Creative Mythology: Another Conversation with Willi Paul

I just completed another interesting conversation in PlanetShifter Magazine with mythologist Willi Paul. This time we interviewed each other on the topic of what Creative Mythology means in the mythology community today. Our cross interview is below; if you want to see it in the Magazine, click here. I hope you enjoy it, and I look forward to any questions or comments that you may have.


The last volume of Joseph Campbell’s Masks of God is entitled, Creative Mythology, in which he speculated on how mythology will challenge and change the future. The book was written in the mid-1960s. Now, almost 50 years later, two cutting-edge mythologists interview each other on Creative Mythology’s current impact in the mythological scene.

Willi’s questions to me, and my responses:

1. What’s new, progressive, edgy or risky in classic mythology today? What’s controversial?

Our psychological understanding of the origins of myths both old and new is still growing. Myths are being used in therapy, in child development, and in books, blogs, and workshop sessions on developing creativity. Jung’s notion of developing one’s personal myth has taken hold, and there are several books out on the subject. The hero cycle continues to have legs because it has a transpersonal psychological base relating to the individuation process, so we keep seeing it (or cheap versions of it) in films and fiction writing. A number of books are now out advising how to apply the hero cycle in one’s own life. Regarding controversy, I would like to see the disciplinary gap between neuroscience (in relation to consciousness studies) and depth psychology be bridged, because that would likely yield still better insights into myths.

2. When do you think creative mythology started to have an impact?

For this purpose I will stick with Joseph Campbell’s meaning of the term, in which the myth arises from an authentic experience of an individual’s psyche, which inspires the person to communicate it as best as possible through symbols and language. Such a myth then can resonate in the psyches of certain other individuals to inspire their own meaningful experiences, which then too may be mythical and might also be communicated, and so on. It results from tapping psychic energy (libido) in the unconscious to stimulate creativity. This kind of creative process results in highlighting values of individuals rather than of human collectives and their institutions.

Insofar as the post-classical world is concerned, I agree with Campbell that creative mythology took shape in the 12th-13th centuries when people started seriously questioning the monolithic culture and values imposed by the Church and valuing individuals and their personal values (especially romantic love) more highly. This led to mythologies such as the Tristan romance, the Parzival story, and Arthurian myths. The impact of these among the upper and educated classes was immediate.

Where I would differ slightly with Campbell is in his leaving myths of the classical world behind from the perspective of Creative Mythology, as I explain in response to Question 3 below. This was a result of his focus on counterpoising the individual spirit vs. the forces of medieval Catholic society that limited people’s freedom and discouraged individuality and creativity. In the classical world, no central religious authority claimed authority over people and imposed doctrine and difficult standards of behavior in such a way, so there really were creative, inner psychological aspects of the classical myths that were not so obvious until the advent of modern psychology.

3. Can you explain what classic interpretations of old myths fall in a creative mythology POV?

I think the issue is not that creative mythology invalidates earlier interpretations of old myths – the old arguments remain – but that our understanding of Creative Mythology can enrich our understanding of old myths, especially classical Greek myths. When we look at them from the perspective of Creative Mythology, we see that many of them contain elements of Creative Mythology. Modern psychological analysis of classical myths (e.g., that of Edward Edinger) has shown that many Greek myths, as well as the classical mystery cults that employed these myths, have deep roots in people’s psychology and manifest timeless archetypal psychic issues that all people confront (or should confront), including even today. In so expressing these issues, many classical myths prove to be in line with what we now term Creative Mythology. Examples include various hero myths (Perseus, Jason, Heracles), Oedipus, and descent myths (Demeter and Persephone). When Campbell was writing Creative Mythology, these psychological dimensions were not as well-known and understood as they are today.

4. How do classic myths inform/support today’s climate change debate?

Carbon emissions and therefore the issue of global warming obviously were not an issue until recently, but some of the old myths did promote respecting and taking care of the land, the earth, and nature as a whole. Initially, of course, the earth and nature were the Mother Goddess herself. Any taking from nature (for food, for example) was ritualized to show respect and thankfulness.

Later, just to take the Hebrew Bible as an example, there the land was treated as a treasured gift from God and so was an important concern having ethical and cosmic dimensions. In the Eden story, Adam was charged with maintaining the Garden of Eden. Similarly, in the Genesis 1 creation myth, God was not simply turning the earth over to humans simply with license to exploit and dominate it, as was sometimes popularly thought. Rather, my reading of the Hebrew text (Gen. 1:28) is that this was ultimately a conferral of responsibility to take due care of the earth. Even our behavior can harm nature, as seen in the lead-up to the flood story where violence and disorder pollute the earth making the flood necessary to cleanse the earth (cosmos) and offer a new start. And Hosea 3:3 reported the consequences to nature of human sin:

Therefore the land mourns,

and all who dwell in it languish,

and also the beasts of the field,

and the birds of the air,

and even the fish of the sea are taken away.

5. Who or what is in the creative mythology camp at present?

I don’t think anyone (other than perhaps fundamentalist fanatics of any persuasion) would propose to create old-style functionalist myths to which Campbell contrasted creative myths, so the practitioners of Creative Mythology are not just a “camp.” It seems to me that most mythmaking efforts these days (including yours) fall within the meaning of Ceative Mythology. This is especially prominent in filmmaking because cinema runs through our entire culture. We also see mythographers, psychologists, and schoolteachers endeavoring to promote individual creativity through the use of myths. Artists do this on themselves.

6. In your new book, The Mythology of Eden, do you use creative mythology metaphors or symbols?

In my book I analyze the Eden story as written, so I was limited to the mythological material actually contained in the story, in particular its symbols. The story arose in a culture promoting collective rather than individual values, and it advocated and defended a particular religious point of view and doctrine (Yahwism) and sought to discredit and destroy the old pagan religion, especially the goddess Asherah. So the Eden story represents the kind of established mythology and doctrine that Campbell contrasted with Creative Mythology.

Nevertheless, one can find in the Eden story some elements of what we now see in Creative Mythology. For example, the symbol of the sacred tree (cf. the tree of knowledge of good and evil), originating in pagan religion, offered a way for individuals to access divinity directly and alone, to have their own sacred experience. Also, the end of the story, when Adam and Eve gain the knowledge of good and evil, in psychological terms represents an elevation and evolution of human consciousness to a higher level (ego consciousness), something portrayed in many ancient myths. This is relevant to contemporary efforts (as in the integral movement) to raise individual and human consciousness to higher levels that reintegrate the unconscious, the feminine, etc., with ego consciousness, which should assist in the Creative Mythology process.

7. Please juxtapose 2014 technology and creative mythology. What happens?

The relationship between technology and myth is complicated, but if we focus on what our technology means for developing “creative” myths, it is obvious that our new technology as well as our ideas about future technologies offer additional ways in which to express mythological material, and therefore can serve the purposes of Creative Mythology. Just think of science fiction. While myths ultimately originate from deep within the psyche, in order to resonate in one’s culture the narratives need to be dressed up in elements of that culture. So the technology that is all around us and is so much a part of our culture should feature in contemporary mythmaking.

8. What is your creative mythology evaluation of my Myth Lab and New Myths series?

It is a fascinating and indeed creative effort in exploring the various ways in which “creative myths” can be generated, and to actually do so. I look forward to seeing more!

My questions to Willi, and his responses:

1. How do you define “creative mythology”? Does it differ from Joseph Campbell’s as set forth in his The Masks of God: Creative Mythology?

Creative mythology is a creative, sequential process incorporating street and web-based experiences, analysis and transmutation into artifacts, symbols and other data through an ethics-based Myth Lab process. While creative mythology can be a group or individual program, the results from the Lab are meant to be shared with the neighborhood from which it often starts.

Campbell also promotes the individual in this mythic map making:

“… In what I’m calling creative mythology, on the other hand, this order is reversed: the individual has had an experience of his own – of order, horror, beauty, or even mere exhilaration-which he seeks to communicate through signs; and if his realization has been of a certain depth and import, his communication will have the force and value of living myth-for those, that is to say, who receive and respond to it of themselves, with recognition, uncoerced.” (The Masks of God: Creative Mythology, pp. 7-8)

2. Is Permaculture related to creative mythology?

Yes, of course. It is a primary source of both hope and angst in my world view. It is the augur that propels my New Myth series. Here, I am building a Post-Chaos Era that infuses new symbols, rituals and song in my “creative mythology prayer.”

3. Describe your own creative process when creating myths.

In addition to the above response, I often have a gut reaction to a scene or an object out in the world. This spark, if strong enough, then is inserted and tested in the first steps of the Myth Lab.

As I research then write the New Myth, it is often a stream of consciousness that produces the piece. Illustrations or the video then comes from this narrative cellar.

4. Assuming that you agree with Joseph Campbell that creative mythology has an individualistic derivation and nature, does this affect the possibility of myths produced in this manner being global myths? If you disagree with Campbell, please explain how and why.

Good question. If you are asking me if I speak for a neighborhood, a State or the planet at large, my answer is: “I’m trying to!” By the way, I have no reason to disagree with Campbell.

5. What do you consider to be good examples of modern myths qualifying as “creative mythology” that others have created, and why?

Peter Gabriel’s – Last Temptation of Christ
U2 – Joshua Tree
Bruce Cockburn – Nothing but a Burning Light
REM – Murmur
Led Zeppelin – Mothership

To various degrees, these musical journeys come from the places where the artists lived and worked as they built themes, symbols and Heroes and brought critical challenges to our consciousness in transitory times.

6. Do you believe that there are modern alternatives to creative mythology, in terms of kinds and functions of myths?

No. Campbell’s lens is a solid method – with a personal integrity – for me. Without the elements he describes, only counterfeit “myths” and corporate ads are likely possible.



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2 Responses to Creative Mythology: Another Conversation with Willi Paul

  1. Jenna Lilla says:

    Thank you for sharing your insights into creative mythology. I appreciate your work. I believe your ideas on the Goddess (as presented in your book) are quite applicable to the environmental issues we are currently facing. I hope to hear more from you about this.


  2. Thanks, Jenna, for your kind comments. I agree that if the ideas behind the Goddess were taken to heart in practice, our environment would be better off. I’ll definitely keep this in mind going forward.


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