Thursday, February 11, 2016

Book 11: Occidental Mythology

"Contrast to this emphatically social emphasis the Indian idea that the ultimate realization of truth is to be experienced alone, in yoga, in the forest; the Chinese, that a accord is to be experienced with the Tao, the Way of nature and the universe, which is the Way of one's heart, as well. In the Book of Moses, on the contrary, the way of God, who is transcendent, is either within nor in nature, but in the group- this group alone, with its laws, which are the only facts of real moment to be known."

Dates read: December 6-26, 2015

Rating: 5/10

Perhaps I'm just getting more used to Joseph Campbell's writing style, perhaps it's just that The Masks of God has shifted to a religious tradition with which I am very familiar (not only the Judeo-Christian belief system I was raised in, but the Greek and Roman mythology that I've loved since I was a child), but for me, Occidental Mythology was the most accessible volume of this set for me so far.

In this third volume, Campbell talks about the mythology of the so-called Western World: Greek myth, Roman myth, ancient Arab/Hebrew myth, Zoroastrianism, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Like in the previous volume on Oriental mythology, I'm side-eyeing this category fraud a little: Middle Eastern myth of the ancient world is much more closely related to Egyptian mythology than the Jewish religion that eventually developed, but he clearly doesn't want to break it up like that because it doesn't fit his thesis. But even with nonfiction, you have to accept that you're on the road the author is taking you on, even if you think you know a better route.

His Western bias isn't as obvious as it has been previously until the conclusion chapter at the very end...maybe he feels less of a need to editorialize on home turf, but he doesn't shy away from criticism of this tradition either. He points out factual and logical inconsistencies within texts like the Bible, and reminds the reader that their holy books were often written long after the facts alleged therein had taken place (or not actually taken place, as the case may be). He also touches on internal conflicts and differing interpretations, and the power struggles that went on behind what we today would consider long-settled matters. Even through his bias, he treats all world mythology (including the Judeo-Christian tradition) as, well, mythology, reminding us in the Western World that our dominant religious belief system is, at its heart, the myths of a nomadic tribe of desert sheepherders.

I won't pretend that I'm not happy that I'm almost done with this set. While it's been interesting and sometimes illuminating reading, it is, like I've said already with the other volumes, very dense and challenging to read as a pleasure exercise.

Tell me, blog friends: Have you ever thought of your own religious beliefs as mythology?

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