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

Idea #8: Transparent to Transcendence

Joseph Campbell, as mentioned, was a scholar.

In an interview called "Understanding Mythology," a part of Dr. Jeffrey Mishlove's "Thinking Allowed" series, he made this unabashedly clear:

Well, I'm not a mystic, in that I don't practice any austerities, and I've never had a mystical experience. So I'm not a mystic. I'm a scholar, and that's all. I remember when Alan Watts one time asked me, "Joe, what yoga do you practice?" I said, "I underline sentences." And that's all I'm doing. I'm no guru or anything of the kind.

And yet, Campbell did find a "mystical" side in all the thousands of stories found in the world's mythology. In the first post in this blog, I mentioned that Campbell said that the symbols found in our stories must be "transparent to transcendence."

What, exactly, does this mean?

In The Power of Myth, Campbell told Bill Moyers:

I think what we are looking for is a way of experiencing the world that will open to us the transcendent that informs it, and at the same time forms ourselves within it. That is what people want. That is what the soul asks for. (p. 61)

Likewise, on many occasions he said that we must allow the energies of the universe to work through us.

Long ago, I published some correspondence on this topic. If you'd like to read more, you can download those emails here.

Next time, we will begin looking at some of the sources Joseph Campbell used in his work.


  1. the quote above is not on page 61 ... was that a typo maybe?

    1. Hi, Anon. Sorry for the incredibly late reply! The book has been published in several versions with different pagination. I'll have to find which one I used and get back to you (if you ever come back again!)