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Creative mythology


In his first three volumes of the Masks of GodI-IV series Joseph Campbell discusses and explores mythology in a manner most people would be familiar with. However, in Creative Mythology he adds a new dimension. In his introduction he writes:

“In the context of traditional mythology, the symbols are presented in socially maintained rites, through which the individual is required to experience, or will pretend to have experienced, certain insights, sentiments and commitments. In what I'm calling creative mythology, on the other hand, this order is reversed: the individual has had an experience of his own - of order, horror, beauty, or even mere exhilaration-which he seeks to communicate through signs; and if his realization has been of a certain depth and import, his communication will have the force and value of living myth-for those, that is to say, who receive and respond to it of themselves, with recognition, uncoerced.”[1]

Creative Individuals

But who are these individuals? Campbell explains later:

"In the earlier volumes of this survey the mythologies treated are largely those of the common world of those who, in the poet Gottfried's words, can bear no grief and desire but to bathe in bliss: the mythologies that is to say, of the received religions, great and small. In the present work on the other hand, I accept the idea proposed by Schopenauer and confirmed by Sir Arthur Keith, the intention being to regard each of the creative masters of this dawning day and civilisation of the individual as absolutely singular, each species unique in himself. He will have arrived in this world in one place or another, at one time or another, to unfold, in the conditions of his time and place, the autonomy of his nature. And in youth, though early imprinted with one authorized brand or another of the Western religious heritage, in one or another of its known historic states of disintegration, he will have conceived the idea of thinking for himself, peering through his own eyes, heeding the compass of his own heart. Hence the works of the really great of this new age cannot combine in a unified tradition to which followers can then adhere, but are individual and various. They are the works of individuals and, as such, will stand as models for other individuals: not coercive but evocative."[2]

Role of Inherited Legacy of Myth and Symbol

We might well ask if the myths and symbols of the past then serve any purpose. Campbell goes onto say:

"...with what I'm here calling creative myth, which springs from the unpredictable, unprecedented experience-in-illumination of an object by a subject, and the labor, then, of achieving communication of the effect. It is in this second, altogether secondary, technical phase of creative art, communication, that the general treasury, the dictionary so to say, of the world's infinitely rich heritage of symbols, images, myth motives, and hero deeds, may be called upon - either consciously as in Joyce and Mann, or unconsciously, as in dream - to render the message."[3]

Creative mythology is the title of Volume 4 of Joseph Campbell's Masks of God series.

  1. Campbell, Joseph (1991). Creative Mythology. Arkana. p. 4. ISBN 0-14-019440-1. 
  2. Campbell, Creative Mythology p39-40
  3. Campbell, Creative Mythology p40