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Primitive Mythology (The Masks of God) Paperback – Deckle Edge, November 1, 1991
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"A monument of learning, wonder, and wisdom, daringly conceived and brilliantly written by a man who is at home in the Eastern and the Western universe of spirit.
In temporal span and spatial scope and in relevance to the needs of its own day, it is unexampled."
Henry A. Murray, Harvard University
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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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.
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....
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!