The Way of the Animal Powers (Part 1) – Joseph Campbell

Historical Atlas of World Mythology Volume 1: The Way of the Animal Powers, Part 1: Primitive Hunters and Gatherers
Joseph Campbell
Harper & Row, 1988
125 pages (large coffee table book)

I was thrilled when I found this book and its companion volume (which will be reviewed at a later date). I love Joseph Campbell’s work, and particularly enjoyed his Primitive Mythology. The Way of the Animal Powers ties nicely into that volume. This book is also one of a large set of books, the Historical Atlas of World Mythology. It’s a decent-sized coffee table-style book, so don’t let the page count fool you!

The content isn’t strictly animal-related. Along with evidence of cave paintings, ritual spaces and other sacred items in the theoretical religious practices of paleolithic cultures, Campbell gives a decent amount of background on the evolution of humanity and its mythology. This is a fascinating read, with numerous threads weaving together telling the story of our ancestors’ beliefs, at least as far as we can surmise. The text is punctuated with a variety of illustrations showing specific examples; the combination is well balanced and informative.

There are those who take issue with some of Campbell’s material, particularly his attempts to globalize mythological concepts. While he does discuss archetypes and motifs, and demonstrates how different cultures (sometimes very far away from each other) may have affected each others’ myths, one should not take this as evidence of a monolithic mythology or that “All Gods are one God”. Still, if supplemented with other resources, this is an excellent read for the neopagan interested in the roots of pagan beliefs.

Five pawprints out of five.

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