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Occidental Mythology (Masks of God, Vol. 3) Paperback – Deckle Edge, Nov 1 1991
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"I consider this, as his other books, of outstanding importance and scholarship, clarity and depth. I believe that anyone truly interested in the sience of man
will find these books a wealth of data, penetratingly analyzed and written in such a way that he has the chance of digesting them in his own manner."
About the Author
Joseph Campbell was interested in mythology since his childhood in New York, when he read books about American Indians, frequently visited the American Museum of Natural History, and was fascinated by the museum's collection of totem poles. He earned his B.A. and M.A. degrees at Columbia in 1925 and 1927 and went on to study medieval French and Sanskrit at the universities of Paris and Munich. After a period in California, where he encountered John Steinbeck and the biologist Ed Ricketts, he taught at the Canterbury School, then, in 1934, joined the literature department at Sarah Lawrence College, a post he retained for many years. During the 1940s and '50s, he helped Swami Nikhilananda to translate the Upanishads and The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna. The many books by Professor Campbell include The Hero with a Thousand Faces, Myths to Live By, The Flight of the Wild Gander, and The Mythic Image. He edited The Portable Arabian Nights, The Portable Jung, and other works. He died in 1987.
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Campbell organizes his series historically across space, showing how the beliefs of one age and place influenced those of another. In OM he discusses in great depth and with scholarly wisdom how the religions of the Levant were shaped by internal and external forces, and how in turn religious movements that originated in the Middle East interacted with the beliefs of the various peoples of Europe. Religious beliefs apparently do not travel one-way. Among other aspects of religious transmission, Campbell discusses the process of 'mythological defamation' the priests of newer religions employ to attempt to demonize the old religions. Using art forms such as statuary and painting, Campbell also demonstrates how themes and ideas from older religions survive in the guise of the newer religion as elements of the older religion become incorporated into the newer religion (if you can't demonize it, incorporate it). Some of the more interesting transformations in the West involve the snake, the Goddess, and the risen Lord, which have an ancient history.
After revealing how the attributes of one religion after another became incorporated in a succeeding religion (Christianity and Islam are covered), Campbell summarizes his thesis. It seems a core theological issues is this: If a Higher Power exists, is it (he/she) transcendent or immanent? The transcendent God is "out there" while the immanent God is "down here". In other words is God, part of his or her creation? Thousands of people have died fighting over this and other difficult questions.
The notions of sacrifice and redemption are heard throughout the saga, with many religions, lost sects and heresies sharing a similiar prophecy - that a Messiah would come who would lead them to victory. But before this was another belief-the eternal battle between good and evil. Perhaps the hardest idea for Monotheists is the notion of singular God and the presence of evil. This required the invention of yet another divinity - one that is evil.
Campbell traces the origins of Christianity, its strains and morphing theology. Along the was and from an Arian strain of Christianity (which virtually rejected the oneness of a Trinity) arose Islam, a warrior religion that originally worshipped a desert rock. The Kaaba, this rock, is still an object of adoration for Muslims and is circled by pilgrims annually. The ideas of sacrifice and atonement by at first an animal, then a person, had ancient origins - the sacrifice of the one for the many - well before Christian times.
Campbell continually tries to show the parallels between our modern religions and the now-forgotten rituals and beliefs that became universally imbedded in the Occidental mind.
Next a study of Buddhist, Hindu and other Oriental religions is undertaken. Somewhere along the line, East and West diverged on the issue of religious thought. One might say that Oriental belief systems harken back to the primitive in that multiple gods, representing various emotions, objects or ideas, were the norm. This was the way of ancient Greece and Egypt but both societies soon "evolved" toward a semi-monotheism or gave life to sects (ancient Judaism) that adopted the single god notion.
Of the three, this book was the hardest to comprehend, perhaps due to the foreign names. Still, it is a testament to the monumental research and innovative ideas of the author.
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