The Dance

A True Story Without a Moral


In Oriental Mythology, the second volume of his comparative study The Masks of God, the famous American mythologist and lecturer Joseph Campbell retells an amusing story.

It concerns a Shinto priest and a Western sociologist who met at a conference in Japan in the late 1950s. The Japanese Organizing Committee had arranged for the participants to visit most of the major Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples. The Western sociologist made copious notes of the practices he was able to observe. Anything from the spirit-like atmosphere and the minimalist music, to the silky instruments and the dancers moving in dreamlike trances.

“I don’t get it”, the sociologist said to the Shinto priest few hours later, when the learned men finally had a little time to talk to each other at an evening lawn party. “I’ve visited seven or eight of your shrines and saw quite a few rites. I had read about them and thought about them long before being given this chance to observe them up-close. All the same: I still don’t get your ideology, I still don’t understand your theology.”

The Japanese Shinto priest paused for a while. Then he looked at the sociologist and smilingly answered:

“You see – that’s the point. We don’t have an ideology. We don’t have a theology. We just dance.”


The Lesson:

  • Over and over again, we forget that Life is both a miracle and a gift and that there’s nothing bad in just living it once a while.
  • So, do it: dance first, and think later. Maybe you’ll even learn more by dancing…
  • As Mark Twain once wrote: “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did. So, throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”



  • Joseph Campbell, The Masks of God, Vol. II: Oriental Mythology, 1962, 475-6.
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