Joseph Campbell on the Future of Myth



Joseph Campbell

(Another excerpt from the 1968 Wine Cellar.  Wolf Zucker has just asked Campbell:   Are there rituals in our society which in  some way point to the underlying myth?)

Campbell says,  All right,  I am coming like an anthropologist from Mars to our world now and am looking as an anthropologist does at a primitive culture to observe what kind of religions are here.

There is one sphere of value, gold:   the bank, people of money;  and there is a whole hierarchy:  the size of the cars, the kind of clothes they wear.  A  kind of reverence goes with this. I have a friend, a completely destitute writer, who -- as the result of a book that became a great best seller, sold all over the world -- became enormously wealthy.  And he played this game to the hilt.  He told me what fun it was to buy expensive things and dress as though he were somebody, and then everybody thought he was, and they all just fell down before  him.   This is the awe experienced around gold.   And at Ft. Knox there is a whole iconography that goes with gold.   

Then there is the sphere of the flag:   a totem sphere, with its priesthood of the military.  All that marches past, and you see certain genuflections to the flag, etc.  So there is the money cult and the state cult.  

Then I came out of the library one day after reading about the Hindu tradition, where people tried to dress like the god and look like the god and meditate on the god in their actions, and I got into the bus going down 5th Avenue, and there were little girls looking at movie magazines, with their hairdos like the ones in the movie magazines, and I thought, this is the  home cult of Venus, the goddess mother, the domestic cult.  A whole world of deities is there in the movie stars,  they are there and  yet not there, and people try to be like them.    When there is a play on stage and a movie star enters the audience, nobody is looking at the play from then on;  everyone is craning their necks  to see this higher, more mysterious deity who has just come in. So we have these popular cults and their gods around gold, around the flag and around  the movies, whose gods are models for action. 

Then there are the  vestigial cults that are represented by  Judaism and Christianity.  When a child says, “Mother, why do the churches have a plus sign on top?”  you feel that this thing has lost its grip. 

(Conklin again):  If Marvin Halverson could be characterized as a marching reformer, waving a banner for the church, Joe Campbell might be characterized as a charismatic figure who indeed brought myths to the people, but did so while also swinging a sledge hammer at the already shaky foundations of institutional religions. In terms of ARC's history, Campbell was distinctly post-Halverson.




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