Meet Joe Campbell
Insights into the ideas of a mythologist
(more about Joseph Campbell)

Idea #2: The Four Functions of Mythology

If I'm not careful, this post could become incredibly long.

Campbell said that a living, viable mythology serves four functions in any society.

  1. The Mystical Function: This opens the individual to the wonder of life and the universe. It is characterized by awe.
  2. The Cosmological Function: This helps the individual determine his or her place in the universe. The opening chapters of Genesis, for example, are not meant to be a scientific explanation of the beginning, but rather show the place of humankind in "the grand scheme."
  3. The Social Function: This helps to organize the lives of those living in a community. The "Divine Right of Kings" might be an example.
  4. The Pedagogical Function: This teaches the individual how to live a human life. Rites of passage at puberty, for example, are based in a mythic understanding.

These four functions overlap, of course. But they provide a useful framework in examining myth (as well as many other aspects of society, including ritual and even relationships).

There, that wasn't too long, was it?

We'll back up a little next time and talk about the meaning of the word "myth." (I said these were in no particular order, didn't I?)

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