Joseph Campbell discussion group discussion

I don't really know what to say

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message 1: by Dianna (last edited Aug 25, 2016 01:24PM) (new)

Dianna | 3 comments I do love Joseph Campbell. Right now I am reading a book by Sinclair Lewis called "Babbit.' I just finished Virginia Woolf's "To the Lighthouse." Anyway, I'm just trying to find some stimulating conversation.

message 2: by Bliss (new)

Bliss (blissreads) | 2 comments I think I first came across Joseph Campbell's work when I was in high school. But I wasn't ready for him then.

I began reading him again several years ago. I have a few of his books at home and I read his work off and on.

One of my wishes is that I could have taken a course from him before he died.

message 3: by Allan (new)

Allan Hunter | 147 comments Has anyone read "Stories We Need to Know; Reading your Life Path in literature" ? It's by Dr. Allan G. Hunter and it builds on Jung and Campbell to show that archetypes are not as difficult as they seem. In fact we all live them, all the time....

Would anyone like to discuss it?

message 4: by Leslie (new)

Leslie | 162 comments I'm reading Myths to Live By. I haven't read Stories We Need to Know--it sounds good. I would like to discuss it if you would like to tell me about it. It does sound very interesting.

message 5: by Allan (last edited Jan 04, 2009 07:11AM) (new)

Allan Hunter | 147 comments Myths to Live by is a great read, but 'Stories" is perhaps even more interesting. 'Stories' looks at 3500 years of the western Canon's literature and discerns six archetypes, always in order, always the same, that have to do with the way we grow to full awareness of ourselves. What's astonishing is that this same pattern has been present in all our enduring literature, telling us how we can expect life to unfold, yet we seem to have forgotten how to understand this. There's a fuller overview and reviews on [go to Amazon, look for books, and type in 'Stories We Need to Know':] or better yet, go to and it gives the links and describes the archetypes succinctly. I love Campbell's work, but he just doesn't go into this sort of discussion in a managable way. I've written a fair bit about this at, too.

message 6: by Leslie (new)

Leslie | 162 comments That sounds really interesting. I will have to look into this book on Amazon and also into these links! I feel like I know deep down inside that myths and archetypes are important and profound, but at the same time, I haven't found the real connection, one that I can feel and really know is part of me and who I am and the life I live, not the life of someone in celtic forest however many hundreds years ago.

message 7: by Allan (new)

Allan Hunter | 147 comments You put that very well, about archetypes and myth seeming to apply only to 'someone in a celtic forest many hundreds of years ago'. That's exactly the problem that 'Stories' addresses, because the archetypes are around us everywhere, today, now, if we care to see them. The trouble is we've got out of the habit of noticing them.... The stories are there, but we don't know them anymore, and we're the poorer for that.

message 8: by Leslie (new)

Leslie | 162 comments That makes sense--I am going to have to get that book, it sounds like one I need to read. It's so hard to make the connection when my life involves being at a computer in a building where I can even tell if it's raining or not, and driving and buying things in stores. Not that those are the most important things, but they do take up the most time. The fact that so many of the myths are so similiar shows they have a deeper meaning for us and are important. It just seems like modern life gets in the way of understanding how.

message 9: by Allan (new)

Allan Hunter | 147 comments That's exactly it. We're so caught up in modern life and what it demands from us that most of the time we can't see the bigger picture. Worse still is that some of us don't know there IS a bigger picture, let alone how to make time to consider it. But it must be done, or our hearts and souls will wither....

message 10: by Leslie (new)

Leslie | 162 comments I agree. At one time I was sure I had the big picture, the church I was so much a part of for so long told me what it was and I accepted that. But I've left that church and all I believed behind. Now all I have left are the questions.

message 11: by Allan (new)

Allan Hunter | 147 comments But Leslie - "all I have left are the questions" is not necessarily a bad place to be! We all have to ask questions and to be satisfied with the answers, especially where our religious beliefs are concerned. Asking those questions is an uncomfortable place to be, but a vitally important one. It's the first of a series of steps towards deepening your own spirituality. We can't pretend those questions don't exist; we have to find our own answers. And that's a spiritual journey....

message 12: by [deleted user] (last edited Jan 07, 2009 05:36AM) (new)

I think its so tragic that people take religious stories so literally and don't notice the deeper meanings beneath them.
Obviously this causes all kinds of conflicts and external fissures but it means that many people experience a personal isolation through believing that they are somehow wrong or even 'bad' for acknowledging the existence of these questions.

Campbell is someone I need to to study more although through my interest in world mythologies and spiritual practices I notice how the same themes and 'journeys' come up again and again.

message 13: by Leslie (new)

Leslie | 162 comments It isn't a bad place to be at all, sometimes though, it still feels like a very sad place to be because I'm still mourning the loss of what I thought I had. I'm still dealing with that, but I'm also excited about all the new possibilities!! I'm kind of in an in between place. And I know the questions are good, not anything bad. In my old church, you had to believe 100%, not 99.9%, that was preached constantly. Questions not allowed. Now I'm in a place inside me where all questions are allowed, and it is exciting, a new journey, like you said!!

message 14: by [deleted user] (new)

Hmmm, I've often wondered why archetypal myths have been unable to break through current literal translations if they are so powerful?

message 15: by Allan (new)

Allan Hunter | 147 comments I think one of the reasons archetypal myths have a hard time breaking through literal thinking (which is what Daveh and Leslie are talking about) is that society has changed a huge amount in the last 3000 years, which is no time at all in terms of evolution let alone in terms of human spiritual need. We've simply forgotten how to think mythically and it's not taught - which it certainly would have been in ancient societies. We can see this way of seeing, still, in some societies that have survived untouched. Remember, fundamentalism is comparatively new, and tends to happen only when a belief system tries to become a power-based religion. Joseph Campbell had a huge amount to say about this....

message 16: by [deleted user] (new)


Do you think that Campbells opinion would be different now if he could see how the media has shaped society into something far more fast-paced than he could have foresaw?

Fundamentalism is entirely dependent upon NOT asking questions of yourself and ignoring any conflict that occurs between a set of rigid rules and the inner voice of empathy and reason. On the one hand it's interesting to view time as cyclical but equally each new moment has never occured before so we can't know that fundamentalism won't eventually overcome myth based logic (Myth being understood as ancient wisdom as opposed to a fable, obviously.)

message 17: by Allan (new)

Allan Hunter | 147 comments Daveh, yes, you are quite right - there are many influences at work to prevent us from getting back to our mythic roots, and fundamentalism is one. I think Campbell knew what an uphill battle this would be in our century. What he observed, though, was that clinging to belief systems that are not based in the wisdom of the Collective Unconscious leads us into 'the wasteland' of madness and despair. We can only find our ways out by reconnecting with authentic myth that speaks to the deep psyche, and that involves asking (and respecting) the sort of questions that, as you say, fundamentalism doesn't allow. Fundamentalism of any sort says there is only one answer. Myth, by contrast, knows that there are many metaphors that approach 'the answers'.... because life isn't as simple as some people want it to be.

message 18: by [deleted user] (new)


I wonder if you might have any views on the connection between Mediterranean Myth and The Tibetan Book of The Dead; do you believe that, apart from the ravages of cultural interpretation, Greek mythology is basically trying to convey the same message regarding our inescapable journey towards death?

message 19: by Allan (new)

Allan Hunter | 147 comments Daveh,
That's a great question. Campbell would say 'Yes' to your suggestion. The Book of the Dead (or as it is perhaps more 'correctly' titled, the Book of the stages in-between lives) is all about soul-work. "Death" for a Buddhist means something very different to what it means in the West, since reincarnation cycles are a given, there. So soul work involves moving towards the release from the pain of constant reincarnations. The Mediterranean Myths and Greek myths are also about growing the soul, with a special emphasis on how we deal with this world, so that we can grow our consciousness as much as possible, here. Now, what's astonishing to me is that, basically, beyond this difference the belief systems are saying the same thing! They recognize the same 'hero's journey' that Campbell speaks of, with exactly the same sorts of struggles described in the same ways.... So it seems to me that your question is right on the money, as long as we realize that as we journey towards death our task is not about death, but to fully experience the transcendent qualities of life. I write about that in my book "Stories We Need to Know" although I focus on western/mediterranean myth more than on Tibetan.

I hope this makes sense in this rather brief format. It's a big question you've asked!

message 20: by [deleted user] (new)

Thanks Allan, I don't have a deep enough knowledge of Buddhism to fully appreciate the comparisons but the little I do know seemed to echo similar mythological struggles in some way. I suppose it opens a path toward a deeper question regarding how we 'know' these things in the first place and how that original knowledge became scattered are interpreted differently throughout various cultures.

I've just ordered your book from Amazon so I'm looking forward to reading your views in more detail.

message 21: by Allan (new)

Allan Hunter | 147 comments Daveh, Thanks for ordering the book - I think you'll find it interesting! As for how we 'know' I suspect that somewhere in our DNA or our Collective Unconscious we recognize certain myths as being vital, and we discard others because they have no value to us. Literature, for example, has always been used as a way for humans to explain themselves to themselves in some way, and when that stops feeling true we tend to let it go and want new stories. Campbell points out that myth is actually only the public version of the transcendent dream (the Shaman's dream) which shows the individual the way ahead. So one might say that the poets and writers of an age have the task of dreaming the dreams that will perhaps guide us and become everyone else's myth. That feels right to me. We all know the difference between a story that truly talks to us about who we are, and mindless pulp fiction, or an advertising jingle. We feel it in our bones, don't we?

message 22: by Leslie (new)

Leslie | 162 comments I don't know how I missed it, Allan, but I didn't realize you wrote the book we've been talking about!! Now I really can't wait to get it! I'm amazed over and over how the same themes emerge. Each culture dresses it differently, but it's the same. That proves its importance in our lives now--the importance of myth to every one. I really believe that!

message 23: by [deleted user] (new)


The idea of collective unconscious is interesting; I was thinking last night about dementia and Alzheimers effect upon the ego and what such conditions might mean for the journey of the individual, does it stop what rational thought can't control the mind or do you think there is another way for it to continue?

message 24: by Allan (new)

Allan Hunter | 147 comments Yes, "Stories We Need to Know" is one of my books, and it seeks to show exactly what we're talking about - that the same six archetypes appear, always the same, always in the same order, always concerned with the same issues - in 3500 years of Western legend myth and literature. I was astonished when I began to see this first many years ago. This knowledge has been there, waiting for us; and it works as a sort of spiritual guidebook that is true no matter where in the world one lives... The underlying patterns are the same.

message 25: by Allan (new)

Allan Hunter | 147 comments Daveh,
I don't know much about Alzheimers, but a psychiatrist called John Weir Perry (a friend of Jung) looked at schizophrenics and saw that as their 'rational' minds collapsed they moved into a space of archetypal imagery that was always the same - even if they had never met. Following this imagery allowed them to reclaim, in their own terms, their sanity, without using medications. The Unconscious seems to know what we need to do to heal, and if we wait and listen for it, it will tell us what we need to know. Fascinating, isn't it? And the imagery Perry reveals is all the same imagery as we get in Jung's discussion of the 'Journey'. (I have a section about this in my book)

message 26: by [deleted user] (new)


Thanks for that. I've started a book by Stanislav Grof which covers some similar subjects; mind within mind, so to speak. I'm not sure if I agree completely with his conclusions though I do accept that there seems to be evidence (of a non-measurable kind for now) of a bigger picture outside our own personal narratives.
The archetypal imagery is closely related to shamanic visions as well, I wonder if you have any thoughts on that?
Entoptic phenomena is a rationalists answer I suppose but I'm not convinced of this at all.

message 27: by Allan (new)

Allan Hunter | 147 comments Daveh,
I don't know Grof, but I'd be interested to know more... Campbell points out that the shamanic vision is always personal to the shaman, who goes into his Unconscious to find the images he needs. This then gets transferred to others who, if they feel the imagery and 'dream' to be true to their own experience, then accept it as a tribal or social myth. These then become accepted by a sufficient number of people who feel their power so that they are seen as archetypes. It's a good formulation, and it shows the Collective Unconscious in action, as it were. The real delight is that if the 'dream' is true it will be felt by others as relevant and even instructive as to the nature of the deep psyche. When Campbell shows the same myths and legends spread across the world, addressing the same sorts of inner pyschic battles, then we can se that our unconscious may be more 'Collective' than we ever thought....

I hope that makes sense. I write a great deal about this is "Stories We Need to Know" (

message 28: by Leslie (new)

Leslie | 162 comments Have you ever read anything by Karen Armstrong? She wrote A Short History of Myth and she's also written many books about different religions. The reason I ask is that you mentioned thinking "mythically" and how hard that is for people now, which I agree with completely--I know it is hard for me. She says that back a long time ago, people thought about the Bible in terms of myth and they understood that the stories in the Bible were myths to teach important lessons, and that it's a fairly modern thing to say that all the stories in the Bible happened exactly as it is recounted. It sounds like she's saying the same thing you are--that people were thinking mythically. It's really interesting!

message 29: by Allan (new)

Allan Hunter | 147 comments Leslie,
Yes, Karen Armstrong is good - so very learned. And she's right about thinking mythically. People knew how to do this in times gone by and then we stopped using our imaginations to make the connections, and started acting like lawyers who observe the letter of the law and not the spirit of it. This probably occurred around the time printing started to spread through Europe (about 1350). We stopped responding to the suggestiveness of language, I suppose, and lost the richness that we have now only in our dream life. And then, to make things worse, we assume we have to have therapists to 'interpret' our dreams to us.

It's possible to get back to thinking mythically, but it involves looking for patterns. If we consider, for example, the case of Noah's flood, if we look for an historical date for that we discover that most religions have a flood myth and that there were dozens of floods at the times when the stories were probably written. And then what have we got? Old news. Yet if we consider the flood myth as a way of explaining that everything changed, that Noah decided which animals were to be domesticated (two by two, so they can breed) then we have a wholly different story about the coming of organized agriculture to what had been a herding/hunting society..... That's rather different, isn't it? And fascinating!!

message 30: by Leslie (new)

Leslie | 162 comments Yeah, that makes a lot of sense! It's very interesting. I know for myself, I've tried to read the folklore and myths of different cultures and I feel like I'm just reading a story, even though I know more is there, I just can't get to it. That's one of the reasons I started reading Joseph Campbell, and also why I am looking forward to reading your book. I feel like I need some help learning how to peel back the superficial layers and find the real meaning.

message 31: by [deleted user] (new)

Don't forget that 'real meaning' may not be literal in any shape or form either: personal, cultural and era interpretation all add and take away from stories too.
That doesn't make the meaning less valid for the person hearing the story, though that can be a good or bad thing sometimes...depending on how influential they want to be!

message 32: by Allan (new)

Allan Hunter | 147 comments Leslie, and Daveh,
'Real meaning' is always hard to pin down, yet I think that what Leslie says resonates with Campbell, who was able to suggest that we have within us a sense of what is authentic and what isn't. It can be manipulated (Hitler springs to mind with his use of the tales of Seigfried) yet I think if we pay attention we can see past that sort of madness. Hitler's perverted mythology collapsed in less than 20 years, while Sophocles still feels true, and worthy, 3000 years later.... One was speaking to what is genuine, and the other was a manipulation. Perhaps if we'd really known myth better, as a culture, such dictators as were so prevalent in the last century would never have been able to rise to power at all?

message 33: by [deleted user] (new)


Thats exactly what I was referring to when I wrote "depending on how influential they want to be".
I DO agree that something common resonates within us all though it's no simple matter to strip away the clothing of myth even if we are the ones who have dressed it in order to suit us in the first place.

message 34: by Allan (new)

Allan Hunter | 147 comments Daveh,

Yes, I think you're exactly right. Perhaps it takes a lot of practice in order to identify the 'real thing'? If so, how do we get the practice we need to strip away that clothing? I don't know. Perhaps that's a life task?

message 35: by Leslie (new)

Leslie | 162 comments It sounds like a life task, I agree, because there is always more to learn.

message 36: by [deleted user] (new)

Yes, I agree with both comments which brings us to a fundemental question we all ask at some point; what IS my purpose in life?
Also, to identify attitudes that hold us back can be difficult. I am trying to live with an attitude of noticing how my actions and attitude impacts upon other people, trying to be a 'good' person, I suppose, but to break destructive (maybe too strong a word!) or negative thinking can be difficult if you don't realize it's occuring in the first place.

This is where 'myth' can help us all and show us a path that examines and reflects our behaviour by offering the proper and beneficial approach to these life-stages.
Ha ha, I hope that makes sense!

message 37: by Allan (new)

Allan Hunter | 147 comments Daveh,
That makes perfect sense. I'd take it one step further, too. If we ask the question, what is my purpose in life? we're already making huge progress, because we know, somewhere in our souls, that we do have a purpose and that we're on the way to finding out more about that. It may take time, but that is a direction, and a purpose. If we then say that we have to get rid of self-defeating habits (as you suggest we all have to) then we're already entering into a purposeful relationship with the world. What the precise shape of that relationship might be we don't yet know. We may have to try a bunch of activities before we get to it. But the road to bliss is also part of the bliss, I feel.

Well, I'm not sure if that works for anyone else, but it works for me and for others I've worked with. And myth, as well as the decoding of myth, is a huge part of that bliss in my life.

message 38: by Allan (new)

Allan Hunter | 147 comments Oh yes, I'm sure it's a life task. Campbell saw it as such, and he delighted in it. It was a way to bliss, and it was deeply satisfying to him - and to others. As you write your memoir you'll be doing the same thing. You'll be unraveling what you used to believe from what you now see as the truth. These are your 'myths' you could say, which can nourish you if you understand them.

message 39: by Leslie (new)

Leslie | 162 comments Yes, we all have our personal myths, as well as the myths that share common themes over history and continents. And the archetypes you talk about--they are still alive and well among us, even if we have a hard time recognizing them. I wonder a lot about the purpose of my life. I have a feeling that fighting sexual abuse is part of it. Through my writing and art, also I've spoke at a few rallies, and I was interviewed for an instuctional dvd that is used in the schools. I also started a button campaign, I might revive that one day. I had buttons with the word "too" made and people would ask me about them and I would give thm a button, along with a little flyer I wrote--too being, it happened to me TOO--which is true of so many of us and also, it happens TOO much. It was pretty interesting how people responded, mostly all positive. I think I have more to do-not just locally. And I think all that will begin with my book being completed and published. I can hear that little voice inside saying how conceited I am that I think I can do so much, but I don't need to listen to that voice--not any more!

message 40: by Allan (new)

Allan Hunter | 147 comments Leslie,
Oh, this is a real life-task. This is a Bliss - because you're spreading wisdom and truth and protecting others in the process. That's what the Monarch and Magician archetypes do, of course, and it has nothing to do with conceit, nothing at all. When one takes one's personal pain and turns it into something positive for everyone who has suffered - then one changes the energy. Defeat becomes victory, one TOO button at a time! Conceit is about ego; it's about saying look how smart I am. But you're not doing this for that reason.

Impressive. You have a courageous and generous soul.

message 41: by Leslie (new)

Leslie | 162 comments Thank you! I keep checking the mailbox every day for your book--I wish it would get here! I try to not listen to that negative voice inside me telling me not to even try and it seems like when I do try to do things, they turn out good. I don't know if all people have something inside them telling them not to do what they need to do, it seems like this perverse part of me is always there, working against me, self-sabotage. I'm working on that in therapy, along with a lot of other things!

message 42: by Allan (new)

Allan Hunter | 147 comments Oh yes - that self sabotaging voice exists in all of us. It comes, usually, from that desire we learned in school (or the family) not to do anything to attract any attention in case we were doing things wrong. So it's actually trying to protect us from mistakes. The trouble is it's so darn cautious that if we listen to it we never get anything done at all. What I do is I talk to that 'voice'. When it appears I thank it for trying to keep me safe, and then I point out that it did a great job for me when I was 10, but I just don't need it now....
After that it usually goes away!
We all have that self-sabotaging voice, and it's like an old car; it was good once, but now we have better things to do than fuss over it.

message 43: by Leslie (new)

Leslie | 162 comments Yeah, I agree. Like a life raft that got us to land after a ship wreck. It saved our lives, but if we land on shore and won't let go of it, we could die from that. All of those childhood survival techniques that we learned, it's hard to let go--but essential.

message 44: by Allan (new)

Allan Hunter | 147 comments Oh that's a great simile! I shall remember that one!

message 45: by Leslie (new)

Leslie | 162 comments My therapist told me that, trying to help me learn some, new, more adaptive, grown-up ways of living my life. He made sure I knew he valued the life raft that got me this far, he wasn't saying it was no good, just that hanging on to it now is no longer what will help me have a good life as an adult.

message 46: by Allan (new)

Allan Hunter | 147 comments I reckon any therapist who comes out with such an apt comparison, one that sticks in the mind so neatly, is worth working with for a while. It's so true, and so memorable. That's metaphor at its best, and that's what gets a myth started as a story.

message 47: by Leslie (new)

Leslie | 162 comments I'm very lucky to have such a wonderful therapist--his name is Joseph and he's helped me in so many ways--helped me get out of an abusive marriage, out of a destructive church--I was in both of those for over 20 years each when I finally left, and to deal with so many difficult issues. I feel very blessed to work with him.

message 48: by Allan (new)

Allan Hunter | 147 comments Blessed is probably the exact right word since either of those two experiences could have been enough to silence you for all time. I'm glad you got free, twice. That took courage.

message 49: by Leslie (new)

Leslie | 162 comments Thank you--I agree, blessed is the right word. I don't even believe in luck, but I still use that phrase, I'm lucky---I guess just out of habit. It seems like oppressive churches and abusive marriages thrive on silence and darkness--nobody telling the truth, and just acting like everything is ok, which what I did for years and years. Now the only thing holding me back is me, which is a great feeling, also scary, but I feel good knowing he is helping me!

message 50: by Allan (new)

Allan Hunter | 147 comments Many things thrive on silence and darkness, as you say, and none of them are any good.

Campbell thought that when we start to pursue our truth and our bliss that the energy of the Universe, or God, aligned itself with us, moving us forwards in ways we could hardly have imagined. I think he's right. I've seen it. If that's 'luck' then it has a lot to do with our own choices!

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