MYTH, PSYCHOLOGY AND ECOLOGY
The primary focus of my work, and of our programme at The Hedge School, is the native mythology and traditions of Ireland and the British Isles, and their relevance to the social and environmental problems we face today. I believe that those stories and traditions offer insights into authentic and meaningful ways of being which are founded on a sense of belonging to place, a rootedness in the land we inhabit. Our old myths, folktales, and fairy tales offer a deep and grounded wisdom which we can draw on today to lead us back to the wild that we have lost, and to show us how to belong to the wider world again.
I came to this work many years ago, while I was practicing psychology at the same time as studying for an MA in Creative Writing. This unusual combination of professional qualifications led me to develop a specialism in narrative psychology. I then developed an innovative intensive training course in the subject for an organisation which offered Continuing Professional Development for clinical psychologists and other health professionals within the NHS. And in my own practice, I worked with myth, story and therapeutic writing to encourage lasting and meaningful transformation in my clients. All of that work has been inspired by an early and abiding love, and later formal study, of literature, mythology and folklore. Although I don’t see people in formal therapeutic settings right now, my work here at The Hedge School and elsewhere is focused on individuals, small groups, and larger audiences, drawing attention to the ways in which myths and stories can lead us to wilder and more authentic ways of being in the world.
This way of working with myth and story also stems in part from my study of Jungian and Depth Psychology traditions. I believe that myths and wonder tales lodge themselves in our hearts and stay with us because they are particularly redolent with archetypes – images that bridge the personal and the universal. These images are like keys, unlocking an old, deep wisdom which all too often we don’t know we have. In the vehicle of a story they become more than mere images: they become energies, embedded with instructions which guide us through the complexities of life and show us what we may become – and, perhaps more interestingly, how we might participate in the becoming of the world. It is in good part because of the resonance of these archetypal images that myth and story have such authority in informing our relationship with what we perceive to be ‘other’ – in particular, our relationship with the natural world. Stories, for example, can show us what it is to have a balanced relationship with the land. They can show us a world in which everything is animate in its own way. A world in which we can learn from everything: animal, plant, rock. Myths and stories help us to belong to the world, to see it as enchanted, rather than as a mere backdrop for human activity. Stories teach us that the land, and the nonhuman others who share it with us, carry meanings of their own. And at the heart of the native mythology of Britain and Ireland is our relationship with, and duty to, the land. I believe we can transform ourselves and the world around us by learning from these native mythologies and wisdom traditions — beginning always by exploring them in a way that is rooted in authentic study of the original sources, unfiltered by romanticisation, fantasy or modern cultural projections.
My work with myth and stories these days, then, is in a sense ecopsychological, focusing on the storying and re-storying – the re-enchanting – of our relationship to land, place and nature. In spite of my own background as a psychologist, I’ve been concerned for a long time about the ways in which contemporary therapy culture locks us inside our own heads and focuses us on our own ‘wellbeing’ to the exclusion of all else. Although for sure we have to do the difficult work on ourselves before we can hope to function well in the world, it means nothing if we do not then step back out into the world and see where we fit into it, what gifts we can bring to it, what we can learn from it. This re-immersion into and reconnection with the land – understanding it for its own sake, not just as a backdrop for our own activities, or for its ability to assist in our own healing – is what matters to me above all else.
If you’d like more specifics, there’s an interview with me about my approach to myth and story at this link.
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