Campbell: functions of mythology

9780285640573In the concluding chapter of The Masks of God: Occidental Mythology, Joseph Campbell summed up the four functions of mythology thus:

1) “eliciting and supporting a sense of awe before the mystery of being”
2) “to render a cosmology”
3) “to support the current social order”
4) “to initiate the individual into the order of realities of his own psyche”

In a fuller description of the first and main function, he wrote:

Professor Rudolf Otto has termed this recognition of the numinous the characteristic mental state of all religions properly so called. It antecedes and defies definition. It is, on the primitive level, demonic dread; on the highest, mystical rapture; and between there are many grades. Defined, it may be talked about and taught; but talk and teaching cannot produce it. Nor can authority enforce it. Only the accident of experience and the sign symbols of a living myth can elicit and support it; but such signs cannot be invented. They are found. Whereupon they function of themselves. And those who find them are the sensitized, creative, living minds that once were known as seers, but now as poets and creative artists. More important, more effective for the future of a culture than its statesmen or its armies are these masters of the spiritual breath by which the clay of man wakes to life.

This summary and description might by useful in assessing the extent to which science is a mythology.

Advertisements