Joseph Campbell was passionate about his study of myth. His passion and knowledge was able to inspire me to reflect on the many mythical themes presented in his book. I will admit that I do not totally agree on some of his views, but I did appreciate how he was able to relate myth to the modern world. One striking point that he made was that without myth, people will create their own myth. Bill Moyers asked: “What happens when a society no longer embraces a powerful mythology?” Campbell simply states: “What we’ve got on our hands. If you want to find out what it means to have a society without any rituals, read the New York Times.” (Campbell p.8) About rituals Campbell later states: “They make them up themselves. This is why we have graffiti all over the city. These kids have their own gangs and their own initiations and their own morality, and they’re doing the best they can. But they’re dangerous because their laws are not the laws of the city. They have not been initiated into society.” (Campbell p.9) This is a great introduction because it explains the necessity to have “mythology” or even ritual in today’s world. We (society) need an ethos, or an unwritten kind of law to live by. If society fails to foster this, people will eventually create their own ethos. Many times this will be in unlawful and dangerous forms, such as gangs or cults. No matter how much society wants to keep people unbound, or separate, and destroy any sense of myth and culture, people will always need to gravitate and cultivate it.
Campbell later states that there are many mythological rituals in our society, such as marriage, inaugurations, and joining the army. The problem is that the meanings of these rituals has been lost or are not properly taught to people. Basically, there are mythological aspects in our daily, modern life; Campbell strives to allow people to realize this and hence, lead them to their purpose or bliss. This theme ties in with the theme of eternity. Campbell states that: “Eternity isn’t some later time. Eternity isn’t even a long time. Eternity has nothing to do with time. Eternity is a dimension of here and now that all thinking in temporal terms cuts off. And if you don’t get it here, you won’t get it anywhere. The experience of eternity right here and now, in all things, whether thought of as good or as evil, in the function of life.” (Campbell p.84-85) He is talking about “eternity in the moment.” This is something very relevant to our life. People do not recognize the eternal aspects of every moment of their life. We are so busy trying to get somewhere that we don’t even know where we are going, and why. Mythology should allow us to look at humanity and look at life itself. Our bliss can be found in the here and now; we don’t need to wait for something to happen or to go somewhere. This realization can open up so much more in people’s lives. They can begin to start living with a purpose, and to live in the moment, instead of always living for tomorrow.
Joseph Campbell also did a great job of explaining “the hero’s journey.” This journey is extremely relevant to our modern world because everybody has to take it, even if they don’t realize it; the point is that realizing it allows you to truly experience living, instead of merely existing. Campbell summarizes the hero’s journey with this statement: “If you realize what the real problem is- losing yourself, giving yourself to some higher end or to another- you realize that this is the ultimate trial. When we quit thinking primarily about ourselves and our own self-preservation, we undergo a truly heroic transformation of consciousness. And what all the myths have to deal with is transformations of consciousness of one kind or another. You have been thinking one way, you now have to think a different way.” (Campbell p.154-155) This is probably the most relevant theme from mythology that applies to the modern world. Many people who don’t realize the hero’s journey in their lives become depressed and are filled with despair. They don’t understand what is happening and therefore lose sight of their purpose. On the other hand, they may not be able to handle the trials that are set before them. This can also be due to not fully understanding the hero’s journey. The hero’s journey is really the journey through life itself. Trials, sacrifice, and dying to yourself in order to rise to another life is how we truly progress in this life. I think Campbell sums up the power of myth in the modern world with this concluding statement on the hero’s journey: “It’s important to live life with the experience, and therefore the knowledge, of its mystery and of your own mystery. This gives life a new radiance, a new harmony, a new splendor. Thinking in mythological terms helps to put you in accord with the inevitables of this vale of tears. You learn to recognize the positive values in what appear to be the negative moments and aspects of your life. The big question is whether you are going to be able to say a hearty yes to your adventure…..the adventure of being alive.” (Campbell p. 206)