Joseph Campbell on religious symbols

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“The symbology of religion is, in many of its most essential elements, common to the whole of the human race; so that, no matter to what religion you may turn, you will––if you look long enough––find a precise and often illuminating counterpart to whatever motif of your own tradition you may wish to have explained. Consequently, the reference of these symbols must be to something that is antecedent to any historical events to which they may have become locally applied. Mythological symbols come from the psyche and speak to the psyche; they do not spring from or refer to historical events. They are not to be read as newspaper reports of things that, once upon a time, actually happened.”

Joseph Campbell, “The Interpretation of Symbolic Forms,” The Mythic Dimension, p. 198

Image: William Blake, Elohim creating Adam.

Do thus and be good, or know this and be God?

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Joseph Campbell’s lifelong study of the myths and stories of cultures all over the globe yielded some rich insights into what he believed was a universal quest for transcendence. He spoke of transcendence as the experience of the divine, or of ‘God’, within us and saw contemplation on the great heroic archetypes in our ancient stories as a powerful mode of access to the transcendent. In his seminal early work, The Hero With a Thousand Faces, Campbell recognises two approaches we can take to the stories of our archetypal heroes and uses Jesus as an example. Continue reading “Do thus and be good, or know this and be God?”