The Ecstasy of Being by Joseph Campbell

Publication Details

    The Ecstasy of Being by Joseph Campbell
  • Author: Joseph Campbell
  • Publisher: New World Library
  • Date Published: 1 Dec. 2017
  • Format: Hardcover
  • ISBN: 978-1608683666

Further Information


Joseph Campbell believed that art, like mythology, has the ability to open the human mind up to forming a direct connection with the timeless wisdom of the Divine.

His appreciation of the transcendent qualities of art was initially forged whilst traveling through Europe during the years 1924 to 1929. This proved to be an important period in the young man’s life for during this time he was introduced not only to the literature of James Joyce and Thomas Merton but also to the paintings of Cezanne, Picasso and Paul Klee.

Into this mixture of influences entered the psychological theories of Sigmund Freud and Carl Gustav Jung; the result of which was to cause him to state that, in his opinion, “the individual artist must study the psychological effects produced by the various devices of his particular craft.”

A Background

Campbell, although known for his academic works on psychology and mythology, was intimately connected to the world of modern dance. In 1937, whilst teaching comparative literature at the Sarah Lawrence College for girls, he met Jean Erdman. Born and raised in Honolulu, Erdman grew up dancing hula at family gatherings and this led her to attend the prestigious Punahou School where she learned the Isadora Duncan style of interpretive dance. By her junior year Erdman was firmly committed to a life of dance although in addition to which she also had an interest in comparative religion.

So it was that the two of them shared a range of mutual subjects of which dance was an important component that cemented their relationship and allowed for a mutual exchange of ideas regarding the role of the creative arts and mythology in the development of the human psyche.

Indeed fate seemed to bring Campbell and Erdman together and they married in 1938 after Erdman left the college and embarked upon the start of her successful dancing career – one which strengthened Campbell’s appreciation of the art-form.

A Collection of Works

The Ecstasy of Being: Mythology and Dance brings together seven of Campbell’s previously uncollected manuscripts on dance. These include articles and lectures that he gave between 1944 and 1978 as well as the addition of a short book “Mythology and Form in the Performing and Visual Arts”. This latter work remained unfinished at the time of Campbell’s death in 1987.

Our Review of The Ecstasy of Being by Joseph Campbell

The Ecstasy of Being, like so much of Campbell’s work operates as a valuable snapshot in time – an account of cultural and social environments on the cusp of major changes.

In his writings on the subject Campbell comments upon the importance of dance to any modern culture that had yet to become distracted by such cultural ‘delights’ as cinema and modern theatre. Indeed throughout his work he reflects upon the role of dance as more of a spiritual discipline than its subsequent application as an ego massage. Whilst his approach to the spiritual aspect of dance may seem naive today there is no doubt that Campbell raises some interesting points regarding the crossover of sacred dance and mythology. To this end he cites many examples of deities whom appear as figurines in dancing poses.

The Ecstasy of Being is an engaging collection of works by Campbell. The fact that he knew and understood quite so much about dance comes as a surprise and his commentary on this important facet of art is a satisfying exposure of a world which brought him and his wife so much joy during their many years together.



Credit: Review copy kindly supplied by New World Library, USA.