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The Shamanic Way of the Bee – Simon Buxton

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The Shamanic Way of the Bee cover Simon Buxton’s 2004 book The Shamanic Way of the Bee doesn’t do itself many favours coming out of the blocks, bearing the faintly ridiculous subtitle of Ancient Wisdom and Healing Practices of the Bee Masters and having a back cover blurb that injudiciously states that “bee shamanism may well be the most ancient and enigmatic branch of shamanism.” Putting aside images of little bee-shaped ascended masters, buzzing amiably around in darling striped robes and cassocks, The Shamanic Way of the Bee describes a form of what could be called shamanism in which honey plays a pivotal role as a curative and spiritual tool; and something to which an even deeper meaning is hinted at in the cover blurb when it describes magico-sexual ‘nektars’ that promote longevity and ecstasy – ooh, matron.

At its heart, this is a spiritual memoir, rather than a practical workbook, and what Buxton presents here comes entirely in the form of a biography from which any application must be gleaned by the reader themselves. It begins when, as a nine year old living in Austria, young Buxton was cured of a near-fatal bout of encephalitis by a neighbour; a, would you believe, former university professor who had lectured for nearly half a century and travelled to the farthest corners of the worlds, lived with the simple ethnics and learnt their mysterious ways. To reuse a catchphrase from a previous review, thrilling Boy’s Own stuff. Despite this convenient pedigree, Herr Professor, as the young Buxton called him, features little here, as the family moved on soon after the miraculous curing of their son, and eventually said son returned to England. Over a decade later, Buxton met another wise, old and well-travelled man, a beekeeper by the name of Bridge who provided the introduction to what occurs in this book.

Buxton describes how, after encountering Bridge the Bee Master by chance, he entered into an apprenticeship with him, being given the name Twig and introduced to what is described as the conveniently alliterative Path of Pollen. While the apprenticeship began with simple lessons drawing from the lives of bees and the hive, honey and mead, things evolved in complexity until Buxton underwent an initiatory incubation brought on by the venom of bee stings, creating visions in which he became a drone within a hive. This then led to encounters in the real world with the Bee Mistress and her six bee priestesses called Melissae, and ultimately to a discussion of the ten nektars they produce – based wholesale on the idea of the ten kalas from tantra, as popularised within this circle of occultdom by Uncle Kenneth. Then Buxton had to kill a deer by suffocating it with pollen – as you do.

If this all seems too amazing to be true, it is. As documented in reviews on Amazon.com and Goodreads by Ross Heaven (another Destiny/Inner Traditions author with a plethora of his own books on themes shamanic, and who apparently ghost wrote this for Buxton), The Shamanic Way of the Bee contains significant sections plagiarised from works by P.L Travers, the creator of Mary Poppins. While it would have been endearing to see a magical nanny practically perfect in every way pop up in the book’s scenes, it’s a lesser known work by Travers that provided Buxton with some of his apian wisdom. A student of Gurdjieff and an associate of George Russell, Travers had a passion for mythology which she expressed in articles for Parabola magazine,  and which were then collected as the book What the Bee Knows – Reflections on Myth Symbol and Story. Where Travers mentions listening to a radio reporter who was describing the ceremonies of an African tribe at the end of their lunar or solar year, Buxton turns this into a story he heard as a child, though remarkably his recall is perfect, repeating phrases word for word from her account. And it’s not just Buxton who cribs from What the Bee Knows  because he has Bridge apparently dipping into his own copy on the sly before dropping some knowledge, often phrase for phrase. His first lecture has a lengthy section that wholesale copies and pastes, with only very minor edits, a section from Travers on bee etymology and of the act of be(e)-ing, presenting her words as his own, even describing how his eyes bore into Buxton as he totally ripped her off and in her words intoned: “It is a matter, merely, of listening.”

Spread with text plagiarised from P.L Travers' What the Bee Knows

What is staggering about this is just how shameless it is, with Buxton copying Travers right down to her phrasing and punctuation, not even giving the appearance of paraphrasing. Of course, even paraphrasing would be problematic, as these drops of honeyed wisdom are meant to be coming from a wise Bee Master, who one would hope is not sitting there sneaking peeks at his well-thumbed copy of What the Bee Knows. Amusingly, Buxton ruminates on how remarkable it was just how much he could recall from Bridge’s lectures, a technique the learned Bee Master also possessed and had taught himself. Yes, quite remarkable.

Naturally, if you’re going to put the words of others into the mouth of your mysterious white shaman beekeeper, why stop at Travers, and indeed, secret bee shaman information apparently collected by Bridge on his great white professor expeditions to darkest Australia and South America can be found in standard ethnographic literature. In one case, Buxton mentions that Bridge worked with the Kayapo of the Amazon, appearing to quote the old beekeeper when he talks of Bep-kororoti, a powerful shaman “who was taken into the sky in a flash of lightning.” A little researching shows that this first-hand information is just extracted from Keeping of Stingless Bees by the Kayapo’ Indians of Brazil, a paper by Darrell A. Posey in a 1982 volume of the Journal of Ethnobiology, and the quote marks should be around the words of Posey, not the fictitious Bridge.

Spread with more text plagiarised from P.L Travers' What the Bee Knows

It’s quite fun to grab an excerpt from The Shamanic Way of the Bee, especially if it’s something apparently said directly by Bridge, and see where it came from. When Bridge sometime in the late 1980s told Buxton that “The history of Mead is as long, rich, and captivating as the beverage itself” he apparently had a time-travelling web browser open and was reading verbatim from a website in the year 2000. This is a website that, strangely enough, also has the words to a verse that according to Buxton, Bridge had just spontaneously spoken in celebration of mead while doing a lively jig; a verse which the website naturally credits to its author (Howell, Clerk to the Privy Council, in 1640), while Bridge and Buxton, of course, do not. For the record, this website, since changed but preserved in its 2000 state by archive.org’s WaybackMachine, is that of Sky River Brewing, whose history of mead proved popular and, in addition to having several paragraphs swiped by Buxton and his mead-toasting beekeeper, has been replicated in various states across the internet, usually by other meaderies who, unlike Buxton, often credit their source. Once again, the shamelessness and audacity here is staggering. While you can imagine Buxton feeling safe cribbing from a little-read book by Travers, it takes a certain level of brazen temerity, not to mention recklessness, to grab several paragraphs of some well-travelled web content, leave it largely unaltered and claim it as your own.

It’s all a little embarrassing for Inner Traditions who still market this book as a genuine account, with nary a nod to the plagiarism. Not to mention poor Professor Stuart Harrop of the University of Kent who provides a foreword, Ashé Journal who apparently awarded the title the 2005 Ashé Journal Book Award, and Tori Amos who sits atop the cover of the book testifying that after reading it, she felt she “had been initiated into the ancient feminine mystery of sacred sexuality.”

Even without this plagiarism, there’s much that sets off the ole bovine excrement detector within the pages of The Shamanic Way of the Bee; or outside too, if you count Buxton doing his Robson Green impression in the author photo on the back cover. Bridge and the eerily similar Herr Professor before him are both bog-standard wise old men tropes: enigmatic, venerable and well-travelled with a twinkle in their eye and a subtle hint of power, equal parts Dumbledore-Gandalf-Kenobi-Merlin-Miyagi and, of course, Don Juan Matus. Buxton, meanwhile, plays the part of the standard earnest but gormless initiate to a T, soaking up knowledge while gazing in wide-eyed, Castenada-style admiration. Even Buxton’s diminutive title of Twig recalls the youthful Arthur being called Wart as he is trained by Merlyn in T. H. White’s The Once and Future King. Similarly, the Mellisae are the kind of thing you would expect from pellucid male wish-fulfilment fantasy, all remembered in exquisite, clinical, autopsy-like detail: there’s the raven-haired, dark-skinned Vivienne who is comically and without a trace of self-awareness (or self-preservation) referred to as “a true daughter of Egypt;” then there’s Devorah of the perfect proportions and full hips which are “emphasized by their strong, easy swing when she moved around the table.”

The Shamanic Way of the Bee somewhat trails off after a few more gruelling trials, bacchic rituals and cavorting with the Melissae, ending with the death of Bridge. Ultimately it doesn’t provide much insight into what this most ancient and enigmatic branch of shamanism features, other than bees are cool and there’s sexy bee priestesses out there happy to help young guys become, I don’t know, better beekeepers.

Spread with chapter title

The Shamanic Way of the Bee features a cover design by frequent Inner Traditions hand Cynthia Ryan Coad, with the title and a bee motif drop-shadowed in a banderole above a honeycomb pattern. The interior was typeset by Rachel J. Goldenberg with everything, both body and titles, in a single-weight Weiss serif face, giving the copy an ever-so-slightly more ornate feeling than would come from your usual choice of serif. The first page of each chapter reprises the honeycomb pattern seen on the cover as a slightly overwhelming background image, shot through with a feathered gradient behind some of the text for a smidgen more readability.

Published by Destiny Books

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Shamanic Journeying: A Beginner’s Guide – Sandra Ingerman

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Categories: shamanism

Shamanic Journeying coverSandra Ingerman is best known to this reviewer for her collaborations with ambient musician and percussionist Byron Metcalf, producing the album The Spirit of Healing and the standalone Winter Solstice track A Healing the Earth Journey with Dashmesh Khalsa also. In her introduction, Ingerman details her first encounter with shamanism in a workshop she took for nothing more than extra credit whilst studying at the California Institute of Integral Studies in 1980. The workshop was led by Michael Harner and it was this that introduced her to the concept of shamanic journeying. Since then, Ingerman has incorporated the practice with her background in psychotherapy, creating a method to expand consciousness, empower, and provide guidance.

At the outset, Ingerman makes it clear that she is not providing instruction on how to become as shaman as such, merely using a technique that, she says, is common to all forms of shamanism; or to quote directly, common “to all cultures,” as she rather recklessly claims. This is an idea drawn from Harner, and it’s clear that what Ingerman presents here is very much in his mould, with all the corners shaved off and made clean and presentable. As a result, the shamanism discussed here is shorn of any context or examples, and is assigned broad, universal principles in something of an essentialist, categorical manner. The shaman, then, comes across as the type of bland, clean and very vanilla spirit worker that might very well give workshops at the California Institute of Integral Studies. They “maintain harmony and balance in their communities” – whatever that means – and, by omission, presumably are never feared, never perform maleficia, and never kill or injure through magic or otherwise. Unsurprisingly, such malicious sorcery isn’t listed as one of the three common causes for illness in a shamanic worldview, which in rather contemporary parlance, are instead loss of power due to depression or illness, soul loss from a traumatic event, or spiritual blockages and negative energies that a client has taken on due to a loss of power or soul (which sounds pretty much like the first two anyway).

Shamanic Journeying spread

While the subtitle does mark this book as being for beginners, and it comes in at under 90 pages so there’s not a lot of space for elaboration, a real sense of what shamanism can entail, with actual anthropological examples, would have made its basic premise more convincing. Instead, the bovine excrement detector is constantly releasing a high pitch siren as time and time again what is being broadly described doesn’t ring true; not because the details are wrong but because there are so often no details.

Ingerman’s instructions are simply and straightforward, unburdened as they are by any referencing of sources or verifiable anecdotes. This suits the type of book it is, with everything refined and distilled down to a palatable set of guidelines. She describes how to travel to the lower, middle and upper worlds, and of encountering power animals and spirit guides; nomenclature which reveals the intended market (especially when she says it is common to have a unicorn or Pegasus as a power animal; alrighty then).  The technique here is effectively visualisation (of a type that while not guided, at least contains a fair dose of suggestion) with a percussive soundtrack, and it’s only said sound and the use of a broadly shamanic lexicon that makes it feel anything like shamanism. Indeed, the prevailing sense is that of it being nothing more than a therapeutic exercise that a psychotherapist might have a patient undergo as a creative imagination exercise.

Shamanic Journeying: A Beginner’s Guide comes with a CD featuring drumming for three journeys. Running to 12 minutes, 20 minutes and 30 minutes, these three tracks are simple, unadorned and effective drumming pieces, the first beginning with rattles and whistles, and the second featuring double-drumming.

Published by Sounds True.


Review soundtrack: Byron Metcalf and Sandra Ingerman – The Spirit of Healing

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Visual Magick – Jan Fries

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Categories: chaos, germanic, magick, shamanism, Tags:

Visual Magick coverSubtitled A Manual of Freestyle Shamanism, Visual Magick from Jan Fries is something of a modern classic, first published in 1992 after beginning as a small treatise privately circulated amongst occultists. Despite the subtitle, there’s not a lot of explicitly shamanic content within Visual Magick, be it in the strictly etymological sense of the Tungusic word, or the core shamanism of the Michael Harner variety, or even the shamanism of new age stores, all dreamcatchers, crystals and war bonnets. Instead, if it’s core anything, Visual Magick is core Fries-brand chaos magick; apt as this was Fries’ first published work.

Visual Magick begins without preamble (save for a preface by Mike Ingalls), diving head first into the first chapter on sigil magick. This is fairly standard post-Spare sigil fare, which sounds a little unfair and dismissive, but is not intended as such. Using the analogue of a seed, Fries presents a basic but thorough guide to creation of sigils using several techniques including bindletters, automatic drawings, and magical squares. Then he offers a guide to activating and empowering them, which bleeds into the second chapter under the heading of The Ritual. In both, Fries writes in his trademark honest and conversational style, presenting the techniques matter-of-factly, listing personal preferences without prejudice but ultimately leaving things up to the reader to find what works for them. Indeed, this attitude makes ‘freestyle’ the more important word from the book’s subtitle, as it epitomises Fries’ approach: modern, eclectic, versatile, and not beholden to any historic precedent, with a touch of humour and honesty where needed.

Fries continues exploring other not particularly or obviously shamanic techniques including automatic drawing and writing, visualisations and a little bit about sex magick, primarily in its use in empowering sigils. Later he discusses creative hallucinations, zoomorphic transformation and shapeshifting, and mandalas, in which he presents a variation of his own using plant matter rather than the usual sand or paint. Throughout, Fries’ emphasis is on the pragmatic, backed up with a largely psychological model. For him, entities are just projections of the subconscious, and interactions with them are a way of accessing this deep mind. Fries does allow others the grace to believe entities to be whatever they wish, but even in this regard he ultimately comes back to the idea of them being, as part of what he calls the ‘all-self,’ ways to connect with the individual self.

Jan Fries: Loki

This utilitarian approach means that Visual Magick often comes across as more of a self-help or motivational book, rather than a traditional magickal tome or grimoire. The argument here is that when you strip away all the artifice of magick, then that’s what you’ve got at a fundamental level: processes and a worldview that are intended to improve you as a person, give you insights, and get shit done. As a result, there’s a lot of talk of the subconscious, of perception, of analysing behavioural patterns. It’s effectively a primer that shows the science behind magick, much as chaos magick was doing at the time; though Fries does dismiss it as a then current magickal trend, despite the shared techniques and approach.

Filing under ‘some reviewers are never happy,’ long-time readers of Scriptus Recensera will know that pragmatism rules here, but Fries’ approach runs the risk of being too much of a good thing and one finds oneself longing for a touch of old fashioned occult glamour, a little mumbo? Perhaps. Jumbo? Perhaps not. Effectively, it takes some of the fun out of magick, and replaces it with the psychological model, which may have an appeal for some readers but has limited mileage with this one. With its revealing of the seams of magick, though, it does underline how anything in the book can be adapted to a more personally-satisfying paradigm and how, in the end, a ritual, a godform or an entire belief system is just something made up by someone, somewhere, sometime.

As is the case with all of his books, Visual Magick is illustrated throughout with Fries’ trademark illustrations, previous recipients of glowing commentary here at Scriptus Recensera. Atavistic line drawings combining humanoid forms and nature, they are in some way the most shamanic thing in the book, having an energy and numinosity so evocative of reaching out across worlds.

Jan Fries: Access to a Tree

Visual Magick has the same layout styling of other Jan Fries books published by Mandrake of Oxford, meaning that it looks better than a lot of Mandrake book. It’s not necessarily amazing, but there’s a clear design hierarchy, a suitable amount of space and no glaring errors. All of Fries’ trademark illustrations are rendered crisp and clear, except for one which, by misadventure or design, is pixelated, its black lines turned jagged like a scene from an 8bit video game; which is somewhat apropos as its shaman subject looks like a hero from a 1980s side-scrolling platformer.

Published by Mandrake of Oxford.

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