Chrysalis Songs for The Permaculture Age: Transmuting the New Myth, Alchemy, Symbols & Sacred. Willi Paul, 2011

Chrysalis Songs for The Permaculture Age: Transmuting the New Myth, Alchemy, Symbols & Sacred

Willi Paul, 2011

The Cinnamon Cob Dance

Lyrics & Poster by Willi Paul. Initiation by
Our swing dance in the mud
Measuring, carrying, dumping, folding
Packing, balling, throwing, spreading, smoothing
Community shaping
Teaching in the round – as a group
Re-using sticks, busted sidewalks, tired dirt, memories from the sand box?
Our – live – future – back – play
Come in the circle with communal food
The transmutation of soils and water and straw – EcoAlchemy Now!
The smiles and dirty feet on the tarps, the ritual of the work dance
Silly Potrero Hill wine spill!
Hands in the cob, an ancient rite renewed
Building a new bench world
Sacred are the bonds that form and last between class, teachers and the land
Sacred is choosing the long view, re-loving Nature’s spirit, the shared view
We are growing local heroes here
The Permaculture Age is new term. It’s a phrase that encompasses a wealth of meaning and inspiration. It’s an expression that is meant to open your eyes to a new era and your heart to new choices. To give you a deeper understanding of The Permaculture Age, let’s begin with a story about transformation and the love for a garden. It’s the story of Sara McCamant, organic gardener and permaculturist. Here’s a little more about her:
 Growing up in a yard full of wild and wooly plants got the dirt into Sara’s blood and love of plants into her heart. After finishing college and studying political theory, she decided to get grounded by working on a farm in Santa Cruz. Four years of harvesting lettuce and weeding long rows got her thinking about the beauty of the garden. She moved to Mendocino County and spent the next 7 years running an educational garden at Shenoa Retreat Center. From there she moved to Emerald Earth, an intentional community in the hills above Boonville. There she mixed permaculture and intensive food production to grow food for the community.
 Sara has worked closely with many chefs and specializes in gardens that are connected to a kitchen! For three years she ran the gardens at the Boonville Hotel and she currently works at Lynmar Estate, a winery in Sebastopol, CA. Sara’s love of the garden has transformed into a desire to teach and provide useful information to the public. For instance, she hosted a farming and gardening radio show on Mendocino Public Radio for over 8 years, and most of her gardening has been in public, educational food gardens.
  Sara is strongly committed to the Local Food Movement and has actively worked with many organizations promoting good food and farming. She helped start the West County Community Seed Bank here in Sonoma County and is involved with Transition Sebastopol and iGROW Sonoma.
I interviewed Sara in April of 2010. Find out what she had to say below.  To Love a Garden: Sara McCamant Interview can be found online!  Visit
 Can you mediate while working the garden?
I assume you mean meditate. I love this Rumi quote: “Let the beauty we love be what we do. There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground.” So yes my gardening is a meditation and is one of hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground, which I take to mean to worship. Now, what is meditation is another question, I can find a meditative state when I work in the garden that keeps me completely in the present and also keeps me in relationship with and with deep awareness of all that is around me. I am not always in that state though, usually I am busy thinking about all the details of what I need to do and then something will give me a little reminder to notice and be present.
 What’s your favorite vegetable? Why?
Well that changes by the season, right at this moment my favorite plant is a crimson flowering fava bean. It is absolutely beautiful. It will be food. It feeds the soil by fixing nitrogen, and it is rare and on the Renewing America’s Food Tradition’s list (RAFT). The thing I love to grow and eat the most is probably winter squash. It sustains me through the winter. But then again kale (Red Russian) feeds me year round, is chock full of nutrients, is beautiful, and takes so little work and puts out so much food.
Find out more about RAFT at
 What are most important common values throughout the organizations that you work with?
I work with several organizations: West County Community Seed Bank, Transition Sebastopol, and iGROW. All of these promote sustainability through community, health and local food. They all have different focuses but the common theme is gardens, food and local resilience.
 West County Community Seed Bank
Transition Sebastopol
How do you define localization?
Localization is the process of creating a community that can sustain itself mostly from local resources. It is a process not a final state. It includes inventory and evaluation of where we are now, and the support and creation of systems and enterprises that bring things closer to home. There are many areas to look at – food, energy, health, culture, education, and transportation are some.
[Localization is a community-wide strategy that reduces the carbon footprint in energy and transportation systems. Locally grown and distributed food is a major focus in this shift to self-reliance.]
 What stands out when you think about vision?
I love Daily Acts and the vision that what we do every day and sometimes the little steps can make the change we need. We cannot be part time activists to create a better world, we have to live it and breathe it and it has to be part of our every moment. I feel like Daily Acts vision is based in that. I also like that it is about creation not just resistance.
Read more about Daily Acts at
How do you balance time online with time offline? How often do you write your blog with Wendy?
I am a mostly an off line person, I work as a gardener so I leave in the morning and am unplugged all day. I usually don’t even work with my cell phone. Most of the organizing of the 350 Garden Challenge is on line and with email communications so these last few months have found me more online than I ever have been. I really don’t think being on the computer for more than an hour or two is healthy. I feel much better after a day with my hands in the dirt than when I am at a keyboard all day. I write a blog for iGROW about once a month; Wendy and I switch off every two weeks.
 How many different types of gardens do you expect to see created for the 350 Garden Challenge? Does a “window sill crop” count?!
I think there might be as many different gardens as there are people. Everyone adds their own personal touch to their garden. But we are talking about a wide range from wine barrel or container plantings, raised bed annual vegetables, sheet mulching a whole lawn and installing perennial fruits and vegetables, drought tolerant plantings, gray water gardens, and urban farms. This is an event with soft edges about what is included. We want everyone to feel empowered and excited about what they want to bring to the table whether it is a pot of herbs on their apartment balcony or someone taking out 600 sq feet of lawn for a permaculture food forest. The main guidelines are food and /or water wise.
What do think Transition Sebastopol’s ‘building community resilience” means? Can you give us an example?
I really was drawn to the word resilience in the Transition work. It means that a community can survive and thrive through major change, that the changes that might come like economic melt downs and maybe peak oil will not destroy the community’s ability to exist and be healthy. An example would be creating a local food system so that if there were an earthquake, and the supermarkets collapsed, there would still be ways to get food to our communities. I think of it as the ability to bend and adjust and not snap and break with whatever comes our way. I actually am not attracted to this work from a survivalist place and don’t put that much energy into peak oil theories because I think community resilience is important no matter what happens, moving toward a sustainable community is good no matter what the future holds.
 Are there good and bad seeds at the West County Community Seed Bank events? How can you tell if a seed has been genetically altered?
What we ask for is only open pollinated seeds. That means no hybrids and no genetically engineered (GE) seeds. It is becoming more difficult to grow corn that does not have some GE crossings but if you start with clean seed not much GE corn is grown here in Sonoma you probably can keep it clean.
 We have a protocol for seed offered at the seed bank. It needs to come from healthy open pollinated plants. It needs to come from a large enough population that you keep a good genetic mix. We want as much information about where and when it was grown, and you needed to grow it in isolation so it did not cross (if it crosses). Of course if you know nothing about seed saving than all of these things need some explanation. Which is why we have seed saving classes to teach people about how to grow good seed.
 The Seed Bank is a barter deal right? How do you see bartering working in other ways for your community in the future?
It actually isn’t a barter deal, it is free. We offer everything for free, the seeds, the classes; sometimes we offer things like the materials to make seed cleaning screens at cost. We see it as modeling a different economic system based on abundance and sharing. If you have ever saved seeds you know that you end up with more than you would ever need for your own garden. It only makes sense to share them with your neighbors and friends and hope they will save something different and share them with you.
 We offer the seed, and the information and hope you will go home and save some seeds of that or something different and bring it back to the seed bank. I think bartering or alternative exchange systems are part of a healthy, resilient local economy. There have been some kinks in some the systems that have been created but I think there have been many lessons learned and a few successful models. I think we should give it a try again whether it is a local dollar system or bartering. And move away from the US dollar cash economy.
Sara’s interview paints a picture. It’s clear that her lifestyle is one that respects the Earth, makes room for the sacred, promotes service and sharing, and helps build a positive future!  “We cannot be part time activists to create a better world,” she said. “We have to live it and breathe it and it has to be part of our every moment.” 
It goes without saying that more and more people across the globe are becoming interested in living a lifestyle similar to Sara’s. In their own way, people are becoming aware of the environmental catastrophes and adopting practices that, like Sara’s lifestyle, respect the Earth, make room for the sacred, promote service and sharing, and help build a positive future. For instance, some of these practices are organic farming, meditation, yoga, permaculture, holistic medicine and other sacred paths that spark one’s spiritual nature as well as help us remember the spiritual alchemy of the Earth.
So far, this is a good start for giving you a sense of what the Permaculture Age is. Next, let’s take a deeper look at the practice of permaculture itself; but first, here are some questions to inspire you.
1.  How can you increase use of localization strategies in your town?
2. What does “transition” mean to you?
3. What activities are potential meditations for you?

What is Permaculture?
“I am not certain what constitutes a green alchemist, but I do love composting. Taking my shallow understanding of alchemy – that the intent of transmuting lead into gold is a metaphor for the transmutation of the individual from the base to the refined or divine, I suppose I could claim association or at least appreciation with alchemists. In practice, I see the transmutation of the base – dead, decaying organic matter into the refined – diverse vegetation through the process of composting as a form of alchemy. And the metaphor seems to hold. As I mix my carbon rich and nitrogen rich biomass and turn it I mentally project into my compost piles my base “materials,” feelings like fear or attachment and reverently “turn” them when I turn the pile to preferred states, refined understanding, edges for learning rather than shortcomings – perfect in their appearance.”
Permaculture, mythogenesis & the forces of fear as motivation for the revolution. Interview with Bay Area Designer / Instructor Kevin Bayuk –
Permaculture is a practical concept which can be applied in the city, on the farm, and in the forest. Its principles and ethics empower people to establish highly productive environments providing for food, energy, shelter, and other material and non-material needs, including economic. Carefully observing natural patterns characteristic of a particular local site, the permaculture designer gradually discerns optimal methods for integrating water catchments, human shelter, and energy systems with tree crops, edible and useful perennial plants, domestic and wild animals and aquaculture.
Permaculture adopts techniques and principles from ecology, appropriate technology, sustainable agriculture, and the wisdom of indigenous peoples. The ethical basis of permaculture rests upon care of the Earth—maintaining a system in which all life can thrive. This includes human access to resources and provisions, but not the accumulation of wealth, power, or land beyond their needs.
Neatly summed up as “Earth care, people care, fair shares”, permaculture ethics give purpose to working with Nature, and connect us with the many millions of others who are also working towards a fairer, healthier and more harmonious permanent culture.
1. CARE OF THE EARTH: Make sure that all life systems to continue and multiply.
Permaculture works with Nature, rather than in competition with her. It uses methods that have minimal negative impact on the Earth. In everyday life, this may involve buying local produce, eating foods in season, and cycling rather than driving. We need better choices and better land management. We must oppose the destruction of wild habitats, and the poisoning of soil, water and atmosphere, and design healthy ecosystems.

2. CARE OF PEOPLE: Provision for people to access those resources necessary to their existence.

Permaculture is concerned with the wellbeing of both individuals and communities. As individuals, we need to look after ourselves and each other so that as a community we can develop environmentally lives. In the poorest parts of the world, this is still about helping people to access enough food and clean water, within a safe society. In the West, it means redesigning our unsustainable systems and replacing them with sustainable ones. This could mean working together to provide efficient, accessible public transport, or to provide after-school clubs for kids. We need deeper friendships.
3. Fair Share for All: 
By monitoring and reducing our own needs, we can set resources aside to further the above principles. The Earth’s resources are limited and need to be available to all. Permaculture seeks to divide these resources fairly amongst people, animals and plants alike, not forgetting future generations who will need food, water and shelter just as much as we do now. “One Planet – One People.” We need to seriously consider how we can stabilize our resources with a localized and pragmatic population level.

 Bill Mollison – The person who set permaculture in action!

 Mollison developed permaculture after spending decades in the rainforests and deserts of Australia studying ecosystems. He observed that plants naturally group themselves in mutually beneficial communities. He used this idea to develop a different approach to agriculture and community design, one that seeks to place the right elements together so they sustain and support each other. At much the same time, with David Holmgren, Mollison developed the idea of Permaculture, the harmonious integration of landscape and people by establishing agriculturally productive systems with the diversity and stability of natural ecosystems. Mollison wrote many books about Permaculture, founded the Permaculture Institute (1978), and addressed audiences around the world. Informal, energetic and engaging, Mollison was extremely successful and Permaculture gained popularity worldwide, though this later declined somewhat.
Today his ideas, based on the practices of indigenous peoples, have spread and taken root in almost every country on the globe. Permaculture is now being practiced in the rainforests of South America, in the Kalahari Desert, in the arctic north of Scandinavia, and in communities all over North America. In New Mexico, for example, farmers have used permaculture to transform hard-packed dirt lots into lush gardens and tree orchards without using any heavy machinery. In Davis, California, one community uses bath and laundry water to flush toilets and irrigate gardens. In Toronto, a team of architects has created a design for an urban infill house that doesn’t tap into city water or sewage infrastructure and that costs only a few hundred dollars a year to operate.
While Mollison is still unknown to most Americans, he is a national icon in Australia. He has been named Australia’s “Man of the Year” and in 1981 he received the prestigious Right Livelihood Award, also known as the Alternative Nobel Prize, for his work developing and promoting permaculture.
David Holgren’s most important contribution to the permaculture movement are the 12 principles. Please see how we added sacredness to these simple ideas and powerful at the end of this chapter.
The principles that guide Permaculture as a practice are:
1. Observe and Interact
Observation is key to permaculture. Developing good observation skills is essential if we want to make well-functioning permaculture designs. By observing natural and social patterns we are able to use them in our design work – this relates to Bill Mollison’s philosophy of ‘work with nature, not against’. We have to know how nature works if we want to be able to work with it.
2. Catch and Store Energy
We need to engineer more capture and storage of energy within the environment, buildings and even society. If you think about a bank account, this principle is about how we can make our capital bigger, rather than how we spend the interest.
 3. Obtain a Yield
Permaculture stresses self-reliance – the ability to meet many of our own needs from our own resources. In a high rise flat that might be a window box with lettuces, as a whole community it may be the majority of our food. We can no longer rely on global food systems to meet our needs, or on there always being enough fossil fuels to bring the crops to us. Grow it!
 4. Apply Self-regulation and Accept Feedback
We need to limit or discourage inappropriate actions and behaviors. We have a set of ethics that aim to regulate how permaculture designers and practitioners behave, in particular that we accept limits to our consumption so that we do not take more than the earth is able to provide. Self-maintaining systems are the ‘holy grail’ of permaculture, as in forest garden.
5. Use and Value Renewable Resources and Services
Wind, sun and waves are key renewable resources that can help us move towards sustainability. Recreating forests and soils are two of the most important tasks of the twenty first century. Permaculture makes use of natural processes and animal behaviors as part of design.
 6. Produce no Waste
Waste is just an unused output. If the output is unusable, or downright dangerous, we probably shouldn’t be producing it in the first place (plutonium for example). We say: “refuse, reduce, reuse, repair, recycle”. We could add re-design in there too, which is where permaculture makes its biggest contribution.
 7. Design from Patterns to Details
The patterns found in the natural world are a source of inspiration for permaculture. ‘Pattern thinking’ can be used in a wide variety of situations, unlike many land engineering practices that can only be used in particular situations. Permaculture aims to help you think about the overall pattern for a project by using a variety of design methods.
 8. Integrate rather than Segregate
Ecology reveals that the relationships between things are as important as the things themselves. A healthy vibrant ecosystem is a mass of connections and relationships. That’s what we are trying to create with a permaculture system.
9. Use Small and Slow Solutions
Simply put:  don’t take on too much too quickly, as you are likely to be overwhelmed.
10. Use and Value Diversity
Diversity is the very essence and joy of life. Maintaining and enhancing the diversity of existing eco-systems is essential. Preserving and protecting what little wilderness we have left is one of most important tasks. Permaculture designs should always try to incorporate a wide variety of plants, animals and approaches.
11. Use Edges and Value the Marginal
The place where two eco-systems or habitats meet (e.g. woodland and meadow) is generally more productive and richer in the variety of species present than either habitat on its own. Design at the edge. If the most productive bit of woodland is the edge, then design it to have a bigger edge.
12. Creatively Use and Respond to Change
We know things are changing and seem out of control, faster than we would like maybe. However, we do control how we think about them, and how we react as individuals, groups, organizations and networks. By understanding how ecosystems change over time, we can create productive ecosystems faster than is usual in nature.
To learn more about permaculture,

Permaculture as a Way of Life
Are permaculturists often just survivalists? How should we look at this fear-based movement?
Will the official avoidance of the Sacred as a design element be a fatal flaw for the next generation of permaculture projects and practitioners?
The Potrero Hill Pollinators. Journal Entry #2. Summer Class 2011, Urban Permaculture Institute, SF

It is clear in Sara’s story that practicing permaculture alone wasn’t what was making differences in her community. It is her lifestyle, her choices, and even her inner state. “Yes my gardening is a meditation,” she said, “and is one of hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground, which I take to mean to worship.” It’s heart-opening to think of gardening as a form of worship.
The truth is that permaculture, if it is to include a sacred practice or ritual(s) and make a difference in local communities, it must include a spiritual connection. Permaculture or “permanent agriculture” is more than design principles like those in sun angles, crop selection, drainage patterns or roof top grasses. It’s more than simply following principles. For most permaculturists, honoring and caring for the earth and for local communities stems from their passion or reverence for Nature.
Importantly, Mollison’s key foundation for permaculture is The Gaia Hypothesis, also known as Gaia theory or principle. This philosophy proposes that all living organisms and their inorganic surroundings on Earth are closely integrated to form a single and self-regulating complex system, maintaining the conditions for life in the planet. He devised permaculture through a “… philosophy close to Taoism … working with Nature; observation first then action; protecting all systems & their evolution”.  Mollison’s ethics for natural systems is a long neglected sacred way to viewing permaculture as a connector to the mystical.
Another influential leader in permaculture who embodies a sacred way of life is Starhawk, an Eco-Social Activist and Permaculture Trainer. Starhawk is a veteran of progressive movements and she is deeply committed to bringing the techniques and creative power of spirituality to political activism. Together with Penny Livingston-Stark and Erik Ohlsen, she co-teaches EAT, Earth Activist Trainings, intensive seminars that combine permaculture design, political organizing, and earth-based spirituality.
Starhawk travels internationally teaching magic, the tools of ritual, and the skills of activism. She lives part-time in San Francisco, in a collective house with her partner and friends, and part-time in a little hut in the woods in western Sonoma County, California, where she practices permaculture in her extensive gardens, and writes.
I interviewed Starhawk in April of 2011. She shared with me some of the ways she embodies the sacred as a permaculturist and leader in Earth-based spirituality movement. To access the interview with Starhawk online (Titled Starhawk: Community Permaculture and the Sacred Seeds) visit
 What is the connection between permaculture and spirituality?
For me, permaculture manifests as a sacred activity from pagan practice. Our spirits are alive and intelligent. So I started to learn and practice permaculture and teaching to others.
 What are some of the basic principles that you teach in your permaculture classes?
Permaculture has three basic ethics: care for people, care for the earth and care for the future. This is an earth-based spirituality. We definitely need to limit our consumption of natural resources and reduce our exploitation of the earth’s resources.
 How does this sacredness manifest itself in other areas of your life, besides in the garden?
I try to spend time each day in Nature, observing and connecting with the natural world and the Goddess and the sacred.
 Did you grow up in a typical Christian environment?
No, I grew up in Jewish faith. My Jewish education, identity and culture are still a large part of who I am today.
 How do you express your values about localization through your permaculture projects?
Localization is a key part of my permaculture and earth-based spirituality, making a deep connection to place. We would have a healthier and more sustainable society if we were more deeply rooted in community. It is important to understand the spirit and the needs of the place we are in and take responsibility for its health. In San Francisco, I am working with a neighborhood in Bayview-Hunters Point, the poorest neighborhood in the City, primarily African-American, plagued by gang violence. We are building a large community garden to provide fresh food and vocational training. We are working with at-risk young adults and youth – teaching them organic gardening and new careers.
 Is sustainability like a new religion?
I think it will become like one, not like a dogma that we all bow down to, but a new set of core values through what is sacred most cherished. Sustainability provides us with a set of foundation principles along with some values from the traditional religions and the Pagan tradition.
 Tell us about one of your initiations from your journey and how this could be an example of what I call EcoAlchemy?
That’s a challenge. I have had formal initiations into Wicca and the Craft. I spent time in Palestine work refugee camps as a peaceful resistance worker with tanks shooting at us and being welcomed into houses for meals. I now better understand my early fear of Palestinians. But now it’s gone from fear to welcoming. These visits are a transforming experience and now I do not experience the world in the same way.
Do you think about the day when the oil runs out and the super markets are empty?
It is a mistake to see this occurring one day. It will take time and will impact the poor who have the least resources. We prepare by understanding what infrastructure and resources we need now and making new systems to maintain our health and communities.
 A Novel by Starhawk The Last Wild Witch, illustrations by Lindy Kehoe
An eco-fable for kids and other free spirits. In the very heart of the last magic forest lived the last wild Witch. This is the story of how the children of the perfect town let a little wildness get inside of them, found their joy and courage, and saved the last wild Witch and the last magic forest from disappearing.
Also available: The Last Wild Witch Teaching and Discussion Guide
 which can be downloaded here as a pdf.
  Starhawk’s permaculture principles say more about how to live than how to garden:
1. Be comfortable with who you are.
Okay, I know this alone can take some of us a lifetime, but as a start, learn your history; take pride in it. Don’t try to be some other color or culture or class. Let go of the white guilt or the male guilt or the class guilt. You didn’t create those systems of oppression, and while they might offer you certain benefits they also cost you. So just take responsibility for changing them. You, as who you are, have something unique to offer.
2. Be of service.
Watch, look and listen. Find out what the community’s aims and challenges and struggles are, and look for ways you can be of service. If you have something to offer—make it known, but wait to be invited in. If you’re not invited, you can’t just barge in and start doing stuff, however beneficial it might seem to you. Earth Activist Training can only do the work we’re doing in the Bayview because we were invited and have a partner in the community. If you are invited, show up and keep showing up. Share skills, resources, information and opportunities.
 3. Realize that trust must be earned, and that may take time.
Sure, it’s painful if people don’t instantly like and trust you because you are so nice and sweet and good, but when people have had a history of being exploited and ripped off by other people who look like you, they may not take to you instantly. Don’t take it personally; it’s not about you. Be comfortable with who you are, be of service and over time you will win that trust. And it will mean a lot more when you do.
 4. When you’re in a different culture, norms and values may be different.
You might not even realize what your own assumptions are until someone steps all over them. I remember feeling excruciatingly uncomfortable visiting a Sami friend in the north of Norway. I kept trying to make dinner conversation and everything I said dropped into a void of silence. I had just about decided they all hated me, when it occurred to me to ask my friend, “Ellen-Marit, is it like a Sami thing that you don’t talk during meals?” “Why would we talk?” she asked. “We’re eating!” Watch, look and listen. Expect to learn a lot!
 5. Commit to the children.
Years ago when I was perplexed about issues of cultural appropriation, I went and meditated and asked for guidance from the ancestors. The ancestors said, “We don’t really give a damn who your ancestors were. We care about what you’re doing for the children.” I would define cultural appropriation as “Taking the gifts of the ancestors without a commitment to their descendents.” So—be comfortable with who you are, don’t lay claim to knowledge or spiritual teachings or entitlements you haven’t earned, and then relax, enjoy, and get on with the work that will benefit the generations to come.
Starhawk’s words reveal ways to bring the sacred into the mundane and transforming work into worship. From what she shared, you could say that sacred is defined and practiced by each individual and has little to do with traditional religion.
What do you think? How does sacred feel to you? What does sacred mean to you? Below are more guiding questions:
1. What is NOT sacred to you?
2. Is sacred the same as holy?
3. Is sacred defined by a specific religious group? If so, which one?
4. Is Nature sacred?
5. Is the Planet – Mother Earth – sacred to you?
6. Can sacred be a living person or animal, plant, ocean or mountain?
7. Do you have sacred ideas? Books? Music?
8. What is sacred to your family and friends?
9. What forces are acting against your sacred beliefs?
10. How do you generate positive actions with your sacred beliefs?
Take some time to write out your answers. Perhaps journal about them and let insights, ideas, and inspiration come to you as you write. Share your questions and feelings with your friends, family and mentors.
Contact Starhawk:
Stella at
Sacred Permaculture
“…Genesis of the Bible starts with an incredible void from which by impulse the infamous “Let there be” statements arise. As these statements are spoken, there is a bifurcation of the universe into multiplicity. Yet, this multiplicity remains grounded in its origin…which is the Unmanifest or Infinity.
Most folks feel this place is in time. So, some say this happened 4.5 billion years ago, others 6,000 years ago, still others billions of light years ago. I say this place is now. In other words, this moment is sacred and is born of the Unmanifest. When God says, “Let there be Light,” you become aware of reading this essay.
This means that this ME and that YOU are sacred. These trees outside my window are sacred. All moments are sacred and all things are sacred. How is that? Because we emerge from and are formed by the same womb. Hence, visible Nature contains all our relations….our Brothers/Sisters/Mothers/Fathers. This Nature is Nature as Creature. Nature as Essence, then, is the Unmanifest or Infinite that is the core of our being. As Christian mystic Meister Eckhart puts it, “all creatures shout God!” This means us….all of us.”
The Sacred, by Burl Hall –
Sacred is up to each individual to explore, define and support. Many people already see Nature, the Planet and soil as sacred. Some believe that all Life is sacred. Yet, most people continue to feel disconnected to what is sacred and the evidence of this is dramatic. Our current way of life reflects separation from Nature, leading to problems such as corrupt capitalism, global violence, destruction of the environment, and sadly, no sustainable plan for the future. As more and more species, including our own, face extinction, as environmental challenges become ever more pressing, and as the Earth itself faces destruction, our need for a sustainable future is imperative. It’s apparent that humanity is heading towards a fork in the road – collaboration or extinction.
As a result, many individuals around the world are hungry for new solutions and ready to challenge current economic and political systems. People, like you and I, are ready to integrate spiritual principles into their everyday life. There’s a deep desire to bring together science and spirituality, technology with grassroots thinking, and compassion with Nature-centered agriculture. But how?
In his book, Permaculture: A Designer’s Manual, Mollison sings out for “philosopher-gardeners, or farmer poets, (who) are distinguished by their sense of wonder and real feeling for the environment through a “respect for all life forms (that) is basic to permaculture.” Though Mollison set the tone for sacred permaculture, he didn’t show us how to get to the sacred within ourselves, to integrate it into our daily lives, and to see the sacred in all things.
To help us do this, we need new tools. We need practices and methods that invite and invoke what is sacred within and around us. With this book, I offer these practices, methods, and tools. Specifically to re-charge the sacred, I bring alchemy, mythology, and the use of symbols into the practice of permaculture. Sacred is the integration and activation (transmutation) of a new alchemy, symbols, mythology, and permaculture.
Permaculture + Alchemy, Mythology, Sacred =
New and Sustainable Future

New Mythology
“Theoretically, any myth or fairy/folk tale that is part of the cultural canon (not someone’s personal story) is good material, but what I really use, that is, brood over, tell, and write about, are the ones that resonant with me personally and allow me to ponder or process something kicking around in my psyche. I have a physical reaction to these stories and find them remarkably easy to learn. They seem to fall into three general categories: stories of descent (like the Sumerian myth of the goddess Inanna and her sister Erishkrigal), stories about the power of the unconscious in life and our need to relate to it (The King and Corpse and Abu Kassem’s Slippers, for example), and stories that seem simple but have the power to unsettle. I put the Grimm’s fairytale “The Frog Prince” in this last category, or the Greek myth of Narcissus. My experience in telling these kinds of stories is that people initially think that they’ve got it, they know what the story means and sometimes have strong reactions to one of the characters and the whole thing appears cut and dried until you start probing.”
—  Interview with Catherine Svehla,
The Old Myths
From Zeus and Europa, to Diana, Pan, and Prometheus, the myths of ancient Greece and Rome and others now seem to have faded from our eyes. What do those myths represent now? Are they still fascinating? Do these classic myths still have a potent way of talking about ourselves, our origins, and our desires? I argue that any such “rich history” and diverse interpretations of classical mythology is out of touch as classical myths are more and more unreferenced in both high art and popular culture. New myths, like the three below, are running us up skyscrapers in New York, and in Hollywood films, psychoanalysis, and the New Age’s permaculture garden. There is a break in the mythic hold from classics. It is time to upgrade the “actors and their clans.”
Who has the keys to the mythological reservoir?   Visit to find out more!

 Three New Myths and the Permaculture Age

“Mythic behavior flows from mythic thinking, from adopting a mythic perspective on the contents of your consciousness and your life. A mythic perspective is poetic, metaphorical. Interpretations are fluid, flexible, multiple. You have to be able to hold the tension of opposites, court paradox, and live with ambiguity. As David L. Miller says, “myths don’t ground, they open.” It’s a huge challenge and thus far, in my experience, generates more questions. But if you are burdened by assumptions about yourself and the world, this opening can be very liberating. I think it’s essential to crafting an authentic life. Working with mythology, meditating with stories, is a way to practice mythic thinking. Notice what grabs you. Locating yourself in a story simultaneously relativizes and elevates your problems and goals. A story can be a great conversation partner, mirror, and teacher.”
—  Interview with Catherine Svehla,
Here are some myths that I’ve written to give you a sense of creating new story to support a better world.
One. The Permaculture King
Prelude: We are seeking local heroes for the Permaculture Age. Working with Nature, seeing her supportive connections and tissues. A sacred trust that connecting the dirt to the soul. As the King, he knows!
“I wish it would rain again,” bumbled the King – his hairy feet dangling, and dripping then toe laughing in the old cistern behind his cob house. “Yes, feet can laugh and even tell the lady bugs where to go! The roof panels need a watering.”
Water nourishes the plants and animals in his tiny urban garden kingdom like the blood pushing through his heart. But the soil gets long rows of shallow ditches that collect and percol water to the corn and squash and beets and the all of the green beans and pole peas in 6” deep thumb pressed canals or arteries.
The King grows his metaphor patch, too, and routinely speaks of the many interconnected systems that makes up his sun powered biosphere when children and adults come round.
Truth is, some of the neighborhood peeps snicker when the King rolls up his jeans and prances on his compost pile, but they buy the goop ASAP when the old bio-chemistry professor bags the stinky slue for their roses and lemon trees.
* * * * * * *
One thing the King always wanted to tattoo to his forehead: “This is not gardening.” His little neighborhood permie ranch is better experienced as a year round sustainability map. Each season means new plants and new mulch, fruits come and go. Meals race with the Sun while the compost just keeps on kissing the soil.
Teachers and their kids from area schools with their rubber gloves and digital cameras, looking for easy Earth Worms and complicating easy eco-concepts. A sign dangling on the cob house dissects permaculture as unique among alternative farming systems (e.g., organic, sustainable, eco-agriculture, biodynamic) in that it works with a set of ethics that suggest we think and act responsibly in relation to each other and the earth.
The ethics of permaculture provide a sense of place in the larger scheme of things, and serve as a guidepost to right livelihood in concert with the global community and the environment, rather than individualism and indifference.
The King always grabs a serious tone when relaying the ethics of permaculture with his subjects:
* Care of the Earth – includes all living and non-living things – plants, animals, land, water and air
* Care of People – promotes self-reliance and community responsibility & access to necessary resources for existence
* Fair Share for All – gives away surplus – contribution of surplus time, labor, money, information, and energy to achieve the aims of earth and people care.
* * * * * * *
Permaculture is great fun. There are many festivals and workshops for all ages: The bi-annual Seed Swap helps to safeguard against GMO or toxic seeds from the bad corporations.
The Lattice Tie Party to tie-up creeping vegetables like snap peas and beans. Come on, lets’ pruning the apple trees and then eat through the berry patch and take home a quart for Mom!
The King and his older friends are constantly fidgeting with the grey water pipes – filtering and watering the crops with little City reserves.
The Permaculture King loves his solar topped cob hut, the seasons and the compost stains on his feet and legs. His challenge isn’t in the constant weeding and planting and harvests but the struggle to get the word out, to get out of the garden and tell the planet’s peeps how to do the permaculture!
Alas, we are all like the King – shining; running round and round in our local days with an Atlas-like dream.
 * * * * * * *
Two. New Myth #8: Che-Lou’s Black Bricks & the First Supper  
Prelude: Che-Lou has outlived many of the corporate ways and means, re-inventing green fuels and community systems in his urban patch. Here religion are corner potlucks and compost is Gold!
New Myth #8: Che-Lou’s Black Bricks & the First Supper  
Out thru the Cave Door
Che-Lou never had a solid sense of direction, his internal compass shows counter-clock wise. Living in the basement of a skeletonized downtown parking garage wasn’t helping his view either. Skylights? Never gonna happen. Underground, it is dark to shadows, 24/7. This is his cave. The lay-out starts with the drive-way down, into two sub-floors. A rusting steel frame-surround-skeleton cage above.
A San Jose techie turned community permie press man. A peeling metal & wood printing press from another Century was lifted from a water-logged 17th Street warehouse. In 2045, fresh paper is endangered.
After the gas wars, which we all lost; after the final cars and jets crumpled and the SF Bay flooded then lost to hydro thieves; after the suicide of the corporate grid and the re-birth of the windmill on the parcel above him, catastrophes galore overwhelmed Oakland and sank the rest of the Bay coast that depened on the goods and services it once provided.
The temporary construction fence around his parcel has come in handy. Che-Lou has to untangle and release harried climbers often in his barbed wire. The place is a post-urban treasure, a permaculture drive-by spectacle where the burning man tribes circle him with nation-sized hunger.
These transparent strangers & neighbors alike come gawking to his compound daily, their flakey belly laughs & hungry smiles desperate for the “dirt.”
* * * * * * *
Re-Use Anything Man
Che-Lou steals aircraft aluminum, plastic jugs, dishes – anything he might need to keep the “farm” twirling, late at night, with his home-made three wheel bicycle and a crinkly two-wheel trailer. There are no street lights or cops so a bike light would make him easy prey for roving residents.
Here is his permaculture-rigged system that keeps him fed, bathed and high on the community barter totem (see graphic above).
Che-Lou’s Green Machine –
Wind Mill – powers multiple battery power source
Fresh Water – pumped up from SF Bay Aquifer by wind mill
Grey Water System – secondary water system that re-uses water from crops in greenhouses and sub-grade cooking & bathing for the air purification machine
Battery House – re-furbished multi-battery array collects and stores power derived from wind mill
Air Purification Machine – purified air supply for green houses and sub-grade quarters, unfiltered residue is the printing press ink; processed residue is the highly prized gold soil extractant
Green Houses (2) – air tight space capsules for food production, seed propagation and fruit ripening
Compost – garden soil helper combined from meal scraps and garden pruning
Gold Dirt –final nutrient extractant from air purification process, rich in nutrients
* * * * * * *
Black Bricks
The 37’ goodwill wind mill swirls, scoops and directs concentrated dirty air from the East Bay Tribal zone into the interconnected bowels of Che-Lou’s Air Purification Machine. Grey water circulates and filters the air, powered by the battery house. Che-Lou cleans the unfiltered residue from wing #5 to make printing ink for the community paper.
At the base of wing #6 the so-called gold soil dumps out of the system at the rate of 2 cups per day. A super compost and a highly prized eco-alchemic stew by the gardeners around him, Che-Lou forms bricks of this material for the local barter fairies and coop groceries in Berkeley and SF. He also makes extra barter by charging folks batteries through a special station in the corner of the compound.
Here “sustainability” is secured only with a high barb-wire fence and a slow electrical drip. Sacred… just a memory.
* * * * * * *
The First Supper
The rag tag survivors of the Costco take-overs and Nature disasters try to gather at a former playground down the street from the gold soil compound. The steel pole equipment is long gone, stolen for tee-pees and other re-use projects. Somebody tagged the dinner and the barter gig “The First Supper” after a dusty Christian story – long forgotten by 99% of the territory. Food is prepared and shared, blankets made and bartered. Che-Lou gives out his black bricks and gets whatever he can in return. No one eats animals anymore. Prized for fur or milk, the last mammals of the Bay Area are highly protected, almost God-like.
A seed exchange and circle group meditation complete the First Supper gig each week – a faint rainbow community ritual, blessed and propelled by a kind of bruised pagan dream.
Three. The bee cave spirits
Prelude:  Funny? How bees are disappearing like humans on the planet? One person’s home is another species hive or cave. With permaculture, we can return to live with Nature and welcome the bees and creatures back with open hearts.
After the Great Organic War when the oil corporations fought and lost the fight for energy resources to the planet’s food coops and sustainability communities, the honey bees suddenly disappeared. Few flowers were pollinated and plantation crops that needed the bees went without fruit.
All bee members from all North and South American hives flew into hiding under the fertile Kentucky soil, half a mile deep in an ancient cave – far away from the wireless and honey-less above.
Buzzing bodies and shaking wings. The Four Winds danced the bees to the conclave.
Many bees needed to be cleaned at the mouth of the cave by trained workers that recognized the pesticides on their thoraxes from home works or during the many rest stops along the way.
The queen bees perched on a high ledge in the back of the conclave together, enjoying the humming discourse all around them, a permaculture sound-vision in full bloom.
This cave is a scared vessel and has sponsored all kinds of evolution for species since the fire cracked and opened the earth back in pre-history. There are human and animal markings.
The honey makers need a super gene.
The Queens announced that a cross fertilizing would begin with some of them and some of the cleaner bees.
Feeding on the warm, filtered nutrients dripping from above, the Moon dancers loved the succession of baby bee generations, watching each herd come and go.
It took years to produce young bees with pesticide shielded genes.
The bee cave spirits are ever ready to heal the next alchemic creature that needs a soft, dark belly.
Find a Permaculture Teaching Video titled  #3 Sacred Alchemy & Symbols for the Permaculture Transition
by visiting:
Symbols and Alchemy as the Tool Kit
There is no mythology without alchemy. As our consciousness is raised and the elements connected, transformation 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 connectors, shared fights and realities, common solutions to the Big Challenges. Myths are also road maps or clues (examples) for the seekers and visionaries. Pieces of the next puzzle that cannot be solved in one hour segments. Strategic elements, issues, themes, stories… we need to find the seeds or symbols of the new myths before planting them. This journey is precisely what Campbell advocated and is the grunt 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.
How symbol and myth work as tools?

Symbols are connectors, keys to unlock learning and create a shared understanding across all cultures. Often symbols are universal signs that convey the similar meaning in all cultures. Symbols in permaculture include seeds, harvest basket, soil and tree roots. Perhaps the best symbols have some magical spark  and natural reference for us.
Here is a tool kit from Nature so you can create new songs, stories, poems and smiles. Can we grow new myths for the Permaculture Age together?
Shovel – turning, renewal
Cob bench – community
Pond – water birth, diversity
Sun flower – Nature Steward
Moon – magic, Nature wisdom
Bees – togetherness, eco-business
Lightning – ecoAlchemy – transmutation
Cob feet – dance, new Nature rituals
Broken concrete – reuse – recycling
Butterflies – metamorphosis, freedom
Alchemy and myth weave visions!
By alchemy, I mean the transmutation of ideas and spirit into action. By  recharging and sharing a new set of alchemies, including Eco Alchemy, Shamanic Alchemy, and Community Alchemy, 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, there is a recognizable spirit-charge or alchemy supporting permaculture principles across all cultures.
Today, permaculturists design with Nature, transmuting old and wasteful processes into sustainable ones. Musicians and artists very often do the same thing through their creative efforts. Many experience the process of alchemy through sound and visual art. Look for new songs, dances and rituals based on permaculture practices. (
To learn about the Mythic Mandate Online Workshop: Green Alchemy
and the Permaculture Revolution, visit

Mythology Generator for the Sustainability Age
Perhaps all the activists in the intentional communities movement — and this includes ecovillage activists and cohousing activists — are creating a new myth, or perhaps a new culture, in which shared resources, cooperative decision-making and participatory self-governance, ecological sustainability, local food self-reliance, and a local economy are the norm. I’d want to live in a world like this!
 – Interview with Simon Haiduk –
As a new guide to co-create new permaculture myths, the following process is offered:

1. Define current event, players, short and long-term impacts, artistic, religious, ecological, political, spiritual implications – think about the problem and the potential solution

2. ID historic, literary, mythic precedents that relate to the event – What can history bring to the situation?
3. Chart multiple paths and outcomes from the event – vision but do not decide on a final idea yet!
4. List universal lessons – In general, how has this issue been approached or solve in other cultures?
5. Draft myth story line using new names, characters, place(s) and symbols from permaculture
6. Check piece for universal as opposed to local or real reference(s) – This is the Q+A phase. Test it!
7. Simplify and finalize myth – Share your myth with others, then sing and post!
1. What other symbols from Nature do you see?
2. What can a turtle or a snow-capped mountain symbolize in permaculture?
3.  Do you think that alchemy comes from a single source and transmutates through the ages?
4. What is the difference between symbols, icons and archetypes?
5. Can you create vocal symbols? Face jesters or symbols for online design sessions at
By bringing alchemy into permaculture, we can describe and propel anew our love and protection for Gaia. By alchemy, I mean the transmutation of spirit into action. With the power of alchemy, we can support collaboration, visioning and planning for a new age – the Permaculture Age. 
At the same time, we need new stories and visions for our planet. New stories help shape and envision our new world. There is magic in a good myth. It is a spark that lights the way!
 Symbols are critical connectors here, initiators that unlock learning and create a shared understanding across all cultures. New symbols can help build a new sustainable tribe network, a worldwide collaborative effort in honoring the Earth and creating a loving, more harmonious new world.

* * * * * * *

My interviews have revealed many valuable insights including that permaculture is a feminine agora that seems to pit the sacred vs. the macho. But the land or garden is the new Maypole and that we need to start designing new rituals alongside land use functions. I am witness to the intervention vs. transition struggle boiling up now across the planet. Do we have the guts to take the reins from the old world men?
Is there time and wisdom to make permaculture a vibrant alternative to eco-killing, self-centered capitalism? The political system needs permaculturists now, to fight for new global values and a sustainable peace. My vision is to marry Mollison’s Design with Nature regime with a personal and proactive practice of the sacred. Without this union, permaculture is likely doomed to a fringe alt-agri code. We can intervene and repair the earth’s natural systems but this starts with our souls.
This is my invitation to our Garden and the first dance of the permaculture age.

From: Permaculture is Germination is Transmutation. For the 2011 Bay Area Permaculture Convergence –           

Images:  Research & Raw Art

About [ open myth source ]

The [open myth source] project gathers conversations, symbols, songs, visual art and stories. Building a house for Myth in the Sustainability Age.
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