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The documentary was originally broadcast as six one-hour conversations between mythologist Joseph Campbell — and journalist Bill Moyers. It remains one of the most popular series in the history of American public television. The interviews in the first five episodes were filmed at George Lucas 's Skywalker Ranch in California, with the sixth interview conducted at the American Museum of Natural History in New York, during the final two summers of Campbell's life. The series was broadcast on television the year following his death.
In these discussions Campbell presents his ideas about comparative mythology and the ongoing role of myth in human society. Creation myths , transcending duality, pairs of opposites, God vs. Animal memories, harmonization with body and life-cycle, consciousness vs.
The Troubadours , Eros , romantic love, Tristan , libido vs. Identifying with the infinite, the circle as a symbol, clowns and masks , epiphanies and James Joyce , artistic arrest, the monstrous as sublime, the dance of Shiva , that which is beyond words. In the editor's note to The Power of Myth , Flowers credits Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis , as "the Doubleday editor, whose interest in the ideas of Joseph Campbell was the prime mover in the publication of this book.
The Power of Myth is based on the interviews between Joseph Campbell and Bill Moyers that were the basis for the acclaimed television series. It deals with the universality and evolution of myths in the history of the human race and the place of myths in modern society. Campbell blends accounts of his own upbringing and experience with stories from many cultures and civilizations to present the reader with his most compelling thesis that modern society is going through a transition from the old mythologies and traditions to a new way of thinking where a global mythology will emerge.
The main theme of the book is the universality of myths—what Campbell calls "mankind's one great story"— that occur throughout the history of mankind, no matter which epoch or whichever culture or society is considered. Before the invention of writing, these stories and legends were handed down from generation to generation in the form of rituals and oral traditions. The reappearance of certain themes, time and again, in different mythologies, leads to the realization that these themes portray universal and eternal truths about mankind.
Campbell defines the function of a mythology as the provision of a cultural framework for a society or people to educate their young, and to provide them with a means of coping with their passage through the different stages of life from birth to death. In a general sense myths include religion as well and the development of religion is an intrinsic part of a society's culture. A mythology is inevitably bound to the society and time in which it occurs and cannot be divorced from this culture and environment.
This is true even though Western society previously learnt from, and was informed by, the mythology of other cultures by including the study of Greek and Roman writings as part of its heritage.
The record of the history of the development of a culture and society is embodied in its mythology. For example, the Bible describes the evolution of the Judeo-Christian concept of God from the time when the Jews were in Babylon and the god they worshiped corresponded to a local tribal god, to when the concept became that of a world savior as a result of the Hebrews becoming a major force in the East Mediterranean region.
The geographic context of a specific mythology also plays a role in its evolution. The physical scope of Biblical mythology was limited to the general area of the Middle East but in other parts of the world, Chinese and Aztec religions and cultures emerged as separate and distinct belief systems. When different cultures expand their spheres of influence they eventually come into contact with each other, and the outcome of the collision, be it conquest, subjugation, or amalgamation, will be evident in the resultant mythology.
The form and function of mythology in the modern world is the main topic of this chapter and to illustrate his ideas, Campbell recounts aspects of his own earlier life. Without specifically stating it, the assumption is made that the modern world under consideration is that of Campbell's world—the Christian-based, urbanized culture of North America, the so-called Modern Western Society.
Campbell describes his own upbringing as a Roman Catholic and his early fascination with the myths and stories of the American Indians.
He recalls the excitement he felt when he realized that the motifs of creation, death, resurrection, and ascension into heaven, which the nuns were teaching him at his school, also occurred in American Indian myths. This was the beginning of his lifelong interest in comparative mythology. Later on in life he found the same universal themes in Hinduism and in the medieval Arthurian legends.
The discussion considers the role of myth and ritual in contemporary society. Contemporary rituals are carried out to mark special events in private lives, such as an individual's marriage or enlistment in a branch of the armed forces and, on public occasions such as the inauguration of civil and national leaders.
In the Introduction to the book, Moyers recalls Campbell's description of the solemn state funeral after the assassination of John F. Kennedy, as an "illustration of the high service of ritual to a society," and where Campbell identifies the ritualized occasion as fulfilling a great social necessity.
In general, however, Campbell and Moyers, reach the conclusion that there is a lack of effective mythology and ritual in modern American society. They find nothing that compares with the powerful puberty rituals of primitive societies. They claim that the exclusion of classical studies from the modern educational syllabus has led to a lack of awareness of the mythological foundations of western society's heritage. This, combined with an increased materialism and emphasis on technology, has led to modern youth in New York, becoming alienated from the mainstream of society and inventing their own morality, initiations and gangs.
Marriage, as an example of a paramount modern social institution, becomes the next subject of discussion. Campbell differentiates between marriage and love affairs and imparts some very lofty ideals to marriage, in contrast to love affairs, that he categorically states inevitably end in disappointment.
True marriage, in Campbell's opinion, embodies a spiritual identity and invokes the image of an incarnate God. Campbell and Moyers agree that the main objective of marriage is not the birth of children and the raising of families.
They discard the concept of perpetuation of the human species as being the primary function of marriage and relegate this to a first stage. This first stage is followed by a second one where the offspring have departed into the world and only the couple is left. Campbell invokes the image of marriage as being an ordeal in which the ego is sacrificed to a relationship in which two have become one. This, he states, is a mythological image that embodies the sacrifice of the visible for a transcendent good.
Campbell labels this stage of marriage as the alchemical stage. On the subject of the ritual of marriage, Campbell and Moyers complain that it has lost its force and has become a mere remnant of the original; they contend that the ritual that once conveyed an inner reality is now merely form.
Campbell and Lucas became friends when Lucas publicly acknowledged the influence Campbell's writings had on the development of his hugely successful film "Star Wars. So it is not surprising that there are many references to the characters from "Star Wars" throughout the book. In a similar fashion, John Wayne is identified as a modern myth and Campbell recalls Douglas Fairbanks as having been a boyhood hero. At the beginning of this chapter, and in other parts of the book, Campbell states that modern society lacks the stability it previously derived from being educated in the mythology and legends of the Greek and Roman classics.
Campbell and Moyers agree that there is no effective mythology in modern society by which individuals can relate to their role in the world. An analysis of the national symbols of the United States is used by Campbell to illustrate the ability for myths to incorporate the beliefs of a whole society and to provide the mythology to unify a nation.
More recently, when the image of the earth, taken from the lunar landings, was published, it led to the universal realization that human beings must identify with the entire planet.
This concept of the emergence of a new mythology based on global aspects of life is reiterated several times by Campbell. In the first episode of the series, The Hero's Adventure ,  and the fifth chapter of the book, "The Hero's Adventure," Moyers and Campbell discuss George Lucas ' report that Campbell's work directly influenced the creation of the Star Wars films. Moyers and Lucas filmed an interview 12 years later in , modeled after The Power of Myth.
The words attributed to Chief Seattle , read by Campbell in the fourth episode of the series, were actually written by Ted Perry for a ecology film called Home.
Perry adapted the text from newspaper accounts that were, in turn, published years after Chief Seattle delivered the actual speech. Campbell did respond to the yearning by religious fundamentalists for a return to the 'old-time religion'.
The following part of the interview reveals Campbell's views on religious fundamentalism which, in the modern world, is conceptualised by the desire by some adherents of world's disparate religions, to return to the old practices of a given religion. Bill Moyers: You've seen what happens when primitive societies are unsettled by white man's civilization. They go to pieces, they disintegrate, they become diseased. Hasn't the same thing been happening to us since myths began to disappear?
Joseph Campbell: Yes, and they're making a terrible mistake. Bill Moyers: I understand the yearning. In my youth I had fixed stars. They comforted me with their permanence. They gave me a known horizon. And they told me there was a loving, kind, and just father out there looking down on me, ready to receive me, thinking of my concerns all the time. Now, Saul Bellow says that science has made a housecleaning of beliefs.
But there was value in these things for me. I am today what I am because of those beliefs. I wonder what happens to children who don't have those fixed stars, that known horizon - those myths? Joseph Campbell: Well, as I said, all you have to do is read the newspapers. It's a mess. On this immediate level of life and structure, myths offer life models. But the models have to be appropriate to the time in which you are living, and our time has changed so fast that what was proper fifty years ago is not proper today.
The virtues of the past are the vices of today. And many of what were thought to be the vices of the past are the necessities of today. The moral order has to catch up with the moral necessities of actual life in time, here and now.
And that is what we are not doing. The old-time religion belongs to another age, another people, another set of human values, another universe. By going back you throw yourself out of sync with history. Our kids lose their faith in the religions that were taught to them, and they go inside. From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. This section possibly contains original research.
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Dewey Decimal. Retrieved The Power of Myth. New York: Anchor. Bill Moyers. The Power of Myth with Joseph Campbell. Joseph Campbell.