My rating: 5 of 5 stars
The Masks of God, Vol. I: Primitive Mythology (1959) by Joseph Campbell is the first book of four in a massive attempt to connect the cultures and religions of the world.
Campbell begins this endeavor far back into history, well beyond the birth of language and later civilization by discussing the natural history of the gods and the psychology of myth.
According to one view Campbell poses, “a functioning mythology can be defined as a corpus of culturally maintained sign stimuli fostering the development and activation of a specific type, or constellation of types, of human life” (p 48).
Functioning Mythology will be one of the main themes of this book.
One of the beginning themes of the book is the existence of Imprints in people from childhood to adulthood and, even, in godhood. An Imprint would be a symbol or essence within the human mind that is innate.
One instance of this is in “The Imprints of Experience” when Campbell discusses the fear of darkness in children. “The fear of the dark,” writes Campbell, “which is so strong in children, has been said to be a function of their fear of returning to the womb: the fear that their recently achieved daylight consciousness and not yet secure individuality should be reabsorbed” (p 65).
Concerning God, Campbell writes: “We observe, for example, that whereas in the Greek and Hebrew versions man is split in two by a god, in the Chinese, Hindu, and Australian it is the god itself who divides and multiplies,” and Campbell examines these religious beginnings in depth later on in the book (p 109).
Campbell uses these last examples, as he does with many more, to illustrate how many cultures and religions are similar because all of mankind shares similarities in the make-up of human psychology.
Campbell quotes Dr. Jung best as to why this is the case: “But beyond that there is a thinking in primordial images — in symbols that are older that historical man; which have been ingrained in him from earliest times, and, eternally living, outlasting all generations, still make up the groundwork of the human psyche” (p 125).
Later, Campbell goes into an in-depth analysis of how civilizations were formed over several thousand years (mainly up to and during the Paleolithic and the Neolithic Periods).
Simultaneously, he discusses the creation of the Story that grew into Myth and finally into Religion (i.e., a priesthood) within these cultural hot spots which would sprout civilizations across the globe in Europe, the Middle East, India, and Asia.
One of the more interesting subjects he discusses in this section is the creation and vital importance of the ziggurat (palace). The earliest ziggurats, Campbell explains, would appear sometime in the fourth millennium B.C., which the ziggurat ultimately symbolizes “the pivot of the universe, where the life-generating union of the powers of earth and heaven was consummated in a ritual marriage” (pgs 145-146).
In “The Immolated Kings” and “The Ritual Love-Death” sections Campbell relates several stories, or myths/legends, that are unusual and highly interesting as far as plots go; these stories are also shown how they connect with other stories throughout various cultures/regions.
This is one of the better sections of the book that will likely be of greater interest than some of the other drier sections that primarily focus on historical facts and research as evidence of support to Campbell’s thesis. One of these stories includes, obviously, the act of human sacrifice:
“The two young people had to make the new fire and then perform that other, symbolically analogous act, their first copulation; after which they were tossed into a prepared trench, while a shout went up to drown their cries, and quickly buried alive” (p 169).
Wow! What a way to go — if one is to be sacrificed for the greater good of the community, that is.
One of the last sections is “The Functioning of Myth” and Campbell goes into great deal to extrapolate the introductory section. “The ends for which men strive in the world,” writes Campbell, “are three — no more, no less; namely: love and pleasure (kāma), power and success (artha: pronounced ‘art-ha’), and lawful order and moral virtue (dharma)” (p 464).
The book and Campbell’s ideas and examples are too vast to go into great depth here; however, any reader who values his/her own scholarship (i.e., learning at a high(er) level) will not be disappointed in Campbell’s vigorous research that, to this reader’s professional judgment, proves his thesis quite strongly.
Finally, one last quote that was found to be of some great interest:
Dr. Rasmussen writes of the shamans during the Fifth Thule Expedition (1921-1924): “The only true wisdom lives far from mankind, out in the great loneliness, and it can be reached only through suffering. Privation and suffering along can open the mind of a man to all this hidden to others” (p 54).
If the world were to end, I imagine The Masks of God (all four volumes) would be among the treasured volumes saved from destruction. There is far too much history, knowledge and wisdom in these books to be ignored or to abandon.
Primitive Mythology is a very, very strong recommend for those readers who take self-improvement through education seriously and desire a greater and fuller understanding of the world in which they live.
Now on to Book Two: The Masks of God, Vol. II: Oriental Mythology.
More of Joseph Campbell’s Books:
The American novelist CG FEWSTON has been a Visiting Scholar at the American Academy in Rome (Italy), a Visiting Fellow at Hong Kong’s CityU, & he’s a been member of the Hemingway Society, Americans for the Arts, PEN America, Club Med, & the Royal Society of Literature. He’s also a been Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce (RSA) based in London.
He’s the author of several short stories and novels. His works include A Father’s Son (2005), The New America: A Collection (2007), The Mystic’s Smile ~ A Play in 3 Acts (2007), Vanity of Vanities (2011), A Time to Love in Tehran (2015), Little Hometown, America (2020); A Time to Forget in East Berlin (2022), and Conquergood & the Center of the Intelligible Mystery of Being (2023).
Forthcoming: The Endless Endeavor of Excellence.
He has a B.A. in English, an M.Ed. in Higher Education Leadership (honors), an M.A. in Literature (honors), and an M.F.A. in Creative Writing & Fiction. He was born in Texas in 1979.
You can follow the author on Facebook @ cg.fewston – where he has 470,000+ followers
“A spellbinding tale of love and espionage set under the looming shadow of the Berlin Wall in 1975… A mesmerising read full of charged eroticism.”
“There is no better way for readers interested in Germany’s history and the dilemma and cultures of the two Berlins to absorb this information than in a novel such as this, which captures the microcosm of two individuals’ love, relationship, and options and expands them against the blossoming dilemmas of a nation divided.”
~ D. Donovan, Senior Reviewer, Midwest Book Review
“Readers of The Catcher in the Rye and similar stories will relish the astute, critical inspection of life that makes Little Hometown, America a compelling snapshot of contemporary American life and culture.”
“Fewston employs a literary device called a ‘frame narrative’ which may be less familiar to some, but allows for a picture-in-picture result (to use a photographic term). Snapshots of stories appear as parts of other stories, with the introductory story serving as a backdrop for a series of shorter stories that lead readers into each, dovetailing and connecting in intricate ways.”
“The American novelist CG FEWSTON tells a satisfying tale, bolstered by psychology and far-ranging philosophy, calling upon Joseph Campbell, J. D. Salinger, the King James Bible, and Othello.”
“In this way, the author lends intellectual heft to a family story, exploring the ‘purity’ of art, the ‘corrupting’ influences of publishing, the solitary artist, and the messy interconnectedness of human relationships.”
GOLD Winner in the 2020 Human Relations Indie Book Awards for Contemporary Realistic Fiction
FINALIST in the SOUTHWEST REGIONAL FICTION category of the 14th Annual National Indie Excellence 2020 Awards (NIEA)
“Fewston’s lyrical, nostalgia-steeped story is told from the perspective of a 40-year-old man gazing back on events from his 1980s Texas childhood…. the narrator movingly conveys and interprets the greater meanings behind childhood memories.”
“The novel’s focus on formative childhood moments is familiar… the narrator’s lived experiences come across as wholly personal, deeply felt, and visceral.”
American Novelist CG FEWSTON
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TEXANS FOR SAFE ACCESS ~ share the mission of their national organization, Americans for Safe Access (ASA), which is to ensure safe and legal access to cannabis (marijuana) for therapeutic use and research, for all Texans.
Stay safe & stay happy. God bless.
Nico Murillo Bio ~ Americans & Texans for Safe Access ~ Medical Cannabis