The Power of Myth


The Power of Myth, by Joseph Campbell is an amazing book. My world religions teacher tells me that it is a compilation of things from his other books, but the introduction says that it’s the transcripts from his series of the parts that were cut for time constraints. Either way, this book is packed full of things that one can learn.

In the introduction I found this significant: “The message that technology is not going to save us. Our computers, our tools, our machines are not enough. We have to rely on our intuition, our true being.” I also starred the passage on xviii about myth being a metaphor and the images of god being masks of eternity.

The first chapter is titled “Myth and the Modern World.” There were a lot of real gems in this chapter (hell, in the whole book). I found this line particularly true and applicable: “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” (page 5). Campbell is not the first person to compare religion or its practical uses as a computer program, but this really jumped at me: “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” (page 25). I also starred the passage on the bottom of page 28 about myth and what myth is– this is something important for anyone who is even sort of interested in mythology to understand and know. I also starred pages 30-36. This entire section is about America as well as the symbolism and mythology behind America’s founding. Pretty interesting stuff. Likewise, I starred pages 38 and 39, as it lists the four functions of myth.

Chapter 2 is titled “The Journey Inward.” I really enjoyed the explanation of creating your own dream dictionary through self-interpretation on page 48, and fully intend to implement it in daily use. Also, “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” (page 49). I starred the bit about the major problems of mythology on page 50, as well as the archetype definitions on page 60. The best quote in this chapter was on page 73, and says “The metaphor is the mask of God through which eternity is to be experienced.”

The third chapter is “The first Storytellers.” This is a short chapter, with only one real quote of mention: “How much of the beauty of our own lives is about the beauty of being alive?” And the only passage I starred was on page 104, about women and how they don’t feature as a main component to the hero’s journey (as hero) because nature has a coming-of-age ritual that matures her. It also compares her to life.

The fourth is ” Sacrifice and Bliss.” I starred the passage on page 115 about having a sacred place– although simple, and a component of many peoples’ daily magical practice, sometimes it’s good to have a reminder of what exactly this should be. And its purpose is thus “it puts us back into touch with the essential arcetypology of our spiritual life. Going through a ritual day after day keeps you on the line” (page 120). I took a small measure of delight in the information about the Arthurian legends that were sprinkled throughout this chapter. <3 I also underlined this pivotal quote as well: “The final secret of myth– to teach you how to penetrate the labyrinth of life in such a way that its spiritual values come through” (page 143). I think this is really relevant for those of us who are always searching for the path that fits us best; the one that blends the two worlds and rents the curtain between the magical and mundane. I also starred the passage about following your bliss on page 147. This really struck a cord with where I am in life right now.

The fifth chapter is “The Hero’s Journey,” and was the chapter I looked forward to reading the most. This chapter was rich with Arthurian legend as well <3. I really think this quote sums them up fairly well: “When you follow the path of your desire and enthusiasm and emotion, keep your mind in control, and don’t let it pull you compulsively into disaster” (page 162). Page 168 is all about fairy tales and how they relate to the field of mythology <3, and the bottom of page 169 deals with mythology and the “now,” of today. My favorite quote in this chapter comes from page 183, and states that “Myths inspire the realization of the possibility of your perfection, the fullness of your strength, and the bringing of solar light into the world.” It’s closely followed by this one, from page 186: “the great Western truth: 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.” I also marked page 204, about the Tibetan Buddhist Wheel of Becoming, which I found to relate to Tarot in particular.

Chapter six is titled “The Gift of the Goddess.” This is another short and interesting chapter. I marked the section on what the female represents on the bottom of page 210, and the section on page 228 about ritual being the enactment of a myth.

Chapter 7 is another short one titled “Tales of love and marriage,” and I really enjoyed the section on troubadours and the way they helped shape the ideals of love. It was a nice refresher from Medieval European History (what a fun/bland class lol), and a nice alternative perspective on their works. I marked the bottom paragraph on page 238 that dealt with the pioneers of love; it struck a cord in me since they try to take their wisdom from their own experience as opposed to what they were told and taught. I also marked the section on page 250 about marriage being a commitment and not a love affair. This chapter ended with a breath-taking quote: “Love is the burning point of life, and since all life is sorrowful, so is love. The stronger the love, the more the pain” (page 257).

Chapter eight is titled “masks of eternity,” and is the final chapter of the book. This chapter had a lot of gold in it. Page 268 discusses the root of the word “religion,” which I think is important for any one who is interested in religious debate to be aware of. I also marked the section on page 271 in dealing with Mandelas and their personal application– something I certainly wish to attempt in the future. I starred and boxed in this, as the most important concept of the book: “There’s no danger in interpreting the symbols of a religious system and calling them metaphors instead of facts. What that does is to turn them into messages for your own inward experience and life. The system suddenly becomes a personal experience” (page 274). This, I feel, is what is done when one paradigm shifts and breaks down the components of religious systems, lifting what is, to the individual, the most useful aspects of the religion. I also marked the section on page 283 about poetry (how could I not?), as well as the section on page 286 about the use “AUM.”

This book was excellent. I highly recommend it to anyone who is interested in Mythology, religion, or self-improvement. And I will leave you all with this last parting quote: “It is as though our lives were the features of the one great dream of a single dreamer in which all the dream characters dream, too; so that everything links to everything else, moved by the one will to life which is the universal will in nature” (page 284).


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