60 of the Most Insightful Joseph Campbell Quotes

Joseph Campbell is a renowned mythologist, writer and lecturer. He is best known for his work in comparative mythology and the analysis of world myths. He was one of the most influential thinkers and storytellers of the twentieth century and his work crossed over from academia to pop culture and even influenced the Star Wars Movies.

He was a writer, a professor, and a scholar who had an interest in mythology. Campbell’s work has influenced many aspects of modern culture, including literature, psychology and film making.

Mr. Campbell  was born in White Plains, New York on March 26, 1904. He was the son of a businessman and studied at Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire from 1922-1925.

Campbell began his academic career as a professor of literature at Sarah Lawrence College in Bronxville, New York. He then became the chair of the department of fine arts at Rollins College in Winter Park, Florida before joining the faculty at the University of California in Los Angeles (UCLA) where he taught for over thirty years until his retirement in 1976.

Campbell’s magnum opus is his book The Hero with a Thousand Faces (1949) in which he discusses his theory of the journey of the archetypal hero found in world mythologies – this is know as the hero’s journey.Campbell has published other notable books including Primitive Mythology, Occidental Mythology, Oriental Mythology, and Creative Mythology.

Joseph Campbell quotes

Here are 60 of the most insightful Joseph Campbell quotes.

  1. “We must be willing to let go of the life we planned so as to have the life that is waiting for us.”
  2. “Your sacred space is where you can find yourself over and over again.”
  3. “If you do follow your bliss you put yourself on a kind of track that has been there all the while, waiting for you, and the life that you ought to be living is the one you are living. Follow your bliss and don’t be afraid, and doors will open where you didn’t know they were going to be.”
  4. “Find a place inside where there’s joy, and the joy will burn out the pain.”
  5. “The experience of eternity right here and now is the function of life. Heaven is not the place to have the experience; here is the place to have the experience.”
  6. “The privilege of a lifetime is being who you are.”
  7. “If the path before you is clear, you’re probably on someone else’s.”
  8. “Myths are public dreams, dreams are private myths.”
  9. “Life is like arriving late for a movie, having to figure out what was going on without bothering everybody with a lot of questions, and then being unexpectedly called away before you find out how it ends.”
  10. “The goal of life is to make your heartbeat match the beat of the universe, to match your nature with nature.”
  11. “The agony of breaking through personal limitations is the agony of spiritual growth.”
  12. “We’re not on our journey to save the world but to save ourselves. But in doing that you save the world. The influence of a vital person vitalizes.”
  13. “Half the people in the world think that the metaphors of their religious traditions, for example, are facts. And the other half contends that they are not facts at all. As a result we have people who consider themselves believers because they accept metaphors as facts, and we have others who classify themselves as atheists because they think religious metaphors are lies.”
  14. “All religions are true but none are literal.”
  15. “Not all who hesitate are lost. The psyche has many secrets in reserve. And these are not disclosed unless required.”
  16. “And all you have to do to transform your hell into a paradise is to turn your fall into a voluntary act. It’s a very interesting shift of perspective and that’s all it is… joyful participation in the sorrows and everything changes.”
  17. “Instead of clearing his own heart the zealot tries to clear the world.”
  18. “The demon that you can swallow gives you its power, and the greater life’s pain, the greater life’s reply.”
  19. “The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure you seek.”
  20. “Sit in a room and read–and read and read. And read the right books by the right people. Your mind is brought onto that level, and you have a nice, mild, slow-burning rapture all the time.”
  21. “Mythology is not a lie, mythology is poetry, it is metaphorical. It has been well said that mythology is the penultimate truth–penultimate because the ultimate cannot be put into words. It is beyond words. Beyond images, beyond that bounding rim of the Buddhist Wheel of Becoming. Mythology pitches the mind beyond that rim, to what can be known but not told.”
  22. “Myth is much more important and true than history. History is just journalism and you know how reliable that is.”
  23. “When you find a writer who really is saying something to you, read everything that writer has written and you will get more education and depth of understanding out of that than reading a scrap here and a scrap there and elsewhere. Then go to people who influenced that writer, or those who were related to him, and your world builds together in an organic way that is really marvelous.”
  24. “Regrets are illuminations come too late.”
  25. “A bit of advice given to a young Native American at the time of his initiation: as you go the way of life, you will see a great chasm. Jump. It is not as wide as you think.”
  26. “As you proceed through life, following your own path, birds will s**t on you. Don’t bother to brush it off. Getting a comedic view of your situation gives you spiritual distance. Having a sense of humor saves you.”
  27. “Apocalypse does not point to a fiery Armageddon but to the fact that our ignorance and our complacency are coming to an end… The exclusivism of there being only one way in which we can be saved, the idea that there is a single religious group that is in sole possession of the truth—that is the world as we know it that must pass away. What is the kingdom? It lies in our realization of the ubiquity of the divine presence in our neighbors, in our enemies, in all of us.”
  28. “We’re so engaged in doing things to achieve purposes of outer value that we forget the inner value, the rapture that is associated with being alive, is what it is all about.”
  29. “The latest incarnation of Oedipus, the continued romance of Beauty and the Beast, stands this afternoon on the corner of 42nd Street and Fifth Avenue, waiting for the traffic light to change.”
  30. “Then, when looking back at your life, you will see that the moments which seemed to be great failures followed by wreckage were the incidents that shaped the life you have now. You’ll see that this is really true. Nothing can happen to you that is not positive. Even though it looks and feels at the moment like a negative crisis, it is not. The crisis throws you back, and when you are required to exhibit strength, it comes.”
  31. The Hero Path – “We have not even to risk the adventure alonefor the heroes of all time have gone before us.The labyrinth is thoroughly known …we have only to follow the thread of the hero path.And where we had thought to find an abominationwe shall find a God.And where we had thought to slay anotherwe shall slay ourselves. Where we had thought to travel outwards we shall come to the center of our own existence. And where we had thought to be alone we shall be with all the world.”
  32. “When we quit thinking primarily about ourselves and our own self-preservation, we undergo a truly heroic transformation of consciousness.”
  33. “Following your bliss is not self-indulgent, but vital; your whole physical system knows that this is the way to be alive in this world and the way to give to the world the very best that you have to offer. There IS a track just waiting for each of us and once on it, doors will open that were not open before and would not open for anyone else.”
  34. “The way to find out about happiness is to keep your mind on those moments when you feel most happy, when you are really happy — not excited, not just thrilled, but deeply happy. This requires a little bit of self-analysis. What is it that makes you happy? Stay with it, no matter what people tell you. This is what is called following your bliss.”
  35. “If you are falling….dive.”
  36. “The black moment is the moment when the real message of transformation is going to come. At the darkest moment comes the light.”
  37. “The job of an educator is to teach students to see vitality in themselves.”
  38. “Computers are like Old Testament gods; lots of rules and no mercy.”
  39. “It is by going down into the abyss that we recover the treasures of life. Where you stumble, there lies your treasure.”
  40. “Myth is what we call other people’s religion.”
  41. “I always feel uncomfortable when people speak about ordinary mortals because I’ve never met an ordinary man, woman or child.”
  42. “The fates lead him who will; him who won’t they drag.”
  43. “You are the Hero of your own Story.”
  44. “Preachers err by trying to talk people into belief; better they reveal the radiance of their own discovery.”
  45. “The meaning of life is whatever you ascribe it to be. Being alive is the meaning. Love is a friendship set to music.”
  46. “The first step to the knowledge of the wonder and mystery of life is the recognition of the monstrous nature of the earthly human realm as well as its glory, the realization that this is just how it is and that it cannot and will not be changed. Those who think they know how the universe could have been – had they created it, without pain, without sorrow, without time, without death, are unfit for illumination.”
  47. “It may be a species of impudence to think that the way you understand God is the way God is.”
  48. “Participate joyfully in the sorrows of the world. We cannot cure the world of sorrows, but we can choose to live in joy.”
  49. “It is only when a man tames his own demons that he becomes the king of himself if not of the world.”
  50. “As Freud has shown, blunders are not the merest chance. They are the result of suppressed desires and conflicts. They are ripples on the surface of life, produced by unsuspected springs. And these may be very deep – as deep as the soul itself. The blunder may amount to the opening of a destiny.”
  51. “The hero of yesterday becomes the tyrant of tomorrow, unless he crucifies himself today.”
  52. “Poets are simply those who have made a profession and a lifestyle of being in touch with their bliss.”
  53. “Revolution doesn’t have to do with smashing something; it has to do with bringing something forth. If you spend all your time thinking about that which you are attacking, then you are negatively bound to it. You have to find the zeal in yourself and bring that out.”
  54. “Mythology, in other words, is psychology misread as biography, history, and cosmology.”
  55. “Marriage is not a simple love affair, it’s an ordeal, and the ordeal is the sacrifice of ego to a relationship in which two have become one.”
  56. “The psychological dangers through which earlier generations were guided by the symbols and spiritual exercises of their mythological and religious inheritance, we today (in so far as we are unbelievers, or, if believers, in so far as our inherited beliefs fail to represent the real problems of contemporary life) must face alone, or, at best with only tentative, impromptu, and not often very effective guidance. This is our problem as modern, “enlightened” individuals, for whom all gods and devils have been rationalized out of existence.”
  57. “If you want to understand what’s most important to a society, don’t examine its art or literature, simply look at its biggest buildings.”
  58. “Tragedy is an unfinished comedy.”
  59. “What each must seek in his life never was on land or sea. It is something out of his own unique potentiality for experience, something that never has been and never could have been experienced by anyone else.”
  60. “Clearly, mythology is no toy for children. Nor is it a matter of archaic, merely scholarly concern, of no moment to modern men of action. For its symbols (whether in the tangible form of images or in the abstract form of ideas) touch and release the deepest centers of motivation, moving literate and illiterate alike, moving mobs, moving civilizations.”
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Video: Joseph Campbell and the Myth of the Hero’s Journey

This video explores the relationship between mythology and the unconscious, and look at the monomyth which is what Joseph Campbell called the myth of the hero’s journey.

Summary of Joseph Campbell Quotes

The extraordinary mind of Joseph Campbell (1904-1987) connected mythologies and religions in a way that perhaps no other mind can. His insights have provided interesting avenues of thought for many and have allowed our imaginations to soar.  He was undoubtably one of the 20th century’s most remarkable individuals. In finding his path, he leads others to find their own. His wisdom will live on in the lives of many heroes.

Joseph Campbell used modern media – mostly Television – to popularize mythology and reach a large audience.

Let yourself be one of them with these timeless insights that help us see the similarities and connections between myth and religion and see trends over time and across cultures. Joseph Campbell helped us see how we are all connected at a global level.

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Image Credit WikiMedia Commons

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