Hero with a Thousand Faces-Joesph Campbell

by kjbake01

is a book that offers a theory of a “universal mono-myth” it was first published in the late 60s, and is the framework Lucas built the Star-wars saga, precipitating 40 years of continuous publication as storytellers in any format seek its guidance.  Interestingly, it is written by a psychologist, not a anthropologist, and sits in strange literature category.  Sometimes its a history book -this story, that story, how it ties into Freud, Jung, zeus, buddah, Jesus, Moses, king arthur, and God.  I read it in preparation for the 5 marching band shows I’m supposed to be writing, so I can get a feel for a proper story arc.

Oh, and I went ahead and annotated the quotes, hopefully it’ll explain why I included them.

104- There can be no question: the psychological dangers through which earlier generations were guided by the symbols and spiritual exercises of their mythological and religious inheritance, we today (insofar as we are unbelievers, or , if believers, in so fare as our inherited beliefs fail to represent the real problems of contemporary life) must face alone, or , at best with only tentative, impromptu, and not oftern very effective guidance. This is our problem as modern, “enlightened” individuals, for whom all gods and devils have been rationalized out of exitence.”

I was really surprised at how often Campbell comments on the post-modern/modern dilemma: secular humanism doesn’t allow myths, which leaves the world cold, and people without a framework in which to place themselves…so we go crazy, and have to hire psychologists and counselors, who replace the Shaman/priest of old with “science.” (oh good, it has numbers, the moderns will be happy)  Ironically, Freud names his disorders after greek and roman mythology….

Luke 6:27-36…

“But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. 29If someone strikes you on one cheek, turn to him the other also. If someone takes your cloak, do not stop him from taking your tunic. 30Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. 31Do to others as you would have them do to you.

32“If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even ‘sinners’ love those who love them. 33And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even ‘sinners’ do that. 34And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even ‘sinners’ lend to ‘sinners,’ expecting to be repaid in full. 35But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. 36Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.

Okay. Not a big deal, some nice verses from Jesus telling us to be nice to each other.  Campbell contrasts the above verses with this gem of a letter, overripe with ‘christian’ concepts and phrases…  (For those of you who are interested in “honoring the christian heritage of America,” this may come as quite a shock.)

In the year of our lord 1682

To ye aged and beloved, Mr. John Higginson:
There be now at sea a ship called Welcome, which has on board 100 or more of the heretics and malignants called Quakers, with W. Penn, who is the chief scamp, at the head of them. The Gerneral Court ahs accordingly given sacred orders to Master Malachi Huscott, of the brig Porpoise, to waylay the said Welcome slyly as near the Cape of Coad as may be, and make captive the said Penn and his ungodly crew, so the at the Lord may be glorified and not mocked on the soil of this new country with the heathen worship of these people. Much spoil can be made of selling the whole lot to Barbadoes, where slaves fetch good prices in rum and sugar and we shall not only do the Lord great good by punishing he wicked, but we shall make great good for His minister and people.

Yours in the bowels of Christ
Cotton Mather

Proessor Robert Phillips, American Government and its Problems. Houghton Mifflin co, 1941

Wow.  Awesome guys!  So England really WAS a Christian Nation!  Right?  Look at all those great phrases!  Yikes.  Obviously, Penn either wasn’t abducted, or got out or we wouldn’t have PENNSylvania.


The tea ceremonies of Japan are conceive in the spirit of the Taoist earthly paradise.  The tear room, called “the abode of fancy” is a n ephemeral structure built to enclose a moment of poetic intuition.  Called too “the abode of vacancy,” it is devoid of ornamentation.  Temporarily it contains a single picture or flower-arrangement. The teahouse is called the “abode of the unsymmetrical” the unsymmetrical suggests movement; the purposely unfinished leaves a vacuum into which the imagination of the beholder can pour.
The guest approaches by the garden path, and must stoop through the low entrance. He makes obeisance to the picture or flower arrangement, to the singing kettle , and takes his place on the floor. The simplest object, framed by the controlled simplicity of the tea house, stands out in mysterious beauty, its silence holding the secret of temporal existence. Each guest is permitted to complete the experience in relation to himself. The members of the company thus contemplate the universe in miniature, and become aware of their hidden fellowship with the immortals”

This I thought was fascinating, in light of Siedell’s observations about Postmodern art being concerned with creating spaces, transendant moments, and objects for contemplation.  The stillness and mild absurdity reminds me of both the Rothko chapel and the Gober 2001 Chicago installation.  The creation of experience, rather than object…(or objects created to serve an experience).
The agony of breaking through personal limitations is the agony of spiritual growth. Art, literature, myth and cult, philosophy, and ascetic disciplines are instruments to help the individual past his limiting horizons into spheres of ever-expanding realizaaion. As he crosses threshold after threshold, conquering dragon after dragon, the stature of the divinity that he summons to his highest wish increases, until it subsumers the cosmos. Finally, the mind breaks the bounding sphere of the scosmos to a realization transcending all experiences of form-all symbolizations, all divinities: a realization of the ineluctable void.

Pretty much his psychology-unified-myth theory in a nutshell.  I’m pretty sure this guy was drinking the eastern-religion kool-aid.

Okay- here’s the story arc he finally gives us towards the end of the book:

1) The mythological hero, setting forth from his commonday hut or castle, is lured, carried away, or else voluntarily proceeds, to the threshold of adventure.
2) There he encounters a shadow presence that guards the passage.
3) The hero may defeat or conciliate this power and go alive into the kingdom of the dark(brother-battle, dragon-battle, offering, harm), or be slain by theopponent and descend in death (dismemberment, crucifixion).
4) Beyond the threshold, then, the hero journeys through a world of unfamiliar yet strangely intimate forces, some of which severely threaten him (tests), some of which give magical aid (helpers).
5)  When he arrives at the nadir of the mythological round, he undergoes a sureme ordeal and gains his reward.
6)  The triumph may be represented as the hero’s sexual union with the goddess-mother of the world (sacred marriage), his recognition by the father-creator (father atonement), his own divinization (apotheosis), or again-if the powers have remained unfriendly to him-his theft of the boon he came to gain (bride-theft, fire-theft); intrinsically it is an expansion of consciousness and therewith of being (illumination, transfiguration, freedom).
7) The final work is that of the return. If the powers have blessed the hero, he now sets forth under thir protection (emissary; if no, he flees and is pursued (transformation flight, obstacle flight). At the return hreshold the transcendental pwers must remain behind; the hero re-emerges from the kingdom of the dread (return, resurrection)
8) The boon that he brings resores the world (elixir)

256- symbolic expression is given to the unconscious desires, fears, and tensions that underlie the conscious patterns of human behavior. Mythology, in other words, is psychology misread as biography; history and cosmology.

Back to the psycholgy again.. myths serve the psych. needs of the community that keeps them.  This reminds me of the new mega-church book that talks about how these church grow primarily by meeting the psychological needs of their attenders.

We must understand that they (mythological figures) are not only symptoms of the unconscious, but also controlled and intended statements of certain spiritual principles, which have remained as constant throughout the course of human history as the form and nervous structure of the human physique itself.

All myths are universal, the need for all myths is darn-near eternal.  I included these quotes because I think it sets up the author perspective pretty well.

The problem of mankind today, therefore, is precisely the opposite to that of men in comparatively stable periods of those great coordinating mythologies which now are known as lies.  Then all meaning was in the group, in the great anonymous forms, none in the self-expressive individual; today no meaning is in the group- none in the world: all is in the individual. But there the meaning is absolutely unconscious. One does not know toward what one moves. One does not know by what one is propelled. The lines of communication between the conscious and the unconscious zones of the human psyche have been cut, and we have been split in two.
The hero-deed to be wrought is not today what it was in the century of Galileo. Where there was darkness, now there is light; but also, where light was, there now is darkness.  The modern here-deed must be that of questing to bring to light again the lost Atlantis of the coordinated soul.

Boom.  His conclusion.  I point again to the observation that successful organizations are growing by meeting the psychological needs of their adherents. Look at the nerve Obama touched in his supporters, or Biggest Loser, or the Starbucks-third-place phenomena.

Kay. I’m done with the italics, there’s no more quotes so I haven’t confused you.  I’m not sure Campbells call to unifying our souls has been successful.  I’m not sure individualist individuals seeking their own self-actualization has necessarily benefited society. I have plenty of artsy friends (myself included) who spend an inordinate amount of time trying to figure themselves out, but like any small g god, it never seems to be placated, nor does the search itself seem to fruitful in other regards.  I would tend to see the “the dissatisfaction in my life is because I have not unified the two halves of my soul” as a lie and distraction.  File it under the heading “dying to self.”  Campbell makes a good point these heros have to die to themselves (sometimes literally), or sacrifce to proceed to their goal/journey/save the world.  I think our post-modern envy of pre-modern cultures is just grass is greener, and ultimately misplaced.  We’re excited they lived in community, ate organic food, married young and kept family bonds; they’d be excited we have indoor plumbing, washing machines, dishwashers and the like.  In short, we’re jealous that they had peace in parts of their lives in which we have tension and frustration, and vice versa. Which is really the eternal problem of comparison, I don’t really ever value what it is I already have.  I’m amazed by what You have, I covet it for my life, and I’m completely oblivious to the things in my life which You and Others are secretly coveting in mine.

We do this as individuals, families, communities, regions and even nations.

If we could take campbells work and see ourselves as the heros who need to die to self in order to succeed, I think it will be much more fruitful for everyone.