My rating: 5 of 5 stars
The Masks of God, Vol. 3: Occidental Mythology (1964) by Joseph Campbell casts a large net over what it is to hold a Western faith in distinction from an Eastern faith and how such distinctions developed among the varied belief systems over the ages.
Campbell’s book on comparative mythology includes, but is not limited to what will be reviewed here, the interconnections between East and West relating to ”the serpent’s bride” as well as the age of Moses. In one chapter, Campbell also discusses the marriage between the West and the East, which is an underlining theme throughout all of his four volumes in the Masks of God series.
The first two chapters deal heavily with symbol as Woman gaining substance and power in myth (as in metaphor) and in religion (as in spiritual worship) and how the mother goddess was further established among the varied vegetal cultures and intermixed with the occidental view which up to a time (prior to and parallel to the rise and fall of the Greek and Roman civilizations) was mainly that of the male-dominated hunter clans.
As the cattle herders from the northern regions descended and the sheep herders of the southern regions ascended, Campbell argues that the ancient world had ”prevailed in that world an essentially organic, vegetal, non-heroic view of the nature and necessities of life that was completely repugnant to those lion hearts for whom the patient toil of earth but the battle spear and its plunder were the source of both wealth and joy” and that ”in the older mother myths and rites the light and darker aspects of the mixed thing that is life had been honored equally and together, whereas in the later, male-oriented, patriarchal myths, all that is good and noble was attributed to the new, heroic master gods, leaving to the native nature powers the character only of darkness” (p 21).
This is why in so many fairy tales and myths the evil antagonist to the handsome young male protagonist is quite often the ugly, old witch/sorceress living deep within a dark forest. If there is a wizard, as in Merlin, he is usually presented in a more light-hearted and acceptable form, who is often the mentor or aide to the young knight/hero. The battle, one might argue, or the divergence was not primarily between races or ethnicities but between two genders: male and female. And who is to blame for the fall of mankind? None other than Eve, who took of the apple in the most perfect garden and she alone, as many believe, is to blame.
Even so, this divide of male and female establishments (as in identifiable groups of common behavior within a culture) seeks an audience to contemplate the connection among individualism and collectivism. Is it not woman who relishes in large groups and the man often seeking peace and quiet away from the crowd?
The woman, of ancient times, tended the gardens among friends and likely chattering away as loud as possible in order to scare away forging animals or evil spirits come to haunt, whereas men went silently into the wild to hunt for game, and on return these same men went into the cave or village shelter seeking individualistic fame awarded to the one hunter above the others.
What is the art of politics if not the gaining of power over men and women? Campbell fully explores what happened when the fate of men in myth finally accompanied the victory over the goddess-mother, and her return in the form of Christ’s holy Mother Mary.
In regards to the biblical Moses, Campbell provides several connections to other myths. A Western mind might well expect to read the following passage and immediately consider Moses:
”My lowly mother conceived and bore me in secrecy; placed me in a basket of rushes; sealed it with bitumen, and set me in the river, which, however, did not engulf me” (p 73).
The man in the above passage goes on to become a lowly gardener for a time and finally rules over the kingdom. The figure of this story is not Moses but Sargon, the Monarch of Agade (c. 2350 B.C.). What is further of interest to note is how both Sargon and Moses crossed over cultural thresholds in order to rule. Moses being among the low classes of slaves at birth rises only to be promoted over them, and back again to an outcast to herd sheep for a period of decades and return as prophet and once more leader.
Sargon’s father was a mountain dweller, likely those who hunted and lived in caves, and Sargon ended up with the goddess Ishtar, a gardener, who later raised the humble gardener to king over the lands. Such other myths, if you liked this one, to consider would be the Greek one concerning Erichthonius and the Hindu Vyasa which both relate mythic figures and their exposure on the waters.
Being rescued and raised by foster parents, the reader might take into account the story of Romulus and Remus, brothers who are told to have started all of Rome. Campbell is not in any short supply of examples and this line of thought is highly rewarding. Campbell gets really interesting when he begins to compare the two primary texts resulting in the Holy Bible: the Elohim Text and the Yahwist Text.
One of the primary marriages between the West and the East take place when Alexander invades Persia (modern Iran) in the years of 336-330 B.C. and ”gave strict orders that no sacred object whatsoever should be injured” whereas two centuries before the Persians raided Greece and destroyed temples and images of gods (p 239). Again, some two hundred years later, Persia attacks Greece under Xerxes the Great, who sent a fleet of 3,000 ships and fought those brave 300 Spartans at Thermopylae.
Alexander was Europe’s answer to chaos and order, as was Xerxe’s to the Orient, and ”within two generations of [Alexander’s] death at the age of thirty-three [the same age as Christ], he was celebrated in the Orient as a god” (p 240). It would seem that warfare had a large part in the marriage between the East and the West and their sharing and acceptance of myths/stories/beliefs. Campbell is anything but succinct when proving his point, as I am here.
I believe two additional points should be added here and they are both the treatment Campbell gives to Islam and Rome in the final portions of this book. They should not be missed since they provide a nice overview of how mythology asserts itself into religion and how this ultimately changes the world.
Occidental Mythology is a strong recommend for serious readers and scholars who will not shy away from a book rife with controversy in its statements connecting myths with religions, or its chapters that are weighted down heavily with considerable examples and sources that one reflects more often than reads.
CG FEWSTON is an American novelist who is a member of AWP, a member of Americans for the Arts, and a professional member and advocate of the PEN American Center, advocating for the freedom of expression around the world.
CG FEWSTON has travelled across continents and visited such places as Mexico, the island of Guam, Japan, South Korea, Hong Kong, Macau, Viet Nam, Cambodia, Singapore, Thailand, Taipei and Beitou in Taiwan, Bali in Indonesia, and Guilin and Shenzhen and Beijing in China. He also enjoys studying and learning French, Vietnamese, Cantonese and Mandarin.
CG FEWSTON earned an M.Ed. in Higher Education Leadership and Administration (honors), an M.A. in Literature (honors) from Stony Brook University, and an M.F.A. in Creative Writing and Fiction from Southern New Hampshire University, where he had the chance to work with wonderful and talented novelists, such as Richard Adams Carey (author of In the Evil Day, October 2015; and, The Philosopher Fish, 2006) and Jessica Anthony (author of Chopsticks, 2012; and, The Convalescent, 2010) as well as New York Times Best-Selling novelists Matt Bondurant (author of The Night Swimmer, 2012; and, The Wettest County in the World, 2009, made famous in the movie Lawless, 2012) and Wiley Cash (author of A Land More Kind Than Home, 2013; and, This Dark Road to Mercy, 2014).
Among many others, CG FEWSTON’S stories, photographs and essays have appeared in Sediments Literary–Arts Journal, Bohemia, Ginosko Literary Journal, GNU Journal (“Hills Like Giant Elephants”), Tendril Literary Magazine, Prachya Review (“The One Who Had It All”), Driftwood Press, The Missing Slate Literary Magazine (“Darwin Mother”), Gravel Literary Journal, Foliate Oak Magazine, The Writer’s Drawer, Moonlit Road, Nature Writing, and Travelmag: The Independent Spirit; and for several years he was a contributor to Vietnam’s national premier English newspaper, Tuoi Tre, “The Youth Newspaper.”
You can read more about CG FEWSTON and his writing at
A TIME TO LOVE IN TEHRAN won GOLD for Literary Classics’ 2015 best book in the category under ”Special Interest” for “Gender Specific – Female Audience”…
Finalist in the 2015 Chatelaine Awards for Romantic Fiction…
Finalist in the 2015 Mystery & Mayhem Novel Writing Contest…
Praise for A TIME TO LOVE IN TEHRAN:
“Fewston delivers an atmospheric and evocative thriller in which an American government secret agent must navigate fluid allegiances and murky principles in 1970s Tehran… A cerebral, fast-paced thriller.”
“A TIME TO LOVE IN TEHRAN is a thrilling adventure which takes place in pre-revolutionary Tehran. Author CG FEWSTON provides a unique glimpse into this important historical city and its rich culture during a pivotal time in its storied past. This book is so much more than a love story. Skillfully paired with a suspenseful tale of espionage, A TIME TO LOVE IN TEHRAN is a riveting study of humanity. Replete with turns & twists and a powerful finish, FEWSTON has intimately woven a tale which creates vivid pictures of the people and places in this extraordinary novel.”
CG FEWSTON‘s new novel,
A TIME TO LOVE IN TEHRAN, was published on April 2, 2015 —
10 years to the day of the publication
of his first novella, A FATHER’S SON (April 2, 2005)
“Thus one skilled at giving rise to the extraordinary
is as boundless as Heaven and Earth,
as inexhaustible as the Yellow River and the ocean.
Ending and beginning again,
like the sun and moon. Dying and then being born,
like the four seasons.”
found in Sources of Chinese Tradition, p 5