| Ageeth Sluis |
I remember that it was shortly after I had moved to the US in 1989 that I saw the now iconic Bill Moyer interview series with Joseph Campbell, The Power of Myth, which showed an aged but nonetheless beaming and brimming Campbell as he took viewers, and most certainly me, into the fascinating and mysterious world of ancient myths, connecting symbols and archetypes to everyday lives and the world of now, my world of now.
Campbell was inspiring, especially to someone having come to the US to study. His way of being an academic was refreshing. A renowned expert on Comparative Religion, Campbell nonetheless took an “iconoclastic road” as a scholar, teacher and writer. He was, in the words of one biographer “an ecstatic scholar,” who, rather than adhering to the scientific rationalism that characterized the academy during the post-World War II era in which he found himself, recognized that “Life was not a problem to be solved but a mystery to be lived.” His “Tao of Scholarship” took him “beyond the hallowed halls of traditional academia and into a spiritual and psychological view of mythology, which embraces the transcendent Reality referred to by the saints and shamans that can be directly experienced.” 
It was this enthusiasm, irreverence and lived knowledge (as well as the fact that Campbell seemingly could care less about religious dogma and doctrine and that for him all religions and spiritualities were equal, similar in their messages and mythical archetypes) that grabbed me. In my mid twenties, the world lay open to me, beckoning, calling. I had already travelled quite a bit and had lived in several different countries and—in dealing with the unknown depths and terror that came with a lightning bolt onset of panic anxiety, Campbell’s fiery and vigorous enthusiasm yet calm composed wisdom would lead to other forms of travel: inward, of knowledge of the soul. Campbell’s call was that of the Hero’s Journey and it signaled to me a way to slay my own dragons.
In weaving webs of connections between enduring myths of the world religions as well as alternative spiritualities, between archetypes and symbols, between the journey and the search for transcendence, Campbell naturally borrowed heavily from C.G. Jung. Jung, the notable psychiatrist and psychoanalyst who studied with Sigmund Freud but parted ways with his teacher on the nature of the unconscious, like Campbell emphasized universality and connection in studying humanity, yet embraced its differences. Instead of the Freudian repository of individual repressions of sexuality, Jung identified a “collective unconscious” of archetypes and connected symbolism that allowed for a large range of spirituality. Jung’s clinical practice led him to the understanding that dreams often contained spiritual and mythic patterns that transcended the individual psyche and that were not specific to particular cultures. Even if symbolic imagery showed up in dreams of individuals, these symbols were demonstrative of “the constantly repeated experience of humanity,” i.e. universal primordial psychic patterns he referred to as archetypes connected to mythology.
Building on Jung, Campbell argued that myths and dreams came from the same place, and that they can help guide us to become, in the Jungian sense of authenticity, our true self. The Hero’s Journey then is our journey as we seek out a life of bliss and purpose. During our own lives, we—like the Hero or Heroine—will and must face and battle darkness, despair, loss, fear and other inner demons, conquering obstacles to return to our communities with the Promethean “gift of fire,” knowledge. He proposed that we seek out those myths that most speak to us and those archetypes that most help enrich our life’s journey. “Mythology helps you to identify the mysteries of the energies pouring through you,” he said. “Therein lies your eternity.”
What stood out so strongly to me then watching the interviews as it does now, was Campbell’s uncanny ability to understand how much we live myths today, here in the eternal moment of the now where all time and all life is made. His sharp insights into the intertwined relationship between ancient myth and today’s popular culture for instance (in the mid eighties he aptly recognized the Star Wars saga as the Hero’s Journey, today we rejoice in Wonder Woman) demonstrate that beyond the enduring popularity of the journey theme, the hero/heroine is not only a instructive device moving ahead or alongside of us, but also—even more so—is in us, as we embody this archetype day-in, day-out in our daily struggle, slaying our inner dragons in the quest for the treasures of wisdom to share with our peoples.
Back in my mid-twenties, battling panic anxiety, Campbell invited me to embrace my own life as a Heroine’s Journey. Going within in attempting to deal with the crippling fear, I learned—as Campbell attested—“the real dragon is you … your ego holding you in” and the only way to slay the dragon—in my case fear—was to “follow your bliss.” Campbell resembled Yoda, an aged, wise and yet quirky and insistent trickster presence, reminding me to “use the force.” Moreover, he told me that we do not have to do this alone:
“We have not even to risk the adventure alone, for the heroes of all time have gone before us. The labyrinth is thoroughly known; we have only to follow the thread of the hero path. And where we had thought to find an abomination, we shall find a god. And where we had thought to slay another, we shall slay ourselves. And where we had thought to travel outward, we shall come to the center of our own existence. And where we had thought to be alone, we shall be with all the world.”
The Power of Myth nears its 30-year anniversary. The series first aired on PBS in 1988, a mere year after Campbell’s death in 1987 at the age of 83. Yet, Campbell’s words, his message, his understated eloquence and hard-hitting wisdom and compassion ring true today retain their relevance, not only for me, I hope, but for many of us in these trying times where we can all learn to be heroes and heroines, if not for ourselves than certainly for each other.
Ageeth Sluis is professor of Latin American history and Gender, Women and Sexuality Studies at Butler University. Her book Deco Body/Deco City: Spectacle and Modernity in Mexico City, 1900-1939 (University of Nebraska Press, 2016) looks at how new ideas about femininity and female bodies influenced urban reform in Mexico’s capital city in the 1920s and 1930s. Other work has been published in several journals, including the Journal of Transnational American Studies, Journal of Urban History, and The Americas. She is currently working on a new project that focuses on the books (and appeal) of Carlos Castaneda, the history of anthropology, New Age spirituality, popular imaginings of Mexico, and indigenismo.
 Phil Cousineau, “Introduction,” in Joseph Campbell, The Hero’s Journey: Joseph Campbell on His Life and Work (Novato, Cal.: New World Library, 1990), xx and xxii.
 Carl Gustav Jung, Two Essays on Analytical Psychology (New York and London: Routledge, 1928).
 D.K. Osborn, ed. A Joseph Campbell Companion (New York: HarperCollins, 1991), 40.
 Joseph Campbell, The Power of Myth (PBS, 1988)