Monday, February 24, 2014

First Joseph Campbell Book on 'Goddesses'

Goddesses: Mysteries of the Feminine Divine by Joseph Campbell, edited by Safron Rossi, New World Library (2014), hardcover, 336 pages.

Although Joseph Campbell  (1904-1987) wrote some material on goddesses and included Goddess mythology in his lectures, this is Campbell's the first book (published posthumously) devoted specifically to these topics. Campbell’s Goddess material has been compiled into book form by Safron Rossi, curator of Collections at Opus Archives and Research Center at the Joseph Campbell Foundation (JCF) , which houses the Campbell archives as well as those of Marija Gimbutas and other scholars.

One might ask: What took so long? That is a story in itself. According to JCF’s David Kudler, “In 1980, when JCF president Robert Walter was working as Joseph Campbell's editor, the two men drew up a list of books that Campbell felt were important to publish. At the top of that list was a book on the feminine divine.” The project went slowly, however, primarily because Walter was not satisfied with the efforts of two previous editors who attempted the task, the first in 1989 and the second in 1997. “The third time’s the charm,” Walter says of Safron Rossi’s successful editorial work in the just-published volume. (See video interview with Walter at end of this review for more details.)

In her Foreword to Goddesses, Rossi,  a Ph.D. associate core faculty at Pacifica Graduate Institute, explains the influence of Marija Gimbutas on the development of Campbell’s work on the female divine, and that Goddesses was created to “honor the legacies” of both Gimbutas and Campbell. Rossi writes: “The exploration and study of goddess mythology has progressed significantly since Campbell presented these lectures over three decade ago. It is my hope that this volume holds the counterpoint to the idea that Campbell was focused solely on the hero and was not sensitive to or did not find of interest goddesses….”

Indeed this book, which contains not only the narrative but also many of the pictures from the slides Campbell used in his lectures, achieves that goal. It is valuable both for Campbell’s insights and as a historical document, showing us what was known on the subject nearing the end of the 1980s—some of which remains our best knowledge to date and some of which has been updated by later information, especially archeological finds and anthropological work.

Serving as Campbell’s Introduction to the book is a chapter titled, “On the Great Goddess,” which draws on a 1980 article by Campbell in Parabola and material from Campbell’s Historical Atlas of World Mythology, Vol. 2. The Introduction begins to explore what Campbell saw as a shift in male and female roles, which he calls archetypical, and differences between female and male magic; the Goddess in the “Old Stone Age,”and in the time of “early planters,” including archeological finds from Catal Huyuk; what Campbell calls “The Golden Age” of the Goddess, her subsequent “degradation,” and her “return.” These discussions include a variety of cultures. Campbell’s Introduction ends with this question:
 “And is it likely, do you think, after all her years and millennia of changing forms and conditions, that she is now unable to let her daughters know who they are?”

The next eight chapters go into more detail on these topics, include many illustrations, and delve into many Goddess mythologies from many different cultures. Chapter titles and some of subjects include: "Myth and Feminine Divine" (Paleolithic Culture; relationship to nature); "Goddess-Mother Creator: Neolithic and Early Bronze Age" (Anatolia and Old Europe); "Indo-European Influx" (spears, languages, burial mounds, suttee, Mycenae); "Sumerian and Egyptian Goddesses" (Mesopotamia, Sumeria, "Semitic Influx," Egypt, Isis and Osiris); "Goddesses and Gods of the Greek Pantheon" (special focus on Artemis, Apollo, Dionysus, Zeus, Ares, Athena); "Iliad and Odyssey: Return to the Goddess"; "Mysteries of Transformation" (comparison of changes in various geographical areas and cultures, "mystery cults," Persephone myth, "Dionysus and the Feminine Divine"); "Amor: The Feminine in European Romance," (Virgin Mary, Authurian legends, Joan of Arc, Marie de Champagne, Tristan and Iseult, Lancelot and Guinevere, Goddess and the Renaissance).

 In addition to the usual back matter, Goddesses has an appendix with Campbell’s Foreword to Gimbutas’s The Language of the Goddess, Editor Rossi’s bibliography of “Essential Readings” in Goddess studies (10 books by 9 authors), and a bibliography of Campbell’s works.

Goddesses is a welcome addition to Goddess scholarship and is likely to appeal particularly to fans of Campbell in general, to Goddess scholars, and to the growing Goddess community worldwide.

Interview with Bob Walter, executive director of Joseph Campbell Foundation

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At Saturday, October 04, 2014 11:37:00 AM, Blogger Unknown said...

I love this stuff! I incorporated an overview of the lunar goddess mythology into the plot of my thriller novel "Silver". I wasn't aware this book was out--I'll have to read it! Thanks!

Brian January


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Judith Laura

More blogs about /goddess/feminist theology/spiritual feminism/pagan/feminist spirituality/.