Primitive Mythology – Joseph Campbell

The Masks of God, Volume 1: Primitive Mythology
Joseph Campbell
Penguin, 1991
528 pages

I’ve used Campbells’ works and derivatives thereof as source material before; however, this is the first time I’ve sat down and read it cover to cover, instead of a chapter here, a section there.

Campbell explores the possible origins of human religion within the evidence left behind by ancestors long dead, both physical and mythological. He studies the value of imagination and metaphor in spiritual experience, and makes a noble effort to reconstruct what may have been the religious beliefs of paleolithic peoples.

The thing I love about his work is that he weaves in anthropology and psychology with mythology to create a multilayered piece of writing that is nothing short of adventurous. Not only does he give thorough explanations for why he makes his theories, but his style evokes the settings for these myths, both the gods themselves and the humans who worshipped them.

Primitive Mythology is an absolute must-read for anyone wanting to get past Neopaganism 101. His history of the various rites that came out of hunter/gatherer and agrarian societies will pretty much put to death any of the “Wicca is as old as the cave paintings!” arguments, but also offer ample material for creating one’s own primitve belief system.

In short, Campbell was a master at what he did, and this book is proof positive of that. Read it, enjoy it, learn from it.

Five pawprints out of five.

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1 Comment

  1. Wendy Mousseau said,

    June 27, 2007 at 10:47 am

    I’ve just recently watched an archival interview with Mr. Campbell where the discussion intrigued me. As an aboriginal member of the Sandy Bay First Nation Reserve here in sunny Manitoba, Mr. Campbell’s dialogue reminded me so much of the myths and legends within my culture. It’s true that the gift of storytelling has become a lost art, the teachings from them are very much alive. I thank Mr. Campbell for his gift of knowledge that he shares through his words. May they never be forgotten.


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