THE JOURNEY INWARD
- One thing that comes out in myths is
that at the bottom of the abyss comes the voice of salvation.
The black moment is the moment when the real message of
transformation is going to come. At the darkest moment comes
Someone asked me, "Why are you drawn to these myths? What do you
see in what Joseph Campbell is saying?" And I answered, "These
myths speak to me because they express what I know inside is
true." Why is this so? Why does it seem that these stories tell me
what I know inside is true? Does that come from the ground of my
being, the unconscious that I have inherited from all that has
come before me?
- CAMPBELL: That's right. You've got the same body, with the same
organs and energies, that Cro-Magnon man had thirty thousand years
ago. Living a human life in New York City or living a human life
in the caves, you go through the same stages of childhood, coming
to sexual maturity, transfor mation of the dependency of childhood
into the responsibility of manhood or womanhood, marriage, then
failure of the body, gradual loss of its powers, and death. You
have the same body, the same bodily experiences, and so you
respond to the same images. For example, a constant image is that
of the conflict of the eagle and the serpent. The serpent bound to
the earth, the eagle in spiritual flight - isn't that conflict
something we all experience? And then, when the two amalgamate, we
get a wonderful dragon, a serpent with wings. All over the earth
people recognize these images. Whether I am reading Polynesian or
Iroquois or Egyptian myths, the images are the same, and they are
talking about the same problems.
They just wear different costumes when they appear at different
- CAMPBELL: Yes. It's as though the same play were taken from one
place to another, and at each place the local players put on local
costumes and enact the same old play.
And these mythic images are carried forward from generation to
generation, almost unconsciously.
- CAMPBELL: That's utterly fascinating, because they are speaking
about he deep mystery of yourself and everything else. It is a
mysterium, a mystery, remendum et fascinans-tremendous, horrific,
because it smashes all of your ixed notions of things, and at the
same time utterly fascinating, because it's of your own nature and
being. When you start thinking about these thing' about the inner
mystery, inner life, the eternal life, there aren't too man images
for you to use. You begin, on your own, to have the images that ar
already present in some other system of thought.
There was a sense during medieval times of reading the world as if
the world had messages for you.
- CAMPBELL: Oh, it certainly does. The myths help you read the
messages. They tell you the typical probabilities.
Give me an example.
- CAMPBELL: One thing that comes out in myths, for example, is
that a the bottom of the abyss comes the voice of salvation. The
black moment the moment when the real message of transformation is
going to come. A the darkest moment comes the light.
Like Roethke's poem, "In a Dark Time, the Eye Begins tSee." You're
saying that myths have brought this consciousness to you.
- CAMPBELL: I live with these myths, and they tell me this all the
time This is the problem that can be metaphorically understood as
identifying with the Christ in you. The Christ in you doesn't die.
The Christ in you survives death and resurrects. Or you can
identify that with Shiva. I art Shiva-this is the great meditation
of the yogis in the Himalayas.
And heaven, that desired goal of most people, is within us.
- CAMPBELL: Heaven and hell are within us, and all the gods are
within us. This is the great realization of the Upanishads of
India in the ninth century B.C. All the gods, all the heavens, all
the worlds, are within us. They are magnified dreams, and dreams
are manifestations in image form of the energies of the body in
conflict with each other. That is what myth is. Myth is a
manifestation in symbolic images, in metaphorical images, of the
energies of the organs of the body in conflict with each other.
This organ wants this, that organ wants that. The brain is one of
So when we dream, we are fishing in some vast ocean mythology
- CAMPBELL: -that goes down and down and down. You can get all
mixed up with complexes, you know, things like that, but really,
as the Polynesian saying goes, you are then "standing on a whale
fishing for minnows. We are standing on a whale. The ground of
being is the ground of our being, and when we simply turn outward,
we see all of these little problems here and there. But, if we
look inward, we see that we are the source of them all.
You talk about mythology existing here and now in dreamtime. What
- CAMPBELL: This is the time you get into when you go to sleep and
have a dream that talks about permanent conditions within your own
psyche as they relate to the temporal conditions of your life
- CAMPBELL: For example, you may be worried about whether you are
going to pass an exam. Then you have a dream of some kind of
failure, and you find that failure will be associated with many
other failures in your life. They are all piled up together there.
Freud says even the most fully expounded dream is not really fully
expounded. The dream is an inexhaust ible source of spiritual
information about yourself.
- Now the level of dream of "Will I pass the
exam?" or "Should I marry this girl?"-that is purely personal.
But, on another level, the problem of passing an exam is not
simply a personal problem. Everyone has to pass a threshold of
some kind. That is an archetypal thing. So there is a basic
mythological theme there even though it is a personal dream. These
two levels-the personal aspect and then the big general problem of
which the person's problem is a local example-are found in all
cultures. For example, everyone has the problem of facing death.
This is a standard mystery.
What do we learn from our dreams?
- CAMPBELL: You learn about yourself.
How do we pay attention to our dreams?
- CAMPBELL: All you have to do is remember your dream in the first
place, and write it down. Then take one little fraction of the
dream, one or two images or ideas, and associate with them. Write
down what comes to your mind, and again what comes to your mind,
and again. You'll find that the dream is based on a body of
experiences that have some kind of significance in your life and
that you didn't know were influencing you. Soon the next dream
will come along, and your interpretation will go further.
A man once told me that he didn't remember dreaming until he
retired. Suddenly, having no place to focus his energy, he began
to dream and dream and dream. Do you think that we tend to
overlook the signifi cance of dreaming in our modern
- CAMPBELL: Ever since Freud's Inteipretation of Dreams was
published, there has been a recognition of the importance of
dreams. But even before that there were dream interpretations.
People had superstitious notions about dreams-for example,
"Something is going to happen because I dreamed it is going to
Why is a myth different from a dream?
- CAMPBELL: Oh, because a dream is a personal experience of that
deep, dark ground that is the support of our conscious lives, and
a myth is the society's dream. The myth is the public dream and
the dream is the private myth. If your private myth, your dream,
happens to coincide with that of the society, you are in good
accord with your group. If it isn't, you've got an adventure in
the dark forest ahead of you.
So if my private dreams are in accord with the public mythol ogy,
I'm more likely to live healthily in that society. But if my
private dreams are out of step with the public-
- CAMPBELL: -you'll be in trouble. If you're forced to live in
that system, you'll be a neurotic.
But aren't many visionaries and even leaders and heroes close to
the edge of neuroticism?
- CAMPBELL: Yes, they are.
How do you explain that?
- CAM PB EL L: They've moved out of the society
that would have protected them, and into the dark forest, into the
world of fire, of original experience. Original experience has not
been interpreted for you, and so you've got to work out your life
for yourself. Either you can take it or you can't. You don't have
to go far off the interpreted. path to find yourself in very
difficult situations. 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
You say dreams come up from the psyche.
- CAMPBELL: I don't know where else they come from. They come from
the imagination, don't they? The imagination is grounded in the
energy of the organs of the body, and these are the same in all
human beings. Since imagination comes out of one biological
ground, it is bound to produce certain themes. Dreams are dreams.
There are certain characteristics of dreams that can be
enumerated, no matter who is dreaming them.
I think of a dream as something very private, while a myth is
something very public.
- CAMPBELL: On some levels a private dream runs into truly mythic
themes and can't be interpreted except by an analogy with a myth.
Jung speaks of two orders of dream, the personal dream and the
archetypal dream, or the dream of mythic dimension. You can
interpret a personal dream by association, figuring out what it is
talking about in your own life, or in relation to your own
personal problem. But every now and then a dream comes up that is
pure myth, that carries a mythic theme, or that is said, for
example, to come from the Christ within.
From the archetypal person within us, the archetypal self we
- CAMPBELL: That's right. Now there is another, deeper meaning of
dreamtime-which is of a time that is no time, just an enduring
state of being. There is an important myth from Indonesia that
tells of this mytho logical age and its termination. In the
beginning, according to this story, the ancestors were not
distinguished as to sex. There were no births, there were no
deaths. Then a great public dance was celebrated, and in the
course of the dance one of the participants was trampled to death
and torn to pieces, and the pieces were buried. At the moment of
that killing the sexes became separated, so that death was now
balanced by begetting, begetting by death, while from the buried
parts of the dismembered body food plants grew. Time had come into
being, death, birth, and the killing and eating of other living
beings, for the preservation of life. The timeless time of the
beginning had been terminated by a communal crime, a deliberate
murder or sacrifice.
- Now, one of the main problems of mythology is
reconciling the mind to this brutal precondition of all life,
which lives by the killing and eating of lives. You don't kid
yourself by eating only vegetables, either, for they, too, are
alive. So the essence of life is this eating of itself! Life lives
on lives, and the reconciliation of the human mind and
sensibilities to that fundamental fact is one of the functions of
some of those very brutal rites in which the ritual consists
chiefly of killing-in imitation, as it were, of that first,
primordial crime, out of which arose this temporal world, in which
we all participate. The reconciliation of mind to the conditions
of life is fundamen tal to all creation stories. They're very like
each other in this respect.
Take the creation story in Genesis, for example. How is it like
- CAMPBELL: Well, you read from Genesis, and I'll read from
creation stories in other cultures, and we'll see.
Genesis 1: "In the beginning God created the heavens and
- earth. The earth was without form and void,
and darkness was upon the face of the deep."
- CAMPBELL: This is from "The Song of the World," a legend of the
- Indians of Arizona: "In the beginning there
was only darkness everywhere-darkness and water. And the darkness
gathered thick in places, crowding, together and then separating,
crowding and separating. . .
Genesis 1: "And the Spirit of God was moving over the face of the
waters. And God said, 'Let there be light'; and there was
- CAMPBELL: And this is from the Hindu Upanishads, from about the
eighth century B.C.: "In the beginning, there was only the great
self reflected in the form of a person. Reflecting, it found
nothing but itself. Then its first word was, 'This am I.'
Genesis 1: "So God created man in his own image, in the image of
God he created him; male and female he created them. And God
blessed them, and God said to them, 'Be fruitful and
- CAMPBELL: Now, this is from a legend of the Bassari people of
West Africa: "Unumbotte made a human being. Its name was Man.
Unumbotte next made an antelope, named Antelope. Unumbotte made a
snake, named Snake. . . . And Unumbotte said to them, 'The earth
has not yet been pounded. You must pound the ground smooth where
you are sitting.' Unumbotte gave them seeds of all kinds, and
said: 'Go plant these.'
Genesis 2: "Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all
the host of them. And on the seventh day God finished his work
which he had done
- CAMPBELL: And now again from the Pima Indians: "I make the world
and lo, the world is finished. Thus I make the world, and lo! The
world is finished."
And Genesis 1: "And God saw everything that he had made and
behold, it was very good."
- CAMPBELL: And from the Upanishads: "Then he realized, I indeed,
am this creation, for I have poured it forth from myself. In that
way h became this creation. Verily, he who knows this becomes in
this creation creator."
- That is the clincher there. When you know
this, then you have identified with the creative principle, which
is the God power in the world, which means in you. It is
But Genesis continues: " 'Have you eaten of the tree of which I
commanded you not to eat?' The man said, 'The woman whom thou
gave' to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate.'
Then the Lord Go said to the woman, 'What is this that you have
done?' The woman said 'The serpent beguiled me, and I ate.'
- You talk about buck passing, it starts very
- CAMPBELL: Yes, it has been tough on serpents. The Bassari legend
continues in the same way. "One day Snake said, 'We too should eat
these fruits. Why must we go hungry?' Antelope said, 'But we don't
know anything about this fruit.' Then Man and his wife took some
of the fruit and ate ii Unumbotte came down from the sky and
asked, 'Who ate the fruit?' The answered, 'We did.' Unumbotte
asked, 'Who told you that you could eat that fruit?' They replied,
'Snake did.' "It is very much the same story.
What do you make of it - that in these two stories the principal
actors point to someone else as the initiator of the Fall?
- CAMPBELL: Yes, but it turns out to be the snake. In both of
these stories the snake is the symbol of life throwing off the
past and continuing to live.
- CAMPBELL: The power of life causes the snake to shed its skin,
just as the moon sheds its shadow. The serpent sheds its skin to
be born again, - the moon its shadow to be born again. They are
equivalent symbol' Sometimes the serpent is represented as a
circle eating its own tail. That an image of life. Life sheds one
generation after another, to be born again The serpent represents
immortal energy and consciousness engaged in the field of time,
constantly throwing off death and being born again. There
something tremendously terrifying about life when you look at it
that way. And so the serpent carries in itself the sense of both
the fascination and the terror of life.
- Furthermore, the serpent represents the
primary function of life, mainly eating. Life consists in eating
other creatures. You don't think about that very much when you
make a nice-looking meal. But what you're doing eating something
that was recently alive. And when you look at the beauty of
nature, and you see the birds picking around-they're eating
things. You see the cows grazing, they're eating things. The
serpent is a traveling alimentary canal, that's about all it is.
And it gives you that primary sense of shock, of life in its most
primal quality. There is no arguing with the animal at all. Life
lives by killing and eating itself, casting off death an being
reborn, like the moon. This is one of the mysteries that these
symbolic, paradoxical forms try to represent.
- Now the snake in most cultures is given a
positive interpretation. In India, even the most poisonous snake,
the cobra, is a sacred animal, and the mythological Serpent King
is the next thing to the Buddha. The serpent represents the power
of life engaged in the field of time, and of death, yet eternally
alive. The world is but its shadow-the falling skin.
- The serpent was revered in the American Indian
traditions, too. The serpent was thought of as a very important
power to be made friends with. Go down to the pueblos, for
example, and watch the snake dance of the Hopi, where they take
the snakes in their mouths and make friends with them and then
send them back to the hills. The snakes are sent back to carry the
human message to the hills, just as they have brought the message
of the hills to the humans. The interplay of man and nature is
illustrated in this relationship with the serpent. A serpent flows
like water and so i
- is watery, but its tongue continually flashes
fire. So you have the pair of opposites together in the
In the Christian story the serpent is the seducer.
- CAMPBELL: That amounts to a refusal to affirm life. In the
biblical tradition we have inherited, life is corrupt, and every
natural impulse is sinful unless it has been circumcised or
baptized. The serpent was the one who brought sin into the world.
And the woman was the one who handed the apple to man. This
identification of the woman with sin, of the serpent with sin, and
thus of life with sin, is the twist that has been given to the
whole story in the biblical myth and doctrine of the Fall.
Does the idea of woman as sinner appear in other
- CAMPBELL: No, I don't know of it elsewhere. The closest thing to
it would be perhaps Pandora with Pandora's box, but that's not
sin, that's just trouble. The idea in the biblical tradition of
the Fall is that nature as we know it is corrupt, sex in itself is
corrupt, and the female as the epitome of sex is a corrupter. Why
was the knowledge of good and evil forbidden to Adam and Eve?
Without that knowledge, we'd all be a bunch of babies still in
Eden, without any participation in life. Woman brings life into
the world. Eve is the mother of this temporal world. Formerly you
had a dreamtime paradise there in the Garden of Eden-no time, no
birth, no death-no life. The serpent, who dies and is resurrected,
shedding its skin and renewing its life, is the lord of the
central tree, where time and eternity come together. He is the
primary god, actually, in the Garden of Eden. Yahweh, the one who
walks there in the cool of the evening, is just a visitor. The
Garden is the serpent's place. It is an old, old story. We have
Sumerian seals from as early as 3500 B.C. showing the serpent and
the tree and the goddess, with the goddess giving the fruit of
life to a visiting male. The old mythology of the goddess is right
- Now, I saw a fantastic thing in a movie, years
and years ago, of a Burmese snake priestess, who had to bring rain
to her people by climbing up a mountain path, calling a king cobra
from his den, and actually kissing him three times on the nose.
There was the cobra, the giver of life, the giver of rain, as a
divine positive figure, not a negative one.
But how do you explain the difference between that image and the
image of the snake in Genesis?
- CAMPBELL: There is actually a historical explanation based on
the coming of the Hebrews into Canaan and their subjugation of the
people of Canaan. The principal divinity of the people of Canaan
was the Goddess, and associated with the Goddess is the serpent.
This is the symbol of the mystery of life. The male-god-oriented
group rejected it. In other words, there is a historical rejection
of the Mother Goddess implied in the story of the Garden of
It does seem that this story has done women a great disservice by
casting Eve as responsible for the Fall. Why are women the ones
held responsible for the downfall?
- CAMPBELL: They represent life. Man doesn't enter life except by
woman, and so it is woman who brings us into this world of pairs
of opposites and suffering.
What is the myth of Adam and Eve trying to tell us about the pairs
of opposites? What is the meaning?
- CAMPBELL: It started with the sin, you see-in other words,
moving out of the mythological dreamtime zone of the Garden of
Paradise, where there is no time, and where men and women don't
even know that they are different from each other. The two are
just creatures. God and man are practically the same. God walks in
the cool of the evening in the garden where they are. And then
they eat the apple, the knowledge of the opposites. And when they
discover they are different, the man and woman cover their shame.
You see, they had not thought of themselves as opposites. Male and
female is one opposition. Another opposition is the human and God.
Good and evil is a third opposition. The primary oppositions are
the sexual and that between human beings and God. Then comes the
idea of good and evil in the world. And so Adam and Eve have
thrown themselves out of the Garden of Timeless Unity, you might
say, just by that act of recognizing duality. To move out into the
world, you have to act in terms of pairs of opposites.
- There's a Hindu image that shows a triangle,
which is the Mother Goddess, and a dot in the center of the
triangle, which is the energy of the transcendent entering the
field of time. And then from this triangle there come pairs of
triangles in all directions. Out of one comes two. All things in
the field of time are pairs of opposites. So this is the shift of
consciousness from the consciousness of identity to the
consciousness of participation in duality. And then you are into
the field of time.
Is the story trying to tell us that, prior to what happened in
this Garden to destroy us, there was a unity of life?
- CAMPBELL: It's a matter of planes of consciousness. It doesn't
have to do with anything that happened. There is the plane of
consciousness where you can identify yourself with that which
transcends pairs of opposites.
- CAMPBELL: Unnameable. Unnameable. It is transcendent of all
- CAMPBELL: "God" is an ambiguous word in our language because
- appears to refer to something that is known.
But the transcendent i.' unknowable and unknown. God is
transcendent, finally, of anything like the name "God." God is
beyond names and forms. Meister Eckhart said that the ultimate and
highest leave-taking is leaving God for God, leaving your notion
of God for an experience of that which transcends all
- The mystery of life is beyond all human
conception. Everything we know is within the terminology of the
concepts of being and not being, many and single, true and untrue.
We always think in terms of opposites. But God, the ultimate, is
beyond the pairs of opposites, that is all there is to it.
Why do we think in terms of opposites?
- CAMPBELL: Because we can't think otherwise.
That's the nature of reality in our time.
- CAMPBELL: That's the nature of our experience of reality.
Man-woman, life-death, good-evil-
- CAMPBELL: -I and you, this and that, true and untrue - very one
of them has its opposite. But mythology suggests that behind that
duality there is a singularity over which this plays like a shadow
game. "Eternity is in love with the productions of time," says the
What does that mean, "Eternity is in love with the productions of
- CAMPBELL: The source of temporal life is eternity. Eternity
pours itself into the world. It is a basic mythic idea of the god
who becomes many in us. In India, the god who lies in me is called
the "inhabitant" of the body. To identify with that divine,
immortal aspect of yourself is to identify yourself with
- Now, eternity is beyond all categories of
thought. This is an important point in all of the great Oriental
religions. We want to think about God. God is a thought. God is a
name. God is an idea. But its reference is to something that
transcends all thinking. The ultimate mystery of being is beyond
all categories of thought. As Kant said, the thing in itself is no
thing. It transcends thingness, it goes past anything that could
be thought. The best things can't be told because they transcend
thought. The second best are misunderstood, because those are the
thoughts that are supposed to refer to that which can't be thought
about. The third best are what we talk about. And myth is that
field of reference to what is absolutely transcendent.
What can't be known or named except in our feeble attempt to
clothe it in language.
- CAMPBELL: The ultimate word in our English language for that
which is transcendent is God. But then you have a concept, don't
you see? You think of God as the father. Now, in religions where
the god or creator is the mother, the whole world is her body.
There is nowhere else. The male god is usually somewhere else. But
male and female are two aspects of one principle. The division of
life into sexes was a late division. Biologically, the amoeba
isn't male and female. The early cells are just cells. They divide
and become two by asexual reproduction. I don't know at what
levels sexuality comes in, but it's late. That's why it's absurd
to speak of God as of
- either this sex or that sex. The divine power
is antecedent to sexual separation.
But isn't the only way a human being can try to grope with this
immense idea to assign it a language that he or she understands?
God, he, God, she-
- CAMPBELL: Yes, but you don't understand it if you think it is a
he or a she. The he or a she is a springboard to spring you into
the transcendent, and transcendent means to "transcend," to go
past duality. Everything in the field of time and space is dual.
The incarnation appears either as male or as female, and each of
us is the incarnation of God. You're born in only one aspect of
your actual metaphysical duality, you might say. This is
represented in the mystery religions, where an individual goes
through a series of initiations opening him out inside into a
deeper and deeper depth of himself, and there comes a moment when
he realizes that he is both mortal and immortal, both male and
Do you think there was such a place as the Garden of Eden?
- CAMPBELL: Of course not. The Garden of Eden is a metaphor for
that innocence that is innocent of time, innocent of opposites,
and that is the prime center out of which consciousness then
becomes aware of the changes.
But if there is in the idea of Eden this innocence, what happens
to it? Isn't it shaken, dominated, and corrupted by fear?
- CAMPBELL: That's it. There is a wonderful story of the deity, of
the Self that said, "I am." As soon as it said "I am," it was
- CAMPBELL: It was an entity now, in time. Then it thought, "What
should I be afraid of, I'm the only thing that is." And as soon as
it said that,
- it felt lonesome, and wished that there were
another, and so it felt desire. I swelled, split in two, became
male and female, and begot the world.
- Fear is the first experience of the fetus in
the womb. There's a Czechslovakian psychiatrist, Stanislav Grof,
now living in California, who ft years treated people with LSD.
And he found that some of them rexperienced birth and, in the
re-experiencing of birth, the first stage is that of the fetus in
the womb, without any sense of "I" or of being. Then short before
birth the rhythm of the uterus begins, and there's terror! Fear is
- the first thing, the thing that says "I." Then
comes the horrific stage of getting born, the difficult passage
through the birth canal, and then-my God, light! Can you imagine!
Isn't it amazing that this repeats just what the myth says-that
Self said, "I am," and immediately felt fear? And then when
realized it was alone, it felt desire for another and became two.
That is the breaking into the world of light and the pairs of
What does it say about what all of us have in common that:
- many of these stories contain similar elements
- the forbidden fruit, the woman? For example, these myths, these
creation stories, contain a "thou shalt not." Man and woman rebel
against that prohibition and move out their own. After years and
years of reading these things, I am still over whelmed at the
similarities in cultures that are far, far apart.
- CAMPBELL: There is a standard folk tale motif called The One
Forbidden Thing. Remember Bluebeard, who says to his wife, "Don't
open that closet And then one always disobeys. In the Old
Testament story God points 0 the one forbidden thing. Now, God
must have known very well that m:
- was going to eat the forbidden fruit. But it
was by doing that that man became the initiator of his own life.
Life really began with that act disobedience.
How do you explain these similarities?
- CAMPBELL: There are two explanations. One explanation is that t
human psyche is essentially the same all over the world. The
psyche is t inward experience of the human body, which is
essentially the same in human beings, with the same organs, the
same instincts, the same impulse the same conflicts, the same
fears. Out of this common ground have cot what Jung has called the
arc he types, which are the common ideas of myth
What are archetypes?
- CAMPBELL: They are elementary ideas, what could be called
"ground ideas. These ideas Jung spoke of as archetypes of the
unconscious. "Archetype" is the better term because "elementary
idea" suggests headwo:
- Archetype of the unconscious means it comes
from below. The differer between the Jungian archetypes of the
unconscious and Freud's complexe' that the archetypes of the
unconscious are manifestations of the organs the body and their
powers. Archetypes are biologically grounded, wher the Freudian
unconscious is a collection of repressed traumatic experien from
the individual's lifetime. The Freudian unconscious is a perso
unconscious, it is biographical. The Jungian archetypes of the
unconsciare biological. The biographical is secondary to that. All
over the world and at different times of human history, the
differences in the costumes are the results of environment and
historical conditions. It is these differences that the
anthropologist is most concerned to identify and compare.
- Now, there is also a countertheory of
diffusion to account for the similarity of myths. For instance,
the art of tilling the soil goes forth from the area in which it
was first developed, and along with it goes a mythology that has
to do with fertilizing the earth, with planting and bringing up
the food plants - some such myth as that just described, of
killing a deity, cutting it up, burying its members, and having
the food plants grow. Such a myth will accompany an agricultural
or planting tradition. But you won t find it in a hunting culture.
So there are historical as well as psychological aspects of this
problem of the similarity of myths.
Human beings subscribe to one or more of these stories of
creation. What do you think we are looking for when we subscribe
to one of these myths?
- CAMPBELL: I think what we are looking for is a way of
experiencing the world that will open to us the transcendent that
informs it, and at the same time forms ourselves within it. That
is what people want. That is what the soul asks for.
You mean we are looking for some accord with the mystery that
informs all things, what you call that vast ground of silence
which wall share?
- CAMPBELL: Yes, but not only to find it but to find it actually
in our environment, in our world-to recognize it. To have some
kind of instruction that will enable us to experience the divine
In the world and in us.
- CAMPBELL: In India there is a beautiful greeting, in which the
palms are placed together, and you bow to the other person. Do you
know what that means?
- CAMPBELL: The position of the palms together-this we use when "'
pray, do we not? That is a greeting which says that the god that
is in you recognizes the god in the other. These people are aware
of the divine presence in all things. When you enter an Indian
home as a guest, you a greeted as a visiting deity.
But weren't the people who told these stories, who believe them
and acted on them, asking simpler questions? Weren't they asking,
f example, who made the world? How was the world made? Why was the
world made? Aren't these the questions that these creation stories
are trying to address?
- CAMPBELL: No. It's through that answer that they see that the
creator is present in the whole world. You see what I mean? This
story from t Upanishads that we have just read-"I see that I am
this creation," says t god. When you see that God is the creation,
and that you are a creator you realize that God is within you, and
in the man or woman with who you are talking, as well. So there is
the realization of two aspects of the o divinity. There is a basic
mythological motif that originally all was one, a then there was
separation - heaven and earth, male and female, and forth. How did
we lose touch with the unity? One thing you can say is that the
separation was somebody's fault-they ate the wrong fruit or said I
wrong words to God so that he got angry and then went away. So now
1 eternal is somehow away from us, and we have to find some way to
- be in touch with it.
- There is another theme, in which man is
thought of as having come from above but from the womb of Mother
Earth. Often, in these stories there is a great ladder or rope up
which people climb. The last people want to get out are two great
big fat heavy people. They grab the rope, snap!-it breaks. So we
are separated from our source. In a sense, because of our minds,
we actually are separated, and the problem is to reunite t broken
There are times when I think maybe primitive men and women were
just telling these stories to entertain themselves.
- CAMPBELL: No, they are not entertainment stories. We know they
are not entertainment stories because they can be told only at
certain times of the year and under certain conditions.
- There are two orders of myths. The great
myths, like the myth of the Bible, for example, are the myths of
the temple, of the great sacred rituals. They explain the rites by
which the people are living in harmony with themselves and each
other and with the universe. The understanding of these stories as
allegorical is normal.
You think that the first humans who told the story of the creation
had some intuitive awareness of the allegorical nature of these
- CAMPBELL: Yes. They were saying it is as if it were thus. The
notion that somebody literally made the world-that is what is
known as artificialism. It is the child's way of thinking: the
table is made, so somebody made the table. The world is here, so
somebody must have made it. There is another point of view
involving emanation and precipitation without personification. A
sound precipitates air, then fire, then water and earth-and that's
how the world becomes. The whole universe is included in this
first sound, this vibration, which then commits all things to
fragmentation in the field of time. In this view, there is not
someone outside who said, "Let it happen."
- In most cultures there are two or three
creation stories, not just one. There are two in the Bible, even
though people treat them as one story. You remember in the Garden
of Eden story of Chapter 2: God is trying to think of ways to
entertain Adam, whom he has created to be his gardener, to take
care of his garden. That is an old, old story that was borrowed
from ancient Sumer. The gods wanted somebody to take care of their
garden and cultivate the food that they needed, so they created
man. That's the background of the myth of Chapters 2 and 3 in
- But Yahweh's gardener is bored. So God tries
to invent toys for him. He creates the animals, but all the man
can do is name them. Then God thinks of this grand idea of drawing
the soul of woman out of Adam's own body-which is a very different
creation story from Chapter 1 of Genesis, where God created Adam
and Eve together in the image of himself as male and female. There
God is himself the primordial androgyne. Chapter 2 is by far the
earlier story, coming from perhaps the eighth century or so B.C.,
whereas Chapter 1 is of a so-called priestly text, of about the
fourth century B.C., or later. In the Hindu story of the Self that
felt fear, then desire, then split in two, we have a counterpart
of Genesis 2. In Genesis, it is man, not the god, who splits in
- The Greek legend that Aristophanes tells in
Plato's Symposium is another of this kind. Aristophanes says that
in the beginning there were creatures composed of what are now two
human beings. And those were of three sorts:
- male/female, male/male, and female/female. The
gods then split them all in two. But after they had been split
apart, all they could think of to do was to embrace each other
again in order to reconstitute the original units. So we all now
spend our lives trying to find and re-embrace our other
You say that mythology is the study of mankind's one great story.
What is that one great story?
- CAMPBELL: That we have come forth from the one ground of being
- manifestations in the field of time. The field
of time is a kind of shadow play over a timeless ground. And you
play the game in the shadow field, yo enact your side of the
polarity with all your might. But you know that your enemy, for
example, is simply the other side of what you would see - yourself
if you could see from the position of the middle.
So the one great story is our search to find our place in th
- CAMPBELL: To be in accord with the grand symphony that this
world is to put the harmony of our own body in accord with that
When I read these stories, no matter the culture or origin, feel a
sense of wonder at the spectacle of the human imagination groping
to try to understand this existence, to invest in their small
journey these transcendent possibilities. Has that ever happened
- CAMPBELL: I think of mythology as the homeland of the muses, the
inspirers of art, the inspirers of poetry. To see life as a poem
and yourself participating in a poem is what the myth does for
- CAMPBELL: I mean a vocabulary in the form not of words but of
acts an adventures, which connotes something transcendent of the
action here, 5 that you always feel in accord with the universal
When I read these myths, lam simply in awe of the mystery it all.
We can presume, but we cannot penetrate.
- CAMPBELL: That is the point. The person who thinks he has found
the ultimate truth is wrong. There is an often-quoted verse in
Sanskrit, which appears in the Chinese Tao-te Ching as well: "He
who thinks he know doesn't know. He who knows that he doesn't
know, knows. For in this context, to know is not to know. And not
to know is to know."
Far from undermining my faith, your work in mythology has
liberated my faith from the cultural prisons to which it had been
- CAMPBELL: It liberated my own, and I know it is going to do that
wit anyone who gets the message.
Are some myths more or less true than others?
- CAMPBELL: They are true in different senses. Every mythology has
to d with the wisdom of life as related to a specific culture at a
specific time. integrates the individual into his society and the
society into the field nature. It unites the field of nature with
my nature. It's a harmonizing force. Our own mythology, for
example, is based on the idea of duality: good an evil, heaven and
hell. And so our religions tend to be ethical in their accent. Sin
and atonement. Right and wrong.
The tension of opposites: love-hate, death-life.
- CAMPBELL: Ramakrishna once said that if all you think of are
your sin then you are a sinner. And when I read that, I thought of
my boyhood going to confession on Saturdays, meditating on all the
little sins that I ha committed during the week. Now I think one
should go and say, "Bless me Father, for I have been great, these
are the good things I have done this week." Identify your notion
of yourself with the positive, rather than with the negative. You
see, religion is really a kind of second womb. It's designed to
bring this extremely complicated thing, which is a human being, to
maturity, which means to be self-motivating, self-acting. But the
idea of sin puts you in a servile condition throughout your
But that's not the Christian idea of creation and the Fall.
- CAMPBELL: I once heard a lecture by a wonderful old Zen
philosopher, Dr. D. T. Suzuki. He stood up with his hands slowly
rubbing his sides and said, "God against man. Man against God. Man
against nature. Nature against man. Nature against God. God
against nature-very funny religion!"
Well, I have often wondered, what would a member of a hunting
tribe on the North American plains think, gazing up on
- CAMPBELL: That is certainly not the god of other traditions. In
the other mythologies, one puts oneself in accord with the world,
with the mixture of good and evil. But in the religious system of
the Near East, you identify with the good and fight against the
evil. The biblical traditions 0 Judaism, Christianity, and Islam
all speak with derogation of the so-called nature
- The shift from a nature religion to a
sociological religion makes ii difficult for us to link back to
nature. But actually all of those cultural symbols are perfectly
susceptible to interpretation in terms of the psychological and
cosmological systems, if you choose to look at them that way.
Every religion is true one way or another. It is true when
understood metaphorically. But when it gets' stuck to its own
metaphors, interpreting them as facts, then you are in
What is the metaphor?
- CAMPBELL: A metaphor is an image that suggests something else.
For instance, if I say to a person, "You are a nut," I'm not
suggesting that I think the person is literally a nut. "Nut" is a
metaphor. The reference of the metaphor in religious traditions is
to something transcendent that is no literally any thing. If you
think that the metaphor is itself the reference, would be like
going to a restaurant, asking for the menu, seeing beefsteak
written there, and starting to eat the menu.
- For example, Jesus ascended to heaven. The
denotation would seem tbe that somebody ascended to the sky.
That's literally what is being said But if that were really the
meaning of the message, then we have to throw away, because there
would have been no such place for Jesus literally to go We know
that Jesus could not have ascended to heaven because there is
nphysical heaven anywhere in the universe. Even ascending at the
speed o light, Jesus would still be in the galaxy. Astronomy and
physics have simply' eliminated that as a literal, physical
possibility. But if you read "Jesus ascended to heaven" in terms
of its metaphoric connotation, you see that h has gone inward-not
into outer space but into inward space, to the place' from which
all being comes, into the consciousness that is the source of al
things, the kingdom of heaven within. The images are outward, but
their reflection is inward. The point is that we should ascend
with him by going inward. It is a metaphor of returning to the
source, alpha and omega, 0 leaving the fixation on the body behind
and going to the body's dynamic source.
Aren't you undermining one of the great traditional doctrine of
the classic Christian faith-that the burial and the resurrection
of Jesus prefigures our own?
- CAMPBELL: That would be a mistake in the reading of the symbol.
That is reading the words in terms of prose instead of in terms of
poetry, reading the metaphor in terms of the denotation instead of
And poetry gets to the unseen reality.
- CAMPBELL: That which is beyond even the concept of reality, that
which transcends all thought. The myth puts you there all the
time, give you a line to connect with that mystery which you
- Shakespeare said that art is a mirror held up
to nature. And that's what it is. The nature is your nature, and
all of these wonderful poetic images o mythology are referring to
something in you. When your mind is simply trapped by the image
out there so that you never make the reference tyourself, you have
misread the image.
- The inner world is the world of your
requirements and your energies anyour structure and your
possibilities that meets the outer world. And the outer world is
the field of your incarnation. That's where you are. You've go to
keep both going. As Novalis said, "The seat of the soul is there
where the inner and outer worlds meet."
So the story of Jesus ascending to heaven is a message in bottle
from a shore someone has visited before.
- CAMPBELL: That's right-Jesus did. Now, according to the normal
way of thinking about the Christian religion, we cannot identify
with Jesus, w have to imitate Jesus. To say, "I and the Father are
one," as Jesus said, blasphemy for us. However, in the Thomas
gospel that was dug up in Egypt some forty years ago, Jesus says,
"He who drinks from my mouth will become as I am, and I shall be
he." Now, that is exactly Buddhism. We are
- manifestations of Buddha consciousness, or
Christ consciousness, only we don't know it. The word "Buddha"
means "the one who waked up." We are all to do that-to wake up to
the Christ or Buddha consciousness within us. This is blasphemy in
the normal way of Christian thinking, but it is the very essence
of Christian Gnosticism and of the Thomas gospel.
Is reincarnation also a metaphor?
- CAMPBELL: Certainly it is. When people ask, "Do you believe it
reincarnation," I just have to say, "Reincarnation, like heaven,
is a metaphor."
- The metaphor in Christianity that corresponds
to reincarnation purgatory. If one dies with such a fixation on
the things of this world that one's spirit is not ready to behold
the beatific vision, then one has tundergo a purgation, one has to
be purged clean of one's limitations. The limitations are what are
called sins. Sin is simply a limiting factor that limit your
consciousness and fixes it in an inappropriate condition.
- In the Oriental metaphor, if you die in that
condition, you come back again to have more experiences that will
clarify, clarify, clarify, until you are released from these
fixations. The reincarnating monad is the principal hero of
Oriental myth. The monad puts on various personalities, life after
life. Now the reincarnation idea is not that you and I as the
personalities that we are will be reincarnated. The personality is
what the monad throws off. Then the monad puts on another body,
male or female, depending on what experiences are necessary for it
to clear itself of this attachment to the field of time.
And what does the idea of reincarnation suggest?
- CAMPBELL: It suggests that you are more than you think you are.
There are dimensions of your being and a potential for realization
and consciousness that are not included in your concept of
yourself. Your life is much deeper and broader than you conceive
it to be here. What you are living is but a fractional inkling of
what is really within you, what gives you life, breadth, and
depth. But you can live in terms of that depth. And when you can
experience it, you suddenly see that all the religions are talking
Is this a chief motif of mythological stories through time?
- CAMPBELL: No, the idea of life as an ordeal through which you
become released from the bondage of life belongs to the higher
religions. I don't think I see anything like that in aboriginal
What is the source of it?
- CAMPBELL: I don't know. It would probably come from people of
spiritual power and depth who experienced their lives as being
inadequate to the spiritual aspect or dimension of their
You say that elites create myths, that shamans and artists and
others who take the journey into the unknown come back to create
these myths. But what about ordinary folks? Don't they create the
stories of Paul Bunyan, for example?
- CAMPBELL: Yes, but that is not a myth. That doesn't hit the
level of myth. The prophets and what in India are called the
"rishis" are said to have heard the scriptures. Now anybody might
open his ears, but not everyone has the capacity actually to hear
"He who has ears to hear, let him hear."
- CAMPBELL: There has to be a training to help you open your ears
so that you can begin to hear metaphorically instead of
concretely. Freud and Jung both felt that myth is grounded in the
- Anyone writing a creative work knows that you
open, you yield yourself, and the book talks to you and builds
itself. To a certain extent, you become the carrier of something
that is given to you from what have been called the Muses - or, in
biblical language, "God." This is no fancy, it is a fact. Since
the inspiration comes from the unconscious, and since the
unconscious minds of the people of any single small society have
much in common, what the shaman or seer brings forth is something
that is waiting to be brought forth in everyone. So when one hears
the seer's story, one responds, "Aha! This is my story. This is
something that I had always wanted to say but wasn't able to say."
There has to be a dialogue, an interaction between the seer and
the community. The seer who sees things that people in the
community don't want to hear is just ineffective. Sometimes they
will wipe him out.
So when we talk about folk tales, we are talking not about myths
but about stories that ordinary folks tell in order to entertain
themselves or express some level of existence that is below that
of the great spiritual pilgrims.
- CAMPBELL: Yes, the folk tale is for entertainment. The myth is
ft spiritual instruction. There's a fine saying in India with
respect to these two orders of myths, the folk idea and the
elementary idea. The folk aspect called desi, which means
"provincial," having to do with your society. That is for young
people. It's through that that the young person is brought into
the society and is taught to go out and kill monsters. "Okay,
here's a soldier suit, we've got the job for you." But there's
also the elementary idea. The Sanskrit name for that is marga,
which means "path." It's the trail back yourself. The myth comes
from the imagination, and it leads back to it. The society teaches
you what the myths are, and then it disengages you so that in your
meditations you can follow the path right in.
- Civilizations are grounded on myth. The
civilization of the Middle Ages was grounded on the myth of the
Fall in the Garden, the redemption on cross, and the carrying of
the grace of redemption to man through the sacraments.
- The cathedral was the center of the sacrament,
and the castle was the center protecting the cathedral. There you
have the two forms of government-the government of the spirit and
the government of the physical life both in accord with the one
source, namely the grace of the crucifixion.
But within those two spheres ordinary people told little tales
leprechauns and witches.
- CAMPBELL: There are three centers of what might be called
mythology and folkloristic creativity in the Middle Ages. One is
the cathedral and that is associated with monasteries and
hermitages. A second is the cast The third is the cottage, where
the people are. The cathedral, the cast and the cottage-you go to
any of the areas of high civilization, and y will see the same-the
temple, the palace, and the town. They are differgenerating
centers, but in so far as this is one civilization, they are
operating in the same symbolic field.
Same symbolic field?
- CAMPBELL: The symbolic field is based on the experiences of
people a particular community, at that particular time and place.
Myths are intimately bound to the culture, time, and place that
unless the symbols the metaphors, are kept alive by constant
recreation through the arts, life just slips away from
Who speaks in metaphors today?
- CAMPBELL: All poets. Poetry is a metaphorical language.
- CAMPBELL: Yes, but it also suggests the actuality that hides
behind the visible aspect. The metaphor is the mask of God through
which eternity is to be experienced.
You speak of the poets and artists. What about the clergy?
- CAMPBELL: I think our clergy is really not doing its proper
work. It does not speak about the connotations of the metaphors
but is stuck with the ethics of good and evil.
Why haven't the priests become the shamans of American
- CAMPBELL: The difference between a priest and a shaman is that
the priest is a functionary and the shaman is someone who has had
an experi ence. In our tradition it is the monk who seeks the
experience, while the priest is the one who has studied to serve
- I had a friend who attended an international
meeting of the Roman Catholic meditative orders, which was held in
Bangkok. He told me that
- the Catholic monks had no problems
understanding the Buddhist monks but that it was the clergy of the
two religions who were unable to understand each other.
- The person who has had a mystical experience
knows that all the symbolic expressions of it are faulty. The
symbols don't render the experience, they suggest it. If you
haven't had the experience, how can you know what it is? Try to
explain the joy of skiing to somebody living in the tropic who has
never even seen snow. There has to be an experience to catch the
message, some clue - otherwise you're not hearing what is being
The person who has the experience has to project it in the best
way he can with images. It seems to me that we have lost the art
in oof society of thinking in images.
- CAMPBELL: Oh, we definitely have. Our thinking is largely
discursive verbal, linear. There is more reality in an image than
in a word.
Do you ever think that it is this absence of the religion
experience of ecstasy, of joy, this denial of transcendence in our
society that has turned so many young people to the use of
- CAMPBELL: Absolutely. That is the way in.
The way in?
- CAMPBELL: TO an experience.
And religion can't do that for you, or art can t do it?
- CAMPBELL: It could, but it is not doing it now. Religions are
addressing social problems and ethics instead of the mystical
So you think religion's great calling is the experience?
- CAMPBELL: One of the wonderful things in the Catholic ritual is
going to communion. There you are taught that this is the body and
blood of the Savior. And you take it to you, and you turn inward,
and there Christ working within you. This is a way of inspiring a
meditation on experiencing the spirit in you. You see people
coming back from communion, and they are inward-turned, they
- In India, I have seen a red ring put around a
stone, and then the stone becomes regarded as an incarnation of
the mystery. Usually you think things in practical terms, but you
could think of anything in terms of mystery. For example, this is
a watch, but it is also a thing in being. You could put it down,
draw a ring around it, and regard it in that dimension That is the
point of what is called consecration.
What do you mean? What can you make of the watch you' wearing?
What kind of mystery does it reveal?
- CAMPBELL: It is a thing, isn't it?
- CAMPBELL: Do you really know what a thing is? What supports it?
It something in time and space. Think how mysterious it is that
anything should be. The watch becomes the center for a meditation,
the center the intelligible mystery of being, which is everywhere.
This watch is now the center of the universe. It is the still
point in the turning world.
Where does the meditation take you?
- CAMPBELL: Oh, it depends on how talented you are.
You talk about the "transcendent." What is the transcendent? What
happens to someone in the transcendent?
- CAMPBELL: "Transcendent" is a technical, philosophical term,
trans lated in two different ways. In Christian theology, it
refers to God as being beyond or outside the field of nature. That
is a materialistic way of talking about the transcendent, because
God is thought of as a kind of spiritual fact existing somewhere
out there. It was Hegel who spoke of our anthropomor phic god as
the gaseous vertebrate-such an idea of God as many Christians
hold. Or he is thought of as a bearded old man with a not very
pleasant temperament. But "transcendent" properly means that which
is beyond all concepts. Kant tells us that all of our experiences
are bounded by time and space. They take place within space, and
they take place in the course of time.
- Time and space form the sensibilities that
bound our experiences. Our senses are enclosed in the field of
time and space, and our minds are enclosed in a frame of the
categories of thought. But the ultimate thing (which is no thing)
that we are trying to get in touch with is not so enclosed. We
enclose it as we try to think of it.
- The transcendent transcends all of these
categories of thinking. Being and nonbeing-those are categories.
The word "God" properly refers to what transcends all thinking,
but the word "God" itself is something thought about.
- Now you can personify God in many, many ways.
Is there one god? Are there many gods? Those are merely categories
of thought. What you are talking and trying to think about
transcends all that.
- One problem with Yahweh, as they used to say
in the old Christian Gnostic texts, is that he forgot he was a
metaphor. He thought he was a fact. And when he said, "I am God,"
a voice was heard to say, "You are mistaken, Samael." "Samael"
means "blind god": blind to the infinite Light of which he is a
local historical manifestation. This is known as the blasphemy of
Jehovah-that he thought he was God.
You are saying that God can't be known.
- CAMPBELL: I mean that whatever is ultimate is beyond the
categories of being and nonbeing. Is it or is it not? As the
Buddha is reported to have said: "It both is and is not; neither
is, nor is not." God as the ultimate mystery of being is beyond
- There is a wonderful story in one of the
Upanishads about the god Indra. Now, it happened at this time that
a great monster had enclosed all the waters of the earth, so there
was a terrible drought, and the world was in a very bad condition.
It took Indra quite a while to realize that he had a box of
thunderbolts and that all he had to do was drop a thunderbolt on
the monster and blow him up. When he did that, the waters flowed,
and the world was refreshed, and Indra said, "What a great boy am
- So, thinking, "What a great boy am I," Indra
goes up to the cosmic mountain, which is the central mountain of
the world, and decides to build a palace worthy of such as he. The
main carpenter of the gods goes to work on it, and in very quick
order he gets the palace into pretty good condition.
- But every time Indra comes to inspect it, he
has bigger ideas about how splendid and grandiose the palace
should be. Finally, the carpenter says "My god, we are both
immortal, and there is no end to his desires. I art caught for
eternity." So he decides to go to Brahma, the creator god, and
- Brahma sits on a lotus, the symbol of divine
energy and divine grace The lotus grows from the navel of Vishnu,
who is the sleeping god, whose dream is the universe. So the
carpenter comes to the edge of the great lotus pond of the
universe and tells his story to Brahma. Brahma says, You go home.
I will fix this up." Brahma gets off his lotus and kneels down to
address sleeping Vishnu. Vishnu just makes a gesture and says
somethin like, "Listen, fly, something is going to happen."
- Next morning, at the gate of the palace that
is being built, there appear a beautiful blue-black boy with a lot
of children around him, just admiring his beauty. The porter at
the gate of the new palace goes running to Indra and Indra says,
"Well, bring in the boy." The boy is brought in, and Indra the
king god, sitting on his throne, says, "Young man, welcome. And
what brings you to my palace?"
- "Well," says the boy with a voice like thunder
rolling on the horizon, have been told that you are building such
a palace as no Indra before you ever built."
- And Indra says, "Indras before me, young
man-what are you talking about?"
- The boy says, "Indras before you. I have seen
them come and go, corn and go. Just think, Vishnu sleeps in the
cosmic ocean, and the lotus of the universe grows from his navel.
On the lotus sits Brahma, the creator. Brahma opens his eyes, and
a world comes into being, governed by an Indra. Brahma closes his
eyes, and a world goes out of being. The life of a Brahma is four
hundred and thirty-two thousand years. When he dies, the lotus
goes back and another lotus is formed, and another Brahma. Then
think of the galaxies beyond galaxies in infinite space, each a
lotus, with a Brahma sitting on it, opening his eyes, closing his
eyes. And Indras? There may wise men in your court who would
volunteer to count the drops of water the oceans of the world or
the grains of sand on the beaches, but no or-would count those
Brahmin, let alone those Indras." While the boy is talking, an
army of ants parades across the floor. TV boy laughs when he sees
them, and Indra's hair stands on end, and he says to the boy, "Why
do you laugh?" The boy answers, "Don't ask unless you are willing
to be hurt." Indra says, "I ask. Teach." (That, by the way, is a
good Oriental idea: you don't teach until you are asked. You don't
force your mission down people's throats.) And so the boy points
to the ants and says, "Former Indras all. Through many lifetimes
they rise from the lowest conditions to highest illumination And
then they drop their thunderbolt on a monster, and they think,
'What: a good boy am I.' And down they go again."
- While the boy is talking, a crotchety old yogi
comes into the palace with a banana leaf parasol. He is naked
except for a loincloth, and on his chest a little disk of hair,
and half the hairs in the middle have all dropped out. The boy
greets him and asks him just what Indra was about to ask. "Old
man, what is your name? Where do you come from? Where is your
family? Where is your house? And what is the meaning of this
curious constellation of hair on your chest?" "Well," says the old
fella, "my name is Hairy. I don't have a house. Life is too short
for that. I just have this parasol. I don't have a family. I just
meditate on Vishnu's feet, and think of eternity, and how passing
time is. You know, every time an Indra dies, a world
disappears-these things just flash by like that. Every time an
Indra dies, one hair drops out of this circle on my chest. Half
the hairs are gone now. Pretty soon they will all be gone. Life is
short. Why build a house?"
- Then the two disappear. The boy was Vishnu,
the Lord Protector, and the old yogi was Shiva, the creator and
destroyer of the world, who had just come for the instruction of
Indra, who is simply a god of history but thinks he is the whole
- Indra is sitting there on the throne, and he
is completely disillusioned, completely shot. He calls the
carpenter and says, "I'm quitting the building of this palace. You
are dismissed." So the carpenter got his intention. He is
dismissed from the job, and there is no more house building going
on. Indra decides to go out and be a yogi and just meditate on the
lotus feet of Vishnu. But he has a beautiful queen named Indrani.
And when Indrani hears of Indra's plan, she goes to the priest of
the gods and says, "Now he has got the idea in his head of going
out to become - a yogi."
- "Well," says the priest, "come in with me,
darling, and we will sit down, and I will fix this up."
- So they sit down before the king's throne, and
the priest says, "Now, I wrote a book for you many years ago on
the art of politics. You are in the position of the king of the
gods. You are a manifestation of the mystery of Brahma in the
field of time. This is a high privilege. Appreciate it, honor it,
and deal with life as though you were what you really are. And
besides, now I am going to write you a book on the art of love so
that you and your wife will know that in the wonderful mystery of
the two that are one, the Brahma is radiantly present
- And with this set of instructions, Indra gives
up his idea of going out and becoming a yogi and finds that, in
life, he can represent the eternal as a symbol, you might say, of
- So each of us is, in a way, the Indra of his
own life. You can make a choice, either to throw it all off and go
into the forest to meditate, or to stay in the world, both in the
life of your job, which is the kingly job of politics and
achievement, and in the love life with your wife and family. Now,
this is a very nice myth, it seems to me.
And it says much of what modern science is discovering, that time
- CAMPBELL: -and there are galaxies, galaxies, galaxies, and our
God-our personification of God and his son and the mystery-is for
this little set of time.
Culture, though, has always influenced our thinking about ultimate
- CAMPBELL: Culture can also teach us to go past its concepts.
That is what is known as initiation. A true initiation is when the
guru tells you, "There is no Santa Claus." Santa Claus is
metaphoric of a relationship
- between parents and children. The relationship
does exist, and so it can
- experienced, but there is no Santa Claus.
Santa Claus was simply a way 0 clueing children into the
appreciation of a relationship.
- Life is, in its very essence and character, a
terrible mystery-this whole business of living by killing and
eating. But it is a childish attitude to say no to life with all
its pain, to say that this is something that should not have
Zorba says, "Trouble? Life is trouble."
- CAMPBELL: Only death is no trouble. People ask me, "Do you have
optimism about the world?" And I say, "Yes, it's great just the
way it is. An you are not going to fix it up. Nobody has ever made
it any better. It is never going to be any better. This is it, so
take it or leave it. You are not going to correct or improve
Doesn't that lead to a rather passive attitude in the face of
- CAMPBELL: You yourself are participating in the evil, or you are
no alive. Whatever you do is evil for somebody. This is one of the
ironies of the whole creation.
What about this idea of good and evil in mythology, of life a. a
conflict between the forces of darkness and the forces of
- CAMPBELL: That is a Zoroastrian idea, which has come over into
Judaism and Christianity. In other traditions, good and evil are
relative to the position in which you are standing. What is good
for one is evil for the other. And you play your part, not
withdrawing from the world when you realize how horrible it is,
but seeing that this horror is simply the foreground of a wonder:
a mysterium tremendum et fascinans.
- "All life is sorrowful" is the first Buddhist
saying, and so it is. It wouldn't be life if there were not
temporality involved, which is sorrow-loss, loss loss. You've got
to say yes to life and see it as magnificent this way; for this is
surely the way God intended it.
Do you really believe that?
- CAMPBELL: It is joyful just as it is. I don't believe there was
anybody who intended it, but this is the way it is. James Joyce
has a memorable line "History is a nightmare from which I am
trying to awake." And the way to awake from it is not to be
afraid, and to recognize that all of this, as it is, i. a
manifestation of the horrendous power that is of all creation. The
ends 0 things are always painful. But pain is part of there being
a world at all.
But if you accepted that as an ultimate conclusion, you wouldn't
try to form any laws or fight any battles or -
- CAMPBELL: I didn't say that.
Isn't that the logical conclusion to draw from accepting every.
thing as it is?
- CAMPBELL: That is not the necessary conclusion to draw. You
could say. "I will participate in this life, I will join the army,
I will go to war," and so forth.
"I will do the best I can."
- CAMPBELL: "I will participate in the game. It is a wonderful,
wonderful opera - except that it hurts." Affirmation is difficult.
We always affirm with conditions. I affirm the world on condition
that it gets to be the way Santa Claus told me it ought to be. But
affirming it the way it is-that's the hard thing, and that is what
rituals are about. Ritual is group participation in the most
hideous act; which is the act of life-namely, killing and eating
another living thing. We do it together, and this is the way life
is. The hero is the one who comes to participate in life
courageously and decently, in the way of nature, not in the way of
personal rancor, disappointment, or revenge.
- The hero's sphere of action is not the
transcendent but here, now, in the field of time, of good and evil
- of the pairs of opposites. Whenever one moves out of the
transcendent, one comes into a field of opposites. One has eaten
of the tree of knowledge, not only of good and evil, but of male
and female, of right and wrong, of this and that, and of light and
dark. Everything in the field of time is dual: past and future,
dead and alive, being and nonbeing. But the ultimate pair in the
imagination are male and female, the male being aggressive, and
the female being receptive, the male being the warrior, the female
the dreamer. We have the realm of love and the realm of war,
Freud's Eros and Thanatos.
- Heraclitus said that for God all things are
good and right and just, but for man some things are right and
others are not. When you are a man, you are in the field of time
and decisions. One of the problems of life is to live with the
realization of both terms, to say, "I know the center, and I know
that good and evil are simply temporal aberrations and that, in
God's view, there is no difference."
That is the idea in the Upanishads: "Not female, nor yet male is
it, neither is it neuter. Whatever body it assumes, through that
body it is served."
- CAMPBELL: That is right. So Jesus says, "Judge not that you may
not be judged." That is to say, put yourself back in the position
of Paradise before you thought in terms of good and evil. You
don't hear this much from the pulpits. But one of the great
challenges of life is to say "yea" to that person or that act or
that condition which in your mind is most abominable.
- CAMPBELL: There are two aspects to a thing of this kind. One is
your judgment in the field of action, and the other is your
judgment as a metaphysical observer. You can't say there shouldn't
be poisonous serpents-that's the way life is. But in the field of
action, if you see a poisonous serpent about to bite somebody, you
kill it. That's not saying no to the serpent, that's saying no to
that situation. There's a wonderful verse in the Rig Veda that
says, "On the tree"-that's the tree of life, the tree of your own
life-"there are two birds, fast friends. One eats the fruit of the
tree, and the other, not eating, watches." Now, the one eating the
fruit of the tree is killing a fruit. Life lives on life, that's
what it's all about. A little myth from India tells the story of
the great god Shiva, the lord whose dance is the universe. He had
as his consort the goddess Parvathi, daughter of the mountain
king. A monster came to him and said, "I want your wife as my
mistress." Shiva was indignant, so he simply opened his third eye,
- lightning bolts struck the earth, there was
smoke and fire, and when the smoke cleared, there was another
monster, lean, with hair like the hair of lion flying to the four
directions. The first monster saw that the lean monster was about
to eat him up. Now, what do you do when you re in a situation like
that? Traditional advice says to throw yourself on the mercy of
the deity So the monster said, "Shiva, I throw myself on your
mercy." Now, there are rules for this god game. When someone
throws himself on your mercy, the you yield mercy.
- So Shiva said, "I yield my mercy. Lean
monster, don't eat him."
- "Well," said the lean monster, "what do I do?
I'm hungry. You made m hungry, to eat this guy up.
- "Well," said Shiva, "eat yourself."
- So the lean monster started on his feet and
came chomping up, chomping up this is an image of life living on
life. Finally, there was nothing left of the lean monster but a
face. Shiva looked at the face an said, "I've never seen a greater
demonstration of what life's all about than this. I will call you
Kirtimukha-face of glory." And you will see that mask that face of
glory, at the portals to Shiva shrines and also to Buddha shrines.
Shiva said to the face, "He who will not bow to you is unworthy to
come t me." You've got to say yes to this miracle of life as it
is, not on the condition that it follow your rules. Otherwise,
you'll never get through to the metaphysical dimension.
- Once in India I thought I would like to meet a
major guru or teacher face to face. So I went to see a celebrated
teacher named Sri Krishna Menon and the first thing he said to me
was, "Do you have a question?"
- The teacher in this tradition always answers
questions. He doesn't tell you anything you are not yet ready to
hear. So I said, "Yes, I have a questior. Since in Hindu thinking
everything in the universe is a manifestation c divinity itself,
how should we say no to anything in the world? How should we say
no to brutality, to stupidity, to vulgarity, to
- And he answered, "For you and for me-the way
is to say yes.
- We then had a wonderful talk on this theme of
the affirmation of a:
- things. And it confirmed me in the feeling I
had had that who are we t judge? It seems to me that this is one
of the great teachings, also, of Jesus.
In classic Christian doctrine the material world is to b despised,
and life is to be redeemed in the hereafter, in heaven, where our
rewards come. But you say that if you affirm that which you
deplore, you are affirming the very world which is our eternity at
- CAMPBELL: Yes, that is what I'm saying. Eternity isn't some
later time Eternity isn't even a long time. Eternity has nothing
to do with time Eternity is that 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 problem with heaven is that
you will be having such a good time there, you won't even think of
eternity. You'll just have this unending delight in the beatific
vision of God. But the experience of eternity right here and now,
in all things, whether thought of as good or as evil, is the
function of life.
This is it.
- CAMPBELL: This is it.