Reflections as we approach a first anniversary
May 2015 will mark one year since the first meeting of the Joseph Campbell Foundation Mythological Roundtable® of Sarasota. As we approach that important date, our members have done some reflecting on what exactly we try to accomplish at each of our meetings.
When people hear the word “mythology,” many may call up notions of great ancient civilizations and mighty pantheons of terrible deities who ruled mankind. Others may think of dead gods and primitive superstition. In either case the concept of “mythology” evokes the long-gone.
To examine world mythologies through the lens of Joseph Campbell’s incomparable mind, however, utterly dissolves the conceptual barriers between past and present. Through his study of mythology, Campbell gives us a sense of perspective that can sometimes be staggering. In The Masks of God, for example, Campbell translated and braided together threads of human myths spanning the beginning of history to the practice of modern psychology. Campbell’s work effectively creates a map of human thought, culture, and the mysteries we’ve navigated for millennia.
His agnostic, “non-partisan” approach to the material makes it even more fascinating because he makes the stories resonate in ways no mythologist, historian, or literary scholar does quite like Campbell. As he analyzes icons left by people who lived ten thousand years before, he reveals their ideas and messages to be touchstones, not relics. Campbell’s lectures and writings animate the oldest surviving stories to show that they’re “about us” still.
Purely on an academic level, to say Campbell makes comparative mythology utterly engrossing an understatement. But if we go no deeper than an intellectual exercise, then we haven’t gotten to the heart of Campbell’s work. One of the first things a student of Joseph Campbell comes to learn is that myth has function. Today we live in a world where a man has touched the face of the moon, when not so long ago that man’s ancestors looked up at the moon and believed they beheld the face of a god. As a species and a world culture we have traveled so far and learned so much — yet so many of us are plagued with a feeling of being utterly lost.
This is where Campbell reveals the power of myth that enables you to “follow your bliss.” Participants in contemporary mythology are called to develop their own personal mythology in a self-generated discipline or practice, one that allows them to luxuriate in the experience of being alive. It’s a quest to discover moments of resonance, the “aha!” moments where you connect with something deeply moving or meaningful that gives you a fleeting glimpse of your connection to infinity, divinity … however you prefer to name the mysteries we’ve carried with us since the dawn of time.