Joseph Campbell

Mariner became aware of Joseph Campbell in 1988 when the anthropologist was interviewed by Bill Moyers on PBS television. During that series of six interviews, Campbell provided interpretations of religious and social behavior in a way that was new to the mariner – frankly, new to most viewers. Many of Campbell’s interpretations, derived from decades of researching primitive cultures, provide a logical overlay for many human behaviors that seem to be universal. Mariner will share a few insights here but no matter how much is written, one must see the video of the Bill Moyers interviews; it is a significant event even today, 26 years later.

The mariner feels a visit with Campbell will have a calming effect on readers today. The cacophony of conflict, fear, financial instability, endless war, and weakened control of everything leaves us emotionally fatigued and we see no relief in sight. Joseph Campbell speaks pleasantly, unhurriedly but takes his audience to the core of their being. Whether we feel out of control or not, Joseph Campbell says things will turn out fine if we pay attention to our myths. All over the world, humans have similar needs and responses to religion, inspiration, enlightenment, phases of growth from birth to death, and many instinctive patterns that we perform automatically. Campbell has delved deeply into our common need for myths. He is famous for his advice to “find a blissful place.”

Joseph Campbell’s description of spiritual release: One piece of conversation mariner enjoys is a description of the spiritual metamorphosis that must occur in Christianity. Campbell said that everyone focuses on the pain and suffering of Jesus on the cross. That’s not it, he says. As Jesus approaches the cross, he is released from the bondage of his body; the cross is life. The body remains in a world of sorrow and pain but the spirit has transformed and releases the shackles that bind the spirit to the body. (So simply put but so hard to achieve.) See the video that talks about metamorphosis:

Another approach to the experience of metamorphosis is described in the myth of the young Indian boy captured by an enemy tribe. He will be sacrificed at the tribal altar. As the boy approaches the altar, he is singing and happy. This confuses the chiefs because everyone is cheering the boy. See Campbell’s explanation at:

Joseph Campbell’s approach to the experience of life: “Myth is a kind of scoreboard. The libido looks at the scoreboard and knows what the situation is.” He goes on to say a forty year old man is not afraid of a scolding by his mother; if he is, he hasn’t looked at the scoreboard – he hasn’t moved on. The same is true with an eighty year old man. He shouldn’t be looking back to see how he can improve his golf score; He’s already done that. At eighty, he has lived his life and should be at peace with himself, knowing he has accomplished the arc of life but still always looking forward with satisfaction.

Campbell was a consultant to the “Star Wars” trilogy. George Lucas wanted to use the power of myth in all of us as an enrichment of the series. One example is explained in a short clip from the movie. See:

Joseph Campbell was prolific. There are many books by him that cover his insights more succinctly; there are dozens of free clips a search engine will find. His Bill Moyer interview and DVD lecture series is available inexpensively through the German search engine Stuccu:{mscklid}

Official Joseph Campbell website:   The Power of Myth for $27.00   Book versions of lectures for $12 to $20.

Complete DVD set of series on for $42.00

Individual DVD lectures on for $4 to $14.


Joseph Campbell said, “Mythological images are the images by which the consciousness is put in touch with the unconscious.” To this point, he documented the use of animals in different myths. Below are a few animals used as mythic symbols. Using your own intuition, what representation do these animals provide? Example: the raven has a universal reputation for cunning; in Greece and China, the raven was a messenger between gods and humans.

In Europe, the dragon –

In Asia, the dragon –

Lakota tribe (North America), the bison –

In China, the boar –

Celts in Britain, the boar –

The United States uses many animals to represent a multitude of symbolic virtues. Name at least six animals, each from a different type of endeavor or belief; what does each represent? Mariner will help by naming two; what virtues do they represent? (this puzzle has an arbitrary air to it. Intuition may be more important than fact)

Elephant and donkey (or jackass) for political parties.

To record your answers, click “Leave a reply” at the bottom of this post. The mariner, too, will reply with answers to the first puzzle.

Ancient Mariner

1 thought on “Joseph Campbell

  1. The eagle, representing power
    The turkey, representing stuffing
    The snake, representing do not step on me
    The buffalo, representing the nickel
    The Clydesdale, representing beer
    The lion, representing movies
    The elephant and donkey, representing self interest

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