91 of 93 people found the following review helpful
on June 8, 1999
Along with "The Hero With a Thousand Faces," this is Campbell's greatest work. Campbell was a loving student of Native American cultures, and this book's historical achievement is to evaluate and compare all world mythologies as co-equal, including cogent and detailed examples from Native American mythology.
Campbell's core belief was that all humanity has a common origin, and that the study of mythology exposes this core identity amongst all peoples. By traversing the plains of time back to the very first artifacts of human behavior, he draws a compelling conclusion that we are all born of the same stock, from the same mythopoetic and spiritual origin, and destined to share the same future.
The student of humanity will find this study particularly compelling because Campbell identifies several mythological themes that span the globe. Among them are the virgin birth of a savior, the trial of the hero at the hands of evildoers, and the resurrection of the savior/hero from the dead. To my mind, these timeless echos of Christian beliefs place Western thought in an ancient and endlessly rewarding intellecutal context.
Campbell's higher purpose of showing that all humanity is united through its most fundamental ideas about the cosmos and our place in it is brilliantly synthesized in his discussion of the origin of agrigculture at the outset of the Neolithic. In the same way that all philosopy is "footnotes to Plato," all of history is "footnotes" to the Neolithic Revoltuion. Campbell handles this insight with a genius that must be read and re-read to truly appreciate.
29 of 30 people found the following review helpful
on August 30, 2006
Well, it took some years, but I finally finished reading Campbell's, "Masks of God" series and I must say I agree with another reviewer as Campbell has indeed saved the best for last.
What set this one ("Vol. IV: Creative Mythology") apart from the other three to me, is that Campbell presents ideas which can be directly applied to your everyday life and looks towards the future of mythology (which we are all a part of!) rather than strictly recounting a history of the world's mythological past. There is plenty of mythological history in, "Creative Mythology," but it is all presented as background for looking towards the future...
As far as Campbell's own written work is concerned, to date I've read his other three, "Masks of God" books and of course his, "Hero with a Thousand Faces." I've actually read, "Hero..." a few times over and it remains my favorite of his books so far, but, "Creative Mythology" is now a close second.
The entire, "Masks of God" series is well worth reading, but unlike, "Hero...," they are all big, dense books that take quite sometime to get through. If you're only going to pick one in the series, my recomendation would be to make it, "Vol. IV: Creative Mythology." It's exciting and inpiring and a real tour-de-force.
Unfortunately, I suspect that many people start with the high ambition of reading the entire series and then never finish it. Hence, they miss out on reading this great book which is a shame. Don't let that be you!
56 of 62 people found the following review helpful
This last volume of the Masks of God is a huge book that spans the efforts of artists to interpret the myths from early troubadour poems to Finnegan's Wake. Just for the books it added to my reading list, this book was valuable.
The idea of the book that has stayed with me the most since I read it is the idea that an artist neither accepts myth as historical fact, nor rejects it as useless, but moves somewhere between those two extreme poles to mine its history.
The book is dense, and not always easy to read. It took me a long time to pick through it-- particularly in sections with pages of quotations-- but it was ultimately quite rewarding. Being only an amateur student of religion and mythology, I am ill-equipped to judge the merits of its scholarship.
71 of 80 people found the following review helpful
on January 10, 1999
After more than a decade of reading and pondering, I have finally finished Campbell's great populist tetralogy on the history, manifestations and uses of the world's myths, both as aids to spirituality and as a tools of power politics. No doubt, I could have read it faster, but my wont was to read a section, then contemplate, often taking side-trips into other texts, either to check out the original, or to catch another perspective, or to read other works by Campbell. (I was reading volume one, for example, when I became aware of the PBS series of conversations between Bill Moyers and Campbell, so I took side-trips into the companion volume to that, into Hero with a Thousand Faces and into Bruno Bettelheim's The Uses of Enchantment. Volume two somehow got me into Campbell's Mythic Image, a very satisfying consideration of mythic representations in art, and into Robert Bly's Iron John.) This volume deals mainly with the mythology of individuation, and with the history of the movement from tribal/sociological mythogenesis to the concept of the individual as his/her own "all in All" interpreter who uses the past as guide, but not as a monolithic revelation or absolutist decree, necessarily. I was most fascinated by the discussions of artistic creation in terms of mythogenesis, moving from the personal and religious letters of Heloise and Abelard, through the Parsival and Grail legends which became art (via Mallory and Wagner, most notably, whose works were both discussed extensively and well, to my delight [and also to my regret that my fellow lover-of-all-things-Arthurian, Andy Raiford, is no longer alive to share my joy in these passages], and on to the contemporary works of James Joyce [all his work] and of Thomas Mann [Magic Mountain, primarily]). There is lots more by Campbell that I want to read, and rooms-full of texts that these volumes have lead me to want to read, ponder, and investigate. It's a good life that has brought me into contact with all that is here, so that I may "participate joyfully in the sorrows of life" to quote a Hindu proverb used as a focal point in another of Campbell's works. Of course, I dog-eared a number of pages and underlined many quotable passages in this volume, just as in the rest of the tetralogy.
21 of 21 people found the following review helpful
on October 2, 2003
Joseph Campbell's monumental "MASK" series aims to cover the subject of myth from its earliest inklings to its development into modern religions. It is remarkable how much privitive mythology remains with us today in our culture. Joseph Campbell offers several provocative interpretations of the origins of many of our cultural ideas, how primitive man viewed nature and what his blossoming awareness of the world both within and without grew.
The universal belief system is formed from our evolutionary psychology much as the three instinctual fears of modern people (fear of dark, fear of snakes, fear of heights) were formed by our biological evolution, from the time when proto-humans dwelt in trees.
Campbell offers a look at how many cultures today exhibit the same reverence and point of view toward mythology that primitive mankind did and how many of these remain. One considers such "beliefs" as animism (found in Native American and African tribes), people with a pipeline to the divine (witness the shaman, priest, witch doctor), the belief in luck, the "evil eye", "Father sun", "Mother moon". Indeed, according to Joseph Campbell, fertility in both people and plants played an important role in the development of such myths.
Much of the suppostion on the part of the author involves the substance of divinity and how we communicate with it/her/him. The scholarship and research involved in this trilogy is simply astounding. A mandatory read for anyone seriously interested in the birth of our deepest ideas.
42 of 46 people found the following review helpful
on June 21, 2000
The master of Comparative Mythology delves into the themes, that underlie the art, beliefs and literature of the Western Soul. The third volume explains why the Western culture is so much different from the Eastern Way.
It enables the reader to step back and review his/her own culture from a more objective point of view. In the West, it is about the monotheistic belief, about God and Man as a seperate being. Therefore occidental myths establishes a means of relationship between God to Man and vice versa. He also shows up, why Christianism, Judaism and Islam are so similar and the fight over the "true God" is so ridiculous.
If you haven't read the first two volumes "Primitive Mythology" and "Oriental Mythology", go for them first!
18 of 19 people found the following review helpful
In this wonderful book, the first volume of Campbell's monumental Masks of God series, we are given a look at the earliest myths and beliefs of man, from the cave dwellers to surviving indigenous tribes of today, and how these myths changed and developed over time, influencing later myths. While I might disagree somewhat with the title (since "primitive" is a fairly relative term anyway), I cannot deny that this is a superb and well-researched book and is amongst the greatest of Joseph Campbell's work. Early on, the work goes into the development of animistic world views, followed by some information on the religion of the Neolithic agriculture socieites. From this, we are given insight into both the "sacred kings" and the ritual of love-death, both central to agriculture people to this very day. The beliefs of the Polynesians, Native Americans, peoples of the ancient Near East and many other societies were given to show the relationships of these myths. Following this was another section on hunting societies, which explained the role of the shaman in great detail. Again, this ties directly to modern day cultures and peoples, as many cultures both in Siberia and further afield still rely upon Shamanism. From that, we go on to animal masters (a central concept in shamanism), the buffalo dance, bear worship (this can still be seen today amongst the Ainu, Siberians and other Arctic people) and cave paintings. The next section of the book "The Archaeology of Myth" was also particularly interesting, showing various stages of both Paleolithic and Neolithic mythology. Ultimately Campbell closed out the book talking about the functioning of myth and such. Over all, this is a wonderful book and I simply cannot repeat that enough. It shows the development of myth and religion in our earliest ancestors and ultimately how universal the legacy that they left us is. The beliefs of ancient people, both agriculturalists and hunter-gatherers, are still with us today. Shamanism, bear worship, animism, the great serpent, death-rebirth myths. All of these things are universal phenomena, showing up amongst cultures as far afield as the Saami, Arunta, Kikuyu, Karen, Cree and Yanomami. Just think about how the serpent shows up in mythology, from the rainbow serpent of the Koori to Damballah in Voudon to the Aztec's Quetzalcoatl. Or about how the Saami and Ainu have similar bear worship ceremonies. This book shows the common origins of mythology, and I strongly recommend it. I found the chapters of shamanism and the early hunter-gatherers to be particularly interesting, but the whole book is just a great read. And Joseph Campbell is (or rather was) a superb writer, as well as being an expert on comparative mythology, so this book is enjoyable to flip through. If you have an interest in mythology, religion, anthropology, history and/or archaeology, this book is a must. In fact, if you enjoy this book I recommend the remaining books in the "Masks of God" series.
26 of 30 people found the following review helpful
on May 28, 2010
I wish I could like Campbell's Masks of God series more than I do. I keep having the same experience -- I pick one up and read 15 pages that are magnificent, electrifying, and truly brilliant in their scope and perspicacity.
Then the long digressions accumulate and I start to lose the line of his analysis. He leaps hither and yon without much coherence or organization. It's almost as if he's a collector with an impressive set of artifacts, and he's hardly done showing you one before he's showing you the next. You kind of feel for him because he loves them all so much, and each individual story is great, but he needs to slow down a little.
A single chapter in this book on prehistoric mythology will contain lengthy references to the Vedas, Hawaiian mythologies, stories of the Blackfoot Indians, archaeological findings in Peru, and the love songs of the Troubadours. Why didn't he save the material on the Vedas for Volume 2 on Oriental Mythology? And wouldn't the bits on Arthurian Legend been more at home in Volume 3 Occidental Mythology?
I wish he'd had a co-author or a draconian editor who had forced him to stick to the schema he obviously laid out. He can't seem to see the trees for the forest.
Even with all the jumping around there are moments of breathtaking brilliance, like his sweeping characterization of Neolithic goddess figurines. The book is worth its price simply for the brief Prologue alone, which is simply electrifying.
14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
on February 5, 1999
For those unfamiliar with Joseph Campbell and his work, I would suggest starting with "The Power of Myth", a wonderful introduction to Campbell's insight and intellect.
The four volume set, "The Masks of God", of which this is the first book, would be a great next step. Volume 1, "Primitive Mythology", is a cogent review of the basic underlying primitive mythology which has shaped many of the world's greatest cultures, and still lives vibrantly in many today. A great read from a great man.
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on August 5, 2003
Just a great series of books. Campbell can get sloppy, he makes all kinds of bizarre associations and throws out all manners of strange ideas which he never follows up on, but this isn't a "scientific" work by any means. It's his way of viewing the world, and human history. In that sense this series is just...amazing. Very, very instructive, educational, and entertaining.