“Spiraling into Permaculture & New Mythology”- Interview with Shari Tarbet, PhD., OSHER Institute by Willi Paul
“Connect: Use relative location: Place elements in ways that create useful relationships and time-saving connections among all parts. The number of connections among elements creates a healthy, diverse ecosystem, not the number of elements.” Permaculture Principle #2
Key Elements in the “New Mythology” (W. Paul)
1. Localization – back to sustainability and community; self-sufficiency
2. Nature- Centric
5. Universal themes(s) and message
6. Para-Normal in conflict or characters
7. Initiation, Journey and Hero
8. Permaculture & Transition: values and principles
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Interview with Shari by Willi
Can a community be a Hero?
Joseph Campbell called the third stage of the Hero's Journey the Return. The hero returns from the other worldly realm of the unconscious (I think it is fair to say that it is the soul to which we journey) with a boon to give to the community. Though symbolized as an object, the boon is the knowledge hero gains of one's authentic self and how to live in the world, upon return, as that true self. The hero is then charged with the responsibility to pass this on to the people in the community. For example, in Leslie Marmon Silko's Ceremony, the hero Tayo, a psychologically wounded warrior returning to Laguna Pueblo after WWII, undertakes the Hero's Journey as a healing process not only for himself, but for the Pueblo and the world. Throughout the book, the elders of the Pueblo periodically ask him what he has to tell them. Tayo doesn't understand what they want until he completes his journey. It is only then that he goes to the elders to share with them what he has learned.
All the Hero's Journey myths in all the cultures of the world past and present with which I am familiar show the individual taking this journey in a process Jung called Individuation. A community doesn't go on this journey, which is why I think a community is not a hero nor can it be a hero. However, I think it can be heroic when it fosters and nurtures the individuals who live within it to become their true, authentic selves. The danger is that even with the best intentions it can stagnate and, like the Empire in Star Wars, become, as Campbell termed it, mechanical. In other words, it would become a community or state that stops fostering individuals to become authentic and starts requiring that they conform to ways of being that maintains the existence of the community as an entity. We see communities in this state in modern tellings of the Hero's Journey not just in Star Wars but also in Matrix, Lord of the Rings, and A Christmas Carol, to name a few.
Can you provide evidence that classic myths are energizing the permaculture, occupy or Transition movements in 2013?
Let me just say that archaic, classic, or modern myth, all fulfill some or all of the same purposes of myth: to explain natural phenomenon; to support what a society sees as right and wrong, good and evil; to help the individual to live as an authentic self within any society or community; and/or to help us understand the mysteries of the universe that are beyond our ability to understand rationally. So, from this perspective, I do think myth is energizing these movements. Though I am not familiar with the permaculture or Transition movements, I have been involved in the occupy movement. The fact that these movements have arisen is evidence that myth energizes them for the energy is spiritual and as it moves, these movements have arisen. When movements rise up against what people consider to be unjust, corrupt we do have the hero epic in play here. The three best modern myth examples I can think of are Star Wars, Matrix, and ‘V’. In all three we see a corrupt government whose rulers are old, sterile, and so divorced from the people as to even be considered alien. In all three we see a group of people that rise up in opposition to that corruption.
In Star Wars it’s the Rebellion that rises up against the Empire ruled by an emperor so old as to look like death itself. His enforcer, as it were, is a Jedi who has turned to the dark side and submitted to his lord to the point there is nothing left of him but a worm-life version of himself because he has become almost entirely mechanical. Within this struggle arise a young man and his sister who both become involved in the struggle against a mechanical society. The young man, undergoing his Hero’s Journey, has a final confrontation with both Darth Vader and the Emperor as his final tests to achieving his true, authentic self. In the Matrix, Neo becomes authentic within a rebellion of alien conquerors. V is hero, guide, and trickster in showing up a corrupt government and bringing about the awakening of a young woman in her heroine’s journey.
The occupy movement is a rising up of people rebelling against a government corrupted by corporate greed. Just as the Empire, aliens, and British government send their police force to rid themselves of these rebels, so we saw local police sent in to defend corporations against protestors. Any of these three movements, if the myths are any guide, are successful only insofar as individuals become their own heroes and in completing their journey in this process outsmart the powers they rise against.
Who or what are some of the current alternatives to Campbell’s constructs and visions? Is he still as important as ever?
Some of the current alternatives to Campbell with whom I am familiar are Freud, Jung, James Hillman, Maureen Murdock, Eckhart Tolle, and Dr. Clarissa Pinkola-Estes. Some of the what includes Maureen Murdock’s Heroine’s Journey, Jung’s comparative process of Individuation, Hillman’s exploration of the Psyche in the Underworld, his concept that the gods and goddesses have become our neuroses demanding our attention, the approach of Tolle and some Buddhists to eradicate the ego, Estes’ Jungian approach to fairy tales to help women recover their authentic selves in Women Who Run With Wolves and other of her books and retreats.
Unconditionally yes, Campbell is as important today as ever. There are roundtable groups around the world that meet regularly to discuss Campbell and what he was saying. They discuss myths, fairy tales, and movies in terms of what Campbell taught. There is a foundation that houses his work and his books. Pacifica Graduate Institute houses some of his writings. In the early days of this institute, he served on its board. People continue to ‘discover’ Campbell and his work and are moved by it. I myself discovered Campbell when I watched the entire 6 hours of Bill Moyers interview with him right before Joe died.
The next day I went out and bought the companion book to those interviews as did, apparently, so many other people that the book store I went to had sold out of it and had to back order the title. I attribute that interview to eventually leading me to attend and get my degree from Pacifica. I know of at least two programs, one in this country and one in Australia that use the Hero’s Journey to teach boys how to become men. I am one of many teachers who use the Hero’s Journey to teach literature in their high school classrooms. I teach it directly in myth classes.
What is a mythologist? Are there common goals and trainings (or just individuals and multiple agendas?)
Most strictly speaking, a mythologist is anyone who studies mythology. In this country there are only two schools where one can receive training in mythology. One is the Pacifica Graduate Institute that offers an MA/PhD in Mythological Studies, and a school in New York that offers training in the application of mythology. Outside of these two schools, any other study in mythology is subsumed, if one is lucky, in studies in world religions and/or philosophy.
As far as common goals are concerned, this reminds me of all the times I’ve heard the question asking what mythology is. I’ve heard that question answered many ways, but in every case I have found that those answers fit in Campbell’s answer that there are four purposes of myth. I think the same is true for your question of common goals in the study of mythology; all the answers to the question can be contained in a few purposes. No matter how it’s worded, I think people study mythology for reasons deeper than merely coming to know the stories. I think there is a desire to find meaning in one’s life and in life in general.
I think there is a desire to understand on a symbolic/archetypal level the meanings in the myths. Of course there is the desire to study myth within an academic field of anthropology or archaeology, or even to study myth for its own sake. There is a desire to know and understand the peoples who told these myths to their children and to each other as well as sought out shamans, priestesses, and priests to enact the rituals that accompanied the myths. And I think there’s the desire to understand and heal one’s self.
Many champion the Hollywood Hero these days: Iron Man, Bat Man. There seems to be a lot of testosterone flowing there! Please read and react to my critique of Popmythology.com - a blog by written by Daniel Jun Kim:
By now, you probably have noticed that I reference both modern literature and movies, though not comic books because I'm not familiar with the last. However, When I was teaching Comparative World Mythology to high school students, when we came to the unit on the Hero's Journey, I used both classic myth and modern literature as well as movies to teach Campbell's steps of that journey. Students in turn became able to relate it to other movies and comics. Boys who had always loved the Star Wars trilogy often told me they would never be able to see it the same way again. So, I agree with what you are saying in you critique. Let me begin with Star Wars. The fact is that Campbell was a consultant on the film because Lucas wanted to be sure he got all the steps, all the symbols, all the archetypes, the myth absolutely correct. From there the list grows.
The Matrix (first movie anyway), The Wizard of Oz, Willow, the Lord of the Rings (books and movies), A Christmas Carol, Alice in Wonderland, C.S. Lewis' series of the Witch, The Lion, and The Wardrobe, "V", The Pirates of the Caribbean (yes, and I can plot you all the steps of the HJ particularly in the first movie. And no, the hero is not Capt. Jack Sparrow. It's the young woman) and these are just the ones I remember off the top of my head.
In contrast, however, are the heroes you mention of the Iron Man and Batman stripe. I do not see them as the same kind of hero. They are not on a quest to find their authentic self, to move along the process of Individuation. They are the hero typical of a patriarchal culture that is not interested in the archetypal mythic Hero's Journey. They are the type of hero image that reminds us over and over again that heroism is only about might. That the evil always comes from the 'other' who is not us, and by that simple fact alone is evil.
The hero image embodied in Batman, Superman, Iron Man, etc. continually puts before us the warrior hero of not only a patriarchal culture but one that worships a thunder father god who leads in battle, to whom he is prayed to be 'on our side which is righteous', to whom the choicest spoils of war will be dedicated, who insists that soldiers go out and protect our 'way of life' from threats on all sides that will destroy us if we aren't ever vigilant and ready for war. In my opinion, this is the image of the Empire in Star Wars which uses suppression and oppression to maintain itself and is a distraction from that inner journey to authenticity. This kind of warrior hero doesn't have to be of high quality of deep development. This kind of hero only has to repeat the old orthodoxy of the empire which declares as heretic and rebel those who wish to be their authentic self. If we are attending to that heroic process of Individuation, we begin to think for ourselves and to think deeply.
We are also, according to Campbell, supported in this by supernatural aides. This, of course, is seen as very dangerous to the order of things represented in various ways in the epics of the hero on his and her journey because when individuals thinking for themselves they are no longer controllable.
Please share a few of your favorite modern day Nature-based symbols.
In no particular order, I’d have to say first, the serpent. It is the earliest symbol representing the wisdom of the Goddess. It also is the symbol for regeneration. Next, I’d say the tree. It’s symbolic of the World Axis, or that which joins earth, above, and below. It is not only symbolic of family but also symbolic of the Self. Next, I’d say the moon. It symbolizes the phases of the life cycle of birth (crescent moon) life (waxing and full moon), death (waning moon), and rebirth (new moon). From archaic times we have figurines of the Goddess with the horn of an animal with 13 marks on it as a lunar year calendar. With her hand on her ample belly reminiscent of pregnancy/life, archaic peoples equated the phases of the moon with fertility and new life. For me these symbols still hold true in modern times.
How do you use alchemy?
I use alchemy symbolically. In dream work (dreams by the way as our personal myths) I look to the association of colors with the steps of the alchemical process of achieving the Philosopher's Stone as well as their association with the chakras. This can tell me where I am in a round of a journey or it will tell me if I have completed a round of my own Hero's Journey. I see the Philosopher’s Stone as the symbol of the Boon of the Journey. The Heiros Gamos in Alchemy shows up in the Hero's Journey and is really important as that union, the coming together of opposites, particularly into a transformation of being from one state to a higher one.
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“We're not on our journey to save the world but to save ourselves. But in doing that you save the world. The influence of a vital person vitalizes.” - Joseph Campbell
Shari’s Bio - Shari earned her MA/PhD in Mythological Studies and Depth Psychology at Pacifica Graduate Institute in 2012, and has presented papers on the Trickster and on the demonization process of the Sacred Feminine through words. A resident of Albuquerque, New Mexico, Shari taught in secondary education for over 30 years in the areas of literature, writing, history, and world mythology. She currently teaches topics in mythology with the OSHER Institute and reading at Dine College, and works extensively with dreams.
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Shari Tarbet, PhD.
satarbet.02 at gmail.com