Permaculture and Money – Part 4

New ways of interacting socially

In part 1(1) of this series we explored the violent implications which money as a concept has, especially psychologically, while part 2(2) and part 3(3) looked at different ways we can transcend these to create more holistic and peaceful relationships with money, by practicing the arts of giving, and opening ourselves to the possibility of being given to. Having taken this journey so far through questioning and possibly altering our own mental and spiritual processes, we can begin, in this part, to radiate outwards from ourselves towards our communities and to the great community which is our planet.



The Power Of Myth

As we looked at in part 1(1), to create new ways of interacting with money we can create stories which are more in line with ecologically and socially beneficial and regenerative practices than the current popular stories about money(1,4). It seems important to note here that this is not to deny the validity of money. Money can be seen as one of the most important myths of our time; indeed, as Charles Eisenstein has theorised, in much of modern society money can be seen to have taken the place of ‘god’ in our mythological awareness(4).

Mythology plays a very important role in human culture. In his book Moneyless Manifesto Mark Boyle draws a parallel between the story of Santa Claus and the story of money;

“the truth I needed to face …was that Santa Claus wasn‘t real. He was just a myth we made up, passed down from one generation to another…

Just like money.” (5)

Boyle then goes on to discredit the very idea of money as a made-up concept (5), which as we can see it is, but to disregard it entirely is to miss the power inherent in any myth.

As Joseph Campbell put it,

“Mythology is not a lie, mythology is poetry, it is metaphorical. It has been well said that mythology is the penultimate truth – penultimate because the ultimate cannot be put into words. It is beyond words.” (6)

We may not be consciously aware of the power of the myth of Santa Claus, but if we don’t take it literally, we can see that having a mythological figure who brings gifts to people in the middle of winter can be very helpful as a metaphor to help us live our lives in a more generous and caring way, even if we know there is no literal Santa Claus.



Putting The New Story Into Practice

My Story
Image by Fathromi Ramdlon from Pixabay

So a new story for money would be not to deny it but to recognise its value, not as a countable item with which to quantify and divide the so-called ‘resources’ of the planet, but as a very powerful tool which, if taken metaphorically, can help us to connect with other humans and so strengthen the web of interdependence of which we are all part. As Eisenstein(4) and others (7,8) have pointed out, the re-awakening of our awareness of this web is key to the survival of humans and possibly many other species on this planet. Our use of money can help us to re-tell this story, if we can bring into focus its “sacred” nature and capacity to be a bond-forging gift (4).

One way in which Eisenstein and others are putting the new story into practice is through the “New Story for Humanity”(9) movement, sparked by the New Story Summit held in 2014 at the Findhorn Foundation (10), an intentional community and education centre just outside Inverness in Scotland, UK. Eisenstein is also one of a number of teachers of Findhorn’s online self-study courses, offered on a gift economy basis.(11)



Stepping Outside Of Society

The Findhorn Foundation is one example of putting into practice a new way of living; namely that of living in an intentional community. Intentional communities (sometimes called ecovillages) are as varied as the imaginations of those living in them. The Global Ecovillage Network has an online map(12) which has quite an extensive listing. Many communities I have researched or visited are, like Findhorn, experimenting with some kind of gift economy. For example, Damanhur(13), located in Piemonte in Northwest Italy, as well as having their own local currency, the ‘Credito’, have a collective economic system which “combines free enterprise with solidarity and sharing, in order to create the greatest overall benefits, individual wealth and collective possibilities”(14).



Creativity And The Hero’s Return

For many readers, though the idea of living in an intentional community may be appealing, it is not a practical step right now. There are many experiments with versions of gift economy which operate on a more short-term basis, so that you can engage in a community with different ideals and values to mainstream society without having to give up your former life. One such experiment is that of Rainbow Gatherings, which are usually month-long events held from New Moon to New Moon, by the so-called Rainbow Family(15), a very loosely organised scattering of people around the world dedicated to creating a feeling of community and family. The Rainbow Family in general and the gatherings in particular have received criticism of all kinds,(16) my own experience with the Rainbow Family is that the lack of organisation is the closest thing I have ever experienced of a truly anarchistic social structure; with which comes what could be called extreme freedom. That is something that can be very beautiful, but with equal amounts of ugliness. As Ursula K Leguin said, “To light a candle is to cast a shadow”. (17)

Photogrpah by Kosti Keistinen Pixabay

In some cases the Rainbow Gatherings have been so successful (in a way) that they evolved into permanent communities such as Beneficio(18) in Andalucia and Matavenero  (19) in Galicia (both parts of Spain), so the experiment appears to be effective sometimes.



Transformational Festivals

There are many options of more short-term and perhaps more organised communities where for a short time you can live as part of a group of people which in many ways interacts radically differently with humans and nature from the one you usually do. Probably one of the most famous and well-documented of these so-called “transformational festivals”(20) is Burning Man,(21) a 9-day event held in the middle of the desert in Nevada, USA. Like the Rainbow Family, Burning Man has a loose network of similar events around the globe,(22) united by an adherence to 10 principles, the second of which is “gifting”: “the value of a gift is unconditional”.(23) Within any “Burner” event, the use of money is discouraged or abandoned, so that participants can experiment with living in a gift economy for the duration of the festival. However, since you can usually only enter such events having bought a ticket, vehicle pass and supplies for the event, even if you do not use money during the festival, the whole thing could be said to be based on financial transactions. A report in 2016 estimated the total cost of attending Burning Man in the USA as ranging from “$1,300 to $20,000”.(24)

The transformational festival movement can be seen to include many other smaller-scale events around the world, from Momento Demento(25) in Croatia to Luminate(26) in New Zealand to Jai Thep(27) in Thailand. On an even smaller scale, in 2009 Mark Boyle organised the Freeconomy “Feastival” in Bristol, UK; (5, 28) a one-day event where not only no money was paid by participants to enter and none exchanged throughout the event, but no money went into the organisation or supplies either. Food and drink was made from foraged food or food which had been saved from landfill and the event included talks, workshops and skillshares. (5, 28)

Jai Thep Festival Jan 2020
Jai Thep Festival January 2020. Photograph by Author.



The Magic Of Art

The power of such events is that one can make the social experiments needed in order to explore what kind of new story we wish to be creating, along with any mistakes or misdirections, without taking all the time, energy and heartache that may happen if you were doing so as part of a more permanent community. The fact that festivals are inherently creative and artistic means that such explorations can be done with imagination and creativity, and in an immersive environment far more powerful than simply learning about these things from a talk or workshop could be. Another advantage is that anyone who participates in any such kind of experimental event can then bring whatever we learn and create back to our own current community, whatever that may be. To me, this is the key to encouraging lasting change within our current social interactions – it is not enough to just step outside of so-called society without looking back; since that very society needs the gifts we bring from “beyond” in order to evolve. As the New Story movement puts it, “The old world is dying and the new world has yet to be born”.(9)  We can see this in Joseph Campbell’s concept of the “Hero’s Journey”,(29) which is only half complete if you do not return from the journey.



Transformational Times

It seems that there has never been a more appropriate time to share such gifts as we have with the community around us. There will probably be no more transformational festivals in 2020. So now can be seen as the time to work on transforming ourselves and our interactions with those around us. One way to immediately participate in a gift economy in your area could be to find or create a local “freecycle” group, whose members offer or ask for goods or services, with nothing given as an exchange. The Freecycle(30) website is probably the largest database of such groups, with another example being Freegle.(31)  Boyle also recommends initiating a “gifting circle”(5) with your friends or interested community members; this follows the same principle but is more personal and usually includes face-to-face meetings where gifts are offered and requested as part of a formalised event. (32)



Money And Work

The next and final part of this series will look at potential new ways to imagine the world of work which could also be a part of the “new story” of money. If we wish to change the way we act professionally, it seems vital that we remember the importance of creativity and community. As Joseph Campbell put it,

“We’re not on our journey to save the world but to save ourselves. But in doing that you save the world. The influence of a vital person vitalises.” (33)




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Charlotte Ashwanden

Charlotte Ashwanden (nee Haworth). Born in London, I am very interested in peace and community and have a degree in Peace Studies. I got my Permaculture Design Certificate in 2011, from Treeyo at Permaship in Bulgaria, and my Permaculture Teaching Certificate in 2018 at Aranya in India. For me, permaculture is about so much more than garden design; I am mainly interested in applying ‘human permaculture’ as a complement to peace practices. In particular, I like to look at how human permaculture can be applied through psychology, communication and education techniques. In 2015 I got married in a pagan ceremony in a field to David Ashwanden and changed my surname to Ashwanden. With my husband, I’ve travelled a lot in Europe and Asia and encountered many permaculture and community projects. I have lived in various situations, from squatted land to intentional communities, as well as more ‘normal’ places, in the UK, Spain, Italy, Thailand and Vietnam. A professional dancer, I do fire and hula dance and sometimes run dance meditation workshops. Currently, I live in the Andalucian mountains.

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