Sustainable Living & The New Mythology
by Julianne Victoria, Through the Peacock’s Eyes
Willi Paul is a Green certified business and sustainability consultant. Willi is the founder of the San Mateo Permaculture Guild and Planet Shifter Magazine, a collection of interviews and articles about sustainable living, mythology, and the mystical arts. He is also designer of Open Myth Source, a website where he is building a New Global Mythology, where he combines new myths and a new alchemy into sacred maps for the Sustainability Age.
What inspired you to develop Open Myth Source? That is, what inspired you to create new myths as maps and guides for the permaculture movement and sustainable living?
In 2009, when I launched Planetshifter.com Magazine, I was building an artistic community based on green values. Then writer David Metcalfe and I startedopenmythsource.com to explore alchemy and the sacred. When I produced a video called“Inner & Outer System of the Sacred”, the work took on deeper meanings and implications, working from countless interviews that challenged the notion that sustainability could be a new religion.
At the time I didn’t realize that the mash-up of science and spirit would evolve into 26 New Myths, nine eBooks and an invitation to present at the Study of Myth Symposium in Santa Barbara later this month.
You combine Alchemy with your mythology. What is the alchemical process that you see that will lead us to an Age of Sustainability?
I have identified the following new alchemies since I published Mother, Sun and the Compost Pile for the Joseph Campbell Foundation Web Site last year:
By alchemy, I mean the transmutation of ideas and spirit into action. By recharging and sharing a new set of alchemies, we can support collaboration, visioning and planning for the Permaculture Age. Each new alchemy guides us at various tasks and emotional levels: from the individual to group to the planet. I feel that there is a recognizable spirit-charge or alchemy supporting permaculture principles across all cultures. Many experience the process of alchemy through sound and visual art. Look for new songs, dances and rituals based on permaculture practices.
There is no new mythology without alchemy. As our consciousness is raised and the elements connected, transmutation is possible. Alchemy can be mediated, voice activated, and Nature-fueled. It is love in action, the glue that makes myth universal. Powerful myths are shared fights and common solutions to the Big Challenges. Myths are also road maps or clues (examples) for the seekers and visionaries. We need to understand the power of the five alchemies in the new myths before “hearing” them. This Journey to Cascadia or back to Oakland is precisely what Campbell advocated and is the hard work that we cannot afford to shun. It is dangerous to decry a Hero before the sweat is spilled and the information tested and shared. Here are the five ingredients of this New Alchemy:
 Sound: Rock Music
As for rock music, we hear and see symbols through rock music and art. Band names and titles of records and songs contain important cues, many political or humorous, but some for “mythic punch.” Album art work is the first to be interpreted and often carries the same meaning all over the world. When musicians combine song lyrics with complimentary symbols, mythic meanings are reinforced and deepened. Symbols and metaphors are the seeds, our invitation to the feast. And many symbols, like numbers and colors, have ancient meanings and universal power. Joseph Campbell might have asked at this point: Do we know the power of these symbols? Have we lost our connections to the mythic reservoir?
I now wish to build upon the powerful ideas of Joseph Campbell with the New Global Mythology Model that allows us to create, sing and share new myths that support the post-apocalypse.
 Landscape: Permaculture
Permaculture draws from several disciplines including organic farming, agroforestry, integrated farming, sustainable development, and applied ecology. The primary agenda of the movement has been to assist people to become more self-reliant. Permaculture is both an emerging global social building tool and alchemic augur for the new Cascadian myths. I earned my PDC or permaculture design certificate in San Francisco during the summer of 2011.
The following core principles of permaculture also weave a scared thread in Nature for many adopters:
- Care of the Earth: Provision for all life systems to continue and multiply.
- Care of People: Provision for people to access those resources necessary for their existence.
- Setting Limits to Population and Consumption: By governing our own needs, we can set resources aside to further the above principles.
 Spirit: Transition Movement
The Transition Movement is a vibrant, grassroots movement that seeks to build community resilience in the face of such challenges as peak oil, climate change and the economic crisis. Transition alchemy represents one of the most promising ways to engage people in strengthening their communities against the effects of these challenges, resulting in a life that is more abundant, fulfilling, equitable and socially connected.
Recently several key themes have emerged from Transition:
- Seriousness and urgency. There is a growing and indisputable recognition that our collective predicament is far more serious and more urgent than many of us had been willing to actively contemplate.
- Emergence, or what Christopher Alexander calls “Unfolding,” the evolutionary process by which the universe itself self-organizes, finding profound and practical lessons in how to catalyze Transition Alchemy in our communities. I am in the process of learning about what is emerging in the Transition movement itself. In my community and groups, we’re discovering what is emerging in – and through – us.
- Self-organization. I am also beginning to learn the meaning of “self-organization,” which is actually a core principle of Transition, though little discussed. I am discovering that catalyzing self-organization of a community around re-localization or Transition is entirely different from community organizing!
- Permaculture principles and Ethics. We’re also beginning to understand how essential the principles and ethics of permaculture alchemy are to the Transition process. This alchemic translation will become increasingly important over time, because Permaculture is based on a very deep understanding of how life works.
- New Cosmology/Universe Story. Many of us are also diving deep into the story of the evolution of the Universe, of the Earth, and of life itself. As Thomas Berry explains, this New Cosmology “explores the contemporary, scientific story of the origin, nature and function of the Universe from its beginning, through its galactic phase, its supernova events, the shaping of the solar system, Earth, life, human life and self-reflective consciousness as a single, unbroken series of events.” Alchemic transmutation on a grand scale. New Cosmology is helping us to recover our sense of the sacredness of life itself, and our fundamental connectedness with the processes that make life possible.
- Pattern Language. As an important adjunct to the New Cosmology, we’re beginning to discover the importance of the patterns of evolution itself – the alchemy and patterns of wholeness and healing.
- Inner Transition/Heart & Soul. Finally, I appreciate the alchemy of Inner Transition, what is frequently called “Heart & Soul”, the recognition that Transition in the outer world cannot occur without an Inner Transition.
 Community: Localization
Key ideas in the localization of community include:
- Healthy Food. This is all about my backyard and working with other urban gardeners! Our food needs to be fresh, healthy, and locally produced and marketed.
- Personal Responsibility. Localization mandates increasing levels of self-sufficiency, to the betterment of my family, neighborhood and town. It is now our challenge to support local ventures and local talent.
- Shifting Politics and Capital. I can now exert some influence on my local schools and businesses. This produces a significant portion of the goods, services, food, and energy they consume from its own local endowment of financial, natural, and human capital. Regional and local funders must loan more to area businesses, keeping the community and feedback in mind. Localization alchemy hopes to restore an efficient balance between local production and imports.
- Environmental Impacts. I need to focus on local and community vs. larger, national efforts and projects. Not just about reducing greenhouse gas emissions, but how the human and natural eco systems support each other on a daily basis.
 Religion: Dark Green Religion
“Since the publication of Rachael Carson’s Silent Spring in 1962, environmental alarm has intensified and become increasingly apocalyptic. Meanwhile, nature-related religion has been rekindled, invented, spread, and ecologized. A great deal of this religious creativity has been dark green, flowing from a deep sense of belonging to and connectedness in nature, while perceiving the earth and its living systems to be sacred and interconnected. Dark green religion is generally deep ecological, bio-centric, or eco-centric, considering all species to be intrinsically valuable, that is, valuable apart from their usefulness to human beings.
“This (dark green) value system is generally:
(1) based on a felt kinship with the rest of life, often derived from a Darwinian understanding that all forms of life have evolved from a common ancestor and are therefore related;
(2) accompanied by feelings of humility and a corresponding critique of human moral superiority, often inspired or reinforced by a science-based cosmology that reveals how tiny human beings are in the universe; and
(3) reinforced by metaphysics of interconnection and the idea of interdependence (mutual influence and reciprocality).”
(Excerpt from Dark Green Religion by Bron Taylor, p. 13)
These alchemies combine to fuel the spirit engine in the transmutation of the mythic land called Cascadia.
Do you see Alchemy and transmutation as a spiritual process?
First, alchemy is transmutation. These forces can be deployed for the good or for the negative. If there is a sacred purpose for their use, then yes a spiritual plane can be integrated with the change(s). Obviously turning the soil in your backyard may not be a sacred act for many!
Have you studied mythologies from many different cultures, and if so, how have they influenced you as you “dream forward” and create the New Global Mythology?
To a moderate degree, I have investigated myths both classic and non-western. Joseph Campbell’s initiation, journey and hero have helped frame the common struggles and symbols in this reservoir but I try not to get side-tracked in places and tales that do not resonate with my values and experience. I grew up with Paul Bunyan and the great Wisconsin north woods. My emerging mythology was Nature-based and a perfect augur for the permaculture-charged alchemies and archetypes that would come later in Northern California.
Have you come across any ancient myths/mythologies that also teach about sustainable living in some way?
I am sure that they are out there! Sustainability has been around for eons. My attention is on the next 50 – 75 years. I hope that my New Myths can be forecasters and lessons plans, especially for our children. Have the old myths served us well?
Have any religious or spiritual practices, teachings, or leaders influenced or inspired you both on your own journey and in this work?
Besides Campbell, there are countess rock musicians that continue to propel my vision. Please see my interviews with Robyn Hitchcock, Steve Kilbey, and others. My Father’s insistence on integrity and common sense still ring true. I still have a deep resonance for the Quakers. My recent interview with Dr. Maila Davenport is a must read.
Tell us the symbols that support your new myths?
“In Journey to Cascadia: Building a New Global Mythology,” animals and plants are re-engineered to symbolize alchemical processes, work, and ritual. We need new symbols to spark our imaginations, to build Gaia, and survive. It’s worth noting that sanctioned permaculture programs must leave out things sacred and spiritual; this “black hole of avoidance” could derail the promise of permaculture in the near future.
As Open Myth Source grows, what do you hope to accomplish through it?
Maybe a media production house or a TV channel? A cartoon show? Or an institute? A space ship? As the name suggests, I am hoping to discover The Code.
What do you see for the future of our planet? More specifically, do you see us following the paths in your myths, becoming Myth in Practice?
In “Journey to Cascadia,” I envision a Chaos Era that we may survive. If the rising oceans don’t get us then GMOs will! Whether folks follow my new myths to any degree is unknown! When the doors at Safeway are shuttered and the gas stations are closed, we will see how practices like mythology and the transition values can support us!
Finally, in what ways do you incorporate permaculture design and sustainable living into your own life?
One of the biggest ironies of my post PDC (permaculture design certificate) world is my dire lack of land. No land, no soil, nor food.
Indeed I am now dangling between the old world, the current crisis, and my “new mythic order vision.”
Can you give me any greenie points for pissing twice in the toilet before flushing?