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Joseph Campbell: Ideas
An exploration of the seminal ideas in Campbell's works


Joseph Campbell's oeuvre fills volumes of books and hours of audio and video.  However, like any good teacher, Campbell had certain ideas that he repeated throughout his work.  I am attempting to compile a list of the most important of these (for an exhaustive list, you'll just have to read, listen to, and view all of his work!)  As time goes by I will add a page for each idea, with quotes and comments.  Also, check The Journal for frequent comment on one aspect or another of Uncle Joe's teaching.

A Preliminary List
(in no particular order)

  • Comparative mythology: exploring the myths of various cultures, finding "common ground"
  • The Four Functions of Mythology: the Mystical (opening us to wonder), Cosmological (placing us in the universe), Social (organizing our lives in community), and Pedagogical (teaching us how to live a human life)
  • Metaphor: All words about "the Other" are metaphorical, and less than the "real thing"
  • Becoming "transparent to transcendence": allowing the energies of the universe to work through you (largely by avoiding a concrete, scientific, historical reading of myths)
  • Archetypes: Drawing heavily on Jung, finding keys to understanding widely varying myths through their resonance in the human psyche
  • The "Hero's Journey": A cycle of Call, Departure, Attainment, return, and Transformation underlies the world's hero stories
  • "Follow Your Bliss": Campbell's best known (and, I suspect, least understood) dictum, crystallizing the wisdom he gained from a lifetime of studying myths
  • Native American stories: Along with stories of other primal cultures, these pre-literate stories held special meaning for Campbell
  • Arthurian romance: In contrast to the Native American tales, these are some of the most sophisticated of stories
  • Eastern thought (Hindu and Buddhist): Campbell "went East," as I have, and found there some of the purest soundings of the themes of world mythology
  • Art and creativity: Throughout his work, Campbell often returns to the nature of the creative process, saying that in the past the shaman was the poet and artist of the tribe, and that today the poet and artist is our shaman

Contents (C) 2006 James Baquet

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