Many of us have heard and may even strive to live by the message “Follow your bliss.” But not all of us know the deeper roots of its origin and meaning, or of the 20th-century American mythologist, scholar, and writer Joseph Campbell, who said it. Campbell’s message is not as simple as it might sound: It was meant to be a doorway into a vast expanse of a complex philosophy that has influenced our culture during and beyond his lifetime.
Campbell’s work has a wide cultural reach—from musicians to writers to filmmakers. His work inspired artists to utilize the concept of myth. Most notably, George Lucas credits Campbell for the Star Wars
series’ structure of mythological motifs, referring to him as his Yoda. Myths, according to Campbell, are narratives that metaphorically inform our lives. “I don’t believe people are looking for the meaning of life as much as they are looking for the experience of being alive,” Campbell said. He believed in using stories from the past to make sense of our present world, allowing room for fluidity and change rather than depending on fixed meanings.
To sustain and further Campbell’s work, the Center for Symbolic Studies, located on 200 beautiful acres near New Paltz, will host a celebration of Campbell’s legacy. Celebrating the Mythic Life, a three-day conference from October 5 to 8, will look to the past, present, and future of Campbell’s work—work that continues to deeply influence our culture. “Myths are recipes for nourishing the soul,” says Conference Director Richard Schwab. “They help us understand and overcome difficulties when viewed as metaphor. Every once in a while, these old recipes can and may need to be cooked up again through using fresh ingredients to connect with the world we’re living in now.” Activities will allow participants to contribute their own work, learn about the interpretation of myth and dreams, and embrace mythic themes and motifs for creative purposes, both in their own lives and in projects intending to perpetuate this work.
Presentations will be interactive, experiential, and/or in lecture form, and will be given by leaders in the field of myth studies, including musician and storyteller Rebecca Armstrong, author and filmmaker Phil Cousineau, author Gioia Timpanelli, Jungian analyst
Linda Weissman, and Justin Spring, a poet, writer, and founder of Soulspeak, a video collage project of instinctive art forms. Phil Robinson’s Campbell-inspired band The Bliss Jockeys and Stephen and Robin Larsen, conference founders and biographers of Campbell’s days living in Woodstock in the 1930s, will also present.
Before he died, Campbell told Stephen and Robin Larsen that he felt his work was done and now it was their turn, which was part of the inspiration for the conference. “Robin and I and Rich [Schwab] went down to see the movie Finding Joe
, which is about Joseph Campbell’s legacy. We realized it would have been 25 years since his death. We did not want his legacy to slide into oblivion,” Stephen Larsen says.
Myths, like most powerful phenomena, are double-edged swords. Like ships, they can bring you safely to shores you never imagined existed. But if you start to think the boat you are on is the only one, that only you and yours can ride in it, and that it can never change direction, you crash into other travelers—travelers fighting to reach what are always, in the end, the same safe harbours.
The Celebrtaing the Mythic Life conference will be held at the Center for Symbolic Studies from October 5 to 8. Tickets, which include meals, workshops, and access to grounds for camping, range from $125 for single day admission to $325 for the full weekend. Senior and student discounts are available. (845) 658-8540; Celebratingthemythiclife.com