Permaculture Kids: Building Myths for the Future by Jessica Cox, openmythsource.com
“Just before his death Joseph Campbell was interviewed by Bill Moyers and that interview was later turned into the documentary, “The Power Of Myth.” In this interview he postulated the idea that humanity was in need of new mythologies. Ones that were not rooted in the ancient world as all our current ones are. But myth’s that would help us navigate this new and strange world we are creating.”
When I was eight years old I would meander through our suburban backyard, my long brown hair in two braids, my feet bare against the prickly grass. Oblivious to the freeway roar on the other side of the sound wall I wove through ankle-high flowers, my steps flat-footed, like a hunter approaching her prey. But it wasn’t food I was after. I wanted simply to become a Native American by pretending to be one. It was a potent game of make-believe. Imagination plays a crucial role in the development of morals, as do the stories our children are brought up with.
Children have an acute sensitivity to nature, a world-view that is created around their play-yard, their pets, the wild animals in the neighborhood. A mischievous frog or disgruntled badger are often subjects of children’s books, where the animal kingdom comes alive in a shared language, shared character flaws, shared journeys. As we grow older, the magic and mystery of nature tends to fade as our paths intersect with school, work, our first car, moving away from home. For some, the call to nature remains. For others, it is consumed by material desires, reserved as a place to visit but not to live in.
There is a pervasive sense in today’s culture that nature-consciousness requires a look backwards. It hearkens to Native American folklore and culture, a time when working the land by hand was necessary because machines hadn’t been invented yet, and companies hadn’t taken over food production. Because (in a very global sense) we have moved out of tribes, out of shared geographic communities, a tribal communal living has been archived as a thing of the past. The myths that shaped Native American cultures are like the Greek and Roman myths, sensed peripherally but subsumed into other stories, the stories of mass cinema. Disney. Standing in the sun with my hand on a tree trunk, whispering sweet nothings to the bark – my conception of what the “Indians” were like had largely been formed by watching Peter Pan, Pocahontas and some cartoon version of Sacajawea.
Though at the basis myths are “just stories,” they hold awesome power. Their stories, characters, and values permeate the minds of a social collectivity. Like culture itself, myths are created, revised, and re-created in response to society’s political, economic, social, or environmental needs. Its symbols, as Joseph Campbell notes, “ touch and release the deepest centers of motivation.” Yet we have lost touch with many of the genuinely mythic symbols as the proliferation of consumerism and media images have manipulated ancient meanings. Like Disney’s overpowering influence over ancient stories and histories, myth no longer plays in the same ball park. Campbell notices the folly of trying to “preach to children who will be riding rockets to the moon a morality and cosmology based on concepts of the Good Society and of man’s place in nature that were coined before harnessing the horse!” So where can our revisions and creations of myths come from in a world culture so varied and so shaped by external powers? Where do we begin?
Permaculture address the issues of dispersed globalized living, failing economic structures, and a struggling planet. It integrates the modernized world with old-world values of land and nature stewardship, community, and new visions of finance methods and economics, technology and tools, spiritual health and well being, and culture and education. Its aim is to establish a methods for establishing and maintaining efforts that will thwart eco-destruction and build stronger communities, all working towards a sustainable future. To accomplish this, permaculture offers ethics, or principles. Building upon permaculture’s tenets, it is possible to create new myths for the modern world.
Although idea that one can create one’s own mythology is antithetical to the definition of mythology, in today’s world of revised world stories, a counter to the destruction of myth is to reinvent mythology’s definition. Carl Jung created a personal mythology to describe underlying elements in his own psyche. We create our own myths daily by interpreting and unpacking symbols, collecting a store-house of meanings that are unique to our selves. Myths generate models for reality, so why not work to create the reality you want to live in?
What are the myths for our children who will inherit our world, who live in the land of tomorrow, and for whom life has a promise of change? In trying to talk to trees, I inherently believed that I could change the facts of the world if I wanted it badly enough. The imaginative power of childhood can be the location of global shifts in consciousness. Encouraging children to develop their own stories and uncover their own mythologies can develop an almost magical transformation from imagination to reality. In building hero’s quests, children can embark upon new adventures in a world they are familiar with, and work to save it.
Go into the backyard, or park, or any patch of grass with some plants and observe it. How many different plants can you spot? Are there bugs or animals? How do you want to interact? Even simply observing is an interaction. You can later draw a picture of something you saw, write a story about the scene, or come up with your own way of interacting.
Permaculture Principle 12: Creatively Use and Respond to Change
Symbols are potent tools for remembering and for the imagination. Permaculture uses the butterfly as a symbol for the 12th principle, and accompanies the image with a proverb: “Vision is not seeing things as they are, but as they will be.” What does this mean to you? How is this related to a butterfly’s transformation from a caterpillar. Are there ways that transformations affect your life? What have you done about them? What could you do about a future transformation?