Joseph Campbell and the Lunar Vision

return to Winter 1997 (#31): EXERCISES IN SPIRITUALITY


On the evening of the full moon of August 1972, Joseph Campbell was lecturing at the Mann Ranch Seminars in northern California. I was on staff at the Mann Ranch.

That evening we'd surprised the guests by leading them on a long hike up to the top of the highest point of the coastal range above Mendocino. There on the rocky ground, covered now with blue-and-white-checked tableclothes, we'd laid out a sumptuous picnic supper spread. (What the guests hadn't known was that the peak could be reached easily by road from the other side.)


As we were preparing to eat under the deep twilight sky, Campbell pointed out what was going on in the heavens above us. At that very moment, he said, as the sun was slipping below the edge of the earth to the west, the full moon was rising over the brown brink of the horizon to the east. Joe explained that as the sun was setting, the Greeks imagined, in its last ray it shot forth an arrow that wounded the full moon. And it was for that reason that the moon would then begin to wane until reborn two weeks later when it would rise with the rising sun.


Campbell also said, under that darkening azure sky with the great lunar globe ascending with ponderous majesty, that now the most powerful image in the mythological imagination--indeed since the crucifixion of Jesus--is the vision of the earth from the surface of the moon taken by the Apollo astronauts. It signified that for the first time the Earth was able to look back on itself through the eyes it had grown in human beings. The planet had evolved self-awareness.


That Campbell could entertain both the ancient mythological image and the modern scientific accomplishment as evidences of the dynamics of consciousness impressed me. From Campbell, I learned a certain enlightenment: that achieving perspective is the highest enterprise of the spiritual life. After all, it's all metaphor. The goal is to be able to understand truth from over and above, and to not make others wrong for how they see the world differently. That was also the message I'd discovered in my homosexuality: that being gay meant being outside the narrow confines of "normalcy," over and above the opinions of people, so that one could see, with critical distance, from a higher perspective and discover that nobody was wrong--us especially.


Joseph Campbell, though himself not gay, offered a way to think about truth and religion that seems to me especially appropriate for gay people. The attitudes that follow from his matter-of-fact and compassionate way of looking at things would result in the world of acceptance and honor we as gay people long for.

If religion is one of the biggest problems the gay community faces, then we'd do well to encourage and support the transformation of religion.

Keeping alive the vision of Joseph Campbell is the work of the Joseph Campbell & Marija Gimbutas Library on the campus of Pacifica Graduate Institute near Santa Barbara. Membership in the Library supports the kind of revolution in religion that most of us seek. For info, write the Campbell & Gimbutas Library, 249 Lambert Rd, Carpinteria CA 93013. Click here for the web sites of: Joseph Campbell & Marija Gimbutas Library Joseph Campbell Foundation

Toby Johnson return to Winter 1997 (#31): EXERCISES IN SPIRITUALITY