Friday, September 9, 2011
THe Shamanic Way of the Bee: Ancient Wisdom and Healing Practices of the Bee Masters
Book Review: The Shamanic Way of the Bee: Ancient Wisdom and Healing Practices of the Bee Masters by Simon Buxton (Destiny Books 2004)
This is a mind-blowing book. The anthropologist that wrote the forward compares this book to the works of Carlos Castaneda who wrote as a student/initiate under his teacher Don Juan Matus. The book does have quite a few similarities as it is also an account of initiatory wonders – some a bit out there as to seem enhanced in the literary sense. Nonetheless it makes for great reading and there is quite a lot of unusual information and esoteric symbolatry here that is well worth contemplating. The notion that there is somehow a continuous lineage of transmissions of bee craft knowledge woven into not only old European pagan traditions but traditions the world over – is a bit hard to accept at first bite – but certainly there is something of interest to this magickal/shamanic relationship and certainly of a lineage of sorts. How much is new and how much is old is not known but since the relationship between man and bees goes way back and folk traditions are notoriously stubborn to be replaced and forgotten, it does seem plausible to me that some of these ideas may go way back in time.
Much of the book is about the author’s own transformational and initiatory journey under the tutelage of a Welsh man known as the Bee Master. He stumbled upon him quite by accident but before this as a child he had some earlier connection with beekeeping while living in Austria as a child. There he befriended an old professor who his parents had asked to teach him German. The professor had traveled the world and studied among various cultures who also kept bee hives. The boy got very ill with viral encephalitis and had a dream about being protected and guided to safety by bees. He left Vienna when he was eight and never saw the old man again.
The author says that the Bee shaman tradition is known as the Path of Pollen. He tells of his rather mystical first meeting with Bridge, the Welsh Bee Master and his blind apprentice Gwyn Ei Fyd. When he entered through a gate he saw the Bee Master with bees from a distance. He was stung twice, once on the palm of the hand and again at the top of his head. The Bee Master called the top of his head his ‘dream wheel’ and one of his magic circles, the part that enters the world first. This was a sign that the bees liked him according to Bridge and the beginning of his apprenticeship with the Bee Master.
There is some great bee lore in this book. Also of note are the protective and healing properties of bee products such as honey. Several researchers have noted that beekeepers rarely get cancer and legend suggests that they often have long lives.
Hives consist of the three types of bee – drones, workers, and queen. Drones are males that stay in the hive most of the time, have no sting, and mate with the queen. Workers are females that collect pollen, nectar, and propolis, make wax to form the hive and honey to feed the hive. The queen produces all the offspring. She lives six or seven times longer than the rest, never leaves the hive except for once to mate (also if there is birthed another queen and the hive splits up), and she only sees her sons and daughters. She also mates with a drone that is technically her brother.
Bridge taught him the art of beekeeping with formalities akin to a priesthood and so was his apprenticeship similar to the transfer of knowledge from guru to chela. Indeed the Path of Pollen is akin to a Great Yoga. The author gives several of his master’s lessons here typically prefaced with the words – The Bee Master knows -.
“His first lesson to me was brief and precise: “The Bee Master knows that no one species of animal has inspired so many people in so many ways as the humble honeybee. No creature has had more literature devoted to it; a continuous honey flow, from Aristotle and Virgil down to our present day. For thousands of years, men and women have worked with the bee with varying degrees of success, and during this long period we have come to treat this small creature with considerable respect, so much so that the bee is often used to represent purity, integrity, industry, and a host of other virtues.”
Bridge also noted that in Old Europe the two creatures most depicted were the serpent and the bee – both live in dark places, carry venom, and emerge from their holes at certain times of the year. The bee typically represents the goodness of living and may be related to the notion of – to be – and to the Greek word bios – for life.
Apparently, Bridge also traveled the world with his bee teacher and learned the bee crafts of other tribes and societies. The author was encouraged to talk to the bees, particularly telling them his knowledge and realizations. Asking the bees for knowledge is also a technique. This idea can be summed up in the old adage: “Ask the wild bee what the Druids knew.” This is all discussed under the topic of the Celtic fascination with betwixt and between times where time and life is momentarily suspended between to poles of change. Here there is also the notion of times between in-breath and out-breath as being strangely effective (used extensively in yoga/tantra/meditative traditions).
On several occasions in the book the author notes Bridge’s use of psychotropic plants – in the form of incense, meads, and pastes. Burning of the resin called bee propolis as an incense is one form. It would seem that the employment of entheogens is a part of this tradition – as plant communication and animal communication are both well part of shamanism. Once he mentions having entheogenic smoke blown into his ears which is apparently a shamanic technique aimed at aiding one to hear the deeper worlds.
There is an interesting section about mead – a wine made from honey – older than the wheel. Bridge referred to it as “druid fluid.” A similar drink called metheglin, a derivation of ‘medicine’ is also mentioned which he identifies with the Greek ‘ambrosia.’ Mead was very likely the precursor to the wine cult arising around Dionysus as honey and beecraft were practiced, venerated, and mytholigized before the winecraft in Minoan Crete.
The use of bee venom as medicine is mentioned. This is used today by some far out health advocates but venom has a long tradition as a medicine in small quantities from Hippocrates to many ancient peoples. There is a comparison to Chinese acupuncture and indeed it is said here that some very old accupuncturists in Chinese still dip their needles in bee venom. But here is the notion that the ‘sacramental venom” can aid one in traveling to ‘other worlds.’ Buxton now agrees to go through an initiation of a powerful sort. First he was advised to loosen his inhibitions by playing a fool in the notion of ‘the Theatre of Ambiguous Behavior.’ This refers to indefinite and doubtful behavior of a random and unrehearsed sort. Things like dancing, spinning, and acting like an animal were involved. I can attest to the effectiveness of these methods in loosening one up to precurse a trance state. Bridge begins by using the “tanging quoit.” a round copper drum looking like a frying pan played with two sticks in one hand. This is used in some traditions to subdue bees but many disregard it. He used this with low vibration chanting with occasional whistles and clicks. The tanging also helps to put the shaman in a receptive state. After doing this for some time in a dark room he was next successively stung on various points of his body (typically chakra areas) until he passed out. Awakening he experiences women (or bees) licking his now naked body in some nurturing rite and sees Bridge’s eyes as the eyes of a bee. He finally becomes sick and vomits then passes out again and revives in a very small space with hexagonal cells like a beehive. He leaves it to the reader to interpret whether this was some kind of staged setup or a vision of his own consciousness – but I suspect the latter. Essentially he becomes a drone. He experiences mating with the queen as she goes from the hive and then dying as the drone would and then reappearing in human form. Following this there is a sort of psychosis where he confuses various levels of consciousness. Apparently he stayed in a small basket made like a hexagonal hive cell for days or weeks in much dreamless sleep mixed with nightmarish visions. Then the Bee Master brought him bee pollen as food calling it ‘golden coins.’ He noted that it possessed the five tastes of sweet, sour, bitter, spicy, and salty. Bridge notes its effectiveness as a cure-all. He mentions the flower as the lover of the bee – presumably the female worker bee drawing sustenance from the sexual organs of the flower by sucking them out. So he calls it Vitamin – P = P for Pan, the goat god associated with raw sexuality – though in this tradition he seems to be more regarded as the wild stag god.
While still in his hexagonal cell hermitage he gets his first visit from a woman known as the Bee Mistress who first teaches him the mystery of the hexagramma mysticum where the magic of the hexagon/hexagram as a shape of the golden mean, or golden ratio is revealed. It is the number six as a number of equilibrium. She suggests it as favoring “the harmonious growth and development of all living things.” This also seems prevalent in the six-sided representation of a carbon atom. She also compares it to the six-sided structure of quartz crystals. Next she reveals the ‘secret glyph of the tradition’ as the lemniscus infinitorum, the figure-eight infinity symbol. She notes that it consists of a clockwise circle and a counterclockwise circle and so encompasses both the so called right-hand path and the corresponding left-hand path. The light twin and dark twin are also inferred. It is the dance of the bee. It is sexual union.
“It also indicates the path that internal energy may be induced to follow within the body to induce the flight of the bee, the dance of the serpent, and, within women, the flowing of nectars woven with another person or object – a star or a planet, for instance. It is the circuit of force. It is also the symbol of the joining of two cultures – human and bee – and the symbiotic relationship that can exist between them.”
She also notes that it is the pathway of communication, of asking and telling – between human and bee. And so after his pollen fast he emerges from the cell after 23 days, the time it takes a drone to emerge from his cell.
Next he moves on to dream work. The Aesklepian tradition of dream incubation is mentioned and it is known that the Romans probably brought the notion to the Celts although the Celts may have had similar traditions. Bridge mentions the use of a hammock as a good way to incubate dreams, presumably one that can well wrap you up in it. (which Bridge does by demonstrating spinning it into a cocoon.) Apparently the honeycomb cell replica was also used for dream incubation. Apparently the Methodist Minister Rev. Langstroth received in a dream how to construct the self-spacing removable frame beehive still in use today and for that he is referred to as the father of modern beekeeping.
In accordance with activating both sides of the brain and balancing the left and right paths of the lemniscus infinitorum, Buxton, or Twig, as his initiated name seems to be, now embarks on a practice of developing his ambidextrous, or bi-dextrous abilities and also to practice writing right to left. He mentions that after having his right arm tied behind his back for a week his left arm became dominant. He also mentions experiments with the study of time and some rather hard to swallow notions of stopping the hands on a clock for extended periods through will power.
Next he is introduced to the Bee Mistress and her six apprentices known as the Melissae. Bridge notes that in bee society men are mere drones with no sting. The Bee Mistress is called the Mother Bee, after the goddess Demeter, and also the Queen of Synchronicity. The Melissae he calls the Sisterhood of the Hive and notes they were associated with a long oracular tradition including that of Delphi. In myth the first melissae, or bee, was said to care for the baby Zeus, feeding him honey, while he was secretly hidden away from his father Kronos. Bridge also notes the bee as goddess of intoxication and sexual passion – as being the bridge between sexual reproduction of flowers. Bees were also considered psychopomps – carrying the souls of the dead to other worlds. He meets them in the orchard among the hives and learns of traditions of singing certain songs to the bees and the Baltic and Eastern European (and Africa) practice painting the hives with symbols and depictions of family history events.
The Bee Mistress lectures him about sexual alchemy and the role of women in the Path of Pollen. She says that women are the honey-gatherers of the mind. She divides the melissae (and presumably women) into two types of varying degrees – the maternal and the magnetic. The difference is the way they imbibe from the flowers and dance their journey to their hive mates. Honey is a pure form of bee vomit and correspondingly there is are nektars (k added as per the tradition) produced from the body of the Melissae that involve some sort of internal alchemy of glands and fluids. She says there are ten different nektars and the tenth can be fatally toxic to those unprepared. She calls the Melissae – the ones who flow – the flow-ers. The nektars are urine, menstual blood, ungents, treacles, dews, juices, emanations, and rays, and the unnamed inneffable tenth nektar. Incidentally, the priestesses of Eleusis were called Melissae and the temple the hive. They are also associated with the Fates and the Norns or Wyrd Sisters of northern traditions. He notes that there are three different sisterhoods within the main Sisterhood – those of the Spinners, the Wise Maidens , and the Fays. The Spinners are associated with oracles and divination. The Wise Maidens are focused on secret hive songs, storytelling, and medicine. The Fay are associated with magic, fertility, shape-shifting, flight, and sexuality. Then two of the senior melissae meet with him – one each representing maternity (the pythia) and magnetism – the one he engages with in a shamanic fluid sharing infinity dance sexual rite. Apparently this was a rite to determine his “type” which from the vague dialogue I assume was found to be “emissary.” There is no further explanation.
Next the author partakes on making a magical tool of the male Path of Pollen practitioner called the Ancestral Rick (as the female makes the Ancestral Bundle). Here it is revealed that this rick represents the tail of the first Bee Master, a sorcerer who shape-shifted into a stag. The stag is sacred in the tradition as Pan, the horned god and the protector of bees. Apparently the bee and the stag were depicted on opposite sides of coins in the Anatolian Greek area of Ephesus where the cult of Artemis was served by the Melissae. In making the rick he collected various sticks on shamanic-type ‘medicine walks’ and bundled them together as one but marking each one with things like burns and colored thread so that the individual ones could still be identified. The tool was to be used to invoke Pan as the protector of bees and the first Bee Master. In the center of his bundle of twigs was made a collection of the author’s body parts (like hair and nail clippings) and bodily fluids excepting feces. These were gathered into the scrotum of a stag and bound into the center. This he would offer pollen as a frequent rite. The next step would be for him to kill a stag by trapping it in a net and suffocating it with pollen. This was a low point of the book for me as the necessity of doing such as thing did not seem useful or beneficial. Immediately after killing it he was to cut off the scrotum and gut the deer. Although I can relate to the necessity of meat as food for ancient peoples and the awareness skill of stalking animals in woods – I do not see the value of such a rite in modern times. To have meat perhaps – but also to have totem animal parts for magic – perhaps even there will be a connection for more powerful magic – this I do think is possible – but I also think there are consequences and that mere magical power does not warrant them for the wise and compassionate among us. The author manages to do the task in a ritualized format and finally gutting it. (as for me I am glad I have never killed a deer but once I did gut one according to instructions from the one who killed it but was too squeamish to gut it).
In the next section they row out onto an abandoned isle off the coast of Wales in late autumn (I think) very late on a moonlit night. Here was the Nightshade Isle and beehives amidst blooming heather. Apparently they transported the bees to this island to pollinate the nightshades (as is done for heather) and gather nectar for the hives. Here they build a fire and break out the witch’s flying ointment. Apparently there is a nightshade honey that is very potent in this regard. Apparently, deadly nightshade, thorn apple, and henbane all grow there so a potent flying ointment can be made. According to Bridge the potency of the honey is less than the actual plants so the toxicity is reduced. As he is getting rubbed with the ointment and nightshade honey on his now naked body the Bee Mistress and the magnetic Melissae appear and apparently as a banishing rite of sorts reveal their naked womanhood in a gesture lifting up their dresses. There is also a mention of them having a practice of urinating standing up (which seems a bit delicate to me). They all cover him with this honey. His task was to dance to the fire and back while Bridge played the tanging quoit. His warning instructions were to not fall asleep. His ancestral rick tied around his waist like a tail and with an erection caused by the Dark Flight (flying ointment) gave the impression that he was indeed riding his broomstick. They invoke the horned god as Cernunnos and the author claims to have an identity with the stag he had killed. He jumps the fire as the stag – but here the story become vague and visionary and ends when he jumps into the fire. Then he had a vision or something of seven or eight bees ceremonially stinging him in strategic places and then other bees coming from the fire and everywhere and licked the honey off of him. Then he has communication with the bees and gets an epiphany of words which he calls – the Song of Creation – a sort of creation myth.
The final ordeal involves them traveling to Wales to some sacred area and meeting with another beekeeper woman of the trad. Here Twig must enter the Beehive Hut – where he is buried under the earth with a stag bone tube to breathe through. The bone was coated with beeswax and his ears and nostrils were also filled with beeswax. Coins were placed over his eyes as in Ancient Greece with the dead. Here he describes the terror of the experience, falling asleep and partially and fully awakening to where he is. He also experiences a succubus demon and further he experiences death in the form of the Changer as they call it where he expresses regrets of his petty actions and pledges to be a better person.
Finally he chronicles the death of the old Bee Master and its effect on the community. This was a very compelling set of tales – far-fetched – probably yes, at least somewhat – his dreams and synchronicities seemed too spot-on relevant – but who am I too judge or be jealous or suspicious? - at the same time the book was very intriguing and full of bee lore and esoterica and things to consider for ones such as myself who plan to take up beekeeping.