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The Masks of God, Vol. 4: Creative Mythology Paperback – November 1, 1991
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About the Author
Joseph Campbell was interested in mythology since his childhood in New York, when he read books about American Indians, frequently visited the American Museum of Natural History, and was fascinated by the museum's collection of totem poles. He earned his B.A. and M.A. degrees at Columbia in 1925 and 1927 and went on to study medieval French and Sanskrit at the universities of Paris and Munich. After a period in California, where he encountered John Steinbeck and the biologist Ed Ricketts, he taught at the Canterbury School, then, in 1934, joined the literature department at Sarah Lawrence College, a post he retained for many years. During the 1940s and '50s, he helped Swami Nikhilananda to translate the Upanishads and The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna. The many books by Professor Campbell include The Hero with a Thousand Faces, Myths to Live By, The Flight of the Wild Gander, and The Mythic Image. He edited The Portable Arabian Nights, The Portable Jung, and other works. He died in 1987.
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For the fan or believer or explorer of any of the 3 great Abrahamic religions, here's your history and source book. Of course, it includes more than just the 'big three' but I expect it is primarily an interest in these that proves of most value and interest. Here are the stories you never heard before and many that you have heard before, too. Starting from the most ancient and widespread influences that we can know about, the book tells the tale of how these religions evolved and got to, finally today, where we are now. If any Jewish person, or Christian, or Moslem, thinks their own particular religion [being the one true one] emerged developed and intact from the very lips of the eternal god of the universe, think again. Read and learn and see. All the beginnings involve the slowly emerging myths which are later falsely believed by the true-believers to be actual literal history. The miracle stories and 'divine revelations' are not history. Far from it. They all involve primitive scraps of legends and miracle stories and borrowings from neighboring tribes and other cultures over centuries of time. They all involve great heroes, men that heard 'directly from god' the one and only ultimate truths that the hearer 'must believe' to avoid perdition. And human beings, ever alert for magical aid and favors from 'God' will jump on board and believe. That is history. That is the way these things, the religions, develop over long centuries. Each new generation then is expected to believe that, well, all right, finally we've got the story straight and we are the ones who know the real truth. It is sad in a way. But that is what happens. That is who and what we humans are-- the species of naïve belief.
The long evolving trails are clearly laid out in this amazing book. Read and see. It is fascinating stuff.
As Campbell puts it himself at the beginning of the summing up near the end of the book:
"It is one of the great lessons of our study that for the vulgar, ill, or uninstructed mind, myths tend to become history...that, on the one hand, binds so-called believers into contending groups and...deprives them all of the substance of the message each believes itself alone to have received...whereas when any of the great mythic imageries comes to be read as poetry, as art, as experience...we find a message of accord, which, in brief, is that of the living God, who is not apart, but within all and of no definition."
Some of the most awesome sections, for me, can be read as highlights in just a few pages:
P. 25-29 on the birth of the gods
P. 71-75 the oneness of our being
P. 384-385 how religion, as we now know it, really first began
One could enjoy a marvelous study in just the final 2 chapters [9 & 10] alone that would exceed in quality and enlightening value a great many other complete books which presume to explain these mighty themes. These concluding chapters of the whole massive 4 volume series are entitled 'The death of God' and 'The earthly paradise.'
To leave here a tiny sample of the great many aspects of 'truth' Campbell addresses, I'll quote very briefly from a quote of the physicist Erwin Schrodinger that appears in chapter 9:
"Suppose you are sitting on a bench in high mountain country...everything that you are seeing has, apart from small changes, been there for thousands of years before you. After a while--not long--you will no longer exist, and the woods and rocks and sky will continue, unchanged, for thousands of years after you. What is it that has called you so suddenly out of nothingness to enjoy for a brief while a spectacle which remains quite indifferent to you...a hundred years ago, perhaps, another man sat on this spot; like you he gazed with awe and yearning in his heart...he felt pain and brief joy as you do. Was he someone else? Was it not you yourself? What is this Self of yours?
...looking and thinking in this manner you may suddenly come to see, in a flash, the profound rightness of the basic conviction of Vedanta...this knowledge, feeling and choice are essentially eternal and unchangeable...this is you....
You want to understand Carl Jung read Joseph Campbell. You want to understand Joseph Campbell read Carl Jung. You want to understand yourself a little better read them both.