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Humanity is today at a crossroads that will determine not only our fate but also the fate of all life on this planet. The root of this crisis is the materialistic, mechanical world-view of the so-called modern period of Western Culture, which more and more is being recognized as not only moribund and dysfunctional but as a threat to our very existence. The book by J. Campbell The Power of Myth provides food for thought about the role of mythology in history and its impact on society and literature. The book raises questions: Who is a hero?, and Why do we define him as such? What are victory and glory? Why do we value bravery and disregard dishonesty?
Description of the book
The book consists of six episodes devoted to different problems and philosophical questions. Joseph Campbell believes that everything begins with a story, so to explain the world around us we need mythology. Mythology can be seen as the history of our universe and unique vision of reality. Thus, the song of the universe is philosophy. The examples of mythological narrations show that here a combination of deviousness, as evidenced by his disguise as a beggar, the removal of the arms decorating the walls, as well as the sheer physical strength needed to use the bow effectively–all confirm beyond doubt Ulysses’ reputation as the epitome of the hero.
Everyone is a hero in some sense. You should live thinking over stories and mythology because only these sources could help an individual to develop a more positive attitude towards reality and improve his/her moral value and principles.
As we near the twenty-first century, the almost unbelievable disintegration of the natural world is finally penetrating through our attempts at denial, minimizing, and avoidance. Yet at the same time, science itself has now shown that this image of a dead nature is a false, or graven, image. Through the dynamic of science itself, a new world-view — a new picture of the nature of the universe — is emerging from the present cultural confusion and is showing the first signs of solid form. Myths and dreams come from the same place. Joseph Campbell sees everything in somewhat of a symbolic form to a greater picture. The symbols he connects bring a realization.
Because of the potency of this new emerging cosmic vision, and the fact that science and technology provide perhaps the only basis of consensus all over the earth, this emerging vision must be considered in building the new myth for the twenty-first century. In this modern world-view, where the fate of nature is already determined, we are only spectators and hence irrelevant to the cosmos.
Whereas in Eastern mythologies mankind is trapped by the cycles of time in an eternal, essentially unchanging universe, in the West the modern world-view imprisoned us in a universe of iron-clad determinism. Because such a universe can have no drama, there can be no deep cosmic story. We have no relevance to a universe, that grinds away oblivious not only to our concerns but to our very presence. A more alienating and terrifying image is hard to envision. In such a universe, life is an absurdity. It is no wonder that in our frustration, terror, and resulting anger, our culture accepted a program of controlling and dominating nature (Campbell 76).
Following Campbell’s mythology suggests more than merely a new worldview. It also suggests deep connections between the universe and life. We appear to be on the threshold of a cosmic vision that suggests that life belongs in some fundamental way in this universe and hints that life may even have some fundamental role to play in the cosmic story. During the past two hundred years of this modern period, the view that atoms are the ultimate “stuff” of which everything is made has been followed to its logical extreme.
The fact that the word “atom” means “indivisible” implies that there can be no access to the interior of the smallest atomic particles, and thus that they can have no “inner” aspect. potent, incapable of substantially affecting the cosmic machine. Like the following sentence which unveils the truth of existence: “God is a personification of a motivating power or a value system that functions in human life and the universe-the powers of your own body and of nature” (Campbell 28).
A world-view that does not acknowledge a consciousness founded in reality, the concepts of free-will, purpose, value, and meaning also dissolve into mere superstition. In uprooting consciousness from participation in the world, in denying any reality that we cannot perceive through the senses, we have destroyed any context or grounding for consciousness. And in separating ourselves from nature, we have lost our sense of grounding. Moreover, although we have “objectified” the world, we have lost any universal context for knowing.
In sum, I like the book and its approach to mythology as it examines the most important aspects of literature and ancient knowledge. Mythology can be seen as a philosophy of the world reflected in old sagas and war stories The conclusion is that the resulting loss both of a universal context and a sense of grounding has had the consequence that modern knowledge has slipped into a foggy relativism that denies any hope of “objectivity” in knowing. The world around us is full of symbols that can understand through myths and stories full of great wisdom.
Campbell, J. The Power of Myth. Anchor, 1991.