The Function of Myth
Joseph Campbell often described mythology as having a fourfold function
for human society.
Don't be fooled
into assuming that this is too dry. These concise summaries will be very
helpful in your understanding of Mr. Campbell's work. -- Lorenzo
1- The Metaphysical Function: Awakening a sense of awe before the mystery of being
According to Campbell, the absolute mysteries of life cannot be captured directly in words or images. Myths are "being statements" and the experience of this mystery can be had only through a participation in mythic rituals or the contemplation of mythic symbols that point beyond themselves. "Mythological symbols touch and exhilarate centers of life beyond the reach of reason and coercion.... The first function of mythology is to reconcile waking consciousness to the mysterium tremendum et fascinans (the mystery that is both awe-inspiring and fascinating) of this universe as it is."
2- The Cosmological Function: Explaining the shape of the universe
Myth also functions as a proto-science, bringing the observable (physical) world into accord with the metaphysical and psychological meanings rendered by the other functions of mythology. Campbell noticed that the modern dilemma between science and religion on matters of truth is actually between science of the ancient world and that of today.
3- The Sociological Function: Validate and support the existing social order
Ancient societies had to conform to an existing social order if they were to survive at all. This is because they evolved under "pressure" from necessities much more intense than the ones encountered in our modern world. Mythology confirmed that order and enforced it by reflecting it into the stories themselves, often describing how the order arrived from divine intervention.
4- The Pedagogical Function: Guide the individual through the stages of lifeAs a person goes through life, many psychological challenges will be encountered. Myth may serve as a guide for successful passage through the stages of one's life. For example, most ancient cultures used rites of passage as a youth passed to the adult stage. Later on, a living mythology taught the same person to let go of material possessions and earthly plans as they prepared to die.
To continue to the next chapter, "The Shadow", click here.