In his book Cosmos and Psyche the theorist Richard Tarnas discusses how a structured cosmology can affect the cultural narrative. He focuses on astrology as a way to map changes in the global culture against recurrent celestial patterns. Through a mytho-poetic relationship to the celestial cycles he explores holistic relationships that bridge the gap between science and religion, microcosm and macrocosm.
In looking for sustainable systems our best guide is nature itself. We often forget that the calendar we follow is an inorganic tool, an artificial construct that has grown with the technological reification of our culture.
The Flow of Events
Calendars are used to measure the interaction of time and meaning, they organize our relationship with the flow of events. In seeking sustainable solutions we have to keep in mind that something as subtle as our understanding of the year affects our relationship with the environment.
This applies to our individual lives as well as to the way we order our communities. The cultural traditions of the world have long addressed this issue, and their explorations are outlined in allegories, mythologies, folklore, songs and symbols. By readdressing these lessons we can gain a valuable understanding of the natural cycles that our current calendars ignore.
Beyond the Pale
It may seem odd to consider astrology as a valid tool. Before we dismiss the thought, however, we need to take into account the ability for astrological symbols to carry narrative meaning in connection with the recurring natural cycles.
At the present time our general understanding of the calendar is based on economic cycles. In order to reconnect to the living systems around us we need to go beyond the pale and adapt new systems, or reconsider older systems, that emerge from an understanding of nature.
Rethinking our relationships
Something like Weiser’s Witches’ Almanac* is a surprisingly effective tool for this undertaking. There is a wealth of fragments from mythology, folklore, urban legend, weather lore and a calendar system that follows the lunar and celestial cycles.
Each page provides another opportunity to reexamine the world through a mytho-poetic lense. In the Spring 2011 – Spring 2012 issue Shannon Marks has a wonderful essay on Genius Loci, or the Spirits of Place, addressing a deeper way to understand our connection to the environment based on past traditions.
“Every locality has a unique character or atmosphere, its Genius Loci…Saint Augustine wrote a great deal about the subject, particularly pertaining to gardens. He declared that the gardener should seek to honor the natural landscape, remaining true to the aspect suggested by rocks, trees, rivers or hills.”
Examples from the past
Shannon outlines a perfect philosophical basis for permaculture and provides another avenue to explore sustainable ideas within the foundation of the cultural narrative. Western traditions have been mired in a revisionist model of the enlightenment that stunts our vision of life. By seeking out the roots of our culture we find intersections with the past that have been passed by or glossed over.
So much of our thinking on issues of sustainability and the environment focuses on futuristic narratives, by drawing upon mythology and older traditions we gain alternative solutions and valuable counter arguments that bring us closer to a true solution.
*Note: The folks at Red Wheel/Weiser were kind enough to provide us with copies of their Field Guide Series to spur our creativity and give us some meat for the Mythic fires.