Study Guide

The Hero with a Thousand Faces Epilogue

By Joseph Campbell


Myth and Society

The Shapeshifter

  • There's no end-all-be-all way to interpret mythology, so Campbell wants us to know that our mileage may vary.
  • He talks about the myth of Proteus, where grasping the thing you want to understand is impossible.
  • Modern society interprets myth in a huge number of says, applying it to religion, metaphysics, psychology, natural studies and others.

The Function of Myth, Cult and Meditation

  • Individuals are limited by who they are; they're only one small part of humanity.
  • The totality of man exists only in society, not in the individual.
  • Rituals of birth, death, weddings and similar events help connect us to this larger whole, making us a part of a larger community.
  • Being cut off from that sense of community can be painful.
  • Rites and rituals for death, the changing of the seasons and so forth, are an acknowledgment of the new phase in life and should be celebrated, as they were in ancient cultures.
  • There's another option: to separate yourself from the world like a monk and contemplate the universal human being within.
  • The goal is not to see, but to understand.
  • That eliminates any sense of self… as all becomes one.

The Hero Today

  • That's all a far cry from our democratic culture, which values the power of the individual.
  • We focus on the secular and have no more time for gods or legends.
  • In the past, people found meaning with their group; now, we focus on the individual.
  • Stories of heroes need to come from the contemporary age and reflect our unique perspective and sensibilities.
  • We can't do this with simple consciousness, which we use to solve our problems; we need to reconnect with the dream state.
  • The mysteries of the ancient world no longer exist: there's no more to explore.
  • As individuals in modern society, we must become the hero to save society, instead of the reverse… and we must do so in the utter despair of loneliness. (Way to bring down the room, Joe.)