Transformations of Myth Through Time
Chapter 5: The Sacred Source

Joseph Campbell

Origins of Campbell's "universal ideas" & Jung's Archetypes
Excerpt from this chapter

This book consists of 13 chapters {lectures}, each of which is a slightly edited version of one of the lectures in the PBS series of the same title. Drawing on his vast knowledge, Campbell explains in simple language, with copious examples from all times and cultures, how the same myths occur everywhere in slightly different forms. His lectures are fascinating but fast moving, so now viewers have the opportunity to savor his ideas at a slower pace. The illustrations are also from the series. Considering the continued interest in Campbell and his work, this book is probably essential for most libraries.

The Perennial Philosophy of the East

I want to first present a couple of simple ideas. The first, which I've discussed many times, is an idea of the German anthropologist Adolf Bastian. He recognized that throughout the mythologies and religious systems of the world, the same images, the same themes are constantly recurring, appearing everywhere. He called these "Elementary Ideas", Elementargedanken". But he recognized also that wherever they occurred, they appeared in different costumes with different applications and different interpretations. He called these provincial differences "Folk Ideas", or "Ethnic Ideas" - Volkgedanken.. Now this is a very important distinction. It divides our subject into two quite different departments. Historians and ethnologists are interested in the differences, and one can study the mythologies and the philosophies of the world with an accent on these differences. On the other hand, the problem emerges of the Elementary Ideas. Why are they everywhere? This is a psychological problem, and it's a problem that separates us in our discussion of comparative forms from the whole research having to do with differences. Now in giving the story of the Oriental system, I want to insist on the elementary aspect.
The second idea that I have in mind is as follows. Somewhere in the ninth and eight centuries B.C. a shift of accent takes place, particularly in the Orient. Instead of simply presenting the images, the images are interpreted. That is to say, there is a turn from visual and active relationship to the forms of myth - through the imagery of myth and the rituals through which the myth is rendered into life - an a turn to thinking about these things, interpreting them. And so the Oriental philosophies actually represents a discourse interpreting the elementary ideas.

Now, what happened in the West, following the period of Aristotle, in particular, was a gradual attack on the mythological ideas, so that criticism in the West tended to separate itself from the elementary ideas. However, there is an undercurrent throughout Western thinking also. It's associated with Gnosticism, alchemy, and many of the discredited manners of thought that carry on this interest in what might be called the perennial philosophy. I'm thinking of Perennial Philosophy as expounded by Ananda K. Coomaraswamy and picked up by Aldous Huxley in his Perennial Philosophy. I'm thinking of this as the translation into verbal discourse of the implications of the mythic images. And that's why there can be found in the mystical philosophies throughout the world the same ideas recurring. The continuities we recognize in myth come over into philosophy. This is what is known as the perennial philosophy.

Myth comes in the same zone as dream, and this is the zone of what I call the Wisdom Body. When you go to sleep, it's the body that's talking. What the body is moved by are energies that it does not control. These are energies that control the body. They come in from the great biological ground. They are there. They are energies and they are manners of consciousness. But we also have in this body this affair of the head, and it has a system of thinking on its own. There's a whole manner of consciousness that stems from the head-set, and it is different in its knowledge from that of the body. When a baby is born, it knows just what to do with its mother's body. It is ready for the environment into which it is put. It doesn't have to be instructed, these things happen. This is the work of the Wisdom Body. That same wisdom brought the little thing onto form in its mother's body. It was shaped by these energies that live in us, and of which we are the carnal manifestation. This wisdom of the dream, wisdom of the vision, is the wisdom then of the perennial philosophy. When you dream, your waking conscious aspect does not understand the dream, and so you have to go to a psychoanalyst, who doesn't understand it either. The interpretation is gradual and it comes from the exploration, by the head, of your won wisdom. And so we find that there is a kind of radical distinction between the perennial philosophy in its mode and axioms, quite different from the axioms and mode of the rational system.

The interpretation of the mythic forms went forward in great style, principally in India, very early. And so it's through reviewing the mythologies and interpretations of the myths in India and then in China and Japan that I propose to introduce us to what I take to be the ground thinking of the perennial philosophy. While I want to give a sense of the richness and wonder of the ethnic aspect of the Oriental systems, my principal interest is in extracting from them the elementary - not accenting the ethnic but extracting the elementary.

Here we are on the Ganges. The idea of the sacred river, the Jordan, the waters that pour from heaven, becomes translated into the idea of the grace of the divine, flowing inexhaustibly out of some source. In the India the very source of the Ganges, up in the Himalayan area, is a very sacred place. If one goes there, there are yogis all around practicing yoga, getting close to the source, literally.

The main problem with symbols is that people tend to get lost in the symbol. So they think they have to go up to the head of the Ganges in order to get to the source. The problem in myth, the problem in mysticism, is that you should not lose the message in the symbol. The message is always of the spirit, and when the symbol is taken to be the fact, so that you have to go to Haridwar in order to get to the source of the Ganges, you've mistaken the message.

There's a similar mistake made in the notion that you have to go to Israel to get to the Promised Land. This concretization is one of the major major deceptions in the Western handling of symbols. It's one of the reasons why we've lost touch with the elementary idea and the perennial messages - the concretization of the symbol, the notion, for example, that God is a fact. The God idea is a symbol. Anything that can be named and regarded as a form is s symbol.

There's a wonderful saying by Gerhart Hauptmann, the German writer, "Dichten heistt, hinter Worten das Urwort erklingen lasse." {"Writing poetry consists in letting the Word be heard behind words"}. The whole world is of symbols. In Goethe's words, "Alles Vergangliche ist nur eim Gleichnis." {"Everything that is transitory is but a reference"}. But the reference isn't to any thing. It is what is called the void, sunya, and it's called the void because no thought can reach it. So what these symbols are talking about is something that can't be talked about. They have to become transparent. They have to open. What we find then is that the ethnic opens to the elementary. One of our problems - and these are the two great sources, now, of the problem here in Western interpretation of these matters - is the Aristotelian accent on rational thinking and the biblical focus on the ethnic reference to the mythic symbol. These two pin us down to the world of facts and rational cogitation. But from this other standpoint, those are exactly what have to be transcended; they have to be rendered transparent and not opaque. So I'm going to try to see the whole Hindu system in that way and by comparison refer over to our Western themes.

end excerpt

Buy at {click on book}

Book, VHS, Audio Book
Other Chapters
  • In the Begiining: Origins of Man and Myth
  • Where People Lived Legends: American Indian Myths
  • And We Washed Our Weapons in the Sea
        Gods & Goddesses of the Neolithic Period
  • Pharaoh's Rule: Egypt, the Exodus, and Myth of Osiris
  • The Way to Enlightenment: BuddhisM
  • From Id to Ego in the Orient: Kundalini Yoga, Part I
  • From Psychology to Spirituality: Kundalini Yoga, Part II
  • The Descent to Heaven: The Tibetan Book of the Dead
  • From Darkness to Light: The Mystery Religions of Ancinet Greece
  • Where There Was No Path: Arthurian Legends and the Western Way
  • The Noble Heart: The Courtly Love of Tristan and Isolde
  • In Search of the Holy Grail: The Parzival Legend

  • Myths-Dreams-Symbols is Sponsored by:
    Gifford Fence-Middle Tennessee    &     Gifford Fence Orlando