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

Sources #1: Native American Stories

We turn now the the sources of Joseph Campbell's work. Which materials (myths, stories, concepts) did he work with the most?

First and foremost is Native American mythology.

From the age of five or six, when his father took him and his brother to see Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show at Madison Square Garden, until the last months of his life, when he introduced a story that he was telling journalist Bill Moyers by saying, "I'm dealing with an Iroquois story right now..." Joseph Campbell was fascinated with "Indians."

"By the age of ten," his biography says,

Joe had read every book on American Indians in the children's section of his local library and was admitted to the adult stacks, where he eventually read the entire multi-volume Reports of the Bureau of American Ethnology. He worked on wampum belts, started his own "tribe" (named the "Lenni-Lenape" after the Delaware tribe who had originally inhabited the New York metropolitan area), and frequented the American Museum of Natural History, where he became fascinated with totem poles and masks, thus beginning a lifelong exploration of that museum's vast collection.

As in his life, so in his work: his first publication was the Commentary to a book called Where the Two Came to Their Father: A Navaho War Ceremonial, written by Jeff King and illustrated by Maud Oakes.

Though he never again published anything specifically "Indian," his work is threaded and illuminated by Native American stories. He also read widely in the anthropology of other pre-literate cultures, and wrote and spoke of the rituals and stories of the Ainu, Inuit, Australian Aborigines, and many, many other indigenous peoples.

Next time: Nature and Biology

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