Tuesday, September 27, 2011
Book Review: The Big Thirst: The Secret Life and Turbulent Future of Water
by Charles Fishman (Free Pres 2011)
This is an interesting and informative book and tackles issues that will face us more and more as time goes on. It is about water and more specifically our relationship with water as a society. He makes the important observation that water is nearly always a local issue:
“There is no global water crisis, because all water problems are local, or regional, and their solutions must be local and regional. There is no global water crisis, there are a thousand water crises, each distinct.”
Here is a quote about the dual nature of water:
“Water’s personality, in fact, is layered with polarity, both inherently and in the ways we approach and manage water.
Water is transparent, and also reflects light.
Water is soft and soothing, and also hard as concrete.
Water is comforting, and also threatening; gentle and fierce.
Water is the source of life, and also often a source of death.
Water is all-important, indispensable, but almost always free, or essentially free.
Water is the most basic necessity to human life, and also a symbol of luxury and indulgence.”
Water issues affect people profoundly all over the world. Unexpected long-term droughts have depleted reservoirs in various places in the world that had been reliable for centuries. In some place water has to be collected and carried for home use. This occurs in many places in India due to poor and neglected infrastructure. Recycling water and water conservation and management is needed in several places and has served to change how we use water and has also saved people, towns, and businesses much money. Indeed, businesses are latching onto the real financial value of water management.
Water is cleanable. The water cycle does this given enough time. We can also do it through reverse osmosis and in other ways. Water has unique qualities and we ourselves are mostly water and we need much of it every day. All the water we use has been recycled through natural systems many times over. This book is full of all sorts of statistics about water. Various case histories about water, water problems, and water solutions are given in readable formats. Reused water, gray water, or more specifically, non-potable water is often conveyed in purple pipes so that people know it is non-potable. Use of this recycled water for such things as watering lawns and washing cars has conserved cleaner water for drinking. Some cities have managed to implement these purple pipe systems.
The author describes the IBM plant in Vermont where 2 million gallons of ultra purified water a day are used in the manufacture computer circuits so tiny that their electron pathways can’t even be seen with microscopes. The ultra-pure water is used to wash away the chemical solutions that make the connections. This ultra pure water (UPW) is said to be 10 million times cleaner than tap water whatever that means. It contains nothing but water molecules. Apparently, this UPW tastes terrible. It is said to be very bitter. Even bottled water which is often tap water that has gone through sophisticated reverse osmosis filters is clean enough that minerals are added to it for taste. IBM also learned to save vast amounts of money by recycling water as well as using hot water and cold water wisely. They now even have a water management division.
The next case history is that of the city of Las Vegas, where extravagant water features like giant fountains, giant aquariums that house dolphins and other sea life, and massive golf courses that grow grass in the desert are everywhere. Las Vegas is one of the driest areas on earth. Yet in the last few decades due to drawing down of the reservoir of Lake Mead it has had to change its water usage patterns. The author documents the efforts of Patricia Mulroy in managing Las Vegas’s water usage. Due to these changes the city grew by ¾ of a million people in 10 years and used the same amount of water as before. The use of recycled water and purified wastewater for non-potable uses was a big factor. Designing for the environment was another factor as golf courses and the city reduced the amount of grassy areas that needed massive water to exist. Utilizing desert landscaping instead of grass saved lots of water. At one time grass growing (and other outdoor water use) were using 70% of the potable water of Las Vegas! Now Las Vegas also returns treated wastewater to Lake Mead – about 40% of what it draws out.
Next he compares the still unresolved issue of the water rights of the city of Atlanta that has also grown drastically by a million residents in a decade. The water source there is Lake Lanier which has suffered due to drought in some years. This lake feeds the Chattahoochee and Apalachicola rivers that run down through Alabama and Florida. The battle is over how much water the Atlanta metro area has the right to use.
Water problems abound in many localities but the author is optimistic that these issues can be resolved with proper planning and implementation of sensible management practices. Another issue in several places is the need for infrastructure upgrades. In short, he says, people need to re-evaluate their relationship to water. They need to learn to use it wisely and not waste it and be willing to pay more for both delivery and maintenance of water systems.
Next he goes through the re-establishment of water delivery service in Galveston, Texas after Hurricane Ike in September 2008. He also documents the return of wastewater treatment there. Interesting to see all that is required. Apparently the city of Memphis, Tennessee actually pumped all of its untreated sewage directly into the Mississippi River until 1975 when the Clean Water Act was passed. He also documents Jackson Mississippi where freezing caused 154 water line breaks and basically shut the city down for weeks.
Basically, we can’t really function as a modern society without our water services.
Next is the story of a 12-year drought called the Big Dry in Australia. There the Murray River Basin provides water for much of the country and the agricultural belt which grows lots of rice. This drought affected many towns, farms, and industries which have been forced to cope by conserving, recycling, and paying more for things like seawater desalinization plants. The town of Toowoomba had nearly run out of water and was faced with water managers that wanted to recycle wastewater, purify it and put it back in the tap. This is done in several places including here in the states where it is mixed with groundwater, being pumped into an aquifer before it hits the pipes. The psychological factor was very big and even though virtually all organic pollutants would be gone – to most people virtually all is less than all so the yuck factor prevented it when they voted. They ended up building a huge and expensive pipeline to bring in water from far away.
Fortunately, mere months after this book was published there were massive rains in Australia that resulted in actual flooding so the drought situation was reduced. But really all water is reused water, though recycled through nature. Even the space station has an on-board water recycling station that converts pee and even sweat back into drinking water!
Then we come to India where up until in the 1980’s in some cities there was 24/7 water availability. But due to the culture of water management there and government corruption and water and infrastructure mismanagement some of the same places now get water only every other day for an hour. Due to this many poor urban people have to wait sometimes hours twice a day in order to dip water out of tankers that deliver it to distribution points. Due to this they often cannot hold jobs or attend school. Many wealthier folk in India’s thriving urban economies have installed pumping systems to suck in water to holding tanks during the hour or two a day that it may be on. This has created further problems with pressure and often makes things much worse. In one situation the water from leaking sewer pipes that were run right along the water line was sucked into leaking water pipes due to the vacuum on it caused by all the home pumps. This caused an outbreak of E-coli that killed several people. Apparently the tap water in these areas always smells like sewage. Water loss due to leaking pipes is apparently quite a bit in most non-modern water systems here in the US and around the world. Water infrastructure upgrade is a big issue. Another issue in India is rural people having to carry water long distance several times a day due again to lack of availability due to lack of wells drilled and lack of infrastructure rather than lack of water. Traditionally, it is women who carry water and as a result many of these women lack an education. Some educated people who have made money in the corporate world are returning to their original areas to help these people. The author does do a water walk with the women and finds that he can handle scarcely handle half of the water they can and that he spills much more of it than they as they have developed a special way of gyroscopically walking with their hips so as not to spill it. In cities like Delhi over half of the water in the pipes leaks out. The rivers in India, although worshipped as pure and healing goddesses are extremely polluted, in some places totally black with sewage. Other pollution problems in Indian cities have been severely reduced – for instance the converting of urban transportation from gasoline to natural gas – even the small motorized rickshaws. This has reduced smog by a massive factor in some very populated cities. Some cities with different mindsets and less corruption have managed to implement water systems.
Water management requires water monitoring equipment such as meters. In some areas where water is abundant there is no charge for massive water use. People in the US are used to abundant water and tend to use massive amounts compared to folks in areas where water is scarce. I know some about this myself as I have lived off of both low-yield wells and a 1700 gallon cistern which got filled only every 5 or 6 weeks. We have also spent a few six month long periods with no running water. It is not so hard to adapt but it does take some getting used to. As a result our water-use habits have always been rather conservative but apparently not so for other families as the water usage estimates indicate. The author indicates that many of us are rather spoiled about water – complaining loudly if our water bill goes up $5 a month as if we think water should be free. But he indicates that it is not just the water that is being paid for but the delivery, monitoring, and maintenance and upgrade of the water system.
The author also notes the propensity to buy and consume bottled water that is not regulated and in most cases is apparently no better than tap water and in fact filtered tap water may be a better choice. Oddly, people are perfectly willing to fork over hundreds – maybe even a thousand dollars a year for bottled water and unwilling to pay a higher water bill. We occasionally buy bottled water – last time was when we camped where water quality was unknown. But now one can even buy cheap Brita type filters to carry anywhere already attached to a cup.
The author notes: “Most water problems are, in fact, solvable.” This is mainly in regards to reducing the massive waste of outdated leaking pipes but also other problems. One current problem needing more attention is that of micropollutants. Since we can now measure the presence of various substances in greater detail at the parts per trillion level we know that there are many man-made chemicals in our water – literally hundreds – and the amounts will only increase as times goes on. There is technology to treat the water but it is as of yet still expensive. Massive amounts of household chemicals, plastics, oil and gas wastewater, mine drainage, even antibiotics and medicines and caffeine are in our waters.
“... we have the technology to clean water to any level we want and within water sheds to deliver that water where it needs to be.”
“Now is the moment to figure out the impact of what we have been unintentionally putting into water, and develop inexpensive techniques for removing the micropollutants before we return the water to its source or reuse it ourselves. Micropollutants, like most water problems, will only get worse, more difficult and more expensive to deal with, as time goes on.”
This is a great book to ponder and good to read for anyone concerned about the future of water and how we relate to water. It is written in an engaging style that reads well. It is mostly an optimistic assessment but with the caveats that there will be cost and inconveniences. The author does think that our tap water is safe for the most part – since it is regularly tested (as well water and other water sources should also be) and found to be safe. If not, it can be treated. Of course, if we suspect bad water we can always filter it ourselves and perhaps even one day we will be able to filter out micropollutants as well. Also, as one of my co-workers noted it seems a bit ironic that a guy with the late name of Fishman wrote a book about water!
Tuesday, September 20, 2011
Book Review: The High Deeds of Finn Mac Cool by Rosemary Sutliff (Puffin Books 1988, orig. 1967)
I found these stories to be quite enjoyable. They are magical tales of the Fianna of Ireland and their famous leader Finn Mac Cool. There are tales of magic, valor, and as well the tragedy typical of Celtic literature. Rosemary Sutcliff notes in the introduction some contrast between the stories of CuChulain and the Red Branch and the stories of Finn Mac Cool and the Fianna. The Red Branch heroes and tales were from an earlier date (maybe 150 BC), from the northern parts of Ireland, and the Danaan were perhaps more godlike. The Fianna stories were later (maybe 300 AD or later), from the southern part of Ireland, and the Danaan seem to be more Faerie-like.
As a boy Finn was in hiding from the slayers of his father who had come to slay him. He met a Druid named Finegas who had tried for seven years to catch the ‘Salmon of Knowledge” from the Boyne River. The Salmon called Fintan ate the nuts of a magic Hazel tree that fell into the river. Finn Mac Cool finds the Druid and asks to be his pupil. After this the Druid catches the Salmon quite easily. He gives it to Finn to cook but bids him not to eat one drop but Finn burns his thumb on the spit and puts it in his mouth to cool it and thus receives the knowledge bestowed by the Salmon. The Druid now realizes that it was Finn that the Salmon was destined for and so bids him eat it and be on his way for he is now full of ‘knowledge.’ Later in several of the stories Finn would put his thumb between his teeth in order to learn secret things such as the whereabouts of those they were searching for. The unplanned burning of the thumb in a cooking pot is echoed in several Celtic myths such as those of Gwion and Cerridwen and also of Taliesin the bard. Finn also gained the power of saving life by giving water from his cupped hands. The saving ‘water of life’ appears in many European stories – much in Slavic lore as well.
In several of the stories there is the placing of geis, or a specific personal taboo on various characters, usually those associated with magical abilities. These taboos are often linked to the final destinies of the characters and sometimes end in tragedy related to the breaking of the geis but this is not always the case as sometimes (as in the case of CuChulain and his son) the tragedy was precipitated by keeping the geis. Cuchulain’s death came about when an old hag (an aspect of the Morrigan) offers him dog meat and since he had a geis not to eat dog meat and another geis not to refuse food from a woman he was doomed to his fate.
Finn’s first charge was to overcome a monster called Aillen of the Flaming Breath who on every Samhain at midnight would come and play his silver harp and lure all to sleep and then would proceed to burn the Royal Fortress of Tara so that it would have to be rebuilt. Finn was able to stay awake with the aid of a spear given to him by one whose life was saved by Finn’s father. It was forged by Lein, the Smith of the Gods, who beat into it the fire of the sun and the potency of the moon. It was the bloodlust in it kept by his forehead that was said to keep him awake. In the morning he came back with the head of the beast on his spear point and the thatch remained on Tara. For this deed the king Cormac Mac Art set him as captain of the Fianna of Erin, the roving paramilitary band that protected the kingdom. This he regained from Goll MacMorna, an old enemy of his father who before was captain of the Fianna. Nonetheless Goll remained faithful to Finn as a leader of Clan Morna.
The Fianna were hunters and sharpened their skills in the hunt with the aid of hounds. In magical terms – setting out on a hunt seems to be a metaphor for a ‘quest.’ Many a story of multiple twists and turns begins with the hunt. Indeed Finn hunts a hind who ends up being his future wife Saba in a shape shifted form. She is also of the Fey and after the hounds catch her and befriend her she becomes Finn’s wife as she had hoped. They have a wonderful marriage until she is magically transferred back into a deer and is never seen again. This is the first of several tragedies and it is said that Finn knew well the risks of wedding one of the Fey. She was pursued and finally captured by a Dark Druid but not before she bore a human son, Oisen (Little Fawn) who was found by the hounds and eventually became part of the Fianna. He was also a great minstrel and harper, being part Fey. It is unknown what became of Saba.
The stories are told of how Finn meets up with and gets his two great and magical hounds, Bran and Skolawn. In a few stories the Finn and the Fianna battle those from a Lochlan kingdom on the east coast of Britain – either Viking or possibly earlier Norwegian settlers. Other stories are told about how Finn’s best warriors come to join him, such as Dearmid O’Dyna who was fostered by the Danaan deity Angus Og (typically the Celtic god of love).
Finn experiences being enchanted into great old age by a daughter of the Danaan blacksmith Cullen. The other daughter eventually removes the spell but yet seeks to entrap him with a second drink from the golden cup whereby he refuses and must keep his silver hair for the rest of his days.
In the story of the ‘Giolla Dacker and His Horse’ the Fianna are even magically led into the service of a Fey prince in order to overcome his evil brother. This story had some nice humorous elements.
The story of the “Hostel of the Quicken Trees” is about a great battle where the Fianna fight an army of Lochlan kings, warrriors, and mages who hold them hostage with magic.
Dearmid O’Dyna and others are heroic in this effort as is Osca, the grandson of Finn Mac Cool.
Next ensues the off-and-on tragedy of Dearmid and Grania. Finn seeks as a wife the daughter of the High King Cormac Mac Art whose name is Grania. She accepts but before the wedding she falls in love with Dearmid O’Dyna and puts a geis on him to take her away while Finn and several of his men were drugged to sleep. Here the power of the geis is seen as Dearmid asks counsel from those who were not drugged such as Finn’s son Oisen and his grandson Osca. They and the others say that foremost he must not break the geis for to do so is a greater dishonor than even raising the wrath of his captain Finn Mac Cool. So off they went and the chase ensued with Finn deep in seeking Dearmid’s head in vengeance. Dearmid is aided by the magic of his foster-father Angus Og and so escapes to the point where a peace deal is made and Dearmid is given a fitting plot of land and cattle far away from the haunts of the Fianna.
The story of ‘Niamh of the Golden Hair’ recounts the taking of Oisen into the Land of Youth, the Land of the Ever Young, Tir-Na-nOg to be the husband of the beautiful Niamh. He promises to visit in the future.
Another geis from his childhood finally does Dearmid O’Dyna in as he hunts a wild boar
who ends up being his murdered step-brother long ago transformed into a magical black boar by his father the steward of Angus Og, the one who fostered Dearmid. Dearmid and the slain boy shared the same mother and through the steward’s curse which he administered with the aid of a hazel wand – they would also share the same death. After this Angus Og lays a geis on Dearmid that he never hunt the wild boar. In the course of Finn and his men being finally invited to visit and hunt with Dearmid – it is the wild boar that appears and pride and frenzy (and the doom of the curse) overtake Dearmid so that he and the boar are slain as is foreshadowed. Finn has the chance to save him with the water of life in his cupped hands but refuses several times in his bitterness of the feud between them and though he finally concedes it is too late. Indeed in Finn’s older days and in the bitterness of his feud with Dearmid we see the pride and stubborn nature and even spoiled nature of the hero. We see that the hero is human and can be shallow at times. Strangely enough, a time after Dearmid’s death Grania does become wife to Finn Mac Cool – though after much patience on his part.
The end of Finn and the Fianna come finally at the Battle of Gavra after the new High King Cairbri of the Liffey decides that the Fianna are too powerful and independent as a force and devises well to split them up with old feuds, and battle with them to their end.
They all of course die the deaths of hero’s. Osca manages to slay Cairbri but he is also slain as are all the Fiana and so they are no more.
Alas there is the peculiar story of the ‘Return of Oisen.’ He returns from the Land of Youth on a horse which he was instructed never to dismount. Unfortunately he stops to help some farmers remove a great stone and falls off of his horse doing so. He immediately becomes an aged man. For this he must remain in the human realm and so yet another tragedy ensues. Here he is said to meet Priest Patrick and various Christian monks who were not there when he left. He enquires about Finn Mac Cool and the Fianna but all say that it has been 300 years since their time. Oisen tells his story to Priest Patrick, including his great happiness in Tir-Na nOg and is lost to his grief. It was said that the harp songs of Oisen were still played and known at that time.
This is really an easy to read version of a great Celtic literature cycle that evokes the emotions of the best of the genre of sagas. I just hope I didn’t give away too much.
Friday, September 9, 2011
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.