Joseph Campbell Hero’s Journey // The Twin Heros

Campbell’s Solar and Lunar Mythology

Joseph Campbell sought to identify the universal symbols and motifs that might transcend both cultural and temporal boundaries. He noticed that, within the mythological constellation of images, the union of polarized opposites was primarily symbolized in the meeting of Sun and Moon:

The image of the meeting of sun and moon” is everywhere symbolic … and the only unsolved question in relationship to its universality are: a) how far back it goes, b) where it first arose, and c) whether from the start it was read both psychologically and cosmologically. … [This] symbolism was known to Europe, China and Japan, the Aztecs and the Navajos; it is unlikely that it was unknown to the Greeks. (Occidental 164)

In the cosmogony of many archaic cultures, the sun and the moon have been recorded as the focal points of the cosmos and the most influential manifestations of the divine.1 The solar/lunar dichotomy came to represent the two central organizing principles around which many creation myths, religious motifs, and psychological and spiritual systems traditionally assembled. Campbell noticed that the psychological qualities associated with sun and moon images in mythologies were often integrally related to their cosmological appearance:

The lunar light waxes and wanes. That of the sun is forever bright. Darkness inhabits the moon, where its play is symbolic of that of death in life here on earth; whereas darkness attacks the sun from without and is thrown off daily in defeat by a force that is never dark. The moon is the lord of growth, the waters, the womb, and the mysteries of time; the sun, of brilliance of the intellect, sheer light, and eternal laws that never change. (Oriental 94)

Typically, since Greek and Roman Judeo-Christian patriarchal traditions have come to dominate our mythologies, the fundamental solar/lunar polarity has usually been represented as “solar-masculine” and “lunar-feminine”:

The new age of the Sun God has dawned, and there is to follow an extremely interesting, mythologically confusing development (known as solarization), whereby the entire symbolic system of the earlier age is to be reversed, with the moon and the lunar bull assigned to the mythic sphere of the female, and the solar principle to the male. (Occidental 75)

However, prior to the ascendancy of patriarchal “solar” traditions, many mythologies considered the solar principle feminine and associated the lunar qualities with the masculine. It is to Campbell’s great credit that he was not taken in by “mythologically confusing” assignment of gender labels to solar and lunar principles. Unlike many other male scholars of his era, who were reluctant to acknowledge the denigration of the feminine which accompanied the establishment of the patriarchy, Campbell routinely pointed out how mythologies were deliberately manipulated to support the new world order: “The progressive devaluation of the mother goddess in favor of the father … everywhere accompanied the maturation of the dynastic state and patriarchy” (Oriental 112).

Campbell’s sensitivity to the cultural gender distortion of solar/lunar dialectics allowed him to go one step further that merely acknowledging the historical ascendancy of one gender over the other. He also realized the damaging consequence of that political shift in consciousness: the suppression of the lunar-masculine and the denial of the solar-feminine. Those qualities associated with “solar psychology”—clarity, willfulness, competitiveness, endurance—have since been labeled masculine. The “lunar” qualities—tenderness, receptivity, intuitiveness, compassion, emotional availability—have been conversely restricted to the feminine. Janet McCrickard’s recently published study of sun and moon myths offers and extensive exposition of the solar-feminine side of this equation.2 Too often, comparatists have failed to illuminate the suppression of the lunar- masculine and of the solar feminine.