The Power of Myths (Joseph Campbell & Bill Moyers) - Book Summary


The book is a conversation between mythologist Joseph Campbell and journalist Bill Moyers. This is an amazing book that gives you a thorough understanding of the curious life elements such as life, death, love, marriage, etc., and will leave you spellbound.

Who should read this book?

  • Lecturer and student majoring in Humanities.
  • Writers, playwrights or anyone who wants to create myths.
  • Spiritualist, missionary curious about the influence of mythology in religion.


Joseph Campbell (1904-1987) was an American mythologist, lecturer, and writer. He is known for his comprehensive, insightful research into mythology and religion. Joseph Campbell's writing style and philosophy are encapsulated in the phrase "Follow your bliss".

Myths are stories that reflect the specific culture of a community.

In the process of forming and preserving the identity of a community, mythology plays an irreplaceable role.

There are many myths explaining the origin of life, the birth of a culture. From there, they act as a separate sign, a cause of division between communities.

The concept of "the chosen one" is also rooted in mythology. Some religions believe that they are the only ones chosen by God, the rest all have to convert or they will be destroyed. Belief myths promote unity among believers and build barriers against infidels.

So how was the myth born? They are stories that reflect the geographical and cultural origins of the region where they were born. For example, about gods, in each religion, each god represents a natural element such as wind, sun or animal.

The changing cultural context also entails myths. Myths can flexibly change over time, but their main purpose is still to give a community its own identity.

Myths have many variations. Don't put too much emphasis on the difference.

In mythology, which character can walk on water? You may immediately think of Buddha, but according to Christianity, Jesus can too.

Regardless of ethnicity or creed, people are still human, with the same fears, ambitions, and desires. That is why across many cultures and religions, we can see that most myths have common "templates" to convey the same message and meaning.

But instead of appreciating the similarities, many people try to highlight the differences. They worship their faith, forgetting that we all have the right things in common.

A good example of this is the war between Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. All three religions worship the same god, just with three different names. But it was this disagreement that ignited the violent conflict that has lasted in history.

“God is just a name to call. He is present in our thoughts and thoughts.”

Myths are guidelines for each individual in the community.

Why is mythology so important?

Myths act as a guide to help people understand and overcome fears and confusion when transitioning from one stage to another in life.

For example, getting married is one of the most important steps in a person's life. Every culture has many stories to explain marriage, often it is seen as the meeting of two like-minded halves. This legend of 'society' makes people feel more comfortable when entering life with their 'other half'.

Because myths are also abstract, people look to rituals and specific instructions so that people can meet society's expectations.

At the coming of age ceremony of the Aboriginal boys, they perform a blood-drinking ceremony to make an oath, symbolizing the weaning of mother's milk and becoming a true hunter.

In modern society, although it is no longer obvious, there are still some typical rituals. For example, when enlisting in the army, new recruits put on a military uniform, forgetting all their personal aspirations to faithfully contribute to the Fatherland.

Cherish life's experiences! Death is no longer something to be feared.

Myths and beliefs help us to have a more positive view of death. In a way, when we face death, we learn to appreciate the remaining days of our lives even more.

Life and death are like two opposite sides of the same coin.

In Indonesia, in some tribal communities, every boy has to kill someone before he can get married and have children. The tribes believe that for a new generation to appear, the old one must die.

In ancient times, people were not afraid of death. For them, death does not mean the end, it is just an inevitable threshold that the soul needs to overcome in order to save the life. That is also the reason why in many cultures, offerings are placed at the grave of the dead, who will need these when they go to the "afterlife".

Myths give us the belief that death is not something to be feared, it is just a basic, natural part of human life.

“Fear of death makes us find the joy of living again”

Myths bring us closer to transcendental concepts.

People often tend to materialize abstract things and find physical evidence for all their hypotheses. But in many cases such as the presence of God, we cannot find a fixed concept.

We also tend to think in two opposite extremes: there is only wrong or right, neither male nor female, etc. To visualize distant things, we try to relate them to closer things.

Time and space are elusive concepts when trying to explain whether 'soul' or 'heaven' really exists. If we only limit ourselves to the material framework, we will never understand the above categories.

The definition of "eternity" is purely abstract, going against human notions of beginning and end. When the ultimate truths cannot explain what is "eternal", people turn to myths, where it is called "paradise" or "nirvana", meaning to describe the state of in perfect harmony, regardless of the past or the future.

What will society be like when myths and rituals disappear?

When you think of "myth" or "spirit", what comes to mind first? Incense smoke? Fake god, fake demon? Or other variations? In modern society, myths are gradually pushed to the margins of culture and no longer retain their original good nature.

The most basic reason for this is that schools no longer teach classical education subjects, students no longer need to know about Latin or Greek texts, the Bible or the Koran, and gradually, the traditions theories about lost ancient cultures, along with the disappearance of the messages and lessons taught by our ancestors.

Furthermore, modern society places more emphasis on the individual than on the community. Rituals that bring people into the community lose their meaning. Instead we are only concerned with our own desires and goals.

No more myths to help people understand the movement of the world, many individuals fall into isolation, depression and loneliness. Longing to fill the void in the soul, people use different ways to feel transcendence, some meditate and pray, others turn to alcohol and drugs.

When the common rituals no longer exist, some communities create their own rituals to admit new members and show the difference. As with gangsters, newcomers have to undergo a bullying ceremony in order to join the group.

"School doesn't teach you to live life"

When the whole world merges into one, the myths also converge into one.

Through globalization, cultures have converged with myths. And when the world becomes one, we get a common global myth.

In fact, global myths were initially shaped by Hollywood. Hollywood's internationally acclaimed, high-grossing films like "Star Wars" or "The Matrix" tell the story of heroes from their starting point, mission execution to ending. A familiar triumph, bearing many similarities with classic mythological and religious stories such as: Jesus, Buddha, King Arthur... It can be said that one of the reasons why the film was so successful was that it was edited. immortalized myths, making it possible for audiences of all countries and religions to understand and easily relate the challenges and difficulties of the characters in the film to their reality.

Myth does not disappear, it will change itself to adapt to new cultural circumstances. One day soon, we will have a common global myth, one that anyone can relate to and understand the meaning behind.

The writer chose this book to introduce to you because even in modern society, when science can explain almost everything, people still need myths to understand the truth of life, the reason behind it. after existence and sacrifice. Myths bring us closer together, regardless of ethnicity or religion.