Great Throughts Treasury

This site is dedicated to the memory of Dr. Alan William Smolowe who gave birth to the creation of this database.

Joseph Campbell

American Author on Comparative Mythology, Philosophy

"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."

"The Problem - Myth might be defined simply as "other people's religion," to which an equivalent definition of religion would be "misunderstood mythology"... Like dreams, myths are productions of the human imagination. Their images, consequently, though derived from the material world and its supposed history, are, like dreams, revelations of the deepest hopes, desires and fears, potentialities and conflicts of the human will... Its narratives and images are to be read, therefore, not literally, but as metaphors."

"People say that what we're all seeking is a meaning for life. I don't think that's what we're really seeking. I think that what we're seeking is an experience of being alive, so that our life experiences on the purely physical plane will have resonances within our own innermost being and reality, so that we actually feel the rapture of being alive."

"The conquest of the fear of death is the recovery of life's joy. One can experience an unconditional affirmation of life only when one has accepted death, not as contrary to life but as an aspect of life. Life in its becoming is always shedding death, and on the point of death. The conquest of fear yields the courage of life. That is the cardinal initiation of every heroic adventure - fearlessness and achievement."

"Our true reality is in our identity and unity with all life. This is a metaphysical truth which may become spontaneously realized under circumstances of crisis."

"To be in the world struggle, that’s what life is."

"The macrocosm (order of the universe), microcosm (order of the individual), and mesocosm (order of the attuned society) are equivalent, the social ideas and moral principles by which the individual is constrained to his group are conceived to be, finally, of his own nature. And for the same reason, the visionary realizations of the yogi in solitude would be of the psychological sources out of which the mesocosmic order of his mythologically grounded cultural monad originated."

"Our life evokes our character. You find out more about yourself as you go on. That's why it's good to be able to put yourself in situations that will evoke your higher nature rather than your lower. "Lead us not into temptation.""

"The elementary idea, likewise, of the Promised Land cannot originally have referred to a part of this earth to be conquered by military right, but to a place of spiritual peace in the heart, to be discovered through contemplation."

"The deity of one's worship is a function of one's own state of mind. But it is also a product of one's culture."

"Outer space is within us inasmuch as the laws of space are within us; outer and inner space are the same."

"Man's nature... is not corrupt. The idea of God is innate in man's mind from the beginning; so that by reason alone man has arrived, everywhere, at a recognition of God which is sufficient. Religious intolerance is blasphemy, since in their primal ground and ultimate sense, all religions are one, as is mankind."

"For the heroes of all time have gone before us; the labyrinth is thoroughly known; we have only to follow the thread of the hero-path. And where we had thought to find an abomination, we shall find a god; where we thought to slay another, we shall slay ourselves; where we had thought to travel outward, we shall come to the center of our own existence; where we had thought to be alone, we shall be with all the world."

"Hell is the place of people who could not yield their ego system to allow the grace of a transpersonal power to move them."

"Everything transitory is but a metaphor... Everything eternal is but a metaphor."

"All men are competent to know the mind of God. There is no revelation special to any people."

"For the reality to which the artist and the mystic are exposed, is in fact, the same. It is of their own inmost truth brought to consciousness: by the mystic, in direct confrontation, and by the artist, through reflection in the masterworks of his art. The fact that the nature of the artist (as a microcosm) and the nature of the universe (as the macrocosm) are two aspects of the same reality (respectively, as a minute part of the whole, experienced from within, and as the whole, viewed from without... accounts sufficiently for that creative interplay of discovery and recognition which alerts the artist to the possibility of a revelatory composition in which outer and inner realities are recognized as the same."

"Love is the meaning of life - it is the high point of life."

"Heaven and hell are within us, and all the gods are within us."

"Life is pain, but compassion is what gives it the possibility of continuing."

"The "morphogenic" relationship of eternity to time is not to be thought of as sequential. Moreover, eternity being by definition outside or beyond temporality, transcendent of all categories, whether of virtue or of reason (being and nonbeing, unity and multiplicity, love and justice, forgiveness and wrath), the term and concept "God" is itself but a metaphor of the unknowing mind, connotative, not only beyond itself, but beyond thought... metaphors are equivalent as alternative signs of the high mystical experience of an absorption of mortal appearance in immortal being; for which another historical figure of speech is the "End of the World.""

"Myths inspire the realization of the possibility of your perfection, the fullness of your strength, and the bringing of solar light into the world."

"The life of a mythology derives from the vitality of its symbols as metaphors delivering, not simply the idea, but a sense of actual participation in such a realization of transcendence, infinity, and abundance, as this of which the upanishadic authors tell. Indeed, the first and most essential service of a mythology is this one, of opening the mind and heart to the utter wonder of all being. And the second service, then, is cosmological: of representing the universe and whole spectacle of nature, both as known to the mind and as beheld by the eye, as an epiphany of such kind that when lightning flashes, or a setting sun ignites the sky, or a deer is seen standing alerted, the exclamation "Ah!" may be uttered as a recognition of divinity."

"The secret cause of all suffering is mortality itself, which is the prime condition of life. It cannot be denied if life is to be affirmed."

"The way to find out about your happiness is to keep your mind on those moments when you feel most happy, when you really are happy - not excited, not just thrilled, but deeply happy. This requires a little bit of self-analysis. What is it that makes you happy? Stay with it, no matter what people tell you. This is what I call "following your bliss.""

"Mythology is a control system, on the one hand framing its community to accord with an intuited order of nature and, on the other hand, by means of its symbolic pedagogic rites, conducting individuals through the ineluctable psychophysiological stages of transformation of a human lifetime - birth, childhood and adolescence, age, old age, and the release of death - in unbroken accord simultaneously with the requirements of this world and the rapture of participation in a manner of being beyond time. For all the symbolic narratives, images, rites, and festivals by which life within the cultural monad is controlled and defined are of the order of the way of art. Their effect, therefore, is to wake the intellect to realizations equivalent to those of the insights that produced them."

"The images of myth are reflections of the spiritual potentialities of every one of us. Through contemplating these, we evoke their powers in our lives."

"This, I believe, is the great Western truth: that each of us is a completely unique creature and that, if we are ever to give any gift to the world, it will have to come out of our own experience and fulfillment of our own potentialities, not someone else's. In the traditional Orient, on the other hand, and generally in all traditionally grounded societies, the individual is cookie-molded. His duties are put upon him in exact and precise terms, and there's no way of breaking out from them. When you go to a guru to be guided on a spiritual path, he knows just where you are on the traditional path, just where you have to go next, just what you must do to get there."

"This we know: the earth does not belong to man, man belongs to the earth. All things are connected like the blood that unites us all. Man did not weave the web of life, he is merely a strand in it. Whatever he does to the web, he does to himself."

"To be in the world struggle. That’s what life is."

"Whenever men have looked for something solid on which to found their lives, they have chosen not the facts in which the world abounds, but the myths of an immemorial imagination."

"The actual point in question, throughout the centuries of Christian persecution, has never been faith in God, but faith in the Bible as the word of God, and in the Church (this Church or that) as the interpreter of that word."

"Whenever a knight of the Grail tried to follow a path made by someone else, he went altogether astray. Where there is away or path, it is someone else's footsteps. Each of us has to find his own way... Nobody can give you a mythology."

"There is primal truth in myth."

"When you are a man, you are in the field of time and decisions. One of the problems of life is to live with the realization of both terms, to say, "I know the center, and I know that good and evil are simply temporal aberrations and that, in God's view, there is no difference.""

"There is an invisible plane supporting the visible one."

"It is only those who know neither an inner call nor an outer doctrine whose plight truly is despair."

"The standard path of the mythological adventure of the hero is a magnification of the formula represented in the rites of passage: separation – initiation – return: which might be named the nuclear unit of the monomyth. 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 his mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man."

"When you’re on a journey, and the end keeps getting further and further away, then you realize that the real end is the journey."

"The goal of the myth is to… [affect] a reconciliation of the individual consciousness with the universal will."

"We have today to learn to get back into accord with the wisdom of nature and realize again our brotherhood with the animals and with the water and the sea. To say that the divinity informs all things is condemned as pantheism. But pantheism is a misleading word. It suggests that a personal god is supposed to inhabit the world, but that is not the idea at all. The idea is… of an undefinable, inconceivable mystery, thought of as a power, that is the source and end and supporting ground of all life and being."

"Basically, the "vision quest" involves getting past your own limitations, which are within even as they appear to be without."

"The ultimate aim of the quest must be neither release nor ecstasy for oneself, but the wisdom and power to serve others."

"I don't believe people are looking for the meaning of life as much as they are looking for the experience of being alive. "

"A hero is someone who has given his or her life to something bigger than oneself. "

"Every religion is true one way or another. It is true when understood metaphorically. But when it gets stuck in its own metaphors, interpreting them as facts, then you are in trouble."

"Life is without meaning. You bring the meaning to it. The meaning of life is whatever you ascribe it to be. Being alive is the meaning."

"I think the person who takes a job in order to live - that is to say, for the money - has turned himself into a slave. "

"Love is a friendship set to music."

"Myths are public dreams, dreams are private myths."