I took a break after reading Part I of Joseph Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces (See my comments). The first part of that book explored the adventures of the hero, as told in myths and folk tales. Part II, The Cosmogonic Cycle, looked formidable, so I put it aside.
It’s not so tough after all. Where did we come from? Where are we going? Who are “we”? We are the universe, we are our society or tribe, we are ourselves as individuals. All are created from nothingness and return to nothingness. Even to say nothingness is to imply a something that is not nothing, a categorization that is a product of our minds, not of an underlying reality of which we cannot have direct knowledge. We cannot know the reality but we may sometimes experience it, mystics through meditation or prayer and the rest of us through the metaphors of myth.
This is a big assignment for myth, but Campbell does not hesitate to make it.
Mythology has been interpreted by the modern intellect as a primitive, fumbling effort to explain the world of nature (Frazer); as a production of poetical fantasy from prehistoric times, misunderstood by succeeding ages (Muller); … as a group dream, symptomatic of archetypal urges within the depths of the human psyche (Jung); … and as God’s Revelation to His children (the Church). Mythology is all of these.
He goes on to say that we live in a time when many of the old myths has failed to serve us and we need to create new ones.
The lines of communication between the conscious and the unconscious zones of the human psyche have all been cut, and we have been split into two.
Campbell wrote those lines in 1949, following on a great war, recognizing that the human psyche was in trouble. Sixty years later, the trouble continues and I wonder what Campbell would make of those who cling today to various cruel fundamentalisms in their effort to heal the spirit.