Joseph Campbell's The Power of Myth is a book that can potentially transform the reader's consciousness. Beyond being informative, Campbell's analysis of cultural myths is profound; it provokes genuine introspection. The author refers to the spiritual in whatever he speaks about, and yet he never lapses into religious diatribe or dogma. Subjects like marriage are elevated beyond the social to the psycho-spiritual. For example, he calls marriage "primarily a spiritual exercise, and the society is supposed to help us have the realization. Man should not be in service to society, society should be in the service of man," (8).
In light of modern society, Campbell's words hold new meaning. In America, we have few true rituals because we have turned our attention outward instead of inward. The wisdom of life is being denigrated through a preoccupation with technology and material goods. There is little sense of the spiritual or the mystical, and religions have become shadows of their original selves. I believe that the spiritual soul or the artistic soul struggles in this society, as these people tend to operate outside the norm.
In regard to children, Campbell speaks about young people who don't know how to behave in society because they have yet to be introduced to norms or customs. Children in modern, Western society also have few rituals with which to orient themselves in the world. I particularly appreciate the following line, on page 19, "But how are you going to communicate spiritual consciousness to the children if you don't have it yourself? How do you get that? What the myths are for is to bring us into a level of consciousness that is spiritual." These lessons have nothing to do with God or religion; they spiritual truths that emerge from the human experience.
2. Topic on Heroes
In the book The Power Myth, Campbell states, "The place to find, is within yourself... there's a center of quietness within which has to be known and held. If you loose that center, you are in tension and begin to fall apart."
As I thought about this finding of inner peace and about the nature of true heroes, I thought about Helen Keller. As a woman who was both blind and deaf, she must have felt sorrow in her realm of darkness, yet simultaneously a feeling of comfort, as this was the only place she knew. Her teacher Anne assisted Helen to move from darkness into illumination. Helen must have felt tremendous fear as she pressed on to meet her true self, discovered in the absence of two major sense organs. As Helen continued her journey, she underwent a personal transformation, and her whole demeanor changed.
From her memoirs, Helen describes her first experience when she began to understand her own mystery. "We walked down the path to the well-house, attracted by the fragrance of the honey-suckle with which it was covered. Someone was drawing water and my teacher placed my hand under the spout. As the cool stream gushed over one hand, she spelled into the other the word water, first slowly, then rapidly. I stood still, my whole attention fixed upon the motions of her fingers. Suddenly I felt a misty consciousness as of something forgotten, a thrill of returning thought, and somehow the mystery of language was revealed to me. To me, this is an example of the glimpse of the mystery Campbell talks about deep within us as the hero is made. This is going "beyond the rim, to what can be known but not told."
3. Topic on the Modern Shaman
I agree that Oprah is the sort of person in our society that represents a modern shaman. Oprah. On her own, or with her huge staff, Oprah has developed story lines that can to bring us back to our center. Her Angel's network rewards people who have sacrificed to help others, and have found their bliss doing so. She has the influence to make people look at things from a different perspective.
As for other modern shamans, the Dalai Lama would be an obvious choice. What sets him aside from other religious leaders is that he appeals to all people, regardless of religious affiliation or inclination.
Perhaps another modern shaman may be Iyanla Vansant. Perhaps she has had the psychological experience that has given her the right to speak on issues of "self," "spirit," "peace," and even "bliss." Ms. Vanzant was a welfare mom trying to raise children in a terrible neighborhood, without an education. Today she is a best selling author who put herself through college, kept her family together, and overcame the obstacles of judgment, poverty, and complacency.
Other than these three, I think that there are a few writers that I might consider to be "shaman-like," such as Maya Angelou, or Audre Lorde.
4. Subject: Following Bliss
Campbell's allegory about following bliss is particularly compelling. He mentions a young boy who does not want to drink his tomato juice and his father tells him that he must. When the wife intervenes, the father says, "He can't go through life doing what he wants to do. If he does only what he wants to do, he'll be dead. Look at me...." This made an impact on me because I feel that I have always been stopped from doing what I really wanted to do because it was not about what my desire may have been, but what was "right" in the opinion of others. Campbell's writing has also helped me discover and follow my own bliss.
As I read Campbell's discussion of following his own bliss, I realized that so few of us do follow our bliss. We worry about the expectations imposed upon us by our peers and society in general. I was raised not to do things just because I wanted to but instead do what is acceptable in society. No matter how I fought against conforming, I found that it was a continuing battle for happiness. After many years of doing what was considered "acceptable," I have found personal bliss and am continuing to follow it. Campbell is quite insightful because since following my heart, my life has become calmer and extremely satisfying.
5. Subject: The Goddess and Love
Campbell speaks about the Goddess in Chapter 6 and about love in Chapter 7. In Chapter 6, Campbell reveals that although we come from our mother we are always in search of our fathers and through those symbols, we search our identities. It is almost as though we take "mother" for granted because she is always there. Being a mother myself, I can relate to this passage. The mother is the nurturer and a stabilizing force in a child's life, while the father is free to "come and go" as he pleases; he has less of a biological connection to the child.
Campbell speaks about the fact that many cultures hold the "mother" in high regard and this too makes perfect sense. The mother figure is such a universal figure that immediately she brings nurturing images to mind. We refer to the Earth as Mother Earth and that makes us feel a sense of warmth and protection.
In Chapter 7, Campbell speaks about the beauty of love. I especially appreciate when Campbell tells Moyers that in a marriage, people need to "remain true." He is right when he says that people are defecting instead of sticking things out. He also makes a brilliant point when he says that resentment toward a marriage partner is misguided, that the resentment should be with life. Often we direct blame and anger on people we love instead of being upset with the circumstances that life has dealt us. I realized that I have often misdirected my anger. Again, the more I read, the more I understand myself.
6. Subject: The Myth of Travel
Phil Cousineau states, "I dread the thought that the reason I travel so much is that scales form over my eyes at home and I have to leave again and again to learn see once more. In this way I am living out one of the myths of my times, that the road will save me, infuse my life with more meaning. Many times it has, but only when I meet it halfway, on a spiritually challenging journey."
This is a wonderful way to describe the feelings some of us have felt on our travels. There is great mystery in travel: the feelings of awe, surprise, and wonder. I can easily see the power in the myth of travel. Phil Cousineau points out that we take a journey in hope that a change will take place inside our souls; we hope for the healing touch of art and history, or the spiritual forces of a sacred place to heal us.
Topic The Myth of Travel
7. Subject: Flight of the Spirit
On page 183 of Once and Future Myths, Cousineau writes: "Flight. It is the…