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The Hero with a Thousand Faces | Page Crimps
Key Takeaways from Joseph Campbell's The Hero with a Thousand Faces
At some point in an english or mythology class, you may have heard reference to the classic 'Hero's Journey' where-
A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.
In The Hero with a Thousand Faces, professor of literature and expert in comparative mythology and religion, Joseph Campbell, extracts the common truths of story from it's disparate forms and lays out this journey in finer detail, including what it can teach us about ourselves, the unconscious mind and how to forge a better path forward.
This was my first read of 2021 and quickly made itself one of my favorites.
All pages reference my copy which you can find HERE.
Here are the crimps —
In the preface to the 1949 edition(xiii), Campbell sets the stage for his thought process behind finding common truths amongst myth. He notes that while there are certainly details and nuances unique to the many stories he analyzes, the products of his work are comparable to the truths of anatomy- while there may be anatomical differences that arise between genders and races, there are constantly occurring things to be observed to craft our base layer understanding.
p11 | The hero is the man of self achieved submission. The 'what' that is being submitted to is ever changing. In Campbell's words, 'Only birth can conquer death.'
p20 | The hero practices 'Amor Fati' or- 'Love of Fate'. Campbell suggests that the call to action requires the individual's abandonment of logic and emotional commitments of present time and place in exchange for an emphasis on the recognition of 'universal life' or more broadly, the greater good.
p25 | In an excerpt under an image of the Buddha, 'Enlightenment' is described as something that cannot be communicated, only the way to it. Campbell points out that this idea is representative of the incommunicability of truth.
p29 | Campbell speaks of 'the return and reintegration with society' as a means of justifying the hero's journey. This is similar to a point from Jung's Liber Novus which was of direct inspiration to Campbells work in many ways. It states perhaps more clearly —
“The individual had not only to create new values, but also socially recognizable ones, as society had a ‘right to expect realizable values’”.
If that still sounds like gibberish- the point that both aim to communicate is that for the hero's journey to have meaning, he need return to embody what he learned and furthermore, teach these lessons to the collective. If he does not, both Jung and Campbell suggest in some fashion that the hero or individual will be riddled with negative consequences be it psychological or literal when embroidered in story.
p31 | A quote when talking more on the responsibility of the hero upon return:
“The great deed of the supreme hero is to come to the knowledge of this unity in multiplicity and then to make it known.”
Context on 'unity in multiplicity' is the idea that when the hero abandon's his own identity or individual problems to solve those of the world, he becomes one with the world.
p73 | Campbell uses a story of a traveller coming in conflict with a sticky ogre (I'm serious) to make the point that the hero must (in short)- leave his ego checked at the door.
p87 | Here I crimp for the first reference to what in subsequent pages I found to be a recurring theme in the book. This being the idea that we have lost the spiritual guidance of our ancestors because we have 'reasoned gods and devils out of existence.'
Put differently- If you have rejected the mechanism of religion and myth to obtain your virtues and ideals to live by, you must find them yourself.
p89 | Paraphrasing, Campbell suggests the idea that the hero discovers his opposite and himself to be one and the same.
p101 | The hero discovers his position relative to the world and lets it help or guide him on the 'right' path. Applied to the struggles of everyday life —
“Every failure to cope with a life situation must be laid to a restriction of consciousnesses.”
p140 | Campbell on a general objective of myth/religion:
“The aim of religious teaching is not to cure the individual back into the general delusion but to detach him from delusion altogether.”
p178 | Sometimes, the hero will be pulled home with help from without himself.
“Society is jealous of those who remain away from it.”
p189 | The hero may question why he should reenter a world that does not understand his experiences and scoffs at transcendence. If he doesn't though- no-one will represent 'eternity in time' and he'll miss the chance to experience life with the newfound knowledge of what is eternal.
p202 | Paraphrasing Campbell: Don't mistake a vehicle for it's tenor, IE- the thing that carries meaning, is not in and of itself that meaning.
p209 | Campbell highlights the transitory nature of man in the hero by stating:
“The hero is the champion of things becoming, not things become.”
p213 | Back to the theme of reasoning out religion and myth, Campbell suggests that whenever myth is interpreted, it is killed. To bring it back, a hero should seek and bring back 'illuminating hints from the more inspired past'
p222 | Campbell lays out an argument for why the unconscious and the metaphysical are directly related.
“The hero is the one who, while still alive, knows and represents the moment in his life when he achieved illumination.”
This idea may be a little out there but a more grounded Segway to understanding goes back to the hero embodying themselves as a component of the whole, rather than viewing themselves as separate because of their ego. Even more simply put, the hero sees and acts in accordance to the interrelatedness of all things and Campbell only takes this a bit further in suggesting the layer of interrelatedness between mind and nature.
p289 | Campbell lays out the the hero as someone who is emergent from obscurity rather than paralyzed by it by digging into the metaphor of the dragon in mythology. The dragon is typically a holdfast character, a keeper of the past. The hero knows that time goes on and leans headfirst into it while at best- guiding it in a better direction.
p303 | Moreover on the previous idea, Campbell writes:
“The hero of yesterday becomes the tyrant of tomorrow, unless he crucifies himself today.”
This continues to illuminate another larger theme of the book of man as a transitory creature by necessity. If the hero doesn't move forward, he moves backwards. Every moment is a death of the last and a birth of the next.
p333 | When talking about wholeness, Campbell suggests how viewing the world through this perspective dispels selfishness and altruism.
“The essence of oneself and the world are one.”
p334-335 | In a final thought on how Campbell believes that current man has reasoned out religion, he states how in the past we found meaning as a group through symbolic representation, now, we must hunt for it ourselves by doing internal exploration and as previously noted, seeking out illuminating hints from past structures.
In a way, many of our larger structures are currently fracturing- religion perhaps already, nations, political factions, even gender identities. This is the result of the tides of time washing over us. In time, after reaching a climax in dissociation between component parts of our whole, entirely new symbols will emerge that may once again be aggregated for common truths as Campbell has done with myth and religion in this book. From that point on, the leading symbols to represent the truths and virtues of the time will be emanated and re-elevated as the game starts over.
p337 | Like my last edition, I'll wrap with a final paragraph that deserves not to be paraphrased:
“The modern hero, the modern individual who dares to heed the call and seek the mansion of that presence with whom it is our whole destiny to be atoned, cannot, indeed must not, wait for his community to cast off its slough of pride, fear, rationalized avarice, and sanctified misunderstanding. "Live," Nietzsche says, "as though the day were here." It is not society that is to guide and save the creative hero, but precisely the reverse. And so every one of us shares the supreme ordeal —carries the cross of the redeemer—not in the bright moments of his tribe's great victories, but in the silences of his personal despair.”
As usual, this has been no substitute for the full read which you can checkout HERE.
Joseph Campbell’s comparative study of mythology goes further than any others’ prior work or any work I’ve found since. The common truths he lays out are truly models to live by.
Next week, I’m going to talk about how remembering the dead helps propagate meaning.
Save one soul, save the world.