Notes and Quotes from the book, and transcripts of the TV production, “The Power of Myth” with Bill Moyers and Joseph Campbell.

  1.  If you realize what the real problem is—losing yourself, giving yourself to some higher end, or to another (person)—you realize that this itself is the ultimate trial. When we quit thinking primarily about ourselves and our own self-preservation, we undergo a truly heroic transformation of consciousness. And, what all the myths have to deal with is transformations of consciousness of one kind or another. You have been thinking one way, you now have to think a different way. PM, 126
  2. Consciousness is transformed by trials and revelations. Trials and revelations are what it’s all about. (Tr. 1/6)
    1. Jim Dollar—The experience of life must lead us to make connections, identify contradictions and polarities, draw conclusions, and glean insight. If we aren’t doing that,if we are just applying “the wisdom of the ancestors” to what we are encountering in our own lives, and aren’t working out for ourselves what it means that we are facing what we are facing and dealing with what we are dealing with, we aren’t on any kind of “journey” at all, but are living someone else’s life in place of our own, and are just marking time until we die.
  3. The trials are designed to see to it that the intending hero should be really a hero. Is he really a match for this task? Can he overcome the dangers? Doe he have the courage, the knowledge, the capacity,to enable him to serve? PM, 126
    1. JD–We answer these questions, not by thinking, but by living our life. The important questions are answered in the doing and not in the thinking, or in the talking, or in the believing. It is in going to meet the Cyclops that Ulysses meets his life, and lives it. It is going deep into “the cave we most do not want to enter” that we become who we are.
  4. The adventure that the hero is ready for is the one he gets. The adventure is really a manifestation of his character. Even the landscape and the conditions of the environment match his readiness. PM, 129
    1. JD–But. The hero’s readiness probably won’t match the hero’s desires for, or ideas of, the adventure the hero gets. The dream is generally of fortune and glory. The reality is generally somewhat different. Jesus’ path led him into the heart of Gethsemane and across the face of Golgotha.
  5. The adventure (evokes) a quality of his character that he (didn’t know) he possessed. (Tr. 1/6)
  6. If a person doesn’t listen to the demands of his own spiritual and heart life, and insists on a certain program, you’re going to have a schizophrenic crack-up. The person has put himself off-center. He has aligned himself with a programmatic life, and it’s not the one the body’s interested in at all. And the world’s full of people who have stopped listening to themselves. (Tr. 1/6)
    1. JD–People are living inauthentic lives in numbers past counting, thinking that is the best they can do. The adventure they are rejecting is calling them beyond where they think they can go. “Oh, I could never do that!” is the epitaph of lives mis-matched with their host.
  7. The world is full of people who have stopped listening to themselves or have listened only to their neighbors to learn what they ought to do, how they ought to behave, and what they values are that they should be living for. PM, 147
    1. JD–All the things we need to hear are waiting in the silence of reflection and imagination.
  8. Our life evokes our character, and you find out more about yourself as you go on. And it’s very nice to be able to put yourself in situations that will evoke your higher nature, rather than your lower. (Tr.1/6)
    1. JD—In order to take up the adventure of being alive, of living, we have to be put “in accord with the inevitables” of our lives. We have to be able to say, “This is it. This is the way it is,” and go forward with it. Are we going to say “Yes,” or “No”? That’s the question.
    1. JD—What holds us down, what holds us back,is our idea for our lives, our idea of how our lives, of how Life, ought to be. We have to get out of our heads, so to speak, out of our idea of how things should be, in order to participate in, in order to engage, things as they are. We do that by allowing ourselves to love what we truly love in stead of loving what we think we should love.
  9. The real dragon is in you…it’s your ego holding you in…it’s what I want, what I believe, what I can do, what I think I love,and all that. What I regard as the aim of my life and so forth. It might be too small. It might be that which pins you down. And if it’s simply that of doing what the environment tells you to do, it is certainly pinning you down. And so the environment is your dragon, as it reflects within yourself…And we slay the dragon within us by following our bliss. (Tr. 1/6)
  10. The influence of a vital person vitalizes, there’s no doubt about it. The world is a wasteland. People have the notion of saving the world by shifting it around and changing the rules and so forth. No, any world is a living world if it’s alive, and the thing is to bring it to life. And the way to bring it to life is to find in your own case where your life is, and be alive yourself. (Tr. 1/6)
  11. Igjugarjuk was the shaman of a Caribou Eskimo tribe in northern Canada, the one who told European visitors that the only true wisdom ‘lives far from mankind, out in the great loneliness, and can be reached only through suffering. Privation and  suffering alone open the mind to all that is hidden to others.’ PM, xiii
  12. (JosephCampbell) taught, as great teachers teach, by example. It was not his manner to try to talk anyone into anything…Preachers err, he told me, by trying “to talk people into belief; better they reveal the radiance of their own discovery.” — Bill Moyers, PM, xvi
  13. (Campbell)agreed that the “guiding idea” of his work was to find “the commonality of themes in world myths, pointing to a constant requirement in the human psyche for a centering in terms of deep principles.” — Bill Moyers, PM, xvi
    1. JD–We have to be grounded upon the bedrock values that support humanity as a whole. We face common tasks, and coming to terms with how things are with us is not much different across time and place. They myths are about the things that have to be faced and dealt with along the path from birth to death. We all have to find our own way along the path everyone treads.
  14. We’re so engaged in doing things to achieve purposes of outer value that we forget that the inner value, the rapture that is associated with being alive, is what it’s all about. It’s all about the experience of life. PM, 6
    1. JD–Bringing ourselves to life in our life is a matter of attending what is trying to come to life in us, and assisting it by incarnating it in our own life and serving it with devotion and loyalty. Where are we most alive in our life? Go there! Do that!
  15. (We have to ) keep in mind the eternal core of all that changes in time. Sin is simply getting out of touch with that harmony. PM, 10
    1. JD–What IS that eternal core? That bedrock which grounds us all over time and place? What are the key elements in the universal experience of being human? The Collective Values of the species? The myths point the way.
  16. What the myths are for is to bring us into a level of consciousness that is spiritual. PM, 14
  17. Because everybody’s mind is capable of true knowledge, you don’t have to have a special authority, or a special revelation, telling you that this is the way things should be. PM, 25
  18. Democracy assumes that anybody from any quarter can speak, and speak truth, because his mind is not cut off from the truth. All he has to do is clear out his passions and then speak. PM, 28
  19.  All men are competent to know the mind of God. There is no revelation special to any people. PM, 29
  20. One thing that comes out in myths is that at the bottom of the abyss comes the voice of salvation. The black moment is the moment when the real message of transformation is going to come. At the darkest moment comes the light. PM, 37
    1. JD–Somewhere else Campbell says, “Where you stumble and fall, there lies the treasure.”
  21. (In working with dreams) all you have to do is remember your dream in the first place, and write it down. Then take one little fraction of the dream, one or two images or ideas, and associate with them. Write down what comes to your mind, and again what comes to your mind, and again. You’ll find that the dream is based on a body of experiences that have some kind of significance in your life and that you didn’t know where influencing you. Soon, the next dream will come along, and your interpretation will go further. PM, 40
  22. (Visionaries and heroes have) moved out of the society that would have protected them, and into the dark forest, into the world of fire, of original experience. Original experience has not been interpreted for you, and so you’ve got to work out your life for yourself. Either you can take it or you can’t. You don’t have to go far off the interpreted path to find yourself in very difficult situations. The courage to face the trials and to bring a whole new body of possibilities into the field of interpreted experience for other people to experience—that is the   hero’s deed.
    1. JD—Original experience is seeing for ourselves what is there. When you open yourself to the power of the reality of death, for instance, or suffering; when you ask for yourself, “What is the  meaning of my life? What is the point? What am I about? Why am I here?” you move into a place that is uncharted, no matter how many have gone there before you. Their answers won’t do. You have to find your own. And, even though your answers may sound the same as theirs, they won’t be the same, because they will be YOUR answers and will reflect YOUR understanding of what you are about. But, the price you pay is the agony of the uncertainty of finding your own path without the benefit of someone who can tell you what’s what. In so doing, you expand the “theory base” of interpreted experience, by adding your own insight to what has been said before you, but it may make you a little crazy. No one walks the complete path to wherever it is we are going, without walking with a limp along much of the way.
  23. The adventure is its own reward—but it’s necessarily dangerous, having both negative and positive possibilities, all of them beyond control. We are following our own way, not our daddy’s or our mother’s way. So we are beyond protection in a field of higher powers than we know. PM, 158
    1. JD–We take our chances, and have to learn to distinguish between trusting our luck and pushing our luck. The track crosses many a slippery slope and traverses the razor’s edge more times than can be counted. But what choice do we have? “It’s the pirate’s life for me, Gibbs. I have no say in the matter!” Poet or pirate, painter or preacher, we all know what this means.
  24. One of the main problems of mythology is reconciling the mind to this brutal precondition of life, which lives by the killing and eating of lives…Life lives on lives (Life eats life). PM, 42
    1. JD–Squaring ourselves up with the facts of life, coming to terms with the way things are, making our peace with the things that comprise our life is the task of maturity. We grow up against our will, and no one can do the work for us. We all grow up on our own, in our own way, in our own time. The process can be delayed and avoided, refused and denied, but. That is the way of dying before we are dead–the way of the wasteland. We are called to a different kind of dying. We die ten thousand times in the service of life, and are resurrected each time, only to die again. Which is something else we must make our peace with, and grow up some more again.
  25. Myths tell us how to confront and bear and interpret suffering, but they do not say that in life there can, or should be, no suffering. PM, 160
  26. (It is) a matter of being able to accept chance. The ultimate backing of life is chance—the chance that your parents met, for example! Chance, or what might seem to be chance, is the means trough which life is realized. The problem is not to blame, or explain, but to handle the life that arises…The best advice is to take it all as if it had been of your intention—with that, you invoke the participation of your will. PM, 161
  27. Thinking in mythological terms helps to put you in accord with the inevitables of this vale of tears. You learn to recognize the positive values in what appear to be the negative moments and aspects of your life. The big question is whether you are going to be able to say a hearty yes to your adventure—the adventure of being alive. PM, 163
    1. JD–But really, now. What choice do we have? To say no to our adventure leaves us with what, exactly? Staying in the safety of our own bed, with our face turned to the wall? Is that anyway to live? We are all going to die! Let’s die having a go at being alive! A real GO! With our shirttail flapping and our hair blowing in the wind that blows where it will all the way along!
  28. I think what we are looking for is a way of experiencing the world that will open to us the transcendent that informs it, and, at the same time, forms ourselves within it. That is what people want. That is what the soul asks for…To have some kind of instruction that will enable us to experience the divine presence.PM, 53
    1. JD—The instruction is, of course, “Go where you most don’t want to go: Into the heart of your pain, into the dead center of the Abyss!”
  29. Religion is really a kind of second womb. It’s designed to bring this extremely complicated thing, which is a human being, to maturity, which means to be self-motivating, self-acting. PM, 56
    1. JD–Somewhere else Campbell says, “A wheel rolling out of its own center–that is what you become as a mature individual.” And we get so little in the way of helpful instruction to that end. We exit the womb and are just thrown into it and find our way to maturity however we are able, and good luck with that! Those that have something to say, like Campbell, to the rest of us don’t have much to say that we can hear. In order to understand what he is saying, we have to know what he means–out of our own experience, because we have reflected on these things and are ready for someone to help us articulate what we already know to be so. But how many of us are in that room, seated in that circle, able to receive what we need to be told?
  30. What the shaman or seer brings forth is something that is waiting to be brought forth in everyone. So, when one hears the seer’s story, one responds, “Aha!This is my story. This is something that I had always wanted to say but wasn’t able to say.” There has to be a dialogue, an interaction between the seer and the community. The seer who sees things that people in the community do not want to see or hear about is just ineffective. Sometimes they will wipe him out. PM, 59
    1. The one who sees in the Land of the Blind is either crowned king, or crucified, or laughed out of town.
  31. The difference between a priest and a shaman is that the priest is a functionary and the shaman is someone who has had an experience. PM, 60
  32. The person who has had a mystical experience knows that all the symbolic expressions of it are faulty. The symbols don’t render the experience, they suggest it. If you haven’t had the experience, how can you know what it is?There has to be an experience to catch the message, some clue, otherwise,you’re not hearing what is being said. PM, 61
  33. Religions are addressing social problems and ethics instead of the mystical experience.PM, 61
    1. JD—The necessary religious instruction is :”Bear the pain!” Bear the pain with your eyes open; bear the pain with awareness,mindfulness, conscious attention.
  34. Usually you think of things in practical terms, but you could think of anything in terms of its mystery. PM, 61
  35. Nobody has ever made (the world) any better. It is never going to be any better. This is it, so take it or leave it. You are not going to correct or improve it. PM,65
    1. JD–What we CAN do is know that we don’t know, and even better, what we don’t know. And, even better, to KNOW what we do know–ALL that we do know, consciously and unconsciously! We can work to see what we look at and to hear what is being said–especially what we are saying to ourselves.
  36. (There are two ways of looking at good and evil) Whatever you do is evil for somebody.(On the other hand there is the) Zoroastrian idea, which has come over into Judaism and Christianity (which suggests that there is an absolute good and an absolute evil, with life as a conflict between the forces of darkness and the forces of light). In other traditions, good and evil are relative to the position in which you are standing. What is good for one is evil for the other. And you play your part, not withdrawing from the world when you realize how horrible it is, but seeing that this horror is simply the foreground of a wonder (a mystery). PM, 65
  37. The hero is the one who comes to participate in life courageously and decently, in the way of nature, not in the way of personal rancor, disappointment, or revenge. PM, 66
  38. You’ve got to say yes to this miracle of life as it is, not on the condition that it follow your rules. Otherwise, you’ll never get through to the metaphysical dimension. PM, 67
  39. Voluntary participation in the world is very different from just getting born into it.PM, 112
  40. The basic theme of all mythology (is) that there is an invisible plane supporting the visible one. PM, 71
  41. The main theme in ritual is the linking of the individual to a larger morphological structure than that of his own physical body. PM, 72
  42. (Something can be) in accord with the way of nature (and) not simply with my own personal impulse. PM, 73
    1. JD—It’s all about making ourselves feel better about being where we are, dealing with what we are up against, doing what we have to do. There are some things that cannot be helped. We are “damned if we do and damned if we don’t.” What’s good for one is evil for another, and that’s just how it is. We have to feel better about how it is. Our Big Need is to feel better about how it is.
  43. In a wasteland, people are fulfilling purposes that are not properly theirs but have been put upon them as inescapable laws. PM, 99
    1. Somewhere else Campbell says, speaking of the Buddha’s experience under the Bodi Tree, “The realization of y our life–of what is life for you–comes on the other side of terror, temptation, and the culture’s demands that you meet the obligations, duties and responsibilities of your station. You must say no to all these things: ‘I must be about my work!’ And go, doing it!
  44. What is the nature of the wasteland? It is a land where everybody is living an inauthentic life, doing as other people do, doing as you’re told, with no courage for your own life. That is the wasteland. In a wasteland, the surface does not represent the actuality of what it is supposed to be representing, and people are living inauthentic lives: “I’ve never done a thing I wanted to in all my life. I’ve done as I was told.” PM, 196
  45. The Grail becomes…that which is attained and realized by people who have lived their own lives. PM, 197
  46. The pain of love…is the pain of life. Where your pain is, there is your life. PM,203
  47. Love itself is a pain, you might say, the pain of being truly alive. PM, 204
  48. You get a totally different civilization and a totally different way of living according to whether your myth presents nature as fallen, or whether nature is in itself a manifestation of divinity, and the spirit is the revelation of the divinity that is inherent in nature. PM, 99
  49. It is the function of the artist to (interpret the divinity inherent in nature for us today). PM, 99
  50. (If you never do a thing you wanted to do in all your life) that’s the man who never followed his bliss. You may have a success in life, but then just think of it—what kind of life was it? What good was it—you’ve never done the thing you wanted to do in all your life. I always tell my students, go where your body and soul want to go. When you have the feeling, then stay with it and don’t let anyone throw you off.
    1. JD—The rule is: Always listen to your stomach, to your “gut feeling,” and do what you must to follow its lead.
  51. If you have the guts to stay with the thing you really want, no matter what happens, then, go ahead…But, are you going to think of fortune (and success), or, are you going to think of your bliss? PM, 119
  52. Any life career that you choose in following your bliss should be chosen with (the) sense that nobody can frighten me off from this thing. And, no matter what happens, this is the validation of my life and action. PM, 190
  53. (Of course), you’ve got to use your head…a narrow path is a very dangerous path—the razor’s edge. (So, the head and the heart should not be at war) They should be in cooperation. The head should be present, and the heart should listen to it now and then. PM, 193
  54. When you are doing something that is a brand-new adventure, breaking new ground,whether it is something like a technological breakthrough or simply a way of living that is not what the community can help you with, there’s always the danger of too much enthusiasm, of neglecting certain mechanical details. Then you fall off. “A dangerous path this is.” When you follow the path of your desire and enthusiasm and emotion, keep your mind in control, and don’t let(your  passion) pull you compulsively into disaster. PM, 132
  55. If you follow your bliss, you put yourself on a kind of track that has been there all the while, waiting for you, and the life that you ought to be living is the one you are living. Wherever you are—if you are following your bliss, you are enjoying that refreshment, that life within you, all the time. PM, 91
  56. There is something inside you that knows when you’re in the center, that knows when you’re on the beam or off the beam. And, if you get off the beam to earn money,you’ve lost your life. And, if you stay in the center and don’t get any money,you still have your bliss. PM, 229
  57. What is it that makes you happy? Stay with it, no matter what people tell you. This is what I call “following your bliss.” PM, 155
  58. When you do that, you begin to meet people who are in the field of your bliss, and they open the doors to you. I say, follow your bliss and don’t be afraid, and doors will open where you didn’t know there would be doors. PM, 120
    1. JD—And yet, and yet, Campbell says (on page 119) to students who asked him if he thought they could be a writer, “I don’t know. Can you endure ten years of disappointment with nobody responding to you, or, are you thinking that you are going to write a best seller the first crack?” This business about “doors opening” has to be read in light of having “the guts to stay with the thing you really want, no matter what.” The doors won’t open until you prove you are serious about being a bliss follower.And, even then, the doors probably won’t open to fame and fortune but to a deeper level, or competence, in the area of your bliss.
  59. The spiritual quest (is) the quest to find the inward thing that you basically are. PM, 139
  60. The heroes of religion came back with the wonder of God, not with a blueprint of God… Religion begins with the sense of wonder and awe and the attempt to tell stories that will connect us to God. Then it becomes a set of theological works in which everything is reduced to a code, to a creed. PM, 141
  61. It’s quite possible to be so influenced by the ideals and commands of your neighborhood that you don’t know what you really want and could be…You are told exactly what to do, every bit of the time. PM, 143
  62. The thing to do is learn to live in your period of history as a human being…by holding to your own ideals for yourself and…rejecting the system’s impersonal claims upon you. PM, 144
  63. Is the body learning to know and express its own deepest life in the field of time? One way or another, we all have to find what best fosters the flowering of our humanity in this contemporary life, and dedicate ourselves to that. PM,148
  64. Like all heroes, the Buddha doesn’t show you the truth itself, he shows you the way to truth. But it’s got to be your way, not his. PM, 150
  65. This, I believe, is the great Western truth: that each of us is a completely unique creature and that, if we are ever to give any gift to the world, it will have to come out of our own experience and fulfillment of our own potentialities, not someone else’s…We have to give our students guidance in developing their own pictures of themselves. What each must seek in his life never was, on land or sea. It is something out of his own unique potentiality for experience, something that never has been and never could have  been experienced by anyone else. PM, 151
  66. (We are born spiritually) when we awaken at the level of the heart to compassion, shared suffering: experienced participation in the suffering of another person.That’s the beginning of humanity. And the meditations of religion properly are on that level, the heart level…coming to life as the human incarnation of compassion.