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Sun & MoonWith the liminal time of Hallowe'en almost upon us, a time when the veil between the realms of the living and the ancestral dead is at its thinnest, I've been pondering the ways between the worlds. Since early childhood I've been fascinated by shifts in consciousness, including that surreal space between waking and sleeping that psychologists call the hypnogogic state. In this state strange things can happen. You may find yourself able to see through closed eyelids and note that the world you are seeing is not quite the one you see when you open your eyes. You may hear voices or see people or other animals that seem fleetingly very real even though the still waking part of your mind knows that they are not there at all. Or are they?

This childhood fascination was an important factor in guiding me towards the visionary form of Druidry that has been my path for the last forty years. One of the primary attributes of this style of Druidry is the ability to shift between worlds or states of awareness. One of the primary ways of doing this is through music, often that of the drum, though it may be argued that the bardic harp is the more traditional native instrument to initiate shifts in consciousness, while I've found that an acoustic guitar works just as well.

DragonbreathThe other night I was very tired, but had said I would drum in the roundhouse with my friend, Elaine, and I like to be true to my word if at all possible. So, wellies on, we plodded through the mud 'neath the full moon's light. It had been weeks since anyone restocked the wood supply in the roundhouse with other than a few bits of kindling, so the fire we lit was very smoky. We threw both doors open wide to the night and smoke rolled out in great clouds. It took about half an hour to encourage the fire to produce more flame than smoke, by which time I was even more tired. As a gentle opener then, I played my flute. When we finally brought out our drums, I began with the gentle heartbeat I usually start with these days, but it quickly morphed into a much stronger, much faster beat that was needed to try and wake myself up. It kind of worked, but was hardly cooking.

I tried initiating another rhythm, one that might encourage me to sing with the drum. The idea is that you listen to the overtones the drum produces, find words or sounds within them and then try to reproduce them or harmonise with them with your voice. I tried but it wasn't really working. I was almost ready to give up, only I had promised to send healing vibes across the ocean to friends in the Pacific Northwest, so I felt I had to make one last effort.

Greywolf drummingThere's something about being pushed to one's limit that aids the process of transition. Sweat lodges work on this principle. Pushing through tiredness can sometimes have the same result. About a minute into that last drum session, I felt something give, almost as though a door opened in my head through which I began to see another world beyond the physical. I recognised when it happened because I began to smile broadly. I sang into the drum, the taut skin bouncing the sound back to me, resonating with the overtones produced by the beater. Now I could send out those good vibes across the great Atlantic, my lightness of being lending them wings.

I began to howl, weaving the rise and fall of my howling with the voice of the drum. It was working and it was beautiful. The contrast with the earlier listless efforts was amazing. Finally, the howls died away, replaced by wind sounds that I blew across the surface of the drum as the beats on it grew softer and softer, fading into silence.

As drum and voice fell silent, sounds from the night outside came through the open doors to fill the silence. They sounded remarkably like the last few moments of singing and drumming.

I looked towards the doors. The roundhouse on either side of them was illuminated by the fire and candles. I looked with other eyes and it seemed to exist in another realm. Part of me knew the physical reality of dirt under my fingernails, the cuts and bruises from having built this structure of timber, mud and straw. Now, however, this place I had designed and knew so well seemed no more real than a dream, and less real than many of those. I sat back in my mind and saw my surroundings as though watching a film or looking at a painting. It was not a solid world any more but an imaginary one, a realm of insubstantial ghosts and shadows.

Suddenly the fire collapsed and sparky pieces of glowing red wood spilled beyond its circle of enclosing stones to roll across the earthen floor. Reality was trying to reassert itself and snap me back. It didn't work. I just smiled all the more at the trick it was trying to play on me. A spirit walked in through the doors. I checked that our protection was still in place. It was. Nothing to worry about.

Realising there was no more we could do and no more to be done, we packed away our drums, bedded down the fire, extinguished the candles, closed the doors and made our way back through the woods, the full moon illuminating our path. It was beautiful.

Thinking about it back at the house, I realised the importance of that signifier that let me know I had Holwing Wolf Moonreached the crossing point: smiling. There was a genuine and spontaneous joy at having reached that point, at being once again reminded that the concrete jungles we have built for ourselves, even the roundhouses we have built, are not the only reality we inhabit. There are potentially endless Otherworlds beyond, worlds of magic and wonder where we may converse with other animals, with tree people, the ancestral dead, the Faery Folk, the old gods of our lands, or mythical creatures such as dragons and unicorns. On entering these worlds, we find that they have a reality that goes far beyond that of what we think of as solid matter. Of course, matter is nowhere near solid, the spaces between atoms being vastly bigger than the atoms themselves, comparable to the distances between planets or galaxies. No wonder Eastern religions refer to the material world as Maya, 'Illusion.' It may indeed be more permeable than dreams.

The world of matter is a world full of worries, concerns, fears, while accessing Otherworlds releases a spontaneous burst of joy. Entering them, we are freed from the weight of the material world, while in them we may soar on eagle wings or lope through forests on padded paws, seeing through other eyes. They are our true home.

Some may see these words as further evidence that we modern Pagans are engaged in mere escapism resulting from our unwillingness or inability to engage with the 'real' world. I would argue that, far from escaping reality, we are actually learning to access realities that are deeper, broader, more filled with possibility and more 'real' than the familiar, made in China, plastic, CGI world of car adverts, media overload, political posturing and quantitative easing. Give me the Faery Realms any day.

Blessings of Summer's end,

Greywolf /|\

The pictures:

The one at the top is a mixed media piece I made about 40 years ago, the photos of me blowing the fire and drumming in the roundhouse are by Elaine Gregory and the wolf image is one I found online.

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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.