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A review by Carroll Quigley in The Washington Sunday Star, 5 December 1964,

of a book:

The Masks of God: Occidental Mythology,

by Joseph Campbell.

New York: Viking Press, 1964

 

"Background on Rites That Now Surround Us"

 

THE MASKS OF GOD: Occidental Mythology.

By Joseph Campbell. Viking Press. 564 pages. $7.95.

 

   In recent years, we have become increasingly familiar with the writings of social anthropologists and have read the more popular of these, such as Ruth Benedict's "Patterns of Culture." As a result, most of us now recognize that people in different societies and in distant tribes see the world through quite different eyes and judge it with value systems quite unlike our own. But there is another half to that story; our own traditions and culture were entirely different (often the opposite) in the remote past.

 

    It is now becoming clear that the great change, even reversal, in the history of our traditions occurred about 500 B.C. when Greek two-valued logic and ethical monotheism appeared, inaugurating a revolutionary break in the development of our traditions and creating a gap which has made it increasingly difficult for us, on this side of the gap, to comprehend the actions, symbols, explanations, and values of our cultural ancestors on the earlier side of t hat gap. As a result, we do not see that many of the earlier rites, symbols, and stories are still with us, their existence concealed by a reversal of values which made earlier deities (such as snakes, fertility goddesses, and harvest deities) into figures of evil and sin, devils or witches.  Many of these earlier rites, such as the crowning of apple blossom or cherry-blossom queens, Maypole dancing, Halloween, Irish "wakes" for the dead, and many archaic signs, such as the physicians' symbol of snakes, the triangle-and-eye on our dollar bill, the fasces on our ten-cent coin, and the Earth-Mother's breasts as the volutes of Ionic capitals on government buildings (or more explicitly in the pages of Playboy magazine) surround us every day.  We no longer see the significance of them, however, because the ethical gap of 500 B.C., which made these rites and symbols sinful, but was unable to prevent their continued use, had either to absorb them or to conceal their earlier meaning. The same thing is true of the "literature" of that earlier archaic period which explained the cosmos to believers and which still reappears, in fragments of "old tales" and mythology today.

 

   No one is more erudite in these matters than Prof. Joseph Campbell of Sarah Lawrence College.  He has explained them to us in a number of writings of which his most recent and most elaborate is the three-volume "Masks of God."  This third volume, "Occidental Mythology," was preceded by "Primitive Mythology" and "Oriental Mythology," but it stands as an independent work and may be read as such.

 

   Anyone who takes the trouble to read it carefully will find that our world today is filled with survivals from the rites, symbols, and tales of the archaic period. Moreover, many readers will come to recognize that recent changes in our outlook, including much of our literature, customs and philosophy (semantics and existentialism) are largely unconscious efforts to reverse the revolution which two-valued logic and ethical monotheism made in the evolution of our beliefs and social traditions more than 2000 years ago.

 

CARROLL QUIGLEY. 

 




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