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‘The Secret Cause Of All Suffering’
The Power of Myth by Joseph Campbell, with Bill Moyers
© 2013 James LaFond
1987, Doubleday, NY, 235 pages, extensively illustrated
A Good friend recently reminded me that we are missing Joseph Campbell, particularly in regard to our culture devolution. That brought to mind Bill Moyer’s 1986 interview question to Campbell, in which he asked about the violent turn American culture was taking. I remembered Campbell answering that the handgun symbolized ‘the God of Death’ and that this trend of handgun violence had deeply rooted sacral traces. Joe’s comment moved me to pick up The Power of Myth this morning and take it to the coffee shop.
Campbell’s work was in comparative mythology. Do yourself a favor. If you would like to be a little less angry with the world and you have any notion that the world is rotten because of this religion or that, or because there is such a thing as religion, then read The Power of Myth.
This is a transcript of an interview for a PBS program conducted at George Lucas’s ranch. Don’t be put aback. As much as I can’t stand Lucas and his United Nations in Ancient Space yarn, whatever good was in it can largely be attributed to his reading of Campbell. The transcript has been beefed up with edited content from the interview. Campbell was a contemplative genius and a fair lecturer. But as a writer, he was abysmal. This interview format is ideally accessible.
I cannot recommend The Power of Myth highly enough. Most of my Campbell library went into the mass grave that received 700 of my books four years ago. This is the one I saved. The PBS interview should be available somewhere.
PC Note
Campbell fell into some disrepute among lefties when his research assistant accused him posthumously of being anti-Semitic. Although he had some good things to say about Moses, I do believe Campbell had his knives out where Judaism is concerned. For a scholar who believes all religions are permutated reflections of the ‘song of the universe’, his knowledge that Judaism was the prototypical killer religion, that espoused one God over all, and justified genocide in the name of God for the good of a ‘chosen people’, just had to rub his humanistic mind the wrong way. It can be argued that the violent tendencies of Christian crusading and Islamic jihad are rooted in the origins of the One God of the Old Testament, who appears very much to have originally been a tribal war god.
The two counter arguments I prefer are:
1. that Zoroaster and his dualistic 'fire and darkness' cosmology infected all three of the Abrahamic faiths with militancy, and
2. that such homicidal state religions as the Inca Sun Cult and the brutal blood drinking cabal of Aztec gods, are proof that violent hyper-collectivist religions are prone to develop when strong states rise in harsh environments, and are not exclusively monotheistic. Although, to an Aztec scholar, Christianity or any dualistic Old World religion could not be monotheistic, as Satan fully qualifies as a divinity according to most religious constructs.
Other Campbell Works
Hero With a Thousand Faces was a hugely important work and nigh unreadable.
Flight of the Wild Gander is a nice folklore study that put me to sleep so many times on the bus I almost got killed over it when I woke up at the end of the 23# Line in West Baltimore.
Transformations of Myth Through Time was a long lecture that was made into a book. The lecture and the book are both very comprehensive and fairly entertaining.
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