People SystemsSocietyVillage Development

Permaculture and Metaphysics

Photo © Craig Mackintosh

I recently had a brief email conversation with someone (a person whose name I shall omit), and I’d like to share it with you to get your thoughts. Perhaps I’m opening a can of worms here, but I can’t help myself. I am opening this potential can of worms for three reasons:

  1. I personally often feel frustrated that too many permaculturists are mixing subjective spiritual/metaphysical/religious elements into their courses, and are thereby helping to ensure permaculture is relegated to the periphery rather than — as desperately needs to happen — being taken up broad scale by all people everywhere, regardless of their culture and preferred belief system.
  2. I’m very curious as to the kind of responses/feedback I’ll get, as it will help me gauge how likely we are to be successful as a movement that is supposed to be trying to help (all) the people of the world get onto a path with promise.
  3. I want to take this opportunity to get people, and particularly permaculture teachers, thinking carefully about the principles and appropriateness behind what they include in their courses, and what they don’t.

Now, before I proceed further, I want to clearly express that I have nothing against spirituality — indeed, it is clear that mankind’s lack of spiritual development is a central cause of our modern woes. Spirituality goes beyond hedonism and living for the moment, and becomes inclusive of concepts of altruism and objectivity and can lift a man above his baser instincts to drive him to become a force for good in the world. Man’s spirituality grants him the ability to think beyond necessity, beyond desire, so he can make decisions based on principle. Where I take issue is that people are taking their own subjective views on spirituality — including elements that are belief-based only, and therefore unprovable — and are blending it with the provable, observable science of permaculture. Teaching concepts that are not scientifically provable not only undermines that teacher’s own credibility, but, when presented in a course titled with the word ‘permaculture’, then also undermines the credibility of all permaculture teachers.

The conversation began thus:

Hello Craig, wonder if we could gain some publicity for the events below, or any other hints? Would you prefer a “text only” version, with or without poster attachments? All advice is welcomed, best wishes….

The poster attachments were for two courses. One of these courses focussed on a practical element of permaculture design, the other on ‘experiencing Earth Spirit’, taught by someone describing themselves as a dowser and geomancist. Now, I can categorically state that, personally, if my first exposure to permaculture had been through such an event, I would have promptly turned around and likely never examined permaculture concepts again. Yes, this is my subjective view, and I am a mere mortal who can’t lay claim to understanding all the mysteries of the universe. Perhaps you, personally, would not react thus, and perhaps such a course would be exactly your ‘thing’, but the point, as shared above, is that you can be sure that despite your own spiritual preferences, if you call the course ‘permaculture’ then it’s critical that you show respect for all other permaculture teachers — many of whom are unlikely to subscribe to your belief-set.

My response to the email was:

Hi …

I’m sorry, but we do not promote courses which mix the science of permaculture up with metaphysics. Such courses have marginalised permaculture and helped ensure it has stayed a fringe movement, when it needs to be accepted/respected and acted upon by people of every culture/religion/belief-set.

Thanks for your understanding.

Kind regards


The good-hearted response came back:

Appreciate your reply Craig. Can’t imagine metaphysics marginalises permaculture, nor anything else! There is spirit in everything, & until we recognise our spiritual nature our animal nature will continue running the planet. Love permaculture nonetheless, keep up the good work!

As I felt the need to help clarify my initial response, I came back with the following:

Thanks for your message …

Permaculturists have nothing against spirituality. At least I don’t. But the question is, what ‘kind’ of spirituality are you promoting? There are as many understandings of metaphysics as there are species of trees. If you associate any specific, subjective belief-set with ‘permaculture’, then you can lead some people to believe that all permaculturists agree with that subjective belief-set. Logically, that translates to some people thinking that in order to be a permaculturist, you must subscribe to that belief set – therefore causing them to turn around and walk the other way.

I don’t have time to go into lots of detail, but you’ll get a reasonable understanding of my view on this from a comment I put on our forum a while back:

I confess to only having sped-read this thread, but I thought I’d throw in my two cents for what they’re worth.

I remember at the end of a PDC I attended, there was a one-hour segment where people had opportunity to provide feedback on the course, and to make suggestions for how it could be improved next time around. A few points were mentioned, and then one person spoke up with:

“Next time, I think we should devote one day to spirituality.”

I sat wondering if someone would say anything. Nobody did.

I was personally tempted to speak up and say “I couldn’t disagree with you more.” But as nobody echoed the person’s sentiments, it didn’t seem necessary.

Now, the reason I disagreed with the suggestion so strongly is not because I’m against spirituality. The problem is this – what spirituality, exactly, will you devote the day to? Permaculture is not, and should not, be directly associated with a particular set of beliefs. Permaculture can and should be implemented by every culture and by people from every spiritual or non-spiritual background. By directly associating permaculture with a particular, specific, belief system you are ruling out participation from all those with other belief-sets. You are marginalising permaculture, and saying that to be a permaculturist, you must agree with this subjective belief system.

If you were to “devote one day to spirituality”, but without marginalising permaculture, you’d have to have your ‘spiritual’ day in a way that is representative of every belief system that currently resides in the minds of all individuals worldwide. Your day would need to, without bias, represent everything from Catholicism, Judaism, Islam, Christianity, Congo ancestor worshipping, Vietnamese spirit worship, animism, pantheism, rapture-predicting evangelicals, etc. etc. etc. etc. etc. There are literally thousands of religions and spiritual concepts that would need to be represented and respected. If one just selects a particular belief set, like, say, Shamanism or ‘earth based spirituality’, you’re taking liberties on behalf of permaculturists everywhere — wrapping permaculture in a cloak that other permaculturists would not agree with, and will often find offence with.

I’ve been dismayed to find ‘definitions’ of permaculture online, where people ask “what is permaculture?” and get answers like “permaculture is a combination of organic agriculture and new age philosophies”. Such definitions arise because people do not make a clearer delineation about what permaculture is. Such definitions cause a large proportion of people who dearly need to investigate and implement permaculture (that’s pretty much everyone) to write it off as peripheral nonsense before they’ve got to page one.

I think we should ask ourselves why permaculture has not moved forward as fast as it should have, could have, over the last thirty-something years? Is it possible that it’s been connected with smelly, tie-died clothing wearing pot-smokers (or in the case of Shamanism, psychedelic drug takers), etc., so it gets sidelined by mainstream society? I’ve even seen a video somewhere of permaculturists sitting in a hand-holding circle around a tree, crying and wailing over the death of the tree’s peers, and generally making themselves look, if I may, ridiculous.

For me, permaculture is a design system, and one that works in harmony with any belief system (well, with the possible exception of the religion of perpetual growth-based capitalism). There’s no reason why a PDC cannot begin with cultural blessings like a Maori prayer, and I think most permaculture teachers would be honored by it, but a PDC should not include subjective spiritual elements in its actual course content. The reason is that permaculture teachers should teach things that are provable. In the case of Shamanism. Why not run a PDC first, and then have a few days of Shamanism and its associated rituals as a post-PDC optional add-on afterwards, targeting those who are specifically interested in that, rather than mixing it in with the provable science of permaculture in a way where some will appreciate it and some will be forever turned off permaculture?

I encourage all permaculturists to not marginalise and slow down the uptake of permaculture design systems by mixing it up with religion/spirituality/metaphysics. We need to break down barriers, and not erect them. I think we should respect people of any religion and/or belief set, and by directly associating permaculture with one specific spiritual framework, then you’re not respecting all.

In addition to the above comment, for your interest, our PRI PDC Teachers agree to the following definition if they want to be registered teachers. Note the second paragraph in particular:

PRI PDC Teachers are those who the PRI recognise, through a vetting board, as determined and competent to teach a full 72-hour Permaculture Design Certificate course that is based on, but not necessarily only constrained to, all the topics of Bill Mollison’s Designers’ Manual. Through sharing foundational permaculture principles and describing (and/or presenting) practical examples of these principles in action, the teacher will give students a healthy understanding of the interconnectedness of all elements in natural systems, and will give them the design tools to enable them to begin to work productively and sustainably with these systems in many climate zones and circumstances. The course will inspire and assist students to embark on their own life as permaculture system designers.

PRI PDC Teachers also commit to focussing on the design science, and not including subjective spiritual/metaphysical/religious elements as topics. The reason these items are not included in the PDC curriculum is because they are “belief” based. Permaculture design education concerns itself with teaching good design based on strategies and techniques which are scientifically provable. A PRI PDC Teacher avoids creating barriers to permaculture uptake by directly associating permaculture with a particular set of beliefs and instead promotes an inclusive, simple, universal life ethic of returning surplus into nature’s systems to promote the care of our earth and its inhabitants, with the goal of creating a new world that lives in harmony with all of nature.

I hope some of the above helps share our position a little clearer. This is also all based on Bill Mollison’s work, and endorsed by him.

Kind regards


The response came back thus:

A lively permaculture/spiritual debate on your forum Craig, as it says Shamanism is not metaphysics, it is Science just as is Yoga & Astrology & even Meditation & Past-Life Regression, all these have undergone “scientific” scrutiny to the nth degree.

Religion may consist of beliefs, but Spirituality does not, the two are often confused. Spirituality is about Values, Integrity, Honesty, Impeccability, Super-Conscious Awareness & so forth. Just consider the following items.

The old paradigm features a fascinating array of contradictions:

Economics makes us poor.
Medicine makes us sick.
Free Trade makes us slaves.

And David Icke supplied more:

Doctors destroy Health. (It’s about Wealth, not Health).
Lawyers destroy Justice.
Universities destroy Knowledge.
Governments destroy Freedom.
Media destroys Information.
Religion destroys Spirituality.
Schools destroy Education.

These statements seem contradictory, but we can intuit truth in each of them. It would be a tragedy for Permaculture to reject Spirituality in this context, in fact much of the PDC manual is about values, & therefore Spirituality!

The PRI/PDC 2nd paragraph is therefore in error, lumping subjective spiritual/metaphysical/religious elements together. Indigenous cultures are “highly spiritual” in recognising interconnectedness, does this mean Permaculture rejects such interconnectedness & what our indigenous peoples have known for thousands of years? No! I would say, it’s all compatible.

Permaculturists & other environmentally-associated groups together reject “spirituality” — often due to “religious” beliefs that deem one particular book as “absolute”. Permaculture itself is in danger of becoming Religious!

Happy to assist a re-definition to avoid our animal, instead of spiritual nature, to keep running the earth. Best wishes….

Now, while I agree with some of the points raised in this email, it still clearly overlooks, and is at odds with, my main point — that mixing up one’s subjective beliefs into a permaculture course translates to erecting barriers to permaculture uptake, and also translates to undermining the work of other permaculture teachers. This particular individual is fully free to believe that Shamanism, astrology and past-life regression, etc., are fully scientifically proven, but I do not. Regardless of how convinced this individual might be, he or she cannot ‘prove’ them to me unless I ‘choose’ to believe them. Juxtaposed against this situation is the science of permaculture — where I can actually observe the design science in action and see the concrete results.

Permaculture is a science grounded in better management of the realities of cause and effect.

Permaculture does not, however, as reductionist scientists often do, dissect the whole until all you can see are disconnected details. Rather, the science of permaculture still respects ‘mystery’. As soil scientists, for example, we appreciate that we will never understand everything that goes on under our feet, and in our dissections we seek to retain holism — we recognise and respect that a system is more than merely the sum of its parts, and we seek to work in harmony with these observable systems. But we must understand where lies the border between respect and appreciation for, and management of, things we cannot understand, and emigrating into the land of if-you-believe-it-it’s-true.

I guess I just want to put this out there on the behalf of the many permaculturists I see who are getting tired of certain ‘spiritual’ influences undermining the urgent need to get people behind permaculture concepts. We need educators, governments, CEOs, scientists, agronomists, economists and your average Joe Citizen found in every nation and culture to study and help us develop functional permaculture systems for every climate and situation. We need all people to recognise they’re a part, or potentially so, of what could be a much greater whole, and to give them the tools to be so.

In short, I plead for all permaculture teachers to leave their subjective beliefs at the door when they begin to teach. If you must hold classes on your favoured way of looking at the unknown, then I would urge you to do so in a separate class held for just that purpose — and don’t call it ‘permaculture’. Whatever your beliefs, you must accept that not everyone shares them. To recognise this is being objective. To acknowledge it is being respectful. And, given where we stand in history, it is also expedient.

I’ll leave Bill Mollison to close:

As I have often been accused of lacking that set of credulity, mystification, modern myth and hogwash that passes today for New Age Spirituality, I cheerfully plead guilty. Unqualified belief, of any breed, disempowers any individuals by restricting their information.

Thus, permaculture is not biodynamics, nor does it deal in fairies, devas, elves, after-life, apparitions or phenomena not verifiable by every person from their own experience, or making their own experiments. We permaculture teachers seek to empower any person by practical model-making and applied work, or data based on verifiable investigations. — Travels in Dreams

P.S.: Comments on this post will be fully moderated. Comments that seek to identify the individual writing here will be deleted. Comments that write specifically about individuals or groups on one side of this discussion or the other will be deleted. Conversely, comments that are objectively discussing the points/issues/principles raised here are welcome and encouraged.

P.P.S.: Whew, there, I said it….


    1. I personally think permaculture is not an evolution, rather a devolution from centuries of trying to force nature to do what it wasn’t designed for to create abundance and going back to nature’s original design and working with the original blueprint. Older civilazation understood this concept.

      Its the whole system approach were we are part of the nature and how we dominate nature has consequene on the balance. Once we see ourselves as a key part the system where our actions can preserve and enhance the system or at the other scale completely devastate the creating fatal inbalances then that connection with the land can be fully established. At this momemt nature is only there for exploiting.

      Far from being a religious concept this system is necessary to all levels of society,culture and religious background. “its a human thing”. Also some see this system as future fallback for crisis and some “Zombie Apocalypse”.. however i think we were in crisis a long time ago and this is a game of catch up. To much reliance on governments, aid organisations and mod cons is killing us has disconnected people from their identity as part of the natural system. People right now need their basis right to food, clean water, reliable energy and sanitation, the permaculture whole system approach is the way to achieve this and still create abundance.

  1. Wow. A brave attempt to discuss a sticky topic, thanks much Craig. A Buddhist, longtime meditator and nature mystic myself, I nevertheless have to agree with Bill Mollison’s position insofar as I care much more about the nuts and bolts of permaculture becoming common, worldwide human practice (taking care of land, taking care of people, returning surplus) than promoting my personal subjective spiritual experiences as being part of “permaculture”. I personally think that sitting around talking about the metaphysical too much can become a real trap for those of us who live in the materially abundant USA–it gives the illusion that we are doing something real to end the suffering of beings when in fact we are just sitting around on our overweight bottoms on comfy cushions spouting hot air before we go to lunch (in our SUVs).

    For most in the world, the whole discussion is simply a total, unreachable luxury–their day to day reality is starvation, disease, pollution and desertification, not to mention political, sexual and religious oppression. Not that I am in favor of banning discussion of spiritual experience but I think perhaps that there should be a required quota of trees planted, gardens created, swales dug etc before we are allowed a certain limited time period to go on about our mystical non-verifiable experiences, LOL. May all beings keep it real so that the suffering of all beings may be totally scattered and destroyed!

  2. Oh and I am also a Waldorf parent. Got nothing against the biodynamic folks and am a big fan of Rudolf Steiner’s work. Just sayin.

  3. Just my 2¢.

    Having spent time participating and organizing PDCs in the past, I can attest to the unspoken contempt held by many students for a teachers lumping of the subjective with the practice.

    My fellow college students and I see the need and potential of PC but have often cringed at some of the “Hippie WoWo” passed as scientific knowledge in the course.

    I am a college student studying design and find it difficult to spread the message about regenerative design without catching flack for what others have attached to the permaculture concept.

    I would rather live in a world where knowledge of the spiritual is gained through living the real experience, than learned by word of mouth.

  4. I recently heard someone say that when people stop believing in God, they don’t believe in nothing, they believe in everything. Well, I surely think we can say this is the situation of today. Further there’s no doubt spirituality has become a part of the consumerist market, more or less like the fashion industry.

    Personally I can’t really understand the difference between spirituality and religion, as many claim there is. I look upon myself as a religious person and part of the Judeo-Christian heritage, am I then not a spiritual person? Or is this not part of my spirituality? Isn’t religion an evolved expression of wholeness, like Christopher Alexander claims? If religion is about wholeness, is spirituality not, and what is then the point of it?

    To be very clear, if I had attended a PDC-course and found out my teacher wanted to preach me some of the statements of the person referred to in the article, I would had left the course and lost my money, and felt bitter. Luckily I probably got one of the best teachers of the whole Britain when I had my PDC this summer, trained in physics and could had been a top scientist, no doubt, but had devoted his life to become a low income teacher of permaculture science. He kept strictly to the design science of permaculture, and with more teachers like him I’m sure permaculture would now not been on the fringes.

    Spirituality should be strictly avoided in a PDC-course, not intermingled in any way. On the other hand, Nature Awareness can be. Nature Awareness is about training our senses, to become aware of the wonders of nature. These senses are definitely oppressed in our modernistic communities of today, and need to be retrained. Nature Awareness was a part of my PDC-course, and I appreciated it.

    Also learning about how to design according to the transcendent human being, either you call this spiritual or religious, should be a part of permaculture teaching. Of course, on strictly scientific grounds, like explained by Nikos salingaros in the following essay:

    – Neuroscience, the Natural Environment, and Building Design:

  5. I completely agree with the author of this article. When I found permaculture most of what I found had no ties to any spirituality. If it had I would have dismissed it as hippy mumbo jumbo. I come from a small farm/garden background that is otherwise very mainstream. Organic gardening/farming fell behind a decade or two because the main people doing it were pot smoking hippies that seemed like the fringe to most of america. Once several of those hippies turned into business men and made profits did the rest of the world take notice.

    I have had a couple of people mention to me that they thought the people who believe in the “religion of Permaculture” were crazy. I am not sure if they ran into some of the spiritualist types, or if the sheet mulching rather than double digging turned them off. Either way I know a lot of people who could benefit from permaculture who would never give it a second look if it was presented with spirituality as part of the course.

    Keep up the good work.

  6. The question of why Permaculture is easily marginalised and rejected is answered in two. One, it’s not scientific enough; and two it’s peopled by mystics who talk up spirituality rather than hard facts. As long as it is presented as a alternative lifestyle that supposedly ticks a lot of boxes — social, communal, environmental…spiritual — rather than a hard edged sustainable farming system it will miss its calling and fall victim to schematism and shibboleths…and gurus. I’d never call myself a Permaculturalist for these reasons.

  7. Thank you Craig. I have a renewed appreciation for the teachers who leave their spiritual beliefs at home when teaching permaculture. I know for a fact that I would not have chosen permaculture to be my career path had I been introduced to it by someone or a group which had a lot of fluff involved… Again, many thanks for posting about this important topic!

  8. Couldn’t agree more Craig!

    I come from a computers background, having done design work for years before coming across permaculture. I was attracted to the elegance of the design theory and the ethically driven approach. But when I started trying to reach out to the permaculture community to find like-minded individuals to talk with I ran into a lot of the “hippie woowoo” and the metaphysical aspects that just turned me off.

    Personally, applying the metaphysical to permaculture just muddies the water and buries what might be amazing folklore derived scientic principles in impenetrable abstracts.

    we can scientifically look at the interconnectivity of all things. Research into the give and take of bacteria, plant-life, and fungi absolutely bears this out. Even a basic understanding of nutrition speaks volumes to the dependencies inherent to us and nature. Why put a metaphysical veneer over all of that and possible curtail further research that proves it all out while potentially chasing away the pragmatic, spiritually agnostic, or travellers on differnt spiritual paths?

  9. As one who was ensnared in a particular belief system which constrained and governed my life for many of my early years but from which through my own intellect and research I was able to free myself, I am always suspicious about the motives of those who attempt to promote such systems.

    I do of course have my own set of spiritual beliefs but being now a more-or-less self-regulated individual I do not feel the need to unnecessarily share, find common acceptance of, or seek to impose my beliefs on others.

    I wholeheartedly concur with Craig’s position on the detrimental effects for the broader acceptance of permaculture that too close an association with any such system can have.

    Science and belief do not work together in any way. Anyone who thinks that their own particular spiritual belief system is science, is suffering from self-delusion or has subjugated their own innate ability to think for themselves to propagation of the self-delusion of others.

    Permaculture and its principles are proven science, experimentally repeated over and over again for many years across a very broad set of conditions.

    Of course, being a natural or earth based process, there is intense internal pressure for people governed by strong spritual beliefs to associate any success gained through the scientific application of permaculture practices to the perceived beneficial influences of their own belief systems. Such associations detract from the science and should be discouraged.

  10. Just another statement of support for your opinions Craig, and a little observation on dowsing. A few months ago I was at an open garden where a dowser was showing people how to divine water. The wand moves when you are over water, was what was explained. I will state at the outset that I know very little about dowsing, and this is inconsequential. When the dowser in question was showing me how to dowse, and my dowsing wand didn’t move, he held it in my hands and wiggled it for me where he said the water was. I questioned this, and the a new explanation of dowsing came through, ‘the water tells you when to move the wand which tells you where the water is.’
    We don’t need randomised control trials for all our practice as permaculturalists, gardeners or farmers, but a growing base of proven knowledge can become our spirituality. For example, the knowledge that diversifying our environment and observing the processes of nature can help us produce food sustainably is what I would probably consider part of my spirituality, but again this is very personal to me.

  11. A timely post Craig.
    “PRI PDC Teachers are those who the PRI recognise, through a vetting board, as determined and competent to teach a full 72-hour Permaculture Design Certificate course that is based on, but not necessarily only constrained to, all the topics of Bill Mollison’s Designers’ Manual.”
    The solution is simple, let the vetting board withdraw a non conforming teacher’s qualification to teach.
    This might sound harsh but if you want to maintain certain standards, you have to enforce those standards. Otherwise some people will do what they always do and that is they will twist, distort, corrupt, pervert, meddle or interfere with something originally good turning it into something “bad” and the true value of Permaculture will be lost.
    As a final suggestion, make all PRI PDC Teachers’ status as conforming teachers available online to prospective students.

  12. Thanks for this Craig, when it comes to moving the Permaculture movement forward, I think it is very important everyone learns to leave their spirituality/religion/metaphysics at the door. And perhaps acknowledge that whatever we personally hold in this regard is private and an internal working, and should stay that way.
    You were called on, in another comment thread, to discuss what Permaculture is and isn’t with regard to metaphysics. Doing so is risky, because when we highlight what permaculture is not, it can inadvertently bring these un-permaculture issues to the surface, giving them air and an opportunity for further muddying of the water. You have bravely risked this occurring now, but done it with such care, that it is sure to be a positive move.
    Thank you for continuing to keep this site on such a clear path.

  13. To decide whether spirituality has a place in permaculture we first need to ask why it might be in there.

    If permaculture is a design science then like any design science it sets out to create a framework for making decisions about how things should be put together, and why.

    Permaculture contains a set of ethical directives which are intended to form the core of that decision making process, every other decision should be made building on the shoulders of those ethical directives.

    Not all design sciences contain ethical directives (software development, structural engineering, architecture for e.g.) but they all contain a framework for making decisions about the fitness of designs at various scales. I guess it depends on the importance and gravity of the subjects of design as to whether we call it an “ethical framework” or merely a “decision framework”.

    Pure ethics based frameworks shouldn’t be influenced by spiritual belief systems. Spiritual belief systems step beyond the realm of practicality and logically justifiable decision making and into the realm of the unfathomable. That’s not what we need from a design science that we hope will change the practicalities of how we live.

    Spirituality certainly has a place for many people (myself included) but I don’t think it has a place in a design science. We don’t design high-rise buildings using a belief in a particular deity’s omnipotence, do we? If not guided by a framework of physics and mechanics structural engineering is no longer the tool for the job. The same applies to permaculture.

    I think it would be best to switch places. People should feel free to run a course in spirituality and include a component about permaculture being a great way to design our physical ecosystems, but the opposite should not be the case. Imagine if structural engineering courses included a module on spirituality? Contrast that with a course on spirituality that contained a module on structural engineering.

    If permaculture is not a design science, then what is it?

  14. Hi Craig, good to see a post like this. I think you need to clarify your idea slightly further though. Not only do teachers need to remove the “wo-wo” from any teaching or course material but you need to be absolutely sure of your facts when these are presented to students. Not ‘sure’ as in certain of your opinion, but ‘sure’ that it is current scientific fact (though this will be a slowly moving target).
    On my PDC course in 2009 we had three scientists from a state government department in the USA who had come very specifically to Australia to be taught in the course I attended. These were scientists who had heard so much good about permaculture that they wanted to see if it could be incorporated into envinmental policy in their home state. However during the two weeks of the course I know they became more disillusioned with the permaculture concept as on several occasions the teachers presented ideas as fact that the scientists considered plain wrong. They only challenged these errors publicly in the class towards the end of the second week as more of these errors were offered up by the teachers. From my discussions with them at lunch and during our breaks each day they were turned off from Permaculture by the end of the course.
    It was, and remains, a real missed opportunity for Permaculture to have moved a step closer to the main stream and have real impact due to being policy instead of a choice for individual land owners. Teachers need to not only keep metaphysics out of the teaching course but also be sure of their facts and willing to admit what is known and what is unknown.

  15. Thankyou for clearing this up Craig. I have only recently begun to delve deeply into permaculture readings. I was seeking science, not mystics and as a result, I did not seek permaculture directly because of it’s perceived alternative hippie nature.
    I began with the power of duck and that lead to the permaculture handbook. Kudos.

  16. Yeah, I agree Craig. The overtly spiritual should be kept separate from the PDC.

    I consider myself a spiritual person but if were I to attend a PDC (I haven’t as yet) then I would rather spend the time on the design science. I’d be happy, as you say, to attend a couple of spiritual days after the PDC as a separate occasion if I thought it interested me. I’d be annoyed if my teacher was including it in the main program though.

    Having said all that, I do believe that permaculture and ‘spirituality’ have some common ground. I reckon that when we spend enough time with permaculture, with natural systems, we are more drawn to what I would call the spiritual. And similarly, those who have a feeling for Earth-type spirituality will find Permaculture resonates with their beliefs. My personal spiritual beliefs and the principles of permaculture feel very comfortable together. I see that as the inherent spirit of Permaculture – its basic ‘rightness’.

    I believe that the best way to promote permaculture is to DO IT and let others see it’s results. Explain it to them if they ask (i.e. if they approach you personally or via a PDC) but in ways they are comfortable with. Similarly I think spirituality is best lived or embodied – others will see it’s results. Explain it if they ask you to, but never force it upon someone.

    I think combining the two should not be called a PDC. It should be presented as what it is – ‘An interpretation of permaculture through spiritual practice’.

  17. I agree 100% with Craig. It’s interesting because I’m a lay buddhist and one of my first contacts with buddhism was due to Permaculture. When I began reading “The Designer’s Manual”, I found that Fukuoka was mentioned, and went straight to read “The one straw revolution”. By that time I was in a “spiritual quest” and everything seemed to fit perfectly. Although I believe that spirituality is inherent to our relationship with nature, I think that presenting the connection between Permaculture and spirituality in an explicit form, undermines the credibility of Permaculture and makes it more difficult to “spread the word”. That’s why I really like Geoff Lawton’s way of teaching Permaculture. He presents it in a very down to earth and quite scientific way.
    I feel more easy now that I see that many people share my vision on how Permaculture should be taught.

  18. Craig – excellent and very important issue.

    I highly agree that a Permaculture course/ PDC should be 100% focused on Permaculture as there is a HUGE amount to get through anyway. That’s why we have permaculture! So we have things we can DO and less theories to entangle in.

    Nothing wrong with spiritual philosophy but we need people to know who to build soils and implement practicle permaculture designed/ regerenative systems.

    much much more will be gained by people APPLYING permaculture as it’s been intended….

  19. Excellent article. Though I have always believed that there is a spiritual undertone within permaculture, it has never occurred to me to explain it to others or try to associate one as a necessary component to the other. It has always been a purely personal feeling and agree that it should not be literally associated with the design-science. The entire concept and action of working harmoniously with nature and creating productive and sustainable ecosystems certainly has a spiritual note, one is indeed working directly in correlation with the Earth; there is a feeling a person gets in a permaculture garden, in the presence of such beautifully aesthetic harmony where all is beneficial and productive. Nonetheless permaculture will remain an “underground” movement until it is brought to a more professional and scientific light where it can thrive at full potential, this of course is the goal.

  20. I consider myself a fairly spiritual person, I just don’t feel the need to rub it off on everyone I come into contact with. I am really glad you made this post, Craig, and get extremely frustrated at permaculture teachers who teach permaculture through a lens of new age spirituality. It undermines the thought, experimentation, and research that many have done to demonstrate the efficacy of permaculture strategies and principles. I similarly get very frustrated with new teachers who teach permaculture courses that have not done the due time practicing “design science”. To me it is more about being authentic than anything else.

    My feelings about spirituality and permaculture are akin to the difference between a new age mystic who had a funky trip one night, and a Zen master who sat looking at a knot in the wood floor, watching the patterns of life for 20 years. It is much more impressive to hear from someone who took the time to verify their own life by studying their life and the life around them. Again, it is a matter of authenticity. From this perspective, I would not mind if a qualified individual added a few of their cultural or spiritual traditions into a permaculture course (emphasis on a few), such as a blessing or very short meditation. It should however be as distinct as possible from the actual curriculum content.

    It is worth noting that beliefs are hard to avoid. Already, permaculture is strongly belief based—look at the ethics. We believe that the earth and people should be treated with care and respect. What matters is where it is coming from and whether it is being forced onto participants. Permaculture does not impose belief through the lens of a spiritual viewpoint, but to effectively use permaculture does require we believe in caring for the earth and people. When I teach I don’t make the assumption that people will agree with the ethics even, I leave it up to them to verify if it works for their own life. It is NOT my job to convince someone to believe something, even permaculture design science. That is the job of a preacher, not a teacher.

    I am in agreement with everything in this post except for one thing. I think it is a mistake to expect that permaculture SHOULD reach everyone. That attitude is another form of evangelism. Asking ‘why permaculture is not changing the world as rapidly as it could’ is like asking ‘why can’t we save the world faster’? I am suspicious when people are overly concerned with saving the world. Not that I don’t see things in the world that need to be saved, I just don’t practice permaculture because I want to save the world. Saving the world, seems to come with a lot of fear. I practice permaculture because it improves my quality of life and makes sense. I have food all around me, a warmer house, fresher air, and I feel like I live in a thoughtfully planned, healthy, and integrated environment. It makes my life easier and more enjoyable, and it improves the lives of those around me and my designs.

    We might want to reconsider why we are so concerned with SPREADING permaculture? I find that too many permaculturalists are preoccupied with permaculture spreading to everyone. That is the bigger, better, faster mentality that got us in the mess we are in. It leads to expedient technique and poor quality education in my view. It seems to me that the principle least applied to permaculture education and take-up is “use small and slow solutions”. I say just do good work and let that speak for permaculture design. I feel that permaculture is best represented by actual design application of sites and systems. If you see it, you believe it.

    Similarly to my spirituality, I feel no need to rub my permaculture beliefs off on everyone I come in contact with. I am thusly skeptical of “free” courses and attempts to “reach” more people.

  21. For me the difference between spirituality and permaculture as discussed in this article, was summed up by Elvis Presley – a little less conversation, a little more action.

    The bottom line Craig is I couldn’t agree with you more.

  22. Frankly, I think permaculture supports NO belief system; its ethics requires responsibility – the human ability to respond to Earth systems *as we observe them,* and not as we interpret them through the lenses of our belief systems.

  23. Hi Craig,

    I believe in freedom of religion, but also in freedom from religion.

    The danger for Permaculture is that in allowing teachers to attach mysticism and / or their own brand of spirituality to their teachings, the actions of a few, essentially become the main perception in the wider community. Once the perception is established in the community, that Permaculture is a quasi religion, it would be very hard to change.

    Permaculture is about agriculture, design and regenerative systems first and foremost.

    If Permaculture was seen as a qausi religious movement, it would hamper the opportunities to work across all cultures, countries and environments. Given the diversity of cultures and religions across the planet (and history), you can quickly imagine that if spirituality became a defining theme for permaculture then quite a few doors would close.

    It’s interesting that you mentioned bio-dynamics. From what I’ve seen, the bio-dynamic system works. On the other hand though, because of the mysticism surrounding the various soil additives and preparations, it just turns me off. It is a far better outcome for the people involved to understand why outcomes are being achieved. You also need to give people the design tools and understanding so that they can implement more effective / regenerative methods of production. If I were a farmer in the developing world, the last thing that I’d want more of is mystical concoctions sold at a price. Education is far more valuable and it should be proven and replicable in local conditions.

    The Permaculture movement is an essentially self regulating entity. As such, it is required to regulate its members. That thought will probably upset the libertarians out there, but if the movement fails to regulate itself, then the value of the courses will be diluted to the individuals having already taken them or considering taking them in future. Additionally, future opportunities will be lost and the movement will probably be relegated to the fringe.

    I live on a farm and am fairly pragmatic. The question that comes to my mind is, would I pay for a permaculture consultant to come here and have a look around and come up with suggestions for the place? Probably. Would I pay for the same person to come up here and talk to me about their personal spiritual feelings towards the trees, at my expense of course. No.

    One of the problems with the movements of the late 1960’s and 1970’s is that they were over shadowed by the new ageism and spirituality. It’s the first thing that you think about when you think of the history of that time and it is loaded with cultural and emotional baggage which you don’t want any part of because it failed.



  24. If you’re worried about unnecessarily alienating people you might keep the politics out as well as the metaphysics. Permaculture is (should be) for anyone looking for smart landscape design; a need which crosses any political or religious divisions.

  25. Thank you Craig for addressing this. I feel really grateful that I just happened to choose a PDC with a teacher who approached the subject from a purely scientific/practical standpoint. Had it had any of the spiritual stuff attached to it, I doubt I would be as passionate about permaculture as I am today. Interestingly, during my PDC, we visited another group of students taking a separate PDC in the area – I would have been bitterly disappointed had I chosen their teacher, as the whole moaning/humming and clapping hands to create energy before starting each session would have driven me insane. Good on you for putting this out there!!

  26. Odum said that the paradigm shift would require the creation of new religion and values, and he provided some possibilities, below. Religion guides cooperative behavior within our culture, and acts as a sort of group DNA. We’re genetically designed to have some sort of group values, and the ones we’ve got now only work on the way up. So we’re going to need to have some conversation about new spirituality based on recognition of systems and respect for the energies therein.

    “Ten Commandments of the Energy Ethic for Survival of Man in Nature

    1. Thou shall not waste potential energy.
    2. Thou shall know what is right by its part in survival of thy system.
    3. Thou shall do unto others as best benefits the energy flows of thy system.
    4. Thou shall revel in thy systems work rejoicing in happiness that only finds thee in this good service.
    5. Thou shall treasure the other life of thy natural system as thine own, for only together shall thee all survive.
    6. Thou shall judge value by the energies spent, the energies stored, and the energy flow which is possible, turning not to the incomplete measure of money.
    7. Thou shall not unnecessarily cultivate high power, for error, destruction, noise, and excess vigilence are its evil wastes.
    3. Thou shall not take from man or nature without returning service of equal value, for only then are thee one.
    9. Thou shall treasure thy heritage of information, and in the uniqueness of thy good works and complex roles will thy system reap that which is new and immortal in thee.
    10. Thou must find in thy religion, stability over growth, organization over competition, diversity over uniformity, system over self, and survival process over individual peace.”

    Howard T. Odum: “Environment, Power, and Society“, 1971, 244.

  27. Metaphysics is nature – nature is permaculture.
    Some people are aware of the one spirit, and some are not. Some people understand spirituality, but many haven’t a clue. Please let’s keep religion out though – that is something else.

    The materialisation of anything, be it a food forest or a human being, occurs as a result of thought.
    Every physical thing in any permaculture garden has materialised from the thought of the one supreme spirit. Through permaculture, and a deep study of what nature is, we realise that it is driven by the nature spirits, or whatever name we wish to use.

    Understanding metaphysics can be a great aid to permaculture, and vice versa, but I do agree that many people are not ready yet.

    Love and peace


  28. Less talk and more action! If permaculture teachers can not work within the permaculture philosophy then they should not teach under the permaculture banner. To the author of the email, if you want to ‘teach’ your spiritual beliefs then do it transparently, under your own banner, don’t confuse PDC students with your personal views. I believe the focus on your own beliefs has wasted everyone’s time and gives permaculture a bad name. My PDC connected me to the earth using proven, tried and tested methods, allowing immediate application in my urban environment, don’t deny others the opportunity to work out for themselves what permaculture can offer them.

  29. Personally, I would like to see permaculture become more mainstream and widely known for its systemic thinking behind its design principles. At the moment I am pursuing a masters program in environment and planning and am exploring ways to bring permaculture into my thesis. My focus is on food security within an urban context and how permaculture can address this issue with its design elements. My hope is to bring permaculture into the academic realm thus making it more mainstream and accessible to a wider audience. And for these reasons I don’t think spirituality should be taught as part of a permaculture course. I also believe permaculture is slowly being recognised as a design science. A number of my classmates at uni have done a PDC. My supervisor seems to have an understanding of it and doesn’t object to my thesis proposal.

    Thanks for the article Craig.

  30. Thanks for this post Craig. It parallels a debate I’ve been involved with regarding Ecological Agriculture and how it is defined. I’ll be copying it to my colleagues so that we know we’re not the only people involved in such debates!

  31. A little while back I was searching for a Permaculture course and found one that was all about holding hands, singing and all this other spiritual development crap that I don’t care for. Needless to say I was put off immediately! Luckily I know not all permaculture looks like that, but if that was my first exposure to permaculture then I can assure you I would never bother to take a course. If people want to combine their personal spirituality with Permaculture that’s fine, just keep it to yourself please.

  32. It’s one and the same….

    Permaculture is understanding patterns in nature (connection)/ connection with nature and heavens is connecting with the self (macro and microcosm) which leads to higher conciseness. That said its up to the INDIVIDUAL to connect the dots inwardly. To deny this fact is denial of the self and truth.

    Permaculture is a design teaching not a metaphysical teaching or spirit one fundamentally in a learning setting, nor is it a “career path” though, but a path and tool of many to help reconnect to nature as once was a fundamental understanding of the ancients (97% are completely and utterly disconnected). So really it is without really putting it out that way. How it helps is up to the INDIVIDUAL!

    Separating the two and to keep with the old thinking of “its a bunch of hippies” (can it get anymore ignorant people) is what has created this mess and division. There are some who carry on that way, forget about it and just remember where you are going, not where everyone else is. Its the journey of self, not grabbing onto a movement. (The hippie thing was full of shit anyway, most of them scared of there own shadows and not free at all).

    As far as I can tell, the more you travel down this path, it is just a matter of time until it hits you like a F#$%&@ Mack truck!

    “As long as you see the stars as just something above your head, you lack the eye of knowledge”
    Friedrich Nietzsche

    Same thing, as long as you see permaculture as just a design tool or career path (Group think), your sight is limited and will not have that lasting effect if you don’t open your mind (and lose the silly perceptions and stigmas). Nature doesn’t have a class or heir-achy or a set “career”. It is the teacher and what we are apart of, forever changing in perpetual motion, most will do well to separate because of programmed interpretations. Nature is truth and does not care for the illusion that surrounds most minds. Time to wake up.

  33. well done Craig, as Bill so plainly state’s
    off with the fairies
    I was only talking to Carolyn Payne the other day about PDC teachers and metaphysics, and the need to leave your beliefs at the door when teaching


  34. I am proof of your first reason for wanting to explore this topic. I stayed away from Permaculture for a years because I was under the impression that it was something for hippies, not that I have anything against hippies (many think I am one), it just wasn’t what I was looking for. It wasn’t until I saw some Geoff Lawnton clips on Youtube that I started to see the science behind it. That combined with the magic word CREATIVITY is what got me really excited. The idea that someone thinks they can teach me what my spirituality is going to be is pretty repulsive I’m afraid. Permaculture just makes sense! Why complicate it.

  35. I just want to add another approving voice to this statement of yours. I agree 100%, let the design science speak for itself. As I am too young to remember the founding days of permaculture, I am almost shocked to see how many folks have encountered “the woo woo” in their PDC.

    What a shame! But as others have said, it appears as if permaculture is beginning to enter “the mainstream” as the well designed systems all around the globe mature.

    I have my own spirituality. That said, I would never impose it on anyone else. Freedom of and from religion and spirituality is so important when there is so much practical knowledge to be taught.

  36. My feelings also. The less of a hippie vibe people get the better it will be excepted especially here in America. But America is a strange place anyway. Farmers in the US are almost always some kind of fringe group. Be it either the organic hippie type, the anti government type, or seems to be most common (to me anyway) the religious nut type. Case in point, i was recently watching a video on youtube with joel salatin. There was a question from an person in the audience that i couldnt hear then he went on to say something about he wasnt an “evolutionist” and he believed the world has been around for a few thousand years. At that moment he lost a large amount of validity from me as went to make the classic *facepalm* motion. So really the key to success in America i think would be to emphasize the urban and suburban aspects of permaculture (no one really has gardens anymore just huge lawns). And to stay with nice mainstream ideas of like: garden to save money, know where your food comes from, etc.

  37. Thanks Craig and Geoff and many others for this clarification. I am sure that people wanting to mix and or not mix will always be a problem.I would say they can tack it on to the outside, but if you try to mix it even a little it starts making it all tacky in my opinion.
    I lean (I think)
    towards atheism and pantheism if that is possible but do not think about it because permaculture has me spiritually occupied.
    If people have to mix it then perhaps they need a new name for the concoction.

  38. Addressing the topic, how spirituality relates to teaching Permaculture, is important. I’m grateful, Craig, that you have brought it up here. It has crossed my mind several times as I took the PDC and as I have worked in the design process, more recently. Luckily, as I have participated in various classes and gatherings, I have not encountered any overt situations where I have felt uncomfortable. I appreciate the technique of a circle of members holding hands and story telling which serve the purpose of illustrating and promoting community but I would not consider it, as some may, a form of spirituality. Spiritually is part of the make-up of being human. A personal thing. There is a line, as you have laid out, that must be drawn for the proper growth of Permaculture. It is so easy to find, with the religious and spiritual exclamation, an offensive tone that is totally unnecessary.

  39. I cannot divorce physical from spiritual. According to my indigenous belief, spirit is science.

    However, I would say that permaculture as we practise it has a huge physical presence and for those who can see, feel, smell, hear and taste ‘permaculture’ is better understood.

    For me this is a better way to promote the science.

  40. After reading a little about spirituality at Wikipedia, I’ve come to learn there is both religious and secular spirituality. But I guess both paths seek for the “transcendent human being”, and according to Nikos Salingaros is traditional Islamic art and architecture the most successful in this aspect, as it in a superior way connects the human being to a larger whole. This not as a subjective opinion, but derived from mathematics and physics. Something to think about for those who disregard traditional religion.

    To get a somewhat idea of which rules Nikos uses to judge such matters, I can recommend his article THE “LIFE” OF A CARPET: AN APPLICATION OF THE ALEXANDER RULES:

  41. I agree that it is important for Permaculture Courses to stay on task with the science of supporting and emulating nature’s systems without trying to convert other people to your spiritual belief.

    It brings forth an interesting challenge though.

    Permaculture provides some people with certain spiritual beliefs a way to ACT on what they believe. The permaculture movement is so solidly connected to natural processes that most anyone who worships nature would feel that it is an automatic expression of their faith….

    Most permaculture practitioners I’ve met have an almost fanatic zeal to sharing and applying permaculture. There is nearly religious devotion to the ideas that waste, operating counter to natural principles and living unconscious to the consequences of our choices are all unacceptable. Spiritual persons with similiar demands from their metaphysical beliefs often assume kinship… which sometimes doesn’t exist.

    It is wise to do as you’ve done to gently but firmly express this. By drawing a line and saying “I LOVE that you are interested in and practice permaculture as part of your faith; however, please recognize that there are a lot of reasons to practice permaculture. By tying your spirituality to it you might actually drive some good people away from learning and practicing permaculture”

    Of course this does work in the opposite way. If a groups were to to say that a spirituality is flat out unwelcome risks a potential rift where there might end up being multiple competing groups of permaculturists with differing spiritual beliefs.

    Just some thoughts.

  42. Thanks Craig and Geoff and many others for this clarification. I am sure that people wanting to mix and or not mix will always be a problem.I would say they can tack it on to the outside, but if you try to mix it even a little it starts making it all tacky in my opinion.
    I lean (I think) towards atheism and pantheism if that is possible but do not think about it because permaculture has me spiritually occupied.
    If people have to mix it then perhaps they need a new name for the concoction.

  43. There is almost insufficient time in the PDC to cover the content without including any other content.
    As a biodynamic practitioner I am well aware of some metaphysical leanings and believe there is plenty of room within permaculture for such things but not in the PDC.
    Having said that – in our recent PDC at Purple Pear we had a Buddhist, a Taoist, an Antroposist and a guy that lived in a yoga ashram and it was a fabulous and harmonious group. Discussions in the evening and during breaks were very interesting but we were full time working within the manual to get through the stuff we had to cover.

  44. What are we trying to achieve when we decide to use a system like permaculture? To design a system that mimics nature to create a sustainable and hyper productive food system. Why would we go to that trouble, if it wasn’t fundamentally necessary for our survival? This is a spiritual issue as much as a physical one, we need to reconnect with the systems of life and understand our place in that system. Because let’s face it, all nature needs to regenerate, is us gone. I think it’s vitally important that people are shown the full aspect of the system they are creating, not just the bones. We are fast approaching a die off, that will be like nothing mankind has ever faced, energy shortages, land degradation and water shortages. We have lost that vital connection with the land and its seasons, these things need to be taught and they need to be taught in conjunction with a permaculture system. It takes more than knowledge to serve a person’s well being, you might produce a beautiful garden, but permaculture as far as I’m concern is about the whole system including the humans that live within it, I don’t agree that specific religions or religious ideals be pushed during a course, but on the same note, nor should the commercial aspects which I suspect is the main reason a lot of people are doing the courses, with no thought on why Permaculture is extremely important to future generations

  45. There are two forks in the road of arguments presented so far. Fork 1 raises the question: Is permaculture a reductionist science or is it a holistic science? If you vote for the former you will put the boot into the need for any discussion on spirituality. If you are inclined towards holistic science then spirituality is part and parcel of that mindset. This brings me to the second fork. If you think spirituality is about religion then again you will have trouble making a connection between permaculture and spirituality. If however you see it being divorced from any form of doctrine or dogma and instead representing an essential essence of what it is to be human (along with emotional, physical and intellectual facets) then you will probably see some sense in permaculture being linked with spirituality. From my point of view, and I administer courses in permaculture at the tertiary level, students who study permaculture are not adverse to learning about the spiritual connection, in fact, look eagerly for an understanding of it, providing one is not spruking on about religion. I don’t preach it but mention it in passing or in reference to a question. It all depends on how it is handled. A final statement: permaculture minus spirituality represents a mindset not that divorced from main stream industrial agriculture.

  46. I’ll keep it short. I can have a deep conversation on philosophical, metaphysical, comparative religious or medically oriented conversation with anyone it does not belong in any permaculture course or book. I cringe every time I have to recommend a piece of work with medical or scientific value and have to tell the recipient to ignore the druggy hippy california accented host and the parts on the tree hugging hippies talking metaphysical/spiritual parts as you will find some good permaculture concepts or medical knowledge. (eat natural grown weeds DVDs are natorious examples. I get comments from non permaculture that permies are all long haired and they associate them with hippies and take more persuasion than normal to focus on the material and not the messenger.

    Metaphysical spiritual types are not our audience as they are already there or at least they should be with respect for and of nature. It’s everyone else that we need to bring aroundand they are extremely religion/metaphysical/spiritual/hippy adverse but responsive to logical arguments and presentation of well thought out materials.


  47. You are spot on. I’m not a permaculturalist even though I agree completely with and practice horticulture based on the concept of permanent agriculture. What turns me off is the permaculture flower. If this is what permaculture has become, I don’t want anything to do with it. To me it’s just another religion – follow us and the earth and civilization will be saved. Permanent regenerative horticulture makes sense and is relatively easy to understand. Although not widely practiced, there are few who would argue that, on first glance, it doesn’t make sense. Just about everything in the permaculture flower implies counter culture and will be argued and oppose by many. And in the process, permanent regenerative horticulture is likely to get lost in the din.

    Keep it simple; stay close to the land and to the original permaculture concepts and everything else will follow in its own time and in its own way.

  48. @ Kerry, thanks for the very good analysis. The way I see it, spirituality is an umbrella term for the cultural or personal guidance we receive on how to view the world and how to behave in it. Spirituality is the process at the larger scale, with less labels and dogma. Religion is specific, focused guidance at a smaller scale, perhaps specific to local areas or regions. Historically, pre-farming, the Sun and Mother Nature represented a large part of spirituality, serving to guide people in how to live appropriately and to survive within nature’s limits on the land. Other gods were created as needed to explain events at the larger scale, such as earthquakes, volcanos, etc.

    Teaching people how to live appropriately within nature without the additional jet fuel that we discovered 200 years ago is what permaculture attempts to do. Some people need less guidance than others, thus the diversion of the terms spirituality and religion? That said, teaching people your own brand of personal religion that is perhaps originally based on growth philosophies will turn people off. Discussion of ethics, values, and spirituality is a part of learning descent. But it is probably best to keep the discussion at the broader, larger scale of values and ethics for natural systems. Religions will develop eventually for a new way of being in the world, but it is too soon for that.

  49. You know, the more I think about this, the more complexity there is. The point is clear however, the PDC should not include metaphysical teachings as part of the curriculum, period! The complexity lies when people start judging others as hippies, “californians”, and the like for the beliefs that they have. This is beginning to reflect a disgusting intolerance. It seems many are unwilling to accept people as they are. This is a very human thing directly tied to spiritual growth, or lack thereof. Anybody who is harboring such judgments might want to ask themselves how well they can design if they despise certain people so much? It goes back to my original point that permaculture actually is belief based (i.e. the ethics) and is therefore in many ways incompatible with science as science is commonly understood in the modern world. Monsanto has many scientist working for them and they actively argue that anybody who is against GMO’s is anti-science. In a lot of scientists minds, there permaculture goes out the window! Permaculture should stand on it’s own footings, not actively trying to gain the approval of the scientific community or any particular spiritual community. Permaculture is about earth care and people care, period. In a lot of ways science is totally ridiculous; in a lot of ways spirituality is totally ridiculous. I don’t think it is wise for permaculture take a side in the age old battle between science and religion. I will end with a quote from Wendell Berry’s essay The Way of Ignorance, “One response to the manifest implication of science in certain kinds of destruction is to say we need more science, or more and better science. I am inclined to honor this proposition, if I am allowed to add that we also need more than science.”

  50. To echo what has been said by many others. I was turned on to permaculture precisely because it was such a clear cut logical way of designing and living in the world. I would have been turned off permaculture if my PDC had had spirituality woven throughout it. Thankfully it did not as it changed my life and career path completely.

  51. For what it is worth, my research integrating permaculture into secondary science has at least one important implication relating to your thoughts. The year 10 science teacher told me afterward that at the beginning he thought permaculture was about hippy tree hugging, but after the 12 week project in his classroom he said, “Now I realize that permaculture is all about science…applied science.” I believe emphasizing the science of permaculture is crucial for attracting more people to the movement – especially teachers, and especially secondary science teachers where so much potential for partnership exists. Peace, NL

  52. One thing this comments thread has done, is inspiring me to read Alexander’s “The Luminous Ground”:

    This is the book in The Nature of Order series that deal most with spiritual/religious/philosophical questions.

    Spirituality that doesn’t materialize in a higher order in our items and built structure and landscapes, has no point. So far religious spirituality has been the most successful in this aspect, in creating ego-less structures where the self is absent. Today’s modernism is screaming look at me, look at me, and the culture that created these buildings has definitely no spirituality at all.

    “In early times the city itself was intended as an image of the universe – its form guarantee of the connection between the heavens and the earth, a picture of a whole and coherent way of life. A living pattern language is even more. It shows each person his connection to the world in terms so powerful that he can re-affirm it daily by using it to create new life in all the places round about him.

    And in this sense, finally, as we shall see, the living language is a gate. Once we have built the gate, we can pass through it to practice the timeless way.” – Christopher Alexander

    It’s a parody that in our time with so much “spirituality” this doesn’t manage to materialize in our physical world at all. If what we make express nothing but ego, then we are not connected to any spirituality, one can almost wonder if even spirituality today has become a kind of ego-trip. Like ALL these soulless starchitecture-structures that surrounds us today.

  53. Design science is a bit of a misnomer. Permaculture is design and would more conventionally be called an applied science or engineering. Nothing wrong with being an engineering field and doing design. But unless you’re doing research, especially utilizing the scientific method, you’re not doing science.

    The problem is the engineering fields don’t have their foundations in ethics, only science. But regardless of how much science is involved, permaculture is built upon the foundation of the three ethics and is frequently about a new way of life; meaning it has left the strictly scientific/engineering realm and entered the realm of morality & ethics which are the domain of religion.

    The other issue you’re banging up against is that science isn’t necessarily some perfect, certain, true thing akin to nature. To the contrary what we call science is often wrong, biased, bought off and subject to blind faith in fads and wrong theories and paradigms. In many ways it has very much become our modern religion and pitted against the religions of old by those who wish to deny the spiritual. So your opposition to metaphysical in permaculture may be noble or it may simply be a reflection of your own religion.

    You talk of including the spiritual in permaculture limiting its reach. A few thoughts there. One of the big factors limiting its reach in the industrialized countries is that permaculture is juxtaposed against consumerism, which is very much the religion of our day. Since you’re acting and thinking like an evangelist it would profit you to take some lessons from religious missionaries. In the missionary field they have a concept called contextualization. You can’t take a belief system (which with its ethics permaculture is) and plunk it cookie cutter into a new culture. It needs to adapt to the human climate.

    When you bring Permaculture without spirituality to a people who have religious or spiritual beliefs, especially ones outside the so called first world, they may well view it as part of Western secular scientific opposed to spirituality (which it often sounds like). You run the risk, intentionally or not, of being an evangelist not for a design system but for a western, secular, atheistic way of thought.

    Now from a conceptualization standpoint you’ll have more success if you show how the peoples religious beliefs support and affirm what permaculture is teaching they’ll be a lot more likely to listen to you than if you come at them with an approach that rejects the metaphysical.

    So Permaculture is a design system. Is it just for designing food production or is it for designing permanent culture as some would claim? If you’re going to be designing whole human systems and communities and culture then you must somewhere incorporate spirituality of some sort. Spirituality is pretty much a universal aspect of humanity. If you say human culture doesn’t need/shouldn’t have spirituality then you’re violating what can be observed in nature about humans. If you agree that it must be a part then how can we truly claim to design permanent culture without it?

    None of which is to say there is even time to address this in a PDC but it is a glaring hole that does not seem to have been thoroughly addressed which is why I think this issue keeps flaring up.

  54. @Peter Willis: I’m very curious of what U.S. state department was involved in your PDC as well as what misinformation turned them off of permaculture.

  55. I strongly agree with vegeta’s comment. Since most Americans live in cities and suburbs, any discussion of permaculture (at least in the US) ought to begin with its application in these settings. Also, since economizing on money (an F-word for many on this forum ^^;) to make life easier for family & friends is the main concern for most Americans, the money-saving benefits of applied permaculture should be emphasized. From there, one can begin to go into more holistic subjects; most Americans live quite divorced from the rhythms of nature, so talking about PC the farmer’s or tribal’s way can quickly become counterproductive.

    I suppose that the use of spiritual metaphors to convey permaculture concepts is valid if the audience comes from a society where spiritual metaphors see a lot of use. Otherwise, if the audience is more secular in their choice of metaphors, best to stick to secular metaphors.

  56. Pete. From the contextualization aspect for introduction, to the reminder of the holistic needs of perma-agriculture and perma-social-culture and how perma-social-culture will require spiritual aspects to be truly sustainable, your input was excellent. Thank You.

  57. Thank you for posting this! As a skeptic, I have always ‘skipped over’ the spiritual things I have encountered in Permaculture literature. My husband is a LESS forgiving skeptic, and would immediately turn down Permaculture as “BS”. I have had much trouble convincing him, but I’m working on it. So, spirituality included in Permaculture alienates skeptics, to some extent. In addition, as an American, I know that Christians would find the spirituality aspect off-putting, and some strict Christians might even think of the spirituality aspect as a tool of Satan. (No, I’m not kidding. I wish I were.) So, including ‘spirituality’ in Permaculture definitely would alienate some/most Christians, at least in America. People in general are frequently skeptical of things that they consider “weird” or “crazy”, and a lot of people would lump Permaculture in with the “weird” spirituality, say it’s all weird, and dismiss it without a fair trial. (Spiritual people, I am not saying that you’re weird. But I *am* saying that ‘mainstream’ people are likely to view you as such.) We have now alienated (1) skeptics, (2) Christians, and (3) ‘mainstream’ people (whatever you consider ‘mainstream’ to be). And when you consider that many skeptics are scientists, now you’ve alienated a lot of people who might otherwise be interested in Permaculture, and even some who could perform experiments to validate Permaculture’s findings in the lab. If spiritual people feel that Permaculture should have spirituality as an integral part of it, let them add it personally, the way they have added spirituality to their work, their rituals, their play, their vacations, etc. I don’t think that Permaculture should be *hostile* towards spirituality, I just don’t think it should include spirituality as part of its curriculum.

  58. Thanks Craig,
    Great to see you continue this conversation. I agree that there is a lot of airy fairy takes on spirituality in the permaculture world. We also have to see that we are in the midst of a time of duality between outdated world-views and new emerging metaphors. As the stories of our civilisation collapse all around us, new ones are emerging… and there are many listening for new stories.
    A rounded permaculture designer needs to have a good understanding of metaphysics … not to be afraid of it – you can read about it in wikipedia.
    We need to put this all in the perspective of the systemic crises that we find ourselves in. This is a ‘spiritual’ cosmological, paradigmatic shift.
    As a 2nd generation hippie, later trained as an urban planner, and now after 8 years as a permaculture teacher I see more and more that permaculture, which we might also call something like ‘regenerative design’ is a powerful response – as designs coming revolution … founded on a more accurate understanding of reality. It is a cultural learning process that enables us to develop the values, knowledge and skills of transition and avoid, or ride through seemingly inevitable discontinuity.
    So, our systemic crises, or crises of ethics, is in essence a deep spiritual crises. Such a crises requires a systemic response. If we look at the root of our actions we begin to see a nested hierarchy … we see societal norms, deeply embedded values, theories, paradigms all the way back to cosmology. We can see that our actions are informed by our perceptions and that we are largely in the midst of a great crisis of perception. The views many of our people hold are simply outdated, and insufficient for resolving the problems of our world.
    It is one thing to change our actions, but if we do not experience a change in our thinking and way we see the world, we only end up recreating the same mess but in a different colour … like green consumerism.
    As Sterling has shown us its not so much about being more efficient (adaptive response), or about substituting unsustainable things for more sustainable (reformative response), but really about a transformative response – transforming the way we see the world. He suggests like Peter Senge that “learning is change is movement of mind”. He suggests we need to create accelerated learning pathways that enable people to learn, know and see anew. That we are co-creating new cosmologies that inform our paradigms, values and actions.
    The basis of these new metaphors for life are not so airy fairy. (1) an ecological understanding that everything is connected and that life sustains life by nurturing community and (2) that reality is a socially constructed and participatory phenomenon that we have the power to co-create.
    These guys below do a much better job than me.
    D. Meadows
    F. Capra
    E. Sahtouris
    J. Macy
    S. Sterling
    We might also turn to the sustainability literacy handbook, and the Ecovillage Design Curriculum, Skills for Sustainable Communities.

  59. Craig says: Permaculture is a science. I think we need to unpack what this word science means. Many traditions use the word science to give their “movement” acceptability (see for eg social science). Even ecology, once seen as the interconnected science has become as reductionist as any other science (eg the analysis of the distribution and abundance of species).

    Science, as practiced, is by a large, a reductionist, faith based practice. Science, as practiced, is the handmaiden of capitalism and industry. Science has been formed and deformed by capitalism. Science is one way of knowing, and certainly not the only way. Science is the core of the military/industrial/corporate complex. Science makes the world subject to human domination.

    So when we say permaculture is a science what does that mean? Science is, by and large, a controlled, laboratory-led process of discovery meaning that it excludes the world around us, excludes the body as a way of knowing, excludes emotion, the messiness of the world.

    Craig denounces “spiritual” practices being taught in permaculture courses (and I agree with that). I would extend that to ensure that we fully understand the limitations of the scientific way of knowing.

    I really think we need a new descriptor of permaculture that does not try to ride on the coattails of (exploitative) science for its authority. A design science – bah, humbug (in the spirit of the season!)

  60. Having read through the comments so far, it appears that we have two camps. There is one camp where the people wish to avoid spirituality, in all its forms. And another camp where the people are already spiritually enlightened.
    Those who have ever asked “Why was I born?” and made a serious attempt to discover the answer have already entered a spiritual path which they realise encompasses all of life. They know that they are more than a body, and that their body was manifested by spirit. I know many will disagree with that statement, but that doesn’t make it untrue.

    An understanding of nature spirits is essential for an effective permaculture designer, whether he speaks of his understanding or not. Trying to ignore the existence of nature spirits is like discussing the fish and ignoring the water.

    I realise that many people have not yet transited from the old world thinking, and many even deny that the world is changing its way of thinking.
    But for the many who are aware, they see that the understanding of nature is a primary requirement for the survival of our planet’s ecosystems.
    I discovered spirituality before permaculture, and I would now say that any spiritual person would accept permaculture at least as readily as they accept nature.
    Anybody who thinks the hippie thing and permaculture have any direct association probably hold many other misconceptions too, so there is no point in trying to pander to their obscure needs. There are so many misconceptions about hippies, permaculture and spirituality that it would appear some serious study of life is necessary before some serious damage is created due to misconceived ideas. Is there a chance that permaculture is wrong?
    Yes there is. And that chance is that it sets itself aside from something, and dismisses part of the whole.
    If permaculture is to be complete, it MUST include spirituality, because the one creator of everything created permaculture too.
    If you object to anything in that statement, please Google your objection, and read carefully.



  61. “How we behave now may determine not only the future, but the past (and all time). think of that, and realize that you are really where its at, no matter wheren you are! I find great personal meaning in the Australian Aboriginal life ethic, and little enough comfort in any pie-in-the-sky.
    If its MY actions which determine the sky, I want it to be full of life, and I choose to believe that I am part of all that action, with my own job to do in this life form, and other jobs to do in other phases. ”

    Bill Mollison Permaculture Designers Manual, Page 94

    Just thought I’d throw in something interesting, and see what happens : )

  62. I see we are moving into that murky territory of defining and labeling, whats permaculture, whats science, whats design science? Where does spirit fit, etc?
    This is where we loose potential people from the movement, as soon as we spend time trying to define the elements which inhabit the realm of personal belief anyone who has a strong (metaphysical or anti-metaphysical) belief system already internalized, just walks away as they will refuse to be indoctrinated into something that suggests they need to change their (metaphysical) belief system. Many parts of the world need permaculture, urgently, and mostly those parts already have their own colors and patterns of metaphysics(to be observed in context and worked with as an element)
    We risk continuing to alienate whole sections of humanity from permaculture.
    It is important to leave your personal, internal, spiritual workings aside, and let the clear, practical directives of Permaculture do the work.
    I know it will be offensive for some, if I was to suggest that often the “spiritual’ elements promoted in permaculture are mere selling points, a sales pitch, something to cash in on. Many people out there are in need of something, and are searching for answers. I find myself a little cynical when it comes to sales, knowing that woolly, fluffy, feel-good elements can be easily marketed to vulnerable people.

  63. As a newbie to the enlightened science of Permaculture, I enjoy the actual and potential strength it represents. As a product of science and belief myself, I have respect for both values, and in embracing the science, I am reminded of my personal ‘spiritual health’ at the same time. I see others science and spiritual elements in their beautiful natural diversity, sometimes operating in apparent spiritual void, sometimes in spiritual monoculture, sometimes spiritually diverse, but always growing in cycles. Its only my view, but as long as an organisation which is routed in science, has respect for any individual or group spiritual beliefs (or abstainance from it) then i believe success will come. Let’s make sure it does!

  64. I think that most who have commented that actually teach the PDC know it is nearly impossible (and undesirable) to fit much more into the time frame. I also think culturally it is inappropriate to teach through a lens of spirituality that perhaps many participants won’t want or need. I agree with that and feel that was the sole point of Craig’s article. Where it has gone in the comments is extremely valuable territory however. Permaculture is a global movement, like it or not, and there will be many points of view. If it is to really take root in diverse cultures around the world it will likely have to root into the spiritual framework of each culture. That does not mean it should be taught from a spiritual framework. I also don’t think it should be taught from a strictly scientific framework. In my view permaculture will never satisfy the overtly spiritual or the overtly scientific. Permaculture is its own unique “science” or framework. To deny that permaculture has both scientific and spiritual (more like some sort of aboriginal taoist) origins is to admit to not having read the Designer’s Manual or David Holmgren’s works carefully. The problem lies in that there is a natural tendency within people to try and fit all that they have ever been interested in under one framework, hence the issue with permaculture/spirituality/science. It is important to let things stand on their own however. It is important to acknowledge that it is not one thing that makes us who we are, but a collection of things, like a cultural ecology. No need to homogenize it all together, and no need to discount one over the other.

  65. Well said, Carolyn Payne and well said, Jason Gerhardt. However, I think the longer this thread goes on, interesting as it may be, the more divisive and polarising it is likely to get.

    There is already evidence in some posts of attempts to separate people into one ‘camp’ or another, to promote one viewpoint or another as the only correct one (the idea that ‘my’ view is more valid than ‘yours’, that ‘I’ am ‘enlightened’ or ‘awake’ and ‘you’ are obviously not).

    Irrespective of the truth or otherwise behind such positing, taking stands like that on such subjective issues is damaging to the promotion of any cause and I think would be the main reason for the call to keep the teaching of permaculture well away from such controversial, provocative and divisive subjects.

    In an attempt to find a solution to this dilemma I would like to put forward a suggestion that perhaps each PDC course should include a brief statement to the effect that while permaculture may be embraced universally and fit naturally into any political, religious, spiritual or other community based or individual social paradigm, it stands alone from, does not affiliate with, promote or otherwise recommend any such system.

  66. There are two issues with “metaphysics” (let’s just use this term to lump everthing together that is in some way belief-based).

    (1) Actually, when one is able to see through rituals and rules to the core of various belief systems, they pretty much all are about the same deep issues. This is what Gandhi referred to when he said that “I am a Muslim and a Hindu and a Christian and a Jew and so are all of you.”

    (2) Any system of organized belief is bound to run into trouble as soon as it evolves specialist roles tied to power (i.e. “priests”, in the widest sense). This is because such power will inevitably attract a certain type of person least able to fill out that role, and also because such power over people has a natural tendency to corrupt.

    Two examples immediately come to my mind. Quite a bit of what we know about Tibetan Buddhism in the West has been shaped by the writings of Sogyal Rinpoche (e.g. “The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying”). There are a number of very valuable and useful insights in his writings, but likewise, there also are a number of places that clearly cry out “this reads as if priests invented this to have job security”. I won’t comment on allegations against Rinpoche concerning abusing his teacher role on certain occasions in very inappropriate ways, for, as far as I can tell, there is one claim standing against another here. But regardless of whether these accusations are valid or not in that particular case – the problem of “priests” abusing their status certainly exists. Not that it were any different with train conductors, professors, computer system administrators, physicians, or any other role that is tied to abuse-able power. But when it comes to telling people what to believe, that is a much more fundamental – and hence difficult – category.

    A much more interesting example probably is Krishnamurti, who, in young years, being regarded as “the coming world teacher” by a group of Theosophists, told his followers one day that, as soon as you approach spirituality by buying a pre-packaged solution rather than following the path to search Truth out of a deep inner motivation for Truth and nothing above it, you’ve lost it.

    In Krishnamurti’s words, “Truth is a Pathless Land”.

    So, in brief, the answer is: Spirituality should not be part of Permaculture design, not because it would not be part of the human experience, but because we cannot teach it. We can teach garden design, energy management, and a number of other key things though.

    Actually, I do see some patterns that suggest some people actually would like to see Permaculture becoming a quasi-religious belief system with its own set of commandments, perhaps based on Odum’s ideas. Now, this is of course only my personal opinion, but I am actually quite concerned about this.

    From the scientific perspective, there is a lot in what Odum wrote that does not seem to make much sense at all. (I do actually happen to have a professional background in thermodynamics – even though I do not normally like to emphasize this, so this is a qualified scientist opinion.) There have been a number of papers published on “Emergy” in somewhat questionable journals that I consider as utter nonsense. I do agree that the “Emergy” idea at first seems to be an attractive one. But I have serious doubts about whether Odum even came close to having any valuable insights into the question.

    In my view, there are a number of ways in which spirituality may arise as a topic in Permaculture education. After all, it’s just a fact of life that various people due to various reasons decided to believe various things. So, it certainly is valid to ask the question: what are the elements of various belief systems that allows us to connect with people from all sorts of cultural backgrounds to further the cause of earth repair? Richard St Barbe Baker (the “Man of the Trees”) was quite successful with this.

    But beyond that, I would strongly suggest being very cautious about mixing permaculture with metaphysical beliefs. If I had to name the single most dangerous thing I can imagine that might pervert Permaculture, it would be this.

  67. Teachers of anything, whether it be permaculture or English, all have the same end objective –
    – trying to bring the best out of people, trying to help them to achieve and manifest the desires of their own higher self.

    If we were to limit the spirituality in permaculture to an understanding that is apparent to everyone, i.e. – permaculture spirit is understood as one’s own higher self, or similar words then we there is no dispute, and we are all one – and we may have all learned something – thank you Craig – please edit accordingly if you find it useful

  68. Wow! That was one hot potato you chucked out there Craig!

    What does it matter if The PDC doesn’t explicitly cover spirituality. As long as it does not deny people the right to explore those ideas for themselves.
    If the course is taught in a way that produces effective designers and practitioners that are able to create settlements that support people while building natural capital instead of destroying it I see no need for including these “un-proveables”.

    I have heard permaculture be described as a tool kit that lots of other concepts fit into. To an extent I agree but i think that we need to avoid the dogma that describes it as “The Toolkit” that everything fits into.

    I like to think of my mind as a tool shed filled with many tools (concepts, ideas, systems)on many shelves. Some are outdated, rusty and gathering dust in a corner while others are used regularly, maintained. The Permaculture toolkit is one of the latter.

  69. Though personally i have spiritual beliefs that i feel mesh closely with permaculture, i do not believe there is a place in permaculture teachings for spirituality.

    If you want to take a holistic approach, then do so… incorporate your beliefs in your design, any way you want. You can even teach your concept, but its not permaculture.

    Permaculture is about analysis and design… Spirituality doesn’t need analysis or design… Simple as that.

  70. David,

    ad “Teachers of anything, whether it be permaculture or English, all have the same end objective — trying to bring the best out of people, trying to help them to achieve and manifest the desires of their own higher self.”

    Maybe it’s time to shatter some illusions here…

    In the UK, there are strong indications of a very worrying trend that the education system no longer is about helping people to realize their potential, but about teachers pretending to teach, pupils pretending to put sweat and effort into learning, everybody from time to time pretending to have a real exam, and just bending the rules wherever possible so that in the end everybody is happy with lots of pupils getting very high grades – everything looks great but just don’t dare to challenge the illusion.

  71. @Donovan Wentworth. Hi Donovan, the State was North Dakota. The info was various statements from the teacher about natural systems followed by the conclusion “and that’s meant to be impossible, science doesn’t understand that”. Since these guys were scientists it particularly rubbed them the wrong way, apart from them explaining why it was possible anyway and understood. We also had a few days with a soil specialist and one of the three scientists was able to point out how and why he was wrong. Leaving the permie teacher standing in front of the class saying, “well tell me the answer, I’d like to have this right”. Great sentiment but I think the credibility of the course was fairly shredded by then for the US people.

  72. “mixing up one’s subjective beliefs into a permaculture course translates to erecting barriers to permaculture uptake, and also translates to undermining the work of other permaculture teachers.”

    1. in my experience, the price of permaculture courses is generally the greatest barrier.

    2. should people teaching permaculture regard themselves as uncommon, and aim to be accessible to the mainstream, stripping out anything that may discourage some from taking part? or are we part of a consciousness shift, where all decisions, plans etc should be viewed from a permaculture perspective – and so have plenty room for all kinds of colours of permaculture (and more tolerance for human diversity than many of these comments)…

    personally, i think that one of the biggest barriers against people looking into spirituality, is the division of practical and spritual, the body/spirit duality ingrained in most religions… and the so called new age movement does a great job of perpetuating this worldview and so discouraging anyone who isnt ‘away with the faeries’ from exploring metaphysical stuff….

    there is no seperation. the most spiritual thing any of us can do is to help nature heal and increase diversity.
    permaculture is spiritual.
    new age capitalism is not.
    (and i am not too happy when i see permaculture capitalism).

    this article only makes sense if you see spirituality as something seperate from ‘real work’ (or other puritan stuff), or only as quackery, conning middle class hippies out of their cash….

  73. opened a can of worms, I’m hungry so I’ll bite the hook…

    This topic is one I haven’t stopped thinking about since I took my PDC with Rhamis Kent nearly two years ago. Rhamis strongly emphasized the roots of permaculture as “a response to a perceived social problem”. This has been in the backdrop of every lecture or discussion I’ve given since. Many of these talks have even taken place in a religious venue/context, though I’ve done my best to keep the religious and spiritual dimensions out of the conversation. The one exception was last winter when I hosted a discussion on the very topic of “does spirituality have a place in permaculture”, mostly because of my unsettled feelings on the topic. I say all this as context, because while I agree with this article on many levels, (at the risk of ostracizing myself) I have to argue strongly with the concluscions being made in this thread.

    There is a tone to this article that assumes so called objective science is truth. This in itself is an objective belief, relatively new in the human experience, and developed mostly in western culture. Using the scientific method to prove science is objectively true is like using the Bible or Koran to prove Judaism, Christianity or Islam is true.

    This leads to a proclamation I’ve heard touted multiple times, that we humans can design systems better than nature. There’s two blatant statements of “subjective belief” buried inside. The first is that we are not nature. We are separate and different from nature. Better and higher than nature. Since we all work in natural systems I can’t imagine how any of us can perceive ourselves as unnatural, or not part of nature. While that may not have been the intention, thats the implication. The second is the word “better”. Better for whom? Better according to whom? This assumes what’s best for us (often an immediate best) is what’s best for the world. Accelerated succession is probably the most exciting and powerful tool for human survival on the planet, but we can’t actually know that that’s the best thing for the planet. It’s a statement of faith (one that I put faith in, but I still recognize it as such). I see this as our unique niche within the biome, one that has existed since we’ve existed (here I put my faith in the anthropologist).

    Every example of a sustainable culture I know of didn’t believe themselves as above or apart from nature, and this what I perceive the social problem to be: that we imagine ourselves as not a part of nature, that while we can benefit it and it can benefit us, we are separate from it. Sustainable cultures followed the rule of nature, I eat you and one day you will eat me. We share this place and we can’t exist without one another (science calls the symbiosis).

    Much of science believes we live in a cause and effect universe without a purpose or goal. The world is a machine, and we need only learn how the components work and then we can properly control and use it. Many permaculturists have a background in engineering and so view the world in a very mechanistic way. Species are generic interchangeable parts that will behave a certain way in certain conditions. We need only to engineer a better living machine. This is reductionist thinking that assumes the earth doesn’t have it own will or intention, or if it does than it is inferior to ours. Strangely Mollison references lovelock’s Gaia hypothesis in the designers manual, which certainly wasn’t accepted by the objective, reductionist science community. I am grateful to engineer types like Geoff and Rhamis and their gifts to me and to the world through permaculture. I just understand the mechanistic approach as one way, certainly not the only or best way of looking at things. Fukuoka and Mollison seemed to have very different ideas about essentially the same thing and we’re all lucky to have their work to draw from.

    permaculture itself came out of a perceived (subjectively understood) social problem. We live different lives in different parts of the world with different values, beliefs and most importantly local problems. We might think the problem is money, capitalism, industrialism, lack of religion, too much religion, science, separation, white people, or domestication of plants and animals…which eventually lead to the domestication of people (agricultural civilization). I feel obligated to tell those I teach about permaculture my perception of the problem, which the insane belief that we are not nature or are beyond nature. I then speak of permaculture as a powerful tool that we can use to rediscover our place our ecosystem. Humans are a keystone species in nearly any ecosystem but we’ve forgotten our place. I usually tell them that permaculture is a powerful tool, and you may not use it the way I do or for the same reasons, but I’m going to give it to you in trust that you’ll use it to tackle the problems in you community or how you understand the world. From there on out I instruct and demonstrate as a science and technique. I’d rather be honest with my subjectivity than to pretend that it doesn’t exist. That delusion is part of what I perceive to be the problem…

  74. wow what a discussion!
    With respect to all views I will chip in with mine.
    First things first:I am in for spiritual diversity and definitely against a global spiritual monoculture of any type. Now,belief systems offer permaculturists a very interesting and vast field of research as they’re nothing more than -rather intergrating I have to admit- designs themselves. They include strategies for managing anything from our food, body,community,currency,culture,natural capital to the perception of reality and connection with the best in us (who performs the management is another story). Belief systems heve been offering a tool for survival over thousands and thousands of years by the art of mnemonics (μνήμη, pr. mneme: memory). People had to remember their history, and the legacy of their ancestors knowledge,generations worth of observation on climate, astronomy, nature’s cirles, health, psycology,etc, practically all the vital sectors.There was no written word. Those were days of innocence. We are now way passed them and hopefully approaching them again -everything circles. Whatever is saved can and must be researched and this is the connection I see betwen spirituality and permaculture. Ok, this is a big post for my standards. One last thing: believers or not, always do your research before presenting anything as a fact.Simply no room for dogmata anymore.. The field of spirituallity lies open to the intellect too. If we are so sure of our beliefs, then putting them under scientific scrutiny should be something we welcome, right?

  75. @ Stamatina, I see you mention MEMES. Surely memes play a huge part in spirituality, and I admit I’ve inherited my religious memes from my ancestors. I admit my own memes might be terrible irrational, and from one point of view I see this is true, from the rationalistic and “atheistic” side of my personality (I have a split personality, one metaphysical and one rational, and the rational part of me look upon my metaphysical side with skepticism). But they are a part of my personality, and I want to spend my energy on more important stuff than fighting my memes. Because this is a terrible painfully process.

    On the other side, as my spiritual memes are part of my personality, and I see to change them is a painful process, why transferring this pain to other people for the purpose to change their spiritual memes? Of course, if a permaculture teacher preaches his memes in a position of power, as a teacher is, this is of course offensive and painful to people with other memes. As spiritual memes are such an ingrained part of our personalities.

    Although the following piece by Nikos Salingaros is about modernistic memes, I think his essay can give great insight in spiritual memes as well.

    – Darwinian Processes and Memes in Architecture: A Memetic Theory of Modernism:

  76. I butt in again as I find this thread one of the most interesting on the Internet.

    I see that we are gradually proceeding towards some kind of consensus, whereby everyone draws their horns in a little, and then the interlocking stops. I fact I see that there is a chance that the sceptics and true believers could become as one, with permaculture being the catalyst for enlightenment.

    But be that as it may, I offer a small idea where I believe the two an be intertwined to benefit.

    Practical uses of spirituality in Permaculture.

    I suppose most people would consider Buddhism to be a spiritual topic, so let’s look at the Buddha’s favourite vipassana mediation.

    Here, we take a central thought, a plant for example, and we consider that thought from every aspect possible. We look at its position in the macrocosm, or outside environment, and we examine the molecules and atoms that the plant consist of. When we have finished, we know much more about the plant, and now our permaculture observation will take no extra effort, but will be so much more effective.

  77. David, you presume too much and attempt to speak for too many. Please don’t think that it is skeptics(for want of a better word) who wish to see permaculture free of metaphysics. Don’t create the two camps thing, where you consider people either enlightened and desiring of metaphysics in permaculture or as unenlightened and in need of conversion (this is where people get their backs up) There are many religious/spiritually connected people in permaculture who have no need or desire to share that part of themselves (because its private) with anyone. You seem very content to see metaphysics included in permaculture, when I feel the majority of people on this thread have said, leave it out. (To desire everyone to share your level of enlightenment is selfish)
    Every time someone wants to include the ‘new age isms’ into permaculture it block out assess to a whole range of people, namely atheists, agnostics, and anyone who is already devout in their beliefs. That’s a lot of people to alienate. My solution to this alienation, leave your beliefs at the door.

  78. Hello Carolyn,

    I hear you, and understand where you are coming from.

    I too was a devout atheist for many years, mainly because I was unable to separate spirituality from religion, and at that time would have written similar words to yourself. I would have rejected Permaculture if I thought it was religious, when in fact it is more like it’s own religion than any other. And today, if I thought it was based on ‘New-ageisms’, I would also reject it. Fortunately we can differentiate between spirituality and New Ageisms, knowing that spirituality is older than the human race.

    I just wonder how permaculture has wandered so far from the concepts of its founding fathers, and whether it is wandering in the right direction.

    I base my statements on the thoughts of our enlightened founders.

    Bill Mollinson, the founder of Permaculture, presents his ideas on solving the world’s environmental, financial and spiritual problems in Global Gardener.

    This was on TV some time in the 1990’s I think

    And from much earlier – Fukuoka Masanobu
    “Natural farming, in my mind is, in fact, not part of so-called scientific agriculture. I aim to establish a new farming method from the perspective of Eastern philosophy, thought, and religion, moving away from the framework of scientific agriculture.”

    I agree we do not need to publicise that spirituality is included, as it is a part of everything, or rather everything is a part of spirituality.

    Once we have recognised our true spiritual nature, we free ourselves of our old inhibitions and let new ideas flow. Spirituality is not really gaining something – it is simply removing obstacles, some of which we were unable to recognise. These are the same kind of obstacles that prevent permaculture being widely accepted.

    We must beware of taking an anti-spiritual stance. More and more people are realising their spirituality every day, and confirming that Bill Mollinson and Fukuoka Masanobu had strong foundations for their concepts.

  79. @ Carolyn, as for blocking out atheists and agnostics, it would also block out about 1 billion Muslims and 1 billion Christians. From what I see from this comments thread it seems like those who want to include spirituality in permaculture, think dogmatic religions are not spiritual. To me this is very offensive!

  80. Yes Øyvind, though I don’t share your connection with dogmatic religion I think that you have a perfect right to find offensive certain comments made by those who try to promote their own, usually narrow, definition of spirituality as being in some way an integral component of permaculture.

    I have occasionally come in contact with this type of ‘spiritual’ person in the past and they generally present an image of being obnoxious, arrogant, illogical and overbearing. I suspect this is in part why people generally shun anything that advertises a connection with the spiritual side of things.

    Professedly spiritual people are also frequently bloody argumentative, losing no opportunity to somewhat forcefully explain their lofty ideas to those who they consider as not having progressed as far along the spiritual path as themselves.

    I find that it is a waste of time trying to argue with them because they have woven their personal reality around concepts that cannot actually be proven but which they hold as factual truths. Of course, they would maintain that these truths are proven experientially to certain individuals by the virtuous aquisition of some form of inner knowledge. They also tend to hold the view that their personal version of existence is somehow superior to that of other people due to the elevated position which they consider having themselves achieved on the evolutionary ladder to spiritual perfection.

    Not the sort of person with which down-to-earth folk would normally choose to associate and even those who would privately claim to have a level of sensitivity to their own spiritual nature, might, except on a really good day, find difficult to tolerate.

  81. Really great article Craig, I’m glad someone identified this and wasn’t afraid to bring it up. I myself have been discouraged from joining certain permaculture establishments because of their spiritual aspects. I am a christian and believe that permaculture is for everyone, I do not discriminate against these types of people, nor would I mind being a part of their establishments if they did not set about making permaculture into a spiritual sect.

    This is the answer as to why permaculture has been a marginalized idea since its formation as a movement in the 1970s.

  82. Delight in the everlasting peace is an experience available to every living creature.
    Once experienced, it can never be forgotten. It abounds with love.

    I retire from this discussion with one last and final effort.

    The experience of everlasting peace can be gained through permaculture, as our founders apparently discovered. Once experienced, life becomes so much less stressful, and so much more fruitful, that the results of any effort are magnified.
    We become less involved in striving, and more involved in thriving.
    I have made a serious effort to attempt to include the possibility of this experience in these discussions, but most people seem more interested in striving.
    I apologise for any bad feeling created – it was entirely unintentional on my part and a product of thought on yours.

    Peace and prosperity to all


  83. I wrote my previous post in the early hours of the morning and I am not sure if it accurately conveyed my thoughts. Let me make it clear what I intended to say.

    Personal views about a certain type of spirituality, similar to those held by David West, I think are the sort of views which would result in the off-hand rejection of permaculture by many sections of the population who may genuinely be looking for a way forward and for some ‘thing’, some practical, proven methodology with which they can associate and learn from.

    The ideas behind such spirituality are exclusive, illogical and, to many, offensive. Their proponents are generally not easy to deal with and it is nigh on impossible to get them to understand that (some) other people are not only not interested in their views but are actually put-off by them. Included among those who could be put-off or offended are many who would inwardly lay claim to and perhaps even occasionally outwardly express some form of spiritual self of their own.

    No-one likes others who profess having some higher level of knowledge to themselves. Actually that is not universally true. There are many gullible folk who rather than think for themselves rely on the superior knowledge of others. I think this is why people who claim higher experience or knowing, do it. It is a power trip of sorts and gives them a hold over other people, a following, or at least it gives them a sense of their own elevated status. Examples can be found everywhere these days.

    I know that my hackles rise whenever I come across this and I think it would be a mistake to provide those ideas with any sort of legitimacy by including them within the teaching of permaculture. Indeed it is my view that permaculture would be best served, as I said in an earlier post, by disassociating its teaching from any form of belief system. In this way it will retain maximum inclusiveness which IMHO is a very desirable attribute.

  84. Good one Craig, an endless but irresistible discussion! I agree that there is no place for overt discussion of any particular “brand” of spirituality in a PDC curriculum, and also that this is a strong turn-off for many potential students. We should not, however, fall into the trap of believing ourselves to be totally “objective” – this denies our humanity, which is highly subjective. The fact that Permaculture is built on a foundation of ethics means that it is a discipline where the subjective dimension and an intentional direction are acknowledged, and this is enough. Teachers can be deeply informed by spirituality in their practice, and pass this on in a constructive way to students through lived example, without detailing or pushing their particular spiritual understanding.
    This may be another discussion altogether, but I am very curious about the earlier comment about Holmgren’s “Permaculture flower” being a big turn-off because it strongly suggests counter-culture. Are there lots of Permaculture people who feel this way? I personally think the flower is an elegant representation of a truly holistic approach to Permanent Culture, which is the necessary context for Permanent Agriculture. If the dominant culture is destroying the biosphere, surely we are in the business of building a “counter-culture”?

  85. The culture many of us were born into is destroying the planet through turning the living world into money, destroying every other culture through “economic development” and destroying ourselves as evidenced by the addiction to pharmaceutical mood enhancing drugs and alcohol, cancer, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease….not to mention high rates of depression, feeling of isolation and suicide. To hold onto our culture in the world it has made, one would have to be in deep denial and completely insane. While the entire world can and should be taught permaculture in order to regenerate the planet and meet all of our needs, our destructive culture needs to go and I think that’s very important to tell people that (though maybe not foundations that want to give us grant money). Being counter culture doesnt have to mean dreadlocks and marijuana…it means embodying a culture counter to dominant culture. Of course the goal is to help create a world worth living in and knowing how to use language to include rather than alienate possible allies is a matter of good discernment, so building relationships is on par with telling the truth. Sometime though, people need to be told the culture is insane because they feel it but haven’t heard it articulated yet. Other times the ones destroying everything need to be stopped or at least shown what they’re doing is wrong. A lot times I’m the destructive one.

  86. Let’s keep spirituality out of permaculture teaching.

    I have experienced a belief induced high. It was a feeling of peace and wellbeing and it was all in my head. That could be dangerous if it clouded my judgement: the mind plays tricks. Belief is one thing, reality and the unforgiving nature of our world is another.

    We are heading into difficult times. We must have our wits about us, have a clear picture of where we are, what we have to do, and be motivated to work hard.

  87. Dear Craig

    Thank you very much for your article.
    I am grateful to you for stating your views publically.
    Although I have not come across the conflation of mysticism or spirituality with permaculture, it is hugely problematic for me in relation to Transition Towns. I found I was unable to be part of one of the groups because of new age confusion with the aims of transition.

    Best regards

  88. Living and working permaculture in a place that has a higher then usually concentration of “alternative lifestyles and beliefs” this is an topic that comes up frequently. Adding aspects of other belief systems: biodynamics, devas, indigenous or other spiritual beliefs, etc, dilutes what permaculture has shown to accomplish – resilient, regenerative landscape design.

    Can permaculture be used to help inform and design other aspects of human activity. I believe so. However the distinction of applying permaculture TO another subject needs to be made.

    As I saw a poster the other day, “Permaculture and Polyamory: Designing Good Relations”.

    The other aspect of adding other components into the 72 hour course is where the heck do you fit them without a) removing core curriculum or b) adding unnecessary evening sessions that over tax students and thus lessen the learning experience.

    There is one aspect of permaculture that provides a path for those that wish to explore more: the unknown enigma of life.

    And isn’t that why I strive to learn more about my natural world?

  89. Why am I not surprised that this post attracted 91 comments? :)

    I’ve sat back to watch without getting involved in the conversation, as I made my thoughts as clear as I could, and really wanted to gauge people’s reactions without trying to guide the discussion. I have to say I’m encouraged by the results. Almost without exception people are thinking objectively, which I believe is a foundational aspect of any successful society.

    There have been just a couple of people who insist that their particular understanding of the unprovable aspects of our world is the only way to think, if we can only just ‘open our eyes’, but these are, as evidenced above, the exception.

    This dogmatic mindset is the cause of many of the world’s woes, and most of its historical wars.

    I’d like to make specific mention of one of the statements I quoted in the post at top, from the email conversation I was sharing with you all:

    There is spirit in everything…

    What does this mean? And once we know what it means, how can it be proved?

    If statements such as this are shared in a permaculture course, what are people to think? The specific meaning the writer of this sentence intended to convey to me is unclear, but if you take it at face value it would immediately be interpreted as an indication of a particular belief system – the belief of animism ( ), or possibly pantheism ( ).

    It is entirely at your own discretion if you want to subscribe to such beliefs, but the important aspect in relation to the post above is that in doing so, and if you combine it with permaculture design education, you are immediately creating a barrier that ensures most of the world’s population entirely disregards permaculture. Whether it’s Christianity, Catholicism, Islamism, Judaism, Atheism, etc., etc., they will all be immediately put off – and they make up the vast majority of the world’s populace. (Just Christianity, Islam and non-religious/atheist people combined equal 4.7 billion people: — that’s about two thirds of the world’s population!).

    I think it’s clear that most permaculturists want to see sensible traditional and modern design techniques and concepts implemented without delay. As such, the PRI is actively encouraging all permaculture proponents and teachers to disconnect subjective spirituality from permaculture education and promotion.

    I believe there is definitely a place for helping people of all cultures and religions and traditions to see how permaculture fits neatly into their specific religious/spiritual/culture context, and that there need be no conflict in the same, but it’s one thing to do that, and quite another to actually teach unprovable spiritual aspects as if it’s scientific fact, and as if it’s part of the permaculture toolkit.

    Thanks everyone for taking the time to comment and share your thoughts, and thanks for your ongoing support to protect the integrity of the word ‘permaculture’.

  90. The essence of permaculture is systems thinking. Most older religions had some ethic that connected nature to the human world, and dictated how to behave within the natural world. Karma and sun worship are two examples that come to mind. The movie Avatar does a good job of laying out the potential for a religion based on systems thinking, that emphasizes the connectedness of life through energetic flows. Viewing the world through an energetic lens is about as close as I come personally to religion, but I believe that this worldview is necessary for full understanding permaculture principles. Courses introducing this stuff should be taught from a democratic perspective, but energetic perspectives may eventually morph into religion as we evolve.–ten-spiritual-lessons-from-a-great-movie-and-director

    Thanks for the great discussion of this topic in this thread.

    “Truth is a state of mind in which there is no contradiction. A person perceives his idea as true because he has heard no contradiction. The less one knows, the easier it is to be dogmatic and to be sure that what one knows is true. We tend to defend dogmatically as true the things we are taught, whereas the things we learn from experience and experiments tend to be properly couched in sometimes-contradictory reality.” –H.T. Odum

  91. Hi all i have to say is. as soon as we label somthing like permaculture and a dogma develops around it babylon comes and corrupts the crap out of it. if you look at the organic movement and a lot of the other movements which have stemmed from similar ideals to permaculture it is easy to see how society quickly dilutes any system like permaculture. we need to loo at the natural succession of ideas as a system within itself. as new fresh ideas and systems like permaculture are created. they will become popular, become corrupted and then become obsolete. the only thing that protect us from hogwash is not attaching ourselves to any dogma and just doing what makes sense and feels right.

  92. I couldn’t agree more! And very glad this topic has been brought into the open. I would also count myself as a spiritual person with spiritual beliefs, but think mixing this up with permaculture damages its external credibility and confuses matters. If you want to do both – no problem! But they are not by necessity one and the same thing. Permaculture teachers should be careful how they market and promote their courses. I.

  93. Craig, thanks for the communication. After teaching some 60-70 courses (I’m sorry, I have lost count) I am in complete agreement with you. I certainly allow for questions regarding these topics, and I give full attention to make sure that the questions are answered and discussed when appropriate. I have been working for years to move Permaculture into the mainstream. We are talking about the corporation, the government (whatever this might be), etc. A full range of folks, from the New Ager to the executive are going to latch on to the glory of Permaculture in all its guises. So be it. Let everyone have at it, because by its very nature, Permaculture crosses all boundaries regardless the form (or pattern). At the same time, with the widespread influence of the corporation in our “culture”, where better than to move this work into these circles and make a dent in the armor. We, (as chameleons) must understand the nature of the nature of the corporation, the political establishment, the public school system, etc, et al. Only then will our “technologies” be quite appropriate. Thanks my dear brother for being so forthright and honest. We need more of this.

  94. Thanks Craig,
    While I certainly have a spiritual dimension to my life, I wholeheartedly agree that a certified PDC should be entirely about the design approach of permaculture.

  95. Fully agree with you Craig. Thanks for raising the issue.

    I’d like however to hear more from people who disagree with our view. Indeed, we do need to find some common ground in the end. I hope they could agree with a comment posted earlier – with which I totally identify:

    “A Buddhist, longtime meditator and nature mystic myself, I nevertheless have to agree with Bill Mollison’s position insofar as I care much more about the nuts and bolts of permaculture becoming common, worldwide human practice (taking care of land, taking care of people, returning surplus) than promoting my personal subjective spiritual experiences as being part of “permaculture””

    Bravo, she said it all!


  96. Although believing that a deeper connection and reverence towards Earth brings with it a certain dose of spirituality, I also agree that permaculture courses should exclude all sorts of methaphysics.

  97. I completely agree with you, Craig. I watched a Honduran agronomist walk away from a PDC because he thought some of the lessons were “Hippy vacation” stuff. Physical barriers appropriate to people in Maya communities were broken by teacher mandate, with their emphasis on “inner ecologu” creating a resistance to permaculture.

    We stress the nuts and bolts, atoms and molecules aspect of permaculture. More than that and we run the risk of being marginalized, despite the many sound reasons for practicing permaculture.

  98. Thank you Craig, also for posting it to WPN subscribers.
    As numerous others I fully agree with your view point and am happy that the discussion is out in the open.

    Reading the thread seeded these 2 comments;
    I’ve always considered myself quite non-religious/spiritual and spent 10 days this yule-tide at a Vipassana retreat taught according to . My experience is that Vipassana, (much like permaculture)is simply a technique, a science if you may. Throughout the course this was emphasized by the teacher, who for years have had a similar issue as exemplified in this thread, of keeping the technique ‘clean’ from religious affiliation, ‘isms’, sects and what have you. In other words; I support Davids comparison in this concern. (For C…st sake(!); it’s simply about focusing your mind on sensations of your body; what’s spiritual about it?)

    2: My personal ‘PC-provocative statement’; what gets me fired up, is when folks refer to PC as simply a technique/science for gardening/landscaping, such as in one of the many statements above. I’d love to see a similar thread, emphasizing that PC long ago has broken out of this framework, and that the PC ethics, principles, zoning and observation skills can in same rights be applied to any kind of organizational design, be it a wedding, event, factory, society etc.


  99. Just to add my two cents, I happen to work on a permaculture farm in a Hindu temple. Though the two are not explicitly linked (ideologically), the community is very much involved in the farm and its planning. Most of the food in the temple comes from the farm. I myself am privately spiritual, but I abhor dogma, and have been grateful to participate in such an open-minded community.

    I’ve begun investigating the links between sustainability and Hinduism, primarily to better understand the religion but also to find some religious imperative for ecologically-friendly lifestyles; I already think its an ethical imperative. I hope to better understand these connections for myself, but it is also in the service of convincing other more dogmatic people.

    So, for me, permaculture and the ecological / environmental knowledge that underlie it are my motivations and my frame of reference in the field. As for my beliefs, I think the universal truths of the world come from nature. It happens that there is a lot of overlap in the lessons of permaculture and many religious traditions. How could there not be? But that overlap is often merely incidental.

    I know a few committed permaculturalists that are doing good work and apply religious principles in their work and perhaps loosely teaching. That is their business, and I have no issue with it per se. That said, the strength of permaculture in my opinion is its commitment to the land and people through design that is practical, sustainable, and common sense. It draws on established scientific disciplines, and its successes can often be measured in scientific terms.

    Permaculture’s open, secular, frame of reference is one of its greater strengths. Yet, if you can convince people to live more within the means of the planet through a religious discussion, that is a fantastic outcome. But I think it would be a violation of the whole spirit of the system to not explicitly state that Permaculture is secular by design. Our strength in our ability to connect with others, the more we label and dissect the teachings into dogma the more we separate ourselves from certain communities. We don’t need to.

    So in my opinion, permaculture and spirituality need a healthy distance from each other, like church and state. But an openness to spiritual, and religious people of all walks of life is vital to push forward the message. Openness, however, doesn’t imply we should allow anyone to co-opt the teachings. In the end, allowing spirituality to have any more than a soft voice in the movement is likely to be, if nothing else, counter-productive and inefficient.

    But, I do hope we can treat these people with patience and respect. I hope they treat us with the same

  100. Well, this is a touchy one! Permaculture and it’s concept is not a system designed to further the belief set of any religion or faith. It is, all on its own, a very Formidable adversary to those who wish to use the spiritual nature of permaculture as a means to further their own belief system.

    Permaculture is made up of the best of the best from all faiths and religions. It combines ethical teaching and a conscious intent to better mankind and our relationship with with our host planet. I don’t understand why this spirituality isn’t recognized already. An agnostic can also appreciate the core values and outstanding benefits that permaculture brings wherever it goes.

    To use permaculture to market ones beliefs in spirituality, politics or any other belief set or system is misleading. To point out that they work together as SEPERATE systems is truth. Permaculture will compliment most positive aspects of life, unbiased. And we should accept this and respect it.

    Permaculture, like our Sun, belongs to us all.

    Happy gardening.

  101. I must agree that the spiritualist voodoo woowoo that many practitioners weave into their teachings detracts from PD. Indeed, when PD has come up locally as a means of providing high quality local food and growing the local economy proponents of the chem-ag industry have had some success denigrating it due to the “mysticism” of the practice whereas theirs is “science based”. Is spiritualism inherent in PD? Yes, in that it is a way to care for the planet, the environment, yourself and your community. That said, does the spiritualism need to be taught. No. It can be approached completely from the scientific aspect of better food quality, improved soil quality/creation/retention, enhanced biodiversity, improved local economy, reduced/eliminated need for pesticides (poisons) etc. I cannot see anyone actually working in PD for any length of time without understanding there is a spiritual component however that is something each person should come to on their own. For widespread acceptance we really need to focus on the scientific, concrete, measurable benefits.

  102. Just as a brief addendum, I agree with Mr. Debbs post, ie the phrasing of “a hard edged sustainable farming system.” And to someone else who mentioned revoking the certifications of teachers that were teaching spirituality in a permaculture design course, I would advocate that in theory as long as it was done thoughtfully and with warning. Why?

    We cannot waste too much time on this issue. Our credibility is important as is our time. It would be better spent briefly looking at what people are teaching and choosing whether they should be teaching using the name permaculture.


  104. Clearly, there will not be agreement on this topic. Nor do I expect to change anyone’s mind. People are generally pretty happy with where they’re at until THEY are ready to make a change, which may be one reason why permaculture is moving slowly around the globe. (Note, I don’t think there is just one reason.)

    For me, my initial interest in permaculture arose from my unfolding and now deeply held spiritual beliefs where I practice observation and celebration of the cycles of the Sun and Moon and the four seasons and how they impact my human experience. This lead to a deep caring for the health of the environment, which led to choosing to live more gently on the Earth, and then to discover the work of permaculture as a natural extension of my values and spirituality.

    I do think it’s noteworthy that David Holmgren includes health and spiritual well-being in his permaculture flower:

    PRI should do what it thinks best in terms of setting standards for it’s teachers. Those of us who don’t fit that model can do our work of spreading the work of permaculture in other ways. Doing the work is the important part. Some will be receptive to permaculture only with spirituality; others only without it. Let’s reach both groups.

    To decide that one person’s view of permaculture and what it is and what it isn’t or how it is defined by that person is THE truth is, itself, a fallacy. While those who did the hard work of originating the ideas and the movement and gathering the science deserve my deepest respect, they are merely humans, and not the arbiters of truth. This extends to all of us involved in the work of permaculture. Let us remember the role of pioneer species in a system, as permaculture is, and that the pioneers are not the late succession species in that system, merely an important part in the evolution of it. Permaculture itself, in my view, is an evolving body of work with some applications, ideas, and mystery yet to be discovered as the work of permaculture moves through its succession.

    I feel sad that the permaculture movement is divided here based on including spirituality or not. That division creates false limitations to the spread of the work more than any other factor might. Think of how differences in spirituality and/or religion play out in the human experience across the world and across time (i.e. war in some form, which is a destructive force).

    A wise woman and fellow PDC student whose life is devoted to the work of Non-Violence and Non-Violent Communication once observed that “Permaculture is applied Non-Violence.” Tell me who that doesn’t appeal to? And, what is more spiritual and sustainable, regenerative even, than living non-violently?

    I see permaculture as a design science that belongs to everyone -grassroots and self-directed at its core. I have never seen it as a power over movement. Certifications of any sort are a form of power over. That, in itself, keeps many people I know who are practicing and living permaculture from identifying with the term. (At the same time, I see the value in setting standards.)

    With or without PRI’s blessing, I will continue to teach content-rich, rigorous PDCs and permaculture related topics as a living and evolving design science the only way that I authentically can – with my own evolving understanding of the work as I discover it. For me, human care includes addressing and attending to spirituality as part of the human system, even if only to acknowledge and accept that any one person feels no current spiritual connection. My courses allow for both deep spiritual connection and none at all. Who, really, is to say which is “right”?

    patty love

  105. YES! Totally agree. I have been turned off by the “new age” philosophies that have been attempted to mingle with permaculture teachings. I am a teacher as well and have never thought of mixing the two. To subject spiritual philosophies through the guise of permaculture is definitely holding the science back. It’s the truths inherent in permaculture design that break through religous, spiritual, economic, racial and other barriers to create true connection. While one may connect spiritually to these truths, it should be left as a personal experience not subjected to others as a part of permaculture design. I’m registering to be PRI PDC teacher as soon as I’m done here.

  106. I have been struggling with these issues. I have recently become disillusioned with teaching permaculture after nine years of service.

    I feel that permaculture – especially the ethics and principles – is and should be “common sense.” We can see that many indigenous tribes practiced “permaculture” though it was never taught to them in the form we know via Mollison and the PDC. For the people who still hold this common sense, permaculture ethics and principles are simply the way the world works, and the only way forward. They apply to all aspects of life, including the body and the spirit.

    Permaculture, the design science, is an attempt to get back this common sense for those who lost it. If we act like it is scientific, it will be pushed to the margins (most academics still won’t touch it). If we act like it is spiritual, it is again pushed to the margins. In fact, “mainstream” culture is the antithesis of permaculture. So how can it ever be widely accepted? If we follow the principles, we will continue to work quietly, on a small scale. If spiritual practice helps it gain students, then include it. If it scares them away, leave it out.

    People need to regain this common sense. Whatever helps this happen is good. It is about doing what works (you know, the principles). I am afraid that too many of the Earth’s people are too far gone from this common sense. I would include myself. After nine years of practice and teaching, I still spend way too much money, I am still disconnected from any village or community, and I am still subject to the non-permaculture powers that rule my land. I’m starting to think that anyone who wants to live a good, sustainable life needs to join ranks with indigenous people who still hold remnants of freedom and common sense. As individuals or groups of European background, we stand no chance without them.

  107. I have 3 comments – all in support of this article and the trend of responses:

    1. Religion teaches us DIVISION – it teaches children that if others are not in their type of specific niche religion/spiritual following, then they are different (and potentially “unsaved”!). Get all spirituality out of Permaculture. However, Permaculture may well devlop a sense of personal spirituality for the individual, so there may well be a connection, but an evolutionary one, as per Mr Lawson.

    2. Another bug bear is the prevalence, in my experience, of Marajuana smokers amongst the permaculture/green/eco/self-sustainable community. Permaculture has been allowed to be hijacked by “hippies” who use permaculture as the lure to their lifestyles. I do not accept this. At my recent 12 day PDC in sa country I’ll not mention here, by a leading if not the leading trainer, the majority by fer were using drugs. We have to start deciding what we as permaculturists put first. A tough task in this area.

    3. I know of at least one corporate initiative over the past 5 years, that has put a lot of money and effort into establishing a stand alone agricultural self-sustaining, Permaculture community, completely divorced from the corporate. It has not been a huge success. They have made the decision recently to DROP the word PERMACULTURE from the marketing materials completely, because the kind of people they want to attract, environmentally aware individuals, who think that Permaculture is a bunch of hippies smoking dope and singing to the moon all day long – and hence don’t want to join the initiative – they have no idea what Permaculture really is. Fact.

    Permaculture, if it’s to survive as a distinct activity needs to stand up and brand itself, and that means all of us who are trained PD’s have to be aware of the image we generally have at the moment.

  108. well, very much needed discussion we have here, thank you so much Craig, can’t agree with you more.
    Also, to all permaculture teachers out-there, please check all your facts and statements, and don’t be afraid to say “i don’t know” when you don’t. we need to be professionals and credible as designers and teachers. Some of us have to deal with officials, and mainstream and our credibility can be shattered by the senseless acts and speeches of others, this is our life, this is our career!
    thanks again

  109. For me, people gathering together to share knowledge openly is itself a sacred act. Whatever personal rituals develop beyond that is a matter of each inner voice.

    Thank you for the lovely discussion!

  110. I agree with Craig…. and offer a question to the discussion.

    When teaching permaculture it always strikes me how so many people (including myself) have become disassociated with the natural world. This goes so far as to often create a split in definition between what is “human” and what is “natural” and can result in condemnation of human activity as bad or wrong… unnatural. Such a position whether arrived at or adopted socially is a belief system unto itself and it is sometimes tempting to use yet another belief system to ‘wedge it out’ or replace it. Permaculture is in a tricky position because it is a useful tool for this sort of ‘operation’ but must not become another belief system unto itself.

    I think such divisions and ‘conflicting’ beliefs may be one of the motivating factors that people have for bringing spirituality into permaculture. That is, seeking some sort of unifying or connecting principle underlying everything. I do wonder what other motivating factors exist that cause people to feel it necessary to bring ‘spirituality’ or belief into permaculture, and how can these issues or questions be addressed in a practical way?

    But my specific question is how to talk about the incorrect understanding of a division between “human” and “nature” and encourage people to bridge it without getting woo woo or spiritual. It seems necessary to do so, to connect with and understand nature, in order to work with it. Otherwise we are in a position of conflict which seems to invariably lead toward breakdown.

    I always attempt to frame human behavior and development as natural. We can not step outside the laws of nature or physics even in the construction of cities and technologies that may damage “our natural environment”, thus the necessity of appropriate technology.

    It feels important to me to help students during the discussion of the three ethics, especially Care of the Earth, see that they are a part of the world, of nature, that they are ‘natural’. The human species demonstrates many of the characteristics of any animal, though often amplified, in its impact on the world around it. We are going to learn to design our impacts toward the positive and cooperate with the the most basic laws and functions of nature for efficiency.

  111. I’ve read everything Craig wrote, but not the 105 comments that followed, so sorry if I’m parroting someone, but here goes…

    When I attended an “Introduction to Permaculture” course, I was shocked when someone asked something completely religion related. To me, it did absolutely no sense because the teacher never talked with a religious note of any kind.
    To me, permaculture was open to everyone, regardless of sex, colour, beliefs…; and the teacher reinforced just that: he said that permaculture embraced everyone who respected the three rules, and made no judgements.
    I’ve since then joined a transition group and a group of mothers in transition and I’ve met very spiritual people. My husband (who is very open-minded but has a dark-humour side) even has a name for those who are a bit more “out-there”: “permanuts”!
    So you see I undestand completely the need to impose permaculture as a “science proved thing” – to be “neutral” and easily accepted!
    But I also understand that no change hapens and endures without a change of mind first and, in that way, spirituallity is needed (for spirituallity is not religion).
    I think it all depends in which level of mind transition you are on and how much of the “formated mind” still endures in your transitioning self, but I don’t think there’s a thing wrong in linking some spiritual things to permaculture, otherwise the purple petall of the permaculture flower kneeded not exist, neither would “health and spiritual well-being” be as important as “land and nature stewardship”.

    I can also understand what “whom-ever-it-is” meant when she/he said “Permaculture itself is in danger of becoming Religious!” – because we see “permaculture people” following the teachings of one man, living them to the letter, and quoting “scriptures” all of the time… I just sounds TOO familiar to most of us!

    But we can’t fall on the same mistake mankind always does: jump to conclusions and believe we know what’s right and those who don’t agree with us are against us…
    I believe permaculture is the way and transition is necessary, but with open minds and open hearts, so we all can learn from each other.

  112. While I agree with the idea that permaculture is not the place for the spiritual, it seems that the arguments here are taken to the point where they themselves enter that same realm.

    I think what we should be concerned about is correct labeling. I see no reason why there couldn’t be a Christian PDC, Pagan PDC, or any other kind of Permaculture Design Certificate course. However, to mislabel a Pagan PDC as only a PDC is misleading and a disservice to permaculture.

  113. In Defense of People

    One of the most discouraging and alienating things about Religion is its belief that it represents the only path to salvation. To be included one almost always has to make a deliniatation between insiders and outsiders, those who belong and know “the truth” and those who don’t.

    Unfortunately, I have seen this same arrogance in the Permaculture Community and have been very turned off by its heterogeneity and hostility toward people who don’t fit the bill ~ peak oil fearing, anarchy celebrating self-righteous and better than everyone else in how arrogantly humble they are. Care for people doesn’t mean we only care for those who embrace Permaculture, or who share our spiritual views and lifestyle.

    I generally tend to steer clear of “woo-woo”…. but I have also had to be honest with myself about my own prejudice and the wounds that lie beneath such resistance. I now work hard to maintain a considered and rooted appreciation of spiritual wisdom in an age of materialism.

    Furthermore, I also have a personal practice of non-judgement and trusting people to find their own way regardless of their metaphysical standing, or lack of it. To me this is a large part of “Care of People.”

    The fact is that most partnerships fail, families split, and intentional communities disintegrate. The Permaculture Community is no shining example in this department either. My motto is, “If you don’t have a healing potion, don’t judge another’s choices, views, or lifestyle. Be a balm and that’s all.”

    “Care of the Earth” is currently adequately covered in the PDC and it’s wonderful. Social Permaculture, however, is an area vastly lacking. We need people to be able to sustain long term and caring relationships if we have any hope of the Agricultural Paradigm really taking hold. It is deeply naive to think that addressing our species food and water needs is enough when a large portion of the barriers to global abundance are social and political.

    That said, religion, metaphysics and spirituality is, and has always been, a core value in human communities. Perhaps, the different religions, sects, views and philosophies can be compared to the diversity that exists in the plant kingdom. There is no such thing as a metaphysical weed. Perhaps we might dig in and do the work in discovering the deep interconnections and relationships between them all and allow a variable connected and multidimensional garden of spiritual wisdom to be recovered, to evolve, and to flourish. The test sites may be funky in the early days, but the work will be integral to the full realization of the Permaculture mission, at least as I understand it.

    Credibility is born out of Social Capital and Social Capital is born out of connection between diverse elements (think edge effect) Embracing and encouraging an ideological monoculture will lead to failure.

    Let’s not hold this amazing gift to humanity so tightly as to suffocate it. Let it go, let it evolve and, dare I say, let it be our Salvation.

    Krista & David Arias
    San Miguel de Allende, Mexico

  114. We had a similar discussion on Permaculture Supporter group in Linkedin just this past couple weeks. Over all, it came down to belief systems and dogma. Vegetarianism was a good example by one person. A practice based on a belief that differs with each person.

  115. My PDC was held at an ashram. For me, spirituality in some form or another is the most interesting piece of permaculture for me. Rather than being disappointed that my permaculture was being paired up with spiritual teachings, I was excited. It’s one of the reasons I even bothered to learn more about permaculture in the first place. Yoga was the familiar for me that made permaculture feel more at home.

    In my opinion, permaculture is an interdisciplinary art and does best when paired with other concepts. I can think of numerous courses that my friends have taught and taken that have had some combination of permaculture and something else, sometimes spiritual, sometimes not. Certainly, not every pairing is for every person, but overall my perception is that this interdisciplinary approach has increased the number of people being exposed to permaculture.

    I recently read “Blessed Unrest.” In this book, Paul Hawken reminded me that if we trust in the whole, it’s fine if not each and every one of us knows exactly what everyone else is doing to further a common cause. My only recommendation here would be that we don’t collude to systematically lean permaculture in one direction or another. There’s a wide variety of permaculture teachers out there – some purists, some scientists, some agroforesters, some yogis, some biodynamic farmers, some activists, and many more. This natural diversity leads to an organic variety of PDCs. I don’t think we need to come together and determine that all PDCs should be taught in one way or another – that could only limit us.

    *As you’ve asked me not to use examples Craig, I won’t dive into specifics. I also haven’t read the comments [although I’ve reviewed them for some keywords]. I am not interested in engaging in argument, but am happy to voice my experiences. And as to my credentials, I’m a certified permaculture teacher but haven’t yet taught any full PDCs.

  116. It’s inevitable that permaculture and spirituality be linked. It’s pointless to try and hinder or oppose this natural progression, a conceptual succession if you will. Just let there be as many varieties as nature can produce. Stop trying to censor. Natural selection will handle it.

  117. Zone Zero is the most important Zone – in everyone’s life. Bill Mollison in all his thoroughness left Zone Zero out. I believe, if we don’t address Zone Zero first, then we are missing the point of our life experience. For each individual it is different, naturally, so to present any kind of dogma as a part of permaculture is not recognizing the beauty of diversity of the human species.

    Bill gleaned a huge amount of information from his experiences in traditional cultures, who always connect with spirit before making any decision or taking action. The spiritual disconnect in modern culture is what has brought us to this brink of disaster. Spirit wants input. If we find the avenues to be open to the input of spirit, everything we do will be more effective.

    We are finally reaching new levels of understanding Zero point energy – Zone Zero. This holds great promise for the evolution of our species to emerge from the self driven, self righteous, self aggrandizing, self serving cultural operating system. Fear not the new universe, it has been waiting for us. Permaculture is merely a tool, not the way itself. It is a tool to that opens a way of seeing all your surroundings as a gift.

    Bill used to say, if you are not giving it away, you are not doing it. Give the tool away to the yogis and the humanists, the pagans and the catholics, the muslims and the vegetarians – the carnivores and the – who cares! Free – free – free. We are all infinitely important.

  118. I completely agree with Craig. I was personally disappointed that some of the talks at the Jordan IPC were not science based Permaculture or at least debated by the Permaculture community as to their validity within the Permaculture definition. Also, my biggest challenge with friends and family is convincing them that Permaculture isn’t for hippies or dogmatic… this is because whenever you go to a Permaculture event it seems quite scary and unfamiliar to them with ‘aura cleansers’ and the like mixing their beliefs with Permaculture. Our biggest challenge is to positively influence mainstreamers and if we continue to include spirituality and metaphysics all we will do is push them away.

  119. Ok where shall I begin…

    Somewhere up here there was a comment about how permaculture principles were common sense to indigenous people and that we need to find back that common sense.

    There are many crises going on in the current dominant world system.
    Some of them are the ‘outside’ crises (biodiversity, soil depletion, erosion, desertification, climate change, …)
    and some are ‘inside’ crises (existential crisis, loneliness, deprivation, fanaticism, …)

    All these crises are being caused by mismanagement – I’ll call it ‘bad designs’

    For permaculture to be an integral and effective design system to address the current situation in the world,
    we can’t afford to leave either aspect out of the equation:
    inside is related with outside.

    Let’s not make the mistake to amputate either.
    Both aspects affect eachother:
    – A culture which embraces the idea that human beings have the right to dominate over all things and lifeforms on the planet, will probably result in biodiversity loss and uncontrolled exploitation.
    – Projects which focus on land regeneration can only be succesful when they are supported by the local people of that place. Otherwise the project will never become self-supportive.

    The bottom line is:
    both the planet and the inner part of human beings need healing – both need to be attended to if we are to be succesful – yet we need to be very careful about this.
    I think it’s best if we talk about these things in the bigger picture of the current situation of the planet and the humanmade systems than to be ‘attracting followers’.
    Spirituality is basically a personal way of connecting oneself to some transcendental realm – it is not advisable to include this in a pdc, nor necessary.
    Quite frankly, it’s nobody’s business which path you personally walk- it is in fact irrelevant; as long as the results are a balanced personality, ready to face the problems in a practical, systemic way

    I guess this is the key to understanding the ‘spiritualization’ of permaculture: people who are emotionally imbalanced try to push or pull the whole framework of PC into a certain direction just for their own piece of mind – they are hurt or feeling insecure, which is very understandable in this derailed destructive endless-growth system, but that should not give them the right to hijack PC.
    Their issues need to be handled outside of pdc class. Maybe some free informal moments during or after pdc could be designed to deal with these personal issues.

    We need a strong movement, with a clear set of principles and values, and a clear heading.
    Decent agriculture, soil care, reforestation, … are all earth care and are very much necessary if we want to be able to stay alive as a species at all

    But we should also consider a way to help resolve all the personal issues people face, that refrain them from ‘growing up’ to become healthy, active and earth-supportive citizens.

    To conclude:

    In pdc’s, we might need a SYSTEMIC view on spirituality, rather than a SUBJECTIVE one.
    We need to focus upon those things we ALL have in common:
    food, water, air, dwelling, …

  120. I think that permaculture education should seek to fit into whatever cultural context is appropriate in particular places and times. If you’re teaching permaculture to a bunch of scientists, then a scientist should teach it and stress its scientific basis. If you’re teaching permaculture in rural India, and 90% of the class believes in what we would call metaphysical forces, then by all means I think you should frame permaculture from that worldview and the teacher should share it. It’s the same as if you’re teaching permaculture to farmers, you focus on the broadscale aspects, whereas if you’re teaching to suburbanites, you stress what one can do in a backyard. Bottom line: different people see the world differently, and it will help the spread of permaculture if it can fit itself into these different perspectives, rather than trying to impose a one-size-fits-all approach.

  121. Gday all, to me its a bit like permaculture being labeled in the libary under gardening not design

    so if we mix religion with it, then the concept get’s even more dilluted and the general public/students get even more confused about the content of permaculture

    as said before in this article there’s barely enough time for the material let alone religion

    lets keep it real and practical

  122. People do what they got to do. For me it is hard to say what a person should do and not do. This whole article is about the fear of permaculturists of being marginalised by the whole. I recognise that mixing subjective matters with permaculture may lead to some people thinking it is something else. But the simple fact of life is, you can’t control it all. I doubt that this subject is the prime reason people don’t think permaculture is a valid system. Most people I know have never heard of it, as most of them as good citizens of the state have lost touch with how food is grown and where it actually comes from. It is good that you decided to start this discussion, and it is very much worth having.

  123. Excellent post, very welcome. Well done in particular for finding the Mollison quote- should be known much more widely! This is a debate I have been having within permaculture- and the wider environmental movement- for several years.

    However, I think you should question what you yourself understand by “spirituality”- I think this is a word best avoided altogether as it can be interpreted in many different ways- it is always, I would argue, “subjective” and usually referring to unsubstantiated religious beliefs. Referring to the spiritual usually is accompanied by a belief in “other ways of knowing”- ie. the belief that intuition and subjective opinion should have equal standing with science. I recently blogged about this in connection with Schumacher college in the UK:

    There is also usually a distinct anti-science element, as expressed in some of the comments here: the view that science and rationality are akin to capitalism and hence responsible for the woes of the world. As an atheist I see this very differently: actually, science and rational thought have saved us from the superstitions of the Dark Ages- and have made permaculture (the good bits about it) possible. If we want to make a better world, we should resist in every way the influence of these malign beliefs that threaten to drag us back down into the Endarkenment.

    My experience of teaching permaculture in Kinsale, Ireland- this is a full-time year long course in a public college that doesnt suffer from the time constraints of the 72hr PDC- is that it is too late. Many (by no means all) students come to the course because they believe it is a course of New Age Religion. They are surprised and sometimes disappointed that we do not engage with the Nature Spirits on the course. One of the main interests is alternative medicine of all kinds- little or none of which, it may surprise people to learn- has any basis in science. I do try to include a Critical Thinking component, but that is not what many people want- they dont want to have their beliefs challenged in any way.

    Then there is Biodynamics, which seems to have infected much of the permaculture movement, a magical system originating from the Mystic Barmpot Steiner, which was first practiced widely by the Nazis since it was compatible with their mystical beliefs of purity of “blood and soil”. Steiner never farmed and simply made everything up, creating a system of belief he called “spiritual science” which was based on racist karma. see

    No-one practices biodynamcs because they think there is scientific evidence to support it- generally, they believe in it because they are anti-science, anti-the Enlightenment. Anthroposophy is fundamentally an anti-modernist religion.

    For those who see permaculture as just a rational approach to landscape design, have a look at this new film in which David Holmgren appears alongside Stephen Harding (Holistic Science in Schumacher), John Seed (Deep Ecology- an Earth religion), 9-11 conspiracy theorist Mike Ruppert and purveyor of Anthroposophical medicine Dr Mark O’Meadhra. It may be time to leave permaculture to the woo-merchants altogether and create a new discipline just called “Sustainable Landscaping” or something similar.

  124. Thank you Craig and to all contributors on this topic.

    I will only add on a view from the ancestors, at least I will try to go for it as one with no specific origins or roots.
    This is stablished and formuled for a better time as it was, when communities and people on the un-discovered lands manage their lifes, actions and even spirits, with no science.

    If the indigenous people, and so their ancestors, observe and interact with nature, harvest their necessary food, build their homes, manage their resources, keep things for winter, re-design on catastrophes, profit for rain water… and so on and on; do they spread permaculture all around?
    Isn’t true that permaculture is settled as a “SCIENCE” in the 70’s but recovered as a whole system of understanding and “BELIEFS”, that PERMANENTLY stayed as CULTURE on indigenous peoples beyond centuries?
    Did they, the indigenous peoples, remotely know something about a science that guides their actions, different than the suprem beliefs of being part of a big thing called God, or mother earth?
    Isn’t important for permaculturist people, the movement itself, the teachers, the lovers and practitioners, not necessarily PDCers; to take count on this important reference and root on the ancestors, and strongly respect that way of understanding and beliefs?
    Isnt’t possible to spread and teach permaculture in a science reference way, but assuming its link to the beliefs and managements of the traditional indigenous peoples on the planet?

    It shoud be up to the teacher; a good PDC teacher, PRI or non PDC teacher, even if the permaculture is taugth as a part of other great stuff; to clarify what is DESIGN (based on scientific method), and what is its purpose on changing this world. But also to clarify to the audience that there is a part of believing and understanding, which is linked to your feelings as a human being, and that is no longer valid to keep away from the design itself.
    Even if you are working as a designer for a good and rich client, a very well paid work, but made from death money or involving some kind of non-ethic job… won’t you leave inmmediatly that design? won’t you be searching for your strong beliefs as some cause for the leaving? Won`t you leave it or not?

    It’s a great and never ending topic this one, It’s about talking of permaculture but knowing that we have to spread even more values than design technics.
    Besides, there is the “Science”, understanding the word as itself, which lies as a method linked to a tremendous stuff (institutions, dogmas, history…), but only valid for this particular period of time we are living.
    Should we accept it, developed and validated only from the racionalism and modern capitalism way of thinking? What about the “old” sciences, are they valid for us as permaculturists?
    It’s up to you.

    PRI is a well stablished initiative for teaching and spreading permaculture, with a valuable protocol for accept a clear compromise for the teaching ones. But nevertheless, permaculture (thoug a registered word) is owned by nobody, neither its meaning.
    Maybe, it’s possible to teach or spread permaculture, being free to feel “spiritually permaculturist”, and so on being valid as an activist of change, to figth with the system, re-desing it and really change the world for the upcoming generations.
    Maybe, if we look fast-forward, there will be no science again, and PERMANENT CULTURE will be spread around as a way of understanding and believing, by the the old ones, on the circle of the community, with a sacred spirituality which was lost in the past, everything as it always was.

    Thanks again for the opportunity to learn and share.
    Love to you all.

  125. I’ve been reading this thread of comments for hours (although I must admit to having jumped to the end before the end!) can we please GET BACK TO THE REAL SUBJECT: THE TEACHING!!!! What was interesting in this dialogue (or multiple monologues) was the aspect of teaching deontologie! I have many small comments to make:

    1) Playing games, singing songs, standing in circles talking and listening to each other is not necessarily spiritual! It’s also a holistic teaching methode that takes in to account the many ways that people learn (accelerated learning etc…).

    2) It’s not about about what we individually think (or even wish for Permaculture) It’s about giving course participants the tools (may they be practical, theoretical or more spiritual) to make there own choices, their own designs and their own minds up!

    When I teach the ethics of Permaculture I do this with out telling the participants how they should apply them (I don’t necessarily tell them how I apply them myself!!). The ethics and the principales of Permaculture are the pattern; it’s up to each one of use to adapt them to our own personal details and specificities!

    In the same way if and when I mention the spiritual aspect of Permaculture I do so in a way that leaves the participants free to choose the way in which they wish to (or not to) participate in this part of the construction of a Permanent Culture. To not mention them would not be (In my understanding of Permaculture) Permaculture; to enforce, or impose them would not be permaculture ethical either.

    I was teaching on a PDC recently when I noticed there was a lot of interest in dowsing. I offered to talk to those who wished about this technique that COULD be used in drawing up a base map. Before starting I explained that dowsing was not Permaculture but that it was a technique that could be used to draw up an overlay on the base map for a Permaculture Design. No one on the course complained, the dowsing skeptics (those that came to the evening workshop and those that didn’t) appreciated the openness that was demonstrated.

    I don’t think that the important subject here is what we believe in or not but how we pass on the information about Permaculture and other affiliated techniques to others.

    Do we wish to empower course participants with possibilities or imprison them with certainties?

  126. This is a fantastic debate Craig – enjoying all posts. Here’s mine – for me a PDC is all about the basics of life. After just finishing a master class on teaching a PDC with Rowe Morrow (Crystal Waters in November 2011)she encouraged us to go this way with our teaching – No matter where you go and where you teach, use a basic skeleton of universally accepted permaculture principles and then flesh it out with the appropriate principles for each group/climate zone/culturally sensitive area that you are in. It’s design science and totally secular. It means it is acceptable to all people as it holds no exclusions in design and systems thinking. You can offer your own metaphysical interpretations in discussions at the end of the day or course – but for me it does not belong in the in a PDC – it belongs in the heart of the teacher and the student. Cheers everyone! Woohoo Craig! 2012 is going to be a cracker of a year methinks!

  127. Hi,
    I am in total agreement with the stand point of the author of this post.

    I am a very spiritual person, I have my own set of beliefs some are the same as others, some different from others, although it certainly could be said that every true spirituality stems form the same place!

    I have met some very spiritual people on both PDC’s and other Permaculture related courses and at times have both learnt from them as well as involved myself in some of their specific practices.

    The fact is though, that this was entered into in the form of discussions around a fire after classes, or at meal times, not as part of a permaculture course.

    However, I also have sat in Permaculture situations where certain metaphysical and spiritual concepts were attached directly to Permaculture and my reaction each and every time has been to cringe, not because I necessarily disagree or don’t believe in what is being discussed, but for the very reason set out in the post……

    It serves to marginalise Permaculture and push those who don’t hold these beliefs, or can’t look beyond the ‘woo woo’ to the nuts and bolts, or see the connectedness in all things including the spiritual/metaphysical, away.

    Regardless of any person undertaking Permaculture’s beliefs, the subjective should be left at the door.

    Permaculture is a practical ethical design system, based on the 3 ethics and the principles, that strives to provide for human needs.

    It could easily be argued that a spirituality is a human need, but who’s spirituality? I believe that spirituality can only be experienced by the person seeking and finding it and in this way finding the evidence themselves. Evidence cannot be provided by someone else and therefore should not be included in a ‘practical’ courses based on scientifically proven and demonstrable outcomes.

    Just by providing a link back to and a connectedness to nature and consideration of earth, people and fair share, Permaculture and PDC’s are providing a prompt in the direction back to the spiritual. How someone then proceeds with this path is entirely their own decision (possibly helped out by that camp fire discussion! lol)

    However a re-connectedness with nature through observation and interaction is where a PDC’s and other Permaculture courses should draw the line as far as the spiritual goes, so as not to marginalise or put off those who do not agree or possibly are not ready to go there!

    The nuts and bolts of practical permaculture is what’s important in making significant changes to food provision both in the west and in developing countries and has the potential to undo or at least prevent the worsening of the practical mess the earth is in.

    It is demonstrable and obvious in common sense and this is what courses should teach.

    As perviously discussed, by all means hold courses on the spiritual and metaphysical for those ‘seeking’ (I for one spend at least one day of my week at a program like this) but don’t call it permaculture and marginalise those not ‘seeking’.

    To those who hold a true spirituality it will be obvious how to combine and incorporate both into their daily lives, therefore does not need to be ‘taught’ and I use that word vey loosely, in Permaculture courses!

    Best regards

  128. Forgive me for not reading all of the comments above as they are rather extensive collectively, but what I see here is not so much a spirituality issue as much as it is a standardization issue. Mollison himself has been grappling with the issue of standardizing permaculture since the 70s and Lawton continues to touch on the subject to this day.

    Most of us who remain as objective as possible to the human experience understand and respect that spirituality is a very individual experience by nature. I am an atheist, myself, who allows for some things metaphysically that many other atheists would not as I know that they are, indeed, a part of our natural world and can, indeed, be explained by science if not as yet.

    Regardless of my personal beliefs or those of anyone else, we need to examine what the fundamental goal of permaculture instruction is; education in a practical science which, decidedly, does not include spirituality. I’m an American, so I tend to compare this issue with the issue of teaching religion in the school systems. As many of you may know, religion can not be taught in public schools for obvious reasons of diversity and exclusion. However, if you are paying to go to a private school and the school is religiously based, then you as the ‘customer’ have the option to take your child out of that school. In government funded public schools, this is not the case.

    This leaves us with a few questions to answer based upon the standardization of permaculture instruction.

    Should permaculture be standardized?

    With as large as the permaculture community has grown in the last 30+ years, CAN it be standardized?

    With standardization comes hierarchy. Is the permaculture community willing to accept that compromise of permaculture ethics to achieve standardization?

    Without standardization, we know we can not collectively trust another individual to leave subjectivity out of their courses. Even though it can be construed that a permaculture course compromised by subjective, non-scientific instruction sheds a bad light on permaculture overall, but I think that would largely be discrediting the ‘consumer’ in this scenario. I, personally, believe it should come down to a buyer beware kind of situation.

    If we, as a community, encourage people to ask questions about the course they are interested in to determine whether or not that course meets the informal standards of permaculture instruction as objectively as possible as well as discourage and, as seen here, refuse to officially promote such courses that includes a personal, subjective belief system, I think the community as a whole will follow suit.

    Let’s face it, there are some people out there who would enjoy the metaphysical portion of instruction. I wouldn’t, but that is me. That is why I would simply choose not to patronize that particular program. We also have to think that by the time that anyone decided to make the commitment to a PDC course that they would already have a pretty good idea of what permaculture is really all about. With that said, I don’t think much more needs to be ‘done’, per se, about this issue other than non-indulgence of those subjective programs and letting the consumer decide which program they feel fits them the best.

    As time progresses and this becomes more of an issue, the community will naturally promote those they believe are the most objective courses that benefit the permaculture movement as a whole through personal standardization of instruction.

  129. Thanks for posting this Craig. I agree with the main thrust of your argument very strongly.

    Indeed, for me the same is true of political idealogies and issues too. Some folks seem to feel that it’s OK to preach an anti-GM, or pro-vegan, or anti-nuclear (etc.) stance. I fear that this is potentially divisive and risks defining permaculture as a radical alternative movement.

    I say keep it simple, stick to the permaculture and credit your students with the intelligence to decide for themselves what to do with it.

  130. Story
    Bill Mollison is on the African Savanna observing lions with a couple of tribesmen, he gets a bit nervous when the lions begin to observe them and start approaching. One of the tribesmen leans over to reassure him.
    “If we are eaten by a lion we will come back as a lion” to which Bill responds “if I am eaten by a lion I will come back as lionsh#t”

    I have tried to add to this, but deleted my entries as being far too ponderous. Read on fellow earthlings, and enjoy the debate.

  131. So much to cover in the 12 day PDC, that it’s best to stick by it’s original outline. If people are interested in exploring things such as biodynamics or spiritual practises, there’s other courses for that.
    In my opinion, there’s too much arguing and judging in permaculture. And the overall perception of permaculture is viewing it to just be edible gardening.
    Although over the last 12 years I’ve called myself a permie, I’d prefer to be free of arguments and judgements and so prefer the more comprehensive ecological designer label than the permaculture one

  132. This is a very interesting discussion. Thank you Craig.

    For Muslims attending a PDC may well prove to be an uncomfortable experience, whether it be singing in circles holding hands or beer jokes.

    So a very important part of what I am trying to do is to establish an environment and delivery of the PDC that is very welcoming to Muslims but not exclusive or unwelcoming to people who are not Muslim.

    Because I did not find that anywhere, I decided to arrange it myself. I also am working on something that will be palatable for corporate clients.

    So I would say the onus is on the professional/scientific type to develop and deliver more PDCs that will cater to those audiences. I don’t think it is fair to put the blame for the perceived lack of mainstream penetration of Permaculture on “spiritual” PDCs or whatever we want to label it as. While I may not want to attend those PDCs personally and many others wouldn’t it is far different to say that it is their fault for holding back Permaculture.

    As for establishing and enforcing standards in teaching criteria and guidelines this is a trickier matter. On the one hand if all forms of spirituality or “religious talk” are to be cleansed from the delivery of a PDC, then it would seem that it would be neutral and suitable for all. But funny as clobbering vegetarianism and making beer jokes may be to some, it may strike others as unpalatable to say the least even though there is nothing spiritual or religious.

    Another thing is that anything can get dogmatic including Permaculture and Atheism and Science.

    So if the argument is that people are being driven away from Permaculture by the “spirituality”, then I would say that wouldn’t be the only cause.

    But I don’t buy that argument. The default is not that Permaculture should be everywhere and some people are just messing it up. It takes a long time for ideas to penetrate and I think that trying to “cleanse” out the “spirituality” will not necessarily make it go faster.

    You will never be able to deliver a PDC that will suit everybody and that is the point. It is in the Permaculture content itself. Lets create annidations, niches of different PDCs that are tailored for different groups and advertise them and support them accordingly. I am not saying there should be no rules or guidelines to standardize PDCs in any way, but I am saying it has to be done in a more nuanced way than just saying lets take out the spirituality.

    When I learned of the requirement to ” commit to focussing on the design science, and not including subjective spiritual/metaphysical/religious elements as topics” in order to be accepted as a PRI PDC Teacher I at first thought that would be problematic for me. I don’t have any intention of imposing my beliefs on my future students many of whom may not happen to be Muslim but I would like to incorporate statements like the following by the Prophet Mohamed “Even if you are by a raging river you should not waste water” or “Even if you see the end of the world coming and you are about to plant a tree, you should still go ahead and plant it. If I want to include material that is relevant for Muslims I would be in violation of that requirement, but in teaching Permaculture to Muslim audiences these kinds of references are very important. So I have the dilemma of not aspiring to be a PRI PDC teacher, teaching the “religious” stuff in something that is not a PDC(which could be a very good option)or just bending the rules when the audience is ok with it, etc. I am not at that point yet, but I think it would be great if this could be resolved one way or the other so at least is clear.

    I am sure this same type of experience applies for those who want to incorporate their own forms of spirituality into their teaching and I don’t see why they should be prohibited or discouraged.

    There are many other points but I haven’t the time to address them, but again I thank you as this is a very important discussion to have.

  133. Craig,
    If I am following your story correctly, there were two ‘separate’ courses that were being offered one on Permaculture and the other, I am guessing, was related to Dowsing and the earths magnetic fields.You have not supplied enough info on what the second course is about and thus seemed to have formed your opinion based on your own ‘beliefs’ and in turn your readers are relying on the limited information you have presented. Thus we are unable to give fair and balanced feedback.
    After reading your whole article it is somewhat clear to me that you confuse ‘Religion’ with ‘Spirituality’. I live every day knowing that no religion can teach me about my spiritual nature.
    In 2009 I completed my PDC at PRI. I discovered Permaculture after many years of feeling a need for more depth in my life and an overwhelming sense I needed to become responsible and to give something back to the Earth that feeds me. This inner driving sense I believe was my Spirit.
    I agree whole-heartedly that there is no place for Religious Instruction within Permaculture Teaching.
    Since attaining my PDC Certificate my thirst for knowledge about how this Planet works has led me to discover an incredible hidden universe of information relating to Sacred Geometry and origins life. So from this I am saying that what brings some individuals to Permaculture could be a Spiritual calling – and by studying Permaculture can spark a desire to understand the Earth and Universe we are born in greater depth and in a more holistic way.
    As far as getting the Permaculture message out to the world, I am personally concerned by the push to produce more and more teachers. It seems there is more interest in making money from teaching Permaculture than actually getting out there and ‘doing’ it. I want to see more students farming and ‘walking the talk’ and when they have proven they are ‘successful’, then let them teach it any way that feel – leading by example!
    All the best to you for 2012.

  134. (Disclaimer: I am not a permaculture teacher nor have even taken a PDC course yet)

    In short, I fully and completely agree with you.

    I strongly believe permaculture should not be closely associated with spirituality, and most certainly not taught on the same course. I have no problems with some individuals applying the permaculture design principles to other domains, including spirituality, but they should not be taught alongside.

    If they are, I fully agree that it will heavily marginalize permaculture which is the worst thing that could happen to it.

    I disagree with the notions that permaculture and spirituality are “inevitably” linked; some people see a natural link, others, including myself, can appreciate some people see it, but do not personally do that. The problem with having many “varieties” of permaculture, some spiritually more inclusive than others, is that defining permaculture becomes impossible, as does teaching and spreading it. To effectively teach a concept, the concept needs a definition.

    Finally, I think we should also pay some respect to the origins of permaculture. Both Mollison and Holmgren have explicitly indicated that permaculture is not a spiritual framework nor should it include spiritual elements in the core “system”.

    It is natural for it to inspire spiritual elements and thoughts, but spirituality is not, nor should it ever be, an integral part of permaculture.

  135. I personally agree, with some of what you said, however I have one MAJOR problem with it from a community point of view, and it is simply this:

    * you are placing yourself in the role of censor, and in a community context that is both misguided and dangerous .

    One of the things I LOVED about my PDC was that at the end of it I was told that “I was entrusted with the word permaculture to teach and share it however I felt was appropriate” (my paraphrasing). That trust was hugely empowering. I also think it’s an incredibly powerful marketing tool, trusting people to take the idea of permaculture, to use and teach it in a way that makes sense to them, is a powerful concept.

    By discouraging, and worse censoring, you are limiting peoples ability to teach and share permaculture concepts in a SUBJECTIVE way that makes sense to them and their audience. Making blanket statements about what permaculture should or shouldn’t be is damaging to the movement as a whole.

    It’s fine if PRI wants to keep a clear line between spirituality and what they teach, there’s a market for that, and every organisation has to make their own choices. However please TRUST the greater permaculture community will be able to use their own common sense about what is appropriate for their own personal development.

    Permaculture should be about whatever permaculturalists need it to be.


  136. Excellent post… and great discussion.

    I have a teacher… who in response to the question from a woman about what it is he teaches… “Is it spiritual?” replied: “Spiritual. You know what “spiritual” means? (in western culture) Spiritual is like a drawer in your desk, where all the stuff you can’t categorize is dumped. You can just open the drawer, and scoop all the junk sitting around in your desk into that junk drawer. That’s what “spiritual” means.”

    In the West, and yes, certainly in many other places around the globe… folks are very conversant and comfortable in identifying what they “believe”.

    In western culture especially over the last few decades, the ability to engage analysis and critical thought, sufficient to recognize that beliefs, almost by definition, are not facts or truth, has been greatly diminished. Belief is suggestive of a requirement of faith, because of a lack of tangible evidence unto “experience”.

    If I live near the arctic circle and am a lifelong native… and someone from the tropics visits me, and tells me all about this fascinating fruit with a large flat seed, but has no physical evidence to support the existence of same, it will certainly be a fascinating discussion. I may even feel compelled to want to discover the truth about such a thing. But for me, in my own experience… there is no such thing as a fresh ripe Mango. Certainly not in my experience, and despite my friends attempts to describe in intimate detail what a mango tastes like… it will be a futile effort on their part.

    I may choose to believe, or not believe, there is something like a mango. One thing is certain though… in my world view, in my region, and so far as those of my fellows living in that same locale, Mangoes have no basis or bearing in the scheme of things regards my life and experience. Any overtly ambitious attempts by my friend to convince me as to the existence of Mangoes, so far as real world experience, will have to be limited to belief. But it will be a fact, that I will need to eat… and I DO have experience with how to satisfy that need.

    If I end up visiting my friend in the tropics, the picking of a ripe mango, and cutting it open and tasting it, will lead to a very different conclusion. It will no longer require the faith of belief… then, I will know, based on my own experience. I will know, not believe… and now I can go back and talk to my family and peers about it… and the MOST they can do is believe, because they can’t “know” based on my experience, any more than they can satisfy their hunger by having ME eat a meal.

    In many ways… I can see the value of discussing “extra-phenomenal” experiences and ideas in the context of some of the biological foundation which Permaculture Design theory is built on. But marketing a course, or even a syllabus with a focus on “spirituality”, should have consideration as to it merits and outcome… it’s very likely to limit the potential audience.

    The presentation of “spiritual” ideas at a PDC, are best served presented as “the way they see things”, and a good PD Instructor will present any such material as THEIR experience, which I am free to take or leave, as the case may be.

    The Instructors I have learned from, to my knowledge, never marketed a PDC in language that suggest anything other than what Permaculture is. Yes, during the course, they have discussed “phenomena” that they have experienced, that would fit, generally, into the “spiritual experience” dimension of human experience. But it has been them talking about THEIR experience. I have no problem with that. I am free to choose whether to indulge their perspective, for myself, or not.

    But their experience can not be accepted as my own experience, of course, depending on the talent and skill of the teacher. But generally, I have to take it at it’s face… to believe or not believe.

    But “spirituality” or religion, would not… should not be something that I use when giving someone an elevator pitch to answer the question; “What is Permaculture?”… and to do so would generally be no more welcome, in western society anyway, than the question “what is the best political system in the United States?” It would also not be an accurate answer to the question.

    To me… my experience of “spirit” is closely intertwined with how I observe the natural world. But that has been a completely internal journey, supported by my own willingness to be open to the miracle of life that surrounds me.

    I would no more insist that someone believe what I understand as real, based on my own experience, than I would insist someone enjoy a type of sandwich I like, while I shove it, whole, down their throat.

  137. Do you think it is possible that the issue of “spirituality” in Permaculture and Permaculture Design courses comes up regularly because permaculture isn’t quite as scientific as we would like it to be?

    Biology is a mostly descriptive science. Experiment, observe, document. Very few theories, very little understanding of what makes life ‘tick’. Systems thinking and systems ecology, some of the pillars of permaculture, are especially thin on scientific theory.

    Instead of bringing up the controversy and perceived contradictions between science and spirituality perhaps we should put at least an equal amount of energy into developing the scientific aspects of permaculture and help it mature a bit more into real science and its purposeful application for the benefit of Life, The Universe and Everything ;-)

  138. I have to agree that the spiritual side that some people apply to permaculture does seem to hold back its progress and uptake. I recently attended a seminar focusing on organic/regenerative agriculture which was being aimed at mainstream conventional farmers. The speaker (a permaculturalist) got up and in his first session started talking about Gaia – you could see the farmers in the room cringe and immediately switch off! He lost his credibility instantly in their eyes.

    If what we are trying to do is get permaculture to be accepted by the general population, this is not the way to achieve this! I think many “spiritual” permaculturalists underestimate how threatening new ideas and belief systems can be to those who have never been exposed to them before, or for those who have a pre-conceived idea of what permaculture is. It is still viewed by many people as a weirdo hippy movement, and people do judge you for being involved in it. I deal with this every day, even within my own family!

    Look at the success that people like Jackie French and Joel Salatin have had by practicing permaculture, but not actually calling it that. When running courses, I think more thought needs to go into considering the target audience at the very least…. If you have ever worked in sales, its rule number one!

  139. Hello frends! What a great debate/argument we have been having around the dinner table tonight! I read out/translated Craig’s emails about the metaphysics thing and we were at it for hours! My brainiac scientist housemates and I thought this exciting debate could be seen from another perspective however…

    We think that people are generally bad and dont give a damm about most things other than themselves and therefore are generally incompatible with the ethics of permaculture. There are too many vested interests involved. They just don’t care! And as the global economy slides into it’s death throws the people will only care even less.

    The few good people, including the permaculturalists (and I think possibly some shamans too…) have the near impossible task of trying to turn this situation around before it’s too late. We think that the world needs all the permaculture teachers it can get, so if a teacher decides to include a bit of tree hugging but still adheres to the Manual as their curriculum, should they be excluded?

    My curriculum is the Manual – but I give the courses in Catalonian – where Barcelona is the capital. Large parts of the Manual I have translated into Catalonian for the classes – but it is my ‘version’ – is this a deviation? I also work closely with an excellent luna calender in our olive grove and vegy garden (which works uncanily, but the likes of which were descompted during my PDC in 2008) and I include content from Joseph Jenkin’s Humanure Handbook ( a book as important as the Manual) in the free short courses our association/fledgling permaculture centre runs. We are also practicing ‘pure Fukuoka’ grain systems between the olives. Is all this ‘allowed’?)

    Great work Craig! Pretty brave debate! Thankyou all for the intelligent thoughts!!

    Lots of work to do, hey?

    Love from chilly Catalonia! Please excuse any grammatical errors – I find I’m losing my English!


  140. Dear fellow interested parties of the permaculture concept

    When I first opened my emails this morning and read the one from Craig (thanks Mate) my initial thought was ‘Oh no, this will put the cat among the pigeons’. My very next thought was, however ‘…but this is exactly what we need right now’. Clicking on the link and reading Craig’s piece here, and in turn the 120-odd (at the time of writing) responses, I was personally glad to learn that so many are in favour of maintaining a separation between the rational and the spiritual within the PDC framework, for I too have noticed of late that there is a distinct metaphysical creep occurring within courses offered (for example, see: the PRI Forum). With this observation in mind, I offer the following:

    In my application of the permaculture concept, I am guided by the work of many who have gone before (and continue to work beside) me. These people are too numerous to give credit to in this instance, suffice to say I will quote from just two that continue to inspire me greatly concerning this topic:

    “Bill Mollison has described permaculture as integrated design science. This brief definition places permaculture firmly within the culture of science. Permaculture is applied science in that it is essentially concerned with improving the long-term material well-being of people. In drawing together strategies and techniques from modern and traditional cultures, permaculture seeks a wholistic integration of utilitarian values…

    Permaculture attracts many people raised in a culture of scientific rationalism because its wholism does not depend on a spiritual dimension. For others, permaculture reinforces their spiritual beliefs, even if these are simply a basic animism that recognises the earth as alive and, in some unknowable way, conscious. For most people on the planet, the spiritual and rational still coexist in some fashion. Can we really imagine a sustainable world without spiritual life in some form?

    For myself, I am proud of my atheist upbringing, in which humanist values defined an ethical framework for a rational world, but I also accept that, through the project of permaculture, my life is by small increments being drawn towards some sort of spiritual awareness and perspective that is not yet clear. To deny this, based on the evidence, would be irrational. However, for the present, my own interpretation of the ethical principles of permaculture rests firmly on rational and humanist foundations.

    The deliberate design of a new spirituality that reflects ecological realities may be an unrealistic and dangerous extension of the permaculture agenda. However, and organic growth of spirituality from ecological foundations promises more hope for the world than the increasingly strident clashes between religious and scientific fundamentalism. While I baulk at the idea of designing this spiritual union, I can’t help but use my systems thinking framework to help comprehend the dynamics of polarisation and emergent union between materialism and spirituality. While I focus on what I see as the positive and creative aspects of this union, they are mirrored by a dark and destructive alternative that is also emerging out of apparent polarisation. Figure 5 [p. 4] shows this broad pattern…”

    Source: Holmgren, D. (2003) ‘Permaculture: Principles and Pathways Beyond Sustainability’. Hepburn (Victoria, Australia): Holmgren Design Services, pp. 2-3.

    “Mystical ecologists, like many of today’s religious revivalists, view reason with suspicion and emphasize the importance of irrational and intuitive approaches to ecological issues…

    Mystical ecologists tend to downgrade social issues by reducing human problems (a generally distasteful subject to them) to a “species” level – to matters of genetics…

    Spirituality and rationality, which mystical ecologies invariably perceive in crassly reductionist and simplistic terms are pitted against each other as angels and demons. The mystics usually regard technology, science and reason, as the basic sources of the ecological crisis, and contend these should be contained or even replaced by toil, divination, and intuition. What is even more troubling is that many mystical ecologists are neo-Malthusians, whose more rambunctious elements regard famine and disease as necessary and even desirable to reduce human population…

    The ecology movement is too important to allow itself to be taken over by airy mystics and reactionary misanthropes…

    For the ecology movement to become frivolous and allow itself to be guided by various sorts of mystics would be unpardonable – a tragedy of enormous proportions. Despite the dystopian atmosphere that seems to pervade much of the movement, its utopian vision of a democratic, rational, and ecological society is as viable today as it was a generation ago…

    The attempt by many mystical ecologists to exculpate the present society for its role in famines, epidemics, poverty, and hunger serves the world’s power elites as the most effective ideological defense for the extremes of wealth on the one side and poverty on the other.

    It is not only the great mass of people who must make hard choices about humanity’s future in a period of growing ecological dislocation; it is the ecology movement itself that must make hard choices about its sense of direction in a time of growing mystification.”

    Source: Bookchin, M. (1991) Will Ecology Become ‘the Dismal Science’? ‘The Progressive’, pp. 18-21.

  141. I agree with Craig, well said: Permaculture has its place, and spirituality has its place.

    The space where the two meet has some value as well. Fukuoaka and Schauberger might differ with you Craig…a case for practical spirituality?

    A good facilitator/teacher should be sensitive to the needs of all the course participants and attend succinctly to these.

    Town planners, engineers and scientists will have different aspirations and needs from a PDC to perhaps individuals (predominantly western) looking for a post urban/capitalist/mainstream culture lifestyle, as will indigenous/tribal people, NGO staff, Govt extension workers, etc. A good PDC teacher should make sure that they can gauge these differing needs to some degree and facilitate accordingly.

    I do not believe that permaculture is not going mainstream because of new age spirituality (as much as I personally dislike this form of spirituality)promoted by PDC teachers on PDC courses. Mainstreaming permaculture as a design tool is not because of hippification.

    Some reasons (in my personal experience) for opposition to permaculture in mainstream conventional design applications and related changes in mainstream practice:

    Not enough focus on understanding the nature of professionals in traditionally separatist disciplines. Often there is not a policy nor culture of multi-disciplinary integration as is the core of permaculture.

    The perceived extra costs and other inputs for setting up permaculture systems as opposed to current mainstream practices. As a movement we have to take the economic value system of most mainstream designers and funders much more seriously. Similarly the economic returns research for most permaculture projects is often lacking in the bulk of permaculture media. This has particularly been the case with commercial farmers, and property developers.

    Cultural differences and perceptions. Many mainstream permaculture (mostly western) techniques are often not culturally accepted in Africa for example. There are numerous reasons for this. There is some danger to a rigid Mollison Designers Manual and/or scientific dogma.

    A lack of Permaculture training targeting the professional land use design arena. Permaculture training specifically for town planners, civil engineers, related policy formulation professionals, etc. Most PDCs are tailored for the average person, not for mainstream land use design professionals.

    Most secondary and tertiary education systems do not focus integrated systems (holistic ecological) modes of thinking and planning. How do we promote permaculture thinking and design to these institutions? Appropriate curriculum development.

    A lack of promotion of permaculture to other large scale ecological/sustainability change movements. For example I recently attended a workshop hosted by the 350 Climate Change Group. This leaders of this large scale global movement are largely unaware of the solutions to global warming that permaculture design offers.

    Blaming the failure of the permaculture movement going mainstream on the new age spiritual slant of a few PDC teachers is not sufficient. A deeper analysis is required.

  142. Craig’s comment summarizes it:
    mixing up one’s subjective beliefs into a permaculture course translates to erecting barriers to permaculture uptake, and also translates to undermining the work of other permaculture teachers.

    In my 17yrs of practicing and teaching Permaculture it is the mixing of subjective spirituality with Observation-based Permaculture Design that has harmed the movement more than anything. If you’re going to teach ANY spirituality in a PDC, you’ve got to teach them all, and there’s no time for that… Besides… religious sects and denominations all disagree with one another divergently forever and have slaughtered one another over their differences. There’s no way we would be able to reconcile all of the different “truths”.
    Permaculture and spirituality ARE linked and it can’t be avoided… However… You don’t need do be an adherent of MY spirituality or Frank’s or Jane’s or whomever’s in order to adopt Permaculture.

  143. Great job Craig, proud of you for such a proud work of literary permaculture work separating teaching vs community. Each time Geoff Lawton, has to go to some place new I am sure he is respectful of the community and its spiritual practice, but at the same time, there is no need for blending it with teaching.

    Good job, well written.

  144. We see Permaculture as a lifestyle as well as a Design System. This lifestyle can be embraced by anyone, no matter whether they are spiritual or not, whatever cultural background they have and whatever gender they are.

    There is so much important material to cover in a 72 hour PDC, that there is no time left for any personal convictions in religious or spiritual beliefs. We also totally agree with Craig and Geoff that conveying a spiritual belief has no place in a PDC. As far as we are concerned, spiritual beliefs are deeply personal, and no two people believe exactly the same thing. For people who do want to pursue spiritual issues, there are plenty of specialised courses or institutions.

    Permaculture is a system which will enable people to become as self reliant as possible whilst looking after the planet and each other, something which will still be valid after personal spiritual beliefs change.

    Permaculture can be the glue which will hold people together, no matter what their belief system is. Differences in spiritual beliefs have caused so much discordance and grief in the world already, it is wonderful that there is Permaculture, a lifestyle which can be embraced by everyone.

  145. Wow! What a great discussion! I love it!
    I feel much pertinence to this discussion as my Design/Consultancy company name has a spiritual connotation founded in our local bioregion, OM Valley Permaculture, OM Being a reference to both the Ohio, Little Miami, Great Miami and Makatewah River Valleys that define this region but also to the fact that Om is the universal sound that connects everything in most eastern philosophies. Fortunately or unfortunately when we created our Permaculture Education Non-Profit we dropped the name for the more secular name, connecting us to “this land” but also to Woody Gutherie’s patriotic credo. I did think about becoming a PRI outpost but due to the one caveat of no spirituality, I felt that at that time (before the crew that created This-Land was assembled), I couldn’t stick to that, as spirituality, religion, theology and inter-faith dialogue are one of my most favorite past times…
    Anyways, Where do we begin??? Lets go back to 1978, paragraph 2, page 1 of Permaculture 1, (the start of all of this): ” Perhaps we seek the Garden of Eden, and why not? We believe that a low energy, high yielding agriculture is a possible aim for the whole world, and that it needs only human energy and intellect to achieve this” This being the start of it all, beginning with a spiritual endeavor, a vision put forth (a spiritual endeavor in its simplest form, this one happens to be founded on mythology of 3 of the worlds 5 major religions), and now we have 33 years of Human Energy and intellect, and most importantly, science & Design following up…. That said, I think we can see where some of this discussion has originated.
    Personally, after organizing & teaching 5 PDC’s, teaching at a Community College and a at Large University in the heartland of America (Cincinnati, Ohio), as well as being in the Shadow of several Fortune 500 companies, headquartered just few miles away, I’ve found that incorporating spirituality, even the most basic reference, to be unpalatable to mainstream folks. I incorporated an observation in our first and second courses from one of the worlds leading Theologians. He talked about the difference between cultures that had a founding Myth that they fell from nature (Most western Judeo/christian) vs. one that nature was sentient (most eastern cultures & Philosophies- he references Japan) and how in those eastern Cultures Nature was to be “sublimated” vs. dominated. Anyways, some of my more mainstream Christian students did not like that reference, which led me to realize that the Design Science of Permaculture would have to remain just that, a design science. On the other hand I’ve also come across people who were so staunch in their religious beliefs that the fact that Earth Care was before People Care was too much for them, so I had to explain to them how Desertification & Famine result if Earth Care is not placed before People Care… truly the disconnect from Fossil Fuel Culture with little to no interaction to where their food comes from. So we can see what we are up against in just getting the Design Science of Permaculture accepted.
    Permaculture does attract people from all walks of life, which is the beauty of it. We teach our courses with folks running the religious spectrum of Hindu, Moslem, Christian & New Age, all of which are very devout, however we all see the need to bring solutions to these global problems in a scientific, open and engaging way. Its beautiful to see us all working together in a common goal, despite our religious beliefs.
    I will say that an Organization like PRI needs to maintain this non-denominational integrity to further the scientific message. However, to ignore the spiritual and religious implications is to ignore the very foundation of Permaculture, laid forth in ‘Permaculture one’ those 33 years ago, and the future evolution of Permaculture. I have struggled with how this evolution occurs but have concluded that any permaculture that incorporates spirituality must be very clearly delineated from Permaculture in its most scientific sense to avoid any confusion and potential dissolution from the public. Any incorporation of Spirituality must be for the highest good of Humanity and the planet, and nothing short, anything less will do Permaculture and humanity a disservice.
    So to Conclude I will reference the Permaculture originator and visionary, David Holmgren (of which Bill took David’s original idea and ran with it, of which we owe thanks to both of them as David had the idea of synergizing Agriculture & Ecology through the use of Landscape Design and Bill developed it and made it go viral on the planet… this should be documented in the History of Permaculture, especially through Bill before he passes- although he may never want to admit it, that old curmudgeon… God love him! David already knows and acknowledges this part of the story) Anyways on page 2 of David’s ‘Permaculture: Principles & Pathways beyond sustainability’: “Although permaculture can be reasonably seen as essentially materialist and scientific, it depends on an ecological perspective. Spiritual beliefs about a higher purpose in nature have been universal and defining features of all cultures before scientific rationalism. WE IGNORE THIS ASPECT OF SUSTAINABLE CULTURES TO OUR PERIL (capitalized for emphasis).I will leave it at that, although he continues on to share more important, almost prophetic words as to where we will need to go. After all, this ecological disconnection is a ultimately a spiritual disconnection from all things sentient and sacred.
    Keep on Growing
    Braden Trauth

  146. I’ve read many, many of the comments here and feel that there is a pattern emerging. Those that feel that Permaculture and Spirituality are linked feel that they are being ‘censored’. The author clearly stated, more than once, that if there is something Spiritual that you want to teach, please do so, but *outside* of the context of Permaculture and *outside* of the Design course’s curriculum. It is quite simple; Permaculture is a Science. And just as you would never teach Math or Chemistry in conjunction with a belief system, Permaculture should never be taught in conjunction with a belief system. Teach the Science and it makes sense to *everyone*. There is no ‘believing’ that 1+1+1=3. It is just fact. Same as orienting your home to take advantage of the winter sun. Your house will be warmer. Just fact.

    This is why Math, Chemistry, Biology, etc are accepting across all belief systems. If we want Permaculture to be accepted the same way, we *MUST* teach it the same way.

    This is not censorship. This is separation. You teach Art separately from Science. You teach Permaculture separately from Spirituality.

    Beliefs are irrelevant to facts.

  147. Interesting topic! Personally I agree with Andy Hill in that by far the most significant disincentive to attending a PDC is the cost. Faced with a choice between spending the money on that or more trees, the trees (together with a learning-by-doing plus ad hoc open source approach to my permaculture education) win every time. For me, a PDC sits firmly in the box marked ‘non-essential luxury items’ so the question of how it might or might not appeal to a hypothetical newbie when hitched up to other bandwagons is kind of irrelevant. We all found our way here, didn’t we? Presumably others will continue to do so in much the same sort of ways.

    As to the choice between a PDC attached to a ‘spiritual’ coathanger or a ‘scientific’ one, neither of themselves would incline me one way or another. Far more important is how the individual teacher carries their affiliations. A light touch steered with grace and intelligence is much more appealing than heavy-handed bible-thumping whichever side of this notional ‘divide’ someone stands on. And notional it is. ‘Science’ is as much a creation of its own circular logic as any thought system and is no less a belief than anything of a more spiritual inclination. It’s just not quite so easy to spot the questionable assumptions underpinning its foundations if you believe them to be ‘true’ …

    There’s also the point that people will tend to gravitate to the framework that’s most in tune with their own world view. Given that the most healthy and robust ecosystems are the ones with the greatest diversity, would we not be failing as permaculturalists if we suppressed that diversity by trying to shoe-horn it into some one-size-fits-all expression? To each their own. All have something positive to contribute and the more perspectives there are on the subject, the more we all gain when we put them all together.

    If I were ever to decide to treat myself to the luxury of a PDC, then it’s living working permaculture systems and people’s hands-in-the-earth experience I’d be paying to learn about, not intellectual theorising. The essential question for me is how well does this teacher understand nature, not the terms in which s/he formulates that understanding.

  148. This is how I frame it.

    Care of the Earth

    One must determine their own reasons for seeking to design sustainable systems, but the principles are not inherently chained to ideology. While one may choose to believe Earth is literally sentient, it is enough to understand the planet is a series of nested systems, all interdependent and indivisible. The ecological services provided by the natural world are the basis of all human activities, thus require careful and thoughtful interaction.

    Permaculture design principles provide a common means to create solutions that break down ideological barriers.

    Care of People

    Care of People is not an ideological stance, it is a requirement of a healthy biological system. The ideological war of wills and words and economic competition is based in differing ideologies seeking to define how people should exist together. The battle between competitive free market systems and systems with extensive social safety nets comes down to one point: a healthy system requires all parts to be healthy to function optimally. When any one part of a system functions below optimum levels, the entire system becomes vulnerable. If each individual is being productive, the waste byproducts (crime, violence, mental illness, etc.) of society will be reduced.

    Share the Surplus

    Abundance is waste if not productively used. Storing up supplies for lean times and emergencies is a good use of surplus, but uneaten food left to spoil is time and energy allowed to dissipate. These things become pollutants if not put to productive use. Over-abundance of food/resources leads to an abundance of population which overtakes ecosystem services, leading to a collapse of the population back to a level equal to the food available. What is first deemed to be abundance becomes a cause of crisis as excess flows through segments of the system, inevitably disrupting it. This is wholly independent of ideology.

  149. Great article ! Thanks so much for posting it. After more than a decade of pouring my heart and soul into PC, I had to step away precisely because the wu-wu element had so thoroughly taken over and so completely marginalized the movement. Permaculture around me became more about fitting into a world view ( dancing, chanting, oberving raw-ligious foodie beliefs and revering the moon goddess) and less about doing the work ( ever notice how few functional pc sites there are ?)

  150. A person can ask for a day on spirituality – but it doesn’t mean it will happen. Teachers aren’t going to take that up wholesale. I’m certainly not.

    This stuff has been argued about on the PIL forum – when a teacher had been asked by her students in peru to have the PDC taught in a way that embraced their spirituality – so they could include their world view. Well, all hell broke loose with the usual suspects weighing in and leaving so room for manouvre at all. It did get a bit unpleasant – its one of those hotly debated topics and I imagine it will continue to be argued about.

    The thing is that nobody actually owns permaculture. It is an incredibly diverse group of people.

    Admittedly when our local new age place promotes metaphysical stuff and asks me to send it to my group, I add a very strong caveat to the email: that it has metaphysical content. I do this because I respect people’s right to include that stuff – but I’m not going to promote it as “pure permaculture”. I do this because if someone like my father rocked down there for a film on permaculture and then sat through the anastasia series version of it, he would be turned off. And so would many mainstream people just looking for an answer would.

    So I suppose my view is that:
    1. Metaphysical content has been in permaculture since its beginning (much to Bill’s disgust) and many people come to permaculture via spirituality. It is one EDGE – and edges are important to a movement like permaculture.
    2. At the melbourne convergence a fourth ethic was put to the group and was carried: Care of Spirit. Some people believe that metaphysical content has a place in permaculture and I believe that should be respected.
    3. No one owns permaculture. and try as people might to restrict the curriculum to the designers manual, that is not not possible, nor even desirable.
    4. As long as teachers and convenors tell people that their course contains metaphysical content people will be able to make informed choices about which teachers they study with.
    5. I imagine that the teachers registration at PRI won’t be registering someone who spends a whole day on spirituality or that contains metaphysical content – so you have the control mechanism already in place. Teachers registered with PRI will be known to not have metaphysics in their courses, students can make an informed decision.
    6. I don’t think we will be able to resolve this issue – ever – but we should use it as an edge and be creative with it. What is actually possible with this edge? How can we edge think it?

    Regards to all and much ove to the permaculture fraternity out there – metaphysic lovers, and haters. We all want the same thing – to save the earth and its inhabitants.
    Love Tamara

  151. Many of us find reflections of our spirituality in our learning and practice of permaculture, and vice versa. That is one of the beautiful things about it all.

    There was a day of spirituality at the end of my PDC and I had to bow out. I was there to learn about the practices of Earth stewardship and I felt it was inappropriate for the course to offer guidance on my spiritual relationship with Earth. I seek other teachers and experiences for that. In my own life the two are not so separate, but I do not want my permaculture teacher teaching me about spirituality, nor my spiritual teacher teaching me about key lines and swales. Let me integrate them in the ways that make sense for me- and I do!

    And I agree that the careless- or even careful! meshing of these distinct things in public teaching arenas will continue to alienate people we desperately need. I trust that they too will be able to navigate their own spiritual lives with out any help from permaculture teachers- but they need to know sustainable food production and the practicalities of Earth stewardship!

    Thanks for this important conversation.

  152. Great discussion! I have had this issue come up many times. I myself am an anti theist and my whole family are very strong evangelical christians. My mother has just finished a masters in Agricultural Education and I have been trying to connect her with permaculture groups or information in here area.

    The sad part is that most of the closest groups are “Hippie/new age spiritualist” and this means to her that is is attached with something “not of God” and therefore of satan. Now I don’t disagree with ones right to add there own personal spiritual/religious connection to permaculture however I know in the case of my mother that she would on her own see the connections of “Gods Creation”.

    Spiritualism may indeed mix eventually on ones own terms but to be fair to all and to reach all this needs to be presented in a scientific way.
    If i had been invited to a permaculture group only to discover they were chanting to the fairy goddess to bless the seed or calling on the spirit of Guia to protect the new trees under a full moon then I would never have taken another look into permaculture thinking it was based on pure mysticism/spiritualism.

    As for some claiming that astrology/past life regression and so many other fringe theories have been proven by science, that is not the case with mainstream science since it is much more difficult to validate than the growth difference using varying companion plants or soil regeneration by compost and mulch.

    Lets all agree to keep our own views of spiritualism/religion and remain connected by one thing we can all agree and mainstream science can agree on… Permaculture works.

  153. Can’t there be both?
    Why must it be absolutely with or without “spiritual” undertones? As different plants in the garden need different conditions in order to thrive, so do different humans need different conditions in order to thrive.
    It disappoints me to hear the tone of negativity toward “hippies”, “spiritual stuff”, “hand holding in circles”, and “permanuts”. It is up to the individual to decide for themselves and seek out the proper environment to glean what they want from their PDC experience. Which, as of late, they have many to choose from.
    I have been a part of the permaculture community for almost 20 years. I have studied permaculture at a Buddhist school, with a pagan witch, and I have taught in both a “spiritual” environment and a college credited class. I live permaculture everyday, and for me it IS a spiritual experience. That is okay, some people want that.
    As for people being afraid that “hippies” and “spiritual stuff” will inhibit permaculture’s ability to infiltrate the main stream…who do you think started the organic food movement? Where is that today?
    With all respect, it seems to me…some of you could use a few hand holding circles and group hugging..

    *stepping down from soap box*


  154. On a personal level, I feel permaculture is utterly aligned with the teachings I have received from indigenous peoples around the world about the interconnectedness of all things and all the core concepts of all religions- love, respect and have compassion for all living beings and treat them the way you want to be treated (earth care, people care, fair share).

    Having said this, I also believe that the permaculture “movement” is severely limited by its wish to be a movement in itself. Permaculture for me is a tool, it is a framework for thought, a design science which helps us design systems that are harmoniously integrated in the environment. Permaculture is not like a book with a single aim, it is like the internet- a complex mycelium web of teachers and designers using the tool in the way that makes sense to them.

    For someone who lives and works in Africa, I would agree that using that tool attached to spiritual notions attached to specific belief systems has the potential of marginalizing it further. I work in a context where 98% are christians and very religious. Permaculture has the potential to be completely embraced by the mainstream in Africa, already in places it is part of the curriculum and in Kenya we have taught agricultural extention agents, NGO representatives, politicians and pastors. If they can embrace permaculture as a valid tool that can be used by EVERYONE across borders, cultures, religions and tribes, then this could really bring a change to this continent fraught by food insecurity, droughts and deforestation. Most importantly, it has the potential of bringing back the traditional knowledge systems upon which permaculture was based….

  155. “Permaculture and its principles are proven science, experimentally repeated over and over again for many years across a very broad set of conditions.”

    I would love to be directed to any peer reviewed papers from respected scientific journals that support this claim.

    re-ligion: “to tie or bind again” is a word, (as is yoga: “union”) which accurately describes the world views and ritual practices that arose as a result of urbanism and “civiliized” humans having lost their connection to the whole. Pre-conquest (google E Richard Sorenson) autochthonic tribal peoples experience the complete loving connection to spirit that is our innate human condition. Animism is the only catholic (=universal) worldview that has ever existed here on earth.

    One definition of permaculture states: “a land use and community building movement”. In my first PDC we were introduced to alternative financial arrangements and community relationships, i.e. Politics, as well as core routines for reconnecting to nature i.e. spirituality, both of which I feel are inseparable aspects of creating sustainable human culture.

  156. Permaculture is system design. Following the three ethics and using observation, you can design, implement, build a house, a garden, a farm, a town, a meal, a chook house, a business, water catchment/distribution system, what ever. Once you start to see how nature works and how you are a part of it, changes may occur in your mind. You might realise that defecating in your drinking water is not such a great idea, flushing away fertility not so wise and eating poison is only going to end badly. You might also start to make connections with nature, with earth, spiritual connections. This is a good thing. But this is not Permaculture. It has resulted from Permaculture. Of course spirituality is different for everyone and should be celebrated but it is not Permaculture. Spirituality is for the individual. Permaculture is for all.

  157. Thanks Craig………..agreed and agreed. As one just gearing up to teach my first PDC I have enjoyed reading this thread immensely. Although I will comment that if you really want to get into some hot water, try teaching ecology and evolution to a bunch of muslim students in Palestine and see how successfully you can get people to leave out their spiritual beliefs and focus on the science :)

    Still… has been pointed out, permaculture IS a toolkit: a means to an end, based on a certain set of ethical standards: people care and earth care. This does set it apart from ‘science’, which is a methodology for deducing truths about how the universe works, or indeed the nature of existence based on observable phenomena.

    Where permaculture departs from traditional sciences is in the intention to ‘observe and interact’…..rather than ‘observe and theorise’. Indeed, in traditional sciences, sometimes these two things have been separated: the great physicist and astronomer Fred Hoyle refused to collect his own data for fear that his theoretical work would prejudice his observations. Convesely, Hubble, for whom the telescope was named, refused to theorise about his observations, for similar reasons.

    Between them they did instrumental work in unravelling the inner workings of stars and shedding light on how the molecules that comprise all living beings are in fact manufactured in the centre of stars and blazed across the universe in great stellar explosions. That is not a spiritual belief…….that is a scientifically establlished truth. A dividend of patient observations, gathered over hundreds of years, puzzles passed from generation to generation of astronomers, until eventually there is enough evidence to make some sense of the data.

    So much for the great gifts of understanding that science has given us. The catch is of course that the same science that has allowed astronomers to probe the deep history of the universe has also allowed others to manufacture atom bombs. Hmmm. The same incredible insight that has revealed the meachanisms of evolution and allowed us to understand in a very fundamental sense how ecosystems function has also given us GM crops.

    So HOW science is applied is fundamentally important. I think some writers in this thread have become confused between ‘science’ and the ‘scientific method’ and ‘technocracy’, which is a certain way of applying science, based on a certain belief-set and intended outcome. The scientific method is not the same as the technocratic paradigm that man is higher than nature, or that financial profit is an end that justifies all means, and should not be conflated with it thus.

    So let’s not shy away from SCIENCE like it is the preserve of evil technocrats and viscious capitalists and take refuge in fluffy-headed, simplistic la-la…(incidentally, for those who believe that all drugs promote such a state, you are mistaken – there is much insight to be gained by altering one’s perceptions that is not at all inconsistent with the rational, scientific method. Do I advocate such experiments as a component of the PDC….no…..on your own time people!).

    But let’s also be honest about our own position….it DOES encompass intentionality, is DOES contain ethics…it is not pure science, it is applied science. It does reject certain behaviours as ‘immoral’ and certain outcomes as ‘undesirable’ or even ‘unacceptable’. We have entered the arena of beliefs about how the world should be….words like ‘equality’, ‘self-determination’, ‘people before profit’ start to crop up. Issues like indigenous land-rights and regulation of global trade start to be of relevence…….we are certainly acting in a political arena…we are people with an agenda.

    That is not to say that our beliefs are incompatible with those of other major religions/ secular people/ hippies/ drop-outs/ suits and sandals. But we are assembling a coalition to push for change in a certain direction…..and based on our beliefs, there are others aside from loopy-la mumbo-jumbo pushers that are of considerably more concern.

    Can a permaculturalist be a racist? I would argue that that violates the code of people care that should be at the heart of permaculture practice. But in doing so I draw on an ethical standard.

    What about a ‘permaculture consultant’ who does a great design for a mining company who are stealing land from indigenous people – they are restoring their site…..but it’s a green-wash and they are fundamentally immoral, racist racketeers. Have we anything to say about that?

    Will we as a community allow such people to co-opt the name of permaculture because we are afraid of being rejected by ‘main-stream science’ or (and my true colours will now start to shine through) a lot of fence-sitting, complacent capitalist stooges, for taking a moral stand? I would say that if we swing to far to the ‘design-science’ model, and forget the very simple ethical code that the movement IS founded on, we stand in danger of it.

    Hope that makes some sense! Peace folks,


  158. When I first decided to go to a PDC, about 5 years ago, I was uncertain what to expect. I was happy when I saw an ad for the Koinonia Christian Community in GA. That connection of familiarity was enough to inspire me to go. The PDC, though held in a Christian environment, was not Christian at all. Interestingly, my instructors showed American Indian and Sufiism traditions throughout and we had at least one Dance of Universal Peace; though not as a part of our teachings, but because that is who they are.

    My feeling is that as long as a PDC is billed as what it is, it’s all good. If a Hindi instructor wants to teach a Hindi PDC, assuming the entire 72 hours are covered and it is clear the specific pathway of encouragement, so be it.

    Permaculture is a way of living. In my opinion, that way of living could and should be incorporated in all aspects of life. If the military wants to great, if Microsoft wants to, great. Just be clear up front.

    I’m a certified permaculture teacher. I’ve also studied at Gaia University, in the urbiculture pathway. I’m Christian. When I teach, I do not endorse any one religion. I encourage all.

  159. My gut instinct tells me to let people decide what they want. Some people are naturally drawn to express spirituality through their gardening practice, others are more scientific in their approach. I feel that both approaches are fine. Whenever I’ve been teaching PDC’s, sometimes issues of a religious/spiritual nature come up. This can really divide students in the class (if everyone doesn’t have the same belief), so it can be a destructive force for the social dynamic of the group. It can also be a good glue for the group when everyone in the group feels a certain power from expressing an aspect of growing in a deeper sense than what the nuts and bolts are (the science) of the subject.
    I honestly believe in both approaches and to each their own. Whatever works to get people interested in growing, is what I like. There are many perspectives viewing the same thing – let’s assume we are all on the same road and embrace the diversity….

  160. To begin with ,Spirituality cannot be taught.It is a very individual affair.Permaculture in my opinion by its very nature,icreasing our awareness of the amazing interconnectedness in life and death,is inspiring ,enhancing our spirituality.There is no creed ,no dogma but a subtle inner revolution is sparked off , a byproduct of our growing sensitivity.alertness,awareness.It is inevitable.

  161. I have been teaching PDC courses for twenty years. I have made a living for me and my family (and countless volunteers, staff and friends) through teaching and demonstrating Permaculture on a practical basis in our Ecocentre in Brazil (where IPC 8 Convergence was held). Frankly I don’t even know how some people can mix matters of metaphysical nature with this most elegant pedagogical package that is the PDC. Two weeks is just too short to go through Design alone..
    However I must say that religious ideas are not the only threat to Permaculture as a science. There is a legion of flaky teachers that did not learn enough about sustainability design and so chose to teach something else inside a PC course. There are also the self appointed activists that believe Permaculture is yet another feel good movement against the dominating system and so has no rules to follow. Anything goes. They might do an even bigger disservice offering low quality experiences at impossible costs, degrading the quality of a learning experience, or even calling it Permaculture with Psychosexual kundalini awakening. The fact is: It was permitted from the beginning.
    So my friends and colleagues of Permaculture, how do we solve this? Haven´t we all learned PC from an experience outside the castles of hierarchical knowledge, the all mighty Universities? Didn´t Bill leave the University because it would not accept a transdisciplinar discipline?
    And now we are seeking the recognition of those masters? The same owners of the knowledge.
    To leave my point in few words:
    I absolutelly agree that Permaculture must be kept distant from spiritual teachings, and political parties too. These things, although might be necessary, don’t mix in the same room.
    I think there are too many bad designers overstating the results of their designs, if any.
    I think there are too many junior teachers that never designed anything, let alone implemented a living system, displaying provocative attitudes for the sake of perpetuating conflict. After all, many bacteria thrive on this edge.

  162. I would have been put off by a hippy spiritual vibe. in fact the reason I was drawn to permaculture was that it dealt with the practical. while I think subjective beliefs should not be part of a permaculture course that shouldn’t stop the permaculture community teaching ideas that come from cultures of spiritual belief and devotion. if you want to talk about the way communities work, are run and are set up it is useful to draw on the knowledge accumulated by hippie communes and the Zionist movements. it has often be the case that spirituality has lead to practical knowledge. it is that practical knowledge that has a place in a gobble design movement and not the beliefs that lead the it.
    this is also true for traditional land management wisdom. I am from Australia but I don’t need to believe in the rainbow serpent creature sprite to find the knowledge accumulated by 40,000 years of indigenous culture useful as a designer and teacher.
    we should also not shy away from teaching PC designer to designing in a way that acknowledges spiritual belief systems. I am working in Nepal and have recently had to completely rework a house design because I had failed to make my self full aware of the spiritual beliefs of the people who will be living and learning in it. we don’t need to teach spiritual beliefs but we do need to design in a world full of them.

  163. afraid i couldn’t get through this all, sorry if I’m repeating

    I feel spirituality and paradigm shifts are necessary to make all the changes we need in the world, or else permaculture may attain the mainstream just to be consumed, iconified and sold like so many other good ideas in capitalism

    That said, very good points Craig- I think so long as it is made clear that Permaculture is a scientific design framework and (whichever) spirituality is presented as a separate entity then they will only serve to cross-pollinate and enrich one another. Since both permaculture and spiritual practice are grounded on our earth they often hold parallels which make both more deep, rooted and magical- inspiring and invigorating us all to do the hard work ahead

  164. I’m with Bill Molly on this one. I spent two weeks among hippies, and made some great friends. But my spirituality (being a Muslim) brought about welcomed questions while I rolled out my prayer mat and bowed and prostrated outside the Yurt (class room). A new friend (Sanka aka Rory) went about in the evening with his shamanic grunting and allot of the members joined in the drumming sessions on most evenings.

    But I had not signed up, paid good money and left the comfort of my home for such. I can for the know-how on permaculture design

    And the course content was bang on, a design science on sustainable food and resource production along with the skills needed to survey, analyse, design & implement. Richard Perkins I take my hat off to you.

    If the PDC I joined was advertised with any sort of spirituality under/over tone I’m quite sure I’d have not signed up.

    Just my thoughts on the matter.

  165. Exactly! All partisanship is lethal.

    There a couple of reasons why wikileaks managed to reach a global audience.

    One very important one is that they understood that all partsanship is lethal.

    I remenber a newsitem in wich Julian Assange was asked: ” Are you an anarchist?!”

    His answer was: “Absolutely not!”

    Read more about it here:

  166. Thanks Craig and Geoff and many others for this clarification. I am sure that people wanting to mix and or not mix will always be a problem.I would say they can tack it on to the outside, but if you try to mix it even a little it starts making it all tacky in my opinion.
    I lean (I think)
    towards atheism and pantheism if that is possible but do not think about it because permaculture has me spiritually occupied.
    If people have to mix it then perhaps they need a new name for the concoction.

  167. Craig,

    As a spiritual person myself, I agree with the overarching point of your argument: keeping permaculture courses focused on the permaculture!

    Now, this doesn’t mean that we should not bring spiritual learning opportunities to the greater public if that’s what they want and we can offer education in this arena, but if we are going to offer a spiritual course, it must be promoted as a spiritual course and not as a permaculture course. As a suggestion, do not put the word “permaculture” anywhere in the title or the main description of the course, but if one wishes to include some permaculture concepts in the course, say something like: ” permaculture principles will also be included in the discussion” and when bringing up the permaculture aspects in the course, it would be a good idea to say something like, “now, I am going to put on my permaculture hat and tell you how permaculture applies to this” or something similar. In the same way that licensed therapists cannot legally include astrology into their work, I know several that offer both service but are always careful to keep the two separate. We should be doing the same by refraining from promoting spiritually-themed courses with the word “permaculture” all over them, but there is no reason we should not included elements of permaculture within such courses as we make connections to it within the greater subject matter. Hope this make sense. That’s how I personally approach it anyway.

    Now Craig, as to your statement to the person who asked you to repost their “spiritual permaculture” course: “Such courses have marginalised permaculture and helped ensure it has stayed a fringe movement,” I have to ask you, isn’t such a statement equally subjective? Where is the empirical data backing such a statement? I find that its much more likely that it’s the modern obsession toward ever-more-complex technofixes along with advertising, corporate cash and doing business-as-usual that have done more to marginalize permaculture than anything else by a wide margin.

  168. Let’s focus our energy on Permaculture, the science of Permaculture. Let’s not waste more time guys. Please.

  169. Greetings all.

    Some beautifully worded balanced discussion here.

    It`s all been said, but just to reiterate; yes let`s all focus our energy on permaculture, and link with and embrace the science, whether we be Muslim, Pagan, Christian, whatever.

    People care; for the good the bad and the ugly, irrespective of religious or non religious beliefs or leanings.

    My credentials? I am human and I am alive.

    A productive and creative 2012 to all.

  170. Graham,

    I am not so sure about your claimed link between Steiner and the Nazis. If I remember right, the German chemical industry (specifically: IG Farben), which saw Steiner and his views concerning their fertilizer products as a threat to their market, launched a successful political campaign to defame Steiner’s approach to education as subversive and directly opposing the idea of national socialism.

    Personally, I’m not a fan of Steiner’s “Muck and Magic” – as John Seymour put it so succinctly. But that’s irrelevant for the question whether or not this claim properly represents history.

  171. I can’t believe the hysteria caused by the course that Craig declined to advertise on the PRI. (I wouldnt have bothered asking, but the organiser was very innocent of the silly debate about such things in the permaculture movement.) It was not an ad for a permaculture course and there is no trademark to restrict the use of the word. I teach people who are interested in things spiritual that people can interact with nature in a magical and productive fashion and grow lots of food as well. I call it Sensitive Permaculture. I have written a book on the subject. No-one is forcing anyone to do any course. It’s up to the consumer to make sure that the course they are about to undertake is going to fulfil their needs, whatever it is. Hysteria about the dualism of us/them, religious/secular etc etc – it’s all old hat! Science has discovered the magic too and gives it different names. We can’t be too pompous in thinking that we have the Correct Way to Save the World. For one thing – we need to engage people’s heart and minds, that involves a bit of spirit, no? Stop wasting energy in discussing this issue – it’s a non-issue. Blessings on all of you. Alanna

  172. Addendum:

    Evidently, the Anthroposophic Society was dissoved by decree on November 1, 1935.

    Concerning claims of racism, even Einstein, who once was asked whether he would accept a position as the first president of Israel, very clearly had views which we nowadays would call outrageously racist – in particular, he tried to talk his first son out of marrying his later daughter-in-law, as he considered her “genetically inferior”.

    Which brings us back to the present subject. Back then in Einstein’s time, Mendel’s ideas about genetics was great science, it seemed to explain so much about the world, and almost everybody who considered himself a “critical thinker” seems to have embraced it. It is indeed amazing how many comments which we nowadays would consider outrageously racist were made by people we these days never would associate with being racists.

    So, in a certain sense, this can be regarded as an example for a belief system (which accidentally emerged) going unnoticed under the cloak of science.

    I have the strong impression that this actually is much more widespread than we often realize. Consider, in particular, beliefs of the next great miracle reactor technology solving all our energy and hence also environmental problems. There is a lot of wishful thinking in science and technology – so, to what extent is that actually more like a “religion” than “based on naked objective facts”? This is not meant as a sort-of excuse for spreading “funny beliefs”, but rather a warning that something that calls itself “science” may in fact be a religion. It’s of course quite obvious with “Christian Science” a la Mary Baker Eddy, but I think there is a wide diversity of beliefs-under-the-name-of-science stretching even into what is considered mainstream science.

    There are a number of things in the sciences of biology, chemistry, ecology, even physics, which I consider quite doubtful in the sense of “how much fantastic belief is there actually in that particular idea”? I am a physicist by training, but I am very aware of my fallibility as a human being. The way I know myself, I am fairly sure I do believe a number of things where I am not yet aware of the very real need to explore why I do believe them.

    Conclusion: even if one tries to make an effort to keep strange beliefs out of Permaculture education, human nature makes it tricky (impossible?) to fully achieve that goal. Still, it certainly is important to try to eliminate links between such “strange beliefs” and the PDC curriculum.

  173. To an epistemologist, the construction of a permaculture design course might be a worthy undertaking. It would begin by asking some deeper questions.

    Going back to Socrates, we can posit that “knowledge is an evidence-justified belief.” In order to know that a given proposition is true, one must not only believe the proposition, but one must also have a good reasons supporting that belief. Made-up reasons don’t count. Faith-derived reasons don’t count.

    Do you know that “knowledge is an evidence-justified belief?” No. Do you think you could find evidence to justify it?

    Question authority. This causes a nearly infinite loop for epistemologists, because whether reasons are made up or self-evidently true regresses back to the core of your beliefs and how they were formed. The more we learn about neuroscience and inherited responses to our environment the more we have to question how, when and by what means our core beliefs are derived.

    I am a skeptic of “science,” including trying to cast permaculture as mere “design science.” My deep and wide-open contact with other intelligences — plants, animals, insects — tells me that there is much more to us than the meat part. If you don’t grok this, a judiciously administered regimen of ayahuasca or peyote might help. The commenters in this thread who spoke to the need for holism versus segmentation make a key point. The broader view needs to be appreciated, if not necessary included in the curriculum.

    All of the PDCs I teach are devoid of spirituality content. I have a deep woo-woo aversion. Just design science, that is what we want to see. More often than not the courses I teach are funded in part by government or UN agencies and need to be completely rigorous.

    I make it a practice to pull the teaching team together before the start (or an individual teacher, if they are coming in mid-course) to go over my ground rules. No involuntary touching. No touching, period, if we are in an Islamic venue or have Muslims in the group. No indiscrete attire, especially in places like traditional Mayan villages or Palestine. No alcohol, no sex between teachers or teachers and students, no drugs. We do occasionally offer an element called “internal ecology” (ecologia interna in Spanish) in some courses taught by one of my associates who is a qualified psychologist, but we put that outside the 72-hour curriculum and say it’s voluntary. It involves stretching and brief aerobic exercise, internal questioning (vision, mission in life, limitations), so, like yoga, it might be offered before breakfast for early risers. Most people who do it rave about how transformative it is. But that is the closest we get, and once the course gets going every day, that part is fenced off. In the same way, if someone in the course has some particular skill like Aikido or Tai Chi, dowsing or baubiologie, and wants to offer instruction, we encourage that, outside of class hours.

    And finally, as a 65-year old hippy and proud of it, with buckets of university degrees, wide-ranging awards for our humanitarian work or our cutting edge training center, publications in peer-reviewed journals, 15 books, and real scientific achievement in the true sense of that word (patents, advancements of science, etc.), I am especially annoyed by the tenor of many remarks here regarding my chosen race. “Hipi” derives from the Wolof word meaning “awakened.” Get used to it, dude. We were saying this stuff before it was called Permaculture.

  174. Wow, there are a lot of comments on this. As one who has taken a few Permaculture design courses. I strongly support your stance that spirituality should not be included in PDC’s as it takes away from the objective legitimacy of ALL other instruction.

    Throwing in my 2cents: If you can’t prove it or you can’t design an experiment too test it, then don’t teach it.

  175. This is a busy post, and I’m reluctant to contibute much more than a vote since I haven’t taken the time…yet…to read all the comments.

    I’d say keep the promotion and teaching of permaculture separate from explicit ideas promoting some aspect of religion or politics.

  176. I have seen exactly this discussion going on (and on and on) in every area of human thinking where people have stumbled across a fundamental natural process and created a system with a label based on it. That the discussion can never be resolved satisfactorily (though every individual participant doubtless feels that if everyone saw it the way they do there would be no problem) should alert us to the fact that we’re missing something crucial in our understanding and perspective on the situation.

    For one thing, the system and the label aren’t ‘real’. They represent a map or model of the real process that constitute a guide to using the process with a reasonable degree of consistency and replicability. Fundamental processes can be mapped/modelled in many different ways, interpreted in even more, and all those ways represent only a partial view, a limited (and limiting) glimpse of something which not only has dimensions way beyond a human’s narrow sensory range but is seamlessly enmeshed and integrated with every other natural process in an unbroken, living, breathing whole.

    So on the one hand the discussion is irrelevant. And on the other, it’s utterly crucial to dispelling the illusions that keep us going round in circles on the issue.

    Where do you draw the line around ‘permaculture’? You can’t. Because it’s not a line. It’s a fuzzy grey border zone which every one of us sees in a slightly different way. And what’s more, the way we perceive it not only mediates our understanding of it, but influences the way that process works for each of us.

    And what’s really behind a lot of our opinions on this? Isn’t it our individual tribalism? Our need for our personal realities to be taken seriously by the rest of what we see as ‘our’ tribe? Our desire to be part of the biggest, most powerful tribe and aversion to being lumped in by association with other tribes who are often perceived as disconnected from ‘reality’ in some way and the subject of scorn and derision? Well hey! Doesn’t the principle of ‘People Care’ imply that we should be ridding ourselves of such prejudices? If we don’t then our ‘People Care’ is nothing more than paternalistic do-gooding. Isn’t everyone’s ‘reality’ real to them? What makes our ‘reality’ any different other than we’re the ones living it? None of us have an exclusive line to ‘the truth’. What is this business of thinking we are in some way ‘superior’? Didn’t the early 1940s demonstrate clearly enough the end of that line of thinking? Isn’t it time we grew out of this? The whole planet is on the brink. We’re all in this together.

    Yet for all that, there seems to be a broad consensus running through this thread that what people want in permaculture education is the nuts and bolts. If we strip away the notion of ‘education’ with its hierarchical structure, its ‘certificates’ and its aura carried over from each of our individual childhood experiences of ‘education’, then what we’re left with is stories. Each of us telling our own stories … “I did this and this and this and that is what happened …” and each of us listening and sorting those stories into a gut “Yes!!” or a gut “Noooooo …” which is our instinctive way of filtering what works for each of us individually.

    Personally I think ‘permaculture’ is unstoppable. Whether we see ourselves this way or not, we ARE part of nature and as such we have no choice but to respond to a deep imperative within the system as a whole to return to health.

  177. @Thomas Fischbacher- true, Himmler saw Anthroposophy as a threat to his version of Nazi Paganism and eventually it was banned (Hitler came to see the Cult of Steiner as a threat to his own legacy also)- but other Nazis strongly advocated Biodynamics, and it was under Nazi patronage -especially from Hess until he fled to Britain in 1941- that Biodynamics enjoyed its most wide-spread support. Many early Nazi’s saw Steiner’s mysticism as highly compatable with their doctrine of Blood and Soil. See Staudenmeier’s work on this:

    Re. the epistemological discussions about science and religion- science is a self-correcting process that is inherently skeptical, ie it always accepts it could be wrong and its findings are subject to constant verification through evidence and experimentation; no such process exists in religious or ideological beliefs, which are in contrast inherently resistant to any self-questioning- they depend on NOT being questioned, often on the basis that we should be “open” to them;

    dowsing, lay-lines, geomancy, homeopathy, astrology…. none of these have any basis at all in science, not because of some imagined “dogma” of science but simply because there is no evidence for them- belief in such things is not contingent on evidence.

    It is certainly true that permaculture is not a science, nor have many of its more mundane claims been subject to scientific verification. I agree with posters who raise other issues about politics etc- there seems to be an assumption that permaculture has to be anti-GM, anti-nuclear etc., although there is little evidence for the supposed dangers of these technologies.

    Nor however is there much if any good evidence for organic farming- organic food is not healthier, chemical residues on conventional crops are not dangerous generally, and appropriate use of synthetic fertilisers is not necessarily a bad thing! I try to raise these and other issues for discussion on my courses- with dissent coming most vocally from the New Agers, because their religious beliefs preclude support for these technologies.

    At the end of the day there is “good design”and “bad design”- the main problem with permaculture as a concept is precisely that it has no clear definition and therefore is hijacked by other groups with agendas, and ends up meaning nothing at all.

    @Alana Moore- I dont see any hysteria here, rather a fascinating and well-balanced discussion. Why would you not welcome this, I wonder?

  178. Graham,

    my impression is that the attempt to construct a link between Nazis and Steiner is mostly based on the (not too deep) observation that both were in some way influenced by occultist ideas. But I don’t think that the occasional fan of Steiner’s ideas among the ranks of the Nazis bears too much weight. It would probably be as far fetched as trying to construct an ideological link between catholicism and national socialism, say. In particular, Steiner’s ideas probably have their origins in freemasonry, and all totalitarian regimes tend to oppress societies that may pose a danger of becoming a threat to them.

    Concerning science as an “inherently skeptical self-correcting process”, well, I’d say it is pretty clear that it only can work that way if the majority of scientists subscribe to a corresponding professional ethic. My impression is that the present trend seems to go in the opposite direction. I would estimate that about 20% of all proposal and paper evaluations are much more strongly influenced by the reviewer’s personal agenda than by the merits of the author’s work. Which means that there is an about 2/3 chance to receive a fair assessment of an article by two referees, and about a 50:50 chance for a proposal to be shot down by someone disliking successful competitors. My impression is that this already has worsened markedly, and is going to worsen further in the future as more and more scientists realize they can get away with unethical behaviour.

    Apart from that, there are numerous strange “fashions” in science. Why is it that Bayesian statistics these days only plays a minor role in comparison to frequentist statistics, say? Why are most engineers using Nabla calculus these days rather than a much more systematic formalism? Not all examples are as innocent as these. In particular, when it comes to life sciences, I get the strong idea that there are quite a number of devout ideologists among our professors who do not even realize that they try to sell a belief system. I’ve had a number of discussions with biochemistry PhD students who firmly believed that the one and only way to fight hunger is to GM the C4 cycle into rice – and have never ever heard of SRI before (say).

    Take, for example, the recently deceased Stanford Professor John McCarthy (father of the LISP programming language). He maintained a collection of extensive and influential web articles on the sustainability of material progress at His basic claim is that, as the world is awash with Uranium, there isn’t really any energy problem, and as we can solve most problems by throwing a lot of energy at them, we can also solve our environmental problems by massively going nuclear. He does a lot of order-of-magnitude calculations that try to give his claims an aura of being quantitative and “scientifically sound”, but he would never respond to any questions concerning e.g. the observation that turning this program into reality would mean allowing a nation such as Iran to build around major 100 nuclear power plants in order to just replace their present oil and gas use.

    Now, you can of course argue that McCarthy, a computer scientist, was clearly working outside his professional area when discussing sustainability, and did not do any research on this. But there are a number of scientists who mingle their techno-mysticism (i.e. firm belief in unproven technology to be developed into miracle solutions) with their science. There is a wide spectrum of such activity. Take Frank Tipler’s “The physics of immortality”, for example. (Tipler also wrote an actually quite useful introductory physics textbook, among other things.) Or take Muller’s “Physics for future presidents” lecture. Or take people seriously dreaming of accelerator based fusion reactors. Or Lackner’s “Synthetic trees”.

    Let me be very specific, I call the IMechE’s recent publication on geo-engineering…:

    …to actually be a good example of work that is much more a product of quite absurd techno-religious beliefs than rooted in sound science or technology.

  179. Well, I see that again this discussion turns on words that no one seems to define, and that are rather hard to define. I feel and see a difference between “religion” and “spirituality” though it is hard to define exactly what that difference is, and yes there is definitely overlap there. Let’s also throw in a few other terms for the heck of it: how about “paradigm”? How about “mental models”? How about “frames” or “frames of reference”? All of these undefined/undefinable words are frames we use, and the way they frame our thinking leads to inelegant design solutions to the challenges we face, IMHO.

    I wish I had more time to read and respond to comments in this blog. The issues are important and I actually agree with many of the points made by the “no-spirituality-in-permaculture” proponents. What I say here is NOT a denial of the validity of those points. I intend instead to raise the validity of the issues on the”other side” of the argument (as if there are only two sides! Ha!).

    My experience has been that ANY tool, including permaculture, can be used in ways that are antithetical to the values and ethics expressed or intended. I’ve had “nonviolent communication” used against me in emotionally violent ways! Indeed, it is clear that even Mr. Mollison had moments or statements that embodied the old paradigm–most of us do, having been brought up in a screwy culture.

    The belief that humans are, or can be, separate from nature is a deep fallacy of western culture and that belief permeates our very language and psychology in deep and surprising ways, I find–and it pops up in Mollison’s writings too, at times. When such a belief permeates unconsciously, we design as if it is true, and that leads to failure, if not outright disaster. IF WE DO NOT DEAL WITH THIS INNER LANDSCAPE ASPECT OF CULTURAL CHANGE PERMACULTURE WILL FAIL AT ITS TASK. Period.

    My experience has been that I learn better, and my students learn better, when the links between the principles “outside” ourselves and how they apply “inside” ourselves get drawn. Granted, I teach primarily or only in the USA, and the immediate needs for food and housing, etc. are not felt here (as greatly, not YET) because of the world’s subsidy of this country. Even so, if we ignore the inner landscape issues, we ignore them at our peril.

    Does dealing with ANY “inner landscape issue” make a topic “spiritual”? Some people see it that way. I don’t, though I see and feel the overlaps there, too. But I think we need more words for snow in this case. Here in my region, we have a few different phrases for different kinds of snow. In the far north, they have 27 or more, because their awareness is more tuned to their environment, and those differences matter to their lives. So, because we have minimal if any nuance in our language and awareness about the inner landscape we confuse things that need better distinction. Some people who resist any form of spirituality in permaculture seem to me to be more fearful of facing or addressing serious internal issues (e.g., addiction, self-separation) that we need to face as individuals and as a culture. Some, not all. This is part of the confusion that happens.

    But I am extremely clear that what permaculture has taught me has SO much to offer to the inner landscape–the principles all apply there. I am also extremely clear, as I said above, that if we do not deal with more than just ethics as inner landscape aspects relevant to permaculture, that permaculture will not sustain.

    I see no actual conflict between the various points of view–we simply need to get more skillful and creative about how to address all the design goals we have: how to connect people to the inner landscape issues that are practical, necessary, real, and yes, deeply internal and perhaps spiritual to some, while doing so in a way that does not have the “hippie smell” or turn people off. These are actually quite practical issues, especially when it comes to designing functional social systems.

    Mostly I would like us to avoid or grow beyond the black-white thinking that seems to virtually always swirl around this issue, and to notice the effects of the black-white thinking itself–how it limits our design options, yet again. This is EXACTLY what I am talking about. If we do not have internal awareness of the ways we think and feel and sense, then we limit our design options ALL THE TIME because we fall prey to the old paradigms. Separation paradigm, black-white thinking, addictive processes–these are actually all related to each other, part of the inner landscape “desertification” process that we must reverse with rapid heavy grazing, deep keyline plowing, and softening flood irrigation, in that order, so we can create an internal soil climax that boosts health and diversity and abundance inside our hearts and minds. It does work like that, believe it or not. The analogies are there.

    OK, enough for now.

    Blessed be everyone.


  180. I see no neccessity for any added spirituality in Permaculture courses. If I were a fundamentalist Christian, I would not like to attend a course that talks about spirituality without reference to Christ. (I’m not a fundamentalist) Such Christians see any *other* spirituality, whether specific or general, as being Satanic, or Demonic, no matter the people or information involved. I more regularly describe myself as a Judeo-Christian Budhist Pagan, as I see connected values in all of these religions (as well as some major and minor differences). I would have no problem discussing spirituality if it was brought up in a course, but “non-spiritual”people and fundamentalists of ANY religion need Permaculture just as much as anyone else.
    There was an article in P.I.E. a few years ago that discussed such things as Ïs it possible?” “Is it likely?” “Is it scientifically verifiable?” all as a way of dealing with aspects of geomancy and “towers of power” and other metaphysical and pseudoscientifc elements that people interested in Permaculture may also find themselves exposed to. THIS is a better addition to a course than actual “lessons” on spirituality and the like.

  181. I agree with you Craig. There is so much to get through in a PDC, and I like to stick to the words of the master B Mollison. I wonder if anyone today can present a course as well as he did in 1983. Ive listened to his PDC of that year, 47 hours of it. As relevant today as it was then. Its easier to go off on a tangent because you don’t know your basic permacuture but then you have no right to use the word Peraculture. Call your course something else PLEASE . Sepp Holzer has a really good point….don’t learn permaculture of anyone who hasnt got solid practical experience creating permacultures, RESULTS that you can see. Would love to have time to read the whole debate here . Haven’t read it all, got to mulch, but want to lend my support to your argument Craig anyway.XXX Bee

  182. I am a permaculture educator who readily embraces people’s exploration of Zone zero and Zone Zero Zero… A place of deep thought and experience.

    I think my time with PRI taught me that unless you nuture these deep zones you lose your grip on other parts of the system.

    I have taught and been taught Permaculture in a spiritual setting, but do not think that doing so ties the teaching’s to the teacher’s philosophical outlook.

    I think (and I admit I haven’t read all of the commentary above so this voice could be lost in the debate) that being critical of such ‘spiritual’ movements is sometimes justified (i.e. the spiritual message is not one of unity, but rather division, or in general is at odds with what permaculture is promoting), but in a lot of cases to ignore this aspect of Permaculture is an unbalanced perspective itself.

    I have also noticed that teaching within a framework that promotes the insights from the inner zones provides a much stronger education for those practitioners.

    I think that on paper arguments that deride such explorations have a chance of standing taller than those endeavours. This is just because written words just seem to capture and pervade our impressions of what is right and wrong, whereas in a practical sense this isn’t a clear distinction.

    I think that with this said, I believe Craig or whomever runs is more than just in their right to not promote events that have unclear or dubious connections to Permaculture, but this debasing of all such ‘spiritual’ explorations of permaculture is to ignore some of the most beautiful connections permaulture has to offer.

    Thanks for starting the debate. I have often thought about this connection and do agree Permaculture could do with a public image clean up. But to rule out a whole area of exploration, that I don’t think is worth promoting

  183. Hi Craig, well done and thanks. I could not agree more.

    There is enough to do without bringing in the woo woo factor.

    I did make the terrible mistake of taking on biodynamics once in permaculture circles but was eventually assured that it did really have a good scientific basis as it had been PROVEN to align with astrology.

    I don’t care what people believe in their own life, but I don’t think that teaching the work of mystics, astrologers, or of any particular religious beliefs, has a credible or important place in the teaching of permaculture. I think that p/c has enough scientific credibility and basis without resorting to this.

    I do think however, that if we do go along with this then we should also insist on a section on bad fairies at the bottom of the garden too. Now they really do have demonstrable effect. At my place bad fairies regularly distribute weed seeds everywhere.

  184. Couldn’t agree more with you!!!
    I went to a Permaculture talk (not a PDC)and left when the speakers started talking about “God’s Design”.
    Clearly, we have to separate science from science-fiction.

  185. There you go again, Dave Jacke. “Hippie smell” indeed. In Vietnam it was easy for NVA or VC to find US forces, because their diet and hygene gave the Empire stormtroopers away. Same for many resistance movements in Turtle Island — Washitu smelled funny, which gave them a disadvantage at anything like surprise. I’ll concede that if there is a hippy smell it is a pleasant blend of jasmine, patchouli and Dr. Bronner’s. This is not necessarily something to be avoided.

    I suggest you avoid expressions like hippy smell like I avoid using the Rule of Thumb.

  186. “I am working in Nepal and have recently had to completely rework a house design because I had failed to make my self full aware of the spiritual beliefs of the people who will be living and learning in it. we don’t need to teach spiritual beliefs but we do need to design in a world full of them. Comment by shaun — January 6, 2012 @ 11:51 pm”

    I want to quote Shaun who captured what I was hoping to say rather well. I think there is a distinction between teaching spirituality or religion in an objective way to inform the students about that particular belief and between teaching it in a way that is imposing some particular belief on the students.

    So for instance if a teacher explains to students that Muslims use water several times a day to make ablutions,then that information will aid them in designing for a Muslim community and I believe should be part of a PDC.

    But if the teacher says that earning interest is a sin and that students should therefore not be involved in it, then that is something that I personally would not condone in a PDC. (However, making arguments against using interest based on factors that are more objective and logic and fact-based would be more agreeable to me within a PDC)

    Now, of course, it won’t be always be so simple to make this distinction clearly and I think it also depends on the makeup of the audience and the advertising of the course, but nonetheless I think it is very possible and I would support guidelines by the PRI that would restrict or discourage subjectively imposing of beliefs, whatever they may be.

    I think that the way it is delivered is the more important distinction than between “spiritual” and “scientific” because there are ways that “science” and “secular” beliefs can be imposed as well. I have often personally experienced where non-religious or other “scientific” views can be imposed in this subjective and inappropriate manner. So my question would be; why single out the spirituality?

    So if the policy is to avoid alienating people, I think it should not be about which subjective views are right or more “mainstream” but rather in what way they are taught and what justification is there for teaching them.

    As a Muslim, I do not mind hearing that such and such group tends to believe in atheism or in polytheism or whatever, but I would mind if the teacher made statements like “we should not believe in God because Bill Mollison doesn’t believe in God” and as funny as that may(or may not) sound, it is not far from an actual experience I have had.

    I forgot to mention in my previous post: I have a Permaculture design certificate, but I have not yet taught a full pdc myself(just an intro course) but I do intend to teach full pdcs in the future. I hope to offer pdcs that will “include information relevant for designing for Muslim communities” in an objective and informative way, which I feel and hope will benefit people who are not Muslim as well.

    Great discussion, have a headache from trying to read all the comments!

  187. there are many more similar conversations on this topic on the web , if you add up all the time on this topic and on all other blogs, and calculate the time take to write, which i didnt, then this is the very reason why we dont want talkers in PC, we want do’ers and reporters of whats done. holy god, we could have planted million of trees in the time, but you write at night,u say,, even at night, sow seed in pots , thats the best prayer you will ever pray….

  188. I have been coordinating a very successful network of knowledge exchange at a national level in cultural diverse Ecuador for the past 10 years. I believe the reason of our success has been the respect for everyone’s values, the finding of a common ground in ecology and permaculture and the fight for social justice. We have Jehova’s Witnesses, Evangelists, Catholics, Andean Animists (like me), Atheists and who knows what else… but when we get together, we are joined by our love for life and people, and we meet to discuss practical things, not metaphysics.
    We have had problems only with new age spiritualists, people who think that theirs should be THE faith or belief system of permaculture. We cannot go with that. We owe our efforts to all the people in our network, specially to those with few resources, and they need practical solutions, not more metaphysical concepts.
    As I said, I am an animist. I believe that everything has a soul, and all my life I have felt the company of mountains, rivers, moon, old trees… they protected me and gave me a reason to keep going. I love them, and I am totally devoted to them. But I do believe we need good science too. Science has been mystified too much of late. I hear here and there that science is the cause of the world’s troubles today. Nothing farther from truth: it is the misuse of technology, and our lack of political responsibility that are destroying the planet.
    What is science? It is the search of truth, using methods that allow you to test theories against facts. It’s purpose is not to find final answers, but to find what are the important questions, and how to implement knowledge into reality. It is not a laboratory thing: it is a practical part of every day’s life, as all farmers around the world know. We need it desperately today, to build a better life for ourselves, and to build a better future for our children.
    Thanks for beginning this discussion. I come from a society that was dominated for centuries by one system of beliefs, and don’t feel like going back there.

  189. One more thing: it should be interesting to see the development of muslim permaculture, mormon permaculture, zen permaculture… it is a distinct possibility, as more organized institutions realize the need of a more ecologically oriented agenda.
    But whatever our reasons of belief systems are, there is a practical core in permaculture that will evolve in a scientific way… just because we are implementing designs into the final tester: Nature.

  190. Esoteric infiltration in Permaculture – a very serious problem

    Thanks Craig for starting this urgent discussion!

    Unfortunately people and organisations with new-age background undermining the Permaculture Idea from the very beginning in the 1980ies. Now they use Permaculture and the Transition-Town movement to decorate the surface of their selfish and undemocratic goals with some nice ecological and social looking projects. Of course the most alternative people believe all this “spiritual” stuff is somehow good for healing “mother earth” (why not “father earth” by the way?), but they usually don’t ask where it comes from.

    So what is the core of Religion/Esoterism? – believing not thinking – just do what your pope, priest, guru or other kind of hierarchy says – controlling peoples minds, your master knows all about whats up before birth and after death – he knows how a suitable life should look like in between (its all karma?!) – they give you “good” advices and a human looking spiritual setting, while pulling your money out of the pocket – so this fits very good with political/economic interests of the ruling upper-classes, as you always can see in history and different cultures – Religion/Esoterism is a professional kind of brainwashing, a big business, something to keep people down – in the middle-classes of industrial countries as well in evangelized slums in the so called “Third World”

    In opposite Permaculture/Transition Towns: – its about empowering People, no matter what social or educational background they may have, to realise small and big projects to solve or reverse ecological and social problems of our time – so its a very emancipatory way to spreat humanity and a good and healthy livelihood for everybody – “learning by doing”-methods & actions in order to establish touchable facts – rational project-development driven by grassroots democracy and common sense

    Permaculture/Transition Towns are contrary to Religion/Esoterism, there is really nothing what would or should fit together.

  191. it is prettu obvious for any one that has read Permaculutre Pioneers exactly who you are talking about craig…not that I mind but it was oibvious right away as soon as you described her background….not too many permaculture teachers are geomancers and dowsers…….I agree with your point completely craig in that all these views are subjective but I have often wondered why as objective people we fight against Biodynamics when it works….You dont have to believe in fairies to appreciate the science of Humus growth and hearing about compost tea bugs me when i have spent years reading about 500 and 501. any one else wonder about the contradiction between bashing Biodynamics and then stealing there techniques and knowledge?? If permaculture is to be accepted and adapted by all it needs to start acknowledging its sources.

  192. I agree Craig, we should definitely keep religion and spiritual beliefs out of Permaculture teaching in order to make it accessible to all. If people find a spiritual element in their work, that is a personal matter and not something they should preach or teach under the permaculture banner.

    I think Bill Mollison gave this quite a lot of thought when he came up with the Permaculture ethics, although perhaps “setting limits to population” was not quite on the nail (that has slipped out of use rather!) but the evolution of a good set of ethics is important. This is different to religion or a belief system. “Earth Care”, “People Care” and “Fair Shares for All” define a common sense of humanity central to what we are trying to achieve.

    When I started my local group (with friends and neighbours who were intrigued but knew little of what permaculture was about) I began by saying “Permaculture is NOT a religion” Then I went on to say “It is not about following other people’s rules. It is a design system for creating sustainable environments. It is about community self reliance”

    Why did I need to make that first comment? Because in many people’s minds Permaculture is a quirky belief system akin to a New Age religion and I wanted to make it clear that it was not!

    I am not a teacher. I am a fledgling practitioner who can see a lot of good in the movement. I share what I learn with the group as I go along. I read and research a lot and then try it out. I listen and I encourage my friends to think about it all.

    The purpose of a PDC is to give people the basic understanding of permaculture and then the tools with which to explore permaculture concepts further and apply them to their lives.

    It is a unifying movement which has no place for religion except a respect, where appropriate, for other people’s beliefs.

    So, that’s what I think! Thanks for bringing this up Craig. It is, as you say, important to get this sorted out.

  193. This is a discussion I’ve been participating in since I arrived to permaculture (from a scientific background: physics, electronics & computer science) over 20yrs ago. Am glad to hear it here finally but also somewhat surprised at the un-scientific stance of those who purport to be ‘the objective ones’.

    Maybe this is mentioned somewhere in the long discussion above but even if so, it is worth repeating: some of the permaculture that is taught on even the most orthodox courses is not actually all that scientific. This bothers some professional ecologists, biologists, etc, leading them to not take us too seriously, BUT – it has also to be recognized, I think – it is precisely some of the let’s say more relaxed attitude to strict science that has made permaculture so popular amongst the people it has been taken up by. So the issue is not so simple, even in terms of what is or not ‘good science’.

    For eg. Geoff Lawton, amongst many more teachers considered highly reputable by the permaculture community, still teaches that when branches are cut from leguminous plants, they some equivalent measure of their roots dies back so releasing nitrogen into the ground. This is actively contradicted by very reputable soil scientists like Elaine Ingham, who also publicly lament the sloppy definition of weeds given by some people, amongst other things. And it sounds like they’ve been watching what permaculture teaches because they repeat verbatim – labeling as sloppy science – certainly what I was taught on my permaculture courses & what I know most of my contemporary permaculture teachers continue teaching on theirs.

    We are not that strict about checking our sources, nor testing our science, and that is a known failing of permaculture, amongst its very many virtues. Another ‘classic’ is the repeated teaching (by design or default: if you ask students that is what they are usually left with) that peak natural succession always looks like woodland – when that in fact only happens in 2 out of some 9+ terrestrial biomes, and almost no students (or teachers?) are left with this being simply a principle, that can be extended to many other areas of experience (for example there are natural successions of personal, spiritual & community development, amongst many others).

    What we teach as ‘bioconstruction’ & under ‘technology’ is personally my greatest contention with the ‘classic PC curriculum’ (speaking mostly as a physicist), & it comes a close second to what we teach in the PC network (but mostly fail to teach) as basic economics – in my opinion ultimately the most important framework of all, because it’s where all the others come together in the real world: and the reason permaculture has failed to change anything on a significant scale to date, to my mind.

    These are the kinds of things that make permaculture not be taken seriously by the professional or scientific communities, so it is somewhat surprising that there are so many people condemning New Age stuff on some courses on scientific grounds. Personally I think what is most worrying about most New Age stuff is the lack of ethics, much more than the lack of science. Because there is, in fact, quite a lot of reputable science mixed up in what is – unfortunately some very damaging – humbug in the NewAge movement.

    And I think that it is this that attracts so many people to this stuff today: it does at least try to deal with some of the very needed pieces of human experience that the orthodox permaculture curricula completely lack: any serious study relating to the personal, cultural & social dimensions.

    Is it not just a bad case of “not accepting feedback” to harshly condemn the brave teachers who try to make up for this serious lack in their experiments with permaculture teaching? Whether they makes mistakes or not, at least they are attempting to address this important issue, and in a very unfriendly professional environment to boot – certainly not a very scientific one.

    I recently just left a very ‘reputable’ PC email list because I was so disgusted at the attacks on one such brave (if mistaken, even in my opinion) pioneer: it was like watching hyenas go for the kill, and that is never the kind of atmosphere that promotes progress, anywhere.

    At best it shows a lack of imagination or compassion, at worst it’s a rigid, dogmatic attitude masquerading as ‘being scientific’.
    Good scientists are experimenters, explorers & always open to questioning even their most basic axioms. This is not something I think I see here.

    How can we accelerate this particular natural succession?

    What we mostly have now (and what is defended here by the orthodox PC curriculum supporters) is at best a good half of a permaculture curriculum of the future, which will also be a lot more strict on a scientific level, I hope.

    I have been actively discussing & working on these issues for decades, certainly with some of my PC teacher colleagues in Europe, and this is why we’ve revised quite drastically what we teach on a ‘standard permaculture certificate’ in our node of the permaculture academy in Spain, NodoEspiral, since 2003.

    Our students are totally delighted about this, many of them coming to us after doing one or more of the ‘standard’ PC certificate courses & getting left with the feeling there was a lot missing. & they – as we do – recognize that what is missing isn’t just an interesting adjunct, but actually what makes the great EarthCare stuff taught on the standard courses difficult – and often impossible – to put into practice.

    Most people do not of course find us and are much more likely to find a great deal of the NewAge type half-truths that are so well marketed at the moment … and then just end up mixing them up with ‘standard permaculture’. And thus do a whole heap of weird mixtures that we find today. How about if we try to apply “the problem is the solution” to this one?

    We presented this new curriculum, which we now call Integral Permaculture because it integrates the other half onto the current standard curriculum, at IPC10 in Jordan, & before that at the European Convergence, as it was finally launched also in English last year.

    You can see the recorded presentation about this here in English
    We have also launched a free Integral Permaculture Designers Manual online which we are compiling in two languages with our students. We very much invite debate around the models we have integrated into the PDC curriculum, as we are sure that more (specific & genuinely cooperative) debate about this will improve this further, continuously – as should happen in any healthy science.

    This is all pioneering & very important work, yet the lack of feedback to date from the orthodox quarters has been as predictable as it has been thorough. An impressive silence. We have noticed a lot of copying amongst the other (majority) quarters on the other hand, and very few interesting collaboration proposals.

    In the same way that commercial fizzy drinks become very attractive where the nutrient-rich fermented drinks they mimic & our bodies naturally crave are missing, even where un-known in our lived experience, when people thirst for the science of personal & social development they will drink up anything that vaguely resembles such a thing, yet eventually recognize the healthy stuff they crave when it is made available to them. We need to make it more widely available – it will disperse humbug & woo woo much faster than condemnation ever will.

    It is simply bad design to so stubbornly ignore (or worse, condemn) what it is that so many people are asking of permaculture. There is nothing wise, ‘pure’ or scientific in holding on dogmatically to an old first version of what should be the most important curriculum on Earth today. Brilliant as it was, we need to evolve it: evolve it fast & continuously. If so many reputable permaculture teachers were doing more studying & research & less sitting on their laurels, we might even achieve this.

    I hope we can use this discussion here to more rapidly jump some natural succession steps toward fulfilling the promise of permaculture design, so we can evolve together a real & ever more complete Permaculture Science.

  194. What we are talking about here is only the tip of the iceberg, this irrational suff is already interwoven with Permaculture/Transition Towns very strongly…

    Here are some sources about the spiderweb of Religion/Esoterism thats spreading from friendly smiling gurus to right extremists, from Eco/Eso-Villages/Sects to green politicians and NGOs etc…

    John Lennon was right. The Giggling Guru was a shameless old fraud:

    The truth about the (tibetian) Buddhism:

    Findhorn Foundation the “Vatican of new age”:

    Other Eco/Eso-Villages:

    Theosophy, Anthroposophy & Friends:

    Here you can download “The Four Keys” New-Age-Books, published by the “Permanent Publications” of :

    In the Book “Social Key – Beyond You and Me” (interesting Title) you can read e.g. in the first article…

    […] As this organism emerges, a new mental-spiritual subject develops: the communitarian ‘I’. This ‘I’ is at a higher level order in the spiritual hierarchy of life than the individual ‘I’. The communitarian ‘I’ contains the knowledge and the power of all individual ‘I’s’. All co-workers that are solidly a part of the community are connected to the communitarian ‘I’ and its mentalspiritual powers, and they can therefore access survival abilities that they would not have as individuals. […]

    … I bet the most of the authors in this 4 books have a new-age-background! Well, now I ask my self what this is good for and why such esoteric crap is published by ??

    The best would be to start some action now to get rid of this irrational hanky-panky in permaculture and transition towns.



  195. @Thomas Finger- great post, thanks for the useful links, you are spot on again.
    Folks here might be interested in a parallel discussion going on at TransitionCulture re the film Thrive (which I had not previously heard of):

    In his review, Rob complains forcefully about the woo in this film, perhaps because it comes from the “Right”- but fails to challenge the woo in his own organisation (as Thomas Finger alludes to)- I have just had my comment deleted there for pointing out the connection between Deepak Chopra, who appears in Thrive, but who also teaches at Schumacher College (as does Rob Hopkins):

    @Dave 11,47am- Biodynamics does not work. It has no basis in science whatsoever, because it has not evidence to support it, nor even a coherent hypothesis. Compost teas we should be very skeptical about- there seems little if any evidence to support their efficacy:

    Elaine Ingham has connections with Anthroposophy and biodynamics. It is possible that compost teas have some useful applications, but claims being made for them appear to exceed the evidence. I suspect they are a way of sneaking in bogus biodynamics through the back door.

  196. Hear! Hear! Can’t believe I ran across this: As a new landowner planning a productive landscape, I have been on the verge of giving up on permaculture as a source of new friends & comrades, and was going to reinvent the wheel without the earth spirit practices and the us-them that so perplexingly (and ironically) emerges from that (unintentionally, i’m sure)….

    I am SO relieved to read your initial manifesto and the discussion. You couldn’t be more accurate. THANK YOU, CRAIG! Vision not lost: I’ll be seeking you folks out!!!

  197. In one of his talks Bill Mollison included in his definition of hippies “they have lots of opinions – they have to, because they don’t have any data”

    In answer to Anon’s claim that “Shamanism, Yoga, Astrology, Past-Life Regression are Science” and many comments claiming science is a belief system and therefore spiritual or religious in nature, I think it is important to explain the criteria for an activity to be called scientific, which I will attempt to do here.

    Science is a systematic quest for objective truth about the world, a quest that demands inclusion of procedures for eliminating subjective belief as a basis for discovering truth. Procedures in all areas of scientific enquiry must admit all objective evidence and build testable theories in order to attempt to discover truth. Three key properties of scientific knowledge, which meta-physical beliefs lack, are:

    * falsifiability
    * verifiable prediction
    * parsimony

    The falsifiability of scientific knowledge means that there must in principle be some way that that knowledge can be shown to be false, if indeed it is false. Scientific procedure demands that scientists actively seek contradictory evidence to current knowledge. The opposite is true of meta-physical belief systems which ignore counter-evidence, some also shun, even kill dissenters. (Islamic scriptures demand the death penalty for apostasy)

    Arguably the most important scientific theory of all time is the theory of evolution. How might this be falsified. Simple! It is sufficient to find just one fossilised chicken* bone in rock older than 65 million years old. In contrast how can induction of the virgin birth by the holy spirit in Catholicism be falsified? It can’t. Or how can the rotation of chakras or even their existence be falsified? It can’t, not even in principle.

    The central tenets of meta-physical beliefs are not falsifiable, even in principle. Unlike science, meta-physical truths are based on and upheld by force of any or all of the following:

    1. personal revelation (Srivsishnay awoke knowing that there are 9 not 7 chakra)
    2. arguments from authority (Nov 1st,1950, Pope Pius XII ex cathedra, declared the Assumption of Mary)
    3. conformational selection of anecdotal evidence (30C dilutions must work because Peter and Mary both got better)
    4. emotional arguments (Mbuni’s ghost reached out to touch me, I know, because I feel connected in my soul)
    5. group consensus (the world was flat in the middle ages because the majority believed it so)
    6. repetition(The Inuit have 27 words for snow. The Inuit have 27 words for snow, the In….)
    7. age of idea (it’s been understood since 1796 that like cures like)

    These means of upholding beliefs are important aspects of the human psyche, but when woven into permaculture, they undermine its credibility as being reliable, objective, sound, repeatably predictable, and undermine most other normal expectations of politically supported and funded projects to do with land-use and human habitation.

    Verifiable prediction
    This is important because it allows us to invest effort based on scientific knowledge and gain the expected benefits as predicted, or close. This is why politicians and funders like to support projects with a strong scientific basis, especially when those projects are without precedent.

    Meta-physical belief systems are notorious for being unable to predict precise outcomes. Apart from an inherent human need for meta-physical belief systems, I suspect that in an age now permeated by scientific knowledge, their persistence is due to their ability to “explain” everything that science can’t.

    Politicians demand the option of basing their decisions on scientific predictions and data, even if they don’t understand the science themselves or choose to ignore it. The failing of modern societies to produce more long term benefits for humanity is due to short-term political perspectives in combination with reductionist science, not least in agriculture. But science does not have to be reductionist. Science is much easier to do when it’s reductionist, but science can be holistic too. Permaculture is the antidote, because it promotes both long term and holistic approaches. Science can, indeed should, be applied in this way, not least because the planet’s current woes clearly falsify the long term validity of reductionism.

    This means that given two competing and falsifiable theories of equal ability to make verifiable predictions and explain phenomenon, the simpler theory takes precedence. Theories are thus kept a simple as possible while maintaining, descriptive and predictive power.

    Meta-physical belief systems tend towards the opposite direction, indeed the very introduction of meta-physics into permaculture is precisely such an example. The theoretical body becomes more complicated without increasing permaculture’s understandability or design capacity.

    Permaculture has a defining literature by Bill Mollison and David Holmgren. None of these texts promotes meta-physics. They do promote respect of cultures and their beliefs, but don’t promote any of those beliefs as becoming part and parcel of the design system of permaculture, even if those beliefs gave rise to good designs. The lesson taught is that meta-physical aspects of cultures need to be incorporated into designs for those cultures. The lesson is not that they should be incorporated into the design system itself. This is a confusion of object- and meta-levels.

    Metaphysics as part of permaculture
    Meta-physics can be introduced into permacultural activities at the object level and at the meta level.

    The object level =========
    1) Introducing meta-physics into permaculture designs

    a) When all the people who will live with the designed area already share a meta-physical belief system, then 1) will further enhance the spirituality of those people.

    b) When only some of the people who will live with the designed area share a meta-physical belief system, then 1) risks estranging non-believers from the area. If the designer shares the beliefs of some of these people, the design will probably be insensitive to the preferences of non-believers and even see design as an opportunity to proselytise.

    The meta level ==========
    2) Introducing meta-physics into permaculture methodology

    a) When practitioners of permaculture design share the beliefs introduced by 2) then their spirituality will be enhanced during design, but it is very likely that these designers will also cause 1).

    b) When practitioners of permaculture design do not share the beliefs introduced by 2) then they will probably feel estranged, or discard permaculture proper due to the associated meta-physics.

    c) If 2) is independently subject to different belief systems, the permaculture movement will be at grave risk of loosing its integrity along with the beneficial force that a united movement has, and instead disintegrate into splinter groups lead by schismatics all striving to become new gurus of their own “enlightened” form of permaculture.

    Avoid creating barriers to permaculture uptake
    This heading is the pragmatic and decisive argument in my opinion, for keeping the permaculture design system free from all content not based on science. Uptake consists partly in the spread of practice and practitioners, but equally important, and not sufficiently emphasised, are uptake and acceptance that lead to political support and funding. This latter is so important because it greatly increases the impact of an expanding the number of practitioners. Some people doing permaculture in parts of Africa have had to call it something else, simply because the permaculture movement has become tainted in the eyes of public administrators as some new-age Western non-sense.

    For this reason, if no other, the document that declares the separation of permaculture as design system and methodology from all matters spiritual/religious/meta-physical, is laudable, and should be upheld, lest the effectiveness of an expanding body of permaculture practitioners suffers further unjust incrimination by association with groups expounding irrelevant non-scientific beliefs.

    More contentious, I suggest that it would be worth discussing a formal commitment from PRIs that they should not officially host the rituals and ceremonies of any meta-physical belief systems be they modern or ancient. Scientific institutions strictly refrain from such rituals in order to uphold their credibility.

    Comments of previous postings
    As usual with debates there can can be no meaningful exchange without clear definitions. I therefore ask Anon. for a definition of “spirituality” that upholds the concept as void of meta-physical beliefs as Anon claims it can be. Anon’s statement “Religion may consist of beliefs, but Spirituality does not” is not much help in defining spirituality. Perhaps Claudette who writes ” spirit is science.” could help define ‘spirit’.

    I ask what the “fascinating array of contradictions” listed by Anon. has to do with science?

    Some comments posted mention a move closer to consensus about ways spirituality can legitimately be included in permaculture. I warn that point 5) above, ‘group consensus’, provides no validity for this in a movement that claims to be scientifically based. Even if 90% percent of the permaculture movement thinks that permaculture should include meta-physics, that still doesn’t make its inclusion any more valid or compatible. Meta-physics is quite simply extraneous to permaculture as it is defined. Meta-physical beliefs can and sometimes should be a legitimate component in a design, as in point 1) a) above, but by definition they are not and can never be a legitimate part of the design system.

    Anon. writes: “the PDC manual is about values, & therefore Spirituality”. This is false logic. Values can exist independently from Spirituality even if Spirituality holds certain values. The question is which values?

    I agree with Malcolm “let the vetting board withdraw a non-conforming teacher’s qualification to teach”

    Peter Willis makes a strong point that ties in with mine about gaining mainstream support. Permaculture cannot afford to alienate scientists through inaccurate representations of science. Those same scientists advise politicians and vet funding applications.

    Jason Gerhardt writes “Already, permaculture is strongly belief based—look at the ethics”. The ethics promote caring behaviour that is conducive to long-term health and survival, I don’t see how that makes the ethics spiritual or a belief system. They simply establish a very general basis for biologically sound behaviour.

    Kerry writes “permaculture minus spirituality represents a mindset not that divorced from main stream industrial agriculture”. Obviously permaculture is holistic. However neither people nor permaculture need to be the least bit spiritual to hold a holistic approach to life, to nature, or to design, unless one defines spiritual = holistic, or claims that being holistic implies being spiritual, neither of which seem plausible.

    Pete writes “the realm of morality & ethics … are the domain of religion”. Morality and ethics are independent of religion. It is perfectly possible to hold ethics, and behave morally with no religious, metaphysical or spiritual beliefs at all, and many people do so. By that token, the problem raised is dispensed. Pete writes further that “[science] has very much become our modern religion”. It should be clear, from my partial description of science above, precisely why science is not religion. I would agree that economics and capitalism are of a religious nature, but neither is scientific.

    Peter Brands writes “Science, as practised, is by a large, a reductionist, faith based practice. Science, as practised, is the handmaiden of capitalism and industry.” Science is often reductionist but doesn’t have to be. Science is certainly not faith based as explained above. Mis-use of science by non-scientific movements like capitalism does not make science any more a faith than including spirituality in permaculture makes permaculture spiritual. A tree does not become a murderer because you lynch someone from it.

    Peter objects to Craig’s formulation “Permaculture is a science” and I do too. If permaculture were science, then there would be a peer reviewed journal with published findings that follow scientific methods of investigation into the practices of permaculture. Until such a journal exists, I think it would be better to stick to something like “Permaculture is an interdisciplinary design system that applies science” or “is based on scientific knowledge” or something similar. It is certainly worth striving towards permaculture attaining scientific status, (not the reductionist kind) in order to gain greater knowledge and predictive power about the sound use of permaculture practices, but also in order to gain the approval of politicians and especially funding agencies. $$$$$$$$ :-)

    David West writes “They know…. that their body was manifested by spirit. I know many will disagree with that statement, but that doesn’t make it untrue. ” It doesn’t make it true either. It is quite simply unfalsifiable. Nice example of 4) and 1). Thank you.
    “If permaculture is to be complete, it MUST include spirituality, because the one creator of everything created permaculture too.” Two hidden assumptions in this logic are
    a) there exists a creator of everything
    b) everything created by the creator includes spirituality
    Both of these statements are unfalsifiable too, not least because the concepts are undefined or undefinable. The belief system is thus self-fulfilling. It explains everything and anything and thereby nothing.

    Bernie Edwards’ suggestion of a meta-physics and political free statement in PDCs is useful because such a statement will empower students to object to any teachers who attempt to introduce meta-physics.

    Thomas Fischbacher writes “Spirituality should not be part of Permaculture design, …because we cannot teach it.” >From this statement it follows that if we could teach spirituality, then it should be part of permaculture design. I don’t actually see why spirituality cannot be taught. It is in Buddhist countries. That doesn’t make teaching it any more appropriate or acceptable in a PDC.

    David west writes: “an understanding that is apparent to everyone, i.e. – permaculture spirit is understood as one’s own higher self,” This “understanding” is certainly not apparent to me. It might help if I had some idea what ‘permaculture spirit’ and what ‘higher self’ are? Wikipedia’s explanations only take me further from understanding permaculture with such intangibles as “eternal, omnipotent, conscious, and intelligent being”. This simply doesn’t help hone my design skills or my grasp on permaculture in any way.

    Jeremy Kenward writes a really interesting perspective. Thank you Jeremy. He criticises the belief that “We need only to engineer a better living machine. This is reductionist thinking that assumes the earth doesn’t have it own will or intention, or if it does then it is inferior to ours.” Surely swapping species with similar properties is not reductionist. And although humans perceive trends in developmental paths as ‘will’ or ‘intention’, this does not mean we should anthropomorphise nature. Richard Dawkins’ book “The Blind Watchmaker” clarifies this latter mistake in full.

    The issue Jeremy raises of being ‘inferior’ is simply one of perspective. A natural woodland is inferior to a designed food forest strictly from the perspective of yields useful to humans. This does not mean that from any other perspective nature is inferior to human designed ecosystems. On the contrary it is only through nature’s incomprehensible complexity that we permaculturalists are able to tinker with ecosystems and still produce a functioning whole. It is precisely because the majority of processes are not reduced or isolated, but included with confidence that they will continue functioning in all their unfathomable complexity as long our modifications are sufficiently similar to natural systems. This is not hubris, this is deference to nature and admission that science cannot (probably never will)adequately describe the full workings of an ecosystem.

    The idea that humans are not separate but rather part of nature and therefore that their interventions result in natural phenomenon is a dangerous argument because it implies that deforestation, pollution skyscrapers, computers, and telephone bills are all natural phenomena.

    David West’s claim that “spirituality is older than the human race.” leaves me utterly perplexed. I thought man created god in his own image ;-) and later “Delight in the everlasting peace is an experience available to every living creature.Once experienced, it can never be forgotten. It abounds with love.” How do bacteria, lichens, and puffballs perceive the concept of peace or feel delight? How do they remember and abound with love? How could I ever meaningfully introduce spirituality into a PDC if I have to substantiate such ingenuous statements?

    Bernie Edwards, thank you for a forceful position that I agree with.

    Tim Auld, I love your lucid focus. Thanks.

    Even Spurell writes: “the only thing that protects us from hogwash is not attaching ourselves to any dogma and just doing what makes sense and feels right.” Unfortunately for many people, hogwash and dogma, do make sense and feel right.

    In Conclusion
    Metaphysics has not seriously perverted permaculture but it has seriously perverted many non-practitioner’s perceptions of permaculture, as evidenced by the postings in this forum. This must be stopped and reversed for the sake of not impeding permaculture’s huge potential to improve the world we live in.

    On my father’s and my tenancy therefore, we expend considerable effort covering up the otherwise overwhelming evidence for the super-natural qualities of our: tantric swales, crystal-energised gabions, aura-glowing beehives, chakrarised hugelkultur, cosmic quantum composting, and transcendental zoning, lest visitors get the wrong idea about what permaculture is.

    I offer specialist work-shops on how to do this. For bookings please visit metafizziksBgone.con

    May the Flying Spaghetti Monster watch over you.

    Guy Davies

    *a bone from any modern bird or mammal would do.

  198. Guy,


    Thomas Fischbacher writes “Spirituality should not be part of Permaculture design, …because we cannot teach it.” >From this statement it follows that if we could teach spirituality, then it should be part of permaculture design.

    You got the logic wrong here. The point is: the question whether spirituality should be included in Permaculture does not even arise – this is pre-screened by the simple reason that we cannot teach it. “From X (we cannot teach spirituality) follows Y (it should not be part of education)” does not imply “From not-X follows not-Y”. If I have objections against Sarah Palin becoming president because I don’t like her, this does not mean I would want everybody I like to become president.


    I don’t actually see why spirituality cannot be taught. It is in Buddhist countries. That doesn’t make teaching it any more appropriate or acceptable in a PDC.

    No it actually isn’t. When it comes to spirituality, you can at best pretend to teach it by teaching a hollow shell of rituals, “laws”, and stories. (Now I might somewhat cynically add that I’ve seen some “exceptional” students where one might be inclined to claim the same about mathematics. Their understanding of the subject was basically gravitating around the idea that “if I write these symbols on paper, I will get marks for it” – no concept whatsoever of what these symbols were supposed to mean.)

  199. To Guy Davies and others claiming the superiority of scientific thought systems over spiritual ones … (and by the way, I trained as a scientist and hold no religious affiliations)

    All thought systems are self-referential, comprised of circular logic. There are certain foundational basic premises which are taken as ‘true’ and inviolate. From these, all else follows.

    Religious thought is based on the premise that [deity of your choice] is ‘true’.

    While parsimony and falsifiability have a lot going for them, verifiable prediction is predicated on science’s foundational premise, which is that an objective reality independent of the person who is experiencing it is ‘true’.

    Neither of these foundational axioms are provable. All we have to go on is individual subjective experience which leads us to believe and behave AS IF either or both of these premises are true.

    Ironically, it’s scientific thought itself which has given us reason to doubt science’s foundational axiom. Has it made a bean of difference to how people rant on about science’s superiority? Of course not! Because scientists are mostly human beings first and scientists second. Einstein … “Few people are capable of expressing with equanimity opinions which differ from the prejudices of their social environment. Most people are even incapable of forming such opinions.”

    Two discoveries in particular stand out here …

    First, Gödel’s Incompleteness Theorems stated that with respect to any given formal and consistent mathematical system, either its completeness or its consistency could be proved within its own terms but not both simultaneously, and each only at the expense of the other. In other words, either it could be proved consistent, but hence incomplete; or complete, but hence inconsistent.

    While Gödel’s theorems applied specifically to mathematics, they are actually true of any thought system. It’s easy to see how they apply to a thought system you don’t subscribe to. It’s not so easy to see how it applies to your own.

    Second, Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle, which demonstrated that both the speed and position of a particle cannot be determined simultaneously – either can be determined, but only at the expense of the other, thus paralleling Gödel’s Theorems – and that the act of observation itself has an impact on what is being observed.

    Quantum mechanics and Gödel’s theorems been around for the best part of a century now, yet their implications, which present a completely different picture of the physical universe, and of reality itself, have NOT been taken on board by the rest of ‘science’. Much of science dealing with the macroscopic world amenable to our senses and direct experience, still behaves as if absolute objectivity, internal consistency, linear logic and deterministic predictability are cornerstones of the fundamental “reality” under consideration. They are not.

    Groups of people imagining that they and their particular set of beliefs are superior to all others on the planet have been the cause of more death, destruction, pain and misery throughout history than pretty much anything else. Now it’s ‘science’ that’s become the latest ‘religion’ and stick to beat others up with. There are NO ‘superior’ thought systems. There are just different thought systems, each of which have consistency within their own terms, but all of which are incomplete. Or, if they appear complete, then they’re also inconsistent.

    Imagine if we could all accept the implications of that! We’d have little option but to confront our tendency to see ourselves and those like ourselves as ‘superior’ without an ideology to ‘justify’ it! Maybe then we’d see this naked tribalism for what it is and manage to mature beyond it. Maybe we’d all be able to get along much better … I can but dream …

  200. As long as one beliefs in spirituality, one ‘beliefs’ in spirituality.
    As long as one wants to promote spirituality, one is ‘promoting’ spirituality.
    As soon as we experience spirituality, Spirituality vanishes and becomes life itself.
    That life embraces all there is, including a permaculture design system that on its own is ethical, systematical, and functional and that might bring us a solution for future obstacles to overcome. Nothing else is required.
    It doesn’t need pepper & salt. It’s seasoned already.

  201. In answer to Wendy Howard. My attempt to explain some essentials about science that differentiate it from meta-physics was intended to deepen the understanding of those reading this thread who are not trained in science. Thanks for helping in part with this. However, nowhere did I, nor anyone else claim that science is superior to anything, but – provoked by Wendy’s response – now I will, in a specific way, while trying not to repeat myself.

    Science does not need to pre-suppose the existence of an objective truth. One can search for something even if it doesn’t exist. The point about science is that it tries to conduct this search in the most systematic way humanly possible, in order to attempt to avoid mistaken beliefs about the universe. Improvements to this systematic approach in the last two centuries have helped accelerate the rate of discovery and have made science spectacularly successful at increasing our knowledge and understanding matters with practical application, and in THIS sense science is vastly superior to all meta-physical approaches that have co-existed or preceded it.

    Making science more holistic would probably improve it further.

    The predictive power that science theories give us hints at the existence of objective truths. Whether or not objective truth exists is unprovable and lies outside science as Wendy points out. Science is and always will always be incomplete (Gödel) if it is to be consistent. Science aims to be consistent. Meta-physics does not.

    Since scientists are people, their objectivity can be compromised by any or all of the same 7 proclivities (listed in my previous post) that are freely used to uphold meta-physical beliefs. The whole point of science is to avoid this. That is THE justification for science.

    I think the strictly systematic approach is the reason science is rejected by many people with a meta-physical persuasion, because they feel it rejects them together with the 7 human proclivities (revelation, emotion, worship, blind faith etc). There is plenty of room for these in the myriad of realms beyond the reach of scientific study. Permaculture, however, is well within the realm of scientific study.

    There’s a strong pragmatic argument for behaving as though objective reality exists, and that is: that behaving otherwise thwarts most practical purposes. That’s why most decision makers want science-based advice.

    In consequence, there is a pragmatic argument for behaving as though permaculture is purely science based, even if you believe otherwise, and that is: that permaculture is in great need of legitimising itself in political-, funding-, and scientific circles in order to gain their support and thereby attain its maximum potential. Continuing to allow politicians, funders and scientists to perceive meta-physics as part of permaculture, only estranges them further.

    1) Keep meta-physics out of permaculture courses, conferences, books and Internet sources
    2) Work towards a substantial body of falsifiable, verifiable, parsimonious evidence that scrutinises permaculture’s claims

    To those who believe that meta-physics is an integral part of permaculture, I plead, for all of our sakes, for restraint and self-censorship. Getting non-wowo permaculture accepted by politicians, funders and scientists is task enough. We really really really need their confidence and support.

  202. Guy, you might not have explicitly claimed in your previous comment that science is a superior thought system to metaphysics, but it was implicit in everything you wrote.

    You say “Science does not need to pre-suppose the existence of an objective truth. One can search for something even if it doesn’t exist. The point about science is that it tries to conduct this search in the most systematic way humanly possible, in order to attempt to avoid mistaken beliefs about the universe. Improvements to this systematic approach in the last two centuries have helped accelerate the rate of discovery and have made science spectacularly successful at increasing our knowledge and understanding matters with practical application, and in THIS sense science is vastly superior to all meta-physical approaches that have co-existed or preceded it.”

    Mainstream scientific thought DOES presuppose the existence of objective ‘truth’!! It underpins reproducibility and falsifiability, and it blazes out of every sentence in your paragraph! And as for spectacular success … where exactly are you seeing this? All around me I see spectacular destruction of the biosphere, all sanctioned by ‘science’. That doesn’t look too successful to me. We are destroying our entire life support system through our hubristic idiocy! The only success I can see is in engineering. Which is understandable, because scientific thinking works best in closed systems with limited sets of variables. But LIFE isn’t like that. ‘Science’ has been trying to get nature to fit its conception of it, not the other way round. Not only is this stupid, it’s manifestly unscientific while claiming to be quite the opposite! This is where a slavish adherence to a false notion of objectivity gets you!!

    If you define success as the ability to exist sustainably in harmony with natural systems, then the most successful thought systems are clearly those belonging to remaining indigenous peoples on this planet, who not only acknowledge the metaphysical dimensions in everything they do, but have been able for some decades to define exactly where ‘modern’ man has been going wrong and exactly the consequences which have ensued. Which would indicate their thinking is a lot more ‘scientific’ than we give them credit for …

    Your prescription for permaculture ignores what I was trying to get across in my previous comment. If you take the implications of Gödel’s theorems together with Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle, then one parsimonious solution would be that thought systems create their own ‘reality’. This implies that ‘reality’ is not only more plastic than we imagine, but that there is an intimate connection between thought and what manifests in the material world. Which means that the metaphysical dimensions are not only relevant but crucial. Which also means that EVERYONE’S reality is simultaneously both ‘real’ and a creation of the circular logic of their belief system. No exceptions. In this context, falsifiability is a given because reality is subjective and only shared by those subscribing to the same belief system, so out the window with it. Predictability can be consistently evidenced only WITHIN the terms of any one belief system; out the window with that too. Which leaves us with parsimony. Absolutely. KISS – Keep It Simple Stupid.

    I’ll leave my final words on the subject to one of the world’s greatest scientists … “I have yet to meet a single person from our culture, no matter what his or her educational background, IQ, and specific training, who had powerful transpersonal experiences and continues to subscribe to the materialistic monism of Western science.”

    He also said “No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it.” This continual my-way-is-better-than-your-way is taking us nowhere but round in circles.

    So to bring this back on-topic, personally I think permaculture teaching is best kept as free as possible of any philosophical system (science included) that might attach to it – thereby acknowledging the contingent and subjective ‘reality’ of all of them equally – and restrict itself to a simple presentation of direct experience. Storytelling … “This is what I did, and this is what happened.” This is how people have learned from each other for thousands of years. Why make it any more complicated than that?

  203. Constructive or destructive practices depend on how knowledge is applied in the same way that they depend on how belief is applied.

    The blame for humanity’s awful plight lies with Eve for not offering Adam sautéed serpent with apple sauce, and with Adam for allowing God to interrupt their dinner.

    We can create our own Eden by applying permaculture. Lets avoid the interruptions.

  204. pretty much agreed with everything wendy howard said.

    science is a religion, that denies the validity of other thought systems in the same way that many patriarchal monotheistic religions do…

    there is no room in my permaculture for either science or religion or ‘hippy sh*t’… but i do not judge others for incorporating whatever they want into their permaculture reality or even pdcs (so long as they are labelled honestly)…


  205. I can’t claim to have read all 214 comments (and counting), but the ones I have read seem pretty one-sided, and they present a number of arguments that are, frankly, bogus. For example:

    bogus #1: spirituality has no place in permaculture. Mollison and Hemenway have both said in print that cats have no place in permaculture because *some* cats are harmful to birds. But if someone wanted to present at a PDC about how to build cat habitat so that we can gain the benefits of keeping cats without losing our birds, I don’t think anyone would object just because Mollison and Hemenway said it can’t be done. A permaculture that can’t design a place for spirituality (or cats) is a design failure, especially because so many people keep cats (and spiritual views) and won’t give them up. They are both part of our human ecosystem, and to deny that is folly.

    bogus #2: if we present one view of spirituality, we’ll have to present every conceivable spiritual view ever. We don’t do that with plants and animals. We present about a few token plants and animals and allow our students to figure out which characteristics are common among them and which are specific to the species, and we tell them how to research additional plants and animals to find the ones that fit their design. I’m a Unitarian Universalist — if you need advice on how to present a few spiritual views without excluding the rest (or how not to do it…), ask a UU. But to say that you can’t teach spirituality in the same way as other subjects reveals your limitations as a teacher.

    bogus #3: someone who is peddling a particular spiritual discipline cannot be trusted as a teacher. Would you disqualify a manufacturer of rain barrels from teaching about water catchment just because she brings along barrels for sale? Would you disqualify a construction-equipment operator from doing a demo on large-scale earthworks, just because she’s available for hire? No, you’d just make sure that the students know there are alternative options. So do the same with spirituality if you’re concerned about bias.

    The one argument I’ve seen above that does seem to hold water is that the subject of spirituality is taboo; it can cause some people to have a knee-jerk reaction against all of permaculture. (Again, this is something the Unitarian Universalists have ample experience dealing with, as many UUs are former Christians and can be very sensitive to religious language.) This may be unreasonable and irrational on their part, but we have to meet people where they are, not where we think they ought to be. Since I’ve made analogies for the other points, here’s a similarly taboo topic: eugenics. We can all agree that people could be better adapted for the post-industrial Transition, and we can all agree that breeding is nature’s path toward adaptation of a species, but I doubt any of us (myself included) would advocate selectively breeding people as a step toward Transition. So as useful as that topic might be, it will never be in a PDC.

    This discussion has become so long-winded and diverse that it risks losing its focus. I suggest narrowing the argument down to one or two of the strongest points. The strongest point I see is that spirituality is a taboo topic for many people in the audience we aim to reach.

  206. They most recent comments by Wendy Howard and Andy Hill are prime examples of why metaphysics should not be a part of permaculture teaching. Science is NOT a religion! Religion is based on belief without proof! Indeed in most religions it is considered sacrilege to in any manner say “God prove you exist” and indeed no testable proofs exist. Science is the antithesis of religion in that it says “prove it!” Indeed science says you need to prove it again and again as we gather new knowlege that may impact on whatever was proven initially. This is not to say science disproves religious beliefs, though many beliefs associated with religion such as the humanocentric nature of the universe (it all revolves around us) have been disproved (Copernicus). Science is actually neutral about religion. In dealing with the reality of how things actually work science is indeed superior. In dealing with the spiritual side of things, is there something beyond what you can experience with the rather limited senses we have, science is inferior. Permaculture is a science. Whether you believe in it or not the results will be the same so long as you take the same actions. People that try to confuse issues like this are indeed detrimental to permaculture’s acceptance beyond the relatively small group of similar believers they belong to.

    This said I am a spiritual person, I believe there is more to experience than science can prove. There are connections that go beyond the mere physical. This is an intensely personal thing for most people though and needs to be seperated from teaching permaculture for it to be acceptable to the majority. Many will come to permaculture because their spiritual belief says that they need to do more to help others, to live better, to heal the planet. This is most commendable but it should not be confused with whether permaculture is a science or a belief system. It is not a belief system, each element can be proven or disproven. Permaculture and metaphysics need to be kept seperate, they are complementary but they are seperate.

  207. @Max Kennedy

    It is less about “proof”- which has a technical definition in science and is rather absolute- than evidence: some things have good evidence in support of them others do not- strictly speaking this might not mean they have been “disproved”- but it does mean they can be discarded in many cases- “that which is promoted without evidence can be rejected without evidence”.

    You are absolutely correct- the key thing is that science is a process, not an ideology or belief system. Science is something you do, not something you believe- yes there is a “belief” that this system is better, but it is a very different sort of belief to a religious belief or conviction which specifically perpetuate themselves by resisting attempts to challenge them.

    Scientific process is the exact opposite- it works by trying to challenge the existing beliefs- those hypothesis which survive repeated attempts at disproof become established as Theories.

    @Ben Stallings:
    #1- permaculture must be a rational system based on science. What you are asking for is that is accommodates irrational beliefs for which there is no evidence. This is absurd- you are claiming equivalent status for things established by gathering evidence that tey work with things that people just say work.

    #2 Beliefs and understandings are not things like cats!! There is clearly no need to identify every plant in the world on a PC course.
    Belief systems are different- you’ve missed one of Craig’s main points in the OP- which beliefs will you choose? which will you leave out? are you really saying that PC should be open to all and any beliefs? if this were so, PC would not itself mean anyting at all.

    #3- noone is saying that. The issue is what beliefs can be taught on a PC course, especially what can be taught as Permaculture. You are basically saying that there should be no discretion whatsoever- anything goes!

    -re your last point- the reason it turns people off is because many of the values and beliefs associated with many spiritual beliefs are contrary to PC ethics; and many things that are promoted under the guise of spirituality- biodynamics, homeopathy, dowsing, geomancy- are demonstrably false.

    Science and rationality are essential aspects of Enlightenment values, which have liberated us from such dangerous superstitions.
    If permaculture does not explicitly place itself within these values, then what values is it promoting exactly?

  208. Yes, this is all very interesting, if perhaps a little overextended, and shows that there are among the permaculture community some very strong opinions which, however long the discussion goes on for, will never mix harmoniously.

    At its most basic, the proposition that started this thread is about the formal use of the word ‘permaculture’ in association with such things as book titles, course descriptions and business ventures, among others and the effect such usage may have on the generally held views about the permaculture movement and permaculture itself in the wider population.

    There is a simple solution to this problem. Enforcement of Copyright infringement.

    I understand that, with excellent foresight, the word ‘Permaculture’ is in fact copyrighted. This is explicitly stated on the publication page of the book – Permaculture a Designers’ Manual. I don’t know who or what is the actual owner of such copyright but I expect it is perhaps Bill Mollison or the enterprise he set up originally. Perhaps someone could enlighten us all on this.

    I would have thought that use of the word ‘Permaculture’ to describe activities of any sort (whether directly related to its intended use or not) would require the express permission of the copyright holder. The copyright action must surely have been taken with just this type of situation in mind. Yes? No?

    In the end, people anywhere (free people that is) will do and think whatever they like within the laws and regulations of the society in which they live, and even outside of those laws and regulations if they can get away with it. Think those who occasionally or regularly exceed vehicle speed limits, jaywalk or litter, to give just a few examples. It is human nature, and if there is no application of available regulatory procedures, who is to say it is right or wrong?

    This view represents a slight change in my own personal stance on these matters which I admit has been influenced (and softened) in some measure by the excellent contributions to this thread.

  209. “The most recent comments by Wendy Howard and Andy Hill are prime examples of why metaphysics should not be a part of permaculture teaching. Science is NOT a religion! ”

    i advise you to read Ishmael by daniel quinn. culture is how we see the world, and in this culture there is a concept called science that is devoutly followed just the same way as religion is.
    wendy explained this very well, using science language, but still those who are in the middle of that cultural worldview believe theirs to the the ‘one true way’ and cannot see that their belief is just that…

    as i said, i have no problem with people including any of their personal belief systems into courses / pdcs etc… just so long as they are advertised honestly…

  210. Andy, I have read Daniel Quinn and quite frankly he is out in left field and simply wrong. Wendy’s science language is misused just as the word “devout” is above. The word “devout” has 2 meanings. The first is the religious experience of belief without proof whereas the second is to be earnest or sincere. Though it is the same word the meanings are worlds apart. Scientists follow the latter whereas religions the former. Show a scientist enough evidence and they will change sincerely, there is no such thing as showing enough evidence regarding religious or spiritual matters, it’s all interpretation (some of which may be right but prove it). The loose use of language is misleading and in some ways dishonest. Science is not a religion nor a belief system. If you think otherwise I invite you to provide sufficient evidence that is testable.

    This discussion resembles the one regarding the reality of global warming and man’s responsibility for it. The evidence is overwhelming but pundits for the other side will quote each other in vicious circles without evidence. Permaculture is not a belief system, it is a science. Growing symbiotic fungi whose mycorrhiza assist plants in nutrient uptake will enhance growth and productivity regardless of whether it is believed or disbelieved. This is permaculture. I have provided concrete examples that have been and are testable in each posting. The refutations have not provided the same. Spirituality may be brought into any endeavour but is not necessarily an integral part other than what you as the participant bring to it which needs to be clear to people taking permaculture courses and to those teaching them.

  211. I am appalled. In order to receive a PDC, I had to take a course in which I was taught that Permaculture is based in Ethical considerations. In it I was instructed to study the writings of a Mr. Bill Mollison. Many of you may have heard of this gentleman. :)

    I was particularly caught up with his words.

    “In earlier days, several of us researched community ethics, as adopted by older religions and cooperative groups, seeking for universal principles to guide our own actions. Although many of these guidelines contained as many as 18 principles, most of these can be included in teh three below (and even if the second and third arise from the first).”

    Ergo, Permaculture found its beginnings in a study of religion.


    “Experiments, therefore, are not decisive, rigid, or true findings but an eternal search for the variables that have not been accounted for previously. This is the equivalent of true believers, in their empirical approach to the knowledge of God’s name. They simply keep chanting variables of all possible names until (perhaps)they hit on the right one. Thus does science proceed in biological experiments.”

    Ergo – Permaculture is not purely based in “Science” but is founded in Nature, a thing that must be considered not on the basis of empiricism, but on the basis that it is a Living Thing, connected to all Living Things.

    and again

    “Aboriginal cultures used myth to show how unnecessary acts and unthinking destruction of elements brings about catastrophe and suffering. The usual structure of myth has these sequences:

    1: A willful act of an individual or group.
    2: A transmutation (animate to inanimate or the revers, e.g. Lot’s wife turns into a pillar of salt). This is by way of a warning.
    3: Invocation of an elemental force (fire, storm, earthquake, flood, tidal wave, plague) as a result of any set of willful acts.
    4. Necessary atonement by suffering, isolation, migration, or death.

    So the act of a child or individual is given a meaning which relates to the whole of nature, and rebounds on the society. Reared on such myths, we go carefully in the world, aware that every unthinking act can have awful consequences.

    Because we have replaced nature-based myth with a set of fixed prohibitions relating only to other people, and unrelated to nature, we have developed destructive and people-centered civilizations and religions.”

    Mr. Mollison decries the sterile, people-based, empirical science and the modern scientific model as the root cause of the destructive civilization that is the wreck and ruin of the world, and the very reason that there may not be much for our grandchildren and greatgrandchildren to look forward to.

    As the Head of one such “Nature-Based” Ethical System, it comes as a bit of a shock to hear so-called Permaculturists setting aside the purely “Spiritual” foundations of Permaculture and setting up “immutable rules” as the only way one may look at, or teach about, Permaculture. It is as if they have forgotten the first pages of their education and cast aside the very founding principles, preferring instead to re-think “science” so that it can be forced to behave in ways that we have already observed that it cannot. What? Will it behave differently because it’s Our Turn? How childish.

    Mollison teaches a spiritual science, of a world that is a living thing, with all other living things intrinsically associated and connected in ways that make sense. Yet, to teach the New Permaculture, one must set aside all such spiritual nonsense as “Ethics” (a highly subjective theme) and “Principles”, and accept the logic that God Almighty Science is the only Permanent Religion, even though it is the very origin of the catastrophe we call Human Experience today.

    I teach that Care of the Earth, Care of People, and Sharing the Surplus of an Abundant Lifestyle is the cultural and religious duty of all the Nemenhah. I use Mollison’s own words when I teach permanent culture. If I am to discard his teachings, what then? Should I just throw it all away and trot myself dutifully down to my local Land Grant College to get the Orthodox Science? Not very God Damned Likely!

    You are in a position to create and develop doctrine here. Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. My God! You seem to be throwing out the baby, the bathwater, the tub, and while you’re at it, why not burn down the whole house. Goes a bit far don’t you think?

    So here is what I ask. Can we get a clear working definition on what you smart people are calling “Spiritualism” and just exactly how it has “marginalized” Permaculture? I don’t do well with platitudes, and yours I have to say, are pretty broad.

    I walk in a Sacred Manner, I talk in a Sacred Manner, and I make an end of speaking.

  212. I am a scientist, don’t get me wrong. I believe that science may be brought into any system to describe in understandable and repeatable language what the scientist perceives. But any chemist will tell you of strange things that happen in the laboratory that cannot be explained by “Science”.

    I remember one such circumstance in Chem Lab. We were given a set of parameters, rules to live by, and an unknown substance. Everybody got one of three unknowns, and as a control, one student got a substance which could not be identified. I was that student. I worked for weeks, got behind, nearly failed the lab, because I did not believe in the unknown substance. Science had to have the answer. It did not. My Prof. knew what the substances in the vile were, but could not explain how they combined into the substance that I was working with. Message (proof as you would have it), science is not immutable, if I may borrow a theme of Mr. Mollison’s.

    I went on with that study and took it to higher and higher sources in the academic world, and there I found even more bizarre and alarming “truths”. The one that alarmed me the most is that, really, science still cannot tell anyone why certain chemical behaviors go off in laboratory like clockwork, but cannot be explained.

    When you really get yourself all screwed around your “Scientific Knowledge” you might get out of yourself and take on a scientific explanation of just exactly how you are reading this entry right now. If you can do it, you are smarter than the sum total of all scientists worldwide since the Word was.

    Fact is, science is language.

  213. @ Ben Stalling Your tekst about bogus arguments and cats seems appealing but:

    I really don’t understand why not including spirituality in a permaculture course, equals denying spirituality.

    I also don’t include building musical instruments, and a lot of other things….

    But that of course does not mean that I deny that musical instruments can be built.

    I want everybody to feel welkom, regardless of religious, spiritual or other beliefs.

  214. I of corse do not no the definition of spirituality. All the people I talked to mean something else!

    Thats a extra reason for me not to include it in courses.

    It can marginalize permaculture by scaring away people that have other or no spiritual beliefs.

    Let us pleas keep these things in churches and spiritual groups.
    All partizanship is lethal.

    Our challenges are big enough already, lets not complicate things unnessesary. And leave religion to the churges.

  215. I’m waiting on an fair response to what Chief Cloudpiler has to say (no response as of this writing). This issue isn’t as black and white as its being made out to be by most.

    Spirituality is a consistent aspect of human culture, to claim we can design permanent culture without it is folly and a violation of observable reality.

    ‘Science is not a religion nor a belief system.’

    While the scientific method is not a belief system per se, but a process, most peoples view, use and attitudes about science more resemble a religion than a process of discovery. E.g. most people have a religious like faith/belief/trust in ‘science’ but do little to no practicing of the scientific method.

    Anyone with much experience with religious sectarianism should recognize many of its attitudes present here in those seeking to keep metaphysics out of permaculture. To try and rid permaculture of any aspect of metaphysics is to put it squarely in the atheistic camp that wishes to use science as a tool against spirituality (i.e. not a neutral position).

    ‘Permaculture is not a belief system, it is a science’

    Permaculture is not science but at best engineering (applied science). Maybe some practitioners are doing scientific research; but the design process itself is an engineering one. And since permaculture has at its very foundation 3 ethics (morals) it is at its heart a belief system and this cannot be denied. The way in which its practitioners take on a new way of life and looking at the world is consistent with it being a belief system. This sort of thing does not happen to students who study science or engineering, but it does to people who have spiritual awakenings.

    From wikipedia, “Engineering is the discipline, art, skill and profession of acquiring and applying scientific, mathematical, economic, social, and practical knowledge, in order to design and build structures, machines, devices, systems, materials and processes.”

    It should be eminently clear that permaculture is an engineering field and not a scientific one. That people are so insistent on calling it science is evidence that we are over-enamored with the idea of ‘science’. ‘Science’ truly is the religion of our culture and to be considered science confers upon one and ones belief system a veil of truth and unassailability that is useful to ones ego and ones efforts to spread permaculture. There is no shame in being an engineering field, it is a good thing. We don’t need to make permaculture something it isn’t to further its spread.

    Notice also that engineering can be based on practical knowledge and not strictly scientific knowledge; this further undercuts the claim of permaculture as science since much of the permaculture repertoire comes from traditional and recent on-the-ground practices developed by farmers without formal scientific methods.

  216. Agreed Pete, though I’d hesitate to call permaculture an engineering field because engineering thinking works best in closed systems with linear processes and limited variables. Nature, life, is nothing of the sort. Chief Cloudpiler makes some crucial points.

    Max Kennedy, you said “Andy, I have read Daniel Quinn and quite frankly he is out in left field and simply wrong. Wendy’s science language is misused just as the word “devout” is above.” This is a statement of opinion and personal judgement, not fact. To try and pass it off as ‘objective truth’ means that either you’re blustering, or (and which appears more likely) you’ve conflated your own belief system with ‘objective truth’ and can’t see this. This is a dangerous situation for someone who claims to be a scientist as it renders you incapable of pursuing scientific method with the required rigour. Scientific method demands NO bias, NO preconceptions and a constant willingness to question the fundamental axioms of your logical process. Unfortunately, as Pete points out, there are too many calling themselves ‘scientists’ who’ve fallen into this trap …

    As a priest, quoted by Anne Lammott, said “You can safely assume that you’ve created God in your own image when it turns out God hates all the same people you do.” You could substitute ‘science’ for “God” in this sentence and it would apply to a disturbing number of comments in this thread.

    It seems that those who object loudest to the apparent ‘appropriation’ of permaculture by ‘spirituality’ are those who have already appropriated it for their own ‘scientific’ belief system. Permaculture doesn’t ‘belong’ to any belief system. It can be practised by anyone of any belief and is valid for all.

    It’s a framework for working WITH nature rather than against it, and there’s far far more to nature, to life, than the materialist mechanistic world view can ever model.

    So many closed minds here when we have so much still to learn! We don’t know the half of it. Look what a mess applied ‘science’ has made of this world! The proof is everywhere you look. A little open mindedness and a lot of humility would go a long way towards facilitating the cooperation and tolerance we’re all going to need in spadefuls if we’re to stand a chance of turning this situation around.

  217. well said Chief Cloudpiler and wendy.

    i am also shocked that so many people here seem to be saying ‘Permaculture courses must not include….. blah blah blah’…

    just who here is trying to make permaculture exclusive?

    i still stand by my statement that ‘science’ is just the latest belief system / dogma…. i wonder if 13th century monks could see outside of their belief systems, in the same way that scientists (and those who want to see the world in black and white) grasp onto their beliefs as irrefutable and unchallegable…

    i have not said that permaculture should include ‘spirituality’ BUT it certainly should be open to accept everybody’s different inputs and worldviews. it seems some of you would write in stone some permaculture commandments and attempt to impose them on the whole movement – reducing diversity and barring those who roll with cosmic hippee stuff from open involvement… shame on you.

  218. Wendy,

    Your statement

    “Wendy’s science language is misused just as the word “devout” is above.” This is a statement of opinion and personal judgement, not fact. To try and pass it off as ‘objective truth’ means that either you’re blustering”

    illustrates the difference between scientific and non-scientific thinking. This was not just an opinion but backed up with a specific example, devout. If I wasn’t open to contrary evidence I would not have even read Daniel Quinn. I did not think it necessary to provide specific examples for absolutely everything to make the point, that’s why examples are used so that absolutely every point of a similar nature doesn’t have to be gone through. I clearly invited the presentation of evidence to the contrary and gave mine. What was returned was the exact lack of evidence the phrase “your blustering” accused me of. If you read my posts I agree with the statement “there’s far far more to nature, to life, than the materialist mechanistic world view can ever model” but there is no universal agreement to what that “more” is. Indeed the disagreement on exactly that has historically lead to more wars than any other reason. To try and mix that in with permaculture excludes people with different views and is thereby detrimental to permaculture.

    As for Chief Cloudpiler’s comments, I will agree that permaculture is ethically based. Religious/spiritual teachings have been venue’s that have historically been important in the recording and dissemination of ethics. Unfortunately they have also been responsible for some of the greatest atrocities, Salem witch hunts for example. That religions/spiritual beliefs were researched for ethical considerations as well as other sources does not mean that permaculture is synonymous with spiritualism. I have in previous posts provided concrete examples where regardless of your belief/spiritual system the effect of permaculture remains the same. For those believing spiritualism is inherent please provide an example of an effect that is dependent on belief in spiritualism that someone who doesn’t believe but takes the same action will not achieve.

    Personally the interconnection of the living world and western societies distance from the acceptance of that interconnection, with the resulting degradation of the global ecosystems and our unethical rape and pillage of both living and other resources, is appalling! To recognize this does not require one to be religious or spiritual. One simply has to open ones eyes to see the loss of fish stocks, the poisoning of water and land, the increasing rates of cancer etc… Be spiritual but don’t try to force that down other peoples throats by teaching permaculture as a spiritual endeavor. Leave that to the individual so that your particular brand of spiritualism doesn’t have them turn away from a great idea.

  219. I said in one of the early comments on this thread that ‘…the longer this thread goes on, interesting as it may be, the more divisive and polarising it is likely to get.’. In my view this is just what has transpired, a battle between the apparently opposing camps of science and spirituality.

    In my view, this is not the intention or purpose that the subject was raised to discuss.

    My previous comment, which mentioned neither science nor spirituality, raised the point that there should be sufficient rights of redress or prevention under the copyright laws for any unauthorised misuse of, or unwanted association with, the term ‘permaculture’ to cover situations such as the one originally described by Craig.

    This point seems to have been lost in the heat of the battle, or has it been dismissed as ill-informed, the ravings of a lunatic, or is no-one other than the remaining protagonists, and me, following this any longer?

  220. Bernie,

    The right of copyright should indeed be sufficient. Key word is should. Unfortunately given some of the discussion I don’t see that as being likely to be respected. Apologies for seeming to ignore your former statement, I missed it.

  221. This debate has reinforced in me my opinion (stated earlier Jan. 6th, I believe)..that there is not only room for both spiritual and scientific approaches, it’s obviously nessecary …as long as they are perpetrated that way in the course description.
    Think of a Christian, Muslim, or Hindu college or university..they present lessons guided by their personal philosophies. If I do not adhere to these philosophies I would not choose to attend one of these colleges. (BTW, I went to a Buddhist college, which is in line with my philosophy, and studied permaculture.)
    This idea that spiritual philosophy will marginalize permaculture is based on fear. Actually, @ Craig, you have every right to not advertise a certain course on the website you moderate…however, to condemn ANY class that mixes permaculture and spirituality is not only self righteous, but ignorant. We don’t all have the same beliefs about God, the universe, how to teach or even about permaculture. There is a guide to what is required to be taught in a 72 hour PDC. If that is covered, as well as some spiritual teachings or direct action, or an EMT, or witchcraft, or survival skills, or sweatlodges, or Christianity…who is anyone on this thread or else where (with all do respect, even Bill Mollison) to say that is not okay. If we did do that, we will in some way alienate some people. That is actually why it is essential we present permaculture in as many different forums as possible. To include as many people, with all their different philosophies, or lack there of. For all those that are turned off by a spiritual undertone in a PDC , there will be that many that are turned on by spirituality in a PDC.
    Yes, we absolutely must follow a form of what is required to be taught in a 72 hour PDC (that is what is essential). But, that is not to say that we should limit it to just that..We need to stop judging, and isolating ourselves from one another.

    @Bernie Edwards…Is the term permaculture copyrighted? that would be news to me…

    *once again stepping down from soapbox*

  222. @ Bernie Edwards Who is going to enforce these “copyright infringements” and “misuses of the word”?
    ..Let’s have the USDA do it..They have done such a good job on the word “organic”..*sarcasm*

  223. @Wind Clearwater,
    Quote from the publication page of ‘Permaculture: A Designers’ Manual’ – “The contents of this book and the word PERMACULTURE * are copyright”, where ‘*’ represents the copyright symbol.

    As I said, I don’t know who or what owns the copyright to the word (most likely Bill Mollison or an entity set up by him) but presumably that person/entity would be the only one(s) with the right to grant ‘legal’ use of the word in contexts other than those permitted by the copyright laws. Conversely, no-one other than the copyright owner can prevent or bar any other person/entity from using the word in any context they may deem fit for their own purposes.

    Let me say this. I am no expert in copyright law, or in any other legal branch for that matter so the previous statements may or may not be true. I am just putting this out there for comment or clarification as something which (to me) logically makes all argument for or against Craig’s editorial stand on the issue pointless if the copyright holder chooses not to exercise their rights. Since by doing so it becomes open slather (to use an Australian colloquialism) as to how and in what context the word may be generally used. Of course this does not undermine Craig’s editorial right to determine policy with regard to the content of this website.

    Someone in this arena must know, or know of someone who knows, about copyright law. Perhaps even the copyright owner may wish to make a statement of their position.

  224. I believe the main thing that can unite people through permaculture today, is that it is not spiritual. Today spirituality has become commercialized, used to sell everything from healing to tea to exercise products. Mixing permaculture with spirituality will in my opinion be just as bad as putting advertisements for Monsanto on this blog.

  225. Wind, the problem with adding spiritual dimensions to the PDC is not that many permaculture teachers don’t think it is an important aspect of sustainable human culture. Craig made that pretty clear. Where the issue comes up is in the perception of what permaculture is. Nowhere in the designer’s manual do you see techniques on how to perform ritual, pagan ceremony, meditation instruction, etc. Just because we think those things are important doesn’t mean we have to attach them to permaculture. Let things stand on their own. Value diversity; no need to lump everything together as one, under one heading.

    I teach permaculture in the environmental studies department at a buddhist inspired university (I’m interested to know who taught your permaculture course and when) and not once do I feel the need to teach my students anything other than permaculture design; not spiritual practices, not rituals, not chants, just design and a smattering of scientific methods. I totally agree that the spiritual dimension of life is crucial, important, and downright necessary to the health of people and culture, but I can’t pretend that permaculture encompasses the myriad ways that people view the spiritual world, nor do I find a need to have everything I think is important fit together like a puzzle. Permaculture wasn’t intended to be that, it was intended to be an ecological design practice, plain and simple. No need to attach anything else to it because it works beautifully, as is!

    To me it just sounds like you are interested in a lot more than permaculture, which is great, but why make permaculture stretch to fit your broad box of interests?

  226. @ Bernie….Touche. Thanks for pointing that out. I do have the Manual…didn’t realize the term itself was copyrighted. I suppose that puts a lot of people in jeopardy, because I am sure that the vast majority of them have not solicited permission to use the term when advertising their classes. How will this marginalize permaculture?
    I still believe that we need to get this information out to the world…spiritual, non-spiritual, or copyrights or not..
    It seems a lot of people on this thread are so worried about tainting the reputation of permaculture through spirituality, potentially alienating people, they are willing to put it in a box…which will alienate it from some.
    Let’s stop wasting time bickering about whether permaculture is spiritual or science and focus on getting the information to people who want it, in whatever forum that we need to. (Providing that we followed the agreed 72 hour ciriculum).
    My final words…Blessings to all of you who are doing the work…may you find abundance…
    ~Wind Clearwater~ Spiritual scientist

  227. max kennedy: “Be spiritual but don’t try to force that down other peoples throats by teaching permaculture as a spiritual endeavor. Leave that to the individual so that your particular brand of spiritualism doesn’t have them turn away from a great idea.”

    i would argue, be scientific, but don’t try to force that down peoples throats. if permaculture teachers are coming from a spiritual perspective, whats the problem? there is room for all of it, and we probably need all of it… as long as it is honestly advertised…

    Bernie Edwards: there are also some of us saying that ‘science’ is just another belief system, and that permaculture should be loose enough to incorporate everything… its a world view.
    we could even look at building musical instruments (as someone said we couldnt) in a permaculture course… take it from planting the trees etc…

    and if that copyright is serious, and possibly used to restrict what people can do or teach under that banner, i for one will start using a different banner – this discussion of what is acceptable to those who want to control what permaculture is, is more divisive than any spiritual stuff in a pdc….


  228. .
    Talking of marginalising people from permaculture…

    there is a permaculture event attended by

    A) agnostic government official
    B) atheist funding agent
    C) pastafarian scientist
    D) spiritual chieftain
    E) holy church leader
    F) shamanistic healer
    … and a number of others. None of the attendees’ professions, beliefs, or agendas are known to the organisers.

    For attendees A to F, this is their first encounter with permaculture. The attendees have the following agendas:

    A) The government official is preparing a bill that will support tax breaks for practitioners of certain forms of ecologically sound agriculture. He needs to find out which of these are sound in their approach to reducing environmental problems and which will be broadly acceptable by conservative farmers still clinging to mechanistic mono-cropping. He will invite spokespersons of suitable approaches to address his committee.

    B) The funding agent has money to allocate each year to several land rehabilitation projects that are objectively focussed and reliably effective with long-term benefits to local communities of different ethnic backgrounds.

    C) The scientist has been asked by an influential land owner to vet a proposal to remodel his land, put forward by a permaculture designer. The landowner doesn’t feel able to asses whether permaculture is a serious approach and what the potential benefits of the method are. The scientist is also looking for an opportunity to start on a new area of research in agriculture or forestry that can break the ranks of mono-cultural thinkers.

    D) The chieftain wishes to convert the barren lands of his tribe, wasted by environmental degradation and instead create a place of connection between the ancient gods of fertility and the soils where once they trod. Perhaps he might awaken their life-giving breath through the sweat and devotion that his tribal brothers will offer.

    E) The church leader wants to help poverty stricken farmers in her god-fearing congregation return to practices that respect almighty God’s creation. She wants to help them contemplate the expulsion and subsequent decline of nature’s cornucopia and prays that God might help them find the lost bounty that once was. If satisfied that permaculture is suitable she’ll return with some of her congregation

    F) The shaman wants to recreate a forest in which he can grow and gather herbs with powerful healing properties that have the true energies of the forest in which they grow. He also wants to create a sacred space in which he can perform spiritual purification, bodily cleansing, and soul journeys.

    The organisers of the permaculture event have arranged to open with elders from the permaculture movement performing a ritualistic opening ceremony. They chant in the tongue of stones to the rock of souls, which they bear forth on a platter made from the root of the last fallen tribal oak, and they bless it with the waters from the spring of serenity before passing the sacred rock to gather positive energies from all the wonderful people attending the event. They chant as they invoke the ancestral spirits of the stone to embrace the sanctity of oneness within the permacultural movement and to awaken the dormant spirituality that they know bonds all matter living and dead in the universe, and that they know will strengthen the force and wholeness of the assembly, uplifting it into the unity that is permaculture.

    1) Which of the attendees does the opening ceremony alienate ?

    2) Who would be alienated had the ceremony been omitted ?

    3) If alienation of some attendees were unavoidable due to insistence from the organisers to do one alienating procedure or another, would it be less damaging to the uptake and application of permaculture to alienate A, B, C, or D, E, F ?

    WHAT IF I tell you this really happened?

    Did it? Could it? Will it?

    What are the consequences?

    Suppose the opening were televised prime time.

  229. The copyright idea is a non-starter for legal reasons:

    It is also a non-starter for other reasons. Going down that road of enforcement is the very kind of divisive, sectarian, empire building thing which causes movements to stagnate, turn inward, and die. Building lists of acceptable permaculture teachers is equally divisive.

    Whether the discussion of spiritual matters will impede the spread of permaculture is a dubious matter of opinion. Secularists are a minority in this world. Contextualizing permaculture to the cultural/religious perspective of your audience (whether secular or religious) can be a powerful help to the spread of permaculture. And there are many things that are common to most if not all the worlds religions.

    How far down this road of eliminating roadblocks to the spread of permaculture are you going to go? After all, the political articles on this site certainly alienate a good percentage of the population. And permaculture’s counter-cultural aspects will always be a challenge to people in the prevailing worldview.

  230. @ Jason Gerhardt…Naropa Institute in 1994..Allison Peck was my instructor along with Marci Brewster..Kourick came to our class as well, and a geomancer, etc. Good class. Changed my life.
    I’m not trying to make permaculture fit anything…as a matter of fact I teach through a college credited course with no spiritual undertones…When I have WWOOFer’s I tend to weave in a spiritual message if people are receptive, but never force it on folks.. I’m just saying there is no reason we can’t have both ways…it’s really okay for those that want to incorporate spirituality with the “science” of permaculture IMHO…but there is also nothing wrong with a hard core science based permaculture (I also was a Botany major in college)

    @ Andy Hill…I totally agree..why divide the ranks here, folks, what matters is that we are getting the information to people that want it…spiritual, or not…The Earth needs us to unify…it is these type of arguments that create factioning and divide us..we can not afford to do that right now on this planet…This is exactly why the world is torn apart…everyone thinks their opinion is right..why should we not allow people to put forth this valuable information in what ever forum that they can (providing they follow the 72 hour PDC requirements)..I think some of you are losing site of what really matters here…and that is healing the planet, and permaculture is one of the best ways to do it..IMHO
    *swearing this is his last input…stepping down*

  231. @Pete,
    Thank you for finding that information. Who would have expected that to be on Wikipedia? Good stuff, and generally a good article. Well, at least that is out of the way now and I suspect is info most permaculture people were not aware of.

    @Guy Davies,
    The event you describe sounds like what took place at the opening ceremony for IPC10 last year. I couldn’t believe I was seeing that on video. What a crock’o’shit. And I paid good money to assist having that recorded. I wouldn’t have if I thought that was the sort of thing that goes on at these events. What is the permaculture movement coming to?

    It is not to suggest that such ceremonies are anything but harmless in themselves and in the right place but to associate that practice with the international permaculture movement and to actually suggest that it should form an ongoing procedure at future convergences is nothing short of disgusting.

  232. @Wind

    “..why divide the ranks here, folks, what matters is that we are getting the information to people that want it…spiritual, or not”

    Unfortunately this statement fails to recognise the reality that differing “spiritual” viewpoints have been and remain today one of the most divisive topics known to man (how many examples of wars and conflict do you want, from present day Sunni suicide bombing Shi’a shrines to historical North/South Ireland). The point being made is that if a spiritual viewpoint is included in the teaching that is not in agreement with that of the learner then indeed we are NOT “getting the information out to people that want it” because the practical aspects of permaculture are rejected with the spiritual message that doesn’t agree with the learners viewpoint. In an ideal world this would not be the case, unfortunately in the real world people will turn away from great ideas because of the presentation. Because permaculture is about the interactions of life and how each has a role to play I do not think anyone can go through a permaculture course without making a spiritual connection in some manner. Because spiritual meaning is so different for people and because it is so divisive the 2 should be kept seperate to promote acceptance of the main idea’s and not intermingled which will close peoples minds before getting the message.


    Excellent example. Haven’t experienced any 1 thing quite that FUBAR but have seen all those elements in different settings.

  233. The importance of DIVERSITY is what I remember most from my first permaculture course. Everybody welcome! Diversity creates resiliance. No politics, religion or spirituality, in the course, great.

    It even took quite a while before I found out that both the teachers where both sjamans. It was not something they showed of, or included in the course. And there was no we against them…

    That was so inspiring It try to do the same in my own courses now.

  234. With all good intentions, we have always taught PDC’s where we have been invited to teach and to gain the greatest effect for the ethics of earth care people care and return of surplus without including meta physics, spirituality or religion. These courses have often been funded and supported by many variations of religious organizations, our most recent course in Yemen was funded by a very well known Islamic school, see:

    Many course have been funded by groups with their own metaphysics beliefs, traditional spirituality and new age spirituality.

    We have also taught many PDC’s in universities, often in the science departments.

    PDC courses usually include and are often more a very diverse mix of people with a great diversity of personal beliefs creating a very effective common ground of common sense meaningful action through permaculture design that can be applied by anyone prepared to work within the ethics, without any need for extra labels of specific beliefs.

    We have always aimed at producing good designers, consultants and teachers – we have always encouraged people to work towards setting up good demonstration sites that can function as education centers and to show case the results of this work. This website has been created as a service to that end. We have set up a PRI teachers registration using to extend and continue the success of this work by registration of the PRI Master Plan Projects and are now working with Bill and Lisa Mollison and the Permaculture Institute of Australia on the Permaculture Diploma.

    Best Regards,

    Geoff Lawton (Jamal Al Deen)
    Managing Director
    Permaculture Research Institute (PRI) Australia
    Master Plan Permaculture Centres Worldwide:

  235. Hello Craig and the Permaculture community,

    Thank you for posting your perspective. After reading this article and the comments I am convinced more than ever that spirituality is essential in creating a society that is in harmony with nature and considers all life for 7 generations and beyond.

    I do not feel you are wrong in you intentions but see that there are some core misunderstandings and I wish here to share some additional perspectives. Although spirituality does not and should not be included in all PDC courses, there is a definite place for it in some, in my humble opinion.

    To start, there is a lot of misunderstanding about spirituality in our western culture. In our modern society we often interpret spirituality as faries and magical forces but this is not spirituality, this is mysticism. Spirituality is not based on blind fate and external forces but on experience and practice. True spirituality deals with practical aspects of our life, our behavior and ways of transforming humanity beyond external circumstances. True spirituality seeks patterns that can unite belief systems together objectively from all backgrounds and can relate to people who have religious believes as well as to the “average Joe” who does not have anything to do with spirituality because it contains tools, methods and skillful means that actually allow us to become more present and objective with ourselves so that we can apply them to external circumstances.

    A true spiritual practitioner learns how to work with their disturbing emotions, judgments, have integrity and take full responsibility for one’s actions, as well as dissolve stale concepts and ideas. All this work is done so that we can really create communities that can move beyond the consumerism, self-centeredness and selfishness that is the sickness of humanity and ground in a view of life where we truly consider others.

    If we can’t work with ourselves in this way we are no better than the modern destructive, egotistical mindset that really got us in the global mess we find ourselves in now. If we really wish to create change we must really start with ourselves and scrutinize our every thought and action. The most influential people in history show us this.

    Most, if not all cultures on the earth are rooted in Shamanism and earth based religions. All the ancestral knowledge that is used in Permaculture today comes from traditions such as these. Following the principals of Permaculture we can find common principles used in these traditions together with Christianity and Buddhism as well as all other religions on earth. There is the same essential humanity uniting all these cultures and religions since we are all human beings independent from race, religion, sex or a way of life. Therefor we all share the same universal qualities such as love, compassion, sincerity and the willingness to seek the truth.

    Shamanism was born from cultures who lived in deep connection with nature both internally and externally who realized deep states of awareness of their interconnection with all life. They understand how energy flows and how to work harmoniously with in these flows. At our Permaculture center we are one of the ones you mention who work with Shamanism because Shamanism and Permaculture have a core root in common. Nature is our teacher and in this way the principles between Shamanism and Permaculture are naturally the same. Pretty much all indigenous culture on earth have roots in shamanism and since the ethic, principles and techniques of Permaculture have roots in indigenous cultures, it too has Shamanic roots.

    We are working with Shamanism not in terms of ritualistic mystification, but in a way that allows ourselves and our participants to implement practical tools that unravel our inborn qualities of observation and deeper receptivity to all life forms without conceptualization or a specific religious preference. We do not impose worldviews to people but provide objective means that allow us to see the world without excessive intellectualization, cultivating discerning wisdom in that process.

    In the indigenous Amazonian traditions they actually refer to shamanism as a Sacred Science. It was called a sacred science because it really integrates all aspects of life instead of dividing them into separate disconnected compartments as our modern science does today. In addition it was considered sacred because those who lived by this science had deep reverence, respect, humility and gratitude towards all life and their opportunity to interact in this beautiful life tapestry consciously. Modern scientific perspective is quite short sited and has been the source of many fundamental design flaws of our modern world and the state of the world today is the result of this thinking.

    The original shamans where those who were curious about the working of nature and humanity. Shamans naturally became healers because they transmitted to people how to come back into their innate harmony through their deep connection to nature and in this way were able to resolve many sicknesses which are born out of disconnection and disharmony. In addition they had deep relationships with plants and learned how to utilize these plants in a synergetic partnership. This knowledge did not come through a modern laboratory but through profound levels of openness and intuition. Today modern science is beginning to prove what this culture understood for 1000s of years and modern science has only studied about 1% of what these healers know.

    Permaculturists should also be curious to learn from nature and always be a student willing to give up old rigid concept in order to really become more conscious in the work we are doing. In this way we unlock our healing potential for the earth and each other. If we can’t learn how to work with our internal dialogue, repressed emotions and judgments, stale concepts and ideas in order to really see things as they are without our conditioned views how will we ever be able to truly observe. True listening and observation require a blank slate and this is something that is very difficult to do in the absence of a spiritual discipline.

    Rigid ideologies will never offer solid stable structure. For true transformation of our communities into a Permanent Culture our ideas must be capable of evolution and integration. The nature and all life that inhabits earth have always evolved. As Permaculture and Shamanic practice have taught me, we must mold our systems on the wisdom learned through deep observation with nature. In this way, a tree cannot be too flexible, nor can it be too rigid. If it is too flexible it will never stand and if it is too rigid it will snap under the pressure of the elements. By trying to be accepted into the mainstream mentality Permaculture is trying to be too flexible because it has to go against its own principles to conform. At the same time, not learning how to integrate objective spiritual perspective is very rigid. In this way it risks becoming another dogmatic ideology. We have to learn how to walk the middle path.

    In terms of the mentality of the world today, I believe they are much more open to objective, non-dogmatic spirituality than you seem to suggest. At one point in my life I worked a corporate job in New York City for many years and it was living there that actually brought me back on my spiritual path. I can say from my own experience that I have had these conversations with many of my New York community including many “influential” people who you mention you would like to gain recognition with… Bankers, lawyers, doctors, stock brokers, hedge fund managers, teachers, celebrities, models, designers, brand strategist, to name a few. From my experience they are very open to this work, resonate deeply and many actually participate in our courses and gain great benefit, which I have seen them integrate into their lives and work.

    Often we have lawyers in a course alongside hippies and we learn how to appreciate each other’s perspectives and gifts. Each person is a teacher and adds value to the whole. I am surprised to see such disdain and judgment in this article and among many comments. For one the hippies where the first to adopt the permaculture thinking and in that way we should be grateful and honor their ability to be trail blazers. Further more, this harsh judgment pattern really shows the need for the permaculture community to really internalize its ethic and principles which is accomplished through a deeper spiritual approach.

    I do feel it is VERY important to be clear and communicate with people. When incorporating supplemental material into a PDC course it is possible to define to the participants what material is part of the core original PDC curriculum and which material is supplemental and part of additional tools that relate to nature awareness. It is important to clearly communicate why the supplemental information is added and give context. In promotional materials for all courses we must be transparent and clear with the information which will be presented and in this way people will chose a course that resonates with them.

    In nature everything has it’s place and we must also allow permaculture to service different people in different ways. People will naturally find the course and teachers that they resonate with if the information is presented clearly. We must learn to cooperate not compete. The fear based mentality present in this discussion will not support the success of Permaculture on a global level.

    True earth stewardship is not a process of doing but a process of being. Being present, being an observer, being open and receptive to nature and other beings, being responsible, being accepting, being at peace, and being an example.

  236. A note on copyright: I understand that, in the 1980s, at B. Mollison’s request, Dan Hemenway trademarked or copyrighted the word “permaculture” throughout the US, in every state, then attempted to get the then-small number of permies together to agree on standards etc. When, for various reasons, people did not gather to make agreements, and after other events and choices, he released the trademark in all 50 states so the word is now and forevermore in the public domain. A friend and I, with a lawyer’s help, researched the trademarkability of the word and it appears that the US Patent and Trademark Office has determined the word is used too loosely by too many people to qualify as trademarkable (or copyrightable) in the US. My guess is that is also true in other countries. The cat is out of the bag, and that is that. We’ll all have to deal with the reality that the word “permaculture” is not something we can control or define.

    Frankly I am glad for that–I sense some elements of control-freakishness in the movement sometimes that give me the willies. We have the opposite problems now, though, to contend with. And with the level of diversity in the movement at this point I think we will never come to full agreement about what permaculture is and what should or should not be included in PDCs etc. What adaptive strategies will we evolve to deal with this reality now? It will be fascinating to watch and participate in.

    On another note, Albert Bates got a bit teed at me for my use of the phrase “hippie smell” in my post many dozens of posts ago. I did not mean it as an affront, but as a comment upon the attitude expressed in many posts in this thread about spirituality, whatever that is, and “hippie stuff” whatever that is, seeming to have some sort of smell or taboo that frightens people away from permaculture. I apologize and take full responsibility for not being clearer in my commentary about what I meant to be saying.

    I was glad to see someone else remembering that Mollison had a negative attitude about hippies–we got plenty of that attitude in my PDC with him in 1981 in New Hampshire, USA. At the time, I and many of my co-students had long hair and scraggly beards and so on. The guy certainly loves to offend people and push buttons. Not sure its particularly effective at building a movement . . . but we all have our stuff, don’t we? I hope we can all admit to that . . . this discussion seems to reflect that reality pretty well all around, including right here.

    If anyone ever reads this post–thanks. It seems to me that the conversation has devolved, as someone pointed out above, and is getting more pointless and divergent from the intended purpose. I’m going to go back to my region now, let all the international squabbling fade into the background, and focus on dealing on a scale where we can build a reasonable social system to support the evolution of permacultures and permaculture education where I live.

    Blessings to all and keep up whatever good work you think is good to be doing! I trust the group intelligence to work it out in multiple ways in different environments just fine, myself.


  237. The failure of permaculture practices to be widely adopted might be due to its association with spirituality but the focus on what is essentially landscape design may also share some blame. The issue is appropriate design for human participation in a whole system and humans have emotional needs that are addressed by spiritual teachings. I do not think we want to promote a particular spiritual teaching or that we can afford to limit our search for answers to the scientific method. The scientific method is a reductionist process and we are dealing with a whole system. There is a middle ground.

    The design task is to make positive change to a complex adaptive system. The set of interactions in which we find ourselves is the most complex adaptive system that we know. It encompasses everything we know. Humans are a part of that system, like every other living thing. Humans have needs that must be fulfilled by their habitat if they are to thrive. Just as we design for the needs and products of a chicken, if we want to take advantage of human products in our proposed changes, we must consider the needs of those humans participating. We will not attract participation unless the design change meets at least some of those needs.

    Humans have emotional needs as well as physical needs. We need to feel like we belong, that we are contributing, that there is a purpose for our existence. Associating permaculture with any particular spiritual or faith based set of beliefs will exclude all those who hold a different set of spiritual or faith based beliefs but we can design for meeting certain emotional needs. To do that may require that we move beyond what is considered science.

    Each of us is already participating in a set of interactions with all the living things around us. Those interactions create the habitat we experience. Every choice each of us makes impacts those interactions and the condition of our habitat. Our individual well being is inseparable from the well being of that habitat. In that way, it is in our self interest to contribute to the well being of our habitat. That is not a spiritual understanding. That is how the system functions.

    Ideas such as gardening teams, leading in the direction of community sufficiency technologies, are experiments in developing new ways to meet human needs through participation in system function. The goal is to create a sense of belonging to place, a sense of participating in the ecosystem, and to develop an understanding of the role humans could play as a keystone species within an environment of increasing diversity . . . creating a habitat that meets the needs and accepts the gifts of an expanding number of participants, including us. I am hopeful that the practice of permaculture can expand to encompass this whole system understanding. We want permaculture practitioners to join us in designing for the role of humans in whole system function . . . because we all still have a lot to learn about what it takes for people to adopt permaculture practices as a way of life.

  238. Hi there Craig,

    I have been dipping into this blog to see the various comments – and thought today, “well, time to jump in, get wet and give my two cents worth.”

    When I did my PDC early last year, I found a wonderful sense of connection to Permaculture with it’s intent to understand nature’s design, processes and interconnected synergies and then utilise our human intelligence to restore, create and amplify this. As a naturopath, herbalist and homeopath nature’s design intellegence does not surprise me, but indeed delights me and continues to.

    During my PDC there were the odd moment of fellow students connecting course content with the metaphysical aspects. However, I have to say that Geoff Lawton, our teacher, was beautifully skilled in gently moving that be discussed during our breaks. I greatly appreciated this as I was there to get into the nitty gritty of Permaculture.

    I do believe that Permaculture is so much more than it appears at first glance – however, that is the individuals journey to discover and delight in what it means for them.

    In my humble opinion metaphysical perspectives/concepts are not somethinig that should be ‘taught’ in life anyway – rather they are is saught by an individual. So,I do agree that the metaphysical should not be ‘taught’ within a PDC. I do not think it has to be a difficult or complex thing to address or deal with, as Geoff demonstrated. Regarding Permaculture teachers all they should need to be guided by is to remember, that they are teaching a group of people who have come to learn about Permaculture and to allow those people individually to gain the framework of it and go off and nurture it for themselves.

    Thank-you for the opportunity for me to express my view. And lots of good wishes for the year ahead.

    Kind regards,
    Sally Landers

  239. Gosh! Please excuse the few errors in my text – my first response to a blog (ever!), so I am somewhat of a novice :)

  240. Religion and science seem similar to me. where do I stand?
    Comment by Stella — January 10, 2012 @ 11:34 pm and other comments
    an sally above this post, whom i agree with
    Hi all.
    if you pray for rain and rain arrives, some say thank God
    if you predict rain, via science, and it rains, science then works
    if it rains and no one is about, a cat is employed in a box to work out what happened? Schrödinger’s cat is a thought experiment, usually described as a paradox, devised by Austrian physicist Erwin Schrödinger in 1935.

    many contributions miss the point of Craigs article, PC designers have to use very simple tried and tested examples, samples and advice, be it derived by whatever source and all advice needs to be questioned, and explained with salt in buckets and over both shoulders, Craig seems to say and I agree, that its the type of advice, from certain sources and the actions of love ins and airy fairy types that often seem to be the only limiting factor to success.
    zealots of Established Religions or new agers fail to allow questioning, they seem to say – if we pray we will get rain and if it rains, which it will, they are proved right.
    Science cannot evaluate beyond the known world, thus it too can be very limiting in certain situations,
    Most of the systems I have observed are present because of unmeasurable interactions. neither science or God explains everything.
    Both science and religion are responsible for many things for better or for worse.
    of course we pc teachers can quote god, dog or hawkins, of course we can personalise our work, as long as we are honest and say where and why we are coming from that angle or angel..

    I think Craigs point is being missed. Pc is trying to equip individuals to make there own way, to gain an ownership and allow action of their own situation(s) in relation to what we perceive as is.

    If Bill Mollison hates domestic cats, great,
    4 Cats are full time employed in my seed barn. they kill rats and mice, so does the dog and a local owl.
    Bill could give me a load of reasons and alternatives to cats. great …but he didnt say the Gods disapprove of cats, or that science proves cats are wrong.
    thats what this is all about, he expressed an opinion, thats all,
    it seems the opinions of others are rules and facts.
    we all know this to be a pattern, some try to teach pC where Ego is more important than the learning and experience or freedom of the individual or group, some teach where the teacher is the message as opposed to the carrier.
    When I teach PC, I am very careful to try teach Just Permaculture.

    recently I found some early science experiments from the early 20th century on growing fruit. they totally contradict today’s accepted knowledge, yet the crops produced were fab. tests were done as to all species esp grasses when planting with ground cover, in field and pot trials trees faired best without any competition from clovers , herbs and grasses , yet the yield from bees was not measured, those tests established all modern fruit growing knowledge.
    We simply have to do, get out and do, in Bill M’s own words, its hard to do worse than what’s being done to this planet, so just do it..
    this was written on a wet and windy cold Jan day. re above

  241. Has any other post on this site attracted more comments than this one? I wholeheartedly agree with Craig. I often have difficulty getting people off the mental slide that distracts them and obscures their vision when I talk about Permaculture as a purely rational design science.
    Sandro, no argument from me about cats. They have been the vermin control of choice since civilisation began; essential servants around flour mills and grain stores, as well as vital crew members on ships to protect sails and ropes from nibbling vermin, so I don’t understand the irrational hatred directed towards them when they are in their proper place.
    In all things PC, let reason prevail.

  242. I got this message from a “permaculture” mailing list:

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  243. Craig, I love spiritual exploration and I love exploring esoteric thinking and experiences. In my many years I have attended all kinds of ‘weird and wonderful’ workshops AND

    If we are to get permaculture out to the mainstream, we have to remain spiritually and religiously neutral. THIS IS PARAMOUNT.

    We cannot afford to risk losing potential ‘converts’ when the state of our earth hangs in the balance and permaculture is perhaps the only way we can save this precious resource.

    For example, in the USA alone there are vast numbers of Christian folk who might be converted to the cause of permaculture as long as it is kept neutral.

    As permaculture is not a religion and not grounded in any spiritual arena, we will not be false to ourselves by keepint it neutral. I completely condone everything you say here! Well said.

  244. Not sure if this is Metaphysics or just plain science, but it’s worth considering in light of this discussion. The iron in your blood, and mine, and the iron that makes up this planet was forged in ancient suns that exploded in supernova, many billions of years ago.

    “We’re all connected; to each other, biologically. To the Earth, chemically. To the rest of the universe, atomically” – Neil deGrasse Tyson.

    “The cosmos is also within us, we are made of star stuff. We are a way for the cosmos to know itself.” – Carl Sagan.

  245. “Mr. Permaculture Europe” gave in the early 1980s one of the first presentations about permaculture in the UK at the esoteric Findhorn village (sect?):

    …and brought the concept of Permaculture from Australia to Germany and in the following 10 years through PDC courses to another 16 countries, to Global Eso-Village Network and “Gaia University”, since 1988 he is spiritual healer through quantum method :

    Best Regards

  246. The crux of the study of permaculture:

    1) Traditional knowledge informs us of human life in harmony with the Earth.
    2) Pattern recognition.

    To limit the exploration of these two core inquiries demotes permaculture into a kind of dogmatic discipline that is missing the point. For instance, do the anti-metaphysical professors believe that permaculture should avoid the type of inquiry into the natural world that is articulated by Nassim Haramein in this video? Would this serve the interests of permaculture?

    I think not.
    Shannyn Sollitt

    Hope you enjoy it.

  247. Thank you Shannyn. That is an incredibly important video. Ninety minutes of breathtaking revelation which everyone should see. Covering and reinforcing and expanding many of the ideas that form my own world view.

    Sadly, I suspect that not many people are still following this thread and it will have lost the opportunity to reach the audience that it deserves. Share it elsewhere, as I have.

  248. Hi Craig, great article. I have actually come back to read it a number of times as it has got me thinking to how my business could be perceived in the permaculture community. I am starting out in a business that offers yoga, homeopathy and permaculture only because all three offers sustainable approaches to self, health, earth and community which is what I think is most important.

    Your articles has prompted me to clarify my position on this topic (and you may be surprised to learn I agree with you wholeheartedly on the point that I do not believe it should NOT be taught as a part of permaculture. If you or anyone else are interested to read my response to the discussion I would be honoured to have you visit:

    Kelly @ Little Branches Big Trees

  249. Having studied the food growing aspects of permaculture which is my interest, I find that sometimes there is too much of a mixture of other design systems in permaculture food growing which are actually not that helpful for creating healthy soil. I have worked with organic growing for most of my life, now 55 years old and over the last 12 years have used and studied biodynamic growing methods very deeply. I have to say that from my own observation and study and thinking through how biodynamic works with spirituality, that without recognising the importance of the spiritual aspect of our existence and matter a person is always missing a major part of understanding why things happen. I have found that biodynamics does explore what happens behind matter and organics does mostly stay in the material realm. I am very much a logical thinker having worked as an accountant and IT systems designer for many years so I like to be able to prove things to myself. I feel that with all of the work of Rudolf Steiner, who started biodynamics, his work is hard to grasp to begin with, but with discipline and an open mind, the beautiful and wholistic simplicity of how it works makes sense.

    If permaculture teaching is delving into spiritual aspects, despite the vehment opposition to this by its founder, then I feel it is beginning to look at life in a more whole way and that is good. And if current science struggles to prove things, then perhaps its the scientific method that’s the problem. Lots of the horrible things that are happening in our food system are because of the legacy of a scientific method that is mostly nonsense and invariably commercially biassed. Look at GM food. Enough of my rant

  250. Interesting and quite long-running issue within permaculture. Just a couple points:

    (1) Mollison validates the separation of spiritual/religious beliefs from permaculture in chapter 14 of his Designer’s Manual.

    (2) People motivated by religious belief can still make use of permaculture as a means of creative action in the world and of enacting their religious motivations – permaculture becomes the tool of action, religious belief the reason for acting. I know a couple who do this and who do not position permaculture design as a quasi-religious thing.

    (3) As an urbanist, someone active in applying sustainability systems to placemaking and urban agriculture/food systems in a higher density urban environment, I make use of the relevant permaculture principles articulated by Bill and David Holmgren. I would not include spiritual content even were that a motivator because of the social diversity of people I work with and because it could cloud evidence-based social/physical design approaches such as the ‘invisible systems’ that are so important to us in this field.

    (4) There seems o be some association of permaculture with the ‘hippy’. Reality: the hippy has been gone these past 40 years. Permaculture was substantially influenced by the creative, innovative element of the youth subculture of that period, the ‘alternative’ culture (a link with the name of Bill’s chapter 14?) but this in turn was influenced by innovators such as Buckminster Fuller and EF Schumacher, giving it a more creative focus that hippiedom with its association with dope smoking, tripping and general do nothing listlessness.

  251. Russ,

    I agree that one needs to be sensitive about how these things are handled. I do quite a lot of teaching in organic and biodynamic gardening methods and I also do consulting work in urban agriculture for some very large organisations with “conventional” ways of seeing things. I know from my experience that there is a time and place to delve into spiritual matters. With integrating biodynamics into my work, when I know its not the right situation to go into spiritual side, I tend to concentrate on the practice aspects and let the results tell the story. Hopefully over time then people will begin to question why it works as I see it as essential that no method of food growing be accepted with any level of dogmatism. It should all be tested by our own work and thinking and this takes time and produces the greatest rewards in my experience.

  252. Thank you for your comment Peter Karney. I understand there is evidence that biodynamics works.

    Three comments:
    (1) You state “I feel that with all of the work of Rudolf Steiner, who started biodynamics, his work is hard to grasp to begin with”.

    This, plus the spiritual content that comes with biodynamics, I have found to be a barrier to the acceptance of its approach to growing though I understand the metaphysical explanations are an embodied part of the system. People in these time are skeptical (for the most part) and the metaphysics can switch them off the rest of biodynamics’ message.

    I assume that Steiner’s scientific/spiritual structure reflects that of his time—the early Twentieth Century.

    In working with urban communities—mainly growers in community food gardens—I find the keep-it-simple approach the best to get people started. Generally, people come with zero horticultural knowledge, even of how to plant a seed (‘which way is up?’, for example) and the garden education aims to provide a firm basis in the basics— soils and their amendment including composting (taught as the ADAM method, which is simple and comprehensible); plant propagation and planting; irrigation; pest and disease management; planning for the seasons etc. Later, when they gain greater expertise, they might delve into more advanced approaches and into systems like biodynamics.

    (2) Bill Mollison’s wasn’t such a “vehement opposition” to the metaphysical, more a proposal to keep separate that and the evidence-based, more scientific approach.

    (3) Science is imperfect as you say. As a way of knowing and exploring that which we exist within, science remains the only way of assessing whether our beliefs and assumption are likely to be accurate and accord with evidential reality. Scientific belief is open to scientific challenge and has the internal capacity to move away from earlier findings.

    I think this latter point is important for those of us engaged in the permaculture design systems’s many domains of application. When faced with new evidence, it is both common sense and wisdom to change our minds, change what we believe. The scientific method, despite its flaws that you point out, is for me still the most effective way to do this.

  253. As per Catherines post at top… Perhaps promoting a set of in reality measurements as the underlying objective of permaculture would begin to turn the tide on the hippy dippy influence.

    What those in reality measurements would be is an interesting topic. What would we actually measure to offer as proof of the effectiveness of Permaculture.

    Number of trees planted won’t help. There are some truly disastrous agricultural systems involving a lot of trees.

    Amount of food grown won’t do it. There are some really messed up agricultural systems producing lots of “food”.

    Perhaps the best measure of the successful implementation of permaculture would be the area of land being returned to wilderness reserve per year as measured against the area of wilderness being cleared.

    Because spiritual systems have no measurable output, nor does any spiritual leader want to be held accountable to a measurable outcome, Permaculture could then stand for measurability and accountability.

    Promoting permaculture as being accountable to those measurements would greatly alter the public view of permaculture and those who fein accountability will tend to steer clear.

    Only problem I can see with this idea is that no one wants to be held accountable for anything. So it might leave permaculture without any audience at all. tehe.

  254. Oh, and a second comment.

    As someone who’s deeply passionate about marketing, if you want to know how to solve the problem of having spirituality mixed into a design based school… you have to look at why spirituality crept in. From my view, it’s a function of irresponsible marketing. Where was permaculture promoted? How was permaculture promoted? And most importantly WHO was Permaculture promoted to?

    I was introduced to Permaculture via a TAFE college book store. But where else is permaculture being promoted and what message is being used to promote it.

    If you want a class of teachers who are interested in measurable outcomes and design for the sake of improving measurable outcomes then marketing and advertising efforts must be made directly to that audience. Where do they live? What do they read? Where do they hang out?

    Permaculture has attracted the crowd it has attracted and has produced the teachers it has produced because of where and how it was promoted. If it’s leaders want to alter that, alter where and how it is being promoted.

  255. I can’t help but notice that every time the ‘unconverted’ – the people to whom permaculture is ostensibly to appeal to – are invoked as a reason to pitch permaculture in a particular way, they always seem to share the viewpoints of the commenter. Nice try, but really … you and whose army?!

    So sweeping away the projections and counter-projections from all this and looking at a few basic (and hopefully uncontestable) facts …

    1) From the range and diversity of opinion evidenced here, it’s clear permaculture appeals to (and is presumably compatible with) a wide range of world views.

    2) Each of us found our own way to it by some means or another and each of us have made it our own.

    3) Judging by the map on this site and the number of new projects and members being added, the movement is spreading, and spreading rapidly. There are permaculture projects all over the world.

    4) Permaculture’s spread thus far has been a natural, organic, unmanaged process, relying purely on the enthusiasm of individuals who’ve taken it on board and used their energy to teach what they’ve learned.

    5) Despite the existence of PDCs, there is no one prescribed or proscribed way of teaching permaculture. It’s free to adapt to local conditions and to diversify into any number of niche contexts, whether physical, cultural or ideological.

    These are signatures of a healthy, robust, diverse and successful system! What’s more, one that’s working WITH nature rather than against it. Why fix what isn’t broke?

    Some of us may personally dislike the idea of something we’ve made our own being associated with something we reject, but that’s a personal issue and shouldn’t be mistaken for more than that.

  256. Good ideas on how to measure permaculture Scott, though related to rural impacts.

    Our reality is that fhe vast majority of us live in cities and soon three quarters of the human population will do so. More than anything we need urban indicators to measure permaculture and sustainability in general. Working until recently in a central council where most people live in medium density and a great and increasing number in ‘vertical villages’ of high rise has made me aware that we need solutions for urban living now. We already have many rural production solutions but demographic ends now focus sustainable solutions includng permaculture on our cities.

  257. agreed, wendy. personally i see it as a sign that permaculture is being successful at spreading itself, that people who want to control it, make rules and ensure that no one teaches permaculture in a way, or including things that are outside of their own personal preferences….

    and its quite funny really “i think we should make rules about how and who is allowed to teach permaculture, and what is allowed in permaculture courses, to MAKE SURE THAT NO ONE IS EXCLUDED by their own prejudices”…. pmsl! love it! i couldn’t have made that up!

    russ, one of the impacts of ‘most of us living in cities’ is that the countryside drastically needs people. urban permaculture is definitely necessary – cities are unsustainable mainly because they have to transport resources from elsewhere – but land reform is also needed, and people need to learn to look after the land base around them. i doubt if modern cities could produce enough food to sustain the numbers of people living in them, however intensively we grow food – cuba has good examples of what can be done. but the political will to encourage and help people return to the land will be essential – hopefully before people start eating each other in the cities :)

  258. Including metaphysics teaching in a Permaculture course is exclusionary in that for the vast majority of people it, metaphysics/spirituality, is hocus pocus and therefore anything associated with it is hocus pocus. Metaphysics is not an inegral nor a necessary part of permaculture and should be left out of teaching permaculture. If you want to provide seperate metaphysical teachings in another venue that is of course quite alright but to include metaphysics in a permaculture course implies the 2 are synonymous. Permaculture is the application of rather robust scientific principles and in itself has nothing to do with spirituality. Working with the soil and living systems in harmony does bring many to a spiritual place where they connect with the life and environment around them but that is an individual realisation and should not be presented as an integral part of Permaculture. I have had experience in other venues where differing spiritual outlooks than mine were presented and even though it was said “you can take this or leave it” it still created an uncomfortable environment in which it was difficult to remain focused on the main learning opportunity. You may poopoo that as being inflexible and unwilling to accept other view points yet in meeting others that had been at such venues later, and never back to that venue, the reaction was very similar. We are not talking about logic here but feelings, if something feels uncomfortable the likely hood is that whatever is associated with that lack of comfort will be rejected. The reason Permaculture fits well with so many belief systems is that it is not a belief system itself but a system based on applied science that is universal. Let’s try to keep it that way.

  259. Wendy – I’m really surprised to see you say:

    Judging by the map on this site and the number of new projects and members being added, the movement is spreading, and spreading rapidly. There are permaculture projects all over the world…. These are signatures of a healthy, robust, diverse and successful system! What’s more, one that’s working WITH nature rather than against it. Why fix what isn’t broke?

    When I see a few thousand permaculturists, I must compare that with 7 billion inhabitants. Most of the world’s population have never heard the word ‘permaculture’. “Why fix was isn’t broke?” Well, because it is broke. Thirty years of permaculture practitioning and it’s still largely in the periphery or totally out of the picture. And, to a large degree, this reality is caused by too many people putting up obstacles to uptake by including subjective beliefs that are offensive to most of the world’s inhabitants. As expressed above, if you just take the top three majority religions of the world you have most of the world’s population base right there. If you present permaculture to any of these groups, and include new-age ‘spirituality’ or other similar subjective belief systems, you’re just ensuring these people walk away and never look back.

    To me, if you include subjective, unprovable belief systems in a class titled with the word ‘permaculture’, you’re being completely selfish.

  260. Craig a few thousand permaculturists has come out of the work of just two men, both of whom are still alive! That’s not broke! That’s successful in my view, especially when you’re swimming against the tide. Many similar movements haven’t got to be this extensive until long after the founders are dead and buried.

    As for making permaculture ‘mainstream’, you’re surely not so naive as to believe that all you have to do is to make a watertight, well-evidenced case for it free of any spiritual connection to have the rest of the world jump right on board?!!

    The entire exploitative industrial agriculture model is not the dominant form of agriculture because it’s backed by sound reason and good science. It’s the dominant form of agriculture because it makes a small elite very rich and powerful. They’re not interested in good science. They’re not interested in moral, ethical solutions to the world’s problems. They’re only interested in $$ and in gaining sufficient control of both the decision makers and the producers to lock them into a system that guarantees they continue to make unconscionable amounts of $$. THIS is the obstacle to uptake we need to worry about, I think.

    And at the moment, it’s probably a GOOD thing that permaculture has fairly low public visibility, because anything perceived as an overt threat to this particular economic model will attract weighty opposition. It’s bad enough that they’re already trying to make seed-saving and sharing ‘illegal’ and declare foods to be ‘drugs’ in order to control who can grow them. These people do not play fair, they do not play clean and they have bottomless purses to fund their operations. They will dismiss the evidence, find flaws in every study, discredit the people who conducted the studies and tie up countless others in decades of work trying to produce yet more evidence which will, of course, be dismissed … believe me, I’ve been there! While they still have this power, the better strategy is probably to do exactly what is being done – work quietly away below the radar allowing the movement to grow naturally and organically. Which it’s doing. Very nicely.

    I know it’s all too easy to look at groups of people you personally don’t sympathise with and imagine how many other people like yourself might be put off permaculture because of their presence, but the world is not full of clones, as I think the foregoing discussion amply illustrates. And nature teaches us that diversity is the key to a healthy robust ecosystem. The permaculture movement would be hypocritical in the extreme if it sought to work against the very nature it advocates working with!

    And as for subjective beliefs, well that’s all any of us have about anything!! Relativity eliminated the Newtonian illusion of absolute space and time; quantum theory eliminated the Newtonian dream of a controllable measurement process; and chaos eliminated the Laplacian fantasy of deterministic predictability. To continue to cling to it is an article of faith, NOT science.

  261. @Andy Hill You say
    “and its quite funny really “i think we should make rules about how and who is allowed to teach permaculture, and what is allowed in permaculture courses, to MAKE SURE THAT NO ONE IS EXCLUDED by their own prejudices”…. pmsl! love it! i couldn’t have made that up!”

    Maybe that sounds strange in your ears, but it is how the human mind works, when confronted with large amounts of information… its called the schemata theory….

  262. @Wendy

    “nature teaches us that diversity is the key to a healthy robust ecosystem. The permaculture movement would be hypocritical in the extreme if it sought to work against the very nature it advocates working with!”

    This statement is true however is entirely out of context. Nature is not about spiritual/metaphysical beliefs and says absolutely nothing about them. Those are an entirely human invention and have nothing to do with permaculture. It would be like saying permaculture is about diversity so we should plant banana’s in the Canadian tundra to increase diversity. No matter what it isn’t going to work. Statements and practices need an appropriate context, spirituality and metaphysics are not a part of permaculture and should be kept separate.

    “And as for subjective beliefs, well that’s all any of us have about anything!! Relativity eliminated the Newtonian illusion of absolute space and time; quantum theory eliminated the Newtonian dream of a controllable measurement process; and chaos eliminated the Laplacian fantasy of deterministic predictability.”

    These statements are entirely in error since they do not specify the conditions under which they are true, which are extremely limited. The new models are refinements of the old, incorporating many of the elements of the older model and replacing/expanding on the limitations. This is not eliminating but building upon. For example if there was absolutely no controllable measurement process then you could not expect to be able to set a thermostat and have a warm home when you get home from work on a cold winters day. If Newtonian physics did not work to a great degree you would not be able to use his equations for mass, acceleration etc to quite accurately predict the trajectory of a baseball thrown into the air. Thus these things were not eliminated but refined in the specific circumstances where the given model was inaccurate.

    As for all we have is “subjective beliefs” that is just so much twaddle. Science is about evidence and continually challenging theories. Beliefs require no evidence and indeed evidence is the antithesis of a belief. Were it not so the earth would still be flat and you could fall off the edge or the earth would still be the centre of the universe and Galileo still a heretic. Regardless of your belief, science says you won’t fall off the edge and nobody has yet been able to fall off the earth. Get thrown off using a rocket, yes, but not fall off.

    Permacultures robustness and diversity is that it works regardless of your beliefs since it is based on science. Thus regardless of your beliefs you are not excluded. Start including beliefs and everyone who doesn’t believe as you do becomes excluded. Permaculture and spirituality need to remain separate entities so that nobody is excluded.

  263. humanbee, the discussion isnt about ‘large amounts of information’ – but prejudice against the belief systems of others.

    in my experience, the people who would reject a pdc because of some ‘hippy twaddle’ (and thats what i call it, so i am not defending the twaddle, i am defending the idea that permaculture is a big enough concept to be able to incorporate any colours and diversity), would generally reject the same pdc because the teacher had dreadlocks…

    i think this discussion is pointless, anyway, unless someone is willing/able to police the use of the word permaculture…
    perhaps go the whole hog, charge people to use the term, prosecute anyone who uses the word without permission/approval of their bland science based permaculture….

    like it or not, the people who are open to all kinds of unproven ideas, such as hippy twaddle and cosmic stuff, are and always will be the people that take on ideas like permaculture, that is about more than just the economic bottom line…

    as i said, i just see this discussion as a sign that very conventional thinking control freaks have adopted permaculture principles. it is obviously growing more than those science minded people realise!

  264. @Max

    Your faith in science is touching, but it IS entirely subjective. Only you hold your unique set of views. As G K Chesterton said “Reason itself is a matter of faith. It is an act of faith to assert that our thoughts have any relation to reality.” The idea that there’s only one possible ‘right’ way of seeing the world is seductive to be sure, but it’s illusory and unsupportable. And if you want to challenge that assertion, then just cite me one thing all scientists agree on.

    Isn’t it perhaps more likely that all perspectives represent a valid attempt to describe reality? After all, no one person’s life experiences are any less valid than the next person’s. If nothing else, it avoids having to brand everyone who doesn’t think the same as you do an idiot, which is equally unsupportable.

    Permaculture’s effectiveness, robustness and diversity are because its methods and systems are aligned with natural processes, not because it’s ‘scientific’. Science is no less of a human invention than spirituality, but in any case humans are part of nature so can’t help but articulate and reflect it in however they model it. Your conceiving of it in purely scientific terms is no less an attempt to ‘hijack’ permaculture than you’re complaining about those of a more spiritual mindset doing!

    But all of us contextualise permaculture within our own world views. We can’t do otherwise! So what this discussion boils down to is an exhibition of the extent to which those who claim to practice permaculture tolerate world views different from their own. People care anyone …?!

    The statements I made are not in error. The ‘conditions under which they are true’ have been arbitrarily confined to the subatomic level by many scientists (but by no means all), not because there’s good evidence to say they should be but because people are unable to reconcile the quantum world view with an experience of reality in which deterministic predictability appears to be valid. That’s not to say they ARE irreconcilable however …

    Science should indeed be about evidence and continually challenging theories. But the practice falls a long way short of the theory. Tolstoy this time: “I know that most men, including those at ease with problems of greatest complexity, can seldom accept even the simplest and most obvious truth if it would be such as oblige them to admit the falsity of conclusions which they have delighted in explaining to colleagues, which they have proudly taught to others, and which they have woven, thread by thread, into the fabric of their lives.”

    However, I strongly suspect we’re going to have to agree to disagree on this one …

  265. Wendy,

    Ad: “And if you want to challenge that assertion, then just cite me one thing all scientists agree on.”

    Ok, let’s give that a try. How about:

    The sum of the third powers of all natural numbers up to N equals the square of the sum of all natural numbers up to N. E.g. for N=4: 1^3+2^3+3^3+4^3 = 1+8+27+64 = 100 = (1+2+3+4)^2.

    Show me a scientist who disagrees with that.

  266. @Thomas, OK. Maybe I should have phrased this more precisely … cite me one conclusion about the nature of the reality we inhabit derived from scientific research and data that all scientists agree on. Mathematics is just a language; a way of codifying and describing patterns and relationships. All you’ve given here is a set of observed relationships. Data, not meaning.

  267. @Andy Hill Thats just not true. In real life we are confronted with (ever growing) large amounts of information, especialy on a topic like spirituality. Or brain luckily has strategies to deal with that.

    Prejudices are not just plain wrong they are a coping strategy as well.

    I would teach at all kinds over different institutes from a church to a hippy colony, as long as I’m not expected to incoporate their religion into my permaculture course or promotion of the course….

    I have had several people interested in a course that didn’t take it because of the hippy stuff surroundig permaculture… and of course most of those people you never hear from in the first place so it’s probably just the tip of the iceberg….

    And I understand those people, I p.a. like meditation, but rituals often surrounding that kept me away from it for a long time…

  268. Wendy,

    oh I am sure you will keep on “phrasing this more precisely” as I continue to give counter-examples…

  269. Wendy, you state:

    The entire exploitative industrial agriculture model is not the dominant form of agriculture because it’s backed by sound reason and good science. It’s the dominant form of agriculture because it makes a small elite very rich and powerful. They’re not interested in good science. They’re not interested in moral, ethical solutions to the world’s problems. They’re only interested in $$ and in gaining sufficient control of both the decision makers and the producers to lock them into a system that guarantees they continue to make unconscionable amounts of $$. THIS is the obstacle to uptake we need to worry about, I think.

    I don’t disagree with you. But, if you’re going to combat these profit-motivated pseudo-scientists you’re not going to achieve it by mixing permaculture science up with Ouija boards, black magic, and whatever. You’re going to do it, instead, with much more sound science, like:

    And at the moment, it’s probably a GOOD thing that permaculture has fairly low public visibility, because anything perceived as an overt threat to this particular economic model will attract weighty opposition.

    I disagree. When more and more people see the sound sense and holistic science behind permaculture design, it will permeate society and gather the needed groundswell to see it incorporated and incubated. We now have national governments seeking consultancies to transition villages, towns and entire regions so they can become more resilient. And this is happening because these national leaders do NOT see a clash between permaculture and their own nation’s religious majorities, but, rather, see that it fits seamlessly and harmoniously into their religious/cultural context.

    A post I put up today shows how sensible permaculture marketing is paying off, for the benefit of some of the world’s neediest people:

    Do you think USAID would be incorporating permaculture design into their aid work if their exposure to it was mixed up with a hotchpotch of unprovable, subjective beliefs about life, nature and personal ‘inner development’?

    …the better strategy is probably to do exactly what is being done – work quietly away below the radar allowing the movement to grow naturally and organically. Which it’s doing. Very nicely.

    I do wish you’d take a big picture view of what is actually happening around you. We do not have 1000 years to wait for permaculture to ‘organically’ find its way to the masses, with many having to have repeated exposure before they take it on board due to misguided presentations that include oft-offensive metaphysical elements. Humanity stands at the threshold of complete meltdown. The world needs to change direction systemically, and yesterday. We cannot afford any obstacles to takeup. Mixing in metaphysical elements is not only unnecessary, it’s disastrous to millions who will never give it any attention due to these included elements.

    I know it’s all too easy to look at groups of people you personally don’t sympathise with and imagine how many other people like yourself might be put off permaculture because of their presence, but the world is not full of clones, as I think the foregoing discussion amply illustrates. And nature teaches us that diversity is the key to a healthy robust ecosystem. The permaculture movement would be hypocritical in the extreme if it sought to work against the very nature it advocates working with!

    Who says I don’t sympathise with whatever groups you’re referring to? I respect the right of people to their beliefs. Indeed, it’s my respect for that right that leads me to write my original post. Read my post again, please. Again, if you include a subjective belief into a course titled ‘permaculture’, you’re telling the world that that subjective belief is part of the permaculture toolkit. This will be offensive to not only the people you’re trying to reach, but other permaculture teachers who have their own understanding of the unprovable.

    Yes, diversity is key, and central to permaculture. This is why keeping subjective beliefs out of permaculture courses is so important, as otherwise you’re ensuring that only a small subset of the world’s population gets on board, rather than allowing the entire, diverse world, with people from every culture and religion to get involved.

  270. @Craig, you said “I do wish you’d take a big picture view of what is actually happening around you. We do not have 1000 years to wait for permaculture to ‘organically’ find its way to the masses, with many having to have repeated exposure before they take it on board due to misguided presentations that include oft-offensive metaphysical elements. Humanity stands at the threshold of complete meltdown.”

    I do take the bigger view! I just see it differently to you. People are turning back to the land, back to local community in all manner of ways. It’s happening spontaneously, driven by all manner of personal, ethical and economic impulses, everywhere. As part of a natural homeostatic system, it’s perfectly natural that we should react this way en masse when things have got too far out of balance. We ARE part of nature whether we see ourselves that way or not. What matters is that people are finding their way back to a vastly more simple, less exploitative and more self-sufficient existence, working with nature, not against it. It doesn’t matter what you call it. Permaculture is just a part of this movement. Much of ‘new-age’ philosophy is pointed at the same goal. As many find sympathy with it as are put off by it. Personally I don’t care for the language it’s expressed in either. I find it pretentious drama for the most part. But that doesn’t mean I can’t recognise what currents are moving beneath all the rainbow froth.

    Of course humanity stands at the threshold of complete meltdown! It’s the only thing likely to get us off our a*ses to make the change! By and large people don’t make big life changes absent some crisis, extraordinary situation or deadline that’s sufficiently momentous to get their focus off the minutiae of their habitual daily gerbil-wheeling. And the majority will leave it until the last minute. That’s just human nature. No amount of selective pitching of permaculture is going to change that.

    “Mixing in metaphysical elements is not only unnecessary, it’s disastrous to millions who will never give it any attention due to these included elements.”

    Personally I think you’re dramatically overstating the case. It’s a sweeping presumption to assume that mixing in metaphysical elements is abhorrent to so many people! In any case, if people are being drawn to permaculture because they feel the call to get back to the land, they will find their way regardless. And regardless of the label attached to it.

  271. @Wendy you state;

    “The entire exploitative industrial agriculture model is not the dominant form of agriculture because it’s backed by sound reason and good science.”

    Actually it was backed by good science and reasoning. Initially this type of concentrated agriculture brought increased returns for decreased effort in a world yet untamed where diversity was yet unthreatened. The bad science is where the same reasoning is being applied to an overpopulated world where natural diversity has been destroyed and what is left is increasingly threatened. Changed conditions is the difference between the same science being good or bad, we have overloaded the system, WITH US!

    As for 1 conclusion from scientific observation that all scientists agree on, simple “the sun will rise in the East every morning” based on 1)observation, 2)orbital mechanics. Or how about gravity, it will hold you to the earth unless you apply energy in a specific manner to overcome it. Stars will progress through the heavens in a predictable manner based on their relative motions. Friction takes energy from a moving object slowing it down. Entropy, without the addition of external energy systems become less energic, Biologically, all known organisms on earth are carbon based. Scientists have searched for but not found silicon based life. Since you wanted specifics how about you provide specific counter examples such as a place on earth where the sun rises in the west and sets in the east or where friction makes something speed up without the application of an additional outside force.

    Belief = assertation something is right without evidence
    Knowledge = assertation something is right WITH evidence.
    Science = process whereby new evidence updates knowledge.


    As for Chestertons faith/reason/reality, faith has nothing to do with it. Whether I have faith in it or not reason says that if I smack Chesterton upside the head with a 2×4 the reality is he’s going to hospital. Reason has a great deal to do with reality regardless of your faith. Let’s face it, there has never been a war where people of faith on both sides haven’t had faith god was on their side yet someone always looses. Thus it is faith that has no relation to reality. As for Tolstoy, using an example of a bad scientist to rationalise that all science is a faith is simply leaping off the edge of the cliff of conclusions. Someone doing things in an incorrect manner does not invalidate those that do it correctly.

    I do expect once again for the @Wendy’s and such to twist the meanings of words to their own ends. They have had numerous examples presented to them, refuse to provide concrete examples of their own and are yet to provide a single example of how spiritualism is inherent to Permaculture ie a result you can get only if you practice spiritualism, of whatever type, that someone taking the same actions without the spiritual aspect won’t achieve.

    Permaculture and spiritualism are seperate, are in no manner co-dependant and the teachings of each should also be kept seperate. Each is valuable in it’s own way and each is worthy of being practiced but they are not necessary to each other and should not be presented as such either explicitly or by association. Permaculture by saying nothing about spirituality is inherintly an inclusive practice and needs to remain that way to have any hope of achieving widespread acceptance amoung the many varied and often oppositional faiths found around the globe. As Craig eloquently put it;

    “I respect the right of people to their beliefs…..if you include a subjective belief into a course titled ‘permaculture’, you’re telling the world that that subjective belief is part of the permaculture toolkit. This will be offensive to not only the people you’re trying to reach, but other permaculture teachers who have their own understanding of the unprovable.”

  272. @Thomas … sigh! I had thought my meaning would have been clear from the context, but your reply says otherwise. We’re talking about the alleged superiority of scientific enquiry in determining the truth about the world we live in, no? We make observations, assemble data, analyse it, derive theories then test theories, no?

    It’s relatively simple to agree about what’s being observed (though not always). There is vague consensus around the methods of analysis. But all of this is meaningless without a narrative, a theory, a model which tracks paths of cause and effect and holds out the promise of predictability through successful logical replication of the processes we are attempting to understand and map. This is the area where there’s little agreement: the interpretation. And if we can’t reach agreement in the interpretation, then the promise of the scientific ideal remains just that. A promise. As apparently illusory as the promises of spirituality are held to be …

    Multiple competing theories are really little more than lots of subjective opinion dressed up in fancy language. So where have we got to exactly? And could it be telling us something about the fundamental assumption that there is only one ‘true’ way of modelling things …?

    Science comes into its own in the area of engineering: in the creation of closed systems where variables are limited and controllable. In natural systems, where everything is connected to and contingent on everything else and half of the operating variables aren’t even known, let alone accounted for, it’s not had much success. Applying engineering thinking to natural systems is a large part of what’s got us in the crisis we’re presently in, both in terms of the state of the biosphere and the state of our health.

    Consequently I would venture to suggest that hooking permaculture up to scientific thinking is potentially more damaging than hooking it up to spiritual approaches. Ultimately, ‘permaculture’ is just a fancy title for growing stuff the way nature does. It’s very simple. Can’t we just leave it at that?

  273. @Max. You seem to make the error of assuming that because I’m arguing that scientific thinking is really little different to spiritual thinking, I’m arguing for the inclusion of spiritual approaches in permaculture. I’m not. I’m saying that those like yourself advocating the inclusion of scientific approaches are doing exactly the same thing you accuse those of a more spiritual perspective of … as you quote Craig “if you include a subjective belief into a course titled ‘permaculture’, you’re telling the world that that subjective belief is part of the permaculture toolkit. This will be offensive to not only the people you’re trying to reach, but other permaculture teachers who have their own understanding of the unprovable.” (Though the assumption of offense is, I think, only relevant for those of the belief that it’s-my-way-or-the-highway.)

    What dictionary did you find your definition of belief in? In my dictionary, it says “an acceptance that a statement is true or that something exists”. There’s no caveat to that. No “without evidence”. We believe things we take to be ‘true’. We take them to be ‘true’ because they match the patterns of our experience. They provide a narrative that gives meaning to our experience. That narrative could be derived from rigorous scientific experiment, or it could be a result of a spiritual experience. It’s still belief. Both spirituality and science are underpinned by assumptions which are questionable, and for as long as they remain questionable, we are in the realm of belief.

  274. I just came to think about that if we include metaphysics/spirituality/religion in PDC-courses and other permaculture courses, then we can drop the three last letters in the name, —ure, and rename permaculture to permacult, PERMACULT, or a Perma Cult, a permanent cult, not culture!

    I think enough people look upon permaculture as a cult as it is, why throw gasoline on the fire?

  275. Don’t have time to see if someone else has already raised this point.

    Basically, I agree that it would be helpful to keep metaphysics completely out of permaculture discussion; but if someone’s willing to throw away a piece of gold because it’s got a little shit on it, who’s really the problem?

  276. I think people are forgetting their permaculture basics here!

    Remember, the first thing that we’re taught is that Permaculture is a design system, a framework, much like an empty toolbox into which you bring your ‘personal tools of choice’.

    If you want to grow food, then take your pick, conventional organic gardening, no-dig, biodynamic gardening, foodforest gardening, etc.

    If you want to sustainable design housing the tools you bring include energy efficient architechtural design, if you want to create intentional communities, then you bring the tools for community building.

    Each person will want to use Permaculture for a different purpose, though we all work towards the same end goals or ideals, as stated in the Permaculture ethical principles. With differing personal approaches, we all will use differing tools to achieve those ends.

    It’s not the place of the Permaculture course to fix in place what tools people can or should use. The tools can go far beyond technical tools. If people choose to bring their personal beliefs into their Permaculture practice, which might incorporate what are termed metaphysical techniques, then that’s fine. There’s nothing stopping people from incorporating biodynamic farming into their Permaculture work, the system has that kind of flexibility.

    The problem arises when we want to add the ‘tools’ to the course syllabus. Beyond the accepatnce of metaphysical, the main point is that Permaculture DOES NOT DICATTE THE TOOLS. When I did my PDC Geoff made it very clear in class that we were there to learn design, and not to teach a huge pile of techniques. Students kept asking “how do I grow this, how do I build that?” and they were reminded that they were focussing on techniques, not design.

    If all the ‘tools’ were included, the PDC will take a lifetime o complete if you’re lucky.The idea is to keep the focus on the ‘tools’ out of the course, to learn design. Tools are discussed for the sake of awareness and basic familiarity so you know what’s available and at your disposal. You then choose your own tools, which fit into what you practice, after you complete the PDC. When you teach Permaculture, you teach it once again as the framework, and students can choose their own tools, metaphysical ones if that’s what wrks fro them, but the framework is taught as a ‘clean’ design framework.

    Being an urban food forest advocate, my tools are best suited to urban food forest design. If I taught a PDC and put those tools in (as scientific and non-controversial as they are) they would skew the PDC to an urban focus. It’s not about the materialist vs metaphysical argument, it’s about the tools, the techniques vs the design framework.

    The whole point is that we stay focussed on design principles, we already have a set of ethical principles which are compatible with probably all spiritual belief systems and practices, and people do have the freedom to incorporate their beliefs into their practice, and as a result, there is no need to change the ‘shell’ or framework that is the permaculture design system.

    If a permaculture teacher wishes to teach additional content, metaphysical or otherwise, they can be taught as additional, optional courses, and everyone is happy that way!

    Incidentally, additional courses can stand on their own, apart from Permaculture, a PDC is not required, so they can be made available to a greater audience outside of the Permaculture community.

    There is no need to append every possibly relevant course to the PDC, regard;ess of its content.

  277. @Graham:

    Coming back to this claimed Steiner-Nazi link: your claim that they are closely connected is just one possible interpretation.

    Let me provide another.

    When the environmental movement was young, there were a number of people with quite different motivations who saw that this new movement might give them a platform to get heard. In particular, there were some quite extreme left-wing marxists that started to denounce and insult everyone who was not as far left in the political spectrum as they were as “eco-fascists”, regardless of whether or not these other people did good and useful work or not.

    One specific certain name immediately comes to my mind here. But I think this may well be a more general phenomenon.

  278. Wow, I am tempted to write a comedy-break post on “The marriage of metaphysics and politics” just to see if it starts the largest set of comment ever from all you keyboard warriors.

  279. …says someone on a holy crusade (against anthroposophism – but that’s secondary here; the “holy crusade” bit matters)…?

  280. Great article.
    I have delayed attending PDC course as a result of religious practices like “vedic land healing fire ritual that takes place at sunrise and sunset everyday”….
    After talking to people that have already done the course I found they share the same feelings.
    Now looking for alternative.

  281. I am very new to the world of Permaculture, but I would like to suggest that the results of spiritual practices can be tested and observed.

    When I was young, I practiced visualisation, I could visualise a thing, and eventually this thing would appear in my life. Of course, this could be just described as chance, but when it happens again and again, is chance the explanation?

    In Quantum Physics, it is now acknowledged that the actual act of observing an experiment affects the result of the experiment.

    Any of Lynne McTaggarts books prove beyond any reasonable doubt that our thoughts and intentions, really do affect the present, the future and the past.
    The universe is far more flexible than we have been led to believe.

    We could also learn from past cultures, all those native traditions, such as the Aborigines or Amazonian Indians who have been living a sustainable, life for thousands of generations; these people surely in their own way are permaculturalists, only there was nobody around to tell them.

    But if we look at their daily lives, as the sun sets, after a busy day of sustaining their home, the forest, with the children asleep in hammocks, the drumming starts, the pipes are passed around, or the bowl of hallucinogenic mash, and they enter the Dream World, commune with the Great Spirit, or receive a divinely inspired inspiration.

    The next morning acting upon the information in their dream, they go into the forest and find just that perfect tree the community needed for a dugout; of course the scientists would want to know the percentage of these dreams that actually came true.

    As the scientists look up from their Excel spreadsheets, they might just catch the sound of laughter and the splashing of paddles in the far distance, as these simple natives enjoy their new dugout.

    I used to practice Aikido, there are many different styles of Aikido, some are incredibly brutal and crude, hard styles, some are powerful, graceful elegant, soft styles.

    With some you can crush your opponent, with others you learn there never was an opponent, the duality was an illusion.

    Surely, the House of Permaculture is big enough to accept both a so-called scientific approach and a spiritual approach?

    A student chooses the flavour they like, same as ice-cream really, chocolate, pistachio or vanilla; or even better all 3 and double helpings please!

    Do we really need to be so fundamentalist?

    Could we not be a little more inclusive and tolerant and open?

    What else is possible…

  282. Andi permaculture design is about the conscious decision and intention to help the world by design, this is the great evolutionary action change for humanity. Aborigines or Amazonian Indians have unconsciously exploited their environments without intention and the over population of the world with over technology removes their capability to do this, and increased the speed of exploitation of the world beyond our understanding. Sentimentality for traditional cultures is understandable in some ways but not very useful to anyone in today’s world if you want to help solve the major problems for the masses then you need to enter into a whole new evolutionary process of design science by conscious good intention. This needs to be justifiable, provable and legitimate or you will be risking more innocent lives.

  283. Here’s a relevant quota from Christopher Alexander:

    “Later, Katalin Bende, also working on the project in our office, asked me to explain what I meant by this true liking and about people’s fear of it, and why anyone could be afraid of true beauty. “What kind of beauty could go so deep that a person would be afraid of creating it?” she asked.

    I told her that, in my view, a difficulty we modern people encounter can sometimes go something like this: When centers are properly distributed in a truly beautiful structure, one cannot avoid seeing the I (what a religious person might also call God). In the 20th century there has been something almost like a taboo, against seeing the I, or true beauty, or God. Hence the discomfort. This discomfort that modern people feel with real beauty – especially that architects and designers feel – is almost legendary. Working with architects, I have experienced it again and again. Many traditional shapes, especially the most profound shapes with deep and serious centers in them, for some reason trouble modern architects profoundly. Even when an architect does want to borrow a traditional shape for a building (as postmodernists sometimes do), he often feels he has to make the shape “modern” in order to feel comfortable with it. So, for many decades, architects of the 20th century felt that they had to take a traditional form and distort it, so that they could demonstrate that they had possessed it, and so that their colleagues would not laugh at them for being archaic.

    Let me put it another way. The history of the 20th century has been one in which people do not want to see God nor, therefore, true beauty either. The role religion has, for many become uncomfortable. Many people want no part of it. They do not want, even, to get near it. And for that reason, they also do not (cannot) want, in their lives, any kind of true beauty. True beauty is the quality of being in touch with the I. A structure with true beauty – the beauty which brings something in touch with the I – is, in effect, something we cannot avoid, in some part, seeing God. For this reason, the underlying design vocabulary of the 20th century, almost throughout the century, asserted that designers should create structures which are “interesting”, “pleasing”, “fantastic”, “exhilarating”, “with elan”, and so on – anything butbeautiful – indeed never truly beautiful. That word has unalterable meaning, cannot be contaminated, and during the temporary insanity of the 20th century, struck a nerve which people could not tolerate.” – Christopher Alexander, The Luminous Ground, page 295-296

  284. Geoff Lawton, I think if you were to say “Aborigines or Amazonian Indians have unconsciously exploited their environments without intention” to the elders of tribes who still retain their ancestral knowledge and traditions they might well consider it a laughable demonstration of the hubris and ignorance of “younger brother”. To garden the Earth such that the results of man’s cultivation are indistinguishable from nature’s is surely the highest achievement of “permaculture”? Just because western man is incapable of interpreting indigenous thinking in anything other than his own terms doesn’t mean there’s no conscious or intelligent design and intention behind it. Rather, it’s western man who appears guilty of the unconscious (at best) exploitation. And as for it being “the great evolutionary action change for humanity”, well there’s one of those at least once every generation. We have so much to (re)learn yet!

    What seems to be happening with “permaculture” is what happens with all nouns that are supposed to represent a way of thinking and a collection of approaches and methodologies. Every “member” of the “group” takes the guiding principles and interprets them according to their own context and experience. How on earth can we do otherwise?! To begin with, it’s all nice and cosy because the core “members” are neither numerous nor greatly divergent, but once the movement grows, exactly what’s happening here ALWAYS happens. The “members” spend vast amounts of time and energy arguing about what the movement is or isn’t/should or shouldn’t be, accepting the aspects that gel with their own thinking and rejecting the ones that don’t. And so it goes; round and round and round …

    But the ultimate answer is only ever that none of this is real. These collective descriptors exist only in our heads. There’s no such THING as “permaculture”! The problem isn’t that there’s diversity of thinking on the subject (diversity = ecosystem flexibility, strength and resilience). The problem is that we each turn “permaculture” into some sort of entity (when all “it” is is a reflection of our own natures), behave as if it’s a thing-in-itself, then get all upset when it starts to take off in directions we personally don’t believe it should.

    Well there’s absolutely nothing we can do about that process of diversification. It’s nature’s way. So if we’re true to our principles here, then we need to find ways to work with it, not against it. Controlling and protectionist attitudes are not only a complete and utter waste of time and energy, but counterproductive. “Permaculture” already has more than enough of an alienating superior and elitist aura about it – as a “member” I have to answer to that far more often than to any accusations of “spiritual taint”. Surely the bottom line is that if we each believe the human race needs to turn away from present industrial agricultural practices, then we need to put aside all the various personal kicks we get from being part of a “happening” movement. The way needs to be simple, obvious, easy to adopt and wide open to all. That means not just no gatekeepers, but no gates and no fences, no hurdles to jump, no ‘club’ to join, no badges to wear, no dues to pay. And if that presents problems in trying to define what is or isn’t “permaculture”, then forget the label and just do it.

    Øyvind Holmstad, that Christopher Alexander quote is wonderful!

  285. Here’s an interesting piece by Christopher Alexander about the relationship between matter and spirit/soul/the self:

    “After a lecture of mine, I once heard an architecture student say, “I still don’t see why all this has been discussed. Isn’t it enough to understand the nature of living structure thoroughly, and try and make life in our buildings? Why do you insist so strongly on the fact that we also need to change our picture of the universe? I have a picture of the universe which is quite flexible enough to contain the idea of living structure”.

    I did not find myself in agreement with this comment. In my mind, what is most important about the picture painted in these four books is that indeed, our present picture of the universe can not contain the idea of living structure, because it contains no natural way of including the idea of value in the idea of space. What I have constructed, on the other hand, has the idea of value in an a natural way – first in the relevant intensity of different elementary centers as part of the definition of wholeness, and then with more and more depth, as centers are built from living centers, to give structure of real, deep, significant value by essential the same idea. In this picture, value resides in the structure and is part of the structure. Value is written in the same language as the rest of the structure of space-time, and the life of the centers arises from the fabric and structure of space itself.

    In this conception, value is not something merely grafted onto space, as a passenger might be who carries no weight and does no work. It is part of the same nearly mechanical picture of space that we have come to believe in, and respect, and trust. Yet, at the same time, in a most subtle way, it is also not-mechanical. After all, what we observe is life emerging from space, as we might say “out of the very foam of space”.

    It is a structure, we can (tentatively) calculate with it, and it fits our structural understanding of space and matter. Yet it creates a bridge to life, feeling, and to our own experience of what it is to be a person: the self, which all of us contain, and are connected to.

    That is the structural meaning of what I have described.

    George Wald, in the paper quoted earlier, where he says that all matter is ultimately mindstuff, balks at making any particular connection between space and matter. He writes, in one place, “Consciousness is altogether impervious to scientific approach”(42). And later, “Though consciousness is the essential condition for all science, science cannot deal with it”(43). Thus, in spite of Wald’s fervent belief in the existence of consciousnesses (or mind, or self), he insists that it is impenetrable, not connected to structure of space and time as we observe them as a structure.

    Yet what I claim is precisely that it is connected to structure. I claim that the field of centers, or some version of it, is a recursive structure in space, which does precisely serve the function of being the bridge between matter and consciousnesses, between matter and mind; and that it is, indeed, when these extraordinary living structures arise in space, that mind awakens, that space and matter open a window to the mind, and that the great self behind all things actually comes within our experience and our reach.

    I believe that one day it will be possible to demonstrate an experimental connection, where it will be shown exactly how the field of centers does open a door between space and self, and how, ultimately then, self and matter are permanently intertwined through the construction of the mechanism.

    A traditional scientific view, held by many during the 20th century, has been that mechanical pictures of matter, can be consistent with any spiritual view of God or consciousness because the two (matter and consciousnesses) inhabit non-communicating intellectual domains. Such a dichotomy may have been a source of comfort to positivists. But, scientifically speaking, it allows us to get no mileage from the co-presence of the two.

    Indeed, I believe continued insistence on the compatibility of the two (“because they do interact”) is almost tantamount to denying any real and useful interaction, and thus inhibits intellectual progress. Polkinghorn, for example, said at one time that everything is OK as it is, and that it is easy enough to reconcile a materialist conception of matter with a spiritual conception of life(44). All this really said was that we have no understanding of the connection, and that – from an intellectual point of view – there is no interaction. But in view of the mechanist predisposition which is common in our time, and the fact that all practical understanding is mechanical in nature, this means, too, that we have no picture in which self and matter can be coupled: therefore no real way of believing that they are coupled.

    Even though Polkinghorne and the student who was speaking to me may believe the present world-picture is adequate to contain both, I believe it is not so. This broad-minded, intellectually catholic opinion is mistaken. The two views, in their present form, cannot coexist successfully. Even today, we continue understanding the degree to which we are prisoners of the present mechanistic cosmology; we have a strong tendency to underestimate the effect that this interior mechanistic view can have on us.

    Consider for example, three elementary facts: (1) in our immediate world, at normal temperature and pressure, nearly everything is made of atoms; (2) atoms are little whirling mechanisms which are spinning constantly; (3) people are largely made of atoms too.

    Nearly every schoolchild learns these facts in school. We all learnt them. They are, by now, virtually a part of us. Probably we learned them when we were eight or nine years old. As a result, in the western world at least, there are few people alive who do not believe (“know”) that they are mechanisms made up of millions of tiny whirling mechanisms.

    In case this seems like an exaggeration, or that people do not really believe these things literally as as being the whole picture, consider the first paragraph of a recently published book, THE ASTONISHING HYPOTHESIS, by the eminent molecular biologist Francis Crick, co-discoverer of the helical structure of DNA: “The astonishing hypothesis is that you, your joys and your sorrows, your memories and ambitions, your sense of personal identity and free will, are in fact no more than the behavior of a vast assembly of nerve cells and their associated molecules…”(45)

    At first one might find it surprising that such an eminent scientist should put forward such a crass-seeming reductionist view without flinching. But it simply underlines my point that all of us are susceptible to this oversimplification, so long as we have nothing to replace it with. It is a mark of Crick’s honesty and intellectual rigor that he faces the real meaning of the present cosmological scheme and does not try to duck it with pious phrases. Without having access to another structure, so that the structure of matter itself leads to a different view, it seems to me that anyone honest much reach the same conclusions Crick has reached.

    But if you believe Crick’s mechanized reduction is accurate, how can you take seriously the kinds of ideas which I have described about the life of buildings, and walls, and rooms, and streets? The answer is, you cannot. You cannot, because if you believe the three elementary-school facts, then mentally, you are still living in a universe in which nothing matters, and in which you do not matter. And then the life of the environment is not real either.

    Ideas about the personal or spiritual nature or reality, no matter how desirable they seem, cannot affect you deeply, even if you think they do, until they can be embodied in some new picture which leaves the facts of physics intact, and also paves the way to a more spiritual understanding of the world by an extended structure which brings in these larger matters clearly and explicitly.

    The whole point of the consept which I have described – of wholeness seen as calculable, recursive, bootstrap field of centers with the consequence that follow from this view – is that within the framework this concept creates, things really are different, and the differences are visible as new aspects of the structure of space and matter. This newly seen structure not only says that things are different. It shows, through the properties of the structure, exactly how things are different.

    Within the new view of structure of matter-space provided by the field of centers, we can reconcile the fact of being a mechanism of whirling mechanisms, because we know that each atom is itself a field of centers, and that in the emergence of these fields, the self comes into view. We…you…I…are thus instances of the field of centers or – if we like to see it more deeply – instances of the self-stuff of the universe, making its way, cumbersomely, from the trap of matter to the light of day.

    Armed with this view, we can unite our personal intuition of religious awe with our sensible scientific understanding of the world. It becomes all one, it all makes sense together. Life and religion fall into place and fit together with physics as necessary consequences of the structure of the world – that is, of the way that matter-space is made.

    And in this view, the work of building takes on entirely new meaning. It changes in a fundamental way, because we understand what we are doing differently, and realize that our work as builders – through the forms described in this book – place us in an entirely new relation to the universe.

    In this universe, the human self, yours and mine, are indistinguishable, in their substance, from the space and matter where the play of forms occurs. When we make something, its selfness, its possible soul, is part and parcel of our own self.

    There is, then, something very like a religious obligation to allow this self to reveal itself. It is our task, as architects, as artists, as builders, to make this stuff, this matter of the universe, reveal itself most fully. This metaphysical obligation will stem directly from our renewed understanding of the substance of the universe. It does not arise merely from our desire to be comfortable, from our desire to avoid alienation. It arises as a supreme spiritual obligation, which is our obligation to the matter/spirit we ourselves are made of.

    This feeling, though modern in its form, is, in its essence, similar to the medieval mason’s desire to make each stone as a gift to God.

    But it arises, now, not as a religious or superstitious belief, but as a result of a new understanding of the structure of the universe.” – Christopher Alexander, The Luminous Ground, page 332-334

  286. Were european permaculture infrastructures infiltrated by new-age-guys from the very first moment?!

    “Mr. (NewAge-DeepEcology) – Permaculture Europe”
    One of the food items of Declan Kennedy until 2011 was the support of founder group to set up a new international University: Gaia University (GaiaU) and the European partner of Gaia action learning Acasemy (for sustainability) for sustainability (GALA).

    BodyShop goes Permakultur
    Dear Declan,
    I don’t think I ever told you this story: Remember the Findhorn conference in the early 1980s where you gave what must have been one of the first presentations about permaculture in the UK?
    There were lots of business people there. After your presentation people were crowding around you to ask you questions. I was standing at the back watching. There was a woman who seemed really frustrated that she couldn’t get to you and she turned to me and said ‘I really need to know more about this’.
    I said that I might be able to help and we went off for a coffee and a chat. The woman turned out to be Anita Roddick of Body Shop fame.
    I never saw her again after our chat but a few years later the Body Shop headquarters building was opened – complete with workplace vegetable garden!
    So you see how your work is such a catalyst – you never know where the seeds might land.
    Mary Roslin- SEDA (Scottish Ecological Design Association)

    Bill in Berlin
    During his first visit to Germany at the invitation of the students of the Faculty of architecture of the TU Berlin and the British Council Berlin, I could win both for to finance his journey and his lecture fees, Bill may, 1981 should except in Berlin have also lectures in various cities in West Germany, organized by Rudolf Dörnach. These other lectures were cancelled due to exceptional circumstances and Bill remained full ten days at Margrit and me in Berlin Schlachtensee guest. He told us from morning until the evening of his projects and projects in Australia every day. And as we both looked at the theme of “Ecology” as our main task – I in the University as a professor for city-building infrastructure, Margrit in its work for the international building exhibition (IBA) Berlin 1987 – we listened intently and carefully. Our questions showed Bill we 1981 faced similar problems in Europe. By the destruction of forests to climate change, from the poisoning of food up to the water waste – everything related to Australia, was to find us as well. But most importantly was us, that we could discuss solutions with him seemed to work easily changed with us.
    It was not only funny but also scary when Bill called facts and details about the global ecological situation, which we knew to be very fragmented. But his unusual solutions convinced us. He began with his statements at 9 o’clock in the morning and stopped only at midnight. We had something like a concentrated private 72-hours Permaculture-designers course, with many practical examples, illustrations and graphics. The cost was modest: 2 packs of cigarettes and a bottle of Irish whiskey per day.
    We started to observe plants in our 6 x 12 metre garden and in the forest to the Schlachtensee, sometimes to pluck out, and to put in the garden. Margrit and I were and are vegetarians. In the evening we had to go with Bill – who is an avid meat-eater – in a restaurant to order lamb or a steak for him. In the “Paris Bar” in the Kantstrasse in Charlottenburg, where he – as always – wanted to order a German wine and the waiter easily indignantly told him that they serve only French wine, he then ordered a “Hardy Wallbanger” (orange juice with vodka). Since even the waiter had to laugh. Such cultural contrast situations loved Bill and has generated them everywhere.
    Several times we went with him to Kreuzberg in the schemes of the international building exhibition, where we both worked with various groups in the squatter scene. Although he cities generally do not suffer and could find no good reason for their survival, he had immediately creative solutions for the people ready, who wanted to build a city farm or pull their vegetables and their herbs themselves. What terms energy-saving measures and grey water recycling, some interesting models for him were so in Kreuzberg, and so was this time to the beginning of years of intensive exchange of ecological knowledge about country borders and continents away.
    At the beginning of the 1980s a kind of “Permaculture Bible” Bill tried to write. About half of its DESIGNERS’ MANUAL (1988) is brilliant, especially the chapter on patterns (patterns) and design (design). There is hardly another book so thoroughly treated the “cross-disciplinary design for life”. Other chapters in the designers’ manual leave to be desired things in their science. Only now, in 2009, it is Woods by Margaret and Marlis Ortner translated into German in Austria and moved.
    Another book, INTRODUCTION TO PERMACULTURE, which wrote the Bill along with Reny slay and was illustrated by Andrew Jeeves, published in 1991 and Permaculture explains for the first time in a generally understandable and systematic approach. There are also practical experiences many Permaculture activists in Australia and other countries. But above all, it is the result of research by Bill Mollison and Reny slay, which in the 1990s with the Australian Permaculture Institute after new South Wales had moved there in their work by Marilyn Wade strongly supported. Others have carried numerous helpers experiments with plants, buildings and technical infrastructure, while was Bill on lecture tours around the world.
    Margrit and I have edited with the help of many other professionals Permaculture one and two in the Second Edition. A particularly good article with colored pictures is in 1984 in the Basel newspaper (Nr. 40, p. 10-15) appeared, and contains what we had developed itself in environmental planning and construction, combined with what we have learned by Bill Mollison and David Holmgren. We thank both of them still for their ideas, their endurance and commitment.

    The Permaculture conquers Europe
    It was Bill and POOJA have offered the first European Permaculture designers course in the hunting lodge Glienicke near Berlin in the summer of 1982 with Margrit and me. Because it took place in English, were 24 participants from seven European countries and two interested parties from Brazil. Mridul, our then 21-year-old daughter, has not only taken the course, but held the evening two-hour lecture for the German and Austrian participants. It was not easy for them to understand the Australian Tasmanian accent of Bill English, especially because half of the time he voiced himself by his tobacco pipe.
    Then have seven participants of this course long every Saturday met nine months and worked on the design concepts, so that we are finally together in Wetzhausen at Schweinfurth the first two-week Permaculture design course held in German (PDC Permaculture Decign = course) could hold.
    Then my new career as”Mr. Permaculture Europe” (East and West). Except in Germany and Brazil in 1982, I have taught the first and often the second Permaculture design courses in Denmark, France, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Croatia, the Netherlands, Norway, Austria, Poland, Russia, Scotland, of Switzerland, the Slovakia and Slovenia until 1991. These courses were each supported by Gaia Trust (Hildur & Ross Jackson) in Denmark. Because I had to teach this two-week workshops mostly alone, I tried first of all always to organize farmers, gardeners, biologists, landscape designers or architects in a support team on the ground and then they act as multipliers in their country. This strategy has proven, when you see the many Permakulturprojekte that have arisen from this.
    1993 Bill Mollison’s books about enzymes and 1996 could not repeat another titled TRAVEL IN DREAMS the successes of the first books. But the international Permaculture movement is now constantly grew – starting from the first books and one of many co-authors revised two three-week course of designer. In Europe, the transfer of the approach to northern climates is fully underway. In part, she encountered sharp criticism from science and practice because of their unusual theories and methods.

    Life garden Steyerberg
    Margrit and I have learned so much by Bill Mollison and were impressed with the Permaculture vision, that we wanted to implement an own Permaculture project – as well as many others who arrived in the 1980s and early 1990s with this vision in contact. Therefore, we have given up – I do my professorship at the Berlin, Margrit its position at the international building exhibition – our home in Berlin and our two centres and us ab1985 contributed to the construction of an ecological community in Lower Saxony – the life garden of Steyerberg. We have there in a settlement, which was built in 1939, renovated two houses, and carried out a whole series of Permaculture experiments on 2.6 hectares of land in the vicinity. Temporarily, I directed the Permaculture Institute of Europe from the life garden.

    Gaia Trust is a Danish charitable entity founded in 1987

    Gaia Foundation of Western Australia
    The Foundation was co-founded in 1987 by John Croft and Vivienne Elanta, and a small group of committed activists came together to organise its first projects. Championing the Experiential Deep Ecological approach of John Seed and Joanna Macy

    “Dragon Dreaming & Permaculture -an Australian marriage made in heaven” John Croft

  287. Craig, I’m a random person on the Internet, but it’s clear to me you have acted far too nicely and tolerantly. Dozens of comments from believers aside, I think it’s really simple. The person you were dealing with said and proposed some intellectually poor things, and you should have called him out. Working from his response:

    “A lively permaculture/spiritual debate on your forum Craig, as it says Shamanism is not metaphysics, it is Science just as is Yoga & Astrology & even Meditation & Past-Life Regression, all these have undergone ‘scientific’ scrutiny to the nth degree.”

    In just this one, ridiculous, overzealous run-on sentence, he:

    – Ridicules scientific scrutiny.
    – Claims an equal validity of various popular new-age religious practices with that of scientific principles and theories.
    – Mistakes some confirming views in a debate in an Internet forum for actual consensus on spiritual views.
    – Calls you a hypocrite based on something other people try to say on your web forum, or perhaps because of something taken out of context. He fails to provide citation.

    “Religion may consist of beliefs, but Spirituality does not, the two are often confused. Spirituality is about Values, Integrity, Honesty, Impeccability, Super-Conscious Awareness & so forth. Just consider the following items.”

    – That’s all very well and good, but his proposed course was not about “Values, Integrity, Honesty, Impeccability, Super-Conscious Awareness & so forth.” It was about a specific, pop-religious belief in a discredited method for finding water with a stick.

    I think you are well within your rights to say that, if he wants to do a course on permaculture, you’d thank him to keep it intellectually and scientifically rigorous, and that if a course on dowsing is to come up, it has no place being taught as “permaculture” because your professionalism, integrity, and sheer sense of educational excellence requires that inaccurate and/or scientifically disproven methods are kept out, as it is in direct opposition to permaculture to rely on superstition. A course on spirituality would be welcome, perhaps, with the provision that it is of sufficient intellectual rigor and is not merely a disguised soapbox for particular religious practices. Also, he should note that your saying so does not mean that you do not understand spirituality, but instead that you understand both science and spirituality, and plain old decency. He should not be insulting you or your methods in the manner he does, simply because you congenially disagreed with him.

    Perhaps I am too harsh, but, again, I think you are perhaps being too nice. :)

  288. Permaculture is the world’s simplest honest and genuine bandwagon strong hands and dirty finger nails should be what’s needed to get onto it.
    The greedy, opportunist, manicured,agendared,airy fairy,philosophical, intellectual,spiritual, metaphysical, political,religious, etc.types should be barred.
    I am going to do a PDC course and get others to as well but will not accept teaching in anything but the Mollison ethic and have a muddy finger to assure it!

  289. Dear Craig,
    thanks for trying this. I’m one of the people you talk about. Knowing some of the people who promote permaculture (as well as reiki, geomantics, tarot, pendulum-diagnostics..) I cannot see myself getting connected to them by using this term to describe what it is that I want to do. Instead I call my current project a ‘nature park’ so as to not put people off or get it confused with new ageism.
    Myself I have become an agnostic after leaving church, and long and thorough thought and study afterwards, and I don’t appreciate being told that I’m ‘not ready yet’ for true spirituality. I find this kind of attitude offensive, very presumptious, and much too close for comfort to the notion of ‘enlightenment’ I found in sects I studied. If anyone thinks he/she knows better, he/she has to be wrong. Permaculture acknowledges that there are things we will never be able to know because they are extremely complex. To me, the great charme of this is that it teaches people to be more humble in the face of our very limited senses and capability of wisdom. I would never be so self-important as to promote that I have found ‘The Truth’. If you want to be better, be a better gardener.
    thanks for listening (or rather reading) this,

  290. Great Article! And I definitely fall on your side of the issue. Two thoughts…

    There is nothing I know of in Permaculture teaching that says someone can’t be spiritual, its just that it is not factored into any of the methodology which, as you say Craig, has the benefit of keeping the whole thing more open and accessible. People can be spiritual and allow that to influence their live as they like, its just that it is not happening as part of the actual Permaculture. It is a separate influence and it seems odd to me that some can’t accept that. Perhaps Permaculture opens the door for them by starting with Ethics? Here is a provocative question, would we be better off without them? The Permi ethics happen to sit fine with me in a non spiritual way, but obviously others see them as having to be intertwined with their spirituality. It seems that the ethics, like spirituality itself, are also subjective and open to interpretation.

    Secondly, it is a sad thing but science has also been cast within our society as a belief structure. Thanks to years of right wing media coverage and corporate mumbo jumbo masquerading as science very large sections of the community have come to the conclusion that science is something you can take or leave. In a recent conversation I heard a fellow Permaculturalist sarcastically say, ” Just goes to show what science knows”. So we have to be honest with ourselves and see that heavy talk of science (which I personally find fascinating) also alienates sections of the community and stands in the way of mainstream acceptance. As Permi’s we have to observe the landscape and work with it. I try to keep my language geared towards being practical. Assume people want to do things better and focus on implementing, useful, clear constructive solutions. When we can demonstrate enough benefits people will come out of self interest and we can get the ball seriously rolling. Then we can all have a nice chat about why we are doing it.

  291. Very interesting thread (which I have read quite a bit of). I think that we, as permaculturists, must avoid any sort of dogma, since that’s what has made religion such a worldwide evil. That applies to ‘thou shalt NOT teach such and such’ as well as ‘thou shalt’.
    Scientific fact is not, in fact, fact. It is only fact for some people, at some time, and in some conditions. It was once a scientific fact that the world was flat. Now it’s spherical. It’s a scientific fact that if you pour nitrates on the ground the plants grow bigger. Permaculture teachers will only teach the ‘facts’ that fit in with their BELIEF SYSTEM.
    I notice from reading the posts that a lot of people do, in fact, seem to want some aspect of spirituality mixed in with their course, it’s just that they want it to be the aspect that they themselves believe in. A number of commenters said things like ‘how to design according to the transcendent human being… should be a part of permaculture teaching’ and ‘…buries what might be amazing folklore derived scientic principles in impenetrable abstracts’. When I read comments like that I hear a little ring of the danger bell. It says, you must only believe (/teach) the science that is the science I believe in, otherwise you are ‘non-conforming’ and the group will reject you.
    We are a (partly) spiritual animal, our needs are partly spiritual, the way we solve problems is partly spiritual, the way we learn is partly spiritual. We individually use the spiritual to energise what we do. We need the spiritual now, by god, as never before. Let’s harness it, not demonise it.
    Peace to all beings,

  292. I agree one hundred percent that we must preserve the teachings of Permaculture and i also agree that anything that does not align with the permaculture ethics is not Permaculture. I think we should point out though that there seems to be a tendency for people to expect to much from permaculture and this is where i think people get into trouble and feel the need to fill in the gaps and add to it with there own philosophies and belief systems. I think it is part of Bill Mollisons genius that he has left this area up to the individual because how could he be so nieve to suggest how we view our relationship to the world and each other. Permaculture is a universal practice that can be used by all of us, so i think we should apply the same principles within our application of it. xxxx

  293. Argh! Jane Wilding it is unfortunate in this day and age that science is so badly understood. That the world was flat was never a “scientific fact”, it was a belief! Facts are tested, this never underwent any kind of rigorous testing. It was more akin to the religious belief that the world was the centre of the universe. This confusion is exactly the type of thing that has in the minds of many devolved science into a belief system which it is NOT. It is a system of inquiry. A scientific fact has undergone rigorous testing and survived. That the earth was flat in science would have been a theory, that it wasn’t tested makes it a belief. Please do not equate science as being a belief system. Science fact is a fact for all people. It is something like gravity, it works whether you believe or not. Don’t see anyone this is not a fact for, no people just floating off the earth is there? As for the metaphysical part of permaculture, teach it but don’t teach it as a part of science but as a belief until it can be rigorously tested.

  294. I completely agree with you, Craig. I don’t understand why so many folks have trouble getting their heads around this. Permaculture was designed to solve problems with science. If folks want to wrap it up in spirituality that’s fine – but they need to call it something other than permaculture. To refuse to do so it simply selfish. And the entire point here is that some people are simply turned off by spirituality. (not me, but many) To sit there and articulately assert that “we have a right to our spirituality” knowing full well it might alienate a potential permaculture practitioner is damn irresponsible. I happen to consider myself deeply spiritual. But not in the classroom – I don’t want to alienate a single soul.

  295. It is important to stay open minded while take practical directions to act, and work of people like Rupert Sheldrake,

    Sheldrake’s 10 dogmas of science that he discusses are:

    1) Everything is essentially mechanical

    2) All matter is unconscious

    3) The total amount of energy and matter is always the same.

    4) The laws of nature are fixed.

    5) Nature is purposeless

    6) All biological inheritence is material.

    7) Minds are inside heads and are nothing but the activity of brains.

    8) Memory is stored in material traces of the brain.

    9) Unexplained phenomena such as telepathy are illusory.

    10) Mechanistic medicine is the only one that really works.

  296. This is obviously an extremely thorny and complex issue, and seems to have been, for most of permaculture’s existence.

    I do not believe that permaculture should delve into spirituality from a more religious standpoint, at all; but I do fairly strongly believe that within discussions of Bill’s chapter on design, there should at least be some more discussion of Cymatics, geometry, and energetic harmonics.

    A brief mention of R.A. Schwaller’s study of the use of proportion by the Ancien