Mythmakers

BILL MOYERS: I think of a … remember that wonderful pygmy legend of the little boy who finds the song of the most beautiful … the bird of the most beautiful song in the forest?

JOSEPH CAMPBELL: And he brings it home, doesn’t he? And he asks his father to bring food for the bird, and the father doesn’t want to feed only a bird. And one time the father kills the bird, and when he killed the bird, he killed his own life, and he died.

BILL MOYERS: That’s it. And the legend says, the man killed the bird, and with the bird he killed the song, and with the song himself. Isn’t that a story about what happens when human beings destroy their environment, destroy their world, destroy nature and the revelation of nature?

JOSEPH CAMPBELL: Destroy their own nature.

BILL MOYERS: Human nature, too. They kill the song.

JOSEPH CAMPBELL: They kill the song.

BILL MOYERS: And isn’t mythology the story of the song?

JOSEPH CAMPBELL: Mythology is the song. It’s the flight of the imagination, inspired by the energies of the body and in its life.

BILL MOYERS: What happened as human beings turned from the hunting of animals to the planting of seeds? What happened to the mythic imagination?

JOSEPH CAMPBELL: Well, I try to think of it this way. An animal, as I think I’ve said before, is sort of a total entity, and when you kill that animal, that animal is dead. But when you cut down a plant, new sprouts come out. Pruning is, you know, helpful to a plant. Also in forests where a good deal of the origination of myth is to be recognized, out of rock comes life, even in these forests here, of the beautiful redwoods. I was in a wonderful forest right near Mendocino, and there are some great, great stumps from enormous trees that were cut down some decades and decades ago. And out of them are coming these bright new little children who are part of the same plant. So there’s a sense of death as not death somehow, that death is required for new fresh life and so on. And the individual isn’t quite an individual, he is a member of a plant. Jesus uses the term, you know, where he says, “I am the vine and you are the branches.” That vineyard idea is a totally different one from the separate entity of the animal.