Friday, June 22, 2007

Harry Willson : Freedom From God and Myth and Mortality, and Movies About Joseph Campbell

I listened to a very interesting interview on Infidel Guy's show with Harry Wilson, author of a book called Freedom From God. He grew up as a believer and went to Princeton Theological Seminary. He eventually grew to disbelieve in the literal interpretation of Christianity and grew to love the works of Joseph Campbell, even before his The Power of Myth interviews aired. (More about The Power of Myth and Joseph Campbell in the end notes of this post including a 56 minute video about his life and works plus many other videos and interviews with him!)

Willson said that he remembers when he was a missionary and people who were not religious would show him leaves and trees and hands and feet and talk about the wonder and beauty and mystery they saw in the natural reality around them and he said his response was usually, "Well God made all that", but he was not amazed or intrigued by it.

He mentioned Campbell's expansive view of mythology and wisdom and comparative religion as being very influential to him getting over his disillusionment with leaving religion. I find resonance with that as Campbell's work has been inspiring to me as well.

Infidel Guy's Podcast

Here is Infidel Guy's interview with Harry Willson for listening:


Willson's books are available on at:

Freedom from God: Restoring the Sense of Wonder


Myth and Mortality: Testing the Stories


Here is an excerpt from Harry's web site:


Harry Willson's formal schooling include a B.A. in chemistry and math at Lafayette College, Easton, PA, 1953 [summa cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa], and an M.Dv. [Master of Divinity] in ancient mid-east language and literature at Princeton Theological Seminary. He also became bilingual, through one year of Spanish Studies at the University of Madrid, and he has since studied Spanish, literature, philosophy, mythology and theatre arts at the University of New Mexico. He has the Diploma de EspaƱol como Lengua Extranjera from the University of Salamanca.

He learned more by working: truck farming through high school and college in Williamsport, PA, and jackhammering in Lansdale, PA. He served as student pastor at the Presbyterian Church, Hamburg, NJ, for four years while in seminary.

In 1958 he and his wife and three children moved to New Mexico, where he served as bi-lingual missionary pastor, in Bernalillo, Alameda and Placitas for eight years. He served as Permanent Clerk of the Presbytery of Rio Grande, Chairman of Enlistments and Candidates, Chairman of the Commission on Race, and Moderator of the Presbytery.

In 1966 he left the church, in sorrow and anger, mostly over the Vietnam War. He taught school for ten years, at the Albuquerque Academy and at Sandia Preparatory School.

Since 1976 he has been self-employed and building a body of work as a writer. He has assisted in his wife's business, Draperies by Adela, as bookkeeper, estimator and installer, and has managed several businesses of his own, including worm ranching, organic gardening, conducting dream workshops, raising rabbits, selling fireplace inserts and caning chairs.

Joseph Campbell, George Lucas, Star Wars

Joseph Campbell was the great American mythologist whose works inspired George Lucas's hero archetypes in the Star Wars films. You can learn about this in the following video program about Joseph Campbell in which George Lucas says that if he did not read Campbell's The Hero With a Thousand Faces he probably would have been still writing Star Wars!

In the interview he discusses how he was fascinated with native American, talking about the traditions of stampeding the buffalo over the edge.

Joseph Campbell - The Hero's Journey


Note: This is depicted in some paintings by my great grandmother Carola. You can see her paintings of native Americans on her web site at and in her virtual gallery inside of Second Life that is linked from her site.

21 Southwestindian11 Wildhorses_jpg20 Southwestindian10 Buffalo_jpg19 Southwestindian9 Swan_jpg18 Southwestindian8 (Strong Woman)_jpg17 Southwestindian7 (Legend of the white buffalo)_jpg16 Southwestindian6_jpg15 Southwestindian5_jpg14 Southwestindian4_jpg13 Southwestindian3_jpg12 Southwestindian2_jpg11 Southwestindian1_jpg

Bill Moyers Interviewing George Lucas About the Mythology of Star Wars

Here is a quote from George Lucas about how he sees his responsibility in film-making:

"I have a philosophy: that we all teach. Anybody in the media has a very large megaphone that can reach a lot of different people, and so whatever they say, whatever they do, however they conduct themselves, whatever they produce has an influence, and it’s teaching somebody something." -- George Lucas, filmmaker

More Videos

The Power of Myth Part 1 of 6: The Hero's Adventure

The Power of Myth Part 2 of 6: The Message of The Myth

The Power of Myth Part 3 of 6: The First Storytellers

The Power of Myth Part 4 of 6: Sacrifice and Bliss

The Power of Myth Part 5 of 6: Love and The Goddess

The Power of Myth Part 6 of 6: Masks of Eternity

Here is an excerpt from the Joseph Campbell Foundation web site about his background:

"Over one hundred years ago, on March 26th in 1904, Joseph John Campbell was born in White Plains, NY. Joe, as he came to be known, was the first child of a middle-class, Roman Catholic couple, Charles and Josephine Campbell.
  Joe’s earliest years were largely unremarkable; but then, when he was seven years old, his father took him and his younger brother, Charlie, to see Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show. The evening was a high-point in Joe’s life; for, although the cowboys were clearly the show’s stars, as Joe would later write, he “became fascinated, seized, obsessed, by the figure of a naked American Indian with his ear to the ground, a bow and arrow in his hand, and a look of special knowledge in his eyes.”

   It was Arthur Schopenhauer, the philosopher whose writings would later greatly influence Campbell, who observed that

…the experiences and illuminations of childhood and early youth become in later life the types, standards and patterns of all subsequent knowledge and experience, or as it were, the categories according to which all later things are classified—not always consciously, however. And so it is that in our childhood years the foundation is laid of our later view of the world, and there with as well of its superficiality or depth: it will be in later years unfolded and fulfilled, not essentially changed.

   And so it was with young Joseph Campbell. Even as he actively practiced (until well into his twenties) the faith of his forbears, he became consumed with Native American culture; and his worldview was arguably shaped by the dynamic tension between these two mythological perspectives. On the one hand, he was immersed in the rituals, symbols, and rich traditions of his Irish Catholic heritage; on the other, he was obsessed with primitive (or, as he later preferred, “primal”) people’s direct experience of what he came to describe as “the continuously created dynamic display of an absolutely transcendent, yet universally immanent, mysterium tremendum et fascinans, which is the ground at once of the whole spectacle and of oneself.” (Historical Atlas, I.1, p. 8)

   By the age of ten, Joe had read every book on American Indians in the children’s section of his local library and was admitted to the adult stacks, where he eventually read the entire multi-volume Reports of the Bureau of American Ethnology. He worked on wampum belts, started his own “tribe” (the “Lenni-Lenape”), and frequented the American Museum of Natural History, where he became fascinated with totem poles and masks, thus beginning a lifelong exploration of that museum's vast collection.

   After spending much of his thirteenth year recuperating from a respiratory illness, Joe briefly attended Iona, a private school in Westchester NY, before his mother enrolled him at Canterbury, a Catholic residential school in New Milford CT. His high school years were rich and rewarding, though marked by a major tragedy: in 1919, the Campbell home was consumed by a fire that killed his grandmother and destroyed all of the family’s possessions."

A wonderful quote from Campbell:

"When you see the Earth from space, you don't see any divisions of nation-states there. This may be the symbol of the new mythology to come."
- Joseph Campbell

Who can argue with that? See Google for verification:


Another quote purportedly from him:

"God is a metaphor for that which trancends all levels of intellectual thought. Even the categories of being and non-being. Those are categories of thought. It's as simple as that."

Read more about him here:

And read much more about him here:

The Hero With a Thousand Faces

Campbell's first original work is still one of his best known and most important. It stands as a classic in the field of mythology and comparative religion.

This influential study traces the story of the hero's journey and transformation through virtually all the mythologies of the world. Originally published in 1949, it has inspired generations of students and artists and sold nearly one million copies in various editions.



The Power of Myth by Joseph Campbell

Joseph Campbell and the Power of Myth is essential viewing for anyone old enough to appreciate its vital teachings. One of the greatest interviews ever recorded, this six-part, six-hour encounter between teacher- mythologist Campbell and student-journalist Bill Moyers (recorded in the two years preceding Campbell's death in 1988) covers a galaxy of topics related to Campbell's central themes: Mythology is humanity's universal method of seeking the transcendental, and "follow your bliss" is the timeless formula for spiritual satisfaction. Campbell himself is the embodiment of these themes, an erudite scholar and quintessential storyteller, recalling a wide spectrum of myths from throughout history (Japanese, Native American, Egyptian, Mayan, and many more) to illustrate humankind's eternal quest to grasp the mysteries of creation. Historical artifacts and illustrations bring these timeless stories to life.

An astute interviewer, Moyers is an acolyte in perfect harmony with Campbell-as- mentor, wording questions with penetrating perfection as their intellectual dance reaches exhilarating heights of meaning and fascination. Moyers also finds the perfect hook for a global audience, examining Campbell's admiration of George Lucas's Star Wars saga as a popular tapestry of ancient myths, and Lucas himself is interviewed in a DVD bonus segment ("I'm not creating a new myth," he says, "but telling old myths in a new way"). Campbell's seemingly endless well of knowledge reaches a simple conclusion: we need myths to survive like we need oxygen to breathe, as a life force with which to understand our existence--past, present, and future. --Jeff Shannon

The Power of Myth, starring George Lucas and Joseph Campbell


No comments: