Pathways to Bliss

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Joseph Campbell is one of this century’s great disseminators of the psychological wisdom of mythology. One of the basic functions of myth, he contends, is to help each individual through the journey of life, providing a travel guide to reach fulfillment — a map to discover “bliss.” In Pathways to Bliss, Campbell once again draws on his masterly gift of storytelling to apply the larger themes of world mythology to personal growth and transformation. Looking at the more personal, psychological side of myth, he begins to dwell on life’s more important questions — those that are often submerged beneath the frantic activity of our daily life. With characteristic wit and insight, he draws connections between ancient symbols and modern art, schizophrenia and the hero’s journey, revealing the way myth helps identify one’s heroic path.

Transcript of Pathways to Bliss

I was speaking to a group recently at the Esalen Institute in California.Most were women, and they were very interested in the question ofwhether there were role models to be found in classical myth for womentrying to serve as soldiers and executives and such in modern lifewhichthere werent. And so the question came up of whether mythic figuresshould serve as role models at all.I would say that, whether they should or shouldnt, the typical situa-tion has been that a societys myths do provide role models for that societyat that given time. What the mythic image shows is the way in which thecosmic energy manifests itself in time, and as the times change, the modesof manifestation change.As I told them, the gods represent the patron powers that support youin your field of action. And by contemplating the deities, youre given akind of steadying force that puts you in the role, as it were, that is repre-sented by that particular deity. There are the patron deities of agriculture,patron deities of way, and so on. In our classical tradition, there is no pa-tron deity for the woman in the field of business, action, warcraft, or so on.Athena is the patron of warriors, not a warrior herself. While Artemis mayhave been a huntress, what she represents is the transformative power of thexvi n t r o d u c t i o n :goddess, of nature, not action within the social sphere. What could a busi-nesswoman possibly learn from Artemis?Where you have a mythic image, it has been validated by decades, cen-turies, or millennia of experience along that path, and it provides a model.Its not easy to build a life for yourself with no model whatsoever. I dontknow how it is now, right this minute, when so many new possibilitieshave opened up for life. But in my experience it has always been the modelthat gives you the idea of the direction in which to go, and the way inwhich to handle the problems and opportunities that come up.Myth is not the same as history; myths are not inspiring stories ofpeople who lived notable lives. No, myth is the transcendent in relation-ship to the present. Now, a folk hero is different from the subject of a bio-graphy, even when the hero may have been a real person once upona timeJohn Henry or George Washington. The folk hero represents atransforming feature in the myth. When you have an oral mythic tradition,its right up to date. In the folktales of the American Indians, you have bi-cycles, you have the form of the Capitol dome in Washington. Everythinggets incorporated into the mythology immediately. In our society of fixedtexts and printed words, it is the function of the poet to see the life valueof the facts round about, and to deify them, as it were, to provide imagesthat relate to the everyday to the eternal.Of course, in trying to relate yourself to transcendence, you dont haveto have images. You can go the Zen way and forget the myths altogether.But Im talking about the mythic way. And what the myth does is to pro-vide a field in which you can locate yourself. Thats the sense of the man-dala, the sacred circle, whether you are a Tibetan monk or the patient of aJungian analyst. The symbols are laid out around the circle, and you are tolocate yourself in the center. A labyrinth, of course, is a scrambled mandala,in which you dont know where you are. Thats the way the world is forpeople who dont have a mythology. Its a labyrinth. They are battling theirway through as if no one had ever been there before.Ive lately gotten to know the work of a splendid psychiatrist in Ger-many named Karlfried Graf Drckheim (not to be confused with theFrench sociologist mile Durkheim). This psychiatrist has summarizedthe whole problem of healthpsychological and physicalwith referencePat hways t o Bl i s s xvito myth, continuing the work of Carl Gustav Jung and Erich Neumann.,There lives in us, says Drckheim, a life wisdom. We are all manifestationsof a mystic power: the power of life, which has shaped all life, and whichhas shaped us all in our mothers womb. And this kind of wisdom lives inus, and it represents the force of this power, this energy, pouring into thefield of time and space. But its a transcendent energy. Its an energy thatcomes from a realm beyond our powers of knowledge. And that energybecomes bound in each of usin this bodyto a certain commitment.Now, the mind that thinks, the eyes that see, they can become so involvedin concepts and local, temporal tasks that we become bound up and dontlet this energy flow through. And then we become sick. The energy isblocked, and we are thrown off center; this idea is very similar to the tenetsof traditional Chinese and Indian medicine. So the psychological problem,the way to keep from becoming blocked, is to make yourselfand hereis the phrasetransparent to the transcendent. Its as easy as that.What myth does for you is to point beyond the phenomenal field to-ward the transcendent. A mythic figure is like the compass that you usedto draw circles and arcs in school, with one leg in the field of time and theother in the eternal. The image of a god may look like a human or animalform, but its reference is transcendent of that.Now, when you translate the moving, metaphoric foot of the compassinto a concrete referenceinto a factwhat you have is merely an allegoryand not a myth. Where a myth points past itself to something idescrib-able, an allegory is merely a story or image that teaches a practical lesson.It is what Joyce would call improper art.If the reference of the mythicimage is to a fact or to a concept, then you have an allegorical figure. Amythic figure has one leg in the transcendent. And one of the problemswith the popularization of religious ideas is that the god becomes a finalfact and is no longer itself transparent to the transcendent. This is whatLao-tzu means when he says, in the first aphorism of the Tao-te Ching,The Tao that can be named is not the Tao.,Make your god transparent to the transcendent, and it doesnt matterwhat his name is.Now, when you have a deity as your model, your life becomes trans-parent to the transcendent, so far as you realize the inspiration of that god.xvii Int roduct i onThis means living, not in the name of success or achievement in the world,but rather in the name of transcendence, letting the energy come through.Of course, to reach the transpersonal, you have to go through the per-sonal; you have to have both qualities there. The nineteenth-centuryGerman ethnologist Adolf Bastian talked about there being two elementsto every myth: the elementary and the local. You have to go through yourown traditionthe localto get to the transcendent, or elementary, level,and just so you have to have a relationship to God on both a personal anda transpersonal basis.In primal societies, the shaman provides a living conduit between thelocal and the transcendent. The shaman is one who has actually gonethrough a psychological crack-up and recovery. The young boy or girl ap-proaching adolescence either has a vision or hears a song. This vision orsong amounts to a call. The person experiences a shivering, neurotic sick-ness. This is really a kind of psychotic episode, and the family, being in atradition that knows about this thing, will send for a shaman to give theyoung person the disciplines that will carry them out of this dilemma. Thedisciplines include enacting certain psychological rites that put the indi-vidual back in touch with the society again, of singing his or her song.Of course, what this individual has encountered by going deep into theunconscious is the unconscious of their whole society. These people arebound in a small horizon and share a limited system of psychological prob-lems. And so the shaman becomes a teacher and protector of the mythictradition but is isolated and feared; its a very dangerous position to be in.Now, and older person can want to become a shaman in some societies,and so then has to undergo certain ordeals to gain the power that theprimary shaman has gained automatically. In northeast Siberia and inmany parts of North and South America, the call of the shaman involves atransvestite life. That is, the person is to live the life of the opposite sex.What this means is that the person has transcended the powers of his or heroriginal gender, and so women live as men and men as women. Thesetransvestite shamans play a very large role in the Indian mythology in theSouthwestthe Hopi, the Pueblo, the Navaho, and the Apacheand alsoamong the Sioux Indians and many others.Waldemar Bogoras and Waldemar Jochelson first recognized this genderPat hways t o Bl i s s xviiireversal among the Chukchi people on the Kamchatka Peninsula in Siberia.oThese two men witnessed a constellation of reactions to this phenomenon.One is that some young men who had heard the call to become what theycall a soft man were so ashamed and so negative to it that they commit-ted suicide. If the shaman does not answer the call, then he will bepsychologically shipwrecked and will fall to pieces. Its a very deep psycho-logical summons.I recently read the story of a woman who grew up in a mining town inWest Virginia. When she was a little girl, she went walking in the woodsand heard marvelous music. And she didnt know what to do with it, oranything about it. The years passed her by, and, in her sixties, she came toa psychiatrist with the feeling that she had missed a life. It was in deep,hypnotic memories she recalled this song.;You recognize it, of course: itsthe shamans song.It is through attending to this song, to this visionary image, that theshamans center themselves. Th