“Will Mythology Save Us?” Conversations with Willi Paul and Arthur George. From Planetshifter.com Magazine.
“Will Mythology Save Us?” Conversations with Willi Paul and Arthur George. From Planetshifter.com Magazine.
"The next step is to remember where myths come from. Depth psychology teaches us that they come ultimately from our unconscious psyche, principally the collective unconscious. On the one hand, this fact too shows that myths can be global. On the other hand, it means that the new myths can’t and won’t be so 'new.' They will have to be based on archetypes that formed during our long psychic evolution and which generated the old myths. The difference now, as in the past, is that in order to resonate and have life the new myths must wear the dress of contemporary environments and cultures."
“Permaculture Emerges in Partnership with Nature. Permaculture is a new agri-design movement that promotes healing Nature and sustainability with local - global actions. New archetypes come into public conscious thru permaculture’s three ethics:
(+) Care for the Earth
(+) Care for People
(+) Return the Surplus
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Willi Interviews Art -
Can you offer a vision of what the present day Eden would look like? Are there actual examples that we could critique?
I don’t consider Eden, even in the original story, as ultimately having a clear concrete geography or detailed physical characteristics. As Joseph Campbell observed, the Eden story “yields its meaning only to a psychological interpretation,” and the Garden of Eden is really a metaphor for our minds (Thou Art That, p. 50). While in the Garden prior to their transgression, Adam and Eve were in what we would call an unconscious or pre-conscious state, where they did not perceive or understand opposites, whether those of good vs. evil or otherwise. In reference to the creation, the post-Jungian psychologist Erich Neumann called this primitive state where all was one unity the “uroboros” (The Origins and History of Consciousness, pp. 5-38). Adam and Eve’s gaining the knowledge of good and evil gave them the faculty of mind to perceive and understand opposites, which today we recognize as ego consciousness. Thus, this step was really the completion of the creation of humans, at which point they could walk out of the garden and live in the real world. In light of this, any attempt to recreate and live in any new “Eden” would be regressive. Rather, human consciousness must move forward and upward, further from Eden (see Question below). It would be best for modern myths to be oriented in this direction, as was the main line of the original Eden myth in my interpretation.
Is chaos central to our modern mythic resource pool?
Ultimately it has to remain central, though “chaos” is no longer the best term for this. In the ancient creation myths, the pre-creation state was described as one of primordial waters, which were chaotic in the sense of lacking form or order. Creation was visualized as establishing an ordered cosmos from earlier chaos, featuring things like time, multiplicity, opposites, and cause and effect. As psychology shows, water is a prime symbol for the unconscious, which is reflected in the primordial waters in this creation motif. In her book Creation Myths (pp. 2-4), the post-Jungian psychologist Marie Louise von Franz wrote that the creation motif of order being created out of chaos is rooted in our own experience of coming into consciousness; in psychic terms, our becoming aware of the ordered world and the world coming into existence are equated. We experience this when waking in the morning as the outside world of space, time, order, and cause and effect fall into place. Similarly, developmental psychology shows that infants don’t initially perceive such an orderly outside world, but that within a few years it falls into place as a sense of self emerges.
Since “chaos” is nothing other than our own unconscious, this is not something that will disappear. And since our unconscious is the source of myths, of course it will remain central to our mythic resource pool. We can stop calling it chaos, however, as that suggests that had/has an external metaphysical existence.
Do you subscribe to my thesis that there are old, time-worn and almost forgotten myths and new myths emerging based on many ideas including permaculture, Nature in peril and corporate evil?
Certainly we see that most of the old myths no longer resonate with our psyches and are dying. Any new myths are in their infancy and so are hard to assess at this point. In order to be successful, they must “move” us, which is to say they will need to come from and resonate with the same inner parts of the psyche that gave the old myths wings. I’m not so sure how successful we can be in consciously thinking up “ideas” and trying to build myths around them, because historically the mythmaking process has worked the other way around, from the unconscious to ego consciousness. But as discussed in the context of two questions below, this process could evolve as our psyche itself develops so as to reintegrate suppressed and repressed unconscious content into our conscious selves.
Nevertheless, since so many of the old myths were based on our awe of and essential connection with nature, there is reason to believe that the new ones can too; we just need to dress them up in ways that we can better understand and accept using elements from our own culture. I agree with you that permaculture can have a role here, as can sustainability in general.
What is the meaning and value of the serpent in today’s mythic conversation?
Serpent symbolism is probably the most complex and varied around, encompassing even various opposites (e.g., life vs. death, wisdom vs. evil, chaos vs. creation, causing and curing illness). This is because the various physical characteristics and behavior of serpents resonate with various parts of our psyche. Serpent symbolism is very much alive (it continues to be prominent in our dreams), so it has mythic value and should remain a component of myths. Given the multivalent nature of serpent symbolism and the fact that it is a product of our unconscious, however, it is hard to predict what myths may emerge containing serpent symbolism.
Where is the center of the world? Who owns it?!
In the ancient world, a Center (sometimes actually “called the center of the world”) was a sacred spot where the divine, in the heavens and the underworld, connected with the earthly, including with us humans; it is where the 3 planes of the cosmos meet and thus lies at the heart of reality. Archetypically, it was also thought of as the place of creation. As such, a Center was a sacred place, where a temple or other sanctuary (including sacred trees) was situated and people could interact with their deities and experience transcendence. Thus, the Garden of Eden, sanctuary where humans interacted with God and gained the godlike knowledge of good and evil, also can be considered a Center. In reality, various peoples and communities each had at least one Center of their own. Such multiplicity of Centers was not considered a contradiction and nobody fought over the matter, because people were thinking mythologically: What was being experienced was sacred space, not earthly geographical space.
Such ancient way of viewing the matter provides the key for us too. Sacred space is existential for humans, and can exist anywhere on earth. The lesson to draw is that the Center really lies within ourselves, so it can be anywhere we are, when we are attuned to it. So each of us owns it (our personal Center), and we can own one collectively. The key to it for each of us is finding an approach to spirituality that works to make us, as Campbell said, transparent to transcendence (see question below).
Can you point-out a modern day Mother Nature myth?
Cameron’s film Avatar brought these mythological themes out pretty well, albeit in Hollywoodized fashion. There the Na’vi lived close with nature and their spirituality reflected that: They had a mother earth goddess Eywa and connected with her at the sacred Tree of Souls, which was a means of transformation. In contrast, the humans had depleted earth’s environment and, through a corporation, were encroaching on Pandora without heed or care. The story thus touches on the issues that you asked about in question above.
Is a new universal creation story unfolding now? Or is it more likely a universal death story? Or are they being combined?
Many older mythologies did combine creation/life and destruction/death, either in cycles of the cosmos (Indian, Maya) or in seasonal cycles, but in light of scientific explanations for such things it is not clear to me that this motif will endure in future myths, at least without substantial updating. But it still has a place. Although the matter of physical creation of the universe is now largely a subject for scientific study, the mere wonder of the universe (including how it came into being) and the mystery of life will continue to inspire us and can generate myths. The threat of universal death (e.g., environmental catastrophe, blowing ourselves up) should afford future mythological material since death itself in any form provides mythological material.
From: Building the Future with New Global Mythology, Free eWorkshop with Willi Paul -
“What Will/Should Be the New Myths? Global Myths?” by Arthur George
“I would venture to say that the folks on the anti-globalization, pro-local and pro-diversity side of the fence also tend to be the very people who most appreciate myths.” Please expand on this.
I don’t have scientific poll data on this; this is just an observation based on my personal experience, including reading. In my experience, people who live closer to nature, embrace diversity in all its aspects, support local communities in their various aspects (culture, agriculture, businesses), have also been most sensitive to the things that generate myths, mythical content, and to knowing about and preserving myths.
“The above analysis confirms that we need to look to the same sources of creativity that have generated myths, spirituality, and art in the past: artists, writers, composers, musicians, and (more modernly) filmmakers. This is only natural because creativity springs largely from unconscious processes, which artists succeed in tapping for inspiration and then bring to concrete life for themselves and the rest of us.”
In my recent piece, entitled: “Permaculture, Carl Jung and the New Archetypes” (+ PDF) by Willi Paul, New Global Mythology Group @ Depth Psychology Alliance, I propose that the symbol and archetype dyadic is a two-way data flow between the collective unconscious and the collective conscious. What is your reaction? Also, in your quote above, are you not referring to Campbell’s Creative Mythology (also developed in my piece)?
I see from your piece that you do see artists, etc., as playing a key role much as I do. The traditional Jungian approach is that myths proceed fundamentally from archetypes of the collective unconscious, while our conscious psyche refines that content into intelligible symbols and narratives. Your idea that the conscious psyche can also be involved in creating (new) archetypes is intriguing, and I look forward to seeing how that plays out in practice and in psychology theory. It would be great if that turns out to be the case, because we would have greater control (and responsibility) over the development of new myths and other elements of culture, and the new myths would evolve more quickly.
As to your second question, Campbell is indeed one of the influences on my thinking regarding this point and I do recall the passages from his Creative Mythology that you mention to that effect, but actually at the time I was thinking more of Chapter 3 of his later book, The Inner Reaches of Outer Space, which he entitled “The Way of Art.” There he argues that the way and methods of art make one (both artist and audience) transparent to transcendence, which brings forth myths as well as art.
“In the end, a key to having resonant, living global myths will require a corresponding effort to elevate (evolve) the human psyche itself so that we will be more receptive to global myths and better able to create them.”
That’s a huge statement (of faith?). How do you propose the human race tackle this?
Actually, I don’t think this is so huge (in terms of being a departure from mainstream thinking) or a matter of faith, and it seems to me to be generally consistent with what you are proposing as mentioned in previously, which also involves developing our consciousness in connection with generating new myths. As I mentioned, above, the Eden story is really about the elevation of our consciousness, which is a continuing historical process, as shown by a number thinkers, such as Jean Gebser in The Ever Present Origin, by Ken Wilber in his Up from Eden, and by Neumann in his works. The psychologist Jonathan Haidt recently brought forth data showing that in biological evolutionary terms our psyche has evolved more rapidly than we previously thought possible (The Righteous Mind, pp. 247-52). Jung himself, in his Symbols of Transformation (Collected Works, vol. 5, pp. 7-33), traces about how humans moved from fantasy thinking to more directed thinking in language in the space of the last 2 to 3 thousand years.
A problem resulting from our psychic development over that period, however, has been an over-dominance of ego consciousness resulting in the suppression and repression of unconscious content, which among other things has rendered our culture too masculine, warlike, and out of touch with nature. The human psyche needs to rise to higher levels where our conscious self better integrates the contents of our unconscious that in fact are seeking to break out into the open and be heard and accepted. Among other things, this would facilitate more and better new myths, as well as a more prominent “nature lens” that you write about. Describing exactly how to get there would take an entire book, and actually some thinkers such as Allan Combs and Ken Wilber have written extensively on this. I bullet point some suggestions at the end of my new book, and they include dream tending; shadow work; attention to our sense of humor; meditation practices; artistic/creative activities and maximizing stimulation from the art of others; in some cases psychological therapy; nourishing the feminine and nature; and conforming educational theory, institutions, and practice to this overall paradigm.
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Questions for Willi from Art -
What overall messages/truths that were advanced by some of old myths are no longer appropriate?
I can’t say. I am not a trained mythological scholar. In all honesty, I would have to run an internet search to even come up with a specific Greek or American Indian or Norse myth for us. It is fair to say that many of the general lessons in the classic mythic data base are valid and wise. And I always support the mythological triad from Joseph Campbell: initiation, journey and hero. It’s just a matter a getting stuck in history or taking risks and plunging ahead for new myths.
Key Counter Question: What is a mythologist? What does a mythologist do? What are the tools of the trade?
The process of understanding “old myths” vs. “new myths” needs more investigation and debate. I explore this phenomenon in “Permaculture, Carl Jung and the New Archetypes.”
What new (replacement) messages/truths should the new myths advance, what will be their source, and to what extent can/should we specify this at this time?
First, I think that the collaborative experience of building and sharing a new myth with one’s community – and then with the world – is key here.
Second, the 8 Key Elements in my New Mythology scheme include the following:
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
Finally, two myth building tools are:
Artifact – The Artifact is a Nature-Human synergy; examples include graffiti, a bill board, historic sculpture, and a permaculture garden. Artifacts have special messages for people and their neighborhoods.
Mythic Imprinting – From the Myth Lab, this iterative and transmutative process is grounded in the initiation, journey and hero work from Joseph Campbell framework and is one way that neighborhood artifacts can help the community generate new songs, poems and myths.
Similarly, in terms of the plots of myths (setting, environment, elements of the action) and their attendant symbols, what elements from the old myths are no longer appropriate and what new elements will the new myths likely feature? Or is it too difficult to predict?
While I appreciate your need for detail and definitions here, my work with the new mythology is nascent at best! Most of my 57 New Myths illustrate a post-chaos tribal life in Nature by surviving permaculture / transition folks. The major plot line is love / survival. A permaculture symbol set is included “Permaculture, Carl Jung and the New Archetypes.”
Again, old stories can and do offer good elements and messages, just like the new myths, but their characterizations and settings are often no longer “hyper-sticky” in the Global Warming Age.
Why is permaculture central to your thinking about the new myths and global myths? Does this just reflect your personal interest in nature and mythology concerning nature, or to you really think it needs to be emphasized more traditional subjects of myths de-emphasized (priorities seem necessary), and if so why?
Permaculture is a horse in need of shoes. It has a new Nature-based agri-design tract and some community building muscle. I like permaculture because I can integrate other solutions with it, like a new global spirituality that can be a global community practice and a terrific storyline augur for the New Mythology.
I understand the need to study and respect the past but I am confident that I have the right mix of vision drenched subjects, values and risk. My mythic priorities are clear: to reveal and redesign for a future based on the realities of the next 50 – 75 years of chaos on Earth – to keep the human race evolving in positive ways.
Your model and proposed kinds of new myths have a strong social-political component in the context of nature, the environment, and agriculture. Do you see a role for other new myths, also arising from nature, that would play a role in personal spiritual transformation and elevation of our consciousness, and if so what would be the archetypes/symbols here? For example, do you see a place for outer space to play such a role in the new myths, and if so how?
Food, shelter and community are really the only things that matter now and in the future. Outer space is too Hollywood for me! Nature will be gutted and maimed in much in the chaos era so we need to expand permaculture and the New Myths to heal it and us.
Your model calls for new myth-producing archetypes to develop on the conscious level through the operation of our consciousness, in addition to the traditional archetypes that evolved at the unconscious level as Jung maintained. To what extent do you consider your concept of the origin and nature of such archetypes to differ from or be similar to Jungian archetypes? Is this your own original idea, or do you find precedent for it in psychological studies or theories/writings?
Great question. I guess you might say that I very recently “jumped over Jungian Falls” and into my own teetering raft! What I know about Jung is part Red Book images and the Wiki quote. I may still need to process what he means by “instinct.” I shoot flares. I do this occasionally when I want to test the jargon, academic egos and the soil.
In what sense is Permaculture, Nature, or “Permaculture & Nature” together an archetype according to your model, and how is this archetype produced? (This question concerns the stage before one starts writing myths based on the archetype as you describe in Stage Five of your piece.)
Permaculture & Nature together does not make an archetype. Nor do these concepts individually or combined make a symbol. I took the definition of archetype from the Jung passage. I would ask that you visit my Myth Lab process to see how I write a New Myth.
You describe the new myths being stimulated by the 4 emotional connectors of fear, mistrust, hope, and love. How and why did you center upon these 4 and what others did you consider but not include? Did you find that these same 4 were central to myths in the past, or are these more particular to new myths?
The idea of the 4 emotional connectors came to me almost instantly and it seemed to fit the model. I had other options. My work in alchemy undoubtedly plays a key role in these ideations and visions.
You mention Joseph Campbell as holding that, in Creative Mythology, the new myths will not originate in collective rituals that communicate to individuals, but will originate in artists and other creative individuals who have deep psychological experiences that they are then able to communicate to the collective as new living myths. How does this relate (or not) to your idea of new archetypes originating from the collective conscious, which in turn will generate new myths? Are these somehow the same processes, or perhaps two steps in the same process?
My first thought is that humans are increasingly damaged soulfully and genetically. We live in greed and toxicity. In this sickness, sometimes new strains and voyages can occur. I understand that my manic-depression affords some creative tools and experiences that others may not have. My 5 new archetypes reflect both pain and hope on all levels, from local to world-wide.
In your diagram “The Garden Symbol in Old and New Mythology,” you mention things like local farmers markets and flea markets, community farms, and rooftop gardens as being symbols in the new myths. Please elaborate on how these will become (or have become) mythological symbols according to your idea of how archetypes from the collective conscious form such symbol? Also, how can such locally based things generate global myths?
The collective symbols that you mention are rather new on the planet and will need more critique, acceptance and dispersion in the New Myth paradigm to have any real global traction. Also I believe that I conjured up the 5 archetypes first and then derived appropriate symbols to go with them. So the order in your question may need to be revisited.
In what sense can the new myths be “global”? How can they be achieved without compromising the diversity of cultures, languages, local traditions, etc. (such as you describe in the above-mentioned Garden diagram)?
This is old/new fertile ground. One of my mission-critical themes is localization (from Transition) which certainty champions the diversity of cultures, languages, local traditions in local towns and sustainable communities.
Is it not possible to share our common struggles and symbols to co-develop and create new archetypes? Of course we drive the Internet together as a global community building and myth generator tool.
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Arthur George is a cultural historian, mythologist, and prizewinning author who retired from a 30-year career as an international lawyer in order to follow his bliss by studying and writing and speaking about mythology and related subjects in order to enhance our knowledge about myth, heighten the importance and role of myth in contemporary society, enrich people’s lives, and better our world. He is the author (with his wife Elena) of The Mythology of Eden (published May 2014), which examines the biblical Garden of Eden story from the perspective of mythological studies, and is a frequent speaker at scholarly conferences and other events on mythological, religious, and related topics. He earlier authored (also with Elena) the definitive history of the city of St. Petersburg Russia (St. Petersburg: The First Three Centuries), which was awarded a literary prize by a jury of Russian scholars in 2005. He has a blog at www.mythologymatters.wordpress.com and a website at www.mythologymatters.com.
Willi Paul is active in the sustainability, permaculture, transition, sacred Nature, new alchemy and mythology space since the launch of PlanetShifter.com Magazine on EarthDay 2009, Willi’s network now includes four web sites, a LinkedIn group, 3 tweeter accounts, a G+ site, multiple blog sites, and multiple list serves.
In 1996 Mr. Paul was instrumental in the design of the emerging online community space in his Master’s Thesis: “The Electronic Charrette..” He was active in many small town design visits with the Minnesota Design Team.
Mr. Paul has released 16 eBooks, 2197 + posts on PlanetShifter.com Magazine, and over 380 interviews with global leaders. He has created 56 New Myths to date and has been interviewed over 30 times in blogs and journals.
Willi earned his permaculture design certification in August 2011 at the Urban Permaculture Institute, SF.
Please see his Northwest Permaculture Convergence in Portland, OR.
Willi’s consulting work is at PlanetShifter.com