Random Thoughts on Campbell, Myth and Glorantha

From: John Hughes <nysalor_at_primus.com.au>
Date: Sun, 23 Sep 2001 17:05:13 +1000

CAMPBELL, MYTH AND GLORANTHA (In which John blathers on about one of his favourite hobby horses and ends by asking what he hopes are some vaguely useful questions)


> Campbell's problem is that he boils everything down to catholic dogma, and
> he even toys with the idea that human sacrifice (while evil and sinful)
was a
> kind of ignorant pagan version of the eucharist. Somewhat reductionist in
> words.

At heart, Campbell is a Jungian, though to his credit he does occasionally admit variation in actual belief and practice. He shares the standard Jungian love of wide-ranging erudition over actual scholarship.

Jung and Campbell were among the last of the universalists, those essentially nineteenth century scholars (Freud, Fraser, Robertson) who looked for a single universal cause for myth.

Jungian approaches see myth as an essentially pan-human psychological response to life that springs from the depths of the psyche. No matter where, when or in what culture a myth originated, we have insight into its meaning because we too are human. Myths are seen as an expression of universal and pre-cultural symbol complexes or archetypes. Such approaches tend to focus on particular symbols (Jung's Archetypes - The Old Man, Wise Woman, Devouring Mother, Trickster etc.) or patterns (Campbell's monomyth or 'Journey of the Hero').

UNIVERSALIST approaches tend to utilise highly evolved, literary, 'standard' versions of myths contained in books such as the Bible and the Vedas (that is, they treat myth as a disembodied text), and so are mostly used and are of most use to depth psychologists, literary researchers, scriptwriters, authors, and New Age epistemologists. Interpretation becomes a sort of parlour game wherein you follow the strands of meaning: ultimate 'meanings' are largely determined by the rules you begin with. So for example, if you look at myth through the lens of the Campbellian journey of the hero, you will be able to twist, bend or squeeze a surprising number of stories into this predetermined structure.

In the academy, Campbell and Jung survive mainly in English and Folklore departments. They have *no* influence in social sciences such as anthropology. (Therein lies the sources of my own biases and the particular love/hate relationship I have with Campbell).

The social science paradigms of myth are essentially COMPARATIVE. Myth is far more than an isolated text. It starts with the understanding that belief systems, bodies of myth, ritual sequences, all have *histories* in time and space. Myths change over time, they have variations, they are subverted and inverted, their content and interpretation are negotiated or specified through a variety of power structures. Rather than read the priestly standard texts, these approaches seek to understand how actual people use the myths in their everyday life. Variations in the way the myth is told are all-important.

Comparative approaches pay special attention to the culture that produces a myth, the way a myth changes over time, and how it serves political or ideological power structures. They examine carefully how the myth is lived in ritual and other performance. Typically anthropological in nature, they seldom utilise a single explanatory schema. They view myth less as a text than as a form of social communication and negotiation. The meanings of a myth are not psychological/individual but public and negotiated. Cultural symbols are not primarily psychogenic in origin (which is what Campbell argues). There may be links to psychology, but you cannot reduce one to the other.

The prime differences might be summarised like this:

UNIVERSALIST                                      COMPARATIVIST

INTRA-PSYCHIC                                    INTER-PSYCHIC
RECEIVED                                               NEGOTIATED
'AS ITSELF'                                             EVOLVING CULTURAL
DYNAMIC So where does this leave our understanding of myth in Glorantha?

It's complicated by the fact that Glorantha is itself a myth - our myth, and the result of our psychological and creative energies. We tend to ignore the psychology and creativity of its inhabitants and jump straight to the godplane.

To date, we haven't much explored the creative psychology of Gloranthans (let's say Heortlings). We assume that most myths have some sort of truth relationship to the realities of the god plane. As players, we perceive the Heortling God Plane as a sort of psychological realm writ large, where internal energies or archetypes have a suprahuman, independent form - the gods and the patterns of their great stories. Entities such as demons - which in our world are psychological projections of our fears and base desires, in Glorantha are 'real'. Do Heortlings have fictitious creatures that they have made up as a result of their fears? Or do their fears in some way make such creatures real?

Even 'made-up' myths that are out-and-out moral or educational tales are assumed to be testable by the appropriate ritual or heroquest, and have some ultimate pattern or truth in the realm of the gods.

I suspect that Heortlings do recognise some myths as 'made-up' - some trickster tales for instance - but we haven't explored this or named the tales so told. Surely they tell tales of the gods visiting them as poor strangers, even though they know that under the Great Compromise this cannot be so. They must make up stories and creatures to explain their foibles, fears, and failings. They must have fictions.

We seem to assume that Heortling psychological energies flow from their connection to the god plane: where does that leave invention, art, or creativity? Can Heortlings think outside the lines of their myths? Or is their entire conscious being moulded around the fact that they can walk and see and interact with the ground of creativity and being. That rather than thinking increasingly abstract thoughts, they can *go* to the godplane and interact with and move and use and steal these abstractions in a very concrete form? This is so radically different to our own experience that if it is true it means that Heortling creativity and art and moralising and philosophising are very very different to our own. Every truth has some *concrete* existence, or is quite literally a pattern best conveyed in dance or ritual.

If the Godplane is an objective realm of archetypal energies then obviously Jungian and Campbellian approaches have a truth value far greater in Glorantha than in our world. They are 'true' in some objective, concrete way. The Journey of the Hero is a true pattern for manipulating the energies of the godplane, and the most reliable pattern for heroquests.

But that's not the whole story. Myths still reflect the varying interests of priests and warriors and farmers and weavers, they are told and understood differently, they have different interpretations, they change over time. Comparative approaches to myth are still valuable in Glorantha, though it seems there must be one *base* original myth that is more true, most powerful, and reflecting most directly the energies of the godplane.

Or is there? Greg seems to suggest that as devotees go deeper into their myths, they see them in a less direct and more metaphorical way. They are doorways to other things, they point to deeper meanings. Is this a process of increasing abstraction, or merely the development of a sense, so critical in heroquest, of discerning interlinking strands of meaning, the inter-connectedness of all things? The great experimental heroquesters seem to be able to discard so much of the ritual and interpretation of the cults to perceive the bare meanings and connections of the great myths. They learn how to cheat.

We know too that myths vary from clan to clan, and that rituals and heroquests based on variant myths still produce powerful results. Any myth can be tested by ritual and heroquest: I imagine that myths and rituals that don't produce the desired result are quickly discarded. So while social and ideological pressures do operate on Gloranthan myth, there are limits to which they can be stretched before they become useless in an objectively verifiable way. To paraphrase Brecht in 'Galileo', the aim of myth is not to open a door to infinite wisdom, but to set a limit to infinite error.

I've deliberately not invoked subjective/objective distinctions here. That's a whole other kettle of fish.

On this interpretation, it seems that Jungian and Campbellian approaches to myth have a particular truth value at least among Theistic Gloranthans. They offer reliable descriptions of objective reality. Myth and ritual do change over time, but there are particular limits beyond which both can be seen to be ineffective, and therefore untrue.

That's only about a third of the story, I suspect. Myths can be adopted in surprising ways, and remain effective even when their users do not understand why. Experienced heroquesters learn more about the nature of reality, its interlinkedness, and the limits of the possible. If we, as players, are to follow them in heroquest, we have to understand something of what they learn.



nysalor_at_primus.com.au                 John Hughes

There was a muddy centre before we breathed. There was a myth before the myth began,
Venerable and articulate and complete.
>From this the poem springs: that we live in a place
that is not our own, and much more, not ourselves. And hard it is in spite of blazoned days.

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