Joseph Campbell Quotes on the Mythological

Campbell and Jean Erdman c. 1939

Campbell, J. (2002). Flight of the Wild Gander: Explorations in the Mythological Dimension – Selected Essays, 1944-1968. Novato, Calif: New World Library.

A symbol – and here I want to propose a definition – is an energy–evoking and – directing agent. When given a meaning, either corporal or spiritual, it serves for the engagement of the energy to itself – and this may be compared to the notching of the arrow to the bowstring and the drawing of the bow. When, however, all meaning is withdrawn, the symbol serves for disengagement, and the energy is dismissed – to it’s own end, which cannot be defined in terms of the parts of the bow. P143

In the above quote Campbell is proposing a definition of the term, symbol, that he previously introduced in the context of a quote from Carl Jung. The definition is itself a symbolic image because the works describes an imaginary arrow and a bow being used by a person. Campbell’s passion for the Native American lifestyle is reflected in his choice of symbolic image. Campbell’s image discerns not only between sign and symbol but differentiates the symbol itself into two parts. For Campbell the symbol can either contain or dismiss energy. In the case of the latter, the dismissed energy, he defines the ‘absolutely unknowable’ – or as he says the stuff that ‘cannot be defined in terms of the parts.’ When the tension of the bow is drawn or the energy engaged then the symbol is containing. It is a “relatively unknowable” energy evoked by the symbol itself. One might imagine that for a young man, such as Campbell, to see the bow and arrow lying on a table might immediately result in him picking up the instrument.  What happens next? Does he follow the rules of engagement laid out by society or does he go off on an adventure? The result of the use of a bow as a toy within a society is ‘relatively unknown’, but to go off solo on an adventure as an individual is, ‘absolutely unknowable’.

‘The Symbol Without Meaning’- Chapter 5 Quotes

  • Images of the highest truth, they were always literally as well as symbolically understood; or, to use the terms of Saint Augustine, corporeally as well as spiritually. Page 98
  • Their value, in other words, is not that of science but that of Art: and just as art maybe study psychologically, as symbolic or symptomatic of the strains and structures of the psyche, so may the archetypes of myth, fairytale, archaic philosophy, cosmology and metaphysics. P99
  • The first, the sign, is a reference to some concept or object definitely known; the second, the symbol, is the best possible figure by which allusion may be made to something relatively unknown. Page 99
  • I believe we may say that, in general, the symbols of science and symbolic logic are, in this sense signs; and the figures of art, in the sense, symbols. Page 99
  • Mythological cosmologies, it now must be recognized, do not correspond to the world of gross fact but are functions of dream and vision; and therefore, the meaning (if any) inherent in or implied by the propositions of the theology and metaphysics are not to be sought at the other end either the microscope or telescope. P101
  • The whole city now (not simply the temple area) is conceived as an imitation on earth of the celestial order – the sociological middle cosmos, or mesocosm, between the macrocosm of the universe and the microcosm of the individual, making visible there essential form: with the king in the center either as sun or as moon, according to the local calls and an organization of the walled city, in the matter of the mandala… p120
  • This temple tower, of course, and the hierarchically organized little city surrounding it, where everyone plays his role according to a celestially inspired divine plan, is the model of paradise that we find not only in the Hindu – Buddhist imagery of mount Samaritan, the Greek Olympus, and the Aztec temples of the sun, but also in Dantes earthly paradise, for which Columbus went in search, and in the biblical image of Eden, from which the medieval concept was developed… p122
  • And this celestial order was to become for all the civilizations and philosophers of the world the model of the revelation of destiny. page 123
  • The Egyptian term for this order Ma’at, and India it was Dharma, and in China Tao. P123
  • Art and custom shape the soul: art lived – as ritual. P123
  • One might also say that man himself, or at least his innermost soul, was the prisoner of the protected inhabitant of the mandala… p124
  • It is, then, into the unknown, beyond both the image of God and image of man, that we must venture to find you ultimate ground of all these guiding and protecting, edifying yet imprisoning, names and forms. Page 125
  • I do not know of any myth that represents more clearly than this the crisis that must have faced the societies of the old world when the Neolithic order began to make its power felt in a gradual conquest of the most habitable portions of the earth. 129
  • The highest concern of all the mythologies, ceremonials, ethical systems, and social organizations of the agriculturally base ascites has ever been that of suppressing the manifestations of individualism, and this has been generally achieved by compelling or persuading people to identify themselves not with their own interest, intuitions, or modes of experience, but with archetypes of behavior and systems of sentiment developed and maintained in the public domain. Page 130
  • Nevertheless, there is a persistent syndrome of motives that can be readily identified throughout, which is clearly that other hunting, and not ever settled, planting system of societies. And one of its most persistent features is they association of the shamanistic trance with the flight of a bird. The hawk and eagle, while gander and duck appear to be common throughout the ranges; but locally, other birds may appear; the owl and vulture, for example, the raven, magpie, or woodpecker – the last-name, because of the flash of red on its head, being frequently the chief hero of the fire-theft. P133
  • Two contrasting functions of the religious symbol can now be distinguished. The first is a reference and engagement, the second disengagement, transport, and metamorphosis. The first is illustrated by the social mandala of the hieratic city state, which engages every member and a context of experience significance, and relating him As a part to a whole. P135
  • The rhythm of the shaman drum is like a syllable AUM; and his trance is the bird – flight of the feathered arrow. His mind, disengage from the protection of the symbol, is to meet directly the mysterium tremendum of the unknown. Page 136
  • A symbol – and here I want to propose a definition – is an energy–evoking and – directing agent. When given a meaning, either corporal or spiritual, it serves for the engagement of the energy to itself – and this may be compared to the notching of the arrow to the bowstring and the drawing of the bow. When, however, all meaning is withdrawn, the symbol serves for disengagement, and the energy is dismissed – to it’s own end, which cannot be defined in terms of the parts of the bow. P143
  • The Lord of animals, who is the archetype of the forest–dwelling yogi, smeared with ashes to indicate his death to the world and wearing living serpents for bracelets, indicate his transcendence of the world–enveloping serpent: whereas others are bound by it, he wears it simply as an ornament – or casts it off, at will. P144
  • At that instant of the absolute stilling of the mind, the titan, perfectly balanced in the stands known as that of dismissing the body – dismiss the body; and with the whole mandala, with all its priestly kings and kingly priests, heavens and hells, virtues and vices, devils and gods. P144
  • There is nothing to be done, no effort to be made; for in our very bondage we are free, and in our very striving for release we are linking ourselves the more into bondage – which is already freedom. Page 147
  • Some mines require mescaline to dissolve in them their references; others maybe quelled by the hypnotizing beat of a drum or the rhythmical organization of a work of art. P150
  • This sense of existence evoked maybe shallow or profound, more or less intense, according to our capacity or readiness; but even a brief shock (say, for example, when discovering the moon over city roofs or hearing a sharp bird cry at night) can yield an experience of the order of no–mind: that is to say, the political order, the order of art. Page 150
  • Let us except the suggestion and recognize, then, that what is intended by art, metaphysics, magical hocus-pocus, and mystical religion, is not the knowledge of anything, not truth, not goodness, or beauty, but an evocation of a sense of the absolutely unknowable. P151
  • The function of art is to render a sense of existence, not an assurance of some meaning; so that those who require an assurance of meaning, or who feel unsure of themselves and unsettled when they learn that the system of meaning that would support them in their living has been shattered, they must surely be those who have not yet experienced profoundly, continuously, or convincingly enough, that sense of existence – spontaneous and willing arising – which is the first and deepest characteristic of being, and which it is the province of art to waken. p.152
  • What, I ask, is the meaning of a flower? And having no meaning, should the flower, then, not be? page 152
  • It seems to me perfectly clear that all the great and little symbolical systems of the past functioned simultaneously on three levels: the corporeal of waking consciousness, the spiritual dreams, and the ineffable of the absolutely unknowable. Page 152
  • For the circle has been broken – the mandala of Truth. The circle is open, and we are sailing on a sea more vast than that of Columbus. Page 153

The secularization of the sacred- Chapter 6 Quotes

  • Mythic identification. page 160
  • These are equivalent symbols, heavenly and earthly, of the ever–dying, ever–living Being of beings that is life in the garden of this world. Page 164
  • Mythic dissociation. page 167
  • Social identification. page 168
  • Unimportant point to be recognize, however, is that the ideal of love, Amore, of the levers and poets of the middle ages correspond to neither of these. P.172
  • The lover in all these devotional traditions is an agent and spiritual transformation, converting eros into agape, karma into prema; whereas in the Tristan legends the two levers are equally of this world. Page 176
  • The Grail, for him, was a cult–transcending talisman of cross-cultural associations, pointing to an image of man released from ecclesiastical authority, perfected in his nature through his own personal adventure, serving the world not through servitude but through mastery, and through love fulfilled, not ravaged and destroyed. P180
  • A disassociation of the individual from the body of the group, as one unique and himself, who, if he is to realize is on potentialities, must not follow the paths or ways of any other but must discover himself his own. P183
  • Classical art of the Apollyon and Dionysian principles; delight in the dream like wonder of individuated forms together with the poignant–even rapturous­–recognition of their impermanence, not as a refutation but as a heightening of the wonder of the moment of the sun. It’s 183
  • And the resultant sense of alienation from value is one of the most–discussed spiritual phenomena of our time. Page 186
  • For there is, in fact, and quiet places, a great deal of deep spiritual quest and finding now in progress in the world, outside the sanctified social centers, beyond their purview and control: in small groups, here and there, and more often, more typically, by ones and twos, they’re entering the forest at those points which they themselves have chosen, where they see it to be mostly dark, and there is no beaten way or path. P186