A friend of mine asked me to explain to him why Joseph Campbell is my guru. It was an interesting conversation. My friend has never read Campbell, but he has heard me describe the impact that Campbell’s work has had on my life. My friend was thinking along the lines of self-help authors like Stephen Covey.
I explained that Joseph Campbell wasn’t really setting out to help anyone that way. He was merely a scholar, a man who devoted his life to researching the things that pleased him most to think about. This is what I admire best about Joseph Campbell. That it turns out that he and I found joy in the same topics is just a blessing beyond measure. He is definitely a kindred spirit.
What I ultimately shared with my friend was the story of my life at the time I discovered Campbell’s work. I was very much a church going Bible believer of the most literal sort and I had no real grasp of the concept of metaphor. Sometimes I think it is difficult for any devout Christian to truly grasp and appreciate metaphor.
I was introduced to Joseph Campbell in a college literature course about the Grail Legends. Joseph Campbell is an authority on the Arthurian legends, something I have loved almost my entire life.
It was in listening to Joseph Campbell lectures that I discovered that essentially everything is metaphor. All we have are symbols and stories to give meaning to our existence. Everything, even our lives, is metaphor for the fundamental truths of the universe. We are merely reflections of something much greater than ourselves. I believe that we each incarnate to create a mythology out of the life we have been given. And the great thing about this mythology we create is that we get to be the hero in the story. We don’t have to be the victim in our own life story. We are the ones writing it.
What Joseph Campbell did for me was give me another way of looking at God. It was not long after studying his work that I quit thinking about God as an entity separate from myself. And I will tell you this, that one discovery has brought more joy into my life that any other thing I have figured out.
So, while I understand my friend’s skepticism if he was equating Joseph Campbell with Stephen Covey, in my mind the two are incomparable. Stephen Covey offers people helpful hints to be a more financially successful person, Joseph Campbell offers people the keys that unlock the mysteries of the universe.
It is my opinion that you can’t read Joseph Campbell’s work without becoming a little smarter.