A Modern Plant Mythology?

Words by
Georgina Reid
Images by
Georgina Reid
| February 4, 2014

All cultures were built on myths. The stories we told each other to understand ourselves and our surroundings were passed down over hundreds and thousands of years. Myths helped form belief systems, laws and religions. They are what make cultures both unique, and also the same.

Sometimes I wonder if there is still room for mythology in western cultures? We place 99% of our eggs in the rationality basket. Science is king and the truth is measurable (this is generally a wonderful thing). Myth doesn’t quite fit into this paradigm, yet it helped create it. Myth is richness, colour and culture. It’s how we first started to digest the world around us, before we could count and quantify.

The topic of Myth and plants is an interesting one. Many of the mythological stories I discovered whilst researching this topic originate from a time in which the relationship between people and plants was very different to what it is now. Back then, we lived with plants. Now we seem to think we can live without them.

Myth in 2014 is not a positive word. It implies a fabrication, a story certain not to be true. It’s value is lessened because its not based on any kind of scientific fact. It’s just a story. And who needs stories when there are facts?

Our plant myths these days come from television show spruikers extolling the wonder of the latest cultivar of petunia guaranteed to never, ever, die no matter how often it gets pissed on by passing dogs. They also come from companies patenting and genetically modifying seeds. These modern myths are not something I want re-told.

I am far more interested in the stories of vampire pumpkins, of trees with fantastical powers, of elves, and of men made out of moss. There is magic, wonder and delight in such tales. There is engagement between teller and audience. But most importantly, there is a reverence for plants and nature. This is something I think a lot about these days. This reverence is rarely a part of our modern plant myths.

Our myths have changed because we have changed.

Back in the good old days of mad mythology, plants and humans were tight – in many ways they were one and the same, humans were a part of the natural world. Nowadays, we see ourselves as separate to nature. We are above it and it is ours to use as we will. A dangerous idea, I say.

I think we have a problem with valuing plants. Hence, our plant myths either sound like a storyline from a bad horror film, or are non-existent because we don’t care enough about plants to create good stories around them.

If something is valued it will be protected and appreciated. This thing (plant/forest/tree for example) will move from being a commodity to an asset, something valuable.  And then, maybe, just maybe, trees will not be so readily removed for the sake of an ocean view, councils will plant edible street trees and vegetable gardens instead of ‘potted colour’, thrown out after a few short months, and our Prime Minister will realise attempting to remove world heritage status from 74 000 hectares of old growth forest in Tasmania is idiotic.

Can we create a positive plant mythology in 2014? I don’t know the answer to this. I guess the word myth needs to be re-branded – making it a story to be shared, rather than a scary idea to be scorned. I don’t know.

I do know, however, that encouraging respect and reverence for plants is something I feel very strongly about. It sounds kind of simple, and even a bit naive, but if we don’t start looking at plants differently we, the entire human race, are down shit creek without a paddle, as my dad would say (just checking if you’re reading, dad).

So let’s talk about plants and people, lets tell stories and share. It’s where all good myths start. And if we do this, we are well on the way to creating  relationships with plants we can be proud of. Let the mythology roll…