sense its true meaning, and this might even help strengthen our particular beliefs.

As Campbell puts it, mythology is poetry, and the poetic language is very flexible. In religion, theology reduces mythology, turning poetry into prose, which is to be interpreted as unquestionable fact or dogma.

Throughout his research, Campbell has found that many myths have a universal theme to them. Variations between one particular belief system and another are typically influenced by local geography. However, as we become one true global village, then we can begin to ascertain these similarities. And this makes perfect sense, because all humans have, essentially, the same physical make up.

As I was reading this book I came across a small section on marriage and why it is so susceptible to failure. I was so impressed by the novelty of these ideas that I wrote a post on it. This goes to show the extent of topics covered and the wealth of information presented.

On the topic of divinities, Campbell tells us that for hunter-gatherer cultures, which preceded agricultural bound settlements; almost universally, the role of the female was more prominent. By far, most deities were represented by the female. However, this all changed, particularly with those religions that came out of the desert, so to speak, a.k.a. Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Nevertheless, the importance of the female element has been preserved in the Eastern religions.

So why is this important? If nature, which is universally thought of as the female component, e.g. “mother earth”, is to be conquered, dominated and subdue, then we could argue that these deep beliefs may be a reason why modern day civilization has so little regard for the environment and its consequent destruction.

Since the book is based on the narrative of conversation, it is fluid and delightful. Moreover, Campbell, who is a masterful storyteller, narrates many mythical stories which make his points of view, crystal clear; stories which go from Hinduism, to Buddhism, to Christianity and to the American Indian, to name but a few.

Lastly, we come to one of Campbell’s favorite self-coined phrases: “Follow your bliss”. Throughout the almost 40 years in academia, Campbell always encouraged his students to follow their bliss; to find where it was, and to not be afraid to follow it. Essentially, it is the work that you choose to do, because you enjoy it, that’s it! And not unlike the hero, in doing that, you save the world. “The influence of a vital person vitalizes”. Furthermore, “a world without spirit is a wasteland”.

 

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1 Comment Post a comment
  1. Jul 3 2013

    Great review Balam. I totally agree with the last statement of your post….”a world without spirit is a wasteland”. Indeed, we need all kinds of spiritual expression to make life special. Thanks.

    Reply

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