Joseph Campbell and Myth

I am reading a collection of some of Joseph Campbell’s greatest works. If you don’t know who he was, take a moment to look him up, it is extremely worthwhile. He dedicated his life to the study of myth, collecting and collating facts and opinions on all of the world’s greatest religions. He once said that God is a metaphor for that mystery which grounds our being yet exceeds all categories of thought, of which (as Kant said) being and non-being are a part. Theists are people who mistake the metaphor for fact and atheists are people who think metaphors have no value or purpose.

I may do a longer piece on him and his thoughts once I’ve finished, but here is an extended quote from the end of a chapter. It’s simply too good not to share and invite you to comment if you feel so inclined. He is talking about Buddhism, yoga and a specific myth to do with Siva and a powerful demon hell-bent on getting Siva’s bride. Siva conjours up a beast (Hunger) greater than the demon, the demon throws himself on Siva’s protection and Siva asks the beast to therefore consume himself, which he does until only his face is left:

“The obvious lesson of all of which is that the first step to the knowledge of the highest divine symbol of the wonder and mystery of life is in the recognition of the monstrous nature of life and its glory in that character: the realization that this is just how it is and that it cannot and will not be changed. Those who think – and their name is legion – that they know how the universe could have been better than it is, how it would have been had they created it, without pain, without sorrow, without time, without life, are unfit for illumination. Or those who think – as do many – “Let me first correct society, then get around to myself” are barred from even the outer gate of the mansion of God’s peace. All societies are evil, sorrowful, inequitable, and so they always will be. So if you really want to help this world, what you will have to do is teach how to live in it. And that no one can do who has no himself learned how to live in it in the joyful sorrow and sorrowful joy of the knowledge of life as it is. That is the meaning of the monstrous Kirtimukha, “Face of Glory” over the entrances to the sanctuaries of the god of yoga, whose bride is the bride of life. No one can know this god and goddess who will not bow to that mask in reverence and pass humbly through.”

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