Saturday, August 20, 2011

Campbell's Four Functions of Myth

Joseph Campbell’s pinnacle studies produced an all-encompassing classification of mythology.  Mythology serves four functions: The Metaphysical, Cosmological, Sociological, and Pedagogical.  

1.  The Metaphysical function serves to awaken the consciousness of its consumers to a reality lying just beyond the veil of normal perception.  This is a spiritual and religious purpose meant to inspire a sense of awe and reverence to the great mystery of existence.  Campbell spoke of this classification also as a mystical one.  Myth seeks to lead all to the fundamental conviction that there is unity in the universe.  The universe is the one (uni-) statement (verse) of all there is.  There is no separation, division, or segmentation.  One thing is not a part of the whole.  Each thing is the whole of the holarchy.  To create and maintain an individual’s immanent experience of a transcendent reality, to inspire one to look into the night sky and surrender to the wonder of it all, to stand in complete awe of the absolute mystery of the universe and the self… this is the Metaphysical function of mythology.
 2.  The second function of mythology is the Cosmological.  The Cosmological function provides the boundary conditions of the universe, explaining the origins, shape, size, location, and birth and death dates of things such as time, space, matter, energy, biological organisms, and the universe as a whole.  Humanity’s mythology and philosophy in this respect is incredibly sophisticated.  Each culture contains its own creation story.  A majority of religions seek to provide a framework in which this universe resides and includes many other realms of existence.  The Buddhist cosmology is analogous of the psyche and states of consciousness that sentient beings have access to.  Another philosophical attempt at this game lies within the sciences, especially in biology, astronomy, geology, etc.  The scientific cosmology has served its people well, eliminating many archaic ideas while converging with others.   Through the process of elimination mankind is edging closer to a more accurate representation of What’s Really Going On, and to be thanked is none other than the Cosmological function of mythology.
3.  The third function of mythology is the Sociological, dealing with validating the order and ideas of a culture.  Myth can provide a model of social behavior that, when adhered to, makes for a not-so-squeeky cog in the great machine.  Parables and fables guide morality.  Myth disseminate geographically confined fixed law, such as “thou shalt not kill” to set limits for those unable to approach a post-conventional level of morality.  In the Vedic society of the Hindus society is ordered in a very specific and efficient fashion (albeit with extremely decreased social mobility) and justified by being tied into the mythology of the land.  Without this order carried out ritually, the gods and the universe are not reified and thus the cosmos itself crumbles.  The Scoiological function creates social order and reason and validates it for those living within it, allowing for consensual agreement on what is and is not allowed.
4.  The Pedagogical function of mythology serves the psychological sphere of human existence.  By establishing rites of passage into critical stages of life, from dependency to maturity, old age, and finally death, myth provides guideposts and beacons to serve as a reminder that there is a purpose.  This is to allow a sense of comfort in the entire process, as the individual remembers that he is not the first and certaintly not the last to embark upon this Hero’s Journey, regardless how far along he arrives.  This adventure of experience is tied directly to the ground of all being, the unity of the Metaphysical function.  Not only is it all okay, but there is a well worn and well lit path to follow if attention is paid and warnings heeded.  This centers an individual and brings him into harmony with the way things are and have been.  These external signs are symbolic for what is within, and to find commonalities with myth is to find a self-narrative for one’s own life primed for the injection of whatever meaning one can brave.  The Pedagogical function presents myth as a teacher, an outline for life, and reference manual for existence.