Gerald McDermott: Today mythological material is frequently thought to be only a diversion for children and peasants. Do you think that this is true? If not, how do myths operate in our culture?

Joseph Campbell: I think that this is a misreading of the sense and importance of mythology. When one thinks, for example, of the state of Israel, it is difficult to think of mythology as having relevance only to a world of children. The state of Israel is a mythological institution. It is based on a mythological idea, on what is taken to be prophesy and a sign from God himself. It is on the beam of that trajectory that the state of Israel has been assigned to the Jewish people. And remember that the Mid-East may very well provide the spark for the next world war, because there is another mythological tradition, that of Islam, opposed to the Old Testament mythological tradition.

McDermott: Then mythology is a living presence in the lives of these people even though they don’t call it by that name?

Campbell: They don’t call it mythology; they call it religion. But a religion is really a mythology taken seriously and interpreted in a specific, provincial way. The basic images of mythology are, for the most part, universal images. They are what Adolph Bastian called elementary ideas. They are what the Indians call Marga—the guide to the path of absolute illumination. However, each culture-world takes its own individualized inflection of these universal images to be the best, to be true, in a way that the others are not.

McDermott: Surely, Ireland provides us with another violent manifestation of this?

Campbell: There’s no doubt about it. In that case, we have two ways of interpreting a single, mythological tradition, namely, the Christian tradition or heritage. One mode of interpretation is Protestant, the other is Catholic. There are, of course, political backgrounds to all of this: the expulsion of the Irish from the North in the seventeenth century, and the importation of a group of Presbyterian Scots. But the crucial thing that is keeping these people apart is the two different readings of a mythology. After all, the people are ultimately Celtic people of the same racial background.

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