Re: Random Thoughts on Campbell, Myth and Glorantha

From: Alex Ferguson <>
Date: Mon, 24 Sep 2001 20:41:02 +0100 (BST)

John Hughes waxes... well, waxily:
> 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.

Extensive studies have emprically shown that wide-ranging erudition outscores actual scholarship (as do many other things) in research assessment exercises, didn't you know?

> In the academy, Campbell and Jung survive mainly in English and Folklore
> departments. They have *no* influence in social sciences such as
> anthropology.

What, psychology isn't a "social science" any more? Hrm. (In my alma mater, they were in three faculties at once. Trilocation, wow!) Onyhoo, I propose to ignore Campbell entirely in this reply, except to acknowledge it would hardly be surprising if Glorantha was "more Campbellian" than our own world, given its origins (and to sympathise with John on his own Campbell Issues). But that's entirely a meta-argument, of the Advanced Greggology sort. (Though not invalid per se simply by that.)

> It's complicated by the fact that Glorantha is itself a myth - our myth, and
> the result of our psychological and creative energies.

It certainly changes the collection of "evidence", which when you get right down to it, constitutes inventing the evidence concerned, and then conducting trench warfare over its "truth". (In RL, this would get you "done" for academic fraud. In so far as this is possible in the social sciences, at least. <g>)

> We tend to ignore the psychology and creativity of its inhabitants and
> jump straight to the godplane.

If you take the thought to its logical conclusion, you might argue that the godplane _was_ the psychology of its inhabitants. (OK, not necessarily all, and clearly only the theists, and that's not even getting into the issue of which way(s) round is the causation, which is perhaps what's really at the bottom of what you're cogitating about here.)

> I suspect that Heortlings do recognise some myths as 'made-up' - some
> trickster tales for instance

Then agin, somewhat like Eminem, surely everything you make up about Trickster is true? (At least assuming it's authentically scurilous.)

> 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.

I think they certainly will tell stories they don't believe to be _literally_ true. Or perhaps I should say, "mundanely true", in the sense that "that happened in the Inner World, in Time". One might further distinguish between public myths, which may contain such "not literally true" elements, but nonetheless have private counterparts which contain magically effective truths, and "folk tales", which are purely public accounts (regardless of their literal truth), which contain no deep religious truths. (Beyond what Everyone Knows Already.)

> We seem to assume that Heortling psychological energies flow from their
> connection to the god plane: where does that leave invention, art, or
> creativity?

The way you phrase this implies that somehow the Heortling psychology or imagination might be _limited_ to "what the Godplane tells 'em". Perhaps this is so in some overall cosmological sense, in that they come from that "world", but they live in the environment of the objective, mundane world, and that informs what they have to think about also. (In other words, it makes no more sense to be a "mythic determinist" about Glorantha than it does to be a genetic determinist in the RW, and for much the same reason.)

> 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.

The phrase "an objective realm" is unfortunate here, given Greg's recent trend of referring to the other side as "the subjective realm". (But isn't in complete contradiction to it, since clearly it has both an objective and a subjective character.) But the existence of this realm says little or nothing about its nature. The Journey of the Hero one might argue is the "correct" pattern for heroquests in the sense that the other realm _is_ the object, or the place where the object is achieved, but I don't think that requires that we take on the other baggage of Campbell's thesis, if we're disinclined to.

> 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?

Both of these things. To say they experience things more metaphorical, or more abstractly, is as much as to say their experience conforms more to the god plane. (Obviously they continue to experience the inner world, by increasingly they'll see it in a god plane determined manner.) As you perceive the god plane better and better, you'll naturally be able to more easily learn about its "geography". (Or topology, to be more pedantic.)

> 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.

There are essentially two sorts of account one can give of this sort of variation; firstly that there's a single übermyth that they're all converging to, and differ from as a sort of religious experimental error, so that if you gathered them all together, and performed enough tests, one could produce a single, best, consolidated myth. (One might call this the Monomyth hypothesis, in the Gloranthan sense.) The second is that each myth is equally correct, in its own right, even where it directly contradicts some other magically effective example.

I think it's clear that both of these are descriptively accurate, to different extents and on different occassions. The God Learners, not to say Arkat, and even Harmast, proved that often you _could_ get "bigger, better" myths by combining the little variations. Other anecdotal experience, and at least by inference, how ticked off the Gift Carriers seemed to be, suggest that the differences can be magically significant in themselves, and hence that they too are a "real" part of the godplane in at least some cases.

> 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.

In the sense that some myths are magically effective, and others that are not (or are less so), certainly. Naturally, by heroquesting these can be changed, to some degree -- it's something of an academic point as to whether changing the mythology to beyond a certain point is impossible, or "merely" impossibly difficult. (Give me about 10W15 in an applicable ability, though...)

> 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.

The point here is more to do with what might limit _myth_ itself, however.

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

I'd suggest that's it's essentially the same. But it's a big kettle, I appreciate, and one can only manage so much fish at a sitting...

> 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.

Now that's a challenge, all right... It's clearly not the case that the other side is infinitely mutable (at least practicably so). One account of why this is so might be in terms of the "top-down" forces acting on the godplane, from "the transcendent" (I'm basing this loosely on Greg's talk at Tentacles). I think one can conceptualise this as a sort of continual creation, re-establishing eternal truths, regardless of whether the ignorant mortals sticking sharp pointy things into each other trouble to pay them any mind.

(Incidentally, this same grand cosmology of Glorantha also explains why you can be "mythically wrong", but still apparently magically effective. But that's another topic, methinks...)

How to describe this world, in its own terms? By god, that _is_ hard. The first step of this is knowing all the myths -- and that's an intimidating enough prospect. Then you have to try to understand the higher "thing" it is that these myths are describing...


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