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The Power of Myth
by Joseph Cambpell completed: 11 Aug 2015

“When a spider makes a beautiful web, the beauty comes out of the spider’s nature. It’s instinctive beauty. How much of the beauty of our own lives is about the beauty of being alive?”

The myths perpetuated by society influence and condition us in unseen ways.

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  • That’s the man who never followed his bliss. You may have a success in life, but then just think of it — what kind of life was it? What good was it — you’ve never done the thing you wanted to do in all your life.

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  • …if we are ever to give any gift to the world, it will have to come out of our own experience and fulfillment of our own potentialities, not someone else’s.

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  • Joseph Campbell affirmed life as adventure. “To hell with it,” he said, after his university adviser tried to hold him to a narrow academic curriculum. He gave up on the pursuit of a doctorate and went instead into the woods to read. He continued all his life to read books about the world: anthropology, biology, philosophy, art, history, religion. And he continued to remind others that one sure path into the world runs along the printed page.

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  • “You’re talking about a search for the meaning of life?” I asked. “No, no, no,” he said. “For the experience of being alive.”

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  • The last time I saw him I asked him if he still believed—as he once had written—“that we are at this moment participating in one of the very greatest leaps of the human spirit to a knowledge not only of outside nature but also of our own deep inward mystery.” He thought a minute and answered, “The greatest ever.”

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  • He helped me to see the connections, to understand how the pieces fit, and not merely to fear less but to welcome what he described as “a mighty multicultural future.”

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  • People say that what we’re all seeking is a meaning for life. I don’t think that’s what we’re really seeking. I think that what we’re seeking is an experience of being alive, so that our life experiences on the purely physical plane will have resonances within our own innermost being and reality, so that we actually feel the rapture of being alive.

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  • MOYERS: Perfection would be a bore, wouldn’t it? CAMPBELL: It would have to be. It would be inhuman. The umbilical point, the humanity, the thing that makes you human and not supernatural and immortal—that’s what’s lovable.

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  • What’s the meaning of a flea? It’s just there. That’s it. And your own meaning is that you’re there. We’re so engaged in doing things to achieve purposes of outer value that we forget that the inner value, the rapture that is associated with being alive, is what it’s all about.

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  • Marriage is not a simple love affair, it’s an ordeal, and the ordeal is the sacrifice of ego to a relationship in which two have become one.

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  • Man should not be in the service of society, society should be in the service of man. When man is in the service of society, you have a monster state, and that’s what is threatening the world at this minute.

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  • To study Buddhism, for instance, you have to be able to handle not only all the European languages in which the discussions of the Oriental come, particularly French, German, English, and Italian, but also Sanskrit, Chinese, Japanese, Tibetan, and several other languages. Now, this is a tremendous task. Such a specialist can’t also be wondering about the difference between the Iroquois and Algonquin. Specialization tends to limit the field of problems that the specialist is concerned with. Now, the person who isn’t a specialist, but a generalist like myself, sees something over here that he has learned from one specialist, something over there that he has learned from another specialist—and neither of them has considered the problem of why this occurs here and also there. So the generalist—and that’s a derogatory term, by the way, for academics—gets into a range of other problems that are more genuinely human, you might say, than specifically cultural.

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  • I have a feeling that consciousness and energy are the same thing somehow. Where you really see life energy, there’s consciousness. Certainly the vegetable world is conscious. And when you live in the woods, as I did as a kid, you can see all these different consciousnesses relating to themselves. There is a plant consciousness and there is an animal consciousness, and we share both these things. You eat certain foods, and the bile knows whether there’s something there for it to go to work on. The whole process is consciousness. Trying to interpret it in simply mechanistic terms won’t work.

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  • All of life is a meditation, most of it unintentional.

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  • The flight of the airplane, for example, is in the imagination as the release from earth. This is the same thing that birds symbolize, in a certain way. The bird is symbolic of the release of the spirit from bondage to the earth, just as the serpent is symbolic of the bondage to the earth. The airplane plays that role now.

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  • You must understand that each religion is a kind of software that has its own set of signals and will work. If a person is really involved in a religion and really building his life on it, he better stay with the software that he has got. But a chap like myself, who likes to play with the software—well, I can run around, but I probably will never have an experience comparable to that of a saint.

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  • In the period of the Old Testament, the world was a little three-layer cake, consisting of a few hundred miles around the Near Eastern centers. No one had ever heard of the Aztecs, or even of the Chinese. When the world changes, then the religion has to be transformed.

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  • CAMPBELL: That is in fact what we had better do. But my notion of the real horror today is what you see in Beirut. There you have the three great Western religions, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam—and because the three of them have three different names for the same biblical god, they can’t get on together. They are stuck with their metaphor and don’t realize its reference. They haven’t allowed the circle that surrounds them to open. It is a closed circle. Each group says, “We are the chosen group, and we have God.” Look at Ireland. A group of Protestants was moved to Ireland in the seventeenth century by Cromwell, and it never has opened up to the Catholic majority there. The Catholics and Protestants represent two totally different social systems, two different ideals. MOYERS: Each needs a new myth. CAMPBELL: Each needs its own myth, all the way. Love thine enemy. Open up. Don’t judge. All things are Buddha things. It is there in the myth. It is already there.

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  • MOYERS: Of course, we moderns are stripping the world of its natural revelations, of nature itself. I think of that pygmy legend of the little boy who finds the bird with the beautiful song in the forest and brings it home. CAMPBELL: He asks his father to bring food for the bird, and the father doesn’t want to feed a mere bird, so he kills it. And the legend says the man killed the bird, and with the bird he killed the song, and with the song, himself. He dropped dead, completely dead, and was dead forever.

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  • Now, what is a myth? The dictionary definition of a myth would be stories about gods. So then you have to ask the next question: What is a god? A god is a personification of a motivating power or a value system that functions in human life and in the universe—the powers of your own body and of nature. The myths are metaphorical of spiritual potentiality in the human being, and the same powers that animate our life animate the life of the world. But also there are myths and gods that have to do with specific societies or the patron deities of the society. In other words, there are two totally different orders of mythology. There is the mythology that relates you to your nature and to the natural world, of which you’re a part. And there is the mythology that is strictly sociological, linking you to a particular society. You are not simply a natural man, you are a member of a particular group. In the history of European mythology, you can see the interaction of these two systems. Usually the socially oriented system is of a nomadic people who are moving around, so you learn that’s where your center is, in that group. The nature-oriented mythology would be of an earth-cultivating people. Now, the biblical tradition is a socially oriented mythology. Nature is condemned. In the nineteenth century, scholars thought of mythology and ritual as an attempt to control nature. But that is magic, not mythology or religion. Nature religions are not attempts to control nature but to help you put yourself in accord with it. But when nature is thought of as evil, you don’t put yourself in accord with it, you control it, or try to, and hence the tension, the anxiety, the cutting down of forests, the annihilation of native people. And the accent here separates us from nature.

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  • One of the Shinto texts says that the processes of nature cannot be evil. Every natural impulse is not to be corrected but to be sublimated, to be beautified. There is a glorious interest in the beauty of nature and cooperation with nature, so that in some of those gardens you don’t know where nature begins and art ends—this was a tremendous experience.

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  • We need myths that will identify the individual not with his local group but with the planet.

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  • Here you have the important transition that took place about 500 B.C. This is the date of the Buddha and of Pythagoras and Confucius and Lao-tzu, if there was a Lao-tzu. This is the awakening of man’s reason. No longer is he informed and governed by the animal powers. No longer is he guided by the analogy of the planted earth, no longer by the courses of the planets—but by reason.

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  • For example, a constant image is that of the conflict of the eagle and the serpent. The serpent bound to the earth, the eagle in spiritual flight—isn’t that conflict something we all experience?

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  • One thing that comes out in myths, for example, is that at the bottom of the abyss comes the voice of salvation. The black moment is the moment when the real message of transformation is going to come. At the darkest moment comes the light.

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  • a dream is a personal experience of that deep, dark ground that is the support of our conscious lives, and a myth is the society’s dream. The myth is the public dream and the dream is the private myth.

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  • They’ve moved out of the society that would have protected them, and into the dark forest, into the world of fire, of original experience. Original experience has not been interpreted for you, and so you’ve got to work out your life for yourself. Either you can take it or you can’t. You don’t have to go far off the interpreted path to find yourself in very difficult situations. The courage to face the trials and to bring a whole new body of possibilities into the field of interpreted experience for other people to experience—that is the hero’s deed.

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  • one of the main problems of mythology is reconciling the mind to this brutal precondition of all life, which lives by the killing and eating of lives. You don’t kid yourself by eating only vegetables, either, for they, too, are alive. So the essence of life is this eating of itself! Life lives on lives, and the reconciliation of the human mind and sensibilities to that fundamental fact is one of the functions of some of those very brutal rites in which the ritual consists chiefly of killing—in imitation, as it were, of that first, primordial crime, out of which arose this temporal world, in which we all participate.

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  • The power of life causes the snake to shed its skin, just as the moon sheds its shadow. The serpent sheds its skin to be born again, as the moon its shadow to be born again. They are equivalent symbols. Sometimes the serpent is represented as a circle eating its own tail. That’s an image of life. Life sheds one generation after another, to be born again. The serpent represents immortal energy and consciousness engaged in the field of time, constantly throwing off death and being born again. There is something tremendously terrifying about life when you look at it that way. And so the serpent carries in itself the sense of both the fascination and the terror of life.

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  • Why was the knowledge of good and evil forbidden to Adam and Eve? Without that knowledge, we’d all be a bunch of babies still in Eden, without any participation in life. Woman brings life into the world. Eve is the mother of this temporal world. Formerly you had a dreamtime paradise there in the Garden of Eden—no time, no birth, no death—no life.

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  • The mystery of life is beyond all human conception. Everything we know is within the terminology of the concepts of being and not being, many and single, true and untrue. We always think in terms of opposites. But God, the ultimate, is beyond the pairs of opposites, that is all there is to it.

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  • To be born, to live, is to accept aloneness. To experience life, is to experience separation.

    Fear is the first experience of the fetus in the womb. There’s a Czechoslovakian psychiatrist, Stanislav Grof, now living in California, who for years treated people with LSD. And he found that some of them re-experienced birth and, in the re-experiencing of birth, the first stage is that of the fetus in the womb, without any sense of “I” or of being. Then shortly before birth the rhythm of the uterus begins, and there’s terror! Fear is the first thing, the thing that says “I.” Then comes the horrific stage of getting born, the difficult passage through the birth canal, and then—my God, light! Can you imagine! Isn’t it amazing that this repeats just what the myth says—that Self said, “I am,” and immediately felt fear? And then when it realized it was alone, it felt desire for another and became two. That is the breaking into the world of light and the pairs of opposites.

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  • Now, God must have known very well that man was going to eat the forbidden fruit. But it was by doing that that man became the initiator of his own life. Life really began with that act of disobedience.

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  • I think what we are looking for is a way of experiencing the world that will open to us the transcendent that informs it, and at the same time forms ourselves within it. That is what people want. That is what the soul asks for.

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  • Shakespeare said that art is a mirror held up to nature. And that’s what it is. The nature is your nature, and all of these wonderful poetic images of mythology are referring to something in you. When your mind is simply trapped by the image out there so that you never make the reference to yourself, you have misread the image.

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  • Indra says, “I ask. Teach.” (That, by the way, is a good Oriental idea: you don’t teach until you are asked. You don’t force your mission down people’s throats.)

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  • So each of us is, in a way, the Indra of his own life. You can make a choice, either to throw it all off and go into the forest to meditate, or to stay in the world, both in the life of your job, which is the kingly job of politics and achievement, and in the love life with your wife and family. Now, this is a very nice myth, it seems to me.

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  • Life is, in its very essence and character, a terrible mystery—this whole business of living by killing and eating. But it is a childish attitude to say no to life with all its pain, to say that this is something that should not have been.

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  • What is good for one is evil for the other. And you play your part, not withdrawing from the world when you realize how horrible it is, but seeing that this horror is simply the foreground of a wonder: a mysterium tremendum et fascinans.

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  • James Joyce has a memorable line: “History is a nightmare from which I am trying to awake.” And the way to awake from it is not to be afraid, and to recognize that all of this, as it is, is a manifestation of the horrendous power that is of all creation. The ends of things are always painful. But pain is part of there being a world at all.

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  • The hero is the one who comes to participate in life courageously and decently, in the way of nature, not in the way of personal rancor, disappointment, or revenge.

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  • When a spider makes a beautiful web, the beauty comes out of the spider’s nature. It’s instinctive beauty. How much of the beauty of our own lives is about the beauty of being alive? How much of it is conscious and intentional? That is a big question.

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  • Yes, but what is unfortunate for us is that a lot of the people who write these stories do not have the sense of their responsibility. These stories are making and breaking lives. But the movies are made simply to make money. The kind of responsibility that goes into a priesthood with a ritual is not there. That is one of our problems today.

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  • The shaman is the person, male or female, who in his late childhood or early youth has an overwhelming psychological experience that turns him totally inward. It’s a kind of schizophrenic crack-up. The whole unconscious opens up, and the shaman falls into it.

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  • I think it was Nietzsche who said, “Be careful lest in casting out the devils you cast out the best thing that’s in you.”

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  • Movement is time, but stillness is eternity. Realizing how this moment of your life is actually a moment of eternity, and experiencing the eternal aspect of what you’re doing in the temporal experience—this is the mythological experience.

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  • I think it’s Cicero who says that when you go into a great tall grove, the presence of a deity becomes known to you…When a Sioux Indian would take the calumet, the pipe, he would hold it up stem to the sky so that the sun could take the first puff. And then he’d address the four directions always. In that frame of mind, when you’re addressing yourself to the horizon, to the world that you’re in, then you’re in your place in the world. It’s a different way to live.

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  • You must have a room, or a certain hour or so a day, where you don’t know what was in the newspapers that morning, you don’t know who your friends are, you don’t know what you owe anybody, you don’t know what anybody owes to you. This is a place where you can simply experience and bring forth what you are and what you might be. This is the place of creative incubation. At first you may find that nothing happens there. But if you have a sacred place and use it, something eventually will happen.

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  • But our life has become so economic and practical in its orientation that, as you get older, the claims of the moment upon you are so great, you hardly know where the hell you are, or what it is you intended. You are always doing something that is required of you.

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  • But every land should be a holy land. One should find the symbol in the landscape itself of the energies of the life there. That’s what all early traditions do. They sanctify their own landscape. That’s what the early settlers of Iceland did, for example, in the eighth and ninth centuries. They established their different settlements in a relationship of 432,000 Roman feet to each other (432,000 is an important mythological number known to many traditions). The whole organization of the Icelandic landscape was in terms of such cosmic relationships, so that wherever you go in Iceland, you are, so to say (if you know your mythology), in accord with the universe.

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  • Society is always patriarchal. Nature is always matrilineal.

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  • That is one of the amazing things about these myths. I have been dealing with this stuff all my life, and I am still stunned by the accuracies of the repetitions. It is almost like a reflex in another medium of the same thing, the same story. Instead of corn, or maize, it’s a coconut.

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  • MOYERS: Do you think it is true that he who loses his life gains his life? CAMPBELL: That is what Jesus says.

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  • Schopenhauer’s answer is that such a psychological crisis represents the breakthrough of a metaphysical realization, which is that you and that other are one, that you are two aspects of the one life, and that your apparent separateness is but an effect of the way we experience forms under the conditions of space and time. Our true reality is in our identity and unity with all life. This is a metaphysical truth which may become spontaneously realized under circumstances of crisis.

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  • In the Middle Ages, a favorite image that occurs in many, many contexts is the wheel of fortune. There’s the hub of the wheel, and there is the revolving rim of the wheel. For example, if you are attached to the rim of the wheel of fortune, you will be either above going down or at the bottom coming up. But if you are at the hub, you are in the same place all the time. That is the sense of the marriage vow—I take you in health or sickness, in wealth or poverty: going up or going down. But I take you as my center, and you are my bliss, not the wealth that you might bring me, not the social prestige, but you. That is following your bliss.

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  • We are having experiences all the time which may on occasion render some sense of this, a little intuition of where your bliss is. Grab it. No one can tell you what it is going to be. You have to learn to recognize your own depth.

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  • Poets are simply those who have made a profession and a lifestyle of being in touch with their bliss.

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  • Otto Rank in his important little book The Myth of the Birth of the Hero declares that everyone is a hero in birth, where he undergoes a tremendous psychological as well as physical transformation, from the condition of a little water creature living in a realm of amniotic fluid into an air-breathing mammal which ultimately will be standing. That’s an enormous transformation, and had it been consciously undertaken, it would have been, indeed, a heroic act. And there was a heroic act on the mother’s part, as well, who had brought this all about.

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  • Our life evokes our character. You find out more about yourself as you go on. That’s why it’s good to be able to put yourself in situations that will evoke your higher nature rather than your lower.

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  • Now it has become to such an extent a sheerly mechanistic world, as interpreted through our physical sciences, Marxist sociology, and behavioristic psychology, that we’re nothing but a predictable pattern of wires responding to stimuli. This nineteenth-century interpretation has squeezed the freedom of the human will out of modern life.

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  • The drudgery of the lives of most of the people who have to support families—well, it’s a life-extinguishing affair.

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  • Something that’s characteristic of our sedentary lives is that there is or may be intellectual excitement, but the body is not in it very much. So you have to engage intentionally in mechanical exercises, the daily dozen and so forth. I find it very difficult to enjoy such things, but there it is. Otherwise, your whole body says to you, “Look, you’ve forgotten me entirely. I’m becoming just a clogged stream.”

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  • This is exactly T. S. Eliot’s The Waste Land that you are describing, a sociological stagnation of inauthentic lives and living that has settled upon us, and that evokes nothing of our spiritual life, our potentialities, or even our physical courage—until, of course, it gets us into one of its inhuman wars.

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  • The Beatles brought forth an art form for which there was a readiness. Somehow, they were in perfect tune with their time. Had they turned up thirty years before, their music would have fizzled out. The public hero is sensitive to the needs of his time.

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  • You might also say that the founder of a life—your life or mine, if we live our own lives, instead of imitating everybody else’s life—comes from a quest as well.

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  • He says we are in trouble now “because we are in between stories. The old story sustained us for a long time—it shaped our emotional attitudes, it provided us with life’s purpose, it energized our actions, it consecrated suffering, it guided education. We awoke in the morning and knew who we were, we could answer the questions of our children. Everything was taken care of because the story was there. Now the old story is not functioning. And we have not yet learned a new.”

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  • If the person insists on a certain program, and doesn’t listen to the demands of his own heart, he’s going to risk a schizophrenic crackup. Such a person has put himself off center. He has aligned himself with a program for life, and it’s not the one the body’s interested in at all. The world is full of people who have stopped listening to themselves or have listened only to their neighbors to learn what they ought to do, how they ought to behave, and what the values are that they should be living for.

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  • we’re not going on our journey to save the world but to save ourselves.

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  • 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.

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  • that each of us is a completely unique creature and that, if we are ever to give any gift to the world, it will have to come out of our own experience and fulfillment of our own potentialities, not someone else’s.

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  • It’s easier to stay home, stay in the womb, not take the journey.

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  • There is an important idea in Nietzsche, of Amor fati, the “love of your fate,” which is in fact your life.

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  • It is the state you find when you are no longer driven to live by compelling desires, fears, and social commitments, when you have found your center of freedom and can act by choice out of that. Voluntary action out of this center is the action of the bodhisattvas—joyful participation in the sorrows of the world.

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  • The illumination is the recognition of the radiance of one eternity through all things, whether in the vision of time these things are judged as good or as evil. To come to this, you must release yourself completely from desiring the goods of this world and fearing their loss.

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  • The real artist is the one who has learned to recognize and to render what Joyce has called the “radiance” of all things, as an epiphany or showing forth of their truth.

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  • I don’t think here is any such thing as an ordinary mortal. Everybody has his own possibility of rapture in the experience of life. All he has to do is recognize it and then cultivate it and get going with it. I always feel uncomfortable when people speak about ordinary mortals because I’ve never met an ordinary man, woman, or child.

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  • Moyers, what mythology has done for you is to place you on a branch of a very ancient tree. You’re part of a society of the living and dead that came long before you were here and will be here long after you are gone. It nourished you and protected you, and you have to nourish it and protect it in return.

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  • It has been well said that mythology is the penultimate truth—penultimate because the ultimate cannot be put into words.

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  • We have found hundreds of early European Neolithic figurines of the Goddess, but hardly anything there of the male figure at all. The bull and certain other animals, such as the boar and the goat, may appear as symbolic of the male power, but the Goddess was the only visualized divinity at that time.

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  • …the female represents maya. The female represents what in Kantian terminology we call the forms of sensibility. She is time and space itself, and the mystery beyond her is beyond all pairs of opposites. So it isn’t male and it isn’t female. It neither is nor is not. But everything is within her, so that the gods are her children. Everything you can think of, everything you can see, is a production of the Goddess.

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  • it means to find what is the source of your own life, and what is the relationship of your body, your physical form, to this energy that animates it. The body without the energy isn’t alive, is it? So you distinguish in your own life that which is of the body and that which is of energy and consciousness.

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  • Now, the mother goddess in old mother-goddess mythologies was herself already the universe, so the great creative deed of Marduk was a supererogatory act. There was no need for him to cut her up and make the universe out of her, because she was already the universe. But the male-oriented myth takes over, and he becomes—apparently—the creator.

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  • But holding on to yourself and not letting yourself become food is the primary life-denying negative act. You’re stopping the flow! And a yielding to the flow is the great mystery experience that goes with thanking an animal that is about to be eaten for having given of itself. You, too, will be given in time.

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  • This is a motif that appears in the ancient mythologies all the time under many symbolic forms—out of death comes life.

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  • All this hope for something happening in society has to wait for something in the human psyche, a whole new way of experiencing a society. And the crucial question here, as I see it, is simply: With what society, what social group, do you identify yourself? Is it going to be with all the people of the planet, or is it going to be with your own particular in-group? This is the question, essentially, that was in the minds of the founders of our nation when the people of the thirteen states began thinking of themselves as of one nation, yet without losing consideration for the special interests of each of the several states. Why can’t something of that kind take place in the world right now?

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  • That’s where we are, kiddo, and to realize that, you realize how really important you are, you know—one little microbit in that great magnitude. And then must come the experience that you and that are in some sense one, and you partake of all of that.

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  • …one should have faith in his experience and not simply mouth terms handed down to him by others. It stresses the validity of the individual’s experience of what humanity is, what life is, what values are, against the monolithic system. The monolithic system is a machine system: every machine works like every other machine that’s come out of the same shop.

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  • The function of the society is to cultivate the individual. It is not the function of the individual to support society.

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  • And what is the nature of the wasteland? It is a land where everybody is living an inauthentic life, doing as other people do, doing as you’re told, with no courage for your own life. That is the wasteland. And that is what T. S. Eliot meant in his poem The Waste Land.

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  • What was it Jung said—that the soul cannot exist in peace until it finds its other, and the other is always a you?

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  • It says that we’re in two worlds. We’re in our own world, and we’re in the world that has been given us outside, and the problem is to achieve a harmonious relationship between the two. I come into this society, so I’ve got to live in terms of this society. It’s ridiculous not to live in terms of this society because, unless I do, I’m not living. But I mustn’t allow this society to dictate to me how I should live. One has to build up one’s own system that may violate the expectations of the society, and sometimes society doesn’t accept that. But the task of life is to live within the field provided by the society that is really supporting you. A point comes up—for instance, a war, where the young men have to register for the draft. This involves an enormous decision. How far are you going to go in acceding to what the society is asking of you—to kill other people whom you don’t know? For what? For whom? All that kind of thing.

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  • …one of my favorite myths is the story from Persia that Satan was condemned to hell because he loved God so much…when God created the angels, he told them to bow to none but himself. Then he created man, whom he regarded as a higher form than the angels, and he asked the angels to serve man. And Satan would not bow to man.

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  • Love is the burning point of life, and since all life is sorrowful, so is love. The stronger the love, the more the pain. MOYERS: But love bears all things. CAMPBELL: Love itself is a pain, you might say—the pain of being truly alive.

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  • “When before the beauty of a sunset or of a mountain you pause and exclaim, ‘Ah,’ you are participating in divinity.” Such a moment of participation involves a realization of the wonder and sheer beauty of existence. People living in the world of nature experience such moments every day. They live in the recognition of something there that is much greater than the human dimension.

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  • But the ultimate mystical goal is to be united with one’s god. With that, duality is transcended and forms disappear. There is nobody there, no god, no you. Your mind, going past all concepts, has dissolved in identification with the ground of your own being, because that to which the metaphorical image of your god refers is the ultimate mystery of your own being, which is the mystery of the being of the world as well. And so this is it.

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  • The idea of Buddha consciousness is of an immanent, luminous consciousness that informs all things and all lives. We unthinkingly live by fragments of that consciousness, fragments of that energy. But the religious way of life is to live not in terms of the self-interested intentions of this particular body at this particular time but in terms of the insight of that larger consciousness.

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  • I look at you now in that sense, and the radiance of the presence of the divine is known to me through you.

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  • The word “religion” means religio, linking back. If we say it is the one life in both of us, then my separate life has been linked to the one life, religio, linked back. This has become symbolized in the images of religion, which represent that connecting link.

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  • Jung, the famous psychologist, says that one of the most powerful religious symbols is the circle. He says that the circle is one of the great primordial images of mankind and that, in considering the symbol of the circle, we are analyzing the self.

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  • In working out a mandala for yourself, you draw a circle and then think of the different impulse systems and value systems in your life. Then you compose them and try to find out where your center is. Making a mandala is a discipline for pulling all those scattered aspects of your life together, for finding a center and ordering yourself to it. You try to coordinate your circle with the universal circle.

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  • many different cultures tell the story of creation, or the story of a virgin birth, or the story of a savior who comes and dies and is resurrected, they are saying something about what is inside us, and our need to understand.

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  • The images of myth are reflections of the spiritual potentialities of every one of us. Through contemplating these we evoke their powers in our own lives.

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  • When life comes into being, it is neither afraid nor desiring, it is just becoming. Then it gets into being, and it begins to be afraid and desiring. When you can get rid of fear and desire and just get back to where you’re becoming, you’ve hit the spot.

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  • But the goal of your quest for knowledge of yourself is to be found at that burning point in yourself, that becoming thing in yourself, which is innocent of the goods and evils of the world as already become, and therefore desireless and fearless. That is the condition of a warrior going into battle with perfect courage. That is life in movement. That is the essence of the mysticism of war as well as of a plant growing. I think of grass—you know, every two weeks a chap comes out with a lawnmower and cuts it down. Suppose the grass were to say, “Well, for Pete’s sake, what’s the use if you keep getting cut down this way?” Instead, it keeps on growing. That’s the sense of the energy of the center. That’s the meaning of the image of the Grail, of the inexhaustible fountain, of the source. The source doesn’t care what happens once it gives into being. It’s the giving and coming into being that counts, and that’s the becoming life point in you. That’s what all these myths are concerned to tell you.

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  • When I started teaching comparative mythology, I was afraid I might destroy my students’ religious beliefs, but what I found was just the opposite. Religious traditions, which didn’t mean very much to them, but which were the ones their parents had given them, suddenly became illuminated in a new way when we compared them with other traditions, where similar images had been given a more inward or spiritual interpretation.

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  • The peak experience refers to actual moments of your life when you experience your relationship to the harmony of being. My own peak experiences, the ones that I knew were peak experiences after I had them, all came in athletics.

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  • Joyce’s formula for the aesthetic experience is that it does not move you to want to possess the object. A work of art that moves you to possess the object depicted, he calls pornography.

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  • Joyce says that you put a frame around it and see it first as one thing, and that, in seeing it as one thing, you then become aware of the relationship of part to part, each part to the whole, and the whole to each of its parts. This is the essential, aesthetic factor—rhythm, the harmonious rhythm of relationships. And when a fortunate rhythm has been struck by the artist, you experience a radiance. You are held in aesthetic arrest. That is the epiphany.

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  • There’s another emotion associated with art, which is not of the beautiful but of the sublime. What we call monsters can be experienced as sublime. They represent powers too vast for the normal forms of life to contain them. An immense expanse of space is sublime.

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  • …the whole question of life revolves around being versus becoming.

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  • There is an image in the Upanishads of the original, concentrated energy which was the big bang of creation that set forth the world, consigning all things to the fragmentation of time. But to see through the fragments of time to the full power of original being—that is a function of art.

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  • What we are trying to do in a certain way is to get the being of our subject rendered through the partial way we have of expressing it.

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  • There’s something inside you that knows when you’re in the center, that knows when you’re on the beam or off the beam. And if you get off the beam to earn money, you’ve lost your life. And if you stay in the center and don’t get any money, you still have your bliss.

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  • Words are always qualifications and limitations.

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