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The Joseph Campbell Multimedia Archive

Joseph Campbell (1904-1987)

Joseph Campbell's long odyseey through the seas of ancient mythology was as much a spiritual quest as it was a scholarly one. Through his prodigious readings, writings, and travels, as well as his crossroad meetings with many of the century's most influential men and women, he discovered remarkable parallels in our world's mythological heritage and reinforcement for the deep conviction he had held since he was a young student: that there is a fundamental unity at the heart of nature.

"Truth is one, the sages speak of it by many names," he often quoted the Vedas. To synthesize the constant truths of history became the burning point of his life; to bridge the abyss between science and religion, mind and body, East and West, with the timeless linkage of myths became his task of tasks.

"My hope," he wrote in his preface to The Hero with a Thousand Faces, "is that a comparative elucidation may contribute to the perhaps not-quite-desperate cause of those forces that are working in the present world for unification, not in the name of some ecclesiastical or political empire, but in the name of human mutual understanding."

Campbell's comparative historical approach to mythology, religion, and literature, in contrast to the conventional scholar's emphasis on cultural differences, concentrated on similarities. He was convinced that the common themes or archetypes in our sacred stories and images transcended the variations or cultural manifestations. Moreover he believed that a re-viewing of such primordial images in mythology as the hero, death and resurrection, the virgin birth, and the promised land--the universal aspects of the soul, the blood memories--could reveal our common psychological roots. They could even show us, as seen from below, how the soul views itself.

"Myths are the 'masks of God'," he wrote, "through which men everywhere have sought to relate themselves to the wonders of existence." The shock of recognition we receive from the timelessness of these images, from primal cultures to the most contemporary, he believed, was an illumination not only of our inward life but of the same deep spiritual ground from which all human life springs.

So as Albert Einstein pursued a unified field theory for the energies of the outer realms, Joseph Campbell dedicated himself to forging a kind of unified field theory of the equally prodigious energies of the inner realms, the personifications of which we call "the gods." And what physicists call the "fabric of reality" Campbell called "the net of gems," a sparkling metaphor from Hindu cosmology that is also a keen image of his own unique weaving together of myth, religion, science, and art. His teachers in those disciplines, he concluded, were all saying essentially the same thing: that there is a system of archetypal impulses that have stirred the human spirit throughout history. It is, as he synthesized it, "one grandiose song."

The iconoclast road he took as scholar, teacher, and writer was not unlike the "left-hand paths" he discovered in myriad myths: what the Kena Upanishads call the crossing of "a bridge as sharp as the edge of a razor"; the taking of the "middle way" of the Buddhists; or the entering of the dark forest of the Grail Quest "where there is no way or path." Intuitively he followed his Tao of Scholarship beyond the hallowed halls of traditional academia and into a spiritual and psychological view of mythology, which embraces the transcendent Reality referred to by saints and shamans that can be directly experienced. This form of direct perception of what the mystics called cosmic consciousness is nothing less than a personal encounter with the gods. It is the healing vision of order underlying apparent chaos, the seizure of life-affirming Beauty in the heart of darkness. If "snatching the eternal out of the ever-fleeting is one of the great tricks of human existence," as Tennesee Williams said, then those who can experience eternity now, from Campbell's challenging perspective, become our tricksters, our spiritual guides.

Campbell's decidedly unconventional career deprived him, he used to joke, of some prestige from his fellow scholars. But it was obvious to those of us who knew him that he took great pride in being the maverick of the "dilettante," "the one who takes delight in," as he once described his own mentor, the Indologist Heinrich Simmer. He could afford to. His enthusiasm--literally his being full of the gods--had won him the hearts and minds of students early on in his career at Sarah Lawrence, and later, scores of artists. His own fascination with the "great stuff of myth" turned thinking into an adventure, translated knowledge into wisdom, and revealed the personal relevance of mythology to those who heard or read him. To them he was far more than the popularizer who trivializes his subject; he was what the French elegantly call the "animateur," the charismatic teacher who not only animates complex material for the average audience, but evokes what Vladimir Nabakov called the frisson, the telling shiver of truth about your own life. For that gift alone he became one of the most beloved teachers of our time.

Yet after more than fifty years of teaching and more than twenty books, Campbell felt that his contribution was simply that he gave people "the key to the realm of the muses," that marvelous realm beyond the visible one from which imagination and inspiration guide us in shaping our lives. In that role he was a modern mystagogue, a guide through the often inscrutable mysteries of the ancient texts of Beowulf, Gilgamesh, the Tibetan Book of the Dead, the Egyptian mysteries, the Iliad and the Odyssey, the Arthurian romances, the American Indian myths, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Christianity, as well as such modern myth-makers as James Joyce, Thomas Mann, and Pablo Picasso. In his rendering of these majestic narratives and images, he taught us the poet's way of "How to Read a Myth" (the original title for The Hero with a Thousand Faces): symbolically, metaphorically, soulfully.

But beyond his talent for "metamorphosis," that is, his ability to read into these transformative riddles of life and death, Campbell personalized the classics like few scholars before him. To complement the rigorous methods of scholarship, he revived the art of hermeneutics--inventive interpretations in the spirit of Hermes, the soul-guide--and fused them with the glint-in-the-eye-regaling of a wise Irish storyteller. In so doing he breathes new life into the old myths, as Albert Camus said each generation must do. As he did with one of his favorite tales, the Parsifal legend, when he threw down the gauntlet at the end of his Arthurian romance seminars. So is it goiing to be the Grail Quest or is it going to be the Wasteland? he would ask. Are you going to go on the creative soul's quest or are you going to pursue the life that only gives you security? Are you going to follow the star of the zeal of your own enthusiasm? Are you going to live the myth or is the myth going to live you?

--Phil Cousineau, Introduction, The Hero's Journey: Joseph Campbell on His Life and Work, pp. xi-xiv.




Joseph Campbell and Jamake Highwater - Myth and Metaphor in Society


Joseph Campbell Audio Collection Vol. 1 to 6

Volume One: Mythology and the Individual
Volume Two: The Inward Journey: East and West
Volume Three: The Eastern Way
Volume Four: Man and Myth
Volume Five: Masks of Myth and God
Volume Six: The Western Quest


Joseph Campbell - The Grail Legends


Joseph Campbell - The Hero With a Thousand Faces


The Lost Teachings of Joseph Campbell

1. Myths, Personal Dreams and Universal Themes (2 hrs.)
2. Mythological Musings (2 hrs.)
3. The Myth of the Fool and Other Tales (2 hrs.)
4. A Conversation with Joseph Campbell (2 hrs.)
5. Joseph Campbell: Man of a Thousand Myths (1 hr.)
6. Myth as a metaphor (1 hr.)
7. Ancient Voices (1 hr.)
8. Call of the Hero (1 hr.)
9. Beyond Dogma: The Vision Quest Experience (2 hrs.)


World Mythology and the Individual Adventure I


The Wisdom of Joseph Campbell - In Conversation With Michael Toms




Historical Atlas of World Mythology, Vol. I: The Way of the Animal Powers; Part 1: Mythologies of the Primitive Hunters and Gatherers


Myths To Live By


The Hero With a Thousand Faces (Commemorative Edition)


The Inner Reaches of Outer Space: Metaphor as Myth and as Religion


Masks of God

The Masks of God: Primitive Mythology

The Masks of God: Oriental Mythology

The Masks of God: Occidental Mythology

The Masks of God: Creative Mythology


Man and Time: Papers from the Eranos Yearbooks - edited by Joseph Campbell


Spiritual Disciplines: Papers from the Eranos Yearbooks - edited by Joseph Campbell




The Power of Myth - PBS/Bill Moyers Special

Episode 1: The Hero's Adventure (first broadcast June 21, 1988 on PBS)

Episode 2: The Message of the Myth (first broadcast June 22, 1988 on PBS)

Episode 3: The First Storytellers (first broadcast June 23, 1988 on PBS)

Episode 4: Sacrifice and Bliss (first broadcast June 24, 1988 on PBS)

Episode 5: Love and the Goddess (first broadcast June 25, 1988 on PBS)

Episode 6: Masks of Eternity (first broadcast June 26, 1988 on PBS)

Mythos Vol I - III

Mythos: Vol. 1, The Shaping of Our Mythic Tradition (1999)

Mythos - 1.1: Psyche & Symbol - The psychological impulse for and response to myth
Mythos - 1.2: The Spirit Land - How myths awakened American Indians to the mystery of life.
Mythos - 1.3: On Being Human - The emergence of myth in early hunter-gatherer societies
Mythos - 1.4: From Goddesses to God - The gradual shift from the Goddess to male, warlike deities
Mythos - 1.5: The Mystical Life - Non-biblical mythic strains that helped shape the Western spirit

Mythos: Vol. 2, The Shaping of the Eastern Tradition (2000)

Mythos - 2.1: The Inward Path - The core myths of the great Asian religions
Mythos - 2.2: The Enlightend One - The Buddha and enlightenment, East and West
Mythos - 2.3: Our Eternal Selves - Yoga and transcendence
Mythos - 2.4: The Way to Illumination - Kundalini yoga and the seven chakras
Mythos - 2.5: The Experience of God - Tibetan Buddhism and the spiritual journey that is death

Mythos: Vol. 3, The Shaping of the Western Tradition (2011)

Mythos - 3.1: Love as the Guide - The Arthurian romances, including Tristan and Iseult
Mythos - 3.2: The Path of the Heart - Parzival and the Grail Quest
Mythos - 3.3: Beyond Time and Space - The Romantic philosophers
Mythos - 3.4: Between Pairs of Opposites - Thomas Mann and The Magic Mountain
Mythos - 3.5: Into the Well of Myth - The Joseph novels and modern myth


Thinking Allowed - Understanding Mythology




Transformations of Myth Through Time