SHAMANIC HIVE ART AND THE PATH OF POLLEN

 

(Published in The Sacred Hoop, September 2008)

 

 

 

The day I stepped through the doors of L. Cornelissen & Son, which is to be found just along from the British Museum in London's Great Russell Street, seemed like an appointment I should have made a lifetime ago. Established in 1855, this august metropolitan landmark might well have stepped straight out of the pages of The Old Curiosity Shop as it hummed with a busy reverential silence that was only occasionally broken by the whispered exclamation of an artist experiencing a damascene moment in the company of cache of colours. Here then was the citadel, the sanctum sanctorum for the finest and rarest of artists pigments. From lapis blue - in which Lapis lazuli is ground to the finest, almost Iridescent dust, to the desert vastness of Indian Yellow or the deep pink-black of quinacridone magenta; I swear I didn’t think I had ever witnessed such evanescent, hues, shades, tints and tones, and several hours later I somewhat reluctantly exited the building, grasping a small brown paper bag full of coloured powders and rare oils, together with a book on how to create egg tempura and other mystic spells and conjurations. The reason for my joy at the discovery of this emporium of coloration? My work as a shamanic beehive artist.

 

As is well understood, long before the growth of European literacy, spiritual information that far predated Christian doctrine was largely passed down through oral tradition. And as well as receiving instruction from ‘mouth to ear’‚ as the old expression has it, across various parts of Europe painted beehives were also a vehicle of spiritual instruction, specifically those executed by practitioners of a shamanic hive wisdom, known in the modern world as the Path of Pollen.

 

The oldest surviving painted beehive panel on public display is dated 1758 and can be viewed at the Slovene ethnographic museum in Ljubljana, where an impressive collection of beehive panels can be viewed, as is also the case at the Museum of Apiculture in Radovljica. There are two recorded schools of Slovenian hive artists during the 1800s. One group was trained artists from the Baroque school such as Leopold Layer in Kranj, whose students painted rural churches and bee-hives alike. The other is the semi-qualified group of artisans whose work was executed on farmhouse facades, rural furniture and beehives. Typically they executed images from folk songs, local myths and legends and generally celebrated, through their art, what we would now call a pagan‚ world view, in such scenes as a wizard-seer in his carriage being pulled along by his animal familiars or a horned creature sharpening a woman's tongue on a grindstone, all the better that she may curse or bless with her pointed tongue.

 

During the popularisation of Christianity this folk art begun to change in tone and increasingly depicted images from bible stories, with the shamanic practitioners of hive wisdom perhaps being the only remaining peoples using the hives as repositories for the praxis of archaic techniques of healing and ecstasy.

 

As with the glorious but mysterious cave paintings of Western Europe in which shamanic cave art was hidden from prying eyes deep within the darkness of the earth, so the shamanic ways and wiles of working with the honeybee and the hive has remained largely hidden to the public until relatively recently and one of the methods used to conceal its teachings was to place them in pictorial form on both the internal and external wall of the hives. They were thus partly hidden in plain view and partly hidden in darkness, but without some understanding of the symbols so depicted the teachings and their application were impossible to unlock by the casual observer or the tyro. And whereas the external walls were vividly decorated in coloured paints, the internal walls of the hives carried pyrographic intricate maps of the human body, with a particular emphasis on the 36 ‘invisible veins’ (or feith na filiochta – the poet veins) which which are similar - although not identical to – the Chinese meridian system. These invisible veins are stimulated by bee venom – known as ‘sacred fire’ - through the initiated application of the bee sting, which as a system is thought to predate and presage the emergence of acupuncture, The symbols that were painted upon the external walls of the hives by practitioners of bee shamanism were and continue to be considered as” living glyphs". They have been empowered by generation after generation of practitioners within the tradition and are understood to contain teachings that may be unlocked. Through an ongoing, vigilant work with them, which in time allows the mind to become receptive to the influx of certain concepts that can, if received undistortedly, fertilise the unknown dimensions of his consciousness. Thus the symbols on the hive illustrated here are symbols of revelation captured in a few brush strokes and contain in symbolic form information that could not easily – if at all - be captured in the written word,

 

Quite separate are the hive paintings such as those found in museums where the hive decoration was largely undertaken for entertainment and recreational purposes, for social reasons or as prompts for story telling and guidelines for moral behaviour and codes of ethics. A few have survived which carry influence of the older, pagan ways although typically in a debased and superstitious fashion where Pan has become Satan and the dragons are to be repelled rather than embraced

 

As a woman I am very much inspired by this relatively local tradition and as part of my art work I have been trained to work through deliberate dreaming, which is a form of oracular work. The oracular methods utilised allow the practitioner to gain information from the spirit of the hive itself. In my own work I have recreated a vision of a whole gardens upon a hive where the types of flora and fauna have been exactly that which the beekeeper had growing in their garden. When synchronicity appears around such things I reach further into this way of weaving colours together.

 

The teachings of our forebears within the Path of Pollen tradition offer a great opportunity to continue the ways of the ancients: painting glyphs of protection from disease, symbols for prolific harvesting and as colour-filled special little boxes full of gold in the corner of your garden The honeybee herself seems to adore the painted hives, tracing around the colours, following the patterns and no, they do not drift. In fact one sunny day last summer I watched a bee for a rare 20 minutes sitting on a painted bee almost as if she was part of the art. In my embracing this ancient form of sacred art I am laying the seeds of my prayers that this exquisite tradition of hive decoration continues to the next generation and beyond.

 

 

Nature exists as a form of art and the use of raw pigment has a special alchemy, grinding the colours I reach forward beyond the hive with my mind deep into the home of the great creatrix herself: 'darkness", the oldest grandmother, who gave birth to all the younger gods of light. The heart of all things lives in the dark and physical darkness is one of the tools utilised within the shamanic bee tradition, for the honeybee, although a sun-loving creature, lives her hours within the hives in the darkest black and thrives therein. My process is like a weighing of scales. On one side the void, the other colours. Unfolding at the centre is the hive waiting for its decoration. Much depends on what comes though the weighing as to how much space to leave and how much to decorate.

 

My primary work is concerned with the decoration of threshold places which includes entrances to sacred spaces, gypsy wagons, hives, stairwells, objects used as alters or even sacred tools themselves. With this art I am placing a mark on the map of life; a threshold where once passed one is able to move into liminal zones of the psyche leaving things that may drag our attention at the door.

 

The darkness within the hive, holds secrets, and could also describe our human body, for when one enters into dream state and journeys within, we can unlock the secrets of the internal cave; the power of being human, as a total act. For as a physical form, a human body is a still point in eternity and in the world of shamanism could also be described as a threshold place a place between macrocosm and microcosm... Food for thought.

 

We live now in a generation where we have greater access to the stories of antiquity then we ever have had before Yet as a society we have become more "fast food" about all aspects of our lives than ever before. Let us stop for a moment and allow the colour-filled magic of the hive shine onto our veils. Give to our bees for without them our earth as is stands would survive a mere four years. Bring bees variety of planting and moments of communion, and listen to see what őshe" the hive has to say to us. For as a matriarchal, and to some immortal, society she is wise. For a creature that stopped evolving a very long time ago she has got it right.