AN INTERVIEW WITH SIMON BUXTON
Simon Buxton is the author of the superb and sublimely beautiful work, The Shamanic Way of the Bee.
In his book, which has been heralded by the likes of Tori Amos and which was awarded the 2005 Canizares Book Award for non-fiction, Buxton affirms that the ancient shamanic tradition of the Bee, which can be traced from the earliest of epochs of pre-history right through to the founding forefathers and principals of the United States of America, is still practiced in the 21st century.
First as a child, and then later as an adult, Buxton is transported on a sort of hero’s journey that connects him with the sacred tradition of Bee shamanism. Most recently, Buxton has drawn on his 20 plus years of shamanic experience, including a thirteen year apprenticeship with a European Bee Master, to become the founding Director of The Sacred Trust and the UK Faculty for The Foundation for Shamanic Studies, the foremost core-shamanic training organisation in the world, directed by Dr Michael Harner.
Buxton is also the co-author of the seminal work Darkness Visible, and his third book, The Serpent Flight of the Honey-Bee is published in 2009. Simon is a Fellow of The Royal Anthropological Institute, the world’s longest-established scholarly association dedicated to the furtherance of anthropology and his work has been profiled within several books including Travelling Between the Worlds by Hillary S. Web and Soul Companions by Karen Sawyer.
1. Simon hi, it’s a pleasure to welcome you to Arcadia. Let’s dive right in. The sacredness of bees was impressed upon you at a very young age. Tell us how it all started?
Well thank you, it is very fine to be here. And yes, when I was nine years old, living with my parents and siblings in Vienna, Austria, I became gravely ill, although quite with what was unclear, as there was no watertight diagnosis. My condition rapidly deteriorated to the point where my mother and father were told to brace themselves for the very worst, and I was brought home from hospital so that I could spend what were considered to be my last few days and nights with them. As they were readying themselves for the death of their youngest son, in desperation they reached out to our neighbour.
I should explain that we lived right on the edge of the Viennese forest, the Wienerwald, and there was just one other property in the vicinity – a very simple, wooden Tyrolean-style structure – and within this charming rustic home lived a retired anthropologist. He was in his mid-eighties and had spent most of his adult life undertaking fieldwork in countries where shamanism was still very much alive and kicking and, at some point in his academic career he went from being an observer of tribal cultures to becoming a participant within them. In other words he became a soul doctor – a shaman.
So what happened?
Well, to cut rather a long story short, he performed three shamanic healings upon me in quick succession and literally ‘pulled’ the illness out of me. And as a result of this a healing miracle occurred and within a week I was back on my feet and tearing around and climbing trees like most other nine-year-old boys. In the wake of this I became firm friends with ‘Herr Professor’ – indeed I would say that he become the archetypal Wise Elder to this little boy. Most significantly however, in terms of my later life, he introduced me to the world of the hive and the honeybee, for as well as being a shaman he was also a beekeeper, or rather I should say he was a bee shaman. It was a potent portent of things to come.
2. That’s an amazing story. Similarly, in your book you recount how later in life a man by the name of ‘Bridge’ emerged as your guide into the cult of the Bee. In hindsight, do you feel that your meeting was predestined in some way?
‘Bridge’ was the informal nom de plume of my teacher whom I met as an adult and whose full name was Bid Ben Bid Bont, which translates from the archaic Welsh as ‘he who would lead, be also a bridge’. Within the Path of Pollen – as the bee cultus is known in the modern world – it is well understood that we arrive here into corporeal form with a set of key appointments that we have made outside the circles of time prior to our arrival. When I met Bridge for the first time I was overtaken by the strangest and most all-pervasive sense of a fate being encountered, and this feeling – as was explained to me at a later date – is one of the common indicators and tell-tale signs of such a key appointment being met.
3. Tell us a little more about Bridge. What was he like?
Well, he has been described in various ways by those who knew him as well as I did, and the words that have stayed with me across the years are that he was ‘a poet with an axe’. His thoughts were crystal clear and diamond hard and yet within him there was room for considerable magic and wonder. When in his presence I quickly became aware that here was a man who possessed an unusual intensity and an interior quality that radiated his communion with the honeybee, so when he was working with the hives there was something priestly about his behavior, as if he were undertaking a ritual that could be witnessed only by himself and his bees.
Bridge was also a master physician of the soul in his insights and a profound sage in his conclusions, but it wasn’t simply what he had to say; it was also his presence – a kind of charm that was part subtle intelligence and part a kind of innocence. Not of the naïve kind – for he was far from that – but rather of the type one likes to suppose saints, holy people and prophets have. He also gave off the authentic, potent whiff of otherworldly power. I have to say I have seldom, if ever, liked anyone so much or so quickly and this feeling remains undiminished after more than twenty-two years.
4. He sounds like an amazing man. What does it mean to you to have been his last initiate?
Being the final student of any great teacher is typically perceived as being the supreme privilege, due to the student having been given the opportunity to become the beneficiary of the entire life-teachings and gleanings of his or her teacher, something that by definition earlier students will only have had partial access to. So, I’m well aware of the responsibilities attached to this privilege even though Bridge described this final apprenticeship as a ‘bloody relief’!
5. What was your initiation like?
I asked this question a few years ago of a companion who went through the same initiation and he – with typical British understatement – replied that it had been ‘somewhat challenging’. At the very outset of entering the Path of Pollen, the male apprentices are typically given a ritual initiation that involved being stung in multiplicity by honeybees at various specific parts of the body. This induces a shift of awareness from ordinary reality into a symbiotic communion with the hive and the wisdom of the hive itself. If the apprentice survives, and I say that because it can be very traumatic, then the link that the apprentice has with the hive is rarely if ever broken, and the work proper begins from that point.
Following this painful induction, the apprentice is then placed into physical darkness for up to 23 days and nights. This period of darkness is both challenging and beautiful, for – paradoxically – darkness is understood to be a remarkable tool to discover and explore our luminosity. In other words by stepping into darkness we can achieve enlightenment! We call this work ‘Darkness Visible’ after Milton’s Paradise Lost and darkness itself is known by us to be one of the great tools to be drawn upon within our work. However, because it is common and free of charge – it arrives every time the sun sets, every time we blink – it’s phenomenal value has been rarely understood by the secular world. It is in darkness that we are given the opportunity not only to interact with our own luminosity but also with the most ancient spirit of the universe – the spirit of darkness herself; she who gave birth to all other spirits, including the pantheons of the gods of light.
6. What exactly is the Path of the Pollen?
The short answer is that the Path of Pollen is a shamanic tradition that works with humanity’s most ancient ally, the honeybee, not just as a metaphor, but as a vibrant, pragmatic and challenging spiritual path, grounded in the Earth but anchored to the heavens.
7. What did Bridge mean when he said ‘I have seen the past and it works’?
Bridge was a poet and a bard and this expression is one of dozens of examples of his exquisite use of words. I really don’t consider that it is in need of further elucidation.
8. If he were still with us, what would you ask him now?
As odd as this might seem to some readers, I continue to be guided by him from behind the ‘trembling veil’ as Yeats would have it. Bridge spent so much of his life seamlessly moving his awareness from within to without his body, that when he died it was undertaken as a conscious act – a conscious death – in other words he simply chose to walk out of his body, all his key appointments having been met. At that moment he seamlessly slipped from the role of elder to the role of ancestor, and his awareness continues to be with me to this day as guide, mentor and friend – and indeed not just for me, but for most of my colleagues and companions within the Path of Pollen. So, I am constantly asking him for advice and – t’was ever so – receiving admonition by return!
9. What is the true nature of the Bee cult today?
Bee shamanism exists far and wide. In some cultures there are shamans who work with bees, in other cultures there are formally recognised and named bee shamans, and in other cultures again, the bees themselves are viewed as being the shamans. In Europe there are also links to alchemical and hermetic traditions, the folkloric and pagan ways of Eastern Europe and bloodlines that have a particular interest in parthenogenics, that is, virgin birth – but as an elevated spiritual practice. Regarding the latter and the connection to the bee cultus we should remember that the queen bee is parthenogenic – she is able to give birth to drones without mating – and this phenomena was observed by our ancestors, and served as a template for the many virgin priestess-hoods of antiquity, including that which Mary ‘Virgin Most Powerful’ was a part of.
10. Where is the Bee cult centered, who leads it? What are its objectives?
In the past, the bee tradition was cenobitic in nature, with one small group of practitioners not knowing the whereabouts of others and this was done quite deliberately as a means of protecting the tradition in times of religious persecution. Each group was as a cell within the greater hidden hive, and each cell would typically be made up of two men and seven women, that is, a Bee Master and his single male apprentice and a Bee Mistress and her six distaff apprentices. Since the death of Bridge matters have changed someone, the greatest difference being that the Path of Pollen now has something of a public face, in as much as we have taken some of the key praxis and teachings and placed them into the public domain and into seminars and training environments. I confess there was great hesitancy in doing that initially, but to my delight it has become clear that teachings from the Path of Pollen that are being shared to those who aren’t involved in a strict and formal sense in the tradition, are as potent outside as within the format to which I was introduced to them.
11. How does one chose to become initiated into its mysteries? Can anyone advance within its ranks?
It is an absolute puzzle to me as to how people arrive into this tradition. There are no application forms, no membership cards or membership fees, no recruitment drives or advertisements, no Myspace or Facebook pages – none of that. The right people – somehow – simply materialize into our midst: women and men who have an appointment with us find their own means of arrival, and each person has their own unique story, each as different as the next person. As Bridge said to me early on in our acquaintanceship ‘everyone has their own vocation. The talent is in hearing the call.’
12. What is your role in the Bee cult?
My stated role is that of emissary. It should perhaps be explained that the Path of Pollen is a gynocentric tradition, bee society representing the zenith of the feminine potency of nature, and Bridge would regularly remind me of that, saying that we – men – were ‘guests’ and that we should never forget that we were ‘mere drones’! Thus, next to the considerable work and duties held by my distaff companions – known formally as Melissae – I have a very modest part to play.
13. What can you tell us about the ‘Golden Coins’? What exactly are they and what did you experience with them?
The Golden Coins are the original super food no less! They are considered by us to be the finest remedy in all existence to nourish and supplement, to regenerate and rejuvenate. Their tropism is global and – for us – they are the life source and offer us a path to the centre. I am of course referring to bee pollen, which due to its considerable value we know as the Golden Coins. So, for instance a part of their value is that they contain a certain numinous quality that we refer to as Vitamin P, or Vitamin Pan. Oscar Wilde writing on Pan said “O Goat Foot God of Arcady, this modern world has need of thee” and indeed this – our – modern world has even greater need of his return that in Wilde’s day. Pollen is taken daily by us, sometimes it will be our only food and we will on occasion subsist on these Golden Coins alone for extended periods – weeks at a time – with considerable beneficial effect.
14. Clearly Honeybees are dying at an alarming rate. To what do you attribute this?
In a word, greed.
There has been an astonishing abuse of the sacred trust that exists between the hive and the human, driven by mans greed for the very last drop of honey. The roots of the problem can be traced back centuries for even then it was man who was the greatest enemy of the bee: In order to possess the greatest amount of honey with the least discomfort to himself, each year most beekeepers would destroy the most fruitful of their old-style beehive ‘skeps’ (domed straw structures, still found illustrating the labels of jars of honey) whilst sparing the least vigorous. Thus, as each generation of honeybee came and went, their vitality was gradually drained away, depriving them of a healthy resistance to disease.
And since then, to add to this burden we have introduced selective breeding, artificial queen rearing, forcing white sugar upon them as a feed, toxins placed within the hive and upon the crops, GM crops, the list goes on & on, all able to be traced back to mans greed. Within the Path of Pollen there is an oral document known as Liber Mantikos (Book of Prophesy) which is a collection of two hundred and twenty-two vatic pronouncements – each accompanied by an initiated commentary – uttered over four generations by distaff specialists of oracular trance within the Path of Pollen. A number of these mantic proclamations make clear references to such a time, the most chilling perhaps being “when the bee ceases to hum, the world will cease to turn”.
15. That is quite chilling indeed and reminds me of the alleged statement by Albert Einstein that when the Bee dies man will perish 4 years later? Is this possible, first of all, and secondly, why do you think this statement has not been confirmed in his writings?
I’d bring your attention back to the above prophesy which tells us that the honeybee makes our world go around, in very real, ordinary reality fashion. As to whether Einstein was responsible for the quote is neither here nor there, other than a certain authority that his words carry, hence this almost apocryphal quote has gained a lot of attention in recent times. The bottom line is that with the honeybee being a keystone species, losing her entirely would have repercussions throughout the food supply chain, and nutritious food would become incredibly scarce. But it would not just be the human being who would be hit directly behind the knees with the loss of the honeybee: with the plants that rely on bees dying off, species that relied on those plants would suffer in turn, leading to the decline or death of species that rely on them and so on — in other words entire ecosystems would be destroyed. There would also be a tsunami through the world economy, but next to worrying about where the next meal would be coming from, that would seem a trivial concern.
16. Looking back, what do you feel was the golden age of the Bee? That is, what era, epoch or civilization best understood the significance of the Bee and its mysteries?
It is not in my nature to consider questions such as this one. I would say this however: Britain has been known – for the last eight hundred years or more – as ‘the land of milk and honey’ or the isle of honey; yr fel ynys. With Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE) or mad cow disease, we ceased being the land of milk, and with the arrival of Colony Collapse Disorder we now risk no longer being the land of honey. So, in the UK at least, it is no longer God Save the Queen that might be uttered by us, but rather God Save the Queen Bee.
17. What’s next for Simon Buxton?
As regards the public face of The Path of Pollen, I am currently completing a new work which will be published under the title The Serpent Flight of the Honeybee. It brings together teachings from the tradition concerned with our approach to polarity and sexuality. The theme of sexuality within shamanism is rarely discussed, encouraged or taught, despite the vital role it can play in unlocking deeper aspects of the work, creating an uncommon level of well-being and a communing with life in the most profound of fashions and forms.
Within The Path of Pollen it is known that the sexual centre of the universe is the Earth and furthermore, the sexual centre of the Earth is the human being. And it is here that women and men are considered to be of equal metaphysical status, with the emphasis on co-empowerment rather than co-dependency. The Grail – The Chalice – The Creatrix – The Hive – The Flower – The Life Givers and Life Bringers: woman is seen as a bodily manifestation of all of these things and within this tradition she identifies with specific divine female role models, through which is awakened her innate divinity; free from shame and fear, fully empowered and openly rejoicing in her femaleness. The male energy is primarily solar-phallic; the blast of lightning, the sting of venom, the priapic, forest-dwelling horned Pan, Guardian of the Animals and keeper of the sacred fires who knows the mystery of being both hunter and hunted. He is also the Magician and King, where magic and courtly love are tempered with the primal urge which commenced with the Big Bang.
The Path of Pollen holds a focus of work on what we call ‘endocrine alchemy’, which is a rejuvenative programme that draws upon the intelligence and wisdom of the body-vessel and stimulates the interior stars and hidden veins within the subtle-body, liberating and circulating psycho-sexual elixirs known as ‘nektars’ which are utilised for shamanic practices including healing, visioning, shamanic flight and the largely lost art of shape-shifting. The book is due for publication next year. In the meantime a lot of my time is spent trying to encourage beekeepers to engage in a more holistic approach to tending the hives and indeed to encouraging people to become beekeepers. In Britain just after the Second World War there were eighty to ninety thousand beekeepers. Now it is thirty to forty thousand.
We need more bees to keep this world a fertile, beautiful home. It’s our only home. There isn’t another one.
Simon, thank you very much. Inspiring stuff.
Best of luck with The Sacred Trust and your forthcoming book. It’s been a fascinating discussion.
It’s been my pleasure.