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

Idea #3: What Exactly is a Myth?

This is not a comprehensive "theory of myth," but a smattering of ideas to help form a picture of what I mean when I say "myth."

First let's talk about what a myth is NOT.

It's not a lie, or a misconception. That's a recent use of the word.

Rather, it is "an energy-evoking and energy-directing sign" or system of signs.

Most often, we think of myth in terms of story.

Campbell said that a myth is a public dream, one we hold in common, just as a person's dream is a private myth.

Likewise, a myth is the story of a ritual, and a ritual is a myth enacted. (One need only think of the Christian mass or communion service, where you can hardly separate the story from the ceremony.)

In more mundane terms, myths are the stories that people tell: of origins, of their place in the cosmos, of their heroes and gods.

But these are more than fairy tales, or fireside stories. These are insights into what makes us tick, and what connects us to the universe.

Campbell said that one man's myth is another man's religion. I talk about my God, that's religion; you talk about another god, that's myth.

And the religion of the conquered becomes the myth of the conqueror. (The Christian image of the devil--horns, pitchfork, cloven hooves--is not in the Bible. It's based on images of "pagan" gods.)

OK, I think we're ready to go on surveying Campbell's ideas.

Next up: "Follow Your Bliss."

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