“Follow your bliss and the universe will open doors for you where there were only walls.” ~Joseph Campbell
It’s hard to believe that I would title my blog Metta 4 and write 34 posts before even mentioning Joseph Campbell. If there was ever a hint from the universe of where I was headed spiritually, it was when I first discovered Campbell. I just didn’t know it at the time.
The first time I heard of Joseph Campbell I was an adult in college. I was raising kids, working and pursuing a history degree. I took a literature class about the grail legends because, from the time I was about 10 years old, I was really into the Arthurian legends. Part of the class involved listening to Campbell’s lectures as an expert on the Arthurian stories and myth in general.
At this time in my life I was also a hard-core Christian. I think people who know me now have a hard time picturing this. Sometimes I do too. My kids were in private Christian school at our church, so I was at church six days a week, plus leading the youth group and teaching Sunday school. Although I was never as judgmental as Christianity sometimes invites people to be, I was definitely into the lifestyle. Sometimes when I think about it, I don’t recognize that person I used to be.
Joseph Campbell helped me understand metaphor. Metaphor is a huge part of spirituality, in my opinion. It is also a powerful form of communication. Part of what makes it so powerful is that understanding it gives tremendous insight into the universe, while not understanding only means your brain is processing information, causing the mind to set things in motion and it’s being done unconsciously. There are deeper messages in everything if you look closely enough. But to do so takes discipline and many lack that discipline.
According to Wikipedia, Joseph Campbell used the term monomyth: “to express the idea that perhaps the whole of the human race is reciting a single story of great importance, which gets further broken down into local form, taking on different guises depending on the time and social state of the culture that recites it. This great story relates to humanity’s search for the same basic, unknown force from which everything came, within which everything currently exists, and into which everything will return. This elemental force is ultimately “unknowable” because it exists before words and knowledge. As this basic truth cannot be expressed in plain words, spiritual rituals and stories refer to it through the use of metaphors…”
It was understanding this that made me begin to compare Christianity to the world’s other religions. And it was when I realized that “the great story” is only relevant as it applies to me and my interpretation of it and that every person, through their own mythological tale, their life, interprets the story for themselves, that I stopped letting people tell me how to interpret the Bible.
I spent 20 years letting other people tell me what the Bible means and never really questioning what I was told. I did this because, at that time, I did not understand metaphor and its relevance in the universal consciousness. When I began to understand, I realized that I had been reading the Arthurian legends almost as long as I had been reading the Bible, which was ever since I could read, and that I neither sought nor accepted anyone’s interpretation of those stories but my own. What was the difference? Why did I think I was capable of interpreting the Arthurian stories, in all their variations, but I was incapable of knowing the meaning of the Bible without making sure my ideas were okay with a group of people who had all agreed on its meaning (without my input)?
I will argue that the Arthurian legends are a body of work as big and impressive as the Bible. That is not to diminish the Bible in any way. It is a wonderful book full of really interesting stories. Stories with meanings much bigger than the literal words on the page.
Each individual extracts a slightly different meaning from the stories because we all have a different and unique perspective. So, just as each person will take a different meaning from the story of Perceval for instance, each person will have a different idea what the story of Abraham or Jesus means. Each person decides what the grail means to them just as each decides what the cross means to them, if anything.
When I began to look at the Bible this way, it was the beginning of the end for me and Christianity, though I didn’t know it at the time. Suddenly, when my way of interpreting the Bible became as valid as anyone’s in my mind, everyone’s interpretation of it, or any mythology for that matter, became as valid as mine.
During my time as a Christian I remember having a hard time with the concept that the truth is relative. I always thought of truth as this objective thing that was constant regardless of who was perceiving it. But that’s because I was caught up in the idea of right and wrong. When I started playing with the idea that there is no right or wrong, that there are just different interpretations of the story, I no longer needed a religion that claimed sole possession of the absolute truth of the universe.
These great stories, that cross every culture and touch every person on the earth, are important because their function is to help each of us tell our own story, our personal mythology. Each of our stories is our gift to The All. Each of our lives is a part of the the greatest Great Story and understanding metaphor will help each of us tell the best story we are capable of telling.
Joseph Campbell truly is my hero. I knew it the first time I heard him speak. And after years of reading his books and listening to hours and hours of his lectures, I now see that he set me on the path that led to my spiritual awakening.
Anyone on a spiritual path should consider reading The Hero With a Thousand Faces, or get a copy of the Bill Moyers series The Power of Myth, in which he interviews Campbell at length. Doing so will give you a whole different perspective on life.
As above, so below; As below, so above.