on 31 December 2011
History is a mysterious thing. At school I hated learning who did what to whom but as an adult I can't seem to get enough of what happened when. Campbell undertakes a spectacular journey that traverses a time spanning the dawn of homo-xyz (plesianthropus) and then beyond the invention of writing (c. 3200 BC). He probes, he questions, he postulates and he beautifully narrates myth after myth from Greece to Africa to the Americas never resting until your head is full of stories of how our ancient ancestors lived and what probably led them to the myths and religions we know today. Obviously, like how the universe came to be, we are never going to be sure but one can hazard a pretty intelligent guess.
This is a vast book and romps through archeology, palaeanthropology, religious studies, science and politics. In my opinion, an unquestionably worthwhile quest for the curious and dogged. Campbell eventually comes to this duality: on one hand mythology disengages an individual from his commonplace existence and leads him towards an ineffable experience; on the other hand myths bind an individual to his society's sentiments. In other words, myths takes you beyond the ordinary to the mystical but at the same time imposes society's customs on you ensuring or perhaps insisting that you comply (or else - death or ostracism). And you know what, I look around and that seems true enough.
on 13 November 2015
The Hero with a Thousand Faces is often cited as Joseph Campbell's master-work whereas in fact it is really only an introduction. In the four volumes of the Masks of God, Campbell elaborates on his grand vision. In Primitive Mythology in particular he attempts to put the field of mythology on a scientific footing and continues this development through the subsequent volumes. In my own forty odd years of reading I do not know of any other writer, philosopher or scientist who has even come close to teasing out the emergence of consciousness in our species with such eloquence and detail. And this is not simply an academic exercise, an awareness of the earlier narratives allows us to reconnect with unconscious layers of our own psyche where the mythologems formed during this emergence are still in play so that, in Carl Jung's words, 'we can dream the myth onwards and give it a modern dress'.