Contemplating The Ruins and Reviving Mythic Stories
(We are pleased to host this piece by Pegi Eyers, which first appeared in A Beautiful Resistance: Everything We Already Are.)
“Our Ancestors experienced life in terms of imagination and intuition, and this mythic worldview has value for us today. A new interest is awakening in primal mind, fantasies and dreams. We have the need to relate back to a deeper level of life which is more direct and full of feeling, with a natural grace and wisdom that is more appealing than all the dazzling accomplishments of the intellectual ego. Myth has once again become important.”
“When the stories a society shares are out of tune with its circumstances, they can become self-limiting, even a threat to survival. This is our current situation.”
In these last days of Empire, the “endless growth” agenda of eco-fascism, economic hegemony and corporatocracy is dissolving, falling apart under the weight of unsustainability, and a groundswell of people from all walks of life are moving away from these delusional and insane systems. The paradigm of humanity as lord and master of Mother Earth has run its course, and it is becoming harder and harder to believe in the fallacy of a mechanical universe and our separation from the natural world.
“We are living at a time in which the old story of domination and control has lost its power, and we are in a liminal, in-between time, still searching for a new story.”
At this point in history, it would seem highly apropos to reject the human-centric and hubristic notions that human beings are a “God Species” who rule the world, that more and better technology will solve the problems that technology created in the first place, or that continued “progress” is the only way forward. That the colonial dream would have been adopted planet-wide was perhaps something the early “meme spreaders”(1) did not foresee, but the Earth clearly cannot sustain billions of people living at the height of civilizational benefit and luxury. “Unless you believe infinite growth is possible on a finite planet” (2) it is time to redefine our paradigm and adopt a different mythic story for self, community and the world, to return to the values of interexistence and a respect for natural law.
The conveniences, communication devices and media bombardment of our high-mobility modern lifestyle have given us the illusion that human beings are the center of the universe. Our addiction to entertainment and diversion, the ongoing incestuous interaction with our emotional dramas and human inventions—to the exclusion of all other life on Earth—is narcissistic, dysfunctional and immoral. What spell have we been under? Thinking that human endeavors and human-centric concerns are the only ones that matter keeps us trapped in the sinkhole of modernism, contributes to the ideology of Empire, and does nothing to return us to right relationship with the land. Unlearning the habits of civilization means rejecting the domestication we have adopted from techno-industrial society in favor of earth-wise Pagan skills, returning to the rich matrix of indigenous mind, and learning how to be “true human beings” once again.
We need the vision of an earth-rooted paradigm to counteract Empire’s mandate to devour the earth’s resources and spirit. Experiencing, creating and believing both ancient and new narratives that honor and celebrate the natural world (and our place within it) are urgently needed to bend the curve. Based on the Old Ways, we need to tell revived stories about ourselves, reclaimed eco-myths to guide us forward, and rejuvenated manifestos that celebrate our integration with the natural world. Our archaic spirit needs to rise again in a weaving of timeless stories of growth, regeneration, rites of passage, energy, motion, illumination, magic, decay, and all the earth’s processes that dwell both in us and the other-than-human-world.
Mirroring the “new myth” in full interaction with others is both a spiritual and political act that will disrupt the business-as-usual of Empire in ways we can only imagine. Diverse human groups worldwide have always used mythic stories to record our most sacred origins, to hold the keystone beliefs, cultural meanings, values and destinies specific to each society. Creation stories (or accounts of how our particular social order came into being), along with explanations and exemplars, are human attempts to answer the most fundamental questions of existence and form the building blocks of a collective reality. Arising from both the intellect and the imagination, narrative epics and parables are “lessons for living” that offer us guidance for navigating both the inner and outer worlds.
Keystone stories and important events in history are transferred from one generation to the next, and are integrated in rituals and ceremonies that include the bardic arts, entertainment, music, songs, call-and-response, poetry, dancing and drumming. Throughout history, pagan peoples have relied on the story-keepers to maintain the tribal records, to continue the richness of history, identity and culture. By reaching back to ancestral knowledge, conveying teachings or validating the prestige and responsibilities of tribal members, each storyteller brings with them a unique piece of the mythic puzzle. The oral transmission of collective memories becomes a living worldview that keeps the cultural traditions of the group alive.
Focused on interspecies communication and our soul connections to the other-than-human world, our shared stories can outline our rapport with other beings and the realm of the shapeshifters. The natural world is the entry point to the “dreamtime,” a place where our access to soul expressions and personal mythology merge.
“Stories and their ceremonies weave our world together: the story of corn maiden and mother, of salmon’s death and rebirth, of bear’s human wife, of coyote’s foul tricks and lynx’s loneliness. These stories of ecological conscience are a council where the voices of all species may be heard. It is through these stories that the Earth can be restored, for these eco-narratives are an ‘ilbal’, a ‘seeing instrument’. Looking through the eyes of others as their stories are told, we may hear and understand the voices of our relatives.”(3)
An important purpose for our ongoing oral history is to outline the interactions and lived experiences that arise from our essential bond to Earth Community, to recount the stories that are held within geographical locations on the land. Whether at key points like sacred sites or more personal lived places, the storied landscape brings our lore to life – the earth deities, Gods, Goddesses or sages we honor, the creatures we dream about, and the paradoxes we cannot explain.
For a powerful example of the oral tradition as a living worldview, we can look to the life of the great Okanagan storyteller and orator Harry Robinson, who was wholly immersed in the natural world in every waking moment. During the transcribing of his priceless story-cycles, scholar Wendy Wickwire noted that:
“Harry travelled to Vancouver to undergo medical treatment under the care of an elderly Chinese herbalist. Only then did the depth of Harry’s mythological world become truly apparent. As we passed through downtown Vancouver on his visits to the doctor, I realized that all the traffic lights and cars meant nothing to Harry. They were almost an abstraction, an interesting but fleeting diversion from the timeless real world of Coyote, Fox and Owl.”(4)
In our own process to reject the failed experiment of industrial civilization, connect deeply to the land and embody the brilliant mythology of our own ancestral knowledge, can we also have no doubt that entering urban space is an illusion and an aberration, an insult to ourselves, the Earth and Her many creatures and elements? Can we too contemplate the ruins of Empire and see it as an abstraction, a fleeting diversion that for a long and unmerciful time tried to demonize Gaia and separate us from our one true home? As we examine our own life story within the context of Empire-building, we need to deconstruct the experiences that do not serve us, and reclaim the kinship model of our relationship to the wild.
To re-indigenize ourselves means re-inhabiting our local ecosystems, and returning to the various features and creatures in the bioregional landbase that inform and inspire.
Developing eco-mythic literacy means unlearning the consensual worldview of Empire in favor of older ways to see the world, to think and feel our way into a re-landed perspective with storytelling, ceremonies, intuitive workings and sacred art. Our creative, mystic, and eco-poetic abilities will blossom again when we dwell in a sense of oneness with the natural world, and we gain new wisdom when we are living as a part of (rather than apart from) the Web of All Life. A keen knowledge of the surrounding ecosystem is fundamental to a deep sense of interconnection and is imperative to a sustainable future, and communicating this eco-literacy to others, especially children, is the most important task we face.
”Stories nurture our connection to place and to each other. They show us where we have been and where we can go. They remind us of how to be human, and how to live alongside the other lives that animate this planet.”5
So, what are the new Earth Stories? In addition to narratives that arise from our localized re-landing, these thoughts and “chapters” may be a good beginning:
- To return to our pre-colonial Paganism or indigenity knowing we are all children of Earth, and that our place is within, not above, the circle of creation,
- To reorient our consciousness toward a more integral relationship with the Earth,
- To move toward a paradigm shift that includes the land and the other-than-human world,
- To look to nature as a knowledgeable and inspiring teacher, as Gaia herself provides us with the stories for a new era,
- To address ecological solutions that maintain and improve the health of natural systems and the diversity of all life,
- To revive and embrace the natural law of species diversity in a multiplicity of ethnicities, belief systems, partnerships, unique societies and Earth communities,
- To revalue our bodies, the dignity of materiality, and working with our hands,
- To live each day as a sacred act,
- To love the land as central to our most cherished dreams and memories, to care for and restore the Earth, and
- To take a stand for ecological defence.
The human mind is as much a part of nature as a boreal forest, and the imaginal states of dreaming, imagining, wandering in nature, making magic and creating mythologies is key. In times of massive change and transition, sharing and collaborating with our kindred spirits and communities on old/new ecocentric stories is an integral part of reclaiming our primitivist, animist, Pagan, Neo-Pagan or re-constructionist paths. Human beings have a role to play as earth protectors and earth keepers, and our challenge is to honor each other, all beings, and the earth as Sacred.
Reframing and rewriting our own stories where we find ourselves right now—in the ruins of Empire – will automatically reconnect us to the mythic realms of spirit, and will enlarge our transformation to knowing that we belong to the Earth. When your thoughts and actions go beyond the narrow confines of your individualistic concerns and revolve around the land and the welfare of the whole, you are well on your way to becoming a “true human being!” In these times of cataclysmic return, the “new myth” is the same one already in place that humanity has had for millennia, imbedded in worldview(s) that respect the human place within the circle of creation, and that express our overwhelming love for Earth Community.
- 1. Daniel Quinn calls the foundational worldviews of culture “memes.” Daniel Quinn, Beyond Civilization: Humanity’s Next Great Adventure, Broadway, 2000
- 2Charles Eisenstein, A New Story of the People, TEDxWhitechapel video, February 13, 2013: (www.youtube.com/watch?v=Mjoxh4c2Dj0)
- 3Joan Halifax, The Fruitful Darkness: Reconnecting with the Body of the Earth, Harper Collins, 1993
- 4Write it on Your Heart: The Epic World of an Okanagan Storyteller, by Harry Robinson and Wendy Wickwire (editor), Talonbooks, 1989. From the first of three volumes, the stories of Harry Robinson (Interior Salish, Lower Similkameen Band, B.C.) were collected by Wendy Wickwire. While working on her doctoral thesis, she recognized in Harry Robinson what Thomas King (Cherokee) would describe as “the most powerful storytelling voice in North America.”
- 5 Susan J. Tweit, Walking Nature Home: A Life’s Journey, University of Texas Press, 2009
Author of “Ancient Spirit Rising: Reclaiming Your Roots & Restoring Earth Community,” Pegi Eyers is occupied with challenging worldviews, contributing to the paradigm shift and working with the decolonization process in herself and others. A Celtic Animist who sees the world through a spiritual lens, she is a devotee of nature-based culture and all that is sacred to the Earth. Pegi Eyers is an advocate for our interconnection with Earth Community and the recovery of authentic ancestral wisdom and traditions for all people. She lives in the countryside on the outskirts of Nogojiwanong in Mississauga Anishnaabe territory (Peterborough, Ontario, Canada) on a hilltop with views reaching for miles in all directions. http://www.stonecirclepress.com