Joseph Campbell's Ten Commandments for Reading Mythology
Downloaded from the Mythos
Institute Website on April 6, 1999
Read myths with the eyes of wonder: the myths transparent to their
universal meaning, their meaning transparent to
its mysterious source.
Read myths in the present tense: Eternity is now.
Read myths in the first person plural: the Gods and Goddesses of ancient
mythology still live within you.
Any myth worth its salt exerts a powerful magnetism. Notice
the images and stories that you are drawn to and repelled
by. Investigate the field of associated images and stories
Look for patterns; don't get lost in the details.
What is needed is not more specialized scholarship, but
more interdisciplinary vision. Make connections; break old patterns of
Resacralize the secular: even a dollar bill
reveals the imprint of Eternity.
If God is everywhere, then myths can be generated anywhere,
anytime, by anything. Don't let your Romantic
aversion to science blind you to the Buddha in the computer chip.
Know your tribe! Myths never arise in a vacuum; they are the connective
tissue of the social body which enjoys synergistic relations
with dreams (private myths) and rituals (the enactment of myth).
Expand your horizons! Any mythology worth remembering will be global in
scope. The earth is our home and humankind is
Read between the lines! Literalism kills; Imagination
There once was a wood cutter who lived alone in the
woods. One day he awoke to discover a hideously beautiful creature
standing over him. One half of the creature was very beautiful, the
other half was very ugly.
"Who are you?" he demanded.
The creature said nothing.
The woodcutter, not knowing what else to do, got up and began his day.
The creature followed him around all day still refusing to answer any questions.
This went on for several days and the woodcutter's mind began to be distracted
by the creature and what its purpose was.
At times the woodcutter would only look at the beautiful
half of the creature, but that was impossible. He was always repulsed
by the ugly side. The more he was repulsed by the ugly side of the
creature the more he wanted to destroy it and keep the beautiful side.
So one day while chopping wood the woodcutter abruptly
turned and split the creature cleanly in half. The beautiful part
of the creature looked at him once and then ran off into the woods.
The ugly part of the creature turned on the woodcutter and attacked.
The woodcutter fought to defend himself the only way he knew how, by chopping.
So he chopped and chopped at the creature, succeeding only in making smaller
creatures that were just as ugly. Finally, in despair, the woodcutter
ran from the creatures and hid in the dark woods.
Now in the woods lived a witch. The woodcutter
explain his problem an the witch told him to go home immediately and pour
honey on the little creatures and whatever he did not to attack them again.
Perplexed, but not knowing what else to do he went home and began pouring
honey on them.
As soon as he began pouring the honey the creatures
began turning on each other and began eating themselves, growing bigger
all the while. Soon there was only one creature left and it was still
not very friendly. So the woodcutter ran away again to the witch
and asked what to do. The witch promptly turned the woodcutter into
a crow and gave him a basket of berries. The witch instructed him
to fly as high as he could until he could see the beautiful half of the
creature. Then he was to drop berries in front of the creature and
lead it towards its missing half.
The woodcutter did as he was told and soon the beautiful
creature was standing next to the ugly creature. The woodcutter landed
on a tree and watch as the two seperate creatures came together in a flash
of light. When the woodcutter opened his eyes he saw a fat worm.
The woodcutter had been a crow for a long time and was now very hungry
in a crow like way, so he ate it. So doing he turned back into a
woodcutter and went home a bit wiser.