The Myth of the Great Secret



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Also on this website:

Toby Johnson's books:

GAY SPIRITUALITY: The Role of Gay Identity in the Transformation of Human Consciousness

GAY PERSPECTIVE: Things Our Homosexuality Tells Us about the Nature of God and the Universe

SECRET MATTER: updated, revised & expanded edition from Lethe Press with Afterword by Mark Jordan

GETTING LIFE IN PERSPECTIVE: A romance novel set in the 1980s and the 1890s.

THE FOURTH QUILL, a novel about attitudinal healing and the problem of evil

TWO SPIRITS: A Story of Life with the Navajo, a collaboration with Walter L. Williams

CHARMED LIVES: Spinning Straw into Gold: Reclaiming Our Queer Spirituality Through Story

PLAGUE: A NOVEL ABOUT HEALING.

About ordering


Books on Gay Spirituality:

White Crane Gay Spirituality Series


  Articles and Excerpts:

Read Toby's review of Samuel Avery's The Dimensional Structure of Consciousness

Funny Coincidence: "Aliens Settle in San Francisco"


The Simple Answer to the Gay Marriage Debate

Why gay people should NOT Marry

Wedding Cake Liberation

Gay Marriage in Texas

What's ironic

Shame on the American People

The "highest form of love"

Second March on Washington


A Bifurcation of Gay Spirituality

 The cause of homosexuality

The origins of homophobia

Q&A about Jungian ideas in gay consciousness

What is homosexuality?

What is Gay Spirituality?

My three messages

What Jesus said about Gay Rights

Queering religion

Common Experiences Unique to Gay Men

Is there a "uniquely gay perspective"?

The purpose of homosexuality

The Reincarnation of Edward Carpenter

The Gay Succession

Interview on the Nature of Homosexuality

What the Bible Says about Homosexuality

Mesosexual Ideal for Straight Men

Varieties of Gay Spirituality

Waves of Gay Liberation Activity

Why Gay Spirituality: Spirituality as Artistic Medium


Easton Mountain Retreat Center

Andrew Harvey & Spiritual Activism

The Gay Spirituality Summit in May 2004 and the  "Statement of Spirituality"


"It's Always About You"

The myth of the Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara

Joseph Campbell's description of Avalokiteshvara

Avalokiteshvara at the Baths.

You're Not A Wave

What is Enlightenment?

What is reincarnation?

How many lifetimes in an ego?


Emptiness & Religious Ideas

Experiencing experiencing experiencing

Going into the Light

Meditations for a Funeral

Meditation Practice

The way to get to heaven

Buddha's father was right

Cutting edge realization




Advice to Travelers to India & Nepal

The Danda Nata & goddess Kalika

Nate Berkus is a bodhisattva

John Boswell was Immanuel Kant

The Two Loves


Curious Bodies

What Toby Johnson Believes

The Joseph Campbell Connection

Campbell & The Pre/Trans Fallacy

The Nature of Religion

What's true about Religion

Being Gay is a Blessing

Drawing Long Straws

Freedom of Religion

The Gay Agenda

Gay Saintliness

Gay Spiritual Functions

The subtle workings of the spirit in gay men's lives.

The Sinfulness of Homosexuality

Proposal for a study of gay nondualism

Priestly Sexuality


 "The Evolution of Gay Identity"

"St. John of the Cross &
the Dark Night of the Soul."

 Eckhart's Eye

Let Me Tell You a Secret

Religious Articulations of the Secret

The Collective Unconscious

Driving as Spiritual Practice

Meditation

Historicity as Myth

Pilgrimage

No Stealing

The upsidedown book on MSNBC


Next Step in Evolution

The New Myth

The Moulting of the Holy Ghost

Gaia is a Bodhisattva

The Hero's Journey as archetype

Marian Doctrines: Immaculate Conception & Assumption


Teenage Prostitution and the Nature of Evil

Allah Hu: "God is present here"
 
Adam and Steve

The Life is in the Blood

Gay retirement and the "freelance monastery"

Seeing with Different Eyes


The mystical experience at the Servites'  Castle in Riverside

The Great Dance according to C.S.Lewis


The Techniques Of The World Saviors

Part 1: Brer Rabbit and the Tar-Baby
Part 2:
The Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara
Part 3:
Jesus and the Resurrection
Part 4:
A Course in Miracles


The Secret of the Clear Light

Understanding the Clear Light

Mobius Strip

Finding Your Tiger Face

How Gay Souls Get Reincarnated


In honor of Sir Arthur C Clarke

Karellen was a homosexual

About Alien Abduction

What are you looking for in a gay science fiction novel?


The D.A.F.O.D.I.L. Alliance

More about Gay Mental Health

Psych Tech Training

The Rainbow Flag

Ideas for gay mythic stories

Kip and Toby, Activists

Toby at the California Institute


Toby's friend and nicknamesake Toby Marotta.

Harry Hay, Founder of the gay movement

About Hay and The New Myth

About Karl Heinrich Ulrichs, the first man to really "come out"

About Michael Talbot, gay mystic

About Fr. Bernard Lynch

About Richard Baltzell

About Guy Mannheimer

About David Weyrauch

About Dennis Paddie

About Ask the Fire

About Arthur Evans

About Christopher Larkin

About Sterling Houston

About Michael Stevens

Our friend Tom Nash


 
Book Reviews


Be Done on Earth by Howard E. Cook

Pay Me What I'm Worth by Souldancer

The Way Out by Christopher L  Nutter
The Gay Disciple by John Henson

Art That Dares by Kittredge Cherry

Coming Out, Coming Home by Kennth A. Burr

Extinguishing the Light by B. Alan Bourgeois


Over Coffee: A conversation For Gay Partnership & Conservative Faith by D.a. Thompson

Dark Knowledge by Kenneth Low

Janet Planet by Eleanor Lerman

The Kairos by Paul E. Hartman

Wrestling with Jesus by D.K.Maylor

Kali Rising by Rudolph Ballentine

The Missing Myth by Gilles Herrada

The Secret of the Second Coming by Howard E. Cook

The Scar Letters: A Novel by Richard Alther

The Future is Queer by Labonte & Schimel

Missing Mary by Charlene Spretnak

Gay Spirituality 101 by Joe Perez

Cut Hand: A Nineteeth Century Love Story on the American Frontier by Mark Wildyr

Radiomen by Eleanor Lerman

Nights at Rizzoli by Felice Picano

The Key to Unlocking the Closet Door by Chelsea Griffo

The Door of the Heart by Diana Finfrock Farrar

Occam’s Razor by David Duncan

Grace and Demion by Mel White

Gay Men and The New Way Forward by Raymond L. Rigoglioso

The Dimensional Stucture of Consciousness by Samuel Avery

The Manly Pursuit of Desire and Love by Perry Brass

Love Together: Longtime Male Couples on Healthy Intimacy and Communication by Tim Clausen

War Between Materialism and Spiritual by Jean-Michel Bitar

The Serpent's Gift: Gnostic Reflections on the Study of Religion by Jeffrey J. Kripal

Esalen: America and the Religion of No Religion
by Jeffrey J. Kripal

The Invitation to Love by Darren Pierre

Scissors, Paper, Rock by Fenton Johnson



An Appreciation of Joseph Campbell

The 3rd edition of this book is titled Finding Your Own Myth: What I Learned from Joseph Campbell. It's The Myth of the Great Secret III. It's in process in 2017. Here's a link  to download a working copy preview. 

To download a preview of the 3rd Edition, click here.

Finding-your-own-true-myth
Many cultures share the tradition of the “wise old man,” the elder who serves as guide, teacher, and companion, helping others on the path to enlightenment. When Toby Johnson, a fomer Roman Catholic seminarian, left the monastery on his own unconventional spiritual journey, he had the good fortune to find such a teacher in the person of Joseph Campbell. As Johnson says in the introduction, “He opened my eyes and pointed me toward my bliss… I’ve discovered how to gently leave behind the na´ve—and now discredited—religiousness of my youth and find wonder, meaning, and bliss in a new mythic consciousness.”

From Campbell, Johnson derived his central insight that there is a “new myth” arising in human consciousness, and it is the understanding of the nature of myth itself, a “meta-myth,” the “myth of myth” according to which our lives are always giving us clues to the secret of our true and deepest nature and our “salvation” comes from following our own unique clues.

The Myth of the Great Secret is both a loving memorial to Campbell and an original extension of his work. Johnson, later a psychotherapist, comparative religions scholar and gay spirituality writer, offers insight into the vital role that myth and insight into myth play in the modern world and inspiration for anyone seeking coherence and meaning. A wealth of personal anecdotes and teaching stories are woven throughout the text to provide practical applications for these lessons, and concrete examples of their power to change lives.


The Myth of the Great Secret is a jewel of a book. I have read it with deep fascination, enchanted not only by the graceful style…but also by the skill of your presentation… And I think the way you have put together all that we have been learning from each other in all those meetings and encounters, all up and down the state of California, is really wonderful. The book is the definitive chronicle of our ‘Queste del Saint Graal’…”        

—Joseph Campbell


"The Myth of the Great Secret: An Appreciation of Joseph Campbell" is a sort of “spiritual autobiography” of Johnson's life as a young Catholic boy joining Catholic religious life after high school and going off to the monastery—which was actually just college most of the time, but living in a religious community and going through a daily series of religious practices. During that time, he discovered the field of Comparative Religions and, specifically, Joseph Campbell. From learning about Buddhism and other religions, Johnson came to a new, modern understanding of what religion is really about. He argues that this is what everybody’s going through now in some way as religiousness adjust to the modern, scientific world. The field of comparative religions teaches one to think about religion from over and above, outside any particular set of doctrines. Such thinking produces a kind of “meta-myth,” an explanation for oneself of how all these various myths fit together.

The term in the title “The Myth of the Great Secret” refers to this “meta-myth” or “myth about myth.” Everybody feels like there’s something we need or ought to know to make our lives better and more meaningful and satisfying. Religion has tended to answer that need with its stories about higher reality. That “something” that inspires us is a secret, a Great Secret that pushes us to assume higher and higher perspectives to make sense of everything.

After Johnson left religious life in the pivotal year 1970, he moved to San Francisco and continued his studies of comparative religion at the California Institute of Asian Studies (now the California Institute of Integral Studies). The next year he attended a weekend seminar that Joseph Campbell taught at The Mann Ranch Seminars, a retreat center out in the country north of San Francisco. He got a job at that retreat center and spent some 5 summers there. The Mann Ranch Seminars was loosely modeled on Esalen Institute down in Big Sur. Through the Mann Ranch Johnson made friends with Campbell and corresponded with him for some ten years. Johnson was part of the crew that assisted at Campbell's appearances in the Bay Area through most of the decade.

Joseph Campbell read the first edition of this book and wrote a nice letter about it:  "I think the way you have put together all that we have all been learning from each other in those meetings and encounters, up and down the state of California, is really wonderful. The book is the definitive chronicle of our ‘Queste del Saint Graal’ of the seventies.” This letter is included in the second edition of this book.

Campbell used the expression “The New Myth” to mean whatever is coming in the future that will replace our current religions, the way they replaced the religions before them. Toby Johnson argues that “the new myth” IS the realization of the nature of myth.

Joseph Campbell thought the image of “Earthrise” — the Earth rising above the lunar horizon — symbolized the modern ability to look back upon oneself from outside. The astronauts seeing earth from the moon are like humanity seeing itself from over and above. That’s the modern perspective.

Earthrise
One of the stories from the Mann Ranch tells of a talk Campbell gave out on top of the highest point in the California Coastal Range above Mendocino in which he contrasted the mythological image of the Sun shooting an arrow through the Full Moon at the moment of sunset/moonrise with the scientific and powerful reality that humankind has walked on the Moon and watched the Earth from afar.





Johnson does talk about himself as a gay man and gay mental health activist in the book, but this is not a “gay book” the way most of his others are. It’s about the recognition that myths and religious doctrines are symbols about the nature of consciousness. Waking up to that reality frees us from the rigidity of old time religion, while allowing us to believe in a “greater reality” that gives clues to itself—i.e., clues to the secret—through the events of our lives. For gay and lesbian people this is a very helpful way to understand religion. It allows us to reject the stuff that doesn’t fit. Johnson only half-jokingly fancies himself “Joseph Campbell’s apostle to the gay community."

This idea is what’s behind the internet term “Spiritual, not religious.” And the notion of the “secret” resonates with what people mean when they say they are “agnostic,” i.e., that they don't know. Another expression of this idea was coined by California Institute Founder Frederic Spiegelberg in the phrase: “The Religion of No Religion."

Interwoven into Johnson's autobiography is material about Campbell, modern physics, the history of Buddhism, Meister Eckhart and medieval Catholic mysticism, Carl Jung and the phenomenon of synchronicity, the Gaia Hypothesis, and, especially, the story of the Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara. This last is the Buddhist myth about a world savior who saves the world by taking on everybody’s future reincarnations for them—so we are all really Avalokiteshvara reincarnating in fulfillment of his vow to be everybody. And religion and myth have been the clues Avalokiteshvara is giving himself about who he really is and what's actually going on with human existence.

Avalokiteshvara
Avalokiteshvara, by the way, is a fairly familiar-looking Buddhist statue. In male form he is Avalokiteshvara. In female form she is Kuan Yin. The original Northern Indian image was of him as an androgynous male form as a bare chested boy sitting in a relaxed lotus position, wearsing women’s clothes or jewelry.

It is said there are Three Wonders of the Bodhisattva. The first is that “he” sees that there is no difference between samsara and nirvana, between time and eternity—This is It, right now. The second is that “he” is both male and female. And the Third Wonder is that the first two wonders are the same.

Within the course of the book, there are two symbols used for the central idea of the “Great Secret.” They are the Tibetan icon of the double dorje or vajra (lightning bolt), and the image of the inner nature of the Self as a tiger.

vajra

Lightning is an icon for Enlightenment as a sudden bolt of insight. Ancient Tibetans believed diamonds were formed by lightning striking the earth and congealing. The symbol for the lightning bolt is that dumbbell shaped figure (there are two of them crossing each other in the “double dorje”). The prongs come from the sceptres of the old-gods who hurled lightning bolts—like the Greek god Neptune with this trident.
Tibetan tiger scarf



The tiger image refers to Campbell’s story that perhaps we all have to pretend we’re goats because we’ll be killed (like Jesus and Hallaj) if we acknowledge what and who we “really are” — which is tigers. So the tiger is a symbol of the deepest Self—which has “power.”







The central story of Toby Johnson's book is about Campbell giving a lecture on the Tibetan Book of the Dead. Johnson was operating the slide projector. Campbell had intentionally left one of the slots in the carousel empty, so when he got to the stage of “The Clear Light”—what the Buddhists say is the way straight to nirvana at death—and Johnson clicked the slide and there was no slide, just bright white light, he immediately clicked to the next slide. And then Campbell explained that is what everybody does at the moment of death. Because we aren’t expecting it, when the Clear Light appears, we reject it and move on—which means falling back into reincarnation in Buddhism. Symbolically it means we are surprised at the Truth because it isn’t what we were expecting.

And that is because it is a secret!



Here's the original 1st edition cover, published by William Morrow & Co. in 1980. The image was chosen by Toby Johnson's editor Jim Landis from a sample of "cross-like" icons Johnson prepared for Landis.

Myth of the Great Secret 1980


Here's the revised edition cover, published by Celestial Arts, in 1992.


Revised edition


To download a preview of the 3rd Edition, click here.



Here's a photo of the first edition which was in hardcover only in Joseph Campbell's library (as it has been reproduced with every book where he had it) at the Pacifica Graduate Center Campbell/Gimbutas Archives.

MofGS-in-Joe-Campbells-library


The original edition of this book contained a chapter called "The Dream of the Ipse Solus," the self alone, which discussed Ursula LeGuin's novel The Lathe of Heaven and Werner Erhard's est Training. A portion of that chapter appears here at ipsesolus.html

rainbow line

Toby Johnson, PhD is author of eight books: three non-fiction books that apply the wisdom of his teacher and "wise old man," Joseph Campbell to modern-day social and religious problems, three gay genre novels that dramatize spiritual issues at the heart of gay identity, and two books on gay men's spiritualities and the mystical experience of homosexuality. In addition to the novels featured elsewhere in this web site, Johnson is author of IN SEARCH OF GOD IN THE SEXUAL UNDERWORLD and THE MYTH OF THE GREAT SECRET (Revised edition): AN APPRECIATION OF JOSEPH CAMPBELL.

Johnson's Lammy Award winning book GAY SPIRITUALITY: The Role of Gay Identity in the Transformation of Human Consciousness was published in 2000. His Lammy-nominated book  GAY PERSPECTIVE: Things Our Homosexuality Tells Us about the Nature of God and the Universe was published by Alyson in 2003. Both books are available now from Lethe Press.

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