Finding Your Own Pathway to Bliss

by Joseph Campbell

Now, a folk hero is different from the subject of a biography, even when the hero may have been a real person once upon a time—John Henry or George Washington. The folk hero represents a transforming feature in the myth. When you have an oral mythic tradition, it’s right up to date. In the folktales of the American Indians, you have bicycles, you have the form of the Capitol dome in Washington. Everything gets incorporated into the mythology immediately. In our society of fixed texts and printed words, it is the function of the poet to see the life value of the facts round about, and to deify them, as it were, to provide images that relate the everyday to the eternal.

Of course, in trying to relate yourself to transcendence, you don’t have to have images. You can go the Zen way and forget the myths altogether. But I’m talking about the mythic way. And what the myth does is to provide a field in which you can locate yourself. That’s the sense of the mandala, the sacred circle, whether you are a Tibetan monk or the patient of a Jungian analyst. The symbols are laid out around the circle, and you are to locate yourself in the center. A labyrinth, of course, is a scrambled mandala, in which you don’t know where you are. That’s the way the world is for people who don’t have a mythology. It’s a labyrinth. They are battling their way through as if no one had ever been there before.

Read full article in the current issue

Perhaps most responsible for bringing mythology to a mass audience, Joseph Campbell’s works rank among the classics in mythology and literature: The Hero with a Thousand Faces, the four-volume The Masks of God, The Power of Myth with Bill Moyers, and many others. Among his many awards, Campbell received the National Institute of Arts and Letters Award for Contribution to Creative Literature and the 1985 Medal of Honor for Literature from the National Arts Club. A past president of the American Society for the Study of Religion, Campbell was professor emeritus at Sarah Lawrence College in New York until his retirement in 1972 at which time he devoted himself to his writing. This article is excerpted from Pathways to Bliss. Copyright © 2004 by Joseph Campbell Foundation. Reprinted with permission from New World Library,

To return to the home page, click on the Home tab or the back arrow