How to Read a Myth

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Toby Johnson's books:

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Finding Your Own True Myth - The Myth of the Great Secret III

FINDING YOUR OWN TRUE MYTH: What I Learned from Joseph Campbell: The Myth of the Great Secret III

Gay Spirituality

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

Gay Perspective

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

Secret Matter

SECRET MATTER, a sci-fi novel with wonderful "aliens" with an Afterword by Mark Jordan

Getting Life

GETTING LIFE IN PERSPECTIVE:  A Fantastical Gay Romance set in two different time periods

The Fourth Quill

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

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

charmed lives
CHARMED LIVES: Spinning Straw into Gold: GaySpirit in Storytelling, a collaboration with Steve Berman and some 30 other writers

Myth of the Great Secret

THE MYTH OF THE GREAT SECRET: An Appreciation of Joseph Campbell

In Search of God


Unpublished manuscripts

About ordering

Books on Gay Spirituality:

White Crane Gay Spirituality Series

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  Toby has done five podcasts with Harry Faddis for The Quest of Life

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  Articles and Excerpts:

Review of Samuel Avery's The Dimensional Structure of Consciousness

Funny Coincidence: "Aliens Settle in San Francisco"

About Liberty Books, the Lesbian/Gay Bookstore for Austin, 1986-1996

The Simple Answer to the Gay Marriage Debate

A Bifurcation of Gay Spirituality

Why gay people should NOT Marry

The Scriptural Basis for Same Sex Marriage

Toby and Kip Get Married

Wedding Cake Liberation

Gay Marriage in Texas

What's ironic

Shame on the American People

The "highest form of love"

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Gay Consciousness

Why homosexuality is a sin

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

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

The Gay Succession

Wouldn’t You Like to Be Uranian?

The Reincarnation of Edward Carpenter

Why Gay Spirituality: Spirituality as Artistic Medium

Easton Mountain Retreat Center

Andrew Harvey & Spiritual Activism

The Mysticism of Andrew Harvey

The upsidedown book on MSNBC

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"It's Always About You"

The myth of the Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara

Joseph Campbell's description of Avalokiteshvara

You're Not A Wave

Joseph Campbell Talks about Aging

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

What Anatman means

Advice to Travelers to India & Nepal

The Danda Nata & goddess Kalika

Nate Berkus is a bodhisattva

John Boswell was Immanuel Kant

Cutting edge realization

The Myth of the Wanderer

Change: Source of Suffering & of Bliss

World Navel

What the Vows Really Mean

Manifesting from the Subtle Realms

The Three-layer Cake & the Multiverse

The est Training and Personal Intention

Effective Dreaming in Ursula LeGuin's The Lathe of Heaven

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Gay Spirituality

Curious Bodies

What Toby Johnson Believes

The Joseph Campbell Connection

The Mann Ranch (& Rich Gabrielson)

Campbell & The Pre/Trans Fallacy

The Two Loves

The Nature of Religion

What's true about Religion

Being Gay is a Blessing

Drawing Long Straws

Freedom of Religion

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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

Having a Church to Leave

Harold Cole on Beauty

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Marian Doctrines: Immaculate Conception & Assumption

Not lashed to the prayer-post

Monastic or Chaste Homosexuality

Is It Time to Grow Up? Confronting the Aging Process

Notes on Licking  (July, 1984)

Redeem Orlando

Gay Consciousness changing the world by Shokti LoveStar

Alexander Renault interviews Toby Johnson

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Mystical Vision

"The Evolution of Gay Identity"

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

Avalokiteshvara at the Baths

 Eckhart's Eye

Let Me Tell You a Secret

Religious Articulations of the Secret

The Collective Unconscious

Driving as Spiritual Practice


Historicity as Myth


No Stealing

Next Step in Evolution

The New Myth

The Moulting of the Holy Ghost

Gaia is a Bodhisattva

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The Hero's Journey

The Hero's Journey as archetype -- GSV 2016

The  Gay Hero Journey (shortened)

You're On Your Own


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Seeing Differently

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

Facing the Edge: AIDS as an occasion for spiritual wisdom

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

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The Vision

The mystical experience at the Servites'  Castle in Riverside

A  Most Remarkable Synchronicity in Riverside

The Great Dance according to C.S.Lewis

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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

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The Secret of the Clear Light

Understanding the Clear Light

Mobius Strip

Finding Your Tiger Face

How Gay Souls Get Reincarnated

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Joseph Campbell, the Hero's Journey, and the modern Gay Hero-- a five part presentation on YouTube

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About Alien Abduction

In honor of Sir Arthur C Clarke

Karellen was a homosexual

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

Intersections with the movie When We Rise

More about Gay Mental Health

Psych Tech Training

Toby at the California Institute

The Rainbow Flag

Ideas for gay mythic stories

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Kip and Toby, Activists

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 Mark Thompson

About Sterling Houston

About Michael Stevens

The Alamo Business Council

Our friend Tom Nash

Second March on Washington

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

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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

Brain, Consciousness, and God: A Lonerganian Integration by Daniel A Helminiak

A Walk with Four Spiritual Guides by Andrew Harvey

Can Christians Be Saved? by Stephenson & Rhodes

The Lost Secrets of the Ancient Mystery Schools by Stephenson & Rhodes

Keys to Spiritual Being: Energy Meditation and Synchronization Exercises by Adrian Ravarour

In Walt We Trust by John Marsh

Solomon's Tantric Song by Rollan McCleary

A Special Illumination by Rollan McCleary

Aelred's Sin by Lawrence Scott

Fruit Basket by Payam Ghassemlou

Internal Landscapes by John Ollom

Princes & Pumpkins by David Hatfield Sparks

Yes by Brad Boney

Blood of the Goddess by William Schindler

Roads of Excess, Palaces of Wisdom by Jeffrey Kripal

Evolving Dharma by Jay Michaelson

Jesus in Salome's Lot by Brett W. Gillette

The Man Who Loved Birds by Fenton Johnson

The Vatican Murders by Lucien Gregoire

"Sex Camp" by Brian McNaught

Out & About with Brewer & Berg
Episode One: Searching for a New Mythology

The Soul Beneath the Skin by David Nimmons

Out on Holy Ground by Donald Boisvert

The Revotutionary Psychology of Gay-Centeredness by Mitch Walker

Out There by Perry Brass

The Crucifixion of Hyacinth by Geoff Puterbaugh

The Silence of Sodom by Mark D Jordan

It's Never About What It's About by Krandall Kraus and Paul Borja

ReCreations, edited by Catherine Lake

Gospel: A Novel by WIlton Barnhard

Keeping Faith: A Skeptic’s Journey by Fenton Johnson

Dating the Greek Gods
by Brad Gooch

Telling Truths in Church by Mark D. Jordan

The Substance of God by Perry Brass

The Tomcat Chronicles by Jack Nichols

10 Smart Things Gay Men Can Do to Improve Their Lives by Joe Kort

Jesus and the Shamanic Tradition of Same Sex Love by Will Roscoe

The Third Appearance by Walter Starcke

The Last Hours of Ancient Sunlight by Thom Hartmann

Surviving and Thriving After a Life-Threatening Diagnosis by Bev Hall

Men, Homosexuality, and the Gods by Ronald Long

An Interview with Ron Long

Queering Creole Spiritual Traditons by Randy Conner & David Sparks

An Interview with Randy Conner

Pain, Sex and Time by Gerald Heard

Sex and the Sacred by Daniel Helminiak

Blessing Same-Sex Unions by Mark Jordan

Rising Up by Joe Perez

Soulfully Gay by Joe Perez

That Undeniable Longing by Mark Tedesco

Vintage: A Ghost Story by Steve Berman

Wisdom for the Soul by Larry Chang

MM4M a DVD by Bruce Grether

Double Cross by David Ranan

The Transcended Christian by Daniel Helminiak

Jesus in Love by Kittredge Cherry

In the Eye of the Storm by Gene Robinson

The Starry Dynamo by Sven Davisson

Life in Paradox by Fr Paul Murray

Spirituality for Our Global Community by Daniel Helminiak

Gay & Healthy in a Sick Society by Robert A. Minor

Coming Out: Irish Gay Experiences by Glen O'Brien

Queering Christ by Robert Goss

Skipping Towards Gomorrah by Dan Savage

The Flesh of the Word by Richard A Rosato

Catland by David Garrett Izzo

Tantra for Gay Men by Bruce Anderson

Yoga & the Path of the Urban Mystic by Darren Main

Simple Grace by Malcolm Boyd

Seventy Times Seven by Salvatore Sapienza

What Does "Queer" Mean Anyway? by Chris Bartlett

Critique of Patriarchal Reasoning by Arthur Evans

Gift of the Soul by Dale Colclasure & David Jensen

Legend of the Raibow Warriors by Steven McFadden

The Liar's Prayer by Gregory Flood

Lovely are the Messengers by Daniel Plasman

The Human Core of Spirituality by Daniel Helminiak

3001: The Final Odyssey by Arthur C. Clarke

Religion and the Human Sciences by Daniel Helminiak

Only the Good Parts by Daniel Curzon

Four Short Reviews of Books with a Message

Life Interrupted by Michael Parise

Confessions of a Murdered Pope by Lucien Gregoire

The Stargazer's Embassy by Eleanor Lerman

Conscious Living, Conscious Aging by Ron Pevny

Footprints Through the Desert by Joshua Kauffman

True Religion by J.L. Weinberg

The Mediterranean Universe by John Newmeyer

Everything is God by Jay Michaelson

Reflection by Dennis Merritt

Everywhere Home by Fenton Johnson

Hard Lesson by James Gaston

God vs Gay? by Jay Michaelson

The Gate of Tears: Sadness and the Spiritual Path by Jay Michaelson

Roxie & Fred by Richard Alther

Not the Son He Expected by Tim Clausen

The 9 Realities of Stardust by Bruce P. Grether

The Afterlife Revolution by Anne & Whitley Strieber

AIDS Shaman: Queer Spirit Awakening by Shokti Lovestar

Facing the Truth of Your Life by Merle Yost

The Super Natural by Whitley Strieber & Jeffrey J Kripal

Secret Body by Jeffrey J Kripal

In Hitler's House by Jonathan Lane

Walking on Glory by Edward Swift

The Paradox of Porn by Don Shewey

Is Heaven for Real? by Lucien Gregoire

Enigma by Lloyd Meeker

Scissors, Paper, Rock by Fenton Johnson

Toby Johnson's Books on Gay Men's Spiritualities:

Perspective cover
Gay Perspective

Things Our [Homo]sexuality
Tells Us about the
Nature of God and
the Universe

Gay Perspective audiobook
Gay Perspective is available as an audiobook narrated by Matthew Whitfield. Click here

Spirituality cover
Gay Spirituality

Gay Identity and 
the Transformation of
Human Consciousness

Gay Spirituality   is now available as an audiobook, beautifully narrated by John Sipple. Click here

charmed lives
Charmed Lives: Gay Spirit in Storytelling

edited by
Toby Johnson
& Steve Berman

secret matter
Secret Matter

Lammy Award Winner for Gay Science Fiction


Getting Life
Getting Life in Perspective

A Fantastical Romance

Life in Perspective audiobook
Getting Life in Perspective is available as an audiobook narrated by Alex Beckham. Click here 

The Fourth Quill

The Fourth Quill

originally published as PLAGUE

The Fourth Quill is available as an audiobook, narrated by Jimmie Moreland. Click here

Two Spirits: A Story of Life with the Navajo

with Walter L. Williams

Two Spirits
audiobookTwo Spirits  is available as an audiobook  narrated by Arthur Raymond. Click here

Finding Your Own True Myth - The Myth of the Great Secret III
Finding Your Own True Myth:
What I Learned from Joseph Campbell

The Myth of the Great Secret III

Search of God in the Sexual Underworld
In Search of God  in the Sexual Underworld

The Myth of the Great Secret II

The Myth of the Great Secret: An Appreciation of Joseph Campbell.

This was the second edition of this book.

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Toby Johnson's titles are available in other ebook formats from Smashwords.

It’s Always About You:

Joseph Campbell and How to Read a Myth

Toby Johnson

Gay Spirit Visions Fall Conference, 2004

Toby's workshop presentation on the myth of Avalokiteshvara has more on the meaning of the Clear Light

And check out Toby's story, revising the Book of Genesis, on Adam and Steve

For info about ordering Toby's books

Whimsical photos of Kip and Toby from the GSV Dance & Talent Show

Well, so I am going to explain what “Inner Fabulosity” means!!!

    When Kip and I were running the gay bookstore in Austin, there was a local anti-gay Christian preacher named Mark Weaver who was offended by the very thought of homosexuality. He was actually relatively friendly with me. And we spent several lunches having dialogues about modern morality. I'm sorry to say as much as we connected personally, he was simply unwilling to consider my side or to believe that my account of my own experience was true. He was famous for carrying a sign with him wherever he went that said “Gay is not OK” He had a little following, mostly of guilty homosexuals it looked like, who’d carry these signs along with him and they’d picket gay events (and AIDS education seminars – for which he got sued and driven out of Austin). They used to bring their signs out to Hippie Hollow, the gay nude beach at Lake Travis, about 15 miles outside town. There was a saying that “there is no distance too far for Mark Weaver to go to be offended.”
    We sold a T-shirt at Liberty Books based on Mark Weaver’s signs. In black block letters, like his signs, it read: “Gay is Not OK,” then in bright pink script below that, it continued “It’s fabulous…”
    So “fabulous” is on the other side of just OK. It’s being wonderful, incredible, marvelous, and spectacular. And your “inner fabulosity” is your own interior self-concept of yourself as marvelous and full of wonder . . . even when other people—like the Republicans—don’t get it.

Etymological Meaning
  The etymological meaning of “fabulous” is “told in or based on a fable,” i.e. a story with a moral or a meaning.
    “Fable” is another word for “myth.” So “fabulosity” must mean being of mythic proportions and having a “secret meaning.”

Song: It’s in All of Us. I learned this form Rob Eichberg, David Goodstein’s partner in The Advocate Experience. It’s about finding the “secret meaning.”

It’s in everyone of us to be wise
Find our hearts, open up both our eyes
We can all have everything without ever knowing why
It’s in every one of us by and by.

Show & Tell: Pass around The Magic Eye books of “holographic” images.
Explain briefly how to view the “3-D” image by changing your focus: hold the book up to your nose and focus on it, then pull it away—without changing your focus—till it jumps into 3-D.
    That’s example of how you can “transform consciousness” or “see the world in a different way” without anything in the content of the world actually changing.

    Teilhard de Chardin, the French mystical palentologist, spoke about seeing --through the eye of the mind -- a “fire” burning up behind everything living in the world, seeing how it’s all alive, evolving, changing, growing, seeing how this life is the life of “God” and so this world is “the divine milieu.”
“Throughout my life, through my life, the world has little by little caught fire in my sight until, aflame all around me, it has become almost completely luminous from within . . . Such has been my experience in contact with the earth—the diaphany of the divine at the heart of the universe on fire.”
    “Diaphany” is a combination of epiphany, meaning manifestation or apparition, and “diaphanous,” meaning gauzy and almost transparent
    Seeing the divine milieu is a little like seeing the 3-D images of The Magic Eye. What changes isn’t the content of the outside world, but rather the way you’re looking at it.  That’s what we sang about in the song – “find your heart, open up both your eyes” – “both eyes” meaning the eyes of the body, but also the eye of the spirit, the “third eye.”

As those who were in attendance know, part of the GSV Fall 2004 Conference was dealing with Hurricane Ivan. Inthe closing Heart Circle GSV artist Mike Goettee told us all about his experience of capturing a big pink cloud which he'd understood as a symbol for our good gay energy. What a great example of finding the diaphany in God in nature. Here's Mike's image.
Big Pink Cloud from Mike Goettee

I want to share with you the main lesson I learned from Joseph Campbell. It’s really about seeing with that spiritual eye. You know, I only half-jokingly call myself “Joe Campbell’s apostle to the gay community.” What I learned from him transformed my understanding of religion – just like The Magic Eye. And it offered a way of understanding religion that makes sense for gay people. It explains why we need – and should have – particular, “special,” spiritual practices and beliefs for us.

I want to first tell you very briefly how I came to be a disciple of Campbell’s. And then I want to explain two religious terms that are generally misunderstood: “myth” and “faith.” Then I want to explain Campbell’s idea of “how to read a myth” and then apply that to a couple of important mythic themes: “God the Creator,” “redemption/salvation,” “Christ,” and “afterlife.” That will get us to the real secret of myth, the message behind it all. And that can be summed up in a simple sentence: “The point of all spirituality is to experience heaven now.”

    I first got exposed to Campbell when I was assigned The Hero With A Thousand Faces, his first and main book, as summer reading in advance for a course on Jungian interpretation of myth and symbol in literature. I was a student at a Catholic college—Saint Louis University in St. Louis—and only a year out of my first round of seminary. I was, well, in the language of the day, “blown away” by Campbell’s explanation of myth which was all presented by recounting the great mythic stories of the world’s religious traditions.
    I was particularly affected by the story of the bisexual/androgynous Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara who “saved the world” by taking on himself the incarnation of all sentient beings, so that he is the One Being who is reincarnating in all of us. A marvelous story, with lots of layers of gay meaning that I will talk about in one of the small group workshops this afternoon.
    In 1970, I was a graduate student in comparative religion at the California Institute of Integral Studies in San Francisco, a gay hippie having moved to “Mecca” and pursuing one of the great themes of hippiehood and the counterculture: Oriental myths/meditation and the real meaning of religion.
    It was Campbell who’d gotten me interested in comparative religion, especially Buddhism, and Alan Watts who been a previous president of the school who’d gotten me to C.I.I.S. (then called California Institute of Asian Studies).
    One day I noticed a poster on the bulletin board for a seminar Campbell was giving at a conference center in Ukiah, about 100 miles north of the city, called The Mann Ranch Seminars. I discovered I’d just missed a seminar there by Alan Watts, but was in time to sign up for Campbell’s weekend.
    I was a poor hippie flower child at the time and so applied for a “work scholarship.” I was asked to come up a day early to help clean the rambling old ranch house where the seminar would be held. I hitchhiked up Hwy 101 to Ukiah.
    Well, Campbell also arrived early. And so I had the opportunity to meet him in a more personal and casual manner. I was delighted with his friendliness. “Oh, call me Joe,” was the first thing I remember him saying, in reply to one of us addressing him as “Professor Campbell.”
    That started a correspondence with him that lasted some ten years; I got invited to join the Mann Ranch Seminar staff and to be part of the team that would host Campbell on the West Coast till his retirement and move to Hawaii in 1980.
    In a way, Campbell lived like a gay man. He and his wife, dancer/choreographer Jean Erdman, did not have children, preferring “spirit children” to real children in the form of their books and performances. And Joe taught at Sarah Lawrence, a girls school, So he was always pleased to have young men interested in his ideas. And there were several of us who got to be known as “Joe’s bright eyed boys” the sons he hadn’t had, the “disciples” who’d transmit his ideas beyond him.
    By the way, an interesting factoid about Campbell is that most of his life he and Jean lived in a two and a half room apartment in a high-rise building on Waverly St and Avenue of the Americas, overlooking Sheridan Square and the intersection of Christopher and Gay Streets. I’ve imagined he must have been watching out the window the nights of the Stonewall Riots.


    Central to Campbell’s ideas was a shift in the meaning of the word “myth.” So often in casual speech we use this word to mean a falsehood or an error. But in comparative religions it has a much more specific and honorable meaning.
    Myth refers to a system of ideas, symbols and metaphors that convey spiritual meaning and that are designed to influence how people think and behave. Myths are stories that explain reality in way that motivates positive, “enlightened” behavior and that satisfy people’s need to understand why they’re alive and what their lives are about.
    In this sense, myth is the opposite of falsehood. It’s the “real,” the deeper truth. But it’s about the context, not the content.

    We have a particularly difficult time understanding myth in Western culture because we have inherited a religious tradition based on a specific written text that both claims to be the revelation of “real” truth and the “historical proof” of this truth. Western – Jewish, Christian, Islamic – myth declares itself to be “historical” as its claim to legitimacy. So we don’t tend to understand religious truth to be “fables” but rather historical accounts.

    A cognate word to “myth” is “faith.” Peoples of the Book are called to have faith. And these days that has come to mean agreeing to religious propositions that don’t seem obviously true. We are called to affirm the teachings of Jesus on the grounds that he rose from the dead, in spite of the fact that that isn’t really possible AND there’s no evidence except people’s insistence.
    Faith has it backwards. The ancients believed in their mythological universe – with the Earth at the center of all sorts of cosmic and supernatural influences – not because they affirmed this in opposition to reason and in conformity to revelation, but because that’s what made sense to them. Up till recently religious myths didn’t seem counter to reason, they seemed perfectly reasonable.
    But there’s another meaning to “faith.” When you say “I believe” you don’t have to be affirming something in contradiction to evidence, you can be saying “I want these ideas and metaphors to influence my life; I want to entertain these thoughts because they’ll transform my experience.”


    We understand how rituals and spiritual practices are designed to alter consciousness. Singing, walking in procession, inhaling burning incense, chanting, doing yoga or breathing exercises – these are all intended to have direct effect on people’s consciousness; they stir emotions, they touch deep-seated psychological associations, they open channels in the mind/body.
    Try looking upwards by rolling your eyes up. Brainwave studies show that that, by itself, causes the brain to go into alpha wave production – i.e. relaxed and dreamy consciousness. You can see how that sort of spiritual pose – or meditation practice – would result in a feeling of spirituality.

    Religious doctrines are actually just the same. The reason for “believing” in them isn’t because they’re true (anymore than, say, a yoga headstand is “true”) but because they’ll change how you feel.
    Doctrines are spiritual practices.

Here’s a very thickly written but beautiful quote from Campbell:

And so, to grasp the full value of the mythological figures that have come down to us, we must understand that they are not only symptoms of the unconscious (as indeed are all human thoughts and acts) but also controlled and intended statements of certain spiritual principles, which have remained as constant throughout the course of human history as the form and nervous structure of the human physique itself. Briefly formulated, the universal doctrine teaches that all the visible structures of the world—all things and beings—are the effects of a ubiquitous power out of which they rise, which supports and fills them during the period of their manifestation, and back into which they must ultimately dissolve.

… The apprehension of the source of this undifferentiated yet everywhere particularized substratum of being is rendered frustrate by the very organs though which the apprehension must be accomplished. The forms of sensibility and the categories of human thought, so confine the mind that it is normally impossible not only to see, but even to conceive, beyond the colorful, fluid, infinitely various and bewildering phenomenal spectacle.

The function of ritual and myth is to make possible, and then to facilitate, the jump [beyond the senses and the categories of human thought]—by analogy.
   Forms and conceptions that the mind and its senses can comprehend are presented and arranged in such a way as to suggest a truth or openness beyond. And then, the conditions for meditation having been provided, the individual is left alone. Myth is but the penultimate; the ultimate is openness—that void, or being, beyond the categories—into which the mind must plunge alone and be dissolved. Therefore, God and the gods are only convenient means—themselves of the nature of the world of names and forms, though eloquent of, and ultimately conducive to, the ineffable. They are mere symbols to move and awaken the mind, and call it past themselves. (Hero, p. 258)

    Campbell originally wanted to call his first book “How to Read a Myth.” It ended up with a much better title The Hero with A Thousand Faces. But that first title reveals what he understood to be the central idea of the book.
    Myths are stories that seem to be about supernatural realities. The main characters are gods. They seem to be about external reality.
    But they are really intended to transform consciousness and, ideally, to convey mystical experience.

    There’s a wonderful tangent to go off on here that I am going to avoid. But it’s about how religion and myth originally started as efforts of shamans and drug-using ecstatics to communicate their mystical experiences by saying: “it’s like this, it’s like this.” If you’ve ever tried to explain a deep religious moment or maybe an LSD-induced realization, you know how difficult it is and how you end up stammering out metaphors and analogies in hopes your audience will get what you’re talking about. AND we now have come to understand that many, certainly most and maybe all, these shamans and seers who started religion were people we’d likely call “gay” today.
    But for now I’m not going to go there . . .

    The way to read a myth is to understand that the central character isn’t God or Moses or the Blessed Virgin Mary. The central character is YOU. And the myth isn’t about God or Moses or the BVM. It’s about YOU.
    YOU are the fabulous character of fable. The stories are about you and how you can live a rich, socially harmonious, participating, contributing life.
    The stories are clues to who you really are.
    I mentioned God, Moses, and the Blessed Virgin Mary. Let’s look at them real quick and see what we see,

    God is the Creator of the universe. Well, there may or may not be a personal Being somewhere out in space who started this all. Who knows? Given what we’ve discovered about the nature of space in the last 100 years, this God has been pushed up higher and higher beyond human life. But the insight that the myth is less about that being than about YOU doesn’t invalidate the possibility that God does exist.
    But the idea of God is to reveal to you how you “create” your own world of experience. God and God’s feelings and attitudes are clues to you about how you should approach the process by which you assemble and value your experience in your mind.
    God is a mythological name for the evolutionary process.


By choosing to consciously participate in this experiment rather than merely being a passive witness, we can identify ourselves with the conscious “force” seeking to manifest through evolution, developing our untapped cocreative potential. In my own efforts at self-evolution, I hold three aspects of consciousness in my heart simultaneously: I am an expression of the whole story of creation; I am a vital participant in expressing my creativity to serve that evolution and my own evolution; and thirdly, I am one with source. This is evolutionary consciousness.


   Prayer is part of the experience of God. We pray to God as though God were a person on the other end of a wireless and instrumentless telephone. Actually, you’re talking to your deepest self. How you think about your life and how you talk to yourself about your life will affect how your life unfolds. That’s one of the major discoveries of the science of psychology. People’s expectations create “self-fulfilling prophecies” and bring themselves about.

    What does it mean that “you” are “God” in your own universe?

a) to be able to change things by your intention. Though how do you know what your real intention is? You look at what’s happening.

b) So the idea of the power of creative intention/visualization is really about choosing things as they are as demonstration of what your intention has actually chosen. I.e. “No Resistance.”

c) That idea of “no resistance” was the central teaching of est.  Werner Erhard had a saying: “If God told you exactly what it was you were to do, you would be happy doing it no matter what it was. What you’re doing is what God wants you to do. Be happy.” Also “You’re god in your universe. You caused it. You pretended not to cause it so that you could play in it, and you can remember you caused it any time you want to.” “Life is a ripoff when you expect to get what you want. Life works when you choose what you got. Actually what you got is what you chose. To move on, choose it.

d) The Course in Miracles suggests the aphorism/affirmation for self-talk: “I could see peace instead of this.” What you really can change is your reactions to things. That’s how you are God in your universe.

e) The Lazy Man’s Guide to Enlightenment also offers aphorisms. They’re a little more hippie and homespun than the Course in Miracles: “Love it the way it is; Love as much as you can from wherever you are; Love is the only dimension that can be changed.” My favorite is to ask yourself when you’re on a “bad trip” and seeing things in your life you don’t like: “What did you think it was that needed to be loved?” I.e. what did you expect? Love it anyway and if you don’t love it, then love yourself for not loving it, and love that you’re trying. That’s the hero’s journey

Here's a link to the entire text of The Lazy Man's Guide to Enlightenment

    That’s what Moses is about: what Campbell called the hero’s journey. The story of Moses is about a boy who isn’t really who people think he is. Remember he was put in a reed ark and set loose on the Nile by his mother and rescued by the Pharoah’s daughter.
    He is inspired with the curiosity to find out who he truly is and to fulfill a destiny.
Every human child is like that. We have a secret destiny we’re supposed to uncover. We feel we’re special. We’re not like anybody else.
After realizing that he is one of the Hebrews, Moses leads his real people out of Egypt, through a series of adventures and obstacles, into a Promised Land. Each of us is supposed to be seeking that Promised Land in our own lives.
Annually Jews celebrate the hero journey of Moses with the Seder dinner, remembering the great deeds of ancient history. But the Seder is always understood to be about the quest for truth and justice and freedom from tyranny and fulfillment of destiny NOW. That’s the secret, esoteric meaning of the Passover wish: “Next year, in Jerusalem.” The Passover journey is still in process.

And then there’s the BVM, a rich source of symbology – especially for gay men. One of the items of dish about Catholic religious life back in the old days was that the Marian Orders were more comfortable places for homosexuals – because the spirituality was focused on feminine virtues: obedience, humility, meekness, poverty, service.

The Blessed Virgin Mary was a young Jewish girl who had a baby out of wedlock who grew up to be Jesus. She’s the Western version of the Goddess.

Most of the stories about Mary are really about Jesus. The Virgin Birth is about how wonderful it was that Jesus was born. It’s actually missing the point to focus on the literal issue—that the Roman Church has become so obsessed about—of Mary’s hymen. The Virgin Birth is really about the excellence of Jesus’s teaching.

The misrepresentation of the myth as about Mary’s hymen has given it sex-negative meanings. Virginity is interpreted as avoidance of sex. But virgin really means a woman who hasn’t had a baby and isn’t a mother. So it’s really about the “coincidence of opposites”: Mary is both a mother and a non-mother. The opposites united.

But the way to read the myth of the virgin birth is to understand it’s about YOU. It’s about that virginal self in you, i.e. innocent and expectant and hopeful. Meister Eckhart, the medieval mystic, used the image of the virgin for the pure, loving soul waiting to be fructified by grace.
The virgin is the feminine self un-dominated and un-possessed by a dominant male. The virgin in you, therefore, is about that innocent, loving, feminine, receptive self you can be.

This is also the meaning of the Immaculate Conception, the myth that Mary herself was born free of original sin, the Eve before eating the apple. Mary is an example of primary innocence because she precedes heterosexuality and the polarization of the world into male and female, masculine and feminine, good and evil.

Modern gene science now tells us that parthenogenesis has some basis of possibility. Sometimes female eggs can begin to multiply without being fertilized by a male sperm. Frogs can do that. It doesn’t seem to happen in humans—or at least people are usually skeptical when such a claim is made. But it’s not outside the realm of possibility. Though what that scientific explanation would also suggest is that any such self-fertilized egg would have to be a clone of the mother. And that means scientifically that Jesus would have had to have been a woman.  But let’s not go there . . .

After all, when we read about Jesus, we’re not reading about somebody who lived and died 2000 years ago, like Alexander the Great, for instance. Jesus represents the Self in each and all of us. We’re being asked to meditate on our own deepest self. That deepest self is innocent and non-polarized.

While we’re mentioning Jesus let me point out the meaning of “Christ.” It’s the same word applied to the Hindu incarnation of God Krishna. And it’s in the religious word “chrism” meaning the holy oils used for anointing in the sacraments.

Christ means The Anointed One. Anointing means being rubbed down with oil. It was done as an act of reverence and honor to a guest. In a desert culture, anointing with oil was a soothing protection for the skin.

Well, anointing also makes the skin glow.
That’s the reference. Jesus is the one who glows, who’s beautiful.

And gay men glow – that’s one of the ways we jokingly talk about the phenomenon of gaydar. So we’re all “anointed ones,” all “christs.”

I raise the self-referential observation about gay men because an important implication of this idea that the myths are about YOU is that you should choose to believe in myths that are meaningful and applicable to your life.
    The truth of the myth isn’t the external historical facticity of the event involved, but rather the transformation it makes in your life. So choose to entertain in consciousness those myths that are going to be meaningful to you. Better to think of yourself as an innocent, pre-sexual, pre-polarization incarnation of the Godhead consciousness delighting in your own creation than to think of yourself as a wicked, miserable, and ultimately doomed sinner, outcast from the Temple and polite society, and hated by God.

    Here’s why there is such a thing as “gay spirituality.” Spirituality is the use of techniques to raise consciousness and transform experience. Some techniques work better than others.

Parents With Children
   The spiritualities that give meaning to the lives of parents with children, married and committed to building a nest for the offspring, are simply different from those that give meaning to people without children, who have a different way of contributing to the world. Heterosexual imagery is about polarities. There’s a “battle of the sexes.” The spiritual work of heterosexuals is reconciling the dualities of male and female through marriage and complementing one another.

    The spiritualities that appeal to women are different from those that appeal to men. Women have the experience of menstruation, of being aligned with the phases of the moon, of bleeding regularly as a sign of their fecundity to give birth. Feminist and lesbian spiritualities therefore focus on lunar stories and images of blood and fecundity.
    Gay men don’t know nothin’ bout no menstruatin’.

Men Attracted to Men
    Our lives call us to choose different imagery. That’s why Joe Kramer’s Body Electric, for instance, and phallus worship make sense for us as men whose experience of sexuality is about being males loving males, i.e. all about penises and how the body can generate “altered states of consciousness” and pleasure with creation. Our experience of sex isn’t about babies or continuity through time or immorality through offspring. It’s about living in the present. That’s why it makes more sense for us to think of ourselves as Radical Faeries or Sexual/cultural Outsiders OR, using one of the big themes in mythology, as re-incarnations of Two-Spirit medicine men or ancient shamans or as medieval wandering monks or wizards or saintly hermits living out in the wilderness beyond the categories of husband and wife and mother and father.
    Spirituality is about how you conceive of yourself and your place in the larger universe of meaning.
    Our lives aren’t about reconciling the opposites by bringing them together in heterosexual coupling. We don’t have to experience the world as dualistic. Rather we experience relationship as a mirroring of the essential unity.

The most pervasive and basic of all religious myths and ideas about the meaning of life involves the questions of death, survival beyond death, and afterlife. What do these stories tell us about YOU?

We really don’t and can’t know anything about what happens to the soul and personality after death. By definition, death is the end of contact.

So interpreting what afterlife mythology means to us now doesn’t really comment on whether there is continuation of awareness beyond death. Explaining the mythology doesn’t invalidate it.

But I want to propose that the myths of reincarnation and of heaven and hell are NOT really about afterlife. They are about the experience of consciousness NOW.

Forever means intensity now

Here’s an important insight: whenever we talk about “eternity” or “forever,” we’re not talking about extension in time (though that is the metaphor we’re using). We’re always talking about depth of feeling and experience. So when you tell your boyfriend, “I will love you forever,” it really means I love you as deeply and intensely now as I can express. It is NOT a prediction about the future. Haven’t we all experienced telling somebody we would love them forever – until we broke up. Then the feeling ends.

Afterlife is like that. It really isn’t about the future. It’s about the depth and intensity of the present experience of consciousness.

What reincarnation refers to is the notion that each person’s life generates “karmic patterns” that extend beyond that person’s own life. In a way this is obvious, though it’s also much more subtle. This lectern I’m standing behind was once made by somebody. He or she put conscious energy into crafting it. Indeed, everything in this room is a direct result of some human being’s consciousness. The patterns their experience produced live long beyond them and have effects in other people’s lives.

What the imagery of “past lives” suggests is that “karmic” patterns are generated by everything we do. Some of these patterns are memorable and affect people later on directly. Some of them are more subtle and affect people later on indirectly.

Without really knowing anything about who he was when I was in novitiate as a young seminarian, I called the look I affected by wearing an oversized hooded sweatshirt my “Savonarola look.” It was a little bit of a shock later to realize who Savonarola really was – the head of the Florentine Inquisition who preached the “bonfire of the vanities” and ended up getting himself burned at the stake. (When Kip and I visited Florence years ago, I stood on the spot marked with a plaque where Savonarola was burned. I had an odd experience—a little whimsical, a little startling—of seeing the palazzo look very familiar.)

Well, I can recognize self-righteousness in myself. I can see how I once was awfully stern and unforgiving of human laxity. It makes sense for me to say I am influenced by the karmic patterns of Savonarola. I might even say, mythically, that I WAS Savonarola in a past life.

But then I think that that can be said of ALL of you in this room. We are ALL reincarnations of ALL the beings who have ever lived before us. We experience the consequences of their lives.

What the myth of reincarnation signifies is less “transmigration of souls” from one lifetime to another than the karmic power of our actions now to influence future generations. So the myth reminds us to be responsible for what we put out.

Heaven and Hell
And what heaven and hell signifies is less future experience after death than states of consciousness available to us right now.

Heaven refers to a state of consciousness in which we see life as good and worthy of being affirmed and chosen just as it is. Hell refers to a state of consciousness in which we resist things as they are and regret decisions we’ve made.

   The myths are offered to us not as statements about metaphysical reality, but as clues to the nature of consciousness.
   Indeed, let me repeat my little aphorism: “The goal of all spirituality is to experience heaven now.”
   We should live in such a way that we don’t make decisions we’ll regret and we don’t judge ourselves and other people and resist what’s coming down to us.

There is a wonderful poem by the Sufi poet Kabir.
Kabir’s poem: “The Time before Death” (Robert Bly version)

Friend, hope for the Guest while you are alive.
Jump into experience while you are alive!
Think . . . and think . . . while you are alive.
What you call "salvation" belongs to the time before death.

If you don't break your ropes while you're alive,
do you think ghosts will do it after?

The idea that the soul will join with the ecstatic
just because the body is rotten--that is all fantasy.
What is found now is found then.
If you find nothing now,
you will simply end up with an apartment in the City of Death.
If you make love with the divine now, in the next life you will
     have the face of satisfied desire.

So plunge into the truth, find out who the Teacher is,
     Believe in the Great Sound!

Kabir says this:  When the Guest is being searched for, it is
     the intensity of the longing for the Guest that does all the work.
Look at me, and you will see a slave of that intensity.


   It is a familiar theme in religious stories that people fail to see God when he appears to them because he is not what they are expecting. They already have a clear conception of what God is like, and when he or she confronts them directly, they turn away because “that just couldn’t be right.”
   The description of the dying process in Tibetan Buddhist myth illustrates this. One summer at the ranch I was assisting Joseph Campbell at a lecture on the Bardo Thodol, the so-called Tibetan Book of the Dead.  My job was to operate the slide projector. Campbell had given me a loaded carrousel and asked me to change the slides at his signal.
   As the lecture began, slides appeared of the Tibetan mountains and countryside, then paintings of Tibetan priests like those who might be attending the dying soul on its afterlife journey, and then finally of the dying person. At Campbell’s nod I clicked in the next slide. The screen was flooded with bright white light; no slide had entered the projector. Something’s wrong, I thought, and clicked the advance switch again. This time a mandala of the bliss-bestowing buddhas appeared. And even as I was relaxing, Campbell explained my error. I had demonstrated his point.
   The immediate experience of the soul on entering the afterlife is of the Clear Light. This is the direct experience of nirvana, of ultimate consciousness. Yet the soul bypasses it, looking for some expected image—even though it has been taught over and over that the Clear Light is the first thing it will see. I’d studied Tibetan Buddhism. I knew that the Clear Light would be the first vision after death. Yet when the slide that was no-slide appeared as the bright white light on the screen, I panicked and switched it off.
    Now the first teaching of the mystics is that God or nirvana is never what one expects. One’s opinions always get in the way. What one must empty oneself of is opinions. The reason for teaching emptiness is to call the mind past its opinions. That is true, in some ways, of all religious doctrines. By undermining the belief in the obvious sensible material world, doctrine breaks one bond to views and opinions. If, however, the belief in the spiritual world takes on the same simple solid character that it was designed to undermine, then the spiritual teaching has been lost.

   The myths of afterlife are meditation induction techniques to assist us in recognizing that “as who we really are” we’re part of consciousness experiencing and creating the world. We can make that a heaven or a hell. Or we can see the “Clear Light.”
   What is the Clear Light? Any light that you see is white or colored. Nothing’s clear. But, look, the light you don’t see because it isn’t entering your eye, because it’s going past you — maybe into someone else’s eyes – IS clear. We can look right through the light passing at right angles to our vision. We’re surrounded by clear light all the time. It’s the light that ISN’T about YOU.
    So there’s a lovely paradox here. The message of all this is that all the myths are about you. It’s always about YOU is the title of my speech. But the opposite is just as true. It’s NEVER about you. I mean, you don’t have to take anything personally.

You know, the myth is that at death there is Particular Judgment; This is precisely ABOUT YOU. Then at the end of the world there is a General Judgment. Then souls go off to heaven or hell.

We can do all that in getting started in our daily meditation. Afterlife mythology is meditation induction technique.

And here’s the secret: in the Particular Judgment, you’re the defendant. It’s about your behavior and your attitudes. So as you start your meditation, you can look over your recent behavior and see whether you were loving or judgmental. If you understand what’s going to “get you into heaven” you can change your behavior.

But in the General Judgment, you’re the Judge. And it’s up to you to rule on the goodness or evil of all created human life. A merciful, loving judge forgives everybody and lets everybody into heaven!

You’re the Wave
The emphasis on personal salvation and getting to get your ego in heaven after death ends up concretizing self and ego in a way that is really counterproductive to spirituality.

Jay Michaelson tells a wonderful little story on his website: (

A short story of Ram Dass.  There are two waves drifting along in the ocean, one a bit bigger than the other.  The bigger wave suddenly becomes very sad and upset.  The smaller wave asks what's wrong.  "You don't want to know," the bigger wave says.  "What is it?" the small wave asks.  "No - really - it's too terrible.  If you knew what I knew, you'd never be happy."  The small wave persists.  Finally the big wave explains: "You can't see it, but I can see that, not too far from here, all of the waves are crashing on the shore.  We are going to disappear."  The small wave says," I can make you happy with just six words, but you have to listen very carefully to them."  The big wave doesn't believe it -- what does the small wave know that he doesn't -- but he's desperate.  After a while of doubting and mocking the small wave, the big wave finally gives in, and asks the small wave to tell him.   And so the small wave says: "You're not a wave, you're water."
Another image for greater life is the rose bush. Each of us is a rose. The rose grows and blossoms and then fades and dies in its season. But the bush lives on. To focus on trying to keep the individual flower forever is missing the greater life of the bush.


Consciousness is the “water,” the life of the rose bush.
What the myth of “God” is about is now—with modern psychological awareness—understood as consciousness itself. As human beings, we’re aware and we’re aware that we’re aware. And we can experience consciousness itself — though always and only through content of consciousness. It’s like the Clear Light. You can’t see it directly. Because it’s the you that is doing the seeing. You can only see your own reflection.

By way of summarizing, let me read you another quote from Campbell:

The descent of the Occidental sciences from the heavens to the earth (from seventeenth-century astronomy to nineteenth-century biology), and their concentration today, at last, on man himself (in twentieth-century anthropology and psychology), mark the path of a prodigious transfer of the focal point of human wonder. Not the animal world, not the plant world, not the miracle of the spheres, but man himself is now the crucial mystery, (Hero, p. 391)

The point of all myth, religion, and spirituality is to inspire wonder — wonder is what the Clear Light is about — so that we can say yes to life, so that we can feel comfortable and secure loving other people and being loving people ourselves.

(This, by the way, is the message of the Statement of Spirituality that came out of a small group workshop at the Gay Spirituality Summit. Daniel Helminiak is going to be leading a workshop here on the wording of that statement.)

All the details of religion and myth are interesting but ultimately insignificant. What matters is that we are loving people and love life. That changes our behavior and the behavior of the people around us. And it reveals to us that this is heaven now, that we are –here and now—experiencing the beatific vision of oneness with God, for God is our own consciousness manifesting as the world.

So it all comes down to realizing and manifesting your personal fabulosity!

Reprise of Song: It’s in All of Us

Toby's workshop presentation on the myth of Avalokiteshvara has more on the meaning of the Clear Light
And check out Toby's story, revising the Book of Genesis, on Adam and Steve

Whimsical photos of Kip and Toby from the GSV Dance & Talent Show

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Toby Johnson, PhD is author of nine 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, four 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 and editor of a collection of "myths" of gay men's consciousness. 

Johnson's book GAY SPIRITUALITY: The Role of Gay Identity in the Transformation of Human Consciousness won a Lambda Literary Award in 2000.

His  GAY PERSPECTIVE: Things Our [Homo]sexuality Tells Us about the Nature of God and the Universe was nominated for a Lammy in 2003. They remain in print.

FINDING YOUR OWN TRUE MYTH: What I Learned from Joseph Campbell: The Myth of the Great Secret III tells the story of Johnson's learning the real nature of religion and myth and discovering the spiritual qualities of gay male consciousness.

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