MYCO ECO MYTHO
Reposting this essay Myco Eco Mytho Storytelling that was originally posted to social media spring of 2021 while I was writing The Flowering Wand and explaining how I approached “rewilding myths”. The image above is by illustrator Tom Adams.
From where does a story sprout? What specific land did it grow from? What ecology is it seeking to tend to, respond to, root into? How does this story “tell” me into greater intimacy with the kin outside my door?
When I tell stories, read stories, analyze stories, I am guided by three tenets: MYCO, ECO, and MYTHO. MYCO invokes fungal intelligence: cognition and aliveness as a non-solitary experience. Nothing exists in a vacuum. We are understanding more and more that symbiosis is the dominant theme in biology. We mutually constitute each other. Fungi, seem to me, to best represent the importance of mutualism, as they cycle nutrients, blend with algae to create mineral munching lichen, sew forests together, generate soil, and collaborate with a diversity of species. The MYCO perspective reminds me that stories live interstitially. They happen between people and beings and events. How do my stories center relationships over individuals? How do my stories happen in conversation with other people? How can I understand that storytelling isn’t a monologue? It’s consanguinity. A flowing into another being’s experience. How can I approach every person, animal, fungi, and plant with a keen eye for the complex system they are flowering from and into? Even as human beings - human artists and writers and thinkers -- we must trouble our ideas of individuality. We are walking Matryoshka dolls, nested swarms of being, skin-silhouetted Towers of Babel.
ECO comes from the Greek word Oikos for household or “place to live”. The word ecology was first coined by the zoologist Ernst Haeckel to explain the relationships between animals and both their organic and inorganic environments. Eco reminds me that every story arrives from a specific ecology, a specific assemblage of stones, animals, fungi, and histories. ECO encourages rootednesss and curiosity about the ground below your own feet. How can I honor the home of every word and idea and story? Does a novel incorporate the textures and smells and animacy of the environment from which it erupts? Do I, personally, know the names and habits of the ecologies just outside my door? Ecology brings me home, into the present landscape of my local environment. It asks me to participate in the specific world that provides me with soil, air, water, and beauty. ECO orients me towards the specifics of my own lived experience and reminds me not to appropriate cultures and landscapes whole oceans away. ECO shows me that no character, no story, no song or poem, should ever evaporate into abstraction. Does your philosophy have a landscape and community? If someone mentions a bird, ask them what kind of bird. If you write a story about a character that lives in the countryside, make sure you know the name of every tree that shadows their plotline. Honor the texture of your ecosystem. Enter into dialogue with the Animate Everything that is your home.
Finally, MYTHO, derived from the Greek word for story, saying, or narrative, reminds me that we live inside stories. In order to live better, we must tell better. We must dream up different plots. We must root old plots back in the healing nourishment of their original ecological contexts. How can I honor older narratives by updating them? How can I decenter human narratives in favor of landscape stories, weather stories, insect stories? How have my stories become rigid? Telling new stories can mean honoring, composting, and fertilizing older narrative traditions. Nothing gets thrown out. Everything gets thrown into the compost heap to decompose, melt, connect, fruit, and flow. The realm of myth also reminds me to honor the dream world, the world of intuition, and non-traditional modes of knowledge. MYTHO reminds me that that stories can trap us if we let them ossify. But if we keep them oral, keep them interrogative and participatory, keep them evolving to suit our changing needs, our changing relationships and ecologies, they can root us back into our world. They can teach us that the most important part about storytelling is asking for the story from another being.
Go to the oak tree and ask for its story. Go to the river and ask for its story. Go to the goldenrod and ask without saying anything. Ask with your nose, your belly, your eyes. The answer won’t always be words. Won’t always be sound. Sometimes it will be a feeling in your body. Sometimes it will be a smell. Stories don’t belong to human beings. But human beings belong to stories. Let’s enter back into the complex, tangled work of letting go of authorship and letting ourselves be told.
I am thrilled to announce that I'll be giving an in person talk at Saint John's campus in Santa Fe on April 22nd for Earth Day! The details are below and you can sign up here
"Myth and Mycelium," has been made possible by the Carol J. Worrell Annual Lecture Series on Literature
Eco-philosopher, Sophie Strand, will present a talk, "Myth and Mycelium," to celebrate Earth Day. What does it mean to understand myths as the "fruiting body mushrooms" of underground mycelial mythic systems? Tracking the vegetal gods of the Mediterranean as a case study, we use modern advances in biology, mycology, and forest ecology to resurrect the forgotten root-system of earth-reverent mythologies suppressed by current paradigms of domination.
3:00 pm - 4:30 pm April 22nd MT Great Hall, Pritzker Student Center"
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