After facilitating the first Belonging workshop last weekend, i want to reflect upon one of the themes that arose there: how do we find embrace technology and express our innate love of nature in the same life of body and soul? And how can we do both in an ecologically sustainable way? This is a core issue for modern people to come to terms with and it runs right through my work, including the documentary film City Living, Nature Calling (more details soon) and my mythtelling story session around the campfire in Castlemaine this Friday evening. (If you’re anywhere near there, or are coming to the Local Lives, Global Matters event, see details below)
Let’s start with Prometheus, the mythic character who stole fire from the gods and gave it to humans. He was a Titan, which generally puts him on the side of humanity against the haughty Olympian gods (Titans descend directly from mother earth, or Gaia, and father sky, or Uranus). Sometimes he is even credited with creating humanity, but mostly he is known as the same culture hero who was responsible for granting us the powers of technology. There’s the irony, because even though modern technology has become so powerful that it is now seen as a major driving force behind the destruction of the environment, it was originally created out of loyalty to the earth and its people. Obviously, the problem is not technology per se, but the ways it is used. Prometheus, in another myth, is also responsible for lifting up our chins towards the heavens, in what sounds like an evolutionary shift from primate to free standing homo sapiens. From then on, we are looking at the stars, employing some of my favourite of all human qualities: imagination and wonder, dreaming of future and further possibilities, looking beyond immediate experiences with hope and maybe even love for the universe.
This is the force that expands us beyond our bodies, hopefully in a way that increases our appreciation for this physical life, this embodiment of consciousness and self-aware intelligence that we are so lucky to have. There is no reason we can’t have all of this dreaming and be good ecological citizens of the earth at the same time. But in order to do so we might have to recall the Greeks’ great warning against hubris, or over-exaggerated pride. If the philosophical attitude of this culture may be summed in the oracle to Know Thyself, then obviously this ‘self’ must also be restrained by the ecological limits of its home. While the ancient Greeks were no doubt just as often warning against the excessive domination of tyrants in the polis – a social ill, rather than an environmental one – there are precedents for my intuition that there is a notion of ‘care for country’ in this mythic cycle. King Oedipus becomes aware of pollution in his land, for instance, when it is laid waste by plague.
Across the seas in ancient Britain, a similar set of circumstances besets the land as the Knights of the Round Table set off in search for the Holy Grail. There, the ill health of the king is directly associated with the suffering of the land. Metaphorically speaking, when cultural authority is weak (the king is wounded or defiled), so nature becomes barren, the land laid waste, the fruits of the forest left to rot or the desert sands dotted with corpses and crows. There is a direct association, in the Grail and Theban cycles of Kings Arthur and Oedipus, between vigorous rule and the fertility of the land. And again in both sets of stories there is a concern with just rule, with the good king, who serves his people with honour and in accord with a higher calling, a greater law, something more than mere political convention. There is a myth, or metaphysic, of interconnectedness between the way we live and the flourishing of our bioregion. Calling this the law of the land might make a nice counterpoint to the unsatisfying way Darwinian evolution has too often been reduced to a ‘survival of the fittest’ ideology that suits capitalist aggression a lot better than it suits an empathic collective of caring souls who like to cooperate towards a better world.
Also, this myth of culture and nature being strengthened by the same commitment to a just society also links mind and matter in a way not dissimilar to the identification with nature we recognize as a core feature of so many indigenous traditions. Where Psyche and Gaia are seen as codependent, the warning against hubris can be seen extended to become the magical formula of Hermes Trismegistus, “As Above, So Below.” This is another way of saying that what is within is without, or that our individual minds can ultimately be identified with the world, that what we see is what we are, only with a particularly human kind of reflection added. I find this way of thinking obeys the laws of both myth and reason, once the unlimited inter-relating qualities of metaphor are taken into account. And while we can imagine better worlds beyond this one, it is now our duty and pleasure to imagine a better way of living right here on this earth, amongst a community of inter-related beings dedicated to the flourishing of all. According to this logic, it makes perfect sense to act as if we are born out of the earth and must remain loyal to it, because it is mother and matrix, the ultimate ground of being; technology and all.
Geoff presents mythtelling around the campfire at Murrnong Co-Housing Community, Castlemaine, from 8pm this Friday 16th October. Bus leaves Market Building Steps, Mostyn St. Booking essential! See locallivesglobalmatters.org