Beholding the Wonder of the World

“Move from seeing to beholding: To see a situation is to catch the facts of the matter. To behold it is to witness the story. If you dwell entirely with statistics and data, you will be a burnt match within months. Move from just seeing the world to beholding the world. Seeing is assessment and analysis; beholding is wonder and curiosity.” – by Martin Shaw in Emergence Magazine

We have to see, of course, though from my author’s perspective seeing is a small part of observing and being a true part of the world. If this idea interests you, I invite you to click on the link above and read Shaw’s perceptive essay “Navigating the Mysteries.”

When we create ourselves and the world we inhabit, it’s as Shaw says, we build with wonder and curiosity once we’ve learned to “behold.”

This is how an author creates a good story to tell. And, it’s what discerning readers want to find in a great novel. Why not create our lives and view the world as a great novel as well?

Years ago, “Rosicrucian Digest Magazine” had a one-page feature called “Worlds of Wonder.” My short essays about the natural world appeared in that section three times. I chose the out-of-doors for my essays because that’s where I see the greatest mysteries. They are there ready for us to behold rather than to catalogue into graphs and spreadsheets that arise out of simply seeing what’s before our physical eyes and our scientific instruments.

Those who base their approach to life on seeing and nothing else will be like the millipede that froze in place when asked which of his feet he moved first.  If you behold the world and your place in it, that kind of question is laughable–or perhaps sad.

Shaw suggests that rather than listening to the uncertainty of most of the voices around us, we open up ourselves to the mystery. “The correct response to uncertainty,” he says, “is mythmaking. It always was. Not punditry, allegory, or mandate, but mythmaking. The creation of stories. We are tuned to do so, right down to our bones.” The mythic painting in the drawing is, for those who behold, more informative than a photograph.

His essay is the best account I’ve seen lately about how writers work and how we as people should work. All other approaches are an illusion and create more uncertainty.


Malcolm R. Campbell’s contemporary fantasy novel set in Glacier National Park is based in part on a very old myth where he wound the truth of the story he needed to tell. Pictured here is the audio edition.


Why We Rise – Joseph Campbell’s View

“Most attribute the foundations of Western story structure to Aristotle. His simple idea that stories should have a beginning, a middle, and an end has long served as the template for how narratives have been communicated. Joseph Campbell, by contrast, wisely popularized the idea that the narrative journey was actually a cycle — that every ending brought forth new beginnings, that every death brought forth resurrection and new life.”

Source: MythBlast | Why We Rise – JCF: Home

I like this Joseph Campbell Foundation essay about the cyclical nature of stories and how they interact with the nature of our lives. You’ll find this in Campbell’s writings about The Hero’s Journey, the idea–as the author puts it–that the beginnings we discover in the new year don’t arise from a blank slate. As Frank Herbert mentioned in his novel Dune, the intuitive can look backward in time and see–like footprints across the sand–the steps one has taken to arrive where they are in life at any given moment.

Put this in a novel, and you call those steps “the plot” or “foreshadowing.” Story helps us identify these kinds of patterns in “real life” just as “real life” suggests to us the stories we tell, both fiction and memoir.


Grail myths, where they came from, and how they were changed

I suppose I was probably destroyed <g> at an early age by the originals of Grimm’s Fairy Tales. Or maybe the vicissitudes of magic led me into a mythic approach to understanding “the big picture” and the storytelling surrounding it. Be that as it may, I enjoy deepening my understanding (or further brainwashing myself) about myths and legends by constantly looking for new resources and re-reading old resources.

This past weekend, it was King Arthur and the Holy Grail. I can’t count the number of variations of this story I’ve read since childhood. Early on, I liked T. H. White’s Once and Future King, Mary Stewart’s trilogy, and Marion Zimmer Bradley’s alternative approach in The Mists of Avalon. The approach of these and other authors is as varied as the approach of those credited with the early versions of the stories. This weekend’s reading was Joseph Campbell’s The Romance of the Grail.

Campbell, best known for The Hero with a Thousand Faces, spent a lifetime studying the Grail stories. In reading his book, we see immediately that there are two major approaches. One comes from Celtic sources and is probably indigenous to Ireland. This approach sees the Grail stories as a pagan manifestation of tales about fertility gods. The other major approach shows the stories as Christianized, that is to say, in which the Grail was considered to be the chalice from the Last Supper and the lance was said to be the one brought to Britain by Joseph of Arimathea. I see this second approach as a “cleaning up” of older stories so that they were acceptable to the church. Yet another theme, further “touches up” the stories with mythic stories and practices from mysteries out of ancient Greece.

Joseph Campbell died in 1987, a few years after Holy Blood, Holy Grail (1982) was published, advancing the theory that Mary Magdalene was, in fact, the Grail, had been Jesus’ wife, and carried his bloodline. I wonder if Campbell was aware of this theory before he died.

I tend to like the original sources of myths rather than the glosses painted over them by subsequent poets. So, I see the Christianized versions of the Grail stories as deviant. Yet, those are the versions most people know and accept as part of the entire King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table storyline. It’s too late to change that, I suppose. Yet, paradoxically, I do wonder about the realities of Mary Magdalene even though she’s outside the Grail romances.

One issue that arises when the myths are retold properly (Elliott’s The Waste Land) or badly (Tennyson’s “Balin and Balan” in Idylls of the King) is that modern authors may or may not understand the deeper meanings of the original myths. So, those stories become–to put it crudely–writing prompts that can be spun out into all kinds of fiction that–due to egotism or ignorance–distort the intent of the basic story.

Writers of local and regional myths and legends from their own countries face the same problem. We want to base our stories to one extent or another on the legends surrounding the place, but may not have the time or resources to fully explore where those legends came from or why they were passed down through the ages. As writers, we do the best we can because, unlike Joseph Campbell and the Grail stories, we don’t have a lifetime’s worth of scholarship with which to shore up our stories.


You can find more information about Joseph Campbell and his work on the Joseph Campbell Foundation website.





Moon mysteries and the lunation cycle

“The moon, with its repeating cycles of waxing and waning, became a symbol to the ancients for the birth, growth, death, and renewal of all life forms. The lunar rhythm presented a creation (the new moon), followed by growth (to full moon) and a diminution and death (the three moonless nights, that is, the dark moon).” — Demetra George in Mysteries of the Dark Moon

Whenever we see a beautiful moon, we stand in awe of it. Newspapers and the social media love pictures of harvest moons and blue moons along with suitable scientific descriptions of how and why such moons look the way they look.

Click on this lunar calendar to find the calendar for any month.
Click on this lunar calendar to find the calendar for any month.

Other than sky shows, we notice the moon less often these days unless we live along the coast and see the changing tides or maintain our farms and gardens by planting by lunar phases. Science and technology have taken us away from the lumation cycle, the interplay of light resulting from the monthly dance of the sun and the moon, so most of us are unaware of the moon’s affect on us throughout each lunar month.

In a patriarchal world, the lunar cycles are generally ignored, distrusted or feared because–in a mythic sense–they represent feminine cycles, the unconscious, emotions, and purported instability. In fact, our word “lunacy” stems from an old belief that insanity came with moon phases, and our word “moonstruck” implies that when in love and affected by the moon, we cannot act normally.

Moonless nights suggest mysteries in many ancient traditions. Jonah was in the belly of the whale for three days; Christ rose from the dead on the third day. In his “hero’s journey” sequence, Joseph Campbell refers to the belly of the whale step as a period of rebirth. We have, however, come to fear those three nights that Demetra George sees as “a time of retreat, of healing, and of dreaming of the future. The darkness is lit with the translucent quality of transformation; and during this essential and necessary period, life is prepared to be born.”

The lunation cycle

This pioneering 1967 book examines the sun and moon's relationship in the context of our lives
This pioneering 1967 book examines the sun and moon’s relationship in the context of our lives

Since my novel Sarabande is a story of a heroine’s journey, the chapter titles follow the sun/moon lunation cycle in support of the action throughout the book. When the person who formatted the book asked about the significance of these headings, I realized that moon symbolism is not front and center in our daily lives in a world of texting and Facebook posts, jobs and hobbies, relationships with others, or even in our thoughts of day and night.

One post cannot do justice to the work of Dane Rudhyar, Demetra George and others who have written extensively about the meaning and impact of moon phases.  Briefly, though, here are the over-simplified basics:

  1. Dark Dawning: New moon (and up to three and a half days afterwards). Life, or any other event, is a potentiality that is felt rather than seen. Think of a seed germinating in the dark earth.
  2. Light Quickening: Crescent moon (appearing three and a half to seven days later). A challenging time for moving forward after a first look at the reality of the new moon’s vision. Think of the seed’s first shoots appearing above the ground.
  3. Light Ascending: First quarter moon (seven to ten days after the moon was new). A time of conscious steps toward a goal. Think of a plant’s stems and roots forming to support the process of growth.
  4. Light Dominant: Waxing gibbous moon (ten and a half to fourteen days into the journey). The vision, development and knowledge to date are fine-tuned to meet conditions. Think of buds appearing on the rose.
  5. Summit of Light: Full moon (fifteen to eighteen days into the journey). The promise of the initial vision is realized as a reality in the temporal world and has a transformative condition within. Think of blooming flowers.
  6. Stirrings of the Dark: Waning gibbous moon (three and a half to seven days after the full moon). The purpose of the vision comes to fruition, an apt word that means bearing fruit.
  7. Withering of the Light: Last quarter moon (seven to ten and a half days after the full moon). With the potential realized, one begins turning away from the task. Think of flowers and stems withering away.
  8. Depth of Dark: Waning crescent moon (ten and a half days after the full moon). As the person prepares to fully look within, this phase–also referred to as the balsalmic moon–links life and death, past and future in a way that’s often viewed as destiny before darkness returns and germination begins again with the new moon.

georgemysteriesThe lunation cycle is often described as the result of an interplay between the active sun and the passive or receptive moon. This is somewhat misleading, I think, because it gives the impression that the moon (or the psyche) is accepting and then transmitting light from elsewhere (from without) as though no creative growth is taking place.

Darkness and light are often equated logically and symbolically with evil and good rather than as components of an interactive process in which yin and yang are equally necessary. As Dane Rudhyar has pointed out, it’s incorrect to refer to the lunation cycle as a lunar cycle. Instead, it is soli-lunar, that is to say, a cycle of sun and moon in relation to each other like the warp and weft strands of well-woven cloth.


SarabandeCover2015Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of the magical realism novella “Conjure Woman’s Cat” and the contemporary fantasy “Sarabande.” (See GoodReads for the current “Sarbanade” giveaway.)


Briefly Noted: Joseph Campbell’s ‘Romance of the Grail’

Romance of the Grail: The Magic and Mystery of Arthurian Myth (The Collected Works of Joseph Campbell), Evans Lansing Smith, Editor, ( New World Library, December 15, 2015), 304pp

romanceofgrailJoseph Campbell scholars and Arthurian legends students have been waiting for this volume for a long time. Sponsored by the Joseph Campbell Foundation, this collection focuses on the myths that introduced and excited Campbell about the over-arching mythic theories he spent a lifetime developing.

The book’s editor, Evans Lansing Smith became interested in disseminating Campbell’s views of the quests after discovering a typewritten copy of Campbell’s masters thesis “A Study of the Dolorous Stroke” which exams the motif of the wound and wasteland in the stories.

In an interview about the book, Smith said he hopes readers “will be as deeply engaged — and, indeed, as mesmerized as I was — with the power, grace, and fun with which Campbell retells the stories of the knights so central to the Grail romances: Yvain, Lancelot, Parzival, Gawain, Tristan, and others. As an Irishman, Campbell came from a long lineage of oral tradition, so that he was able in a couple of hours to convey more of the complexity and spiritual depth of those stories than many have been able to in long books on the subject.”

From the Publisher

The Arthurian myths opened the world of comparative mythology to Campbell, turning his attention to the Near and Far Eastern roots of myth. Calling the Arthurian romances the world’s first “secular mythology,” Campbell found metaphors in them for human stages of growth, development, and psychology. The myths exemplify the kind of love Campbell called “amor,” in which individuals become more fully themselves through connection. Campbell’s infectious delight in his discoveries makes this volume essential for anyone intrigued by the stories we tell—and the stories behind them.

Library Journal: “Smith provides well-rounded and concise essential readings on Arthurian mythology by one of America’s leading mythologists and incredible storytellers. Highly recommended for readers interested in Campbell, mythology, or Arthurian studies.”

When Campbell talks and writes about mythology, he presents the material as though he were there when it happened. He makes complex themes accessible. The Grail stories certainly lend themselves to his expertise and insights.




Katniss and Harry – Orphans in the Storm

“We find them everywhere in fantasy fiction: the “orphaned heroes,” young men and women whose parents are dead, absent, or unknown, who turn out to be the heirs to the kingdom, the destined pullers of swords from stones, the keys to the riddles, the prophesies’ answers, the bearers of powerful magic.” – Terri Windling in Lost and Found: The Orphaned Hero  in Myth, Folklore, and Fantasy

“The hero, Tristan, is a conventional orphan-hero. Mythic heroes are typically orphans and/orfoundlings of some sort. This symbolic convention was first discovered by psychoanalyst OttoRank (1914/1964), described in his classic work, ‘The Myth of the Birth of the Hero.'” – Ronald L. Boyer in “Key Archetypes in the Celtic Myth of Tristan and Isolde: A Brief Introduction”

hungergamesposterOrphans in literature and in fact are portrayed as beginning life behind the figurative 8-ball. In novels and classic myths, they grow up in an uncertain world, often without love and often with cruel or other substandard conditions. Sometimes we find them in institutions, sometimes with relatives or foster families, and sometimes as street-smart children living on the fringes of society in major cities.

Variously, society often pities them, mistrusts them, intrudes into their lives purportedly in their best interests and views them as broken children who will have a long, hard climb back into  the normal world of commerce, relationships and other traditional forms of success. We also see them as underdogs and, in spite of whatever else we may feel about their birth and circumstances, we root for them  in literature and life.

In J. K. Rowling’s series of Harry Potter books and movies, Harry is the unwanted orphan forced to live in a cupboard beneath the stairs. In Suzanne Collins The Hunger Games, the fatherless and –practically speaking–motherless Katniss Everdeen struggles to support the family in a coal mining district. Do they have an extra axe to grind? Has their childhood made them more suspicious and/or more resourceful than children in happy families? Perhaps.

The first real help they get comes from outside their families. Harry is mentored by Hagrid. Katniss is mentored by Haymitch Abernathy. Harry leaves his everyday world when he goes to Hogwarts and Katniss leaves her everyday world when she takes the train to the capital city.

harrypotterfilmsIn their stories, Katniss and Harry follow a long literary tradition. According to John Granger (aka, the Hogwarts Professor), their “hero’s journey — one in which the principal character plays the part of what the Bible calls ‘the heart’ and their story is about their apotheosis or spiritual illumination, something like divinization — has a tradition of its own in English literature we can call ‘literary alchemy.’”  Twilight, The Hunger Games and Rowling’s series contain similar tropes and symbols.

Whether we consciously know what those themes and symbols are, we resonate to them when we read myths and modern fiction that contain them.  One way or another we know what it takes to turn lead into gold and to turn an orphan into a heroic figure.

We have seen this story in many forms with many characters. As Windling writes:

“We can trace the archetype back from the popular fantasy books listed above to the literary orphans of the 19th century (Dickens’s ‘Oliver Twist’, Mark Twain’s ‘Huck Finn,’ Charlotte Bronte’s ‘Jane Eyre,’ to name just a few), and then further back through “foundling” stories such as Henry Fielding’s ‘The History of Tom Jones’ and William Shakespeare’s ‘The Winter’s Tale,’ to a world–wide body of folk tales and myths about children orphaned and abandoned. Alongside these stories is another deep cache of tales on the “stolen child” theme: children whisked away by fairies, trolls, djinn, gypsies, Baba Yaga. . .sometimes reappearing many years later and sometimes never seen again. We discussed changeling and stolen child stories in a previous article, so well leave these tales aside for the moment and focus on the orphan archetype.”

Stories about orphans in the storm can be powerful because of the authors’ art and craft in creating memorable plots and characters. They’re also powerful because such stories are part of a long literary tradition than rings a bell, subconsciously perhaps, when we pick up a book about an orphan on a larger-than-life journey.


Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of contemporary fantasy novels.


Looking Deeper into Who You Are

“Behind each and every interpretation of the tale is the tale. The tale provides the invisible backdrop against which all analyses parade their brilliance. Myth lies behind every account we give of it, and it gives no account of itself. Myths fall back on invisibility.” –James Hillman, “The Soul’s Code.”

sunandmoonIn “The Soul’s Code,” James Hillman writes that each of us has a calling, a mission or objective we are here to accomplish. This calling cannot be documented or measured by mainstream science. Instead, it calls back on “invisibles” as Hillman calls them–the “something more” behind the empirical facts and hard science the mainstream world knows and loves.

In Lawrence Durrell’s novel “Balthazar,” one of the characters states that we live our lives based on selected fictions.

One might suggest that these fictions–the invisible things we deeply sense and believe about ourselves but cannot necessarily prove in the harsh light of day–when looked at all at once may provide clues about our calling. Behind everything we do, there is not only a series of stories, but a profound, personal myth.

If we are accustomed to reading mythology as pseudo-history, an approximation or fanciful version of historical events, or in any other literal way, we are missing the tale behind the tale. In looking deeper into the each tale, one finds–whether through the commentaries of experts, one’s own study of symbols and cosmology, or our personal intuition–a grander story that imparts a cosmic lesson.

Unless you are a teacher and/or student of mythology, the discovery of the lessons that are important in your life and that impact your calling–the secret and invisible knowledge–will happen in part by pondering the myths that keep drawing you back into the books in which you find them.

That is to say, your calling is always calling you to the things you need. If you need to know what’s important about Pandora or Theseus or the Argonauts, you will be drawn to these myths. When you acknowledge that you are constantly intrigued by one myth or another, you have an opportunity for looking deeper and discovering clues about where your path lead.

October Give-Away: Leave a comment on this post on my Sun Singer’s Travels blog for a chance to win a free audio copy of Jock Stewart and the Missing Sea of Fire.



Behind great fantasy, there’s usually a great myth

When the late Marion Zimmer Bradley’s The Mists of Avalon was published in 1983, Bradley (1930 – 1999) had already made a splash in the public’s fantasy reading consciousnous with her Darkover Series which she introduced in The Planet Savers in 1958. For a less experienced, less widely known author, tackling and re-imagining the legends of King Arthur and the Round Table from a femine perspective would have been a great risk.

After all, whoever writes about King Arthur is not only up against  Thomas Mallory’s “Le Morte d’Arthur” (1485), Edmund Spenser’s epic Elizabethan poem ”The Faerie Queene” (issued in 1590 and 1596) and Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s twelve-part Victorian series of poems “Idylls of the King” (issued between 1856 and 1885), but some well-received modern versions of the story as well. Nobel Prize winner John Steinbeck’s “The Acts of King Arthur and His Noble Knights” (posthumously published in 1976), Mary Stewart’s Merlin Trilogy (1970, 1973, 1979) and T. H. White’s “The Once and Future King” (1958) probably top the list. Based on White’s novel, the musical “Camelot” had already made a hit on Broadway in 1960 and as a film in 1967.

In her 1983 New York Times review of “The Mists of Avalon,”  Maureen Quilligan wrote, “Of the various great matters of Western literature – the story of Troy, the legend of Charlemagne, the tales of Araby – none has more profoundly captured the imagination of English civilization than the saga of its own imperial dream, the romance of King Arthur and the Round Table.” We continue to be fascinated with versions and off-shoots of the story whether they surface in nonfiction accounts such as “The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail” (1982), “The Da Vinci Code” (2003, film in 2006) or the continuing novels in the Avalon Series written by Diana L. Paxson.

The myths, whether you see them as illustrations of the hero’s or heroine’s journeys or as tales of struggling peoples of a bygone era, feature larger-than-life personages fighting the powers of darkness and opposing armies in quests focused on personal transformation and/or an ideal society. Merlin’s teachings appear and re-appear in various guises (such as Deepak Chopra’s “The Way of the Wizard: Twenty Spiritual Lessons for Creating the Life You Want”) as lessons for seekers on the mystical path, while King Athur and his knights have been presented—through tales of glory and folly—as archetypes to follow after or to be wary of.

Quilligan, in noting that Bradley looked at the Arthurian legends from the perspective of the women involved, said, “This, the untold Arthurian story, is no less tragic, but it has gained a mythic coherence; reading it is a deeply moving and at times uncanny experience.”

The stories of Arthur, his Knights, Merlin, Viviane, Gwynyfar, Morgaine, Igraine, and old Uther Pendragon come to us with such strength that it’s difficult for lovers of fantasy—perhaps even the general public—not to suspect there is a truth or a reality to them that cannot quite be proven. We react to the stories as though the authors are interpreting real events. Perhaps we’ll never know whether there was or wasn’t a King Arthur who had anything in common with the stories we read and rell about him, but we hope there was.

What great myths, though! They bring us the best and the worst we can be as humans with hints of the kind of magic many of us hope in our heart of hearts exists alongside our technological world of science and logic. The myths are a part of our shared vision of the world and humankind, waiting, ever waiting for more interpretations, versions and re-imaginings.


contemporary fantasy