Summer Reading Selections for Rising Sophomores May 2014
The Power of the Myth
The Power of the Myth by Joseph Campbell
Summer Reading Study Guide- All work must be handwritten!
**Study guide adapted from the work of Prof. Stephen Hagin.
Chapter 1: “Myth and the Modern World”
(1-5) Why should we read myths? Mythology connects us to common human experiences of which we are unaware.
1. Do people ultimately seek knowledge or experience? Why?
(5-8) What do myths reveal about our world? Myths reveal spiritual truths about the world. Marriage demands a shift in our spiritual identity and view of the self: “[Marriage is] a purely mythological image signifying the sacrifice of the visible entity for a transcendent good” (7).
2. Summarize Campbell’s critiques of modern-day marriages and how they differ from true “spiritual” marriages.
(8-12) What happens when a society no longer embraces a powerful mythology?
Campbell explains that modern life is “demythologized” (11), lacking the rituals that connect us to our human condition. Lacking rituals that connect the individual to the culture, people are left to their own devices to make sense of the world, often placing the individual interpretation of life against that of the society. “America,” states Campbell, “has no ethos” (10). Instead of stories that convey “the wisdom of life” (11), we have lawyers and professionals who focus on specialized issues, but are often ignoring the greater reality.
3. Why does Campbell suggest that Americans lack rituals that assist us in being “twice born”?
(12-15) How did Campbell become interested in mythology? Growing up in New York,
Campbell visited museums and exhibits of Indian art and culture. After reading Native myths, he saw the mythological connections to the symbols and motifs of the Roman Catholic Church. This interest then developed into his love of comparative mythology.
4. How is a judge, a president, or a soldier a sort of mythological character?
Do “old time religions” serve us well? Campbell does not criticize religious teachings, but rather the application of these teachings to a different culture and time. Campbell explains that Western religions are “out of sync” with today’s world, resulting in young people disconnecting from the spiritual messages. Myths, however, are universally adaptable, as exemplified by the peyote rituals by indigenous Mexican Indians who transferred their hunting rituals onto the peyote plant after their sacred animal was extinguished from their culture.
5. Why did these native peoples perform the hunting ritual on a plant? [opinion]
(18-20) What is Campbell’s definition of “consciousness”? Campbell explains that all life forms have consciousness on a variety of levels.
6. What is the role of mythology in our world?
(20-24) Why is it that films affect us? Campbell and Moyers discuss the impact of films as potential replacements for myths. Campbell questions whether films can replace mythology because the screenwriters often lack mythological understanding. When they do, such as George Lucas in creating Star Wars, the mythological heroes and archetypes can be revealed effectively to a modern audience that lacks the references.
7. Why does a film actor assume the “condition of a god” in a movie theatre but only “celebrity” status on television?
8. How have machines become mythologized? Why?
(25-30) How does the modern Western world relate to myths? Campbell discusses some revelations that he has made after working on his first personal computer in the 1980s. He uses this as a specific example of the machine metaphor that he discusses earlier. Myths come from Nature and one’s surroundings, but Western religions have shut Nature out, further distancing themselves from the essence of their spiritual messages. He discusses religious tensions in Lebanon and Ireland as examples of cultures that have ignored the mythology behind their religions, which leads to war. He then relates a few tribal and Eastern examples for comparison. Western beliefs promote a “me vs. you” mentality, but myths are universally adaptable. Campbell believes that humanity needs mythology that connects them to the planet, not a particular social group (transcending the culture to reveal the universal truths).
NOTE: On page 28, Campbell makes an error in recalling the events of the Bible. Campbell says that the “chapter” after the Ten Commandments commanded the Jews to “Go into Canaan and kill everybody in it,” but this is a poor paraphrase. Exodus 20 provides the Commandments, but Exodus 21 details several laws against violence, much like Hammurabi’s Code. Chapter 21 of Numbers is the first chapter that recalls the smiting of the Canaanites: “So Israel made a vow to the LORD, and said, ‘If You will indeed deliver this people into my hand, then I will utterly destroy their cities.’ And the LORD listened to the voice of Israel and delivered up the Canaanites, and they utterly destroyed them and their cities” (Numbers 21:2-4).
9. How are religious approaches similar to computer software?
10. Why does Campbell call mythology “the song”?
11. What are the two types of mythology?
12. What is the difference between magic and mythology?
(31-38) Are the symbols on the reverse side of the dollar bill mythological? Campbell explores the symbolism on the reverse of the dollar bill and how it reflected the Age of Reason (sometimes called The Age of Enlightenment) from which the nation was born. Take one out of your wallet and examine it while you read this section.
13. How has 20th century America deviated from its “Declaration of Independence”?
(38-43) How do we live without myths? Campbell describes the differences between our society and the mythological cultures, suggesting that our world view projected from the Bible is out of date with the realities of the modern world discovered through reason. Myths can transcend time and place, but cultural dogma cannot. The world has changed enormously in the past 3,000 years, but the Western religions are locked in the past. The letter from Chief Seattle illustrates the difference in world view between modern societies and the mythological mindset: “This we know: the earth does not belong to man, man belongs to the earth.”
14. Why does Campbell say that America is moving too quickly to become mythologized?
15. What are the four functions of mythology? Which of these four still operate in America today?
16. How does Chief Seattle’s letter reflect the connection of the native Americans to their surroundings?
Chapter 2: “The Journey Inward”
(44-50) Why do myths reflect what we know inside is true? Campbell explains that all humans live through the same stages of life and they recognize universal images (archetypes), such as the serpent and the bird. Myths help us to see the God inside the Man; that universal truths exist inside our subconscious brains (dreams) that are interpreted in terms of the individual experience. Individual dreams tend to reflect the public mythology; when they don’t, only a hero can bring these two views into accord.
1. Why does Campbell call myth “the public dream”?
2. According to Carl Jung, what are the two orders of dream and how do they differ?
(50-67) Why are the world’s creation stories so similar? Campbell explains that all creation stories reflect a primordial mythical reality, and that many themes and archetypes that appear in one tend to appear in many others as well (a darkness, a formless void, a separation from the creator, etc). Campbell compares Genesis with tales from the Pima Indians (Arizona), the Upanishads (India), and the Bassari tribes (West Africa) as examples. Specific attention is devoted to the role of the serpent in these myths, a commonly misunderstood archetype in the modern West. Campbell then unveils the Garden of Eden stories from Genesis with mythological language to contrast myth from doctrine. Campbell illustrates the concepts of duality, archetypes, and transcendence through this example as well.
3. What is the fundamental psychological purpose of all creation stories?
4. Why does Campbell suggest that the serpent is a symbol of life?
5. According to Campbell, how has the Biblical tradition rejected the mythical symbolism of the serpent?
6. What are the three “oppositions” in the Garden of Eden story?
7. How does God transcend the dualities?
8. What is our first life experience?
(67-70) What is a metaphor and how does it operate in religion? Campbell discusses how myths need to be read metaphorically, not literally. Myths are written in poetry, not prose, which is intended to allow the reader access to the unknown — that which escapes the confines of language. Campbell examines a few important Christian concepts through the mythological perspective, which existed during the first few centuries of Christianity, specifically with the Gnostics.
9. How does metaphor assist one with the “journey inward”? [opinion]
(70-79) How do myths help us to connect to the spiritual world? Campbell discusses several ways that people can seek the God within themselves and how cultures are grounded in the myths that provide this transcendental instruction. Since Campbell argues that the myths connect people to God, he concludes that poets are doing this well today, but is critical of the literalist approaches of the Western churches that have ignored the messages of the myth and fail to share the rich symbolism upon which their religions were originally based. Campbell argues that religious experiences are the best means of knowing God, but symbols (especially words) must be available to substitute as a guide for those who lack the experience. Campbell completes this lesson with a retelling of “The Myth of the Proud Indras,” from the Hindu Upanishads.
10. What is the difference between a priest and a shaman?
11. What does the god Indra learn in “The Myth of the Proud Indras”?
Claus myth and how it operates to form relationships between parents and children. But the adult world ponders evil as well as good, so myths provide spiritual guidance for us to accept the dualities of life — both the bad with the good. We contribute and receive good and evil by participating in the game of life. Therefore, we must come to understand how our world of dualities operates, and to learn to avoid judging the world based on our bias of one duality over another. Myths teach us that. Campbell relates some tales from the Hindu Rig Veda and The Upanishads, high spiritual works.
12. What is the metaphor of Santa Claus?
13. Why do myths teach us to not judge against evil?
14. What was the question that Campbell posed to the Hindu guru, and what was the answer?
Chapter 3: “The First Storytellers”
(86-99) What do our souls owe to ancient myths? Campbell explains how ancient tribal myths and animal myths help people to transcend the boundaries of birth and death in greater harmony and accord with the world. Ancient myths help humans to comprehend the mysteries and fears of birth, life, and death, and to reach an understanding between our minds and our bodies. Rituals, through myths, help us to understand the grander scheme of life that exists outside of our individual bodies. We must understand the bigger picture of life before we can truly understand ourselves as participants in it, such as killing other creatures for our own survival. Myths help us to contemplate the mysteries of the universe that are greater than us. Campbell tells several stories about native American rituals, and he contrasts this perspective to modern ones through the use of the theories of Martin Buber, who conceived of the notion of the “I and Thou.”
1. What were the ancient myths designed to teach us?
2. What is the challenge between mind and body that we all face in middle age?
3. What does Campbell identify as the “basic theme of all mythology”?
4. How are the hunting myths “a kind of covenant” between the worlds of animals and man?
5. How is the guilt over killing an animal “wiped out by the myth”?
6. What is “the power of the animal master”?
7. In the story of the Japanese samurai warrior, why did the samurai refuse to avenge the murderer of his overlord?
8. In what ways can animals become our superiors?
10. Although Hollywood films apparently have replaced mythological stories, why does
Campbell believe that films fall short of accomplishing the same goals?
Joseph Campbell was raised Catholic in New York City, and he witnessed many procedural changes to the rituals in his lifetime. In the past, rituals helped people to grow and develop into responsible members of their societies and their environments, but now these rituals have been reduced to catch phrases and symbolic spectacles that do not thrust the recipient into a new mindset, unless they choose to go there voluntarily. In short, Campbell argues that today’s Western rituals are a lot of show, but offer little substance, because they have been “dumbed down” and sterilized.
11. Why does Campbell criticize the Catholic Church for changing the delivery of the Mass from Latin to English in the mid-20th century?
12. Why does Campbell claim that many of our rituals are now “dead”?
(106-112) How does the environment shape the mythology? Campbell explains how mythology is borne of its natural connections, relating how many Native American tribes changed from a “vegetation” mythology to a “buffalo” mythology after the introduction of the horse. Campbell also discusses how the shaman, or tribe’s spiritual visionary, relates to the consciousness of the environment through a mystical spiritual experience that transports him out of his body and into the body of the earth spirits. In order to have a spiritual awakening, one must undergo an unfamiliar experience where the mind and/or body are connected to another realm. Campbell relates an example of Black Elk, a young Sioux boy who underwent a shamanistic experience that allowed him to understand the nature of God.
13. How does Biblical tradition relate to our 21st century society and its environment?
14. How are artists the keepers of mythology today?
15. Does mythology originate from the common folk or the elite? Why?
16. What is the common emotion associated with the spiritual experience? Why?
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