Thursday, January 6, 2011

Joseph Campbell on tapping into your creative unconscious

The Hero with a Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell
The late scholar Joseph Campbell was a world renowned writer and lecturer on the mythologies of the world during his life. He did not simply describe the multitude of myths developed by all peoples throughout history. He also identified the broad similarities and meanings that wove common threads through the myths and folk beliefs of every culture that has ever been. Campbell explained further how the common themes found throughout the mythologies of the world acted as spiritual guide posts to help people cope with life, discover their spiritual place in their societies, and advance through the journey of life from birth to death.

Likely Joseph Campbell's most famous book is The Hero with a Thousand Faces. In this work he reveals how the vast variety of hero stories created by many cultures possesses common structures and meanings.

As well as being a meticulous researcher, Campbell was an eloquent writer. Every page of his books explode with thought-provoking ideas. For example, in a simple sense the hero's journey recounted by so many stories represents metaphorically the journey and development that any person can experience psychologically. A hero's journey takes one beyond the proper confines of a culture and lets the person develop by gaining new experiences and perspectives. Campbell also notes that people, both real and fictional, sometimes refuse to take the journey and discover the higher meanings of their lives and what they can give to society. Those who "refuse the call" will persist in an immature state of consciousness. They will be trapped by their own limitations and unable to fully contribute to society.

Today I have selected a quote from The Hero with a Thousand Faces that touched me with the encouragement it offered for those seeking a creative life. The good news is that anyone can potentially tap into the free thinking zone of the unconscious and loosen limitations. The bad news is that you might be risking madness if you look too far.

From The Hero With a Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell, Chapter 1. The Call to Adventure

"Willed introversion, in fact, is one of the classic implements of creative genius and can be employed as a deliberate device. It drives the psychic energies into depth and activates the lost continent of unconscious infantile and archetypal images. The result, of course, may be a disintegration of consciousness more or less complete (neurosis, psychosis: the plight of the spellbound Daphne); but on the other hand, if the personality is able to absorb and integrate the new forces, there will be experienced an almost super-human degree of self-consciousness and masterful control. This is a basic principle of the Indian disciplines of yoga. It has been the way, also, of many creative spirits in the West. It cannot be described, quite, as an answer to any specific call. Rather, it is a deliberate, terrific refusal to respond to anything but the deepest, highest, richest answer to the as yet unknown demand of some waiting void within: a kind of total strike, or rejection of the offered terms of life, as a result of which some power of transformation carries the problem to a plane of new magnitudes, where it is suddenly and finally resolved."

I have been studying the writings of Joseph Campbell for about four years. My hope is that consideration of his many wise teachings will make be a better fantasy writer. So far I can say with certainty that Joseph Campbell has taught me why I write fantasy epics with heroic adventure. Many people before have crafted tales of heroes. Many people after me will do so. And people will always read them because the hero's journey beckons us all.