Joseph Campbell, scholar and author who taught us to “follow our bliss…” as “all roads lead to enlightenment,” brought the universal laws of mythology to the masses with his PBS series The Power of the Myth, which first aired in 1988. His work has inspired modern psychologists, artists, writers and filmmakers – as well as countless individuals in search of their true selves.
A serious interest in Native American culture began during a visit to a museum at the age of seven. He spent the rest of his life studying other cultures, even learning Native American languages, Sanskirt, French and German, in order to interpret ancient texts and manuscripts and compare their universal truths.
Young Campbell studied the writings of philosophers such as Freud and Carl Jung as well as the works of modern authors and artists. What he found in his sojourn for truth, is that the path to self-actualization has already been laid out in the form of mythology and lit by Shamans and artists who have travelled this way before us.
Rites of passage
Campbell says that we can look to mythology for direction and comfort. The legends show us how to live and how to die – they take concepts that we cannot readily comprehend and break them into digestible morsels for the human brain to digest. He suggests that rites and rituals are a way of living that mythology, which is why they are vital to each of us. Although the traditions differ from place to place, these rites teach us how to be men and women, and how to live authentically as our highest selves.
Artists and shamans
Campbell believes that artists today serve the same function as the shamans of more primitive cultures, saying these men and women had their ears attuned to the song of God, and they gave that to the people. Our modern artists are filling in the lines and forms of current mythology, helping us form and answer the question – what is life? We can see this through George Lucas’ mythology-inspired Star Wars trilogy, which he credits in part to Campbell’s teaching. It includes the elements of mythology that ask: What does it mean to be a hero? How do I become a master?
All we have to do is look towards art to translate these mythological ideas into concepts that can be easily understood by humanity, Campbell teaches us. “The adventure of the hero,” Campbell explains, “is the adventure of being alive.” We are all on our own hero’s journey.
As we search for our own truths, our own spirituality, our own personal journey of self-discovery, Campbell challenges us with one of his most famous quotes: “When you follow your bliss… doors will open where you would not have thought there would be doors, and where there wouldn’t be a door for anyone else.” He is saying that the center of the universe is at your doorstep – at each of our door steps, not at the pinnacle of a mountain or the steps of a grand cathedral, if we are willing to be true to ourselves.
So try and remember that you are the mythology – all of us are, actually. You are the path that you must follow. The cycles of life are there, the symbols and mythology are there to guide you forward but it’s really all about you!
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