Mar. 26, 1904 – Oct. 30, 1987
by Sister Switzer
There is no indication that Joseph Campbell ever studied Thelema. I don’t know if he was aware of Aleister Crowley. Still he lived his life following the concept of “Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law.”
Joseph Campbell’s work started when he was only seven years old. His path began at the Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show where, instead of focusing on the cowboy stars of the show, he became entranced by a lone Native American performer. He started following his inner callings, studying Native American culture and following the pull of his own deeper self throughout his schooling. By the age of ten he was allowed into the adult section of the library where he was able continue pursuing his passion.
He was a questioner and a seeker. He wrote in his journal, “A lifetime to be spent trying to kid myself and my pupils into believing that the thing that we are looking for is in books! I don’t know where it is—but I feel just now pretty sure that it isn’t in books. — It isn’t in travel. — It isn’t in California. — It isn’t in New York. … Where is it? And what is it, after all?” And so he continued to follow the pull of his heart rather than following the common pathways laid out before him.
At a time when there was much pressure to conform to societal standards, Campbell fought against following the traditional paths unfolding before him. He felt he was seeking something and knew it wasn’t to be found in books or in traveling to any specific place. And so he did not take a job, settle down, do what was expected. Instead, he continued his quest to find his own inner truth, what he came to call his bliss.
Campbell spent much of his adult life showing how myths are a roadmap of the individual’s life journey as well as the journey of a culture. He often said that myth has a fourfold function in society:
The Metaphysical Function: Awakening a sense of awe before the mystery of being
The Cosmological Function: Explaining the shape of the universe
The Sociological Function: Validate and support the existing social order
The Pedagogical Function: Guide the individual through the stages of life
He taught that all of humanity was “engaged in the effort of making the world “transparent to transcendence” by showing that underneath the world of phenomena lies an eternal source which is constantly pouring its energies into this world of time, suffering, and ultimately death. To achieve this task one needs to speak about things that existed before and beyond words, a seemingly impossible task, the solution which lies in the metaphors found in myths.” (From the Joseph Campbell Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joseph_Campbell)
He not only studied the underlying myths and how they all come back to one monomyth, one single universal pattern underlying the collective unconsciousness of all of humanity, he took his findings and his stories out into the world to teach others and help them see the power and import of myth in our lives and our spirits.
He believed that he needed to do something for humanity, but he also believed that what he had to offer would come from working on his own inner self, his beliefs and his understanding of the world. He also wrote in his journal, “If I want to justify my existence, and continue to be obsessed with the notion that I’ve got to do something for humanity — well, teaching ought to quell that obsession — and if I can ever get around to an intelligent view of matters, intelligent criticism of contemporary values ought to be useful to the world. This gets back again to Krishna’s dictum: The best way to help mankind is through the perfection of yourself.” Again his work seems to equate with our quest to meet our Holy Guardian Angels, perfecting ourselves and carrying that out into the world.
Joseph Campbell spent his life following the pull of his inner compass, and he spent much of his life sharing with the world how important it is to do this and showing us ways in which we could do the same thing. If his work were to be summed up in a short, pithy phrase, it would be “follow your bliss” which equates to following your will, something Campbell modeled for us his entire life.