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Beaverchief
Beaverchief

In 1999, Bobcat (Emma Restall Orr) and I made our second visit to Seattle. Our friend, Leon Reed, with whom we were staying, drove us downtown one afternoon and pulled in by a Post Office. As Leon hopped out of the car, we saw a tall Native American guy coming up the street towards us. He was wearing a t-shirt with a picture of a wolf on it, so naturally he seemed pretty cool to me. Leon greeted him and then introduced him saying, “This is my friend, Beaverchief, you guys should talk to him.” Leon went off to post his package and Beaverchief leaned down to the car window to say hi. Bobcat and I decided it would be more polite for us to get out of the car to talk. Beaverchief was a fair bit taller than me and towered over Bobcat like a giant redwood. We talked, telling him that we were Druids from England, in town to do some teaching and make some ceremonies. Beaverchief asked if we would like to hear a song. We said, sure.

The three of us stood there on the sun-baked Seattle pavement, and he began to sing. We had no idea what to expect, you seldom do when someone offers to sing for you, that's part of the joy. What we got wildly exceeded any expectations we might have had. His voice had an amazing beauty, power and resonance. As he sang, we were transported from the bustling city street to the forested side of a mountain, where scented breezes wafted past us, thick with cedar and birdsong, replacing the city scents of petrol fumes and dust, its sounds of traffic and commerce. We listened in rapt silence, outside of space and time. It was utterly beautiful and magical in the best and truest sense of the word.

The song came to an end and we had to re-adjust from the place it had transported us to back to the city street outside the Post Office. We looked around us, blinking at the sunlight reflected from the buildings and pavement. There was nothing to say. We looked at Beaverchief and he knew. We all smiled and nodded.

Leon rejoined us and said, “Wow! That was weird. I've been standing watching you guys for a while and it was like there was a huge bubble all around you. People were going out of their way to walk right around, even crossing the street to give you guys room. I've never seen anything like that.”

That was our meeting with Beaverchief, an amazing guy. Leon told us he was a local musician and later gave us a copy of a tape Beaverchief had made in 1992 on his Big Magic label. It turned out to be a reflection of his remarkable character. He took traditional spirit songs of his people and set them in a Seattle rock context with great gusto and obvious good humour … you can hear him laughing and telling funny stories between takes. What I didn't know until recently is that Beaverchief was among the first Native Americans to do this. In the process, he upset some of his own people and some Europeans who prefer their Native Americans 'pure.'

A Native of Washington State, Beaverchief's origins lay in the NW Coast traditional native medicine known as saseewis, his ancestors having been an Indian doctoring family who had travelled up and down the coast for thousands of years. His family were registered with the Lummi and West Saanich tribes. However, he also drew on his experience in the Catholic Church, the Indian Shaker religion, the Hari Krishna movement, Yoga, and many other traditions. One of Beaverchief's messages was that the Northwest Native American culture is a constantly evolving way of life, not something to be stuck in a museum and frozen in time. His music very strongly reflects that.

Here's what Beaverchief himself had to say:

Beaverchief's drum
Beaverchief's drum

“I am a Northwest Coast Native American. My people are from the Puget Sound Area. Not until 1978, when a bill was passed which stated that we, Native Americans had the right to practice our way of life (some call it a religion; our people call it a way) did we start sharing our dreams and visions with people who have an open mind, and heart. The sharing of the teachings and dreams was to help heal the wounds between our Native American Indian culture and the White man's culture.

“This music came about because a friend, Barbara Leischner, asked me to do a ceremony for a special poem that was written for a friend who was sick with AIDS. Mark Nichols was asked to record the poem. At that time I sang the Cedar Tree Song. It was the first time Mark Nichols had heard the music of the Northwest Coast Salish people. That night the inspiration for this music came to be.

“I am proud of this music. It will help manifest my vision/dream of inter-cultural world peace. It bridges together traditions in a good way. It will help the children. It will help the healing. People who listen to the music in a good way will feel the magic of the ancient ways. They will feel the magic of the creativity that comes together from the music.”

Sadly, Beaverchief left this life in July 2001, but his music and his legacy live on. He is rightly

Beaverchief and Friends
Beaverchief and Friends

celebrated amongst his own people and in the Seattle music scene as a pioneer, an inspiration and as a really nice guy.

I write this having just dug out that old cassette and listened to it again. It is uplifting, inspiring stuff. You can hear The Cedar Song and find a link to some of Beaverchief's music here: http://www.thereallybig.com/Beaverchief.htm

Wherever you are now, big guy, know that you are recalled with deep affection by two English Druids.

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The World DrumThe folk at Wildways are very eco-conscious, so the heating in the house only kicks in at around 7am when people are getting up. The World Drum's skin is of reindeer-hide and is quite sensitive to changes in temperature and humidity. This was one of the coldest springtimes on record in the UK. We left the Drum out one night on the table in the hall. In the morning, all was far from well. The Drum's skin had become flaccid, visibly dipping into the frame. It was completely unplayable. I tried warming it by the Rayburn stove in the kitchen. It didn't work. The Drum was still acoustically dead. Even more worrying was that the next day we were due to take the Drum to Cae Mabon for ceremonies there and on the island of Angelsey. We needed to do something, and quickly.

 

I had been worried about the Drum for a while. When it arrived at my house, it was packed with a very thick sheepskin that was lying against the skin of the Drum. When the flight case was strapped shut, the sheepskin was pressing into the reindeer-hide skin of the Drum. Add to this the effects of sending the Drum from hot Hawaii to freezing cold England and the result was not good.

 

At this point, a certain level of controlled panic set in. After all, this is a shamanic tool that has been travelling the world for seven years, played by thousands of people in hundreds of ceremonies on six continents. This is not just a drum, this is The World Drum, the heartbeat of Mother Earth, a symbol and sign of the best and brightest hopes of humankind for peace a reverence for our Mother. There was no way I could let anything bad happen to this amazing creation. Not on my watch.

 

I pulled out the printed instruction sheet on caring for the Drum that travels with it. It said that if the Drum failed to respond to normal warming, it should be fully immersed in water and then allowed to dry slowly. What it didn't say was how long it should be immersed for. I contacted Morten Wolf Storeide on facebook and asked for more detailed instructions. He told me to immerse the Drum for about ten minutes, then put it to dry slowly propped up on sticks so that air could circulate around it.

 

So, I filled a bath with water and gently lowered The World Drum into it. I held it under the water for 12 minutes, singing to it whatever songs came to mind and seemed appropriate, or just wordless chants. I was nervous … very nervous … but at the same time, I felt that this strange process was strengthening the connection I already felt with the Drum, and that, with the blessings of the gods, all would be well.

 

I lifted the Drum from the bath, allowing the water to drain and drip from it before carrying it through to the kitchen. Here, rather than sticks, I'd rigged two microphone stands angled towards, but not too close to, the Rayburn stove. The stove ticked over all night, meaning that the kitchen maintained a reasonable room temperature. Having carefully balanced the Drum with its frame on the ends of the two stands, neither of them pressing against the skin, I bid the Drum goodnight and with a whispered prayer, went to bed.

 

I got up a little before 6am, being unable to sleep any longer. I really needed to know if the Drum was all right. I slipped out of bed and tiptoed to the kitchen as quietly as I could. Of course, to discover whether the bath had worked I had to play the Drum. I took it off its stands carefully, picked up a beater and tapped gently on the skin close to the frame. Even with such a light tap, the Drum sang beautifully, the overtones ringing in the quiet kitchen for a good length of time. As you can imagine, I was very relieved and very, very happy. I was even happier a little later when Garth and Elaine got up and I was able to give the Drum more of a test. Sure enough, she was fine, healed, whole and singing better than ever.

 

Here's the facebook message I sent to Morten Wolf:

 

“Hey, Brother Wolf,
Up at sunrise, tried the Drum ... she sings! Sounding really beautiful I held her under a bath full of cold water and sang songs to her, then propped her on two microphone stands in the kitchen overnight. Very relieved and happy this morning. We're off to Wales in about an hour and will be offline till we get back on Sunday. Catch up then...
Peace, love and all the good stuff,
Greywolf /|\”

 

And so, on to Cae Mabon!

Gillian at Cae Mabon with TWD

Gillian Kavanagh, who organised our trip to Cae Mabon, playing the World Drum there. Yay!

Cae Mabon is a spiritual retreat centre in North Wales. It nestles on a mountainside, a stream cascading through it from which it gets its water supply. The structures at Cae Mabon are eco-homes in an interesting range of styles, from a Hobbit hole to a reconstructed roundhouse, of which more later. It's a beautiful setting, with a large lake at the bottom of the slope and views across to Mount Snowdon.

 

Llanberis PassWe arrived on Friday, April 12th, following a drive through some of the most beautiful scenery in Wales, most memorably the spectacular Llanberis Pass. The 'we' in question were myself, Elaine and my sons, Joe and Mike. Joe is a fine ritualist while Mike, having studied video production, had accepted the task of recording as many of the World Drum events as possible in HD video. Elaine was our driver and chief events coordinator. Also joining us from previous events would be my good friend and BDO stalwart, Steve Rumelhart, musician, Jake Thomas, and Lorraine Munn, organiser of our ceremony at Ironbridge.

 

The last part of the drive was quite interesting as Elaine negotiated a well-laden Subaru down a very narrow, very winding tarmac track, to one side of which was a precipitous drop down tree-covered slopes towards the lake far below. For one not used to mountain driving, it was … erm … educational. However, we reached the car park safely, as did the rest of our merry band. We unloaded our gear, including, of course, The World Drum, and began the steep trek down to Cae Mabon itself. Slippery from recent rain, one had to watch one's footing, but we made it without mishap and were guided to our accommodation. The brilliant Gillian Kavanagh, organiser of this event, was there to greet us. My sons, Joe and Mike, were to sleep in the roundhouse. Elaine, myself and three other women were to sleep in the Longhouse, which turned out to be basically an extended garden shed but with better insulation, beds and a desk.

 

Jeff, Greywolf & Adam at Cae Mabon roundhouseFriday evening was spent greeting new arrivals as they came, exploring the site and buildings, discovering the kitchen and socialising. The new arrivals included the BDO's web wonder and all-round genius, Adam Sargant (that's him, far right), accompanied by a new BDO friend generally known as Farmer Jeff, because his name's Jeff, and he's a farmer (that's him, near right - and yes, that's me in the middle). The excellent bard, Barry Patterson, arrived with his partner, Anne, and a range of instruments including several flutes, bagpipes and a drum. Welsh bard, Gwyn Edwards, joined us too, a delightful man and a fount of lore, legend and laughter.

 

Eric Maddern, the originator of Cae Mabon and its guiding light, treated us to a talk about the place and its history. This took place in the comfortable dining hall, created from the ruins of a former agricultural building. Here an altar was established, decorated with stones and flowers from the area, on which The World Drum was to be placed when not is use. I have to admit, after the experience of soaking the Drum overnight just before setting out for Cae Mabon, I had become more than a little protective of it. It was still very cold and we were instructed to use heating sparingly, which was fine for us but gave me some concerns for the Drum. Hence I put it back in its case and removed it to the Longhouse for the night, reasoning that five sleeping in a small space would generate enough warmth to keep the Drum's skin from losing tension again. This proved correct. However, there was another problem.

 

I sleep very little anyway and, given the excitement of all the ceremonies and events and the strange surroundings, I found it impossible to sleep at all. Instead, I lay listening to the uncoordinated choir of the differently pitched snores of my companions. Finally, at about 5.30am, I gave up and got up, sneaking out as quietly as possible in the half-light. It was Saturday morning, just about, and we were to travel to Anglesey after lunch for a ceremony at 2pm.

 

Caryl DaileyJoining us for lunch and the afternoon ceremony was Caryl Dailey (left), an OBOD Druid and tutor whom I had not previously met. Caryl duly arrived with her friend, Tracy, both beautifully robed and smiling. Caryl turned out to be a bit of a star. She has Sami blood in her ancestry and treated us to a display of joiking, a type of throat-singing practiced by the Sami of Norway that produces some very strange sounds. While Caryl sang in the roundhouse, I was sitting by the central fire with the World Drum held next to me. Whenever she slipped into joiking, the Drum responded, picking up the sound and singing along with her. When she sang with her normal voice at the same or greater volume, nothing. Only when joiking. The Sami are reindeer-herders. The Drum's skin is reindeer. Interesting.

 

After lunch (the food at Cae Mabon was wonderful), we wended our way back up to the car park and decamped for Anglesey. The significance of Anglesey for Druids is that it was long supposed to have been the site of the Druids' last stand against the Roman legions in 55 CE. The Roman historian, Tacitus, gives a wonderfully vivid description of the event, with the legions formed up on one side of the Menai Strait and the Anglesey side lined with Druids perched on every high point and hurling imprecations into the wind while women clothed in black tatters ran amongst them waving flaming torches and screaming. Eventually, the legions overcome their fears, storm across the Strait, murder everyone on the island and burn down the Druidic shrines they find there. Thus ended Druidry in Britain.

 

Except, of course, it didn't end. For one thing, Anglesey had then, as it still has now, excellent sea-borne links with Ireland. It would be absurd had not at least some of the Anglesey Druids jumped into boats and high-tailed it across the Irish Sea, or in the other direction to Scotland, depending on the prevailing winds. For another thing, it would have been equally absurd for every Druid in the whole of the British Isles to present themselves conveniently in the same place on the same day so that they could all be conveniently massacred. Add to that the fact that there were a number of British tribes who welcomed the Romans' arrival and it seems very unlikely that the Romans would have repaid their welcome by murdering their Druids.

 

Barry piping in Bryn Celli DduOur chosen site for the ceremony on Anglesey was the megalithic chambered tomb-shrine of Bryn Celli Ddu, the 'Mound of the Dark Grove,' pronounced something like Brun Kethly Thee. I was happy with the choice, having last visited the Mound almost thirty years ago. It is an unusual site in many ways. Passage graves of this type are generally earlier in date than stone circles. In this case, however, the passage grave, dated circa 2000 BCE, was constructed inside a pre-existing henge and stone circle constructed around a thousand years earlier. It is also unusual amongst British tomb-shrines in having carved decorations on some of its stones, such decorated stones being mainly found in Irish tomb-shrines where they are relatively common. Bryn Celli Ddu's 27-foot long passage is aligned on the sun at Midsummer. Another extremely unusual feature is the free-standing stone pillar that stands inside the central chamber. There has been speculation that this stone is actually part of a petrified tree, or it may have been chosen for this special placing because of its resemblance to a petrified tree. That's Barry playing his pipes next to that very stone pillar.

 

We crossed the Britannia Bridge onto Anglesey and turned left towards our destination. Parking nearby, we walked along field edges until we reached the site. With its surrounding bank and ditch, it is an impressive site. The obvious place to old the ceremony was the flat area between the henge ditch and the Mound. I took the World Drum in its case and laid it at the approximate centre of what was to be our circle. While waiting for the rest of our party to arrive, I stood looking around at the place, my mind idling. My eyes were drawn back to the grassy area where the ceremony would be held and I saw beneath the grass the pattern of a huge serpent. Now snakes are very important in Druidry, which has its own equivalent of the Kundalini serpent of Hindu yoga and also sees earth energies as serpents or dragons, so this vision seemed to bode well.

 

Lorraine and The World Drum at Bryn Celli DduWhen about 50 people had arrived, I joined Caryl, Elaine and others to talk about what we were going to do in the ceremony. I had wondered if Caryl might have some firm plan for the rite. I needn't have worried. As with the other World Drum rites, she was happy to start off and see where spirit took us. Our 'plan,' such as it was, included a short introduction to the World Drum, a reading of Morten Wolf Storeide's 'Speech for Mother Earth,' and then for Lorraine, as she had before, to carry the Drum around the circle for everyone to play. Caryl would open the circle and Elaine might recite the ancient Greek 'Hymn to Gaia,' a beautiful piece of liturgy. Our Welsh bard, Gwyn, would speak a piece of Druid liturgy in its original language and in English. And that's pretty much what happened.

 

Serpentine Conga at Bryn Celli DduThe end of the rite, however, took me by surprise. Caryl gathered everyone together for a hokey-cokey, which was followed by a serpent-dance, beginning just where I'd seen my serpent vision in the grass, snaking away around the Mound and returning to its starting point. Serpent energy. Yes! And the drummers, as drummers will, played on throughout.

 

It was a good, energised and energising rite, lighting up the place literally and metaphorically as the sun broke through and smiles broke out.

 

Another surprise was looking to the top of the Mound and seeing there my old friend, Andy Letcher, and his wife, Nomi. This was slightly surreal, since I had last seen them a couple of weeks earlier when they had unexpectedly appeared at our ceremony at Avebury. At Bryn Celli Ddu, they had at least known that a ceremony was due to take place on Anglesey, though they had not known the venue and had made an educated guess. We arranged to meet up again, making sure we wouldn't miss each other by not telling each other where we'd be.

 

After the ceremony, many of us went into the chamber inside the mound, taking the World Drum and other drums, while Barry took his pipes. I caught the end of the session in the Mound, and it was good.

 

Evening in Cae Mabon roundhouseThat evening, we had an eisteddfod session in the roundhouse. It was good. We enjoyed a mix of music, stories, jokes and songs.

 

Having slept hardly at all the night before, I decided to try spending the night in the roundhouse with my sons. Not having bedding or a sleeping bag with me, I figured I'd be OK in my thick woolly Druid robe with my wolfskin cloak over me. Of course, what I hadn't allowed for was that this was the night North Wales would be hit by storm force winds of up to 75 mph and torrential rain.

 

The doorway of the Cae Mabon roundhouse has a heavy woollen blanket hung across it. As the winds rose, this heavy blanket was, at times, stretched out parallel to the ground. Meanwhile, the flames of the central fire, which I was keeping fed to try and maintain a reasonable temperature, were being swung wildly around, sending sparks flying towards the straw-bales placed near the fire as seating. The Cae Mabon roundhouse has a stone wall. The roof poles are rested on top of that wall, the thatch applied on top of the poles. However, the gap between the top of the wall and the thatch has not been filled, therefore the furious winds were blowing into the roundhouse from all sides. Candle lanterns, fortunately not lit, were blown over. Luckily, the sofas and armchair on which Joe, Mike and I were trying to sleep were below the level of the top of the wall and, therefore, sheltered from the worst of the wind. On the other hand, we were not protected from the sound of the wind which roared around us all night with a noise like an express train passing a few feet away. I had not heard winds like it since the night of the famous hurricane of 1987. Needless to say, I did not sleep.

 

On Sunday morning there were more opportunities to talk. Barry and I, as bards will, fell into comparing our various flutes and talking music. There was a final lunch, followed by a farewell ceremony with the Drum, and then it was back up the path for the long drive back to Wildways, passing once more across the beautiful Llanberis Pass.

 

Cae Mabon rocks and treesBefore we left, Cae Mabon held one last bit of magic for me. As mentioned, Mount Snowdon is visible from Cae Mabon. Mount Snowdon is the home of the four storm-bringing eagles who are depicted on my drum. Just before we left, I stepped off on my own and found a suitable perch from which to view the mountain. I wanted to re-connect with my eagle companions. It had been a while. Facing the mountain across the lake, I raised my arms from my sides and spread them as wings. Without even thinking about it, I found my spirit soaring across the waters of the lake in eagle form and heading for the clouds that wreathed the mountain-top. There I found my eagle companions and greeted them. I took a moment to enjoy wheeling around the mountain with them, then broke away to return to Cae Mabon and my body. I knew that my companions would be anxious to be underway. It was a beautiful, magical moment and I give thanks to the spirits.

 

Barry has written a beautiful poem/song about our time at Cae Mabon and Anglesey, which is available online as a rather lovely sound file on which Barry plays the World Drum and his lilting bagpipes while the sound of the Cae Mabon stream rushes along and he speaks/sings his words. The text is on the same page, and you can find both at http://www.redsandstonehill.net/2013/04/world-drum-at-cae-mabon.html

 

Enjoy!

 

As ever, the photos here are by Elaine Gregory, aka Elaine Wildways.

 

We'd made rituals at Avebury, Stonehenge, Glastonbury Tor and Ironbridge, the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution. Iconic places all, each in their own way. Where next? Clee Hill. OK, you may ask, where is Clee Hill and what is it? Clee Hill is an exposed area of high, stony land in Shropshire in the West Midlands of England. It has a number of distinct peaks and archaeology shows it to have been inhabited off and on since the Neolithic period. Suzanne Thomas, her musician husband, Jake, and their kids live there and have a deep affection for the place. Before the World Drum, I knew little of it, only having ever been driven across it on the way to other places. That was about to change. The first event Suzanne had organised for us was on one of the highest peaks, one with the curious name of Titterstone Clee. Elaine, co-ordinator of all the World Drum events, also lives in Shropshire but had never been to the top of Titterstone Clee. As mentioned in an earlier blog, this was one of the coldest springtimes on record, so, with a good deal of snow still lying on the high ground, Elaine though it might be wise to take a drive up to the Clee and see how passable it was. We did this the day before the ceremony was due to take place. Much of the very narrow road leading up onto the Clee was covered in a thick layer of impacted snow and ice. The car did slew about a little, enough to make us turn around well before we reached the car park and head back down the hill. Not very promising, but we had faith in The World Drum. It had been kind to us so far.
The following morning, we headed back to Titterstone Clee, the Drum stowed safely in its flight case in the back of the car and the rest of our drums and assorted robes in with it. Driving carefully in a ragged convoy, we made the upper car park without incident and climbed out of the car as others were doing the same. As at Glastonbury, the sun was shining brightly, the skies were bright blue all around us, and despite the frozen puddles and streams and the quite deep snow in places, it was actually quite warm. Once again, we were blessed.
Hiking up Clee Hill We began to make our way up the hill. It was a long and winding way, taking us past two giant golfball-like structures that are apparently government listening and aircraft tracking centres. They look as surreal perched there on these ancient hills as Dali's lobster telephone. The walk being long, often steep and quite adruous, I took the opportunity to pause for a few moments by one of the giant golfballs and request the spirits of the land and people to bring us to a time when such places will no longer be necessary. This led to an image of the two great white balls tumbling down the hill in winter, gathering snow as they went and, on reaching the bottom, forming the most enormous snowman in history...
Back to the walk, which at times became a climb. Every now and then, I would see a group of people in front of me who had stopped and I would think, "Aha! We've arrived at the ritual site!" Then my hopes would be quickly dashed as they broke off their conversation and continued walking. This seemed to go on for hours. Perhaps the fact that I was carrying both the World Drum Drum Circle on Clee Hilland my own drum and wearing a thick robe and wolfskin cloak may have made it seem longer. Nevertheless, being a determined sort of chap, I carried on ... and on .... and then on a bit more ...
At last, just as I thought we must have left not only the county but probably the country by now, we did arrive at our appointed destination. This was clearly a particularly high point as it had been marked with a concrete plinth at the base of which was an awen symbol.
Here we gathered. The weather was still superb, the views in all directions breathtaking, and I was quite pleased at the number of folk who had made the climb. There were about forty of us on the hilltop. So this was Titterstone Clee. I had to admit, it was impressive.
We formed our circle, spoke our blessings, spoke again the words of Morten Wolf Storeide's 'Speech for Mother Earth,' and then began to drum. The World Drum began the beat, a steady, rhythmic heartbeat. Other drummers picked it up and, as is the way with these things, the rhythm built in strength Drums on Clee Hillas we continued to drum, increasing our energy yet more, so that the power of the drums stepped up again, increasing our energy still further. Despite the surrounding snow, I began to feel quite hot.
At the close of the rite, we were all elated, as I think is apparent from some of these pictures. Once again, I thank Elaine Gregory (known on facebook as Elaine Wildways) for the photographs, including the one below, when Suzanne's husband, Jake, took me to visit the Giant's Chair, a little way over the hill from the site of the ceremony. In this peaceful, beautiful spot, I felt moved to play my flute to honour the spirits of the place.

Blessings to all,Greywolf /|\

Greywolf Fluting on Clee Hill

On first visiting the Avebury henge in Wiltshire in the mid-1970s, I came to the same conclusion that the antiquary, John Aubrey, arrived at after his first visit in 1649, which is that Avebury "doth as much exceed in greatness the so renowned Stonehenge, as a cathedral doth a parish church." In scale, it certainly does, Avebury's massive bank and ditch enclosing an area of 28.5 acres compared to Stonehenge's humble 1.9. In spite of having half a village built inside it and being sliced in two by a busy main road, Avebury also retains an extraordinary atmosphere. On my first visit, it felt like an active, living sacred site.
As I strolled around the south inner circle, I had a vision in which I saw the body of a grey-haired man lying on a wicker-work stretcher next to the base of one of the sarsen stones. Kneeling by him was a woman of a similar age who I took to be his partner. She was singing a keening song and wafting her hands across the dead man's chest. I got the distinct impressions that she was singing the man's soul into the sarsen, and that this was a common practice among her people. About a dozen other women and men stood in a loose semi-circle around the couple, all facing in towards the stone. Some of them were also singing, while the women were supporting the woman's wafting motions. All were dressed in clothing of rough-woven cloth and skins that suggested they had lived about 4 - 4.5 thousand years ago. This vision gave me the clear idea that one of the functions of the stones in megalithic circles was to act as soul-shrines, receptacles for the spirits of the dead in which they would reside after death as continuing members of their tribes.
Avebury Funeral RiteIt is this vision that I've tried to recapture in the illustration here, made for one of the booklets in the BDO ovate course, one on rituals of death and dying. I began with a photo taken by my son Joe next to the very stone where I had the vision 37 years ago. In it, I play the dead man and Elaine Wildways plays my grieving partner. Since our photo was taken on a bright sunny early afternoon, while the vision was set at twilight, I darkened the sky and some of the surrounding landscape. The over-large moon and the rook were added from another photo of Avebury taken at another time. They were added just because I think they look good. The wolfskin covering my body was also added digitally. I also played around with the colours a bit. I thought about including some of the other figures I had seen in the vision but decided not to as they would have partially hidden the central couple. If you're thinking the image really looks digitally manipulated, that's deliberate. There's something about the weird accidents that happen when digitally playing around with pictures that, for me at least, gives them an Otherworldly appearance which is exactly what I was looking for.
Intriguingly, the archaeologist, Mike Parker-Pearson, believes that the stones at Stonehenge are soul-shrines, having been led to this conclusion when he invited
Ramilisonina, a colleague from Madagascar, to visit Stonehenge in the 1990s. Ramilisonina told him that, in Madagascar, there is a still active megalithic tradition in which the souls of the dead are transferred into stones that are regarded as sacred. He strongly felt that the stones of Stonehenge had the same function.
It's interesting, though ultimately futile, to speculate whether Mike Parker-Pearson would have so readily accepted the same opinion from me, an English Druid, if I had shared my vision with him. Somehow, I doubt it. There is a peculiar cultural bias by which spirit vision is perfectly acceptable as 'evidence' if it comes from a person born into a culture regarded as 'traditional,' 'tribal,' 'shamanic,' or 'aboriginal,' but not if it comes from an English, European or American Druid or Pagan. Why this should be so is not entirely obvious, since we are all humans and share exactly the same capacity to have visions and to commune with ancestral spirits. It's almost as if there's a kind of inverted racism at work. Just a thought ...