For the first episode of the series 2, I talk with Dr. Sharon Blackie, an award-winning writer, psychologist and mythologist, whose work sits at the intersection of psychology, mythology and ecology.
In this captivating conversation, we explore the mythic imagination, the reclaiming of indigenous Western spiritual traditions, and the relevance of our native myths, fairy tales and folk traditions to the personal, social and environmental problems we face today.
Join in the conversation #hivepodcast
DR SHARON BACKIE
Dr. Sharon Blackie is an award-winning writer and internationally recognised teacher, whose work sits at the fascinating interface of psychology, mythology and ecology.
Her highly acclaimed books, courses, lectures and workshops are focused on the development of the mythic imagination, on the reclaiming of indigenous Western spiritual traditions, and on the relevance of our native myths, fairy tales and folk traditions to the personal, social and environmental problems we face today.
Written, recorded & produced by Nathalie Nahai © 2019.
NN: Hello, and welcome to The Hive podcast. When I first decided to research this series, it was primarily with the intention of exploring resources that can help us understand and take positive action to mitigate the climate crisis that we find ourselves in.
But all of the reading and conversations I’ve had, while it’s been clear that political and economic actions we take are absolutely of great importance, I also came to understand that if we don’t address some of the deeper more psychological and emotional wounds that have given rise to the situation, that we really won’t be able to confront the pain and the enormity of what’s happening, or take the necessary actions that we need in order to heal it.
That’s why in this episode, I am really excited to be talking with Dr. Sharon Blackie, a wonderful award-winning writer and internationally recognized teacher whose work sits at the fascinating interface of psychology, mythology, and ecology.
Her highly acclaimed books, courses, lectures and workshops are focused on the development of the mythic imagination, on the reclaiming of indigenous Western spiritual traditions, and on the relevance of our native myths, fairy tales, and folk traditions to the personal, social, and environmental problems that we find ourselves facing today.
So Dr. Sharon Blackie, thank you so much for joining me today to have this conversation.
SB: Thank you or inviting me. It’s a pleasure.
NN: So I first came across your work last year actually when I picked up one of your beautiful books, The Enchanted Life, in a bookshop in London, and it’s a book for those people who haven’t heard about it, which explores folklore’s, stories that connect us to place, and the mythic imagination. I found really deeply moving. I’m curious to ask what moved you to write this book?
SB: Well, I had all ready written a book called If Women Rose Rooted, which was subtitled A Journey to Authenticity and Belonging, and that was very much about the ways in which we as women have lost our voices and our own stories through the centuries.
Looking back on some of our native traditions from the Celtic countries and from the UK as well and parts of northern Europe, it was very clear that way back in the day, certainly in the pre-Christian era, but also intruding into it, women were very much associated with the land as guardians and protectors of the land.
This was something that we had lost over the centuries as women’s voices really had been suppressed and their stories discounted. That whole book was about how we travel back in time to pick up on some of those old stories which portray us in that way, and very much about then our journey as woman today I believe being to connect ourselves back to the land, back to the place, to take up those ancient roles as guardians and protectors of the land.
So, I wrote that book and it’s done remarkably well by word of mouth, but I talked a lot about my own journey to a sense of belonging and rootedness and place. And then after I’d written it, I started to get a lot of questions from readers about, “Well, okay, I can see how you’ve done that, but how do I do it? How do I as an individual, probably coming from a very different background, living in very different places, how do I connect myself back into place?”
So it was really a slightly more practical guide I suppose to some of the things that I think are important about reconnecting ourselves back into this wonderful planet.
NN: I’m super curious about what you’re talking about there with women’s role in stewardship, connection, and relationship with the natural world, and also with a lot of the young voices that we’re seeing speaking up for the natural world. For instance people who’ve heard of [inaudible 00:03:45], or in the States Alex Ocasio-Cortez who’s proposing this green approach in political stewardship. What are your thoughts about some of the ways in which many of these voices are coming from young women?
SB: I don’t know how it’s arisen, but I agree with you that it has. I remember when I was writing If Women Rose Rooted, there was a whole movement of people, Idle No More, for example, in Canada, native indigenous voices basically saying, “Well, our old traditions tell us that women were the protectors of the waters, were the protectors of the land, and now it’s time for women to stand up.”
That was a great inspiration to me to say, “Well, actually we were too.” We so often in this part of the world look to other parts of the world for inspiration. We look to Native Americans, Native Canadians or other indigenous people for their stories, but actually what people don’t often realize is that we have our stories.
I think when women particularly look at the world at the moment and we think that we have… People dispute it, but we have lived in a patriarchal society for the best part of 2,000 years or more, and the men have made a bit of a mess of the world. It’s not that we haven’t been complicit, it’s not that we haven’t had our own roles to play, but it’s the sense that women are feeling increasingly that we really need to go back to some of those values and ways of being in the world that are thought of as typically feminine, more creative, more intuitive, more caring, more nurturing, and to find inspiration to become those things again.
NN: What are some of the stories that you feel really deeply connected to or inspired by from our Western indigenous traditions that give voice to some of these roles that women can occupy, to protect the land, the water, the animals, the species that we’re connected with?
SB: Gosh, there are lots of them. And many of them are [inaudible 00:05:40] but I suppose maybe it’s less of a story and more of a character. So in Ireland and Scotland, mythology tells us that the land was created and shaped by an old woman who was called the Cailleach. And she’s really kind of the divine hag. She’s like the old woman of the world. And she is portrayed in all of the stories and folklore as a wilderness spirit, who protect wild animals, she’s the guardian of wild nature. And folk tale after folk tale tells of her turning away the hunting men who are slaughtering too many of a deer, or of her protecting the wild thing she loves, turning back the axes which cut down the forest, tricking the priests and saints who want to steal away that very wild and elemental power.
And so what I love about her, she will not also, she won’t allow that very rich, earthy ancient theists power of women and their fierce love for the natural world to be all boiled down and dished upon milk white [inaudible 00:06:33]. She doesn’t do sermons and platitudes and homilies, she’s had more than enough of all of the preacher man. And so hers is very much a ferocious love, which faces down the hunter and says, “No.” Just refuses, “Not in my name.” And that to me is a profoundly inspirational character for me and I think for a lot of the women that I talked to about our old stories today.
NN: Well I love this idea of ferocious love and also just not the sacred sweet idea that we get at nature through, for instance, I can think of lots of Disney films or what have you, that create these anthropomorphize washed out versions of what nature might look like. Whereas actually, there’s this wildness that we seem to deeply crave and yet be very disconnected from.
SB: Yeah, exactly.
NN: From your perspective, what are some of the deepest wounds or intractable ideas that you feel have contributed to this climate crisis that we find ourselves in? This lack of connection with the impact of our actions?
SB: Well, obviously, there are many of them. But the one in which I suppose I specialize, if I can put it that way. It’s very much in this sense that we have become disconnected not just from the land, but from our own traditions. We don’t really it seems to me have any sense of belonging to anything anymore in the West. It’s just as if we’ve forgotten who we are, we don’t have any sense of ancestry, we don’t have any sense of a lineage that we think is valuable, that we would like to clutch on to. Whereas the one thing that I think differentiates us from say many of the Native American, Native Canadian, native peoples in other places, is that they do have that sense of the lineage. So even if it’s been broken by colonization, or whatever, there is that sense of tradition, of an earth-based tradition carrying through, and I think that we have lost that sense. We’ve forgotten who we are in a sense.
And so my passion is always about change beginning with the individual. So we can do all kinds of things to try and mitigate our own impact on the earth. But if we don’t really change this very deep-rooted sense of who we are in this world, I don’t think anything lasting is going to happen. So that’s very much the way that I come at it. That sense of reminding people of who we are, of our ancestral traditions, of the very, very rich tradition of not just folklore and folk tales, but even philosophy in the West and the ways in which it’s always connected us back into the web of life on this planet.
NN: I’m curious also within that, because obviously, in recent years in particular, with people traveling so much that many of us, myself included come from quite a diaspora. So I have roots in different places, my family’s cross all over the world. And so there are traditions from lots of different countries, none of which I’ve consolidated into one main root. So for people who have these split ancestries, what ways can we start to find to reconnect with our sense of belonging in the world if we have these broken lineages? Are there sort of narratives that we can use, approaches that we can take to help create or reconnect with that sense of belonging?
SB: Yeah, I think so. I mean, although I’m based in Ireland, a lot of the work I do is with North Americans who are the greatest readership and the greatest population for all of the courses and workshops that I do, interestingly. Precisely, because I think there’s this sense of having been uprooted and landing in a place which they don’t feel belongs to them, and walking all over. You know, the stories of native peoples that do occupy those lands and a sense of brokenness.
But to me, it doesn’t matter which of your many ancestral lineages you choose to connect with, because we all have multiple ones I think, in Europe these days. But what I think happens is that if you connect with ancestral stories, or stories from your ancestral places, it doesn’t matter which ones as I say. What they do is they can inform you about how to find the stories and a sense of belonging to the place where your feet are actually planted.
So for example, going back to the Cailleach, this divine old woman who created and shaped the land, you’re not going to find the Cailleach in the Arizona desert. You’re not. She’s very eminent in this landscape. She’s a creature of wet and wild places, and Irish deities were imminent in the landscape, they belong to the landscape. You can’t pick them up and extract them from it. But what you can do is by connect into that sense of, “Oh, in my ancestral tradition, there was an old woman, an archetypal old woman who was a guardian and protector of the land.” That can inform you about how to find the old woman archetype in the Arizona desert because there’s an old woman everywhere. If you really believe Jung’s idea that there is a collective unconscious, whether you think it’s just for humans or for the whole planet, those archetypes are alive, and they’re present everywhere.
And so I think that sense of… It’s almost a sense of having a right to connect with that kind of archetype from your ancestral traditions, a sense of, “This is ours.” Those stories can lead you to connect with the places where your feet are absolutely planted right now, which I think is critically important. Because otherwise, people spend too much time longing for an ancestral country that they’re not actually living in, and then you’re disconnected. You’re in your head, you’re not in your place.
NN: Yes. Or for instance, you mentioned indigenous traditions of native peoples. And we think of when we think about, I don’t know, traditions that hold us a place, we think of these other faraway lands of these distant cultures. And then there’s the question of, “Well, is it okay for me to consider this as a guidance, as a roadmap and the forgetting of our own spiritual traditions?”
I suppose the question that I’d like to ask with all of these elements brought in and what you mentioned about unions, archetypes, these all connect in different ways to this concept that you wrote so beautifully about in your book of the mythic imagination. Can you tell us what it is and why it’s so important?
SB: Well, I think it springs from… It’s very old idea, and it springs from the very old forgotten pre-Christian mythologies and philosophies of the West. I’m not just talking now about Celtic Otherworldly stories, but even the very soul-centered myth tellings of Plato in ancient Greece. And they’re very rich and very complex, and they’re very beautiful, and they offer up not just a planet, but an entire cosmos in which everything is alive, and has purpose and intentionality of its own. And they speak of a well to which every incarnated soul chooses to come for a reason to fulfill its own unique calling and to offer up a gift, which can only be expressed through relationship with and participation in this adamant world.
So the mythic imagination in the way that I teach it, is very much about the ability to see beyond the every day, and to see more deeply beyond this moment of our lives. So it’s like having a concept of what our own journey is in this life, how it might relate to the larger forces at work, how it might relate to the journeys of everything around us. Not just other people but other animals, maybe to a rock, maybe to a river, to the whole planet. And that sense of developing our own unique… I always call it our own unique mythopoetic identity. What we as individuals uniquely as souls bring to this earth. Because Plato in the ancient Greece had this wonderful idea of the anima mundi, the soul of the world. And the idea of that every… We’re not the only ones who have soul within us, but the whole planet has a soul that we contribute to, that a rock contributes to, that a river contributes to.
And so you have this wonderful idea of the anima mundi, which literally is like a web of life, in which we need to replug ourselves. And Jung said that the imagination is like the structure of the human psyche, and myth, and story is the language of the psyche. So what myth and story are doing, working with the mythic imagination is very much about bridging us back into the soul of the world, if that makes sense.
NN: That’s beautiful. I love thinking about that as a concept. And also, it makes me think of the ways in which we speak about how humanity relates to the planet, how we take our places. So for instance, I think when you think about sky religions or patriarchal religions, where you have one, often male deity, and the way that that creates a sense of belongingness to something other, something elevated, that’s just spirit and how the physical is made dirty or degraded. There’s this kind of binary perspective on what’s good, and what’s bad, up and down, etc. All of these things. Maybe there’s something in that of our returning to the knowledge that we have come from the earth, we’ve peopled from the earth, that we haven’t been dropped here from some alien species. So it’s a very, very basic premise that we seem to have lost or in denial of. It’s really curious to me that that seems to be the case for many of us.
SB: Yes. And I think again, you can trace this back to the history of Western philosophy all the way back to Plato, who had many wonderful ideas and very rich, beautiful ideas, but who I also, often in my worst moments hold largely responsible for the entire downfall of Western civilization. I mean, that’s not to exaggerate or anything, but really he did. I mean, he was the one who began this terrible split between the physical world of the census, which he believed was a bit of an illusion. And that the intellectual world, the rational world, the transcendental later on, was where it was all happening. And so there was then this strange sense where the natural world became a bit of a backdrop for human activity. It didn’t have very much intentionality in its own right.
And I think what we need to do now is circle back to those beautiful ideas that the ancient Greek philosophers had, which tie in with our own mythologies, and ideas, in Celtic countries and Western Europe. About the soul’s journey, about the world being alive, and pick back up that sense of connection to the land. The stories that some of these myths, some of these archetypes, they’re attached to the land, they’re attached to this planet, they very much rise out of this planet. All of our Celtic deities, beings, are very much a product of the land, they’re imminent in the landscape, they can’t be extracted from them.
So that to me is where we… In a very, very simplistic way I understand that that’s where we went wrong in splitting off and valuing only the transcendental and not seeing any more the sacred in the land that we actually walk upon.
NN: So with this idea of the stories and the sacred being connected to the land, what might it mean to read story, the earth, or place where we’re living? How might that happen?
SB: I think it’s really about approaching our places as populated with other beings. Whether it’s a rock being, or a crow, who like us have their own stories and purpose. And if you think about it, right into the present day, Western world, all European folk tales and fairy tales show us that kind of a world. All the best fairy tales in the European tradition are about negotiating with the land or with the wild both inside and outside of ourselves and there are stories which show is what it might be like to inhabit a world in which humans are fully unmatched. Where animals always have something to teach us and trees and plants can save us or cure us, and there’s always a wise old man or woman waiting in the dark woods. You go and ask a crow for advice because it has a different kind of wisdom and has different kinds of knowledge that we don’t have that we need.
So I think part of it is just understanding that we live in a world that is full, that is populated with archetypes, with myths, with stories, and finding the ones that are connected to the places where our feet are planted. Because if we look at a crow, we have to see a crow as well, okay? It’s a bird. It’s a physical animal. It has certain behaviors, it has certain breeding characteristics. It has certain ecosystems that it thrives in and it doesn’t. But layered on top of that, is this archetypal sense of crowness that we all recognize, who live with crows. And so it’s like there’s a dreamscape embedded in the physical world. I always call it falling into the lands dreaming, because that’s how I see it. It’s a little bit like that concept of the Celtic Otherworld. It’s very much embedded in this world, but it’s a different way of seeing it, a different way of experiencing it.
And so to me, restoring our places is very much about allowing that, being open to that rather than mysterious overlay intertwining of the mythic dreamworld with the world of our physical senses that we actually see.
SB: I love listening to you speak. This is so inspiring. It was so nice to spend some time in your book, in your world, in this mythic imagination, in this dreamspace. And one of the tensions that I found myself, I imagine many of us might face is that as we explore these different, for me very allure, and very seductive, very rich imaginative spaces, which for me actually feel very vibrant and alive and vivid. I also feel the cultural societal part of myself that’s been trained to observe in an analytical way to be skeptical, to be separate, to be disconnected, autonomous, all of these things. I also feel a great tension with that part of me undermining the sacredness or the profundity of the experience I’m having. And this really difficult dance that is played out between my desire and longing for the sacred, for the mythic, for the more than human which feels very, very vivid and alive. And the flip side, which is well, how can you give credence to this? How can you live in this play space? This imaginative space?
How do you how do you find a way to allow these thoughts to be there but then dwell in the more vibrant, mythic, layered, storied world?
SB: I think to me it’s about recognizing that there are various ways of seeing the world and perhaps they’re all equally valid. But what we’ve done over the past few centuries is we’ve only valued one way of seeing the world, which is this very empirical, scientific way of seeing the world. Now, I went into science and studied psychology and neuroscience with an all arts background, and then came back to the arts again. So I have looked at both ways of viewing the world and I think it’s really about… One of the reasons why I don’t like to think of harking back to old traditions in a dogmatic way, is we’ve learned a lot of things in the past 2,000 years. Some of them have been really bad, and some of them have been really, really good and useful and we can’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. We have to accept that some ways of saying that are scientific are very, very valuable. It’s only when we say we can there can only be one true way of seeing the world that we get into deep trouble.
And so to me, these are different ways of seeing the world. The imaginal is one way of seeing the world, the physical kind of more empirical way is another way of seeing the world. What’s interesting though, is the ways in which we have been taught to believe that the imaginal is not real. And that’s part of the breakdown, I think. If you go back through time, both to Plato, and before him in ancient Greece. If you go back to the ancient Sufi traditions, they had a very strong concept of this world, of a third world if you like. Well, they actually had lots but let’s just stick to three for now. Of a third world which occupied the space somewhere between the physical world that we perceive with our senses, and the intellectual world, the mental world that we imagined goes on inside our own head.
In between those worlds, they said was a third world which a French theologian called the [mundus imaginalis 00:23:12], the imaginal world. This is a world in which the imaginable lives, it has an independent existence. So stories live there, archetypes live there, kind of really an archetypal characters beings, synchronicities come from there. And these things have an independent real existence. They’re not different from the intellectual world or the physical world. And we always get this idea that we make stories up but we don’t. They live there, and we’re very lucky they’ll happen to us.
And so we’ve forgotten that that was our old ancestral wisdom. That these things are alive and real and that we have to remember ways of communicating, interacting, being in relationship with them. We’ve been taught that it’s all made up and that I think is one of the most broken things that we have accomplished over the past 2,000 years.
NN: It’s extraordinary. Isn’t it?
Yeah, when I think about the language that we use to discourage children, for instance, from using this powerful tool, their imagination. We say, “Oh, it’s just your imagination.” We’re very dismissive, we diminish it. And then when I think about, for instance, all of the things that we have around us the microphone that I’m using to speak with you, the table that I’m sitting at, where else did they stem from if not from some blueprint that stems from the creativity of imagination made manifest?
SB: Absolutely, yeah.
NN: It’s fascinating. I’m also curious actually to ask… I know you wrote about it in your book, but I would love it if you’d share it with us. Your favorite story or fairy tale and why?
SB: Well, I have a lot. I really have a lot of favorite fairy tales, but the one that’s really stayed with me since I was very young, is Hans Christian Andersen’s version of the Wild Swans. Now, I’m not normally a Hans Christian Andersen fan because he had a very Christian unforgiving patriarchal morality, which is seen in stories like the Red Shoes, which I just a bore. But there’s something very beautiful about the Wild Swans.
This is a story briefly where a wicked stepmother transforms a young girl’s brothers into swans. And she is told that she can save them only if she remained silent for I think something like seven years, it depends very much on the version of the story. And then she must pluck nettles with her bare hands and spin fiber and create shirts for her brothers. And then if she throws the shirts over her brothers they’ll turned back into men again and everything will be fine.
And so this is actually a remarkable story about the parallels of the loss of women’s voice. You know, she has to do this while remaining silent. So she’s almost burned at the stake as a witch by some particularly unpleasant Christian bishop. She has to endure the blistered fingers because she has to pluck the stinging nettles with our bare hands. And that sense of just endurance for the sake of love, love of her brothers for the sake of setting something back to rights again, which is out of kilter, really stayed with me very, very strongly as a child. I think what she had to do was negotiate almost with the nettles. She had to live in a fairly wild way for a lot of that time. And it really, really captured my imagination because it was such a reflection of things that I was grappling with, I guess as a child and as a teenager.
NN: There is a very potent image, this idea of just having to be silent and damage yourself in order for the pursuit some greater good.
SB: Yeah. And if you think about it, a lot of the stories, which talk about transformation in women are fairly extreme. We have lots of stories of dismemberment. Skins are stolen, fingers are chopped off, the Handles Maiden hands are chopped off. Initiatory experiences for female characters and fairy tales are often very, very extreme and involve a lot of profound physical damage. It’s really interesting as a reflection, what that means. The ways in which we see ourselves or the ways in which people have seen us to tell those stories.
NN: Actually makes me think of a film. I don’t know if you watched it, Maleficent with Angelina Jolie, and she’s this wonderful kind of dark mythical being with horns and her wings are chopped off by her lover.
NN: And then she follows the story. It seems to me that there is this thirst, this desire for the storytelling, for folk telling. But it’s expressing itself in a different way. So for instance, if I think of the Marvel Comics that are really popular X-Men and Pullman’s books now being made into a filmic series. Do you think that there is a hunger that is starting to become more expressed in popular culture for these sorts of stories?
SB: I do, actually. And it’s always difficult to know whether it’s always been there, but people were too afraid for whatever reason to talk about it. And we’re perceiving that it’s okay now, or whether it really is a big resurgence. I think it’s probably a little bit of both. I think that people believe that we are all out of options. There’s nowhere else to go really, other than into the stories. But the thing about story, when I was practicing as a psychologist, which I did for a number of years, it became very clear to me very quickly that a lot of the classical methods for supposedly creating change in therapeutic environments are really quite boring, and people don’t really find very interesting. Things like cognitive behavioral therapy, very effective, but boy, you’ve got to be motivated because it’s not very interesting.
Whereas if you can work with story, if you can capture people’s imagination, you have got them. If you can show them through story, a different way of being in the world, a different level of approaching the world, if you can show them what it might be like so that they actively longed for it, then if you’ve done all of the work, you’ve got them, they’re going to change. And that’s the power of the imagination and of the mythic imagination. It’s the best way I think of creating transformation.
And the classic thing with climate change, and I’m not the first to have said this, is that we are not going to change people with frightening statistics. We might change some, we might moderate a little bit of behavior. But what we have to do is make people long for a different way of being in the world and a different way of interacting with the world. To show them that it’s so rich and it’s beautiful.
NN: And to fall in love with it again.
SB: Yes, absolutely.
NN: So I’m wondering with that, when you’re talking about these longings for being in the world in a different way, or relating to the world in a different way, and also about the power of the imagination to create these stories that connect us more profoundly, more emotionally. I wonder also, if you see a connection here with what appears to me at least be a rise in interest in Western cultures into for instance, animistic or shamanic practices, which work very much with what some might describe as archetypes or traditional modalities and things like this.
SB: Yes. I mean, to me it’s all part of the same thing. I mean, I am a little bit concerned about… I know the use of the concept of shamanic as a descriptor for some of this work, but I look at it from a union perspective, from a depth psychology perspective. And the practices that I teach in my courses and workshops on cultivating the mythic imagination arguably are similar, it’s just that they come from a slightly different perspective. And it’s very much about finding ways to hold conversations with the imaginal. We have to begin with the premise that these things do have an independent existence. If people can’t accept that, then it’s just all in our heads and it’s not very interesting. But if you believe that somewhere in that imaginal world are characters, you can call them deities and gods and goddesses if you want to, that there are beings, that there are energies, I don’t really know whatever language you want to use, who are there, who have wisdom that we don’t, who have knowledge that we don’t. Who perhaps are there sometimes offering help and guidance. Then how do you enter into a conversation with these imaginal creatures?
There are all kinds of different techniques from the alien, active imagination techniques, to working with personal mythology and myth making, to working with fairy tale, imagery, journeying, dream work, our land base connection practices, all of which are designed in a much less controversial way perhaps than calling shamanic. All of which are designed to open up a conversation between us and the imaginal, so that we can actually remember that there is not just this physical world that we see around us. That there is this rich and remarkable multilayered web of life and we’re missing out on it if we don’t do this work.
NN: So with that in mind, if we start to work with that premise, how do you feel we can begin to weave new stories and visions of a different future that we can move towards creating together?
SB: By choosing very carefully the stories that we tell about ourselves and the world and our placing it. Briefly, every culture has stories that it tells about itself. Cultural stories about what matters to the people within that culture, the kind of like foundational mythology if you like. Some of the foundational mythology of the West has got a bit lost. It’s like this mythic progress that we must always have more, more, more, more, more. We must have more of everything from year to year. Or the very heroic mythology that we’ve we seem to have adopted particularly in the West where it’s all about the individual greatness and overcoming and slaying dragons and all of that malarkey.
Clearly, that mythology, that foundational mythology that is still there at the moment is broken. It’s not serving us anymore, and it’s certainly not serving the planet. Now, Jung was an interesting man, and he said that when the foundational mythology of a culture ceases to serve, when it gets broken, we fall out of myth. But the myth making capacity then, he said, resides in individuals. It resides in individual. So individuals then are the ones who start to think, “Well okay, what is the story I want to live? Who do I want to see myself as?” So for example, the story that I want to see is myself fully plugged into this web of life, to this world of the imaginal as well as the physical so that I feel that I am walking in awareness of being part of the world soul, of the anima mundi. Not just some creature plopped on the planet, which doesn’t have any agency of its own, which is just a backdrop for my intent on achieving transcendence.
So I think, really, it’s a question of just not playing those games anymore. Just not telling the old stories about how we must be heroic and wonderful. But going back to some of the oldest stories still, the ones which tell us about compassion, about not taking too much from the land, about living in balance and harmony with it, about being a part of it, that are about community rather than the individual. So many of our folk and fairy tales, you don’t even have to go back to the very ancient mythology. So much of our fairy tales are about that.
There’s a wonderful story which is everywhere. Everywhere I’ve ever seen has this story about a magical cow, the cow of plenty, who will give anybody who needs it a pail of milk, and she just keeps on giving, keeps on giving till somebody comes along and milks her into a pail, after pail, after pail because they put a sieve under her rather than a bucket. So that she keeps on giving because it’s never full. The sieve is never full. And then once she realizes what’s going on, off she goes, and she’s never seen again. And that’s the end of that.
So we have these wonderful stories that tell us about not taking too much, and there’s nothing to stop us from telling those stories again. Tell those stories to our kids, tell them around the dinner table, just bring them alive. And if we feed the stories, they get stronger. We have to choose the stories that we want to be strong in this world. And that to me is the key. Whatever else we do, if we do that, I think we stand a bit of a chance.
NN: That sounds a very powerful advice. With that in mind, what is your biggest concern for the future?
SB: I think that we continue to forget who we are, that we continue to just live in this alienated way, this really sad way. You can get angry at the way people live, but it’s actually a terrible thing. If you look at the extent of anxiety, depression and other mental illnesses in the world today, that is because we have lost this sense of belonging to this beautiful anima earth. We don’t see ourselves as part of it, we don’t. We just see ourselves as cut off.
My biggest concern is that we continue to do that, we continue to forget who we are. And so that really is the focus of all of my work. Is in trying, whether it’s writing or workshops, or whatever it might be. Is in showing people that there’s whole other world out there, there’s whole other way of being in the world, that isn’t dependent on anybody else. It’s not dependent on great social skills, or you don’t have to be a particular kind of person, but you can plug yourself back in.
NN: And so the plugin back in for individuals, for this being within each of our reach, in an ideal world, what vision are you working towards achieving, with this work?
SB: Well, I think that would be it to be honest. That everybody would see themselves not as alone, not just as even connected to other human beings and to their tribe or their society or their little social group or their family, but that we would have this wonderful picture of this glowing web of life, of which we’re just a part. Where we really want to know what a crow thinks about what’s going on in the world. We really do because they know something different. Where we just see ourselves as not just here as some kinds of great cosmic coincidence, but as a soul that chose to come here to give a particular gift to the world, whatever it might be. It doesn’t have to be anything grandiose, it’s not to save the world. It’s just to be a particularly unique expression of the world and to recognize that’s what we’ve to do. To think about our sense of calling, what is that unique gift? How can we display it in the world?
And that, to me, that’s my vision, really. I think if that could happen, if people could just literally remember who they are, I think a lot of other things would begin to fall into place. And without that sense of purpose, if you like, I really don’t know that anything that we do will have any lasting traction.
NN: If you were to give maybe one single action that we can take today to remember who we are to reconnect with, or discover perhaps our sense of calling in this world, what might that actually be? Where might people start?
SB: I suppose I don’t see it so much as an action as just cultivating a different way of being open. A different way of going out and sitting with a rock. Seeing what comes… And I’m not talking about hearing voices or seeing visions or any of that kind of thing, but just really being in our places, whether they’re wild places, or city parks, or whatever. Just looking around and seeing what else is going on. If you look at a crow, I always use crows because everybody knows crows. We look at a crow and what it is to us and what it is in our mythology, but what are we in a crow’s mythology? What is a crow saying, when it’s looking at us? So that ability just to step back from our intense obsession, self-obsession, and just see the rest of the world from a rock to a crow as having its own purpose, its own intentionality.
So to me again, as I say, I don’t see that necessarily as an action, but it’s a shift in perception, a shift in the way that we perceive the world, that we look at the world. And if we just start there, I think many, many, many things begin to happen for us that are quite magical. That comes back to the whole concept of enchantment. Because enchantment really isn’t magical thinking. I say this in the book, it’s not about magical thinking. It’s about a real, profound sense of embodied belonging to a world which is vibrant with its own life.
NN: Profound sense of embodied belonging. I love that. That’s beautiful. And then for anyone listening, if you want to dive in more, I really couldn’t recommend The Enchanted Life enough. It’s such a beautiful read.
Sharon, if people want to find you, I know that you’re on Twitter, at Sharon Blackie, and also that your website is sharonblackie.net. Are there any other things or resources that you feel might be useful to point people towards?
SB: Yeah, I’m not much of it. I am on Twitter, but you’d hardly know it. I suppose I’m a little bit more active on Facebook. My Facebook page is Sharonblackiemythmakings, all one word. We also have a Facebook group attached to that page called cultivating the mythic imagination, which is a forum for people to be able to talk about some of these issues and engage in discussion with other people who are struggling in exactly the same way. So that might be a good place to start. And on my website, there are a whole list of workshops and events and talks and all of that. The usual stuff that we all do.
NN: And also your podcast, the Hedge School Podcast.
SB: Yeah, that’s a very occasional thing I have to say at the moment when time permits. But yes, that is on that website too.
NN: Okay, fantastic. So in the show notes I will also link your three books. The Long Delirious Burning Blue, If Women Rose Rooted, and The Enchanted Life.
SB: Yeah, there’s another one coming out in September as well which is Foxfire, Wolfskin and Other Tales of Shape-Shifting Women. So this is some kind of like fairy tale reimaginings.
NN: Oh, that sounds wonderful.
SB: It’s been lots of fun.
NN: Do you have a date for that? Or just the month for the time being?
SB: It’s September. I can’t remember the exact date but it’s coming out in September.
NN: Oh, wonderful. Okay, well, I’m going to pre-order that.
Well, thank you so much for joining me in conversation. I’ve really, really enjoyed this and I’m sure others will…