Notes On Joseph Campbell’s Psyche #amwriting

Not his actual psyche; I mean that the last time Charlie and I watched a DVD of Joseph Campbell talking about the Psyche, I took notes. And here they are. Illustrated.

Notes on Joseph Campbell’s Psyche

The ego is represented as a box because it is a construct, at odds with the fluid nature of the psyche. The ego in the east is fragile. The ego in the west is like a rock.notes on Joseph Campbell's psyche

The only way the ego can conceptualize what is in the subconscious is through projection. (arrows from Self, Shadow, and Anima/Animus) We project our Selves, Shadows, and sense of Anima/us onto other people and the world, generally and specifically. We call it perception, but it’s really projection. Coming to terms with the FACT rather than our PROJECTION is maturity.

Enforcers of persona:
the “neighbors” – public opinion
social custom and institutions
the idea of Nature – “natural law”
the transcendent (God)

When the persona is enforced, the anima-us is a locally conditioned image. (like the song, “I want a girl just like the girl who married dear old Dad.”)

When you accept the enforced persona, you follow the right-hand path: the myths of the village compound, local myths, fixed and tied to locality.

When you DO NOT accept your assigned persona, you follow the left-hand path: the myths of the hero quest, dangerous, uncharted territory, singular. “Following your bliss.”

When the ego becomes uncertain of its moral position, everything in the psyche starts to move. The shadow moves up out of the subconscious, the sense of self shifts, the ego attempts to preserve order. Pressure on persona or the lure of the exotic causes persona and anima to quake and possibly disintegrate when shadow and ego collide.

At the heart of myths is the elementary archetype or story. This is coated with the local version of the archetype or story. (My example: The corporate raider, the wily buccaneer, the hero who steals fire from the gods can all be seen as the same archetype, but local and current sensibilities color how they are received as well as how they appear.)

~ * ~

If none of that makes sense, blame me, not Mr. Campbell. I was writing this down as fast as I could! I totally love Campbell’s work. I highly recommend it for character study, plot bunnies, and thematic enrichment. Also: it’s cool.

A WRITING PROMPT FOR YOU: Write up a character study using what isn’t indecipherable about those notes of mine. Do one for an established, famous character (Sherlock Holmes, for example, or Leroy Jethro Gibbs) and then one for one of your own characters.



I was born in Louisville, Kentucky, but now live in the woods in southern Indiana. Though I only write fiction, I love to read non-fiction. The more I learn about this world, the more fantastic I see it is.

You may also like...

One thought on “Notes On Joseph Campbell’s Psyche #amwriting

  1. Jane

    July 14, 2014 at 9:43am

    Awesome post about an awesome thinker. And by an awesome thinker. There.

    I loved the Moyers interviews with Campbell, mostly because Moyers could ask him the questions we all wanted to have answered.

    Thanks for the ideas.

    Permalink  ⋅ Reply
    • Author

      Marian Allen

      July 14, 2014 at 10:31am

      Yeah, Campbell would say something, and Charlie or I would say, “But what about…” and Moyers would say, “But what about…” lol!

      Permalink  ⋅ Reply
  2. Yudith

    August 8, 2017 at 2:40pm

    Great notes and the drawing make it easier to understand these concepts about ego, shadow, subconscious and projection. I found interesting that the “ego conceptualize what is in the subconscious through projection”. I think that means we see in others parts of us that are in our subconscious. Thank you

    Permalink  ⋅ Reply
    • Author

      Marian Allen

      August 8, 2017 at 4:56pm

      I think that’s what it means, too. I know so many people who say, “I don’t like so-and-so because he does this and I hate it when he does this,” and it’s something the speaker does ALL the TIME but would go to the grave denying.

      Permalink  ⋅ Reply
  3. mark williamson

    August 6, 2019 at 3:08pm

    What a great post, Marian! And so, so true. I love, “When the ego becomes uncertain of its moral position, everything in the psyche starts to move. The shadow moves up out of the subconscious, the sense of self shifts, the ego attempts to preserve order. ”
    Exactly as it goes.
    Nice job!

    Permalink  ⋅ Reply

Leave a Reply, If You Ple-az

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.