Joseph Campbell and the Idea of Mythic Dissociation – Religion as a Relationship

Over the past while, we have looked at the American scholar and writer on mythology, Joseph Campbell.

Cambell has a unique perspective on the different ways the ego may relate to the Godhead at various times and places throughout human history.

Studying in the library by MC via Flickr

So far we’ve talked about:

To conclude this ‘mini-series’ on a thought-provoking area of Campbell’s work, the last psycho-religious type he outlines is called mythic dissociation.

In mythic dissociation, the ego has a relationship with God. Mythically dissociated individuals do not suppose they are actually are God or for that matter may be equal to God.

Over the years I have talked to a lot of people about religion. I’d say the topic of religion and spirituality is my passion but that word doesn’t adequately cover the fullness of what religion and spirituality mean to me.

Cultura Hippie via Twitter

I have had in-depth discussions with students, seekers, gurus, a yoga-teacher, doctors, scholars, priests, ministers, monsignors, a canon and churchgoers from various Christian denominations. I have talked with Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Taoists, New Agers, Indie Christians, ET enthusiasts, shamans and First Nations Peoples. The list goes on.

Mulling over all these years of honest talk with others about the so-called ‘truth,’ it is pretty safe to say that everyone has a different take on religion and spirituality.

Some believe a particular path is superior to other paths; others say all religions are the same; some believe in abstract spiritual powers while others describe these powers as angels, saints, gods, goddesses, ancestor spirits, ghosts, fairies, sprites, elves, extraterrestrials, astral entities, tramp souls, time-travelers and/or demons.

Meanwhile, we have a cadre of individuals who despise all religion and regard it as an oppressive social construct. Some of these anti-religionists may be staunch materialists while others regard themselves as spiritual but not religious.

Image via Google /

Not just everyday people but scholars too have their own take on religion. I’ve mentioned this throughout the old – Think Free, so feel no need to go into detail here.

Some of the bigger names that come to mind are:

Most of these learned folk agree there are differences between so-called Western and Eastern approaches to religion.¹ But just how these two grand types differ depends on who is writing about them.

To get back to Campbell, he sometimes seems to imply that a warm and fuzzy Asian approach is closer to God and superior to an apparently cold and distant Western way.

Image via Google /

For instance, writing about human sacrifice in an alleged “garden of innocence” where a priest-sacrificer and victim, alike, apparently appreciate the “principle of the whole,” Campbell says:

For the West, however, the possibility of such an egoless return to a state of soul… has long since passed away.²

Such a vista was no doubt easy for Campbell to imagine, sitting comfortably in his study thousands of years away and not being the actual victim under the knife, hanging from a rope or buried alive.

However, in many cases, political coercion likely played a dominant role in human sacrifice. It seems reasonable to suggest that countless victims meekly submitted to avoid a far more gruesome and painful death, had they resisted, tried to run, and not appeared submissive.³

Put simply, ancient victims probably chose the least horrific of two gruesome options thrust upon them by the powers prevailing over their social and political world.

To sum, I respect Campbell for taking a stab at highlighting differences as he saw them among religious types. But I do not agree with all of his conclusions.

That’s okay, of course. It is the spirit of inquiry that matters. And I suspect that if Campbell could see what I am doing here, he would approve. Only the most shallow, tin-pot dictator insists that her or his way is the only way.

¹ This distinction between Eastern and Western religion is fast becoming passé in Canada and other countries that welcome multiculturalism.

² Oriental Mythology: The Masks of God. Penguin, 1976 (1962), p. 6

³ I do not remember Campbell mentioning this possibility. If he does, a reference to his work would be much appreciated.






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