SOPHIE STRAND: I know you as podcaster, as documentarian, as philosopher, as facilitator, as narratologist, as Ian MacKenzie, and also as the brains behind The School of Mythopoetics. So I think I will begin there and let you flesh out that description.
IAN MACKENZIE: Okay, nice to be here, Sophie. Nice to be on this side of the conversational equation, hosted by you. And in this container. I had never heard the word narratologist. I like that.
SOPHIE STRAND: The study of the shapes of stories.
IAN MACKENZIE: Beautiful. I would say—also, welcome to everyone here, who’s tuning in with us live—that my work is concerned mostly with finding these threads of the emergent culture, no matter where they are, from years at Burning Man to Occupy Wall Street. And at one point, I was inspired to try to illuminate this, I call it this mimetic rise of the feminine. And, I didn’t understand what that meant, really, at the time. Ultimately, it was shaped through collaborations with my co-director, Nicole Sorochan, and many others, a project that examined the feminine through the lives of female DJs and producers mostly, and used a mythic lens.
And so it was natural, through that process, that I was drawn to then look at masculinity through the same lens, because I’d realised, largely too, because of the way that I’d grown up in the absence of a lot of this mythological context, that I was drawn to that, and I discovered the whole mythopoetic men’s movement, and beyond, and started The Mythic Masculine. So there’s all these threads that have just called to me and ultimately, I guess, I see myself as an amplifier of the cultural shifts that I wish to see, generatively contributing to this time, and the mediums can change—whether it’s film, writing, podcasting, things like that. But ultimately, I feel like that’s my mission.
SOPHIE STRAND: Yeah, I see you as embodying a very kind of mycelial sensibility, of course, not thinking of fungi as a monolith. But thinking very specifically about mycorrhizal fungi. And how they create ecosystems that connect disparate nodes of a forest together, and how you’ve been really expert at connecting me with people who I would have never expected to collaborate with, and creating a landscape of conversation rather than a monomyth. So, I see you as as really acting like a mycorrhizal fungi in the work that you do, whatever medium you take as your direction.
I do have a question, which is, because the topic of this conversation is conceivably about masculinity. And I wanted to ask, when you were growing up, what was your experience of the masculine narratives offered to you? Which ones appealed to you? Which ones felt constructing? How did you navigate that narrative ecosystem?
IAN MACKENZIE: Yeah, thanks for this. As I reflect, it really becomes more clear to me that the absence of any mythological context was offered, it was more the inverse; picked up through osmosis, through pop culture, through models of masculinity that were around—my father, other older men… it was never presented as a cultural framework, [like,] here’s when you enter the initiation context from childhood to adult and like, here’s the myths that are given to me at this time, for example, I understand, more intact cultures do have these kinds of frameworks; there’s a guiding context that’s more apparent than essentially picking up in its absence.
So certainly, I grew up, 80s, late 80s, early teens and then into the 90s, and some of the tropes were certainly there. Often the strong, dominant man, action hero, elements there, the stoic masculine, doesn’t feel much but gets things done. These kinds of things were apparent, but also blending with a softer masculinity. A more gentle, a more pleasing masculinity that, certainly I think are still in a lot of tension today, but I would say I didn’t have a real clear sense, of what does it mean? I had to discover it, personally, like I think so many other men do.
SOPHIE STRAND: Yeah. And so you mentioned discovering the mythopoetic men’s movement. I’m wondering what intersection you see between mythmaking and then self-identification and gender, and how that has fruited in your own life, in your own self-identification?
IAN MACKENZIE: Well, it was 2015, when I came across the book, Iron John, [for] those folks that [haven’t] heard of this, it’s sort of the mythopoetic foundational text for, at least the Robert Bly inspired wave of the mythopoetic men’s movement. Certainly his teachers influenced him. Essentially, the use of story, in this case, a myth of Iron John, Iron Hans, in the initial German or Bavarian place-based understanding… He used that myth to illuminate the experience of men at the time, largely, through the late 80s, again, into the early 90s.
And reading that myth, there’s something that many men I think, experience, and I did too… [which] was—[and] certainly it was also through his commentary that was able to make these kinds of connections—so deeply illuminating to my own experience, as a man in this culture. It was a profound sense of being seen, which had never really happened. I had never really had that experience before. And so on the one hand, it was a feeling of being seen and being recognised for having a certain kind of experience and challenges in growing up with masculinity.
But then also a sense of, oh, wow, so many other men are experiencing this. Then there is something that is actually transpersonal. Like, if so many men growing up in a certain context can recognise or find value in a myth, then there’s something beyond just preference. And so whether that is just the fact that we share a certain experience growing up presenting masculine in the culture, or that there is some kind of relationship to biology or, I’m thinking of another guest who I had on that spoke to masculinity as a theatrical spirit. Like that there is something recognisable, that is beyond simply individual preference. At least, that was mirrored back to me, when I had that experience with the book.
Just having an overt relationship to a myth, and to my story, again, was a profound sense of possibility for me, and again, for other men that ultimately, that wave crested, and now it’s in a renaissance. And of course, the work you do, as well, is I think, again, a conscious application of myth. Haven’t read the book yet, but I’m very much looking forward to it, by the way, Sophie, and what I’ve tried to do in the masculine podcast as well, right, is again, illuminate, I think you’ve used the word polyphony of narratives of the past, to bridge the ecosystem of more ways of experiencing and exploring, in this case, masculinity.
SOPHIE STRAND: Yeah, I think because masculinity has been so conflated with patriarchy, and because patriarchy has infiltrated, on the wave of colonialism, so many different corners of the earth, it’s very easy to think that it’s always been here.
But I, as I was doing this work into looking back into the deep time history of the masculine, we’re actually embraced, I think, on either side by alternatives. Just as recent as five thousand years ago, we have—it’s not that we even have a healthier mode of the masculine, it’s that we have a biodiversity, a polyphony, as you recall: which is many different songs, some discordant, some harmonic, all composing a complex musical ecosystem.
And I also think that in the future, we’re moving towards that kind of coppice, when you think of a tree that you cut back and then it pollards out into like six different stems.
I think we’re diverging right now into many different options, a biodiversity of expressions, so that we can begin to think of patriarchy not as being this monolithic obstruction that’s always been here, but as being a blip…#
That we can look backwards and see the rhizomatic diffusion of many different possibilities and then look to the future and see our hyphae branching out, as we see this little thing behind us, this little hyphae, into many different possibilities. So I’ve been trying to think of time as being an embrace for the masculine, and the present moment as being not the only state you’ve ever been in.
IAN MACKENZIE: Well, I recall, just to speak to a more personal story, recently, as well, I attended a gathering a few weeks ago, this was on an island, close by to me.
It was put on by a friend, who brought in some trainers, facilitators from I believe, Oregon, essentially they create mentorship training, in this case for men to train in how to mentor younger men. So the frame of that was actually called the inner mentor training, because they presented this sense that before one is able to authentically be in a mentorship role with youngers, in this case, younger men, that there needs to be work done, of course, to reconnect to enough of yourself, that you don’t project stuff on that younger person, or try to get needs met, that you didn’t get when you were a teen, that are showing up.
And it’s funny how much actually shows up, in recognising those intergenerational touchpoints. One of the things that came up for me, when they presented the material, was they spoke a lot about what not to do, scenarios around, in this case, mentoring young men, and it probably works in mentoring any young folk, but this idea of trying to fix them, arguing, telling them you’re wrong, judgement, coercion—all of these ways which [can show up in] parenting. And then in the alternatives, what was presented was, presence, curiosity, being with, all of these things that create the kind of contact, the kind of relationship, and where mentoring can happen authentically.
It’s not something that’s like being done. It’s actually just presence and curiosity, often are these gateways, and true contact can occur. And, this language wasn’t used in the materials that was presented, but I couldn’t help but [see] the lens presented by Riane Eisler, of course, in her book The Chalice and the Blade, [where she] talked about Dominator culture versus Partnership culture. And it was so clear to me, when I was looking at these materials, like, oh yeah, this is a paradigm of domination, i.e., we use interchangeably, often now, with patriarchy, and this is a paradigm of partnership—of real contact, of actually being curious.
And, we could also throw in, modern industrial civilisation, and the insane pace of efficiency or more, which is such the enemy of all of the qualities that actually provide the space for true connection, true feeling. One of the things that it spoke to was this [question] of essentially spanking, does spanking work, in terms of creating behavioural shifts. And the comment that was made was, well, it does “work”, in heavy quotations, it works, but does it work that well, like, does somebody, who’s basically afraid of being dominated, does that actually engender the behavioural authenticity, of wanting to be a good person or do the right thing, whatever it is.
Sure, it works based on fear, maybe, and the consequence, in a way, but other ways work better, actually, time in, curiosity, getting to the root of certain behaviours. But this goes back to this word time—it takes way more time actually, to do these things, it takes way more presence, way more effort. And those things are completely opposite to a lot of the momentum of the dominant culture. And so, I’ll just say one last thing about what I see in this arc of shifting from a culture of domination and efficiency and go, is this call for presence, receptivity, deep feeling…
This is one of the key mantras, for men, doing “men’s work”, is really developing the capacity to feel deeply again. And of course, then it butts into all of the qualities of typical masculinity, of strength, of competition, all these things that can’t be lost along the way either because then you lose these other values or powers, of masculinity, that also are really important to a culture. I just see all of these things are jostling for some kind of new universalism. I mean, hopefully not. But some kind of dynamic palette, perhaps, that can be at the ready, as we navigate this moment.
SOPHIE STRAND: Yeah, toolbox. It’s so interesting, I sense a larger theme coming up in what you’re talking about with things I’m massaging in my work about trauma and illness as someone who has an incurable genetic illness and has PTSD. And I think that we’re in such a solutionist culture and solutions are always… we always want to grab the easiest, fastest one. Efficiency is always prized, be it, men’s work, be it, healing, and we lose a lot. And we actually, we end up doing more damage ultimately. Like you spank the child, and maybe they listen to you that day, but then they act out later in life, we do something upstream, and it affects a whole flow.
A friend of mine who’s also participating in this course, Jessica Dore, was talking about the difference between trying to fix someone, and then giving them presence and accompaniment, and I heard that in what you were talking about with mentorship, which is, it’s not about trying to change someone, it’s about walking alongside them. And we know from, a lot of actual science, that when we’re walking alongside someone, we begin to mirror neuron with them, we begin to actually come into regulation, and we start to walk with each other.
And each person brings the other person into a more balanced state. I was thinking about how that’s a kind of partnership model rather than a dominator model, where you’re trying to force someone to come into your precise physical experience. Rather, you’re meeting in some kind of collaborative homeostasis.
IAN MACKENZIE: Yeah. I mean, that’s beautiful.
I think that that is both the practice, I feel, and also demonstrating models of masculinity that have that range. And, I never saw, when I was younger, a group of men, authentically relating to each other. I never saw that, which is, again, bizarre to me now, [with] the amount of spaces that are existent now, hopefully my son sees, maybe doesn’t understand—I have a son who’s about four now—but the way he sees… He just picks up on things, to say like, oh, wow, that’s also in the range of how adults are or how men can be together.
I just think that that has an effect, beyond a later stage imposition, that has to happen over time, to really take root, I think, in a way of being, that I’m banking on, I suppose, for my son, certainly.
SOPHIE STRAND: I also have a question which is, so, you did this incredible project called The Mythic Masculine. If people watching haven’t listened to it, it was a series of interviews, you did with people from many, many different backgrounds and gender expressions, about what masculinity means. I was a guest, but I also listened to pretty much every episode and found it to be one of the only examples of a masculine interrogation that didn’t try and settle on one answer, that lived to the question, that it mulched the ground, rather than sterilising it and creating a monocrop. I guess my question is, what were you surprised by at the end of that experience? What expectations did you go in with? And what surprised you most about the inquiry? What did you learn? What did you change your mind about?
IAN MACKENZIE: I’ll just add a little thing to that. It’s not fully composted yet, in terms of completion, it’s been quiet for a while, which is, I think, a natural way of… the ebb, of realising, oh, I arrived somewhere, within that experience, or within that inquiry, and then I thought, okay, now’s the time to just let it rest for a bit. And I’m grateful to say, actually, that there’s a couple of really amazing episodes coming out.
But I can say that going in, the intention was one, like you said, to lean into that question, but from a mythopoetic lens. I was wanting to bridge the generations of the previous mythopoetic wave, people like Michael Meade, other folks that were really at the epicentre, and then speak to now, this current moment, because it did feel like it was coming through a resurgence. But also, again, to bring in lots of voices that weren’t included in that inquiry in the past, or in that gathering in the past.
I would say one of the most significant touchpoints or maps of the terrain that came forth, of the tapestry, just how dangerous—[maybe] dangerous [is] not quite the right word but…
How seductive it is, to try to supplant a universal with another universal.#
And by that even universal could be everybody decides what they are. Like, that’s ultimately the best outcome. And, without a faithful willingness to not just toss everything out, I think sometimes you can head that way. You can just say, that’s all there is. It’s just personal preference. And it’s like, whoa, wait a second, there are, what I’ve discerned, at least from many guests, these patterns, or [whatever] you want to call them, emerging from the collective unconscious or wherever, that do have sway into how they organise human experience in human societies. So there’s something in that.
I guess what I’m saying is, the calls for a universalist response, at least my recollection, never came from those rooted in their own cultures. It never came from the Indigenous folks saying, yeah, just toss it all out. That would never seem to happen. They would just say, well, this is what we do. So it’s like, okay, there’s a real humility there, of, well, this is how it works for us, or how it has worked—not that it stayed the same either, but there was a sense of, well, this is what we do. So basically, there didn’t seem to be a strong impulse to try to universalise the way that they were doing things. Now, that’s really important, again, I think to highlight, because, to a universalist, irradiated mind, a universal response seems like the antidote, but not understanding it to be universalist. So that has been a major inquiry. You want to speak to that?
SOPHIE STRAND: No, it’s just something I’ve been thinking about a lot—which is, I was reading an incredible essay from a book that I really recommend, called Death by Landscape, by Elvia Wilk, about universalism, and how universalism is always a fiction, it’s always going to be a violence to something else…
This is my expansion of that, but it’s always a colonial enterprise. It’s always taking one type of wisdom and then trying to disseminate it to many different ecosystems and cultures and pretending like it could possibly thrive. So I’ve just been really thinking about how to problematise this movement towards universalism that we’re seeing, in the realm of animism, and the psychedelic renaissance, and all ecological realms that are, I think, have good intentions, but can actually re-articulate the various systems they’re trying to oppose.
IAN MACKENZIE: The way I see it is that universalism is a monotheism. It’s like the Russian doll—you pick it up, and you’re like, oh, there it is. The way I understand it is, and this is drawing from my time with one of my main teachers, Stephen Jenkinson, who has this phrasing, which always gets me, but it’s first-generation trauma, second-generation God. And there’s a detonation, there, if you really can hold that. But this sense that the first generation experiences the trauma, but because it’s so traumatic and can’t be lived, it ends up often in the next generation, being deified.
SOPHIE STRAND: Yeah. This is totally holds up in all of my research. I read a lot about second temple period Palestine and the movement from pantheism to monotheism, and you see the dislocation of people from their ecosystems, you see mass climatological pressures, volcanic eruptions during the end of the Bronze Age, and trauma, that was not sacred to people, that was absolutely meaning-extinguishing, probably. And then, of course, a couple generations down the line, you get this mass cultural somatic response, which is the disassociation of mind and matter. You get Platonism, which then, of course, gets re-articulated by Christian theology. And then by Cartesian Dualism.
It’s interesting to see that it gets accepted as rationalism, as intellect, but it began as trauma.
IAN MACKENZIE: Beautiful. I love [those] threads, I can just visualise the waves of each generation. It’s like [makes wave sound] takes on a different form, but it’s the same ripple, coming out from the epicentre.
SOPHIE STRAND: I also think what it does is it gives us empathy. We can be empathic with ourselves about survival mechanisms, and cultures need survival mechanisms, to just survive being exiled, being genocidally oppressed, experiencing incredible volcanic eruptions… they need ways to make meaning, so we can be empathic about that, just as personally, when we’ve experienced violence, we need to find ways to [unknown word], but we can also understand that it’s not sustainable. It’s not always healthy.
And I do think, people have experienced a lot of violence and it’s very easy to point the finger at men—that was me for a long time. I hid in the divine feminine. But then I realised that all my favourite people are men.
I wasn’t going to change the story, I wasn’t going to create more interesting conversations if I didn’t involve men in them, and start to look at those myths, and have empathy.#
So I’m wondering what role empathy plays, be it between human beings and also between beings, humans and more-than-humans, in your work, in your thinking?
IAN MACKENZIE: The role of empathy? Yeah. There’s a couple of threads there, too. Maybe to finalise the last conversation thread, is that basically what I see is all of the conversations that I was having, were either close to that epicentre, or you might say, the crater of the loss of culture. Or not. So they were basically hovering to various degrees, and able to speak to that black hole, I’ll call it. I wrote a piece a while ago around essentially, so much of what we see as the maladies of the time, and the culture, and the individual personifications of that—depression and all these things, one way to see it is, it’s like light bending around a black hole.
My understanding is that, maybe that’s changed, I don’t know, but that astronomers can’t see black holes. Like, you can’t perceive the black hole directly, but you can see how light is bending around it. And then you can infer: oh, this is where black hole is. And so this is how I now see, so much of the afflictions of the time, or even toxic masculinity, I don’t understand it to be a thing, versus it’s the light bending around the thing that already happened.
SOPHIE STRAND: That’s beautiful. The hyperobject of our extractive, Eurocentric culture, like whatever it is, it’s impossible to locate or see—Timothy Morton comes up with the idea of [the hyperobject]. Climate changes is a hyperobject. These things that we can’t put on a piece of paper and say, that’s its shape. But yeah, I love the idea that all of these things are symptomatic, rather than being the root.
IAN MACKENZIE: Yeah. And that plays into again, the understanding of therefore, “what do we do about it”? Because, if masculinity is practised within an absence of that understanding, or men’s work or trying to approach the problem of toxic masculinity, then it’s like trying to mould individuals within a system that is constantly trying to mould them a different way.
SOPHIE STRAND: Yeah. And then you throw them back out into the system that punishes them for the work they’ve done. I think about that also in terms of our healthcare system, which is, you become sick by virtue of these entangled systems of oppression that sediment in your body, you go in, they give you a medicine to make you a better worker, and then you go back out to get sick again. What role is medicine playing? What role is men’s work playing, if it’s only treating the symptoms and then throwing you back out into the dirty sea?
IAN MACKENZIE: Yeah. Well, this also is again, the intersection, I’d say, or the inevitable confrontation, if men’s work is doing its job, it will lead men to confront the systems of oppression, of domination. To me, unless that’s happening, then it’s still just circling around this idea of personal growth, self-achievement, this kind of stuff. So that’s really a litmus test actually, does it point, the men doing the work, towards actually confronting the system?
SOPHIE STRAND: Yeah. It’s interesting, because, I’ve watched as you’ve been very involved with Fairy Creek, and protecting the trees there, would you think that work like that is part of your men’s work, that this kind of environmentalism and men’s work can become interconnected?
IAN MACKENZIE: Yeah. And I’ll say too, that I did a few short films with another organisation called Mamas Movement, to help bring awareness. I visited Fairy Creek as well, I interviewed one of the main activists that was there, named Shambu, and interviewed some of the elders that were there. I tried to bring a bit of my media amplification. And most recently, a few weeks ago, I interviewed Rainbow Eyes, who’s an Indigenous activist that was very involved until basically the courts ordered her not to go back, which is again, it’s just a wild situation.
But I have this image too of like… there’s men’s groups all over the place now, and imagine that there was this deep recognition and a rallying cry for those folks running these groups to say, wait a second, we gotta connect with our wild man, we gotta be high achievers in our life and bring value to our families. Yes, and, there’s a situation here that actually needs us. There’s a situation here, these trees are being cut down, these great mother trees. And that’s actually more important in this moment, to abdicate from your job for a couple of days, or weekend or whatever, and all come there.
And imagine that visual image, I just see, of all these men who come to be in service, real service, not Instagram service, but real service to confront these very systems. That to me would be a real marker of like, wow, they’re actually doing the work, like these groups are oriented to what’s actually needed, instead of orbiting, once again, the self-growth paradigm endlessly.
SOPHIE STRAND: It’s so interesting for me, because I’ve been thinking a lot about conversations about gender and self-identification and how they oftentimes feel like rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic, as these much bigger, multi-species webs begin to fray. Like, how can we look to healing and self-work as being a rhizome with all these other creatures? Maybe our healing isn’t inside of our body, maybe it’s in healing a forest, healing a place, protecting a field of invasive species. Or, not invasive species, but… Well, you know, I’m pro invasive species, because I think they’re very complicated and interesting. I know, that’s a radical thing to say.
But, I was thinking of the monarchs, there’s been this huge effort just to grow up your lawns, and, try and give them a place to live. That can be a kind of healing for you. Even if you aren’t, “doing self-work”.
IAN MACKENZIE: Yeah. It really just, for me, looks at the question too, of what does it take to actually change the context? Because, I think it might have been Bayo Akomolafe, who spoke about this idea of masculinity as a strategy. And I could even see, yeah, femininity as a strategy. Even now, non-binary could be strategy, queer as a strategy, the sense that within a certain context, then certain things are valued, certain incentives are present. And so, how to shift the context whereby certain other values can come forward.
I did a film years ago around Charles Eisenstein’s book, Sacred Economics. And it’s still one of the most viewed films I’ve ever done. It’s very short, it’s 12 minutes, you can find it online. But for me, the core transmission of that was relocating this idea of misanthropy, which was actually at so much of the base of so much activism today. It’s sort of unannounced misanthropy, really a sort of cynicism around humans.
SOPHIE STRAND: That’s actually kind of self centreing?
IAN MACKENZIE: Exactly. All of a sudden, it’s like, well, humans, you know. What are you gonna do?
And, so when I recognised through that film, and Charles articulated well was, okay, look, so much of human nature is not universal—greedy, domineering, whatever it is, but within a certain paradigm, those things are incentivised, and they’re valued. And so we have to be able to separate behaviours from the context.
Because in a different context, like, if I go to a place like, I’ll just use the example of Tamera, which is a research centre in Portugal, I spent a number of years going back there, and now we’re doing a film about it, but for me, the kinds of behaviours that were incentivised within that context, and also I’d say, when I hear about other stories from other Indigenous cultures, utterly different responses are actually the ones that continually show up.
Because, there’s not this undercurrent of fear or coercion, or lack of belonging, all these qualities that humans so deeply need and desire. But they have a cultural context where they can live those out, continuously, ceremony, ritual, all these beautiful ways. And we have to do that often in a culturalist place, you have to create those things artificially on the weekend, or on a workshop. I don’t say this to say, wow, look how far we’ve fallen, there’s no hope, but it’s, unless you deeply understand the nature of “the problem”, we’ll keep responding to it in ways that don’t actually change anything.
SOPHIE STRAND: Yeah. Thinking about the problem is part of the problem. To kind of paraphrase Bayo’s wisdom. And I’ve been really interested in the extended mind, and how we’ve conflated brains and minds, but our minds extend past our body, and the way we think, is oftentimes… we store our memories and landscapes. We don’t remember certain things because we’ve offloaded them into places. We think better in rooms full of light, with greenery, we think better when we’re moving. We think better when we’re talking to other people.
Our thinking doesn’t even happen inside of our brains, we’re these context-sensitive, and we’re also ontologically born out of our contexts. We don’t even exist without them. Maybe the change isn’t going to happen inside of this fictional atomised self, but it’s going to happen in building these containers, these places, these landscapes that require better behaviour from us. And I think that’s interesting, to think of ourselves as gardeners needing to create these communities, and these places to grow, rather than always thinking about it as being a solitary, solipsistic effort.
IAN MACKENZIE: This goes to really the heart of, for me, I’d say it’s ground zero for the threads that I’ve tracked and trailed. And not just me, of course, but, essentially, for me, the task ahead is…
How do we reassemble ourselves in social contexts that are back in relationship, with each other, with more-than-human, with the divine?#
In ways that… the phrase “village” comes up a lot, and, of course, this next version, to “revillage”, as a verb. That might conjure some kind of hokey, medieval peasantry or something? I mean, who knows, depending on where peak oil and all that stuff’s going… but really, though, how do we assemble, once again, from everything we’ve learned, the way there’s technology that allows certain kinds of coherent shapes and patterns to emerge? I’m curious about that. Obviously, technology can be very double-edged, and has been, and is not neutral, in that sense, I don’t believe. But for me, that’s the core question.
What does it mean to live in a coherent way in relationship now? It goes back to your question of empathy, that you brought up earlier. And, bringing up Tamera again, the community in Portugal, they have a principle, called contact, which, I don’t know if they originated it, but they certainly live it—it’s more than just an idea, it’s an ongoing value and practice of, what does it mean to be in contact? Contact with each other, contact with oneself, with the land.
And in some ways, it’s essentially the initial stage before anything wise, let’s say, can happen, or anything of benefit, in a sense, can happen. How that might look, for example, is, before going and chopping down a tree, you might go to it first and actually make contact with that place, and tune in, and say, hey, we’re trying to make way for this place here, to build this structure that is [of] value to the community. [Whatever] it is, right? That there’s some kind of relationship attempted and cultivated, [and] not just showing up with an axe, and away we go.
Also, for example, even with each other, that before decisions are arrived [at] in the community, often there’s place made and time made, to be in contact, and to [ask], okay, how do people feel about this? What if you took this choice, or this choice? And it’s a real deep dedication to this as a lifeway, which, for me, again, comes back to this principle of coherence and then emergence. That, in a domination culture, you’re constantly incoherent with the signals, and the relationships, that basically animate the whole thing.
Famously, the more that the ecosystem gets destroyed, the more all the invisible ways in which we’ve been supported start to become apparent, of like, oh, wow, all of these ecosystem [services] that were in place, or how that species related to that species, and that, therefore, meant that this plant grew, or whatever it was. As that is hollowed out, it becomes really clear, that whoa, how dependent we are, on all these other multitudes of relationships. And a domination culture can’t see that.
Because they only see their ways of enacting force on the system, and the consequence of that. So there ends up being a real waste of energy, just from a systems perspective. It’s like, moving with the energy of life, and its movement of life, we start to tap into a dynamic dance. Like permaculture, that’s how I understand it. It’s an actual entrainment to the movements of how life wants to be, and then pairing with it. Whereas domination culture is completely oblivious, and it’s constantly imposing itself, to real consequences.
SOPHIE STRAND: Yeah, it goes back to what we were talking about with mentorship and accompaniment, rather than trying to always solve or clean up or create the fictional idea of a climactic ecosystem. Rather, asking it what it wants.
What it seems that you’re suggesting, and this seems to be something I’m coming to too, is a shift in temporality. Because when you have to make contact, suddenly everything dilates. I’ve thought about that in my life. There was a moment where I was like, I need to start really, really talking to every being I know, in my area, before I do anything. I need to go to the mountain and ask it if I can climb it, before I can climb it, and it slowed my life down. It was burdensome. But it also, as it slowed my life down, I could see through cracks into side routes and meanders in my life that I would have never encountered if I was moving at the speed of anthropocentrism and efficiency.
Contact actually seems to be a way of enchaining. Mycorrhizal systems stitching together. Everytime you make contact, you’re creating a node of cognition and a great multispecies web. You’re creating a web of beings that you can always tap into all the time, like, every time you make a choice, you can go back to that tree, you can go back to that mountain, to that assemblage of people, and call them in as part of your supracellular network of cognition. But you’re also slowing down the speed at which we’re destroying the Earth.
It’s just a way of keeping us from doing. And I oftentimes think that we’re so based on a kind of technonarcissism, that we’re going to be able to fix this and understand how to fix this. And probably the most radical thing we could do is just to do less, or to move slower.
IAN MACKENZIE: Well, a couple of things come up.
One is: the pandemic certainly was an imposition of slowness on the movement of the Anthropocene. And literally over Kathmandu, you hear that the smog cleared in some of these cities, and suddenly, they could see the mountains. And dolphins were [swimming] up the Vienna canals or something, I don’t know exactly. But it was [that] life was a bit like, ah—you could breathe a little more again, for a moment, and there was a glimpse of something just really impossible to see when you’re moving too fast.
I want to bring up another example too, though, of contact, even in say intra-gender relations. I’ll just use the example here with men and women, which was catalysed, or crystallised certainly by the #MeToo uprising was, or is, that when contact is not present? That’s when trespass happens. Because it becomes an imposition on this other being. For me this is about what safety is, in lots of different contexts, in safety and trauma, like, what is that? And, I’m leaping around a bit here. But if you can follow me for a second.
Back in, I think it was 2017, I was in a head-on collision. And I was parked, my friend was driving, we were just parked at a light, and the car ahead of us, just shifted lanes into our lane. There was a moment [where I went], Wait, is that car coming right at us? And then all of a sudden—boom, right? And there was a moment of just complete oblivion, and all of a sudden, I could smell the smoke from the airbag deployment and horns and yelling. For a moment, I was like, well, am I actually here, am I a ghost? But then, of course, I came to, like, wow, yes, I’m still here, nothing’s broken. Thankfully, my friend was okay.
But I’ll just say that there was something that lodged in me of this sense of, what is the quality of something traumatic? And is that when you say, like, enough, or no more, or [it’s] over, done? Like, when you set a boundary, and that’s crossed? To me, that’s how trauma happens, whether it’s explicit or implicit. In this case, a physical trauma of a car literally hurtling over my sense of my own boundaries, and the physical shock of that, and the lodged trauma from something like that.
And then, in other situations, in erotic encounters or any of these things, that seems like the definition of rape… They use the term consent often, right? That that’s the marker: was there consent? No. Then therefore, of course, it was a trespassing position. Which is true. And I think at a deeper level, if contact’s there, it’s impossible to trespass. That’s, I guess what I would say. Because if you’re with another being, you’re aware of them, and if they know themselves—that’s the other piece, right? Because sometimes people say yes to things, even though they don’t want to, maybe there’s a situation that feels unsafe or dangerous.
But if they know, and you’re in contact, there would never be trespass, is what I’ve sort of arrived at.
SOPHIE STRAND: It’s interesting that you use the the story of cars too, because it has a lot to do with speed, and temporality as well, which is like, if you guys were walking, head-on collision never happens. That in some ways, contact is peripatetic. It’s bipedal, it’s a walking pace, it’s at the speed of life. Not the speed of cars. Cars are always going to create trauma, they’re always going to run over animals and hurt things, because they’re moving too fast, and can never make contact.
So of course, they’re going to hurt other people as well. I think that whenever I’m driving, I am not moving at the speed of life, I’m arriving somewhere in a very artificial way. Actually, if I think about contact in my own life, walking was a way of—I think I had this as a child and growing up and my parents were really kind of feral animus… the culture blocks it out and takes it away from you. It says it’s not the correct way to be. For me, when I started to walk again, when I quit smoking, when I was 20, I would walk 20 miles a day—having to make contact with every being.
Every animal that had been hit by a car that was dying, that I would walk past, that my life suddenly opened up and created texture. And I realised that I had to get consent from places, because I couldn’t just speed past them. So I think about cars as being actually a really interesting metaphor, for ways we incorrectly travel—narratively, and practically.
IAN MACKENZIE: Yeah. I love that you brought it up, too, in that context. I’m just recalling actually too, a pretty clever advertisement. I think it was a local insurance ad, but it was basically showing people walking in the same fashion as they would drive, like in the sense of tailing. So they would show a couple walking and somebody right behind them, [going] like, come on, get it going, out of the way! And just how obviously ridiculous that behaviour is, when you’re walking, but how normal it is when you’re driving—[where] there’s a sense of, I got places to be, get out of the way.
There’s a certain inherent domination energy—within these large vehicles moving at a high speed, that is built right into that experience. And even biking, I think, there’s a difference… This is Stephen Jenkinson again, speaking about this idea of a machine and a tool. For me, [it’s] so significant, how distinguished they are. Because if you think about it, you might say, well, a bicycle is basically like, a pre-car, a proto-car. But he’ll make the case that a tool continues to resemble a relationship to human-ness.
Like, think of a screwdriver. It’s pretty close to using your hand to shift a bolt or something, or a hammer. It’s like your hand, but like, harder. But there’s a certain human limitation built into its usage. You can’t just hammer forever—you get tired. There’s a kind of built-in mercy with that, to say, okay, these tools will do a little bit further than what we could do just on our own. I think a bicycle is the same actually.
A bicycle is peddled by you, and it’s human-bound still, even though it’s supporting, and you move at a pace, though, you can still smell things, catch glimpses of what you’re passing by. The pace to me is [one in which it’s] still possible, I think, to be in some kind of sensual relationship to place.#
Where, as soon as you get the car, it’s just boom, you’re in a whole other bubble, and just ripping through. So I just think that’s important also, to name.
SOPHIE STRAND: It’s interesting, yeah, the bike is still using your body, so [it’s] activating your whole organism, in a way that you can’t avoid. And the car is one level abstracted from that—like you’re barely embodied in it. So you, of course, don’t take responsibility for your body, which is this extended apparatus.
I also have one question that doesn’t quite fit in here. But I do think it’d be important to maybe end on it, which is your father… My exploration to the masculine began as someone who had had a miscarriage, and have had a strong sense that it was a son, and then was like, I would like to have a son someday, and what would that mean? I would probably have to actually do some hard work to think about how I could model a healthy masculine to that child. And I’m wondering what that inquiry is looked like in your life. How are you exploring this, how are you thinking about it?
IAN MACKENZIE: It’s sort of well known within men’s work circles and process that part of the main work essentially, is to be aware of your own shadow. Any kind of personal growth stuff, that tends to come up. That’s important for one, because you can’t see typically what’s in your shadow, from a Jungian understanding—so you need others to help point that out. And you need discipline and practice to work on that, because then you won’t, ideally, put so much of that unconsciously, on your children. In this case, on your son.
Another key piece is a lot of father work. For fathers, especially. Because, again, those things that you don’t integrate or are unaware of, it’s very easy to pass those things on intergenerationally, to your children, and then just continue the cycle. So for me, that’s really the kind of operating understanding is, where am I unconscious, where am I blind? Where am I not cultivating a relationship? Or maybe, what is the relationship I want to have with my son? And what did I get from my father as well, for all the limitations, and all the ways that he wasn’t held within a group of men that were doing this work?
I don’t believe the individual can “heal” alone. It’s just very clear that there’s a limitation there, and that, not only can’t you heal alone, but you don’t want to, because it doesn’t give anywhere for culture to show up. Because the heroic ideal means basically, that you don’t need anybody else. And therefore, there’s no village, there’s no culture. So one of the smartest things that you could do, I think, for a father, and I’ve really tried to do, is continually surround myself with other men and other fathers, also endeavouring on this path to really lean into, what does it mean to father? How have you been showing up?
In my father’s group, in the town I moved from, we often started this question: share a win and a whoa, from fathering this past week. And we would say, okay, well, this was a win, and this was a whoa, something maybe we’re not proud of. So it’s this constant feedback process, of others in a compassionate way, to bring a level of standard. And it’s learning, because there’s modelling fatherhood, and there’s learning it, as an inquiry, and as a discipline. It’s not inherently available, I think, especially when we don’t have that many great father models in our culturalist time.
So this is the level of inquiry that I’ve been in with my son, and of course, he’s changing now, he’s four, we’re just starting him in soccer. And, I was big into soccer when I was young, so immediately I feel a sense of, oh, I could be useful here. I could build relationship with him here, in this shared passion for this sport, as well. Finding these touch points, as the age changes too, is really helpful.
SOPHIE STRAND: That’s very sensitive. It also sounds like you have this group where you can make contact, as you were talking about earlier, with other fathers. So it’s not happening in isolation.
IAN MACKENZIE: Bayo said something like, fatherhood is a community endeavour.
SOPHIE STRAND: It has to be. I mean, I go down to the river every day where I live and watch these male ducks all mutually corral their little kin. And it’s like, totally. I’ve been thinking a lot about male mallard ducks, as being very fatherly creatures. It’s a kind of bumptious, hilarious, antic experience.
IAN MACKENZIE: Maybe just to say too that, I do [wonder] what is the function of fatherhood, versus an identity? Again, depending on the context, but I really feel like there’s something around inviting a child and, I don’t have a daughter so I don’t have that kind of experience, but at least for my son, like consciously inviting in more, I don’t know if risk is quite the right word at this age, but essentially pushing the bounds of his own explorations, in a way that brings enough challenge, but also compassion… [this] seems to be some function of fathering.
Whereas mothering, or at least the maternal archetype, as the place of nourishment, safety, that kind of womb, cocoon energy, [which] is also vital, obviously. I think it’s vital also to tap into a masculine nurturance, as well. But I do think that there is an art to that sense of inviting a child into more and more challenge, so they become able to know themselves, in relation to other things and other beings. So yeah, I’m just leaning into that place, as he’s getting even more explorative and bold, in his way.
SOPHIE STRAND: Thank you for sharing. Is there anything you would like to end with? Is there a myth or a story? Would you like to tell us about your School of Mythopoetics?
IAN MACKENZIE: Certainly, I’d love to mention the School of Mythopoetics, which actually grew out of The Mythic Masculine network, which is actually an initial community I created around the podcast, because people were asking, hey, how do I learn more? How do I tap into what your folks are talking about? And so the School emerged [in] collaboration with a few others, [and it] has essentially been this fertile soil for these kinds of inquiries, as well as just really being an initiation container. And by that, meaning, how to bring out a sense of embedment, which is another term from Tamera, which I didn’t talk about this time, and contact around others who are also trying to make sense, mythically, of what is going on in their own lives, and collectively. So it’s a beautiful place to mingle with folks like that.
And just want to mention next weekend, we have a two-day, beautiful ritual for Samhain happening, with some international storytellers, musicians and poets. It’s called Into the Dark, which you’re all invited to come attend, which is built upon a weaving of a former format, which I called a gathering of stories, which is ultimately it’s more of a ceremony, of story and myth and magic. If folks are interested, you can find it at schoolofmythopoetics.com.
SOPHIE STRAND: Well, thank you so much for coming today. This has, as always, been very lovely. I really look forward to seeing what else emerges from The School of Mythopoetics. I definitely feel like you are a master gardener, that you never focus on one species, you’re very good at weaving, in a mycelial way, many different perspectives together. So thank you for that.
SOPHIE STRAND: We will be exploring these biodiversity of mythic and biological and mythobiological perspectives in the Rewilding Mythology course, we have a bunch of different speakers, our first two speakers will be Alnoor Ladha, and David Abram, on November 7. So if you want to tune into that you can sign up at www.rewilding-mythology.com. Thank you.
IAN MACKENZIE: I’m glad you’re talking to Alnoor as well, he’s a close friend.
SOPHIE STRAND: Thank you, everyone. Have a lovely, lovely day. And, as always, come bother me if you have further thoughts about this conversation. And thank you.