Apiculture is derived from the Latin word for bee, apis. For some, it may just seem like a fancy name for beekeeping, but I see a subtle, yet significant difference. There is a great deal of power held in a word. Words carry a resonance, a history, an intention, a charge. Words spoken from one pair of lips, can easily be received with a completely different meaning by another pair of ears. If everything I do must be done with intention, then I need to set the record straight on this whole Beekeeper concept. As so many beekeepers are apt to say, I don't keep bees, the bees keep me.
My path to bees was such a strange, labyrinthian unfolding. It began with a broken heart and a book. I was living in San Francisco in December of 2007, miserable. Unbenounced to my sorry self, I had just dovetailed into a good old-fashioned Dark Night of the Soul. I hated the city. Don't get me wrong, San Francisco is an incredible city. It's my city. Most of the time I love it. However, as a broken-hearted, job-hunting, rent-paying, tree-climbing, river-swimming nature girl, I was drowning in concrete. I cursed the number 27 bus that e-braked outside my widow all night long. I cursed the pink, starless skies. I cursed my inability to embrace the city and just get over myself. I aliviated this daily horror with three things: self-toucher via romantic comedies, self-care via solo dates at the wine and dessert bar, and escapism via the golden gate bridge toward the eternal hills of mystic Middle-Earth (what regular folk know as West Marin).
At some hazy point in January, a dear friend gave me the book The Shamanic Way of the Bee by Simon Buxton. I knew very little about bees. Most of my life (this is a serious confession) I didn't even like honey. But my spirit was hurting, so I opened the pages to see what they might reveal. I devoured the book. I got lost in the apiaries of Britain, Vitamin Pan, the Serpent Flight, Nightshade Isle, the honey liquor of Lithuaian, and of course, The Melissae. The book was feeding me like fresh sap to a brittle tree. It spoke to me. It actually spooked me out. On the day I heard the exact words the author would write before even turning the page, I took the book and chucked it across the room. Seriously, a full on Bastien moment from the end of "The Never Ending Story". I left the book crumpled on the floor and drove straight to Marin. I parked on Bolinas ridge and walked out to a cold, rocky perch to watch dusk sea-mist crawl inland over the hills. My breathing calmed, my mind began to slow. A herd of white deer grazed in the distance and everything was rose-colored. In that moment, with the words of the bee shaman reverberating through my mind, I came to a stillness. I became a part of the rose light, the mist path, the mother sea. I felt a radiant beauty descend over me. In the growing night, I drove back to the city, stopping at the Fairfax market for dinner. A well-dressed and unimposing man ran after me as I left the store. "Sorry to disturb you," he said. "I'm not usually like this, but I saw you in the store. Don't worry, I don't need anything from you. I just wanted you to know you're the most beautiful woman I've ever seen, and I wanted to give you this." He handed me a red tulip and walked away before I could even say thank you.
What on earth does any of this have to do with bees? It was the beginning. Not because a man said I was beautiful, but because in that moment, I knew I WAS the most beautiful woman he has ever seen. The book had opened something inside me and I was literally vibrating with Goddess essence. I picked up the thread of my life and was following it out of the labyrinth. I had to know more.
Lucky for me, Simon Buxton had opened the The Sacred Trust, a school teaching courses in Shamanism and the Path of Pollen (an ancient lineage of Bee Shamans). Unlucky for me, the Sacred Trust is in England. Lucky for me, I happened to be going to Italy the next summer (2009). Unlucky for me, the class was already full.
I went to England anyway, to visit Glastonbury for three days before heading to Tuscany. This was my third visit to Glastonbury, home of sacred springs, Glatonbury Tor, thousand year oaks, The Holy Thorn Tree, and a host of other powerful sites. It is the legendary home of the mythic Isle of Avalon (Isle of Apples), and remains one of the places where the veil between this world and the Otherworld remains thinnest. It resonates with the Heart Chakra and is imbued with Goddess energy.
On the second day, I paid homage to Wearyall Hill and ancient The Holy Thorn Tree. The Holy Thorn is a pilgrimage site for Pagans and Christians alike. It is a direct decedent of a 2,000 non-native Hawthorne tree from the Middle East, which blooms (unusually) twice a year, at Christmas and Easter. The tree is said to have sprouted from the staff of Joseph of Arimathea (Jesus' uncle) upon his arrival to Glastonbury after the Cruxification. It is even rumored that Joseph bore the Holy Grail to England and buried it beneath the sacred springs of Chalice Well. The Divine Feminine aspect of the Holy Grail brought me to Avalon with the intention of paying homage to the land. I gave the tree an ribbon offering and a prayer for the arrival of my future child. When I turned, there sat a tiny cottontail rabbit, not ten feet away, watching me in the evening light.
On the last day of my visit, I took an afternoon nap in the low arms of a British Hawthorn tree on the side of Glastonbury Tor, a dominating hill with a 7 circuit earthen labyrinth winding up to a central tower. The Tor is a powerful site where the Michael and Mary Ley Lines cross on their intertwining journey across Europe. You feel a strange pull from these two earth energy lines as you ascend the slope to its visit of the Summer Country. As I slept, I traveled into the Tor and visited the inner labyrinth and underground spring. Each interior level presented a message or vision until I reached the crown and woke with a start into a strange, thick mist. In the half-light, I felt my heart drained of all grief and heartache, and refilled with an overflowing, all-present Love. The energy was deeply feminine; I felt as if the Goddess of the land had restored my heart to fullness and gifted me with the awareness of true Self-Love.
In the morning, as I drove away in the pre-dawn light, Glastonbury Tor rose in my rear-view window and I was filled with a sudden and sure knowing: I would be back within the year. Sacred places do that. They tell you things, if you listen, and The Isle of Avalon told me I would be back next summer. I agreed, but my bank account indicated otherwise.
Fast forward to February 2010. I had recovered from my time in the Shadow Cave and was focusing on the release of my first Album, Waterkeeper. My pilgrimage in 2009 brought me to new heights of spiritual awareness and self-renewal. I had trust again. Trust in the exact and divine timing of all things. I was living back home in the Sierra Foothills and trying to decipher the music industry. One day, out of the blue, I got a call from my close friend, Cheyanna. She was planning a pilgrimage to Europe in the summer and needed advice on pilgrimage sites. Since Cheyanna and I share much of our spiritual work and ritual together, I had passed her The Shamanic Way of The Bee months before, knowing my Mead mistress would love a glimpse into the world of the honey-makers.
Over the phone, I rattled on about Avebury, Avalon, Chartres Cathedral, Stonehenge, Scotland, Ireland and the like, until Cheyanna became quiet and giggly and said "Ari, Ben and I have a proposition for you." ???? "We would like to invite you to join me on part of my trip to Europe and help plan a pilgrimage." Confused, I barked out a strange laugh and began blubbering until she explained. Her husband couldn't go, but he wanted her to have company and a friend who understand the spiritual significance of the trip. He would pay my part in exchange for my help with planning and logistics, as well as some dedicated girlfriend galavanting. And, then they dropped the question that made me set down the phone. Would I also be interested in taking The Way of the Melissa workshop at the Sacred Trust?
England called me back. Just as promised, against all financial obstacles, the land said Yes. We began making plans, pouring over maps of France and England, discussing cream tea, french cafes and driving on the left. Cheyanna signed us up for the Way of the Melissae, but came back with bad news. We were 13th and 14th on the waiting list. I told her, plan our trip as if we were going to the Sacred Trust for a week and have faith that it would happen. I contemplated what to do about this problem and it hit me: go to the bees. I typed in "Melissa California" hoping for some sign in the right direction, and up popped The Melissa Garden, in Healdsberg, CA, just north of Marin. It's a honeybee sactuary full of happy bees and flowers, and they just so happened to be teaching an upcoming Rudolf Steiner inspired class on Connecting to Bees through the Heart.
After all the build up around the Sacred Trust and the Way of the Melissa, it would be nice if I could delve into an in-depth description of the course, but the workshop doesn't unfold that way. If you go to the website you will find a vague, enchanting description of the week-long workshop that leaves most asking, "but what is it really about?" Cheyanna and I did not know. Couldn't even guess. We were simply compelled like little honeybees Bee-Lining it home to the hive. The Path of Pollen is a Mystery Tradition. It's work is individual, communal and deeply rewarding. It is not my position to describe the workshop, but I can describe it's effect on me. If you are still curious when you are done, read The Shamanic Way of the Bee, and hopefully my vague references may come into a more refined focus.
The Way of the Melissae was less a workshop and more an introduction and resounding yes to life's calling. I remember having the profound sense that everything I had done in my life had led me to this moment, these women, this land, this lineage. In the same sense that one longs for a soulmate, I had longed for my spiritual home. I did not even know how deeply I longed for it, until I felt those introductory words pour into my ready ears on a cool July day in Devon, England. Within the first three minutes of the course, tears were streaming down my face. The Sacred Trust provided me with a homecoming to a tradition that reside both within and without. Even if I never set another step on the grounds of The Sacred Trust again, I will not have lost my place on Path of Pollen. I wept tears of grief and joy for finding a tradition that spoke to the very core of my being. It was not a religious awakening, but more an embodiment, a return, a discovery of a self long in the making.
<------Chartres Cathedral and a Vienna Coffee
I returned to my home on July 22, the Feast Day of Mary Magdalene. In the morning, my mother took me into the backyard of my house. She said they had arrived 2 weeks ago, while I was still in England. She said they had made a home. A colony of honeybees. A swarm of wild bees living in a hole in the side of my house. My mouth fell open in sheer disbelief. Is it possible? Can the world be that synchronistic? That validating? Could they really have moved into my home WHILE I was in England taking my first steps down the Path of Pollen? A July swarm when bees shouldn't be swarming at all? A late swarm that shouldn't even have survived the winter?
So you see, I did not choose the bees, the bees chose me (a common phrase to be sure). I am not a Beekeeper. I am Living with Bees. I speak to them. I hum with them. I cry with them. I love with them. They are woven into my blood and teach me of ancient mystery traditions, deep wisdom, ecstatic joy and the essence of creation. They were there when I conceived my child. They were there when I miscarried. They came when I called. They answered my grief with abundance.
Why Bees? Because bees are living in my heart. Because bees are dying all over the world, and I am choosing to give them a home where they are free. A home where they tell me if and when I can take honey. I am here to watch and listen and be transformed by all the bees have to share. Perhaps they will give me honey, but that is not my goal. My hope is simply to exist with bees and watch the garden bloom around them.
To the ancient and living Bee Priestesses who walk an arcane path on this sacred earth, I honor you. Thank you for holding the thread of tradition alive through the dark times and the light times. I remember you. I remember us.