At 8am this morning a book of writings by Joseph Campbell was handed to me by a friendly Australia Post man. I was still in my Pyjamas and the joy of receiving a new book before breakfast started my day on a high. Good things were already in store because I’d planned a trip to the library first thing, to collect a stack of books I’d reserved. This morning’s delivery was courtesy of Qantas actually – an unexpected treat that came my way a few days ago in order to save my frequent flyer points before they expired. It’s complicated, but the good news is my points are secure for another 18 months, AND I have a new book. The book is called Pathways to Bliss and it’s a collection of teachings by Joseph Campbell about how mythology can be applied to our personal lives. I ordered another book at the same time which I had planned to read first, called The Power of Myth. It’s based on a BBC series that introduced a lot of the ideas for which Joseph Campbell is known, specifically how the themes and symbols of ancient narratives remain relevant to modern life. These two books looked like the most accessible way into Joseph Campbell’s work, which I’ve been meaning to find out more about for a long time. I think nearly every book I’ve read in the last 12 months has referenced his work and ideas in some way, and I felt like it was time I went directly to the source.
Without setting out to, I’ve spent the last year or two immersed in a highly customised learning program of my own creation. It’s been a bit like a university course crafted just for me. There are no assignments or exams, but I’m passionately engaged in every topic, so it’s not difficult to learn the material. I studied Business Marketing at University, mostly because I had to pick something, and ‘reading books all day’ wasn’t on offer. Actually, I suppose I could have considered an Arts degree, but exploring my passions, or even my interests, didn’t occur to me. Good students like me were encouraged to prioritise income and employment opportunities. I don’t regret my choice. I wouldn’t be the person I am today if I’d taken a different path, but I do wonder where I might have ended up if I’d studied Arts and Literature and Philosophy – all the things that actually fascinated me as a young adult. I do know that as a consequence, I barely gave a moment’s thought to my own interests during most of my 20s and 30s. I was pulled this way and that by my own and other people’s ideas of what a successful adult should be, until the day I was forced to stop. Health issues kept me from returning to work. With empty time opening up in front of me, I realised I had no idea what I was interested in. I had no hobbies, interests or passions. Nothing fascinated me, and the only consistent thread of my adult life was a pervasive sensation that something was missing.
I decided to try an experiment. I would only do what I wanted to do, for a while. And if that meant lying on the couch reading trashy novels or sleeping in til midday, then so be it. I did do that for a while. I read dozens of novels, some trashy, many excellent. But gradually, a few themes emerged. I dived headlong into a whole new magical world. I studied Reiki, learned to hold Womens’ Circles, attended a Dreaming Retreat and went to Plant Medicine workshops. I bought crystals and tarot cards and burned white sage. I applied myself to all sorts of practical pursuits from knitting to drying herbs to preserving fruit. I found passions around every corner and felt happier than at any time I could remember.
But it’s my reading list more than anything that reveals the path I’m on. The books I’m drawn to are like a trail of breadcrumbs and each title that calls to me, each phrase that resonates, each paragraph that insists on being read aloud, inches me a little further along the path. I’ve read about womens mysteries, initiations, witch burnings and the rising feminine. Desiring to connect more deeply with land I started exploring aboriginal land management practices and ended up knee deep in books on Australia’s indigenous history, colonialism and invasion. I sought out novels by indigenous authors to understand what it’s like to be Aboriginal in Australia today. I learned the phrase ‘cultural appropriation’ which led me to explore my own ancestry. I spent hours researching my family tree, which opened up the doors into Celtic and Scottish history. That has led me down all sorts of fascinating, meandering paths…. right up to today, and to the titles on my current reading list. Can you pick the theme I’m pursuing at the moment??
- The Power of Myth
- The Binding
- Clan of The Cave Bear
- Pathways to Bliss, Mythology and Personal Transformation
- The Memory Code, The Traditional Aboriginal Memory Technique
- Traditional Healers of Central Australia
- Skywoman – Legends of the Iroquois
- Becoming Animal. An Earthly Cosmology
- The Book Smugglers of Timbuktu – The Quest for this Storied City and the Race to Save it’s Treasures
- The Wisdom of the Mythtellers
At the moment the intertwining themes are myth and story and indigenous wisdom. I’m halfway through a couple, some I picked up from the library today and others are winging their way to me from various online bookstores. I should probably stop adding more to the list and try to finish this lot!
Though there’s a strong mythology theme in my explorations right now, more specifically I’m curious about how a society’s stories define its culture, and what that means for the descendants of colonialism who’ve lost the stories of their ancestors but failed to connect with the stories of the land on which they now stand. Along the way I’ve been pulled into Australian indigenous history and the mythology of the Dreaming. I’ve explored connection to Country, and how that might feel for me, and I’ve been rocked by the realisation that we are all indigenous to somewhere. Now I’m exploring the mythology of my own bloodline, and what connection to country meant for my ancestors. Sharon Blackie’s book If Women Rose Rooted has taken me a long way on this journey and illuminated the way to seek connection with both this land on which I stand, as well as the lands of my ancestors. Historical fiction has also been more revealing than I could have imagined, as it also was with works by Australian authors who’ve written about our own history. Manda Scott’s Boudica series, and the Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley are based on what is known of Britain’s indigenous history, and they’ve given me a personal experience of my ancestors lives, along with a feeling of connection with them as real human beings.
It’s a mixed up, muddled up cauldron of ideas, but something is emerging. The two strands of story and land twine around each other through all of it. I’m dipping now into archetypes and tarot and the common threads that emerge from so many indigenous stories (Joseph Campbell is sure to feature here). I have a sense that it is stories that ultimately bring us back into connection with land and with ourselves. I don’t know exactly where I’m going with this, but I have faith that one day all these threads will weave together into something beautiful that can be expressed and shared. There’s a sneaking suspicion that I’ll end up writing my own stories at some point, but every time I start, I’m pulled in another direction. That’s not for me perhaps, or maybe just not now.
Of course, if I’d just studied Arts at University, I might be a lot further ahead on some of these themes. On the other hand, coming to it late, I have the pleasure of crafting my very own, specifically tailored curriculum, and every word of it is fascinating to me. If I’d studied mythology or folklore or indigenous culture back in my 20s, there’s a good chance I’d be jaded or disillusioned by now. Instead I live in a permanent state of glittering possibility, surrounded by stacks of books overflowing with deliciously potent ideas. Nothing makes me happier than sitting here with a cup of home grown tea from the garden, my latest book obsession in hand and a notebook by my side, delving into the mystery of it all.