Religion, Philosophy, Mythology: Land of 1000 Dances, God of 1000 Faces…


Hindu Temple in Sri Lanka

Joseph Campbell got it backwards, you know, with his emphasis on the ‘Hero with 1000 Faces’, as if the hero were really the important actor on this world stage, he with his light-saber or Bowie knife, long bow or trebuchet. They were mostly just movable actors on a movable stage, and not so smart for the most part, simply acting on hunches best articulated by others. The important aspect were the ideals they represented, the gods they served, and the food supplies they secured, for this was what would advance their respective societies.

The problem with Campbell’s analysis is that he is largely describing a literary device, not the world of real people in which heroes are definitely hard to find and much more nuanced in the roles they play, few in fact going through the formal stages that Campbell describes. In the real world, gods are more important for that very reason: they ARE literary devices, custom-built to serve a mythological purpose. Heroes are expendable. Gods are not. The fact that Hollywood might not even know the difference speaks volumes.

The epiphany, of course, is that heroes—and gods—can, are, and should be made to order to fit the circumstances and needs of their particular flock. Thus violent Europeans get a god of love while overly possessive Orientals get a god of non-attachment and hyper-sexed Middle Easterners get a god of strict prohibitions. Still it seems that there should be a higher common denominator than this and that there could and should be a higher level of spirituality to unite them all. A bicameral legislature of divinity, perhaps? Sounds good to me…

The problem right now is to advance any kind of spirituality in this period of peak materialism, not that there’s no interest. The problem is that there is no discipine. We’re so attached to our comfort zones that we simply are not in a position to receive the spirituality that is all around us, but anathema to our push-button ‘press-play’ too-easy lifestyles. Isn’t spirituality most easily found in and around nature? Our comfort zones separate us from that. But if religion is at its best when it tames us, is there then any difference between it and spirituality? Good question, more later…

But Joseph Campbell’s (‘Joe’ to his disciples) biggest flub was an attempt to turn the search for meaning on its head as a search for searching’s sake. That is simply wrong, and certainly is at odds with the hero’s narrative. How many of those narratives lack an ending? Very few, I suspect! It’s as if the only reason to have sex is for the pleasant sensation, and nothing else. What do you think? Now imagine sex with no happy ending—ouch! So Campbell is here guilty of contradicting himself and his celebrated hero-narrative ‘monomyth’.

The sensation-without-end is a perfect description of the psychedelic drug experience, though, and it’s no surprise that that’s Campbell’s era. Here, though, we’re not describing reality, nor literary narrative, but something far more sinister, and dangerous, i.e. nothingness, hardly a model for healthy psychic development. On the other hand, it’s not a bad description of the meditative experience, either, and best utilized that way, twice a day to keep the doctor away. I love to read Joe’s stuff, but it’s just possible that Campbell’s work is a bit dated for our modern era.

But the new spiritual era will soon be upon us, though, sure as Tr*mp. This is what happens when empires crumble. Some think that’s what killed off Rome, but no: that’s what saved it. And it will likely save us, too, if we can only use it to our benefit. But it’ll take more than the mantra of ‘growth’ to save us, that’s for sure, unless that growth is spiritual. It’s an exciting time to be alive. I can’t wait to see how the story ends. Joe was and is a hero, too, but that era may just be over. There are no heroes in an interconnected world. Don’t even get me started on ‘following your bliss’. “Do you know how to pony…?”