Permaculture Kids: Building Myths for the Future

by Jessica Cox,

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a very global sense) we have moved out of tribes, out of shared geographic communities, a tribal communal living has been archived as a thing of the past.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.

Related Links and Activities:


A Transition Workshop Primer for Imprinting the New Mythology

New Animation Model for Transition Children

Permaculture Unification Model

Permaculture Principle 1: Observe and Interact

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?

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Jessica Cox is Founder of Please see her recent interview with New Mythology’s Willi Paul.

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  • So. Well said. But how do we create new myths to help get us out of the crisis?

    • - Nature, Civilization and Consciousness by Emilios Bouratinos

      Nature, Civilization and Consciousness |
      NATURE, CIVILIZATION AND CONSCIOUSNESS Emilios Bouratinos Two major theories attempt to explain the current difficulties of our civilisation. The fir…
    • If you think in long terms instead of short terms, respond to the future instead to the past, deal with the trouble (and risk to fail) instead of ignoring it, use your right brain hemisphere rather than the left one, get closer to politics instead of ignoring it because “they are all the same”, improvise because you can’t know everything in advance, then you are turning your habits upside down. Or, you are creating a new myth. If you feel uncomfortable, then you at least feel something.  

      I could write here something less abstract than the previous paragraph, but then I would take myself too seriously. All I can add is that, in order to “sell” the new myth to the majority, one needs either business as usual to become unbearable or to sell the full package of a group of people who care about community more than about their new yacht (opposite to the elite behaving, like, ever). Perhaps renewable energy is that secret ingredient needed for people to think and behave differently in other aspects of their activities.

  • Bill McKibben has written the book Eaarth about our planet that should perhaps have a different name because our life on it will be different for a (for us) long time. Old myths belong to the perception that you "must have this" and "can't live without that" and that shovels are for those who don't like education. Focusing on permaculture and sustainability and learning how to live with the fact that those cheap things used by us for generations have enormous value compared to the latest good and service (excluding those designed to enhance sustainability and which should for this very reason relatively available for usage and improvements by other people) will be a shock for many unprepared people. Timing will play an important role in creating and living new myths.

    • Hi Alek - You said: "Timing will play an important role in creating and living new myths." Can you elaborate for us?

      Peace. Willi

    • In globalization in the current form you are forced to produce the latest gadgets and services just to stay above the surface. Globalization as we know it created in the way for the rich to get richer and the poor poorer. This concept works great for a selected few until it stops working great (hence timing in my previous comment). The real cause for the financial crisis are (arguably) outsourcing and domestic consumerism and debts stretched to the limit in order to deal with globalized competition and provide enormous salaries for those just below CEOs (a growing number of interested individuals). Also, diminishing marginal returns (of investments needed just to provide the status quo – nowadays is the eternal growth perceived as the “necessary” status quo) can cause a lot of trouble. Anything else that someone might mention as a cause for the (delaying) financial crisis is (also arguably) more like a consequence than a real cause. Add to that future complications (energy, climate, even more of globalization and diminishing marginal returns) and timing (being at the right place at the right time and connected with the right people) and understanding in advance what is going on becomes even more important.

      This comment is (among others) inspired by “Hot, Flat, and Crowded” by Thomas Friedman, “Tools for Conviviality” by Ivan Illich (available online), ”Eaarth” by Bill McKibben, “Dark Matter and Trojan Horses” (this title is another name for good timing) by Dan Hill, and a manifesto (I shall for a reason not say whose). 

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