The Power of Myth captures a conversation between two brilliant men, discussing mythology, religion, human experience, and a variety of other topics. I found so much useful information throughout these pages, things I plan to inform my tarot practice, my ritual/spiritual practice, and even my queer existence. Reading Campbell is always eye-opening and Power of Myth is no exception. If you are looking for a both intellectual and enjoyable read, I cannot recommend a better book. I already find myself ready to read it again and making different connections between these stories and my personal human experience. The book is actually a transcription of interviews Campbell did with Bill Moyers for a PBS special in the 1980s. The special showed a cut version and viewers were so interested in the full conversation that it was published into this book. It was broken into 8 chapters that are focused vaguely around certain topics but as with any conversation, there is overlap and flow.
Campbell is a walking encyclopedia of mythology and it shows throughout the conversation. Moyers is quite knowledgeable as well, often leading Campbell into long stories with promptings about myths he heard but Campbell has ingrained in his mind. Lots of time is spent exploring the different aspects of mythology (Creation myths, the Hero’s Journey, Goddess/God religions, Love, and Death). Campbell frequently referenced different cultures within one response, showing the overlap in archetypal ideas that make up the many mythologies of the world. As someone who grew up in the Christian tradition, it was interesting to see how many Bible stories are present in other mythologies, even ones that existed before scripture. The clear theme throughout the book is that each mythology tells the same stories in different garb, dressing them up in their own cultural context.
The first chapter, Myth and the Modern World, was full of stories and archetypes that I linked directly to the tarot. In fact, tarot is its own form of mythology in my opinion. It is a set of symbols and stories that set out to explain human existence. With these tools, every spread we lay out tells a new myth that we interpret and reflect onto our own life. The archetypes present in Tarot appear all across historical mythology, especially the Fool, Death, Devil, and the World. I could also see the three lines in many myths, the journey through conscious, unconscious, and finally to superconscious thought.
The Journey Inward showed up the second line of the Major Arcana clearly. Mythology is full of needing to go into darkness, symbolic of the inner world, in order to find the light (truth, understand, enlightenment). Much of mythology is focused on this turning inwards, the need to understand the self in order to understand the universe. It was out of this darkness that transcendence (which begins in Temperance and is continued through the 3rd line) is achieved. The other common theme is the overcoming of duality which is also present in the 3rd line, especially from the Sun to the World.
The next two chapters, The First Storytellers and Sacrifice and Bliss focused on how mythology came about. It was always an extension of the experience of these people. If they were a gathering and growing society, their mythology was focused on the earth and plants. If they were a hunting society, their mythology was focused on animals, especially the ones who were hunted. “Geography shoes their image of divinity, and then they project it out and call it God.” Our modern religions evolved out of these experiential understandings of the world. Today, we are interacting with a drastically different world but still trying to use the old religions. Our goal should be creating a mythology that works for each individual and also unites us as a whole humanity, a whole world, a whole universe according to Campbell.
The Hero’s Adventure describes many parts of the Fool’s Journey and shows why we have such an appreciation for heroes. Each of us knows internally that we are more than this body, bigger than the self as we understand it. Heroes embody that quality, they are larger than life. We all dream of being a hero in our own way and the Fool’s Journey allows us to be the hero of our own story. There was an interesting exploration of Star Wars as a modern myth in this chapter (remember this was the 80s), as a story of our fight against the faceless machine, the overlords, the dominant society. Ultimately, the adventure of the hero is the adventure of being alive. Our myths and hero stories are only examples of how we can do this, symbols of the journeys what we must take.
The Gift of the Goddess explores the origin of our patriarchal and masculine God idea in the West as well as the matriarchal and feminine Goddess that existed in much of the pre-modern world. The idea of morphic resonance came up in this chapter (a theory I’ve been exploring since late last year and slowly am becoming obsessed with, more on that in a different article). Goddess cultures often believed that the entire world was made up of the Goddess’ body and that death and burial was a return into the Goddess who would then generate more life. In this way, the world is all connected and we are all part of a greater whole. This also connects to Gaia Theory, or the scientific idea that the world is one large living system. The chapter also explored the influence of goddess beliefs on the exultation of Mary in the Catholic Church.
The final two chapters explored two of our greatest interests while we are alive, love and eternity. Our modern idea of love is traced to the troubadours of the 12th century who pushed for ‘Amor’ or romantic love, the opening of compassion to another being. This idea radically changed the European understanding of love and challenged the Church for sole control of love mythology. Our modern belief of ‘falling in love’ is rooted in the 12th century courtship growth. This understanding of love was painful at times, but pain was a sign that you were alive, that you were existing, that you were experiencing life. Thus, the pain of love was understood as the ultimate expression of life. The final chapter spoke to finding our own divinity, our heaven, our eternity inside of us right now. Time is not real of course, it is only our way of describing the movement of stars and planets. The idea of eternal life, to Campbell, means following your bliss and living life to the fullest while you are here. That is the true experience of eternal. And ultimately, this experience is indescribable, wordless, pure experience. All myth is pointed to getting us to that point, to an experience that is beyond our ability to define but that we have definitely experienced.
One of the most interesting things for me in reading this book was seeing so much of tarot theory present in mythology. The Fool's Journey and the many archetypes within it have existed throughout history, appearing in myths from all over there world. Tarot itself is actually a process of myth-making. It uses symbolic stories and archetypes to explain everyday existence in ways that inspire us to live better lives. These little myths that we create with every spread may only be relevant to us, or to the person we are reading for, but they still hold value. Campbell was very clear that value of any myth is its ability to impact the one listening, to encourage us to see the divine in all parts of life, to connect with something greater than ourselves. In our modern world that is generally devoid of universal myths, Tarot is a wonderful tool to create personal mythology. As a tarot-reader and lover of ritual, making this connection has motivated me to deepen my practice even more, to tell myths and stories with my cards for myself and for the lovely souls who come to me for reading. We need myths, we need the sacred, we need to see the divine, I strongly believe in Tarot's ability to provide all of that to us.