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New World Library Unshelved

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Thursday, December 19, 2013
ON THE GREAT GODDESS — an Excerpt from GODDESSES by Joseph Campbell
 

Joseph Campbell brought mythology to mass audiences, most notably in his conversations with Bill Moyers on PBS. In print and on television, his accessible and conversational tone riveted audiences without “dumbing down.” His bestselling books, including The Power of Myth (with Bill Moyers) and The Hero with a Thousand Faces, are the rare blockbusters (millions of copies sold) that are also scholarly classics.

While Campbell “covered the mythological waterfront,” he never wrote a book on the Goddess. However, he had much to say on the subject. Between 1972 and 1986 he gave over twenty lectures and workshops on Goddesses, exploring the figures, functions, symbols, and themes of the feminine divine and following them through their transformations.

These lectures, which are the basis for the new book Goddesses: Mysteries of the Feminine Divine, have been in Campbell’s archival collection since his death in 1987. The material has never been heard or read by anyone other than those who originally attended the lectures. So Goddesses offers completely new, previously unpublished material for new and longtime Campbell fans alike. It is also the only book in Campbell’s Collected Works that focuses on his ideas and study of goddess mythologies through time and culture.

We hope you will enjoy this short excerpt from the book’s introduction.

On the Great Goddess

Many of the difficulties that women face today follow from the fact that they are moving into a field of action in the world that was formerly reserved for the male and for which there are no female mythological models. The woman finds herself, consequently, in a competitive relationship with the male, and in this may lose the sense of her own nature. She is something in her own right, and traditionally (for some four million years) the relationship of that something to the male has been experienced and represented, not as directly competitive, but as cooperative in the shared ordeal of continuing and supporting life. Her biologically assigned role was to give birth to and to rear children. The male role was to support and protect. Both roles are biologically and psychologically archetypical. But what has happened now—as a result of the masculine invention of the vacuum cleaner—is that women have been relieved, in some measure, of their traditional bondage to the household. They are moving into the field and jungle of individual quest, achievement, and self-realization, for which there are no female models. Moreover, in pursuing their distinct careers they are emerging progressively as differentiated personalities, leaving behind the old archetypal accent on the biological role—to which, however, their psyches are still constitutionally bound. The grim prayer of Lady Macbeth before her deed, “unsex me here!” must be the unspoken, deeply felt cry of many a new contender in this masculine jungle.

There is no such need, however. The challenge of the moment—and there are many who are meeting it, accepting it, and responding to it, in the way not of men but of women—the challenge is to flower as individuals, neither as biological archetypes nor as personalities imitative of the male. And, to repeat, there are no models in our mythology for an individual woman’s quest. Nor is there any model for the male in marriage to an individuated female. We are in this thing together and have to work it out together, not with passion (which is always archetypal) but with compassion, in patient fostering of each other’s growth.

I have read somewhere of an old Chinese curse: “May you be born in an interesting time!” This is a very interesting time: there are no models for anything that is going on. Everything is changing, even the law of the masculine jungle. It is a period of free fall into the future, and each has to make his or her own way. The old models are not working; the new have not yet appeared. In fact, it is we who are even now shaping the new in the shaping of our interesting lives. And that is the whole sense (in mythological terms) of the present challenge: we are the “ancestors” of an age to come, the unwitting generators of its supporting myths, the mythic models that will inspire its lives. In a very real sense, therefore, this is a moment of creation; for, as has been said: “No one puts new wine into old wineskins; if he does, the wine will burst the skins and the wine is lost, and so are the skins; but new wine is for fresh skins” (Mark 2:22). We are to become the preparers, that is to say, of the fresh wineskins for a new and heady wine—of which we are already having the first taste.

# # #

Joseph Campbell (1904–1987) is widely credited with bringing mythology to a mass audience. His works, including The Hero with a Thousand Faces and The Power of Myth (with Bill Moyers), rank among the classics in mythology and literature.

From the book Goddesses: Mysteries of the Feminine Divine. Copyright © 2013 by Joseph Campbell Foundation. Reprinted with permission from New World Library. 


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