The Power of Myth by Joseph Campbell and Bill Moyers


This book is a compilation of conversations between Joseph Campbell and Bill Moyers describing Campbell's teaching on mythology. The conversations occurred near the end of his life and are pretty free wheeling at times. I listened as I worked and marked a few passages on my phone that struck me as of particular interest. Below are my efforts to reproduce them. 

Campbell says that every religion is true in its metaphorical sense. Rather than rejecting the story, we should think about what the metaphor means. The story for Christianity is that Jesus ascended bodily to heaven; in Campbell's view this is a metaphor for going inward in order to ascend to heaven toward that source from which all life comes. The word Buddha means "the one who woke up" implying that we can all wake up to the goodness, to "the Jesus that is within us." He says "heaven and hell and all the gods are within us and this is the great revelation of the Upanishads of India in the ninth century B.C….Myth is a manifestation in symbolic images, metaphorical images of the energies within us." 

In another conversation he describes the ancient practices of the ritualistic methods of animal burial. He says, "The basic hunting myth I would say is of a kind of covenant between the animal world and the human world where the animal gives its life willingly. They are regarded as willing victims with the understanding that their life which transcends their physical entity will be returned to the soil or to the mother through some ritual of restoration." Sounds to me like humans are kidding themselves.

In talking about the virgin birth he says that concept is an interesting development in western religion; the only gospel with the virgin birth is the Gospel of Luke who was a Greek. Virgin birth is an important aspect of Greek mythology, he says. He described a view from India of the birth of compassion coming from the heart region of the body in contrast to all that comes from the pelvic region (the need or desire to procreate, eat, and conquer). Deities who are conceived in the part of the body relating to compassion reflect the transformation to beings who act in terms of compassion rather than those basic drives.

I found it pleasurable to listen to these ramblings of an amazingly well-informed man; the stories and complicated thoughts just flowed by at a great rate. This is to say I'm in no position to judge and barely to react to what I listened to. 

I would add one funny and surprising bit. Though he died in 1987 he mentioned he had a computer. Given his knowledge of the gods, he was able to identify the computer as an Old Testament god as it has a lot of rules and no mercy. 

Joseph Campbell and Bill Moyers, The Power of Myth, HighBridge Recorded books, originally published by Doubleday, 1988, 231 pages (I listened to the audiobook). Available at the UVa and public library and from Amazon. 

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