The Cave You Fear to Enter Holds the Treasure You Seek

Joseph Campbell? Apocryphal?

treasure02Dear Quote Investigator: Joseph Campbell was renowned for teaching about the mythologies of many cultures. The following statement is often ascribed to him:

The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure you seek.

I have looked through several of his books and have not located this quote. Did he say or write this?

Quote Investigator: Several researchers have searched for this exact quotation and not found it in the oeuvre of Joseph Campbell. However, there is a strong thematic match to a short passage in the 1991 work “Reflections on the Art of Living: A Joseph Campbell Companion” which consisted of material selected and edited by Diane K. Osbon. The following text appeared in a section titled “In the Field” and Osbon stated that she had collected the words directly from Campbell. The section contained “favorite expressions of his, recorded in my journals over the years in his company”: 1

It is by going down into the abyss
that we recover the treasures of life.

Where you stumble,
there lies your treasure.

The very cave you are afraid to enter
turns out to be the source of
what you are looking for.
The damned thing in the cave
that was so dreaded
has become the center.

You find the jewel,
and it draws you off.

In loving the spiritual,
you cannot despise the earthly.

The layout of the phrases above mirrors the formatting in the book. There are two natural hypotheses: The pithy quotation may have evolved from statements above via a process of streamlining and compression. Alternatively, Campbell may have returned to this theme several times over the years, and on one occasion he may have spoken the concise expression.

This article ends with two citations and a concluding comment.

In February 2004 a California newspaper quoted a college-level rowing coach named Sandy Armstrong invoking the synoptic adage: 2

If the demands of rowing sometimes seem beyond her athletes’ capacities, she urges them on with a mantra that has long held meaning for her:
“The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure you seek.”

Also in 2004 a book titled “Conscious Courage: Turning Everyday Challenges Into Opportunities” ascribed the motto to Campbell: 3

The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure you seek.
—Joseph Campbell (1904-1987)
Educator, Author and Expert on World Mythology

In conclusion, QI believes that the expression did originate with Joseph Campbell, but he may have employed a prolix version that was telescoped by others. In addition, the expression was no doubt influenced by his familiarity with myriad mythologies.

(Special thanks to Claire Twose who posted a question on this topic to Project Wombat participants and to Love Goddess @Aphrodite44 who tweeted an inquiry. Great thanks to the volunteer editors of Wikiquote who located the relevant Campbell citation, and to Patricia Welch of Project Wombat who also found the cite. In addition, thanks to other Wombats who joined the discussion.)

Notes:

  1. 1991, Reflections on the Art of Living: A Joseph Campbell Companion, Selected and edited by Diane K. Osbon, Quote Page 8 and 24, HarperCollins, New York, New York.
  2. 2004 February 28, Marin Independent Journal, Setting a steady course by Beth Ashley, Section: Lifestyles, San Rafael, California. (NewsBank Access World News)
  3. 2004, Conscious Courage: Turning Everyday Challenges Into Opportunities by Maureen Stearns, Quote Page 15, Enrichment Books, Seminole, Florida. (Google Books Preview)