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Book Title: Myths to Live By|
Date of issue: February 1st 1993
ISBN: No data
ISBN 13: No data
The author of the book: Joseph Campbell
Format files: PDF
The size of the: 19.87 MB
Edition: Penguin Compass
Read full description of the books Myths to Live By:The essential Campbell in small, yet healthy portions
'Myths to Live By', aside from the book length transcript of the televised interviews he did with Bill Moyers, 'The Power of Myth', is the only one of Joseph Campbell's books that I have read, not only once, but twice now. I still intend someday to read 'The Hero of a Thousand Faces' and his magnum opus, the four-volumes of 'The Masks of God.' When I read it the first time in the early 80's at a very desperate time in my life, I saw the title and thought, 'Perhaps I can glean some kind of universal lesson or wisdom or learn of some myth that illustrates this mess I'm experiencing right now.' It didn't quite do that although it did open my mind to commonality between cultures and their religions. Now, over 30 years later, at a much different stage of my life, I have read it again and, although it is a cliché to say it, I am not the same person now than the one that read it 30 years ago and it has receded even further in time from the date of its publication; yet most of the things he says about what our world was becoming then seem very prophetic of what our world is becoming now.
'Myths to Live By' is also, coincidentally echoed in another extensive interview he made with Moyers earlier in the decade of the 80's and so many of the nuggets he utters in the interviews have equivalents in this book, a collection of talks he gave between 1958 and 1971 at the Cooper Union Forum, essentially a descendant of the Chautauqua series of the 19th century.
Among these nuggets are the following:
• Most of us are familiar with the Biblical Garden of Eden, the Tree of Knowledge whose fruit Adam and Eve were warned by God to not eat and the serpent from the Tree that tempted Eve and, in turn, Adam to eat that fruit. The serpent is a temptress (temptation is often feminized in Hebrew mythology) and the agent of Adam and Eve's exile and downfall into sin. In the Indian mythology, there is also a Tree, beneath which Siddhartha, later the Buddha, the Wakened One, sits. There is a serpent in this legend as well but it is not evil but, rather, 'symbolic of the immortal inhabiting energy of all life on Earth. For the Serpent shedding its skin, to be, as it were, born again, is likened in the Orient to the reincarnating spirit that assumes and throws off bodies as a man puts on and puts off clothes.' According to the Buddhist view, what is keeping us out of the garden is not the jealousy of an angry God but our attachment to our limited lives in space and time.
• Satan as the great lover of God – according to one Persian tradition, Satan was not cast out of Heaven because of his pride but because he loved God so intensely that he could not bring himself to bow before anything else. 'Now it has been said that of all the pains of Hell, the worst is neither fire nor stench but the deprivation forever of the beatific sight of God. How infinitely painful, then, must the exile of this great lover be, who could not bring himself, even on God's own word, to bow before any other being!' And so what sustains Satan—the memory of the sound of God's voice when he said, 'Be gone!' Campbell calls this an image of 'that exquisite spiritual agony which is at once the rapture and anguish of love!'
• In the same chapter on the mythology of Love, Campbell recounts an incident in which a woman, who had suffered great loss and grief, came to the Indian sage Ramakrishna and said, "I do not find that I love God." He asked, "Is there nothing that you love?" She answered, "My little nephew". To which he said to her, "There is your love and service to God, in your love and service to that child." This awareness of God as immanent in all things is echoed in a passage Campbell quotes from the Gospel of Thomas: "Cleave a piece of wood, I am there; lift up a stone, you will find me there."
• In his essay, "Schizophrenia: The Inward Journey," Campbell compares the intentional schizophrenia of shamans and mystics with the psychotic schizophrenia of many of those in mental hospitals (as well as many an LSD explorer). They both enter the same deep inward sea. The mystic dives in and can swim back out of the depths. The psychotic drowns in it.
• Campbell delivered his talk "The Moon Walk—The Outward Journey" the year after the first moon landing. He is understandably ecstatic and his professorial detachment abandons him as he waxes rhapsodically on the great milestone of this major accomplishment, after centuries of being bound to this small planet in a vast universe, in which man, propelled in a device and using principles developed in the minds of Kant and Newton, that the laws of time and space that govern humans on Earth can also apply when that human ventures to another location in the galaxy, provided humanity with a perspective that the inner space and the external universe have the same origin. "We know that the mathematics of those outermost spaces will have already been computed here on earth by human minds. There are no laws out there that are not right here; no gods out there that are not right here, and not only here, but within us, in our minds."
Campbell uses the exhilaration of his moon chapter to launch into his rhapsodic conclusion, in which he states that mythologies, as in religions, are great poems that point through events to the ubiquity of a presence or eternity that is whole and entire in each. Each of them has the capacity to place the person ingesting them into the "Mind at Large" as Huxley called it. We are animals and so we are driven by an instinct for survival but, whereas a dog can only be a dog and a cat can only be a cat, humans have imaginations that can enable us to be astronauts, physicists, artists or almost anything else. Myth is a tool for illumination of "the waking of individuals in the knowledge of themselves, not simply as egos fighting for place on the surface of this beautiful planet, but equally as centers of Mind at Large—each in his own way at one with all, and with no horizons."
Although the frontiers of space exploration were off limits due to economic and global constraints and have not, at least at this point in time, fulfilled the expectation that Campbell, like Kubrick and Clarke with their film '2001' hoped, most of what he said 40-50 years ago is as relevant now as it was then. Even as boundaries are maintained and humans are still following the impulses to make war that he delineated in his essay on the mythologies of war and peace, other boundaries have been broken. What Campbell did not foresee was the shrinkage of distance in communication that the Internet has brought and the globalization and interdependence of nations and economies that have developed, in part as a byproduct of technological innovation. What wonders he could see, what mythic potential he could envision if he saw the world of the 21st century! And so I, and the world, are different from the one in 1983 when I first read this book or the world of the 50's, 60's and 70's when these lectures were written. Finally, if one wants a relatively concise introduction to the range of Campbell's mythic concerns, aside from 'The Power of Myth', this volume is as good a place to start as any.
Read information about the authorJoseph John Campbell was an American mythology professor, writer, and orator best known for his work in the fields of comparative mythology and comparative religion.
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