Customer Reviews: Pathways to Bliss: Mythology and Personal Transformation
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on November 15, 2006
Everyone with the slightest familiarity with Joseph Campbell, of course, knows the famous catch-phrase: "Follow Your Bliss". And everyone pretty much knows what it means, as well: Figure out whatever your passion is, and responsibly and diligently move forward, and pursue it... for the rest of your life... above and beyond anything else.

Sounds like words of wisdom from a worthy and knowledgable teacher.... but how exactly does one go about following their bliss?

That's what this book aims to answer.

Joseph Campbell, of course, died in 1987, yet this book didn't appear on store shelves until 2004. That's because it has been assembled posthumously by the Joseph Campbell Foundation from many of Campbell's unpublished notes/lectures/interviews/drafts/etc... Their aim is to bring the great mythologist's unfinished works into a form suitable for public consumption. With that as their aim, the Foundation had the inspired idea to organize a whole book around the premise: How To Follow Your Bliss.

So, it's the usual brand of Campbell's 'Mythology as Psychological Resource', albeit this time around in the guise of a sort of 'mythological self-help book'. A satisfying one nonetheless.

As ever, Campbell's basic premise is that the grand purpose of mythology is to ground an individual in relation to an order of being that is larger than himself. Through metaphor and through ritual, an individual is brought into accord with:

1. The great mystery

2. The physical world

3. The societal order

4. The appropriate stage in one's own development as an individual

(These you may recognize as Campbell's four functions of myth.)

The book starts by laying out all four of these as the foundation for the overall theme, and then focuses on the fourth one, the 'personal development' function of myth, throughout the remainder of its pages. A typical scenario where the fourth function of myth may be considered is the following:

All is well, of course, when an infant lives in a dependency on its mother. It is not alright, however, when a thirty-year-old man depends on his mother for decision-making capabilities. Obviously, at some point between infancy and maturity must come the realization that the correct value is to become an autonomous being. Often these realizations that come at specific transition points in the lifecycle are challenging for a developing ego to embrace.

And myths are often stories that show us, through metaphor, that it is possible to negotiate these thresholds-- often they even point a way as to HOW these thresholds may best be negotiated. In a nutshell, what the great stories tell us is this: let the you that you are now DIE so that something new can be born in its place. Let your current incarnation go.

Following the development of the above ideas, the book continues on into the territory of Jung and the idea of one's personal myth. Each of us may become sensitive to one particular myth over another because it has something essential to tell us specifically about our own unique particular journey.

Finding one's own myth, and living it, in essence, is one's pathway to bliss. Campbell gives suggestions to his students (and to us readers) as to how to find, identify and live one's personal myth.

So, here you get the flavor of the book. If you like the ideas behind The Power of Myth and/or Hero With A Thousand Faces and find them to be a nourishing resource in your own life journey, here's a book that attempts to express and focus on those ideas in a way that makes them seem much more immediately relevant and applicable to one's own life journey.

So, if that's what you're into, you'll find it in this book. Because 'mythology as resource for one's psychological development' is what primarily compells me above all else when it comes to myth, I devoured this book and then cried like a little baby when I finished the last page because I was sad it was all over. Those who can't stomach Campbell should move along move along, because they'll find more of the same here as to what they're used to.

* As a bonus, for everyone out there who finds Campbell's ideas of the Hero's Journey to be somewhat not inclusive of women, this book tries to address that as well. The final chapter is a transcript of dialogues in which many of Campbell's students (male and female) challenge him to broaden the conception of the Hero's Journey to include women in a fuller way. It brings what many consider a sour omission from Campbell's writings to light and is definitely worth the read for anyone who follows that discussion closely.

- Phil Robinson


"Paint the walls of your cage with a dream."
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on December 8, 2004
I am drawn to Pathways to Bliss because it is very much "practical Campbell," focusing directly on the wisdom that myth presents pertaining to our individual lives. "Pathways" offers practical observations for life based on Joseph Campbell's study of mythology.

I find "Pathways" a delightful read. Campbell's's voice is fresh, his words full of wit and wisdom - definitely has more of an intimate feel than some of his heavily referenced scholastic tomes. There is no mincing of words, either - Campbell makes very clear that ancient myths remain guideposts for our individual lives today - if we know how to read them ... as in the following passage:

"Now all of these myths that you have heard and that resonate with you, those are the elements from round about that you are building into a form in your life. The thing worth considering is how they relate to each other in your context, not how they relate to something out there - how they were relevant on the North American praires or in the Asian jungles hundreds of years ago, but how they are relevant now - unless by contemplating their former meaning you can begin to amplify your own understanding of the role they play in your life."

Here Campbell makes clear that his books aren't just for armchair scholars, as he brings mythology out of the Academy and into the street

... which is indeed unnerving for many in specialized disciplines. They might study myth, but to apply patterns discovered therein to one's own life carries the same stigma as an "objective" anthropologist "gone native."

For Campbell, though, the same elements of story that power myth remain active in our lives today.

Of course, another reason i enjoy Pathways is that David Kudler has done a wonderful job of stitching together these lectures into one seamless whole - far from easy to do. The result, though, should not only appeal to the Campbell afficionado, but will also serve as an excellent introduction for those new to the work of this original thinker.
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on June 5, 2006
I used to recommend people start with Myths to Live By, but now I think people should start with Pathways To Bliss. It's just a fantastic overview of the ideas that Joseph Campbell expands on and reiterates throughout his other books.

I started reading this book and my wife was joking with me, saying all you have to do is read the last paragraph to get the gist of the book. So as a joke I turned to the last paragraph and read it out loud to her. It was so moving, well, that was it, we both read the book cover to cover together.

It's just an amazingly affirmative view of life and nobody explains the mysteries of the cosmos better than Joseph Campbell. I'm a huge fan of his, and this book is the best one yet.
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on December 29, 2004
The wonderful thing about the last three collections of Campbell's work (Pathways..., Myths Of Light, Thou Art That), is the personal manner of thought. These works are mostly transcribed lectures, many of which can be found on tape. They differ from his formal published work in that there is a direct, concise transmission of ideas--almost a 'folksy' manner of speaking at times. This lends itself to a more enjoyable understanding of Campbell than the more 'scholarly' of his works.

Or to re-state this on a more critical level, these works allow Campbell's own thoughts about myth to be portrayed, instead of the heavy lens of his teachers shadowing him such as in his early works.
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on December 2, 2004
When I ordered this book, the first surprise was the cover--which isn't the dancing fairies shown above, but a beautiful, BLISSFUL daVinci face.

As soon as I began to read the book, the surprises kept coming. From the introduction on, Campbell writes in a very personal, comfortable way about really deep issues, about how myth is not just a series of stories that shape a particular society, but is a tool for individual growth, about the ways in which you can identify what the myths are that you live by, and the way in which you can see your own life as a series of hero journeys. I was stunned that a book that is so clear and accessible could be so profound and thought provoking.

If you know someone who is looking at their own life (and who isn't), this would be the best christmas gift you've ever gotten them!
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on October 31, 2006
I read 'Hero With a Thousand Faces' by Joseph Campbell first, and although I found it to be insightful, I thought it was a bit sterile, scholarly, and downright technical for my taste. My prejudice was, science should be cold and sterile while myth should be warm and lively.

With this publication of 'Pathways to Bliss', I decided to give Mr. Campbell another read.

I am glad I did.

This book, in contrast to 'Hero', I found to be warm, friendly and engaging. The overall style of the book, in my view, matched the subject matter.

In it, Campbell defines myth as 'other people's religion' and provides a lively history of our religious symbols through time, how they effect us as a society, and finally how myth impacts us personally and today. His mythology is rooted in existential causes i.e. tropical societies noticed fruits fell to the ground, died, and produced more fruit thus offering a glimpse into the necessity of death where a rebirth is required, while land based societies looked upon the animals they killed as kin, and thus came up with rituals to offer the animals rebirth by pouring their blood out onto the ground, an agreement between hunter and hunted that life would continue for the animal.

But Campbell also realizes there is something perhaps more significant at play where myth is concerned than purely environmental causes, and offers the viewpoints of C.G. Jung and Sigmund Freud concerning the unconscious, the psyche and the self, and the role they may have played in developing the stories that have shaped our lives so profoundly.

It is amazing to me that a comet thousands of miles away is more predictable than my next door neighbor, but Joseph Campbell helps me understand myself, and perhaps my fellow man, just a little bit better with this wonderful little book.
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on February 21, 2007
I am grateful for having read this fantastic piece of work that brings together mythology and personal transformation in such a profound and articulate manner. I could notice how it strikes multiple harmonics in my mind as I read on, very much along the lines of Jung's view on the unconscious.

Pathways to Bliss provides both a framework and an inspirational context for anyone interested in the Self as Hero. As such, I have utilized it as a prime reference for my forthcoming work in designing board games and processes that would be useful for furthering the usefulness of the Hero's Journey archetypical metaphor as a tool for personal and group learning, growth, and advancement.

Perhaps it is best to bring forth this excerpt from the book: "There's nothing you can do more important than being fulfilled. You become a sign, you become a signal, transparent to transcendence; in this way, you will find, live, and become a realization of your own personal myth." (Last paragraph, page 108). In this book, Campbell offers a rich ground for constructing that personal myth, one that would enhance the wisdom, love and inner beauty of a person's Self to mythical proportions!
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on January 4, 2005
The late Joseph Campbell has defined myths as 'other people's religion' but also says its idea is to help individuals understand life's journey, supporting a 'path to bliss' in the process. Pathways To Bliss: Mythology And Personal Transformation considers the psychological side of myth and uses Campbell's popular lectures as a foundation for exploring life's questions, cross-cultural symbols and stories, and how myths shape and enrich daily lives. An excellent survey for the spiritually inclined and continuingly invaluabe contribution to personal and academic Metaphysical Studies collections.
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on July 11, 2005
I'm reading this book for a class and its terrific!!!--this book unifies a great many threads of concepts and approaches for seeing into the nature of who we are and how we connect our unconscious and conscious mind.-Its the most clearly written accessible reading of campbells that I've encountered.
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on July 11, 2010
This is an excellent introduction and/or review of the key themes of Joseph Campbell's entire body of work - the role of myth and archetypes in human experience, within both cultures and individual psyches, and within both religious and philosophical traditions. It is really a collection of essays and talks, grouped according to these topics. This collection is particularly focused on the practical application of his ideas in one's own life - this book is not focused on his more academic material. Because of that, it is Campbell at his most inspiring and insightful, in my view.

However, to me all Campbell books seem a bit dated at this point. The presentation of Eastern spiritual teachings in particular seems simplistic and overly general. Campbell is best at making connections between traditions at a 'macro' level - when you get down to the details, there are often missing pieces. So in the end, I think this is best read as personal development material. If the ideas inspire you then use them, but don't use this as a historical or anthropological guide.
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