Joseph Campbell

The Mythic World of Joseph Campbell

The Hero's Adventure
Overcoming the Trials in Life

Furthermore, we have not even to risk the adventure alone, for the heroes of all time have gone before us. The labyrinth is thoroughly known. We have only to follow the thread of the hero path, and where we we had thought to find an abomination, we shall find a god. And where we had thought to slay another, we shall slay ourselves. Where we had thought to travel outward, we shall come to the center of our own existence. And where we had thought to be alone, we shall be with all the world
....Joseph Campbell

Other Chapters
The Function of Myth
Myth and Dreams
The Hero's Adventure in Myth
Metaphor and Transcendence
The Importance of Myth
God and Metaphor
Gaia-Nature as Divinity

How did George Lucas Create Star Wars?
The Influence of Joseph Campbell and the Hero Deed

From The Power of Myth with Bill Moyers

Moyers: Why are there so many stories of the hero in mythology?

The Matrix - Joseph Campbell Monomyth
Campbell: Because that's what's worth writing about. Even in popular novels, the main character is a hero or heroine who has found or done something beyond the normal range of achievement and experience. A hero is someone who has given his or her life to something bigger than oneself.

Moyers: So in all of these cultures, whatever the local costume the hero might be wearing, what is the deed?

Campbell: Well, there are two types of deed. One is the physical deed, in which the hero performs a courageous act in battle or saves a life. The other kind is the spiritual deed, in which the hero learns to experience the supernormal range of human spiritual life and then comes back with a message.

Moyers: Does your study of mythology lead you to conclude that a single human quest, a standard pattern of human aspiration and thought, constitutes for all mankind something that we have in common, whether we lived a million years ago or will live a thousand years from now?

Campbell: There's a certain type of myth which one might call the vision guest, going in quest of a boon, a vision, which has the same form in every mythology. That is the thing that I tried to present in the first book I wrote, The Hero With a Thousand Faces. All these different mythologies give us the same essential quest. You leave the world that you're in and go into a depth or into a distance or up to a height. There you come to what was missing in your consciousness in the world you formerly inhabited. Then comes the problem either of staying with that, and letting the world drop off, or returning with that boon and trying to hold on to it as you move back into your social world again.

Moyers: How do I slay that dragon in me? What's the journey each of us has to make, what you call "the soul's high adventure"?

Campbell: My general formula for my students is "Follow your bliss." Find where it is, and don't be afraid to follow it.

Moyers: Is it my work or my life?

Campbell: If the work that you're doing is the work that you chose to do because you are enjoying it, that's it. But if you think, "Oh, no! I couldn't do that!" that's the dragon locking you in. "No, no, I couldn't be a writer," or "No, no, I couldn't possibly do what So-and-so is doing."

Moyers: When I take that journey and go down there and slay those dragons, do I have to go alone?

Campbell: If you have someone who can help you, that's fine, too. But, ultimately, the last deed has to be done by oneself. Psychologically, the dragon is one's own binding of oneself to one's ego. We're captured in our own dragon cage. The problem of the psychiatrist is to disintegrate that dragon, break him up, so that you may expand to a larger field of relationships. The ultimate dragon is within you, it is your ego clamping you down.

Moyers: I like what you say about the old myth of Theseus and Ariadne. Theseus says to Ariadne, "I'll love you forever if you can show me a way to come out of the labyrinth." So she gives him a ball of string, which he unwinds as he goes into the labyrinth, and then follows to find the way out. You say, "All he had was the string. That's all you need."

Campbell: That's all you need--an Ariadne thread.

Moyers: Sometimes we look for great wealth to save us, a great power to save us, or great ideas to save us, when all we need is that piece of string.

Campbell : That's not always easy to find. But it's nice to have someone who can give you a clue. That's the teacher's job, to help you find your Ariadne thread.

Moyers: Like all heroes, the Buddha doesn't show you the truth itself, he shows you the way to truth.

Campbell: But it's got to be your way, not his. The Buddha can't tell you exactly how to get rid of your particular fears, for example. Different teachers may suggest exercises, but they may not be the ones to work for you. All a teacher can do is suggest. He is like a lighthouse that says, "There are rocks over here, steer clear. There is a channel, however, out there".

Moyers: In all of these journeys of mythology, there's a place everyone wishes to find. The Buddhists talk of Nirvana, and Jesus talks of peace, of the mansion with many rooms. Is that typical of the hero's journey - that there's a place to find?

Campbell: The place to find is within yourself. I learned a little about this in athletics. The athlete who is in top form has a quiet place within himself, and it's around this, somehow, that his action occurs. . . . There's a center of quietness within, which has to be known and held. If you lose that center, you are in tension and begin to fall apart.

The Mother As Hero

Moyers:Don't you think we've lost the truth in this society of ours, where is deemed nore heoric to go out into the world and make a lot of money than it is to raise children?

Campbell: Making money gets more advertisement. You know the old saying: if a dog bites a man, that's not a story, but if a man bites a dog, you've got a story there. So the thing that happens and happens and happens, no matter how heroic it may be, is not news. Motherhood has lost its novelty, you might say.

Moyers:That's a wonderful image, though- the mother as hero.

Campbell: It has always seemed so to me. That's something I've learned from reading these myths.

Moyers:It's a journey-you have to move out of the known, conventional safety of your life to undertake this.

Campbell: You have to be transformed from a maiden to a mother. That's the big change, involving many dangers.

Moyers: And when you come back from your journey, with the child, you've brought something into the world.

Campbell:Not only that, you've got a life job ahead of you. Otto Rank makes a point that there is a world of people who think that their heroic act in being born qualifies them for respect and support of their whole community.

Moyers:But there's still a journey to be taken after that.

Campbell:There's a large journey to be taken, of many trials.

Moyers:How is consciousness transformed?

Campbell:Either by trials themselves or by illuminating revelations. Trials and revelations are what it is all about.

Moyers:So does heroism have a moral objective?

Campbell:The moral objective is saving the people, or saving a person, or supporting an idea. The hero sacrifices himself for something greater - that's the morality of it. Now, from another position, of course, you might say the idea for which he sacrificed himself was something that should not have been respected. That's a judgement from the other side, but it doesn't destroy the intrinsic heroism of the deed performed.

Moyers:So the hero goes for something, he doesn't just go along for the ride, he's not simply an adventurer"

Campbell:There's both kinds of heroes, some that choose to undertake the adventure and some that don't. In one kind of adventure, the hero sets out responsibly and intentionally to perform the deed. For instance, Odysseus' son Telemachus was told by Athena, " Go find your father." That father quest is a major hero adventure for young people. That is the adventure of finding what your career is, what your nature is, what your source is. You undertake that intentionally. Or there is the legend of the Sumerian sky goddess, Inanna, who descended into the underworld and underwent death to bring her beloved back to life.
Then there are adventures into which you are thrown - for example, being drafted into the army. You didn't intned it, but you're in now. You've undergone a death and resurrection, you're put into a uniform, and you're another creature.

Moyers:Is the adventurer who takes that kind of trip a hero in the mythological sense?

Campbell:Yes, because he is always ready for it. In these stories, the adventure that the hero is ready for is the one he gets. The adventure is symbolically a manisfestation of his character. Even the landscape and the conditions of the environment matches his readiness.

Moyers:In George Lucas' Star Wars, Solo begins as a mercenary and ends up a hero, coming in at the last to save Luke Skywalker.

Campbell:Yes. There Solo has done the hero act of scarificing himself for another.

Moyers:So perhaps the hero lurks in each one of us when we don't know it?

Campbell:Our life evokes our character. You find out more about yourself as you go on. That is why it's good to put yourself in situations that will evoke your higher nature rather than your lower. "Lead us not into temptation."

Moyers:What about happiness? If I am a young person and I want to be happy, what do the myths tell me about happiness?

Campbell:The way to find your happiness is to keep your mind on those moments when you feel most happy, when you really are happy - not excited, not just thrilled, but deeply happy. This requires a little bit of self-analysis. What is it that makes you happy? Stay with it, no matter what people tell you. That is what I call "following your bliss."

Moyers: But how does mythology tell you about what makes you happy?

Campbell: It won't tell you what makes you happy, but it will tell you what happens when you begin to follow your happiness, what the obstacles are that you are going to run into.
For example, there's a motif in American Indian stories that I call "the refusal of suitors." There's a young girl, beautiful, charming, and the young men invite her to marriage. "No, no, no," she says, "there's nobody around good enough for me." So a serpent comes, or, if it's a boy who won't have anything to do with girls, the serpent queen of a great lake might come. As soon as you have refused the suitors, you have elevated yourself out of the local field and put yourself in the field of higher power, higher danger. The question is, are you going to be able to handle it?
Another American Indian motif involves mother and two little boys. The mother says, " You can play around the houses, but don't go north." So they go north. There's the adventurer.

Moyers: And the point?

Campbell: With the refusal of suitors, of passing over a boundary, the adventure begins. You get into a field that's unprotected, novel. You can't have creativity unless you leave behind the bounded, the fixed, all the rules.

Moyers: And life becomes-

Campbell:-harmonious, centered, and affirmative.

Moyers: Even with suffering?

Campbell: Exactly. The Buddhists speak of bodhisattva - the one who knows immortality, yet voluntarily enters into the field of fragmentation of time and participates willingly and joyfully in the sorrows of the world. And this means not only experiencing sorrows oneself but participating with compassion with the sorrow of others. Compassion is the awakening of the heart from bestial self-interest to humanity. The word "compassion" means literally "suffering with."

Moyers:But people ask, isn't myth a lie?

Campbell: No, mythology is not a lie, mythology is poetry, it is metaphorical. It has been well said that mythology is the penultimate truth - penultimate because the ultimate cannot be be put into words. It is beyond words, beyond images, beyond the bounding rim of the Buddhist Wheel of Becoming. Mythology pitches the mind beyond that rim, to what can be known but not told. So this is the penultimate truth.
It's important to live life with the experience, and therefore the knowledge, of its mystery and your own mystery. This gives life a new radiance, a new harmony, a new splendor. Thinking in mythological terms helps to put you in accord with the inevitables of this vale of tears. You learn to recognize the positive values in what appear to be negative moments and aspects of your life. The big question is whether you are going to be say a hearty yes to your adventure.

Moyers:The adventure of the hero?

Campbell:Yes, the adventure of the hero - the adventure of being alive.

List of Articles:
The Function of Myth
Myth and Dreams
The Hero's Adventure in Myth
Metaphor and Transcendence
God and Metaphor
The Importance of Myth
Gaia-Nature as Divinity

Web Design By

Creative Thinking Web Design
Melbourne, Florida