Mythology:Joseph Campbell’sFour Functions
Four Functions of Mythology
- There are four basic functions of mythology, according to Campbell.
- The mystical function – stories that express the awe and wonder of the universe
- The cosmological function – stories that attempt to explain the processes of nature
- The sociological function – stories that support and validate a certain social order
- The pedagogical function – stories that explain how to live a full, happy life
- The fact of that matter is that the universe in which we live is a strange, wonderful, awe-inspiring, and sometimes terrifying place.
- Myths that fulfill the mystical function are myths that remind us of how strange and wonderful (and scary and miraculous) the universe really is.
- Ghost stories are one example of this function.
- Ripley’s Believe It or Not stories are another.
- One famous ghost story is the story of the vanishing hitchhiker.
- This version of the story is from Snopes.com.
The Vanishing Hitchhiker
- A dozen miles outside of Baltimore, the main road from New York (Route Number One) is crossed by another important highway. It is a dangerous intersection, and there is talk of building and underpass for the east-west road. To date, however, the plans exist only on paper. Dr. Eckersall was driving home from a country-club dance late one Saturday night. He slowed up for the intersection, and was surprised to see a lovely young girl, dressed in the sheerest of evening gowns, beckoning him for a lift. He jammed on his brakes, and motioned her to climb into the back seat of his roadster. "All cluttered up with golf clubs and bags up here in front," he explained. "But what on earth is a youngster like you doing out here all alone at this time of night?"
The Vanishing Hitchhiker
- "It's too long a story to tell you now," said the girl. Her voice was sweet and somewhat shrill -- like the tinkling of sleigh bells. "Please, please take me home. I'll explain everything there. The address is ___ North Charles Street. I do hope it's not too far out of your way."
- The doctor grunted, and set the car in motion. He drove rapidly to the address she had given him, and as he pulled up before the shuttered house, he said, "Here we are." Then he turned around. The back seat was empty!
The Vanishing Hitchhiker
- "What the devil?" the doctor muttered to himself. The girl couldn't possibly have fallen from the car. Nor could she simply have vanished. He rang insistently on the house bell, confused as he had never been in his life before. At long last the door opened. A gray-haired, very tired-looking man peered out at him.
- "I can't tell you what an amazing thing has happened," began the doctor. "A young girl gave me this address a while back. I drove her here and . . ."
- "Yes, yes, I know," said the man wearily. "This has happened several other Saturday evenings in the past month. That young girl, sir, was my daughter. She was killed in an automobile accident at that intersection where you saw her almost two years ago . . ."
- In addition to fulfilling the mystical function of mythology, this story is also an example of an urban legend.
- According to Jan Harold Brunvand, an urban legend is a story that circulates from person to person, that is retained in a group tradition, and that can be found in different versions through time and space.
Ripley’s Believe It or Not
Ripley’s Believe It or Not
These strange-but-true stories are another example of Campbell’s mystical function.
- Stories that are told to explain something in nature fulfill the Cosmological Function, according to Campbell.
- In addition to many native American myths, examples can be found in the Old Testament.
The Tower of Babel
- The story of the Tower of Babel from Genesis explains why there are so many different languages.
- Stories told to back up, justify, or promote a certain social order fulfill the sociological function.
- These stories help bind people to a certain social group, or help explain to them their place within society.
Dishing the Family Dirt
- For example, when you tell a newcomer stories about your family to make them feel welcome or feel like a part of the family, you are using this function of storytelling.
- Another example would be the Greek myth of Pandora.
- Since the Greeks were a patriarchal society, they naturally created a myth to justify this social order.
- From The Gods Gallery
- “Pandora, whose name means "All Gifts", was fashioned when Zeus had her created by the Hephaestus to punish the human race , to which Prometheus had just given fire. Pandora was designed in the image of the goddesses, and became the first woman in a world of men. All the gods came forward to endow her with gifts; Aphrodite gave her beauty, Hermes gave her cunning, and other gods and goddesses gave her special qualities such as grace, dexterity, cogency, and so on, while Hepaestus gave her lying and deceit. Finally she was presented to Epimetheus as a gift.”
- “Although he had been warned by Prometheus never to accept a gift from Zeus he forgot this promise to his brother and married her. She brought with her a covered earthen vessel (box or jar or barrel), which she was forbidden to open. But its unknown contents plagued Pandora (she had been given curiosity along with everything else). One day she could stand the temptation no longer and lifted the lid to peek inside. Out swarmed all the calamities of mankind, from tidal waves to premature balding. It was too late to stop them as they spread out through the window and across the world. Pandora dropped the lid back in time to prevent the escape of the final occupant of the vessel. This was Elpis (hope), and no matter how bad things became for people there was always hope remaining.”
- The most important of the four functions, according to Campbell, is the pedagogical function. These are stories that tell us how to live, how to be happy, how to be good, how to love.
The Parables of Christ
- One example of this can be found in the New Testament. Throughout his ministry, Christ often taught by telling a story – the story of the Good Samaritan or the story of the Prodigal Son, for example.
Likewise, I say unto you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth. And he said, A certain man had two sons: And the younger of them said to his father, Father, give me the portion of goods that falleth to me. And he divided unto them his living. And not many days after the younger son gathered all together, and took his journey into a far country, and there wasted his substance with riotous living. And when he had spent all, there arose a mighty famine in that land; and he began to be in want.
And he went and joined himself to a citizen of that country; and he sent him into his fields to feed swine. And he would fain have filled his belly with the husks that the swine did eat: and no man gave unto him. And when he came to himself, he said, How many hired servants of my father's have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger! I will arise and go to my father, and will say unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and before thee, And am no more worthy to be called thy son: make me as one of thy hired servants. And he arose, and came to his father. But when he was yet a great way off, his father saw him, and had compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him.
And the son said unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in thy sight, and am no more worthy to be called thy son. But the father said to his servants, Bring forth the best robe, and put it on him; and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet: And bring hither the fatted calf, and kill it; and let us eat, and be merry: For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found. And they began to be merry. Now his elder son was in the field: and as he came and drew nigh to the house, he heard musick and dancing. And he called one of the servants, and asked what these things meant.
And he said unto him, Thy brother is come; and thy father hath killed the fatted calf, because he hath received him safe and sound. And he was angry, and would not go in: therefore came his father out, and intreated him. And he answering said to his father, Lo, these many years do I serve thee, neither transgressed I at any time thy commandment: and yet thou never gavest me a kid, that I might make merry with my friends: But as soon as this thy son was come, which hath devoured thy living with harlots, thou hast killed for him the fatted calf. And he said unto him, Son, thou art ever with me, and all that I have is thine. It was meet that we should make merry, and be glad: for this thy brother was dead, and is alive again; and was lost, and is found.