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Mythos: Joseph Campbell’s Compelling Lectures on Being Human.
James P. Zaworski
The late Joseph Campbell made significant contributions to the anthropological study of folklore and mythology. His approach to the study of mythology, and comparative religions, was scholarly, insightful, and analytical. While others of his era would point out the differences between cultures, Campbell tended to look for the universals, the themes that bind all human beings together, or that which we share in common.
Heavily influenced by Karl Jung, who was a pupil of Sigmund Freud, Campbell sought to explain the “universal motifs” found in all culture’s myths and cosmologies. Campbell was one of those remarkable scholars who could instantaneously be presented with a myth, a tale, a story, as it were, analyze it, and find a counterpart or three from what would be considered to be a vastly different, unrelated and geographically distant culture.
During the final year of his life, he embarked on a lecture tour. The 10-part “Mythos” documentary series is the result. Hosted by Susan Sarandon, the series is essentially Campbell’s lectures, which nicely complement his final, and unfinished project, the Atlas of World Religions.
Summary and Review.
Episode 1, titled Psyche, sets the context for the lecture/documentary series, and gives us an excellent introduction to the study of comparative religions, folklore and mythology, and the psychological and anthropological approach that is the hallmark for all of Campbell’s work.
He talks about four functions of myth. The first is the mystical function, that is the opening up of the and to the realization that there is a transcendent mystery source; it can be found from without, or within, also within your self.
The second is the cosmological function, a sense of place in the world in a kind of pseudo-scientific, observational view. This one can change from time to time.
The third function is sociological that validates and maintains the principles and traditions and values of the current society, and it is rather specific.
The fourth is pedagogical, instructing and teaching us about how to progress through the various “stages” of life.
In the beginning of his lecture, he discusses the “elementary forms” of religion and “folk” ideas. He draws a distinction, that of the differences, and that of the universals, and why the latter may be. Campbell gives us his view of the latter: that is, that the universals and how they came to be. This is a psychological problem. He cites Karl Jung’s ideas of “archetypes”, the psychological ground, as it were, to explain the problem.
Campbell summarizes the modern idea of psychology, as it reflect the idea of the “self” and “psyche”, as defined by both Sigmund Freud and Karl Jung, and in the context of culture and history, and in particular, in the cultural and mythic system.
A whole hierarchy of classifications about which derives from what, symbological, cultural, mythic, and folk ideas, and their interpretations, follow. Campbell is remarkable here, as he can illustrate his topic with specific, and various, cultural motifs and stories, as examples.
Campbell goes on to give a lot of wonderful examples, going from the general to the specific. He also has the wonderful, and inimitable, ability to bring this personally to the audience member. Despite the sometimes confusing language of psychology, he brings us to the experience of art and interpretation, and the specific metaphors, specifically of dream. Somehow, it all makes sense. Campbell is the master, the teacher, the expert who draws all of this confusing mess to a balanced, realization, and understanding.
Through a series of specific cultural examples and stories, Campbell brings this back to the general idea, of the psychological basis for the universal mythological aspects, and back to the specifics. His lecture is clear, in depth, and can be followed by either a layman or a specialist. It would do to take notes, and also to watch the lecture/documentary again, and again, to get the deeper meaning to cover the overall gist of the lecture.
All in all, Mythos Episode 1: Pysche, is an excellent introduction to the Campbellian idea of mythology and folklore, culture, cosmology, and of what it is to be human. It is also the foundation on which will be build the rest of the lectures in the “Mythos” series.
As an anthropologist and historian, and student of Joseph Campbell, I highly recommend this episode, and this series, to all interested in this field.
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Viewing Format: DVD
Video Occasion: Good for Groups
Suitability For Children: Not suitable for Children of any age