About Karl Schotterbeck

Archdruid Karl Schlotterbeck, MA, CAS, is a longtime student of the Druid way (including the Druid grade of OBOD), a shaman, drummer, and licensed psychologist. He was elected Archdruid in July of 2009. He is the author of Living Your Past Lives: The Psychology of Past-Life Regression (iUniverse 2002 revision), The Karma In Your Relationships (iUniverse 2003), and Lion of Satan, Lion of God (co-author), and other manuscripts in progress. He lives in Minnesota with his wife, children and assorted animals.

The Power and Pitfalls of Mythologies

Photo by Ulchaban

Photo by Ulchaban

Mythologies – recognized and not recognized – are powerful forces in all societies. They help tell us who we think we are and our place in the world, and how to relate to those within and outside our official circles. They inspire acts of heroism and terrorism, conquest and resistance to conquest. They give people hope and reason to live, ways to navigate our world, and a relationship with the Divine (or an image thereof). They are also used in the subjugation of conquered peoples to erase unwanted ideas or troublesome competing mythologies and languages.

Celts had mythologies that celebrated a direct connection with the land and the ruler’s responsibility toward that land. If the ruler was unfit, the land suffered.

The power of mythology is not limited to history or religious expression. Countries carry their own (often white-washed) mythologies, and their leaders use mythologies (via propaganda) to present a desirable image of themselves. We see negative mythologies created about the character and identity of others. Often we see an illusory image created by the opponents purporting to know the motivation and some secret agenda of the other. As a psychologist, it is painfully obvious that how much we are asked to make judgments on is based on little more than rumor, innuendo, accusation and a contrived image. Truth is an unwelcome guest at this table.

06-14-07-staugustine-281Of course, mythologies are not always consistent and will provide contradictory models for us. But those contradictions, I submit, simply show the complexity of human nature and the human condition.

Speaking of the human condition, our memories are often the mythology we use to explain who we are and how we came to be this way. We have constructed a mythological identity for ourselves, attributing influence to others, to ideas, to lessons, successes and failures.

The test of any mythology – religious, personal or secular – is whether it helps us navigate our world and allows us to draw inspiration from it. If not, it is just a social belief system; for genuine mythologies are alive, and enliven those who can embody them!

For Keltrians, do our myths live in us, inspire us, educate us? Do they help us relate to one another, to the Spirits of Nature, to the Ancestors, to the Divine? How personal is our relationship with any of the divine figures of our pantheon?

I invite us all to examine how we might – each in our individual way – engage with and celebrate our myths. We can re-read the stories, see where they come alive in us, how they speak to us and give us a glimpse into the source of wisdom and inspiration. We can celebrate our holidays and rites, and honor the characters that live in the mythologies and, perhaps, discover them already alive inside of us.

Karl is the ArchDruid Emeritus and current President of the Henge of Keltria.

Feed the fish: Drop your hazelnuts into the Well of Wisdom! We're always looking for submissions to the Keltria blog: poetry, photos, essays, articles, recipes, random musings related to the Henge and more! Share your imbas with your fellow Keltrians. Contact HH-Editor@keltria.org or dulcimergoddess@keltria.org.


From the President: A Happy Samhain to All!

Karl SchlotterbeckHow amusingly coincidental that our American elections come in the Halloween season when people dress in strange costumes of personas that they think will gain them treats from us and, in a curious twist, attempt to dress their opponents in mythologies which they themselves are often hiding. It requires a lot of effort to keep the Cup of Truth in my head from shattering but, rather than giving up, turning away or numbing out, I try to be an adult and sort through wasted words for some glimmer of truth that will help me understand what is going on beneath the surface, and what the potential might be for our long-term evolution. I hold out hope that a truth might grow in our consciousness that is worthy of the ancestors, respectful of nature and her spirits, and would be honorable in the face of all we hold as sacred.

Of course, we all know that this version of the darkening year derives from Celtic celebrations at the beginning of the first month of winter – Samhain. As Samhain approaches, we in the Northern Hemisphere are faced with that recurring theme of letting go and going into the dark. Although we might like to ignore the fact that death is always near, awareness of the changes of seasons in our part of the world (Northern Hemisphere temperate zone) shows us different kinds of transitions. Some only look like death, as life draws in and down, only to rise and blossom once more in the spring. Those that do die as individuals leave seed behind that becomes the new generation of their kind. It seems to me that there is also a kind of death in those who fight the darkening of this season and try to stave off their anxiety by pretending nothing is changing and use artificial light to continue on. Indeed, there is light in the dark, but it doesn’t come from strings of manufactured lights or from metaphors of death and resurrection (even if reflecting a reality), but from the light we each carry within ourselves and the capacity to receive inspiration (imbas). Imbas cannot enter if we close against the dark for, when we open to what is, we can recognize the greater truth and embrace our destiny.

May all who read these words find in their hearts the best seeds of their nature and dreams that they can nurture through the dark months and into the new seasons. But first, I raise a glass to the Dark and its embrace.


Photo by Cypresseyes

Shamanic Elements in Druidism

Shamanic Elements in Druidism: A Summary of a Workshop Presented by C. Leigh McGinley and Karl Schlotterbeck at the 2016 Annual Gathering – prepared by Karl Schlotterbeck.

This workshop carries forward ideas presented in a previous article (from September 2009) titled “Celtic Shamanism: Fad, Fact or Fantasy?” In this workshop, the co-facilitators first addressed the challenges inherent when people from one culture attempt to understand the activities of another culture without the language, perspective, experience and environmental realities of the observed culture. As in any culture, direct translation of language can be a problem with idioms, double meanings or nuances that are not recognized. It should first be noted that the term “shaman” comes originally from the Tungus people in Siberia and has been applied by anthropologists and others to similar practitioners in other cultures – even if they have their own word for these people.

An illustration of a shaman in Siberia, produced by the Dutch explorer Nicolaes Witsen in the late 17th century. Via Wikimedia Commons.

An illustration of a shaman in Siberia, produced by the Dutch explorer Nicolaes Witsen in the late 17th century. Via Wikimedia Commons.

The first writers to observe shamanic activity in the New World were missionaries in the 16th through 18th centuries who dismissed it as “devil worship,” and called the practitioners jugglers, charlatans and imposters. When anthropologists began describing them in the 19th and 20th centuries, shamans were often described as “mentally deranged” or “tricksters,” although some saw them as “outstanding people” or serving as psychoanalysts to their people. The belief in animism was described as a concept for “lower races.” It was not until the 1950s, when anthropologists and others actually participated in shamanic activity that more respectful and objective descriptions came about. (See Shamans Through Time, edited by Jeremy Narby and Francis Huxley, Tarcher/Putnam 2001.)

Thus, observers saw only what they were prepared to see, based on their own reality-orientation, expectations, set of pre-existing ideas, and perspective.

A Mudang, or Korean shaman. Image via Wikimedia Commons.

A Mudang, or Korean shaman. Image via Wikimedia Commons.

Some of the elements of shamanic activity relevant to our discussion include:

  • The use of altered states of consciousness, and the induction of trance through drumming, singing, chanting, dancing, storytelling, sounds of nature, fasting, entheogens, etc.
  • Purposeful travel into the Otherworld
  • Shapeshifting
  • Interaction with spirits
  • Divination
  • Psychopomp work
  • Weather shamanism
  • Healing
  • The use of ritual dress – usually animal-based – to facilitate the transition of consciousness
  • The perspective of an interconnected web of life and that everything in nature is alive and willing to communicate

(Note that no one of these necessarily denotes a shaman as, over time, various functions have been appropriated for use by healers, channelers, therapists, entertainers and priests.)

Irish stories make reference to such things as shapeshifting, spirit flight, interaction with the dead and with denizens of the Otherworld, weather influence, healing, chanting, forms of divination, ritual and ceremonial dress, etc.

Some of the elements we see in Celtic literature and mythology suggestive of an orientation similar to that of shamanic societies include:

  • Mogh Roith who used bull hide, speckled bird mask and other “druidic gear” to fly and send fire to the enemy.
  • The possibility (suggested by Stuart Harris-Logan in Singing with Blackbirds) that the wheel mentioned in stories of Mogh Roith, as well as Fechertne’s claim that he traveled on “chariot without a wheelrim, on wheelrim without a chariot,” may have the double meaning of drum – similar to such references in other cultures.
  • The wasting sickness of Cú Chulainn who was beaten into a trance, as well as his “battle frenzy” and “magical heat.” Harris-Logan reads Cú Chulainn’s story as typical of shamanic activity: an initiatory sleep, visits to the Otherworld, a totemic name and the trance of his battle fury.
  • Fionn and company were described as using a chant (dordfhiansa) that would scatter the enemy and is described in a way that suggests Tuvan overtone singing.
  • The image of Cernunnos – with antlers and accompanied by animals, including a serpent with horns.
  • Shapeshifting, often into deer (which “Saint” Patrick is said to have done to elude capture).
  • Being “taken by the Faeries” as shamanic initiation (as suggested by Tom Cowan in Fire in the Head).
  • The use of the term “sleep” to suggest the activities of trance.
Detail from the Gundestrup cauldron, via Wikimedia Commons

Detail from the Gundestrup cauldron, via Wikimedia Commons

There is always discussion about the origin and meaning of the term “druid” and I believe it is a distraction from into a deeper understanding when we attempt to nail down one specific idea. I’ve come to believe that the many possibilities of translation reflect the many facets of meaning inherent in this word. Such meanings have included: door, oak, strong, true, knowledge, witness, experiential wisdom, and knowledge of the oak. This last descriptor – knowledge of the oak – has a double meaning as well: it could mean “knowledge about the oak” or “knowing what the oak knows” – or both.

There are some differences, to be sure, between Celtic society and common shamanic concepts. The need to journey as in our modern idea reflects our felt distance from the Otherworld, whereas in the Irish/Celtic, the Otherworld was immanent and we could stumble into it at any time. Thus, formal “journeys” were not so necessary.

There are various practices described in Irish literature suggestive of shamanic divinatory activity such as:

  • Imbas forosna, in which, after preparation and invocation, the individual chanted over his/her palms, put the palms over the eyes, and “slept” for an answer to a question while watched over by others;
  • Toghairm, in which the person was wrapped in a fresh hide, lain near a waterfall, given a question and left to divine the answer;
  • Frith, in which a process of moving “twixt and between” was used to divine an omen to answer a question;
  • And all manner of nature augury such as cloud divination, bird song, bird flight, the reading of entrails.

Again, engaging in these activities wouldn’t necessarily make one equivalent to traditional shamans, but these are activities quite similar to those of shamans.

Maeve and the Druid. By Stephen Reid (Eleanor Hull, The Boys' Cuchulainn) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Maeve and the Druid. By Stephen Reid (Eleanor Hull, The Boys' Cuchulainn) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

In our live workshop, we were fortunate in being able to take these ideas beyond theory and guide participants in forms of divination such as imbas forosna, toghairm and frith. In addition, TopazOwl showed the use of a story – Heart So True – to effect healing, thus, demonstrating that the well-known practices of storytelling were likely used for more than entertainment.

In summary, as state by Harris-Logan: “Through their songs and chants, the Gaels displayed a complete spectrum of shamanic activity: from shapeshifting and sensory deprivation to healing extraction and totemism. . . The shaman is a specialist in the Sacred; one who fosters a personal and interactive relationship with the spirits. The druids did this, and so did the Gaels. (Harris-Logan, p. 122)

References used in preparation for this seminar included (along with personal experience):

Fire in the Head: Shamanism and the Celtic Spirit, Tom Cowan, HarperSanFrancisco, 1993

Shamanism: Archaic Techniques of Ecstasy, Mircea Eliade, Bollingen/Princeton University Press, 1964 edition/translation

Cauldron of the Gods: A Manual of Celtic Magic, Jan Fries, Mandrake of Oxford, 2003

The Way of the Shaman: A Guide to Power and Healing, Michael Harner, Harper and Row, 1980

Cave and Cosmos: Shamanic Encounters with Another Reality, Michael Harner, North Atlantic Books, 2013

Singing with Blackbirds: The Survival of Primal Celtic Shamanism in Later Folk-Traditions, Stuart Harris-Logan, Grey House in the Woods, 2006

The Celtic Shaman: A Handbook, John Matthews, Element, 1991

Shamans Through Time: 500 Years on the Path to Knowledge, edited by Jeremy Narby & Francis Huxley, Tarcher/Putnam, 2001

Forbhais Droma Dámhgáire: The Siege of Knocklong, Seán Ó Duinn, Mercier Press, 1992


Moving into the Evolving 21st Century: A Time of Transition, Review and Revision

From Henge of Keltria's President

Karl Schlotterbeck

Karl Schlotterbeck

Over the years, a small number of people have been actively involved in maintaining the mundane affairs of the Henge and its spiritual underpinnings, and specialists have kept the website going and produced our various publications. During our recent Annual Gathering, participants discussed ways to be of service to the varying needs of our members, and to make the Henge more sustainable in our modern environment with evolving means of communication through the web, blogs and social media. A basic question was, in light of modern trends, how the Henge might remain true to its mission while best serving and being served by its members, initiates and officers.

During these discussions, several possible ways forward were noted, such as reducing the number of officers for more efficient decisions and communication, or continuing as-is – with adjustments to various operations, and revision of the by-laws to bring them up to date. By the end of the Gathering, our consensus was to take the latter option: continue with our current administrative structure, while revising the by-laws and re-structuring our membership process. (See below.)

Since the by-laws have not kept pace with the evolution of the Henge (and show an increasing number of amendments to attempt to do so), a major overhaul is being undertaken, spearheaded by President Emeritus Wren and Trustee TopazOwl. It will, of course, go through the usual process of discussion and official approvals.

Jenne Micale, who has been elegantly editing Henge Happenings (HH), has been given the official title of “Communications Officer” and will guide us through a transition from the periodical publication of HH to an ongoing blog-based platform called “Keltria’s Well of Wisdom.”

With unanimous consent of the board, BeanSidhe accepted appointment to the office of secretary of the Board of Trustees. We are grateful for her willingness to serve in this capacity. TopazOwl was re-elected to her seat on the Board of Trustees, and Ulchabhan was elected to the open seat. We want to thank retiring trustee Caroline for her service to the Henge in this capacity. Autumn Rose graciously continues to serve in her position as trustee.

The Board received and unanimously adopted a proposal from Treasurer Tony to simplify renewals by shifting memberships to an annual renewal consonant with the calendar year. Thus, memberships will run from January 1 to December 31 each year. The Board’s resolution approved on July 9, 2016 are summarized as follows:

1. Memberships that expire between July and the end of this year will be extended to December 31 of this year.

2. Automatic renewals between now and December will be suspended with the intent to begin renewals this December for 2017.

3. No new memberships will be accepted from now until December of this year.

4. Before the end of the year, the Board will review and revise the membership process as deemed appropriate.

Thus, the Board of Trustees is actively engaged in reviewing our operation in the mundane affairs of the Henge. In addition, the Council of Elders, in consultation with members of the Ring of the Oak, is also taking the next few months to review various policies to strengthen Groves.

It was a busy and exciting Gathering with the potential for strengthening the heart of Keltria on many levels. I wish to thank all the participants who invested their time, finances, ideas and optimism toward a renewal that promises to benefit us all.

Walk with Wisdom.

Book Review: The Divine Feminine in Ancient Europe

Book Review

The Divine Feminine in Ancient Europe: Goddesses, Sacred Women and the Origins of Western Culture

      by Sharon Paice MacLeod

Review by Karl Schlotterbeck

Cover for Divine Feminine in Ancient Europe.This work is an exploration of the presence of the Divine Feminine throughout European history in all her diversity. The book is intelligent without being dry, uses image without falling into fantasy, and is factual without boring the reader. Rather than some cold piercing gaze of analytics, Sharon Paice MacLeod embraces her subject with clear-eyed warmth.

She works through the first half of the book deconstructing our popular modern mythologies about the Feminine Divine by taking us through Paleolithic, Mesolithic, Neolithic, and Bronze-age periods, describing what we can know of history based on burial practices, architecture, artistic creations, implements and other artifacts. She shows us a much richer tapestry of European development than would be evident in many popular accounts. In so doing, she restores the beautiful diversity and depth of the Feminine Divine by exposing modern myths promulgated by empire builders and cultural biases – such as myths about the singular basis of our culture in Greek and Roman civilization, and the reductionist notion of a pervasive Mother Goddess tradition. Goddess-based religions, she shows, were not uniform nor based only on fertility or mothering, but arose everywhere, in many different forms, reflecting every aspect of life.

Most chapters begin with a brief narrative story of how things might have been, given the information she then explores. She gives the reader a feeling of being inside the subject, from a place where the people lived out the things she discusses. She provides enough data to give us a feel for the times without getting lost in minutiae.

Recognizing that history is connected to the present, without being preachy, she calls attention to parallels between our own time, climate changes in the Paleolithic and Mesolithic times, and enriches her text by using quotes from indigenous peoples who still have a close relationship with the Earth as did our ancestors.

The Divine Feminine in Ancient Europe is a firm but gentle call to restore our ancestors’ place in history, which was shaped by the land, with recognition of the interactive relationship among humanity, the Earth and its cycles, and the wide spectrum of roles play by the Divine Feminine.

She helps us to remember – not just remember history, but to honor the breadth and intelligence of our ancestors’ lives and their spiritual relationships, as well as calling us to restore our own relationship with and responsibility to the world around us. I hear in her writing a call to heal our “collective soul loss” and recognize that our land, our culture and our interaction with the Divine all exist in living interactive relationships.

Highly Recommended.

Published by McFarland, Jefferson, NC, 2014.

Available at Amazon.com.

(On the basis of the intelligence, readability, perspective and depth of The Divine Feminine in Ancient Europe, I’ve purchased the author’s previous work, Celtic Myth and Religion: A Study of Traditional Belief, with Newly Translated Prayers, Poems and Songs.)


Book Review – Grail Alchemy

Grail Alchemy: Initiation in the Celtic Mystery Tradition, by Mara Freeman

Reviewed by Karl Schlotterbeck, MA, CAS, LP


Cover Art: Grail Alchemy: Initiation in the Celtic Mystery Tradition, by Mara Freeman

Grail Alchemy - Image courtesy Amazon.Com

In her Grail Alchemy, Mara Freeman tracks appearances of the grail archetype through history and across the world, and relates it to the appearance, disappearance and re-appearance of the divine feminine. This is not just a historical survey, but also a personal one: she leads us toward a quest of becoming the Grail, i.e., achieving full consciousness of the soul. Throughout the work are texts of “Vision Journeys” for the reader to interact with inner images and eventually to build an astral temple for the work. A link is also provided to mp3 files where one can purchase the Vision Journeys. (These recorded journeys are excellently done. Her beautiful voice is accompanied by music and sounds that perfectly support the narration.) She insightfully interprets various mythological stories as forms of initiation, and the Nine Maidens as “primal creator goddesses” that are “continually giving birth to the world of form.”

In a section called “The Dance of Life” she makes a distinction between many forms of Eastern tradition that seek to transcend our earthly existence, whereas the Western tradition for which she speaks calls for balancing opposites and remaining engaged with the world. She notes that the cup and branch of the earlier Celtic mythology evolved into the Grail and Sword, and Stone and Sword of the Arthurian cycle.

She nicely gives larger meaning to elements of the Arthurian cycle, revealing the Round Table as a reference to the solar system, Guinevere as a representative of the Goddess of the Land whereby Arthur’s marriage to her qualifies him to assume his role. She also redeems the image of Ireland’s Queen Medb as a Goddess of the Land rather than just a promiscuous and competitive queen.

Bringing the mythology alive and into the present, she asserts that the awakening of the buried King Arthur depends on our awakening from our “deadly sleep of materialism.” Indeed, the Fisher King has become wounded because of the imbalanced relationship with the Earth and the Feminine. The purpose of the Grail questions, in their various forms, that must be asked to keep it from disappearing, is about bringing the Western wounds – and our wounds – into consciousness. Our global crisis, she asserts, is from “denying the divine presence of the feminine both in the natural world and within ourselves, of valuing the Sword above the Grail.” She notes the role that mainstream Christianity has played in devaluing the feminine. In fact, she references the quest epitomized by Perceval as a search “search of the collective Western psyche for the lost feminine. . .”

Representations of the four gifts - The Spear, the Stone, the Sword, and the Cauldron - Courtesy: The Celtic Journey WordPress blog. http://thecelticjourney.wordpress.com

Representations of the four gifts The Spear of Lugh, Stone of Falias, Sword of Nuada, & Cauldron of The Dagda Courtesy The Celtic Journey WordPress blog.

She calls attention to the correspondence of Grail stories’ objects of power – bleeding spear, silver platter, grail and sword –to the four treasures of the Tuatha De Danann celebrated by Keltrians.

After this expansive multicultural survey of correspondences and meaning, she begins about halfway through to narrow her focus to Glastonbury and the British magical tradition. In addition, she describes the way some pre-existing features of Grail mythology became Christianized, particularly around Glastonbury. (On the other hand, it could be seen as the returning Christian iconography to its Pagan origins.) She introduces concepts of esoteric Christianity (as found in Theosophical and Rosicrucian thought of the 19th and 20th centuries) with the Christ as separate from a specific human being and the idea that, out the marriage of soul and Spirit, the potentially divine in each of us may be birthed.

When she introduces alchemy, she does so with a partial history, but makes useful notes of correspondences between the seven metals and seven known planets of the time, and other elements that appear as red and white, King and Queen, sun and moon, and the red and white springs at Glastonbury. She notes that the alchemical stages of nigredo, albedo and rubedo correspond to stages of spiritual awakening and relates them to similar concepts in Buddhism, Christianity and Yoga.

As she draws increasing focus on Glastonbury, its 20th century history and the work of Dion Fortune and her organization, she makes note of its red and white springs. She takes further significance from the vesica piscis of the Grail Spring cover, various poems, and symbols of the rose-cross, rose and grail, yin and yang, and the caduceus of both Osiris and Hermes. Scholarship gives way to prophetic assertions that the Cross – a symbol of duality and suffering – can give way to the Chalice as a more appropriate symbol of our time, indicating unity and joy.

One becomes a Grail Bearer, she writes, by aligning oneself with the Higher Self on a daily basis. In addition, the one might align oneself with a stream of magical tradition, create an inner Temple of the Grail, and engage in a dedication rite provided in the last chapter. She makes reference to her own Avalon Mystery School that one might access for further instruction and exploration.

Thus, this is a work that is scholarly, prophetic, inspiring and visionary and, although it may narrow into a particular orientation, she provides a foundation of inner exploration, ritual and possibilities for further study that can support individuals in their personal evolution. Furthermore, she enriches some of the elements of our own Keltrian mythology and deepens their meaning, as well as restores some of the deeper foundations shared by both Pagan and Christian mythologies. She artfully places the Cosmic Christ in a position outside of the conflict between the parochial, narrow imagery of both Christianity and that of the Pagan world.

(I should note that there is a significant typographical error on page 111 where the word “proscribed” is used in place of the word prescribed, referring to one’s withdrawal from the world late in life to focus on spiritual matters – a common Eastern tradition.)


 Grail Alchemy: Initiation in the Celtic Mystery Tradition
by Mara Freeman (Author)

Kindle & Paperback editions available

Paperback: 288 pages
Publisher: Destiny Books; Original edition (January 24, 2014)
ISBN-10: 1620551918
ISBN-13: 978-1620551912



Edge of November

Edge of November

by Karl Schlotterbeck

[Archdruid Karl provides inspiration in a poem/song called “The Edge of November.”  There is an on-line version of the music at http://www.keltria.org/Sounds/The_Edge_of_November.mp3 where Karl provides both voice and accompaniment (guitar).] 

He’s things to do in his work-a-day world,
Entranced by computer screens.
Flat images show him another flat scene
But they are not what they seem.
So he says good night to his co-workers there -
For a moment he actually cares;

Then off he drives in his fashion machine.
He’s got places to go and be seen.
He makes his way home on the crowded flat road
Absorbed in his thoughts and dreams
Till he comes to his house and parks his car
And hears the whispering leaves say:


Everything’s alive
And dressed in its disguise;
There’s light within the dark
And masks that hide the eyes.
Each one with a tale to tell:
Our friends and kin beyond the veil.

But he’s things to do and he turns away
And walks to his house alone.
Unlocks the door and checks his phone
Lights the pumpkin on the sill
He turns on the light to invite them all in
As something stirs within.

The children come, he shares their joy
His worries they all die.
He sees the shining light in their eyes
Behind the shadowy masks.
As he turns to the flickering light in the glass
The voices come and ask: Isn’t. . .


{Bridge Spoken}

As the rays of the rising moon
Penetrate his lonely gloom
He surrenders to the voiceless choir
And once more feels that spirit’s fire.

He went next morning to his work-a-day world
On the first day of November.
He hummed a strange uncanny tune
And decided to remember:
He has friends in the fire and a light in the dark
And a sister in the Moon.


[Ed note:  An audio of this song is available here.]


Books by Karl Schlotterbeck

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Ask the Wild Bee What the Druid Knows

Ask the Wild Bee What the Druid Knows

By Karl Schlotterbeck
Beekeeper and mead maker

Photo of Karl Schlotterbeck

Karl Schlotterbeck

There is, I’m told, an old English saying: “Ask the wild bee what the Druid knows.” Maybe it’s just a quaint folk saying but, even if it were, we’d need to ask why they said it in this way. Indeed, what where they saying? Of course, we do know of the Celts’ fondness for mead, the drink made from fermented honey. In most of the world, it was known that most any liquid with sugars might ferment because of naturally occurring yeasts. [These naturally occurring yeasts, however, (known as “wild yeasts”) made a relatively weaker wine than we are used to today because our modern vintners have bred stronger yeasts able to tolerate a higher level of alcohol before it kills them.] Mead, then, is a product of flower, bee sugar and yeast. Mead is an intoxicating, sweet drink named after a queen – sometimes referred to as a queen of Ireland, and sometimes as queen of the Otherworld.

Our quote suggests that Druids know something not known by others, but could be known by bees. Why would bees be the ones to ask if we want to know about the Druid’s knowledge, if they did not have something to do with it themselves? They are, after all, the source of honey. It may be the mead itself – product of land, water, flower, and invisible forces that provide intoxication. Or might it be something about the life of the bee and its hive?

Perhaps we might change the question to ask the Wild Druid what the Bee knows. Indeed, what is it that bees know? An English woman recently told me that her gramps told the members of his family that they should always tell the bees their family news. (Curiously, she hadn’t heard of the saying “Ask the wild bee what the Druid knows.”) Apparently, bees are expected to hold knowledge – maybe even disseminate it as they make their journeys from flower to flower. Perhaps that’s one clue – like traveling Druids open to sources of knowledge that, in their search, also sparks new life in others. I refer here to the honeybee, which is only one kind of bee, but is my favorite.

And then there is the mead. Bees are the source of the basic element of this particular intoxication or inspiration of mead - an alteration of consciousness that can, if used carefully, prompt inspiration, courage, poetry, creative art, love and lust; opening our senses to the world, to possibility and to a freedom that we seldom have in our sober world. That would seem to be enough, but I think there’s more.


Photo of Bees


What does the Wild Druid know about the Bee? Bees are a highly organized matriarchal culture. They may travel miles to collect their riches (pollen and nectar), which are shared with the entire hive; and they recognize no human boundaries. They collect pollen from whatever is available: tree, flower or grasses. They are organized into non-rigid castes or jobs that support the colony: those that attend to the nursery, or attend the queen. There are scout bees that search for sources of food and return to communicate what they’ve found to others through dance-like movements. There are guard bees that prevent “robber bees” from other colonies from invading their food stores. And all of these workers are female.

A healthy colony has few (male) drones that hang around waiting for a queen’s one virgin flight. After impregnating the queen, they are of no further use to the colony. Individual bees live only a few weeks during the summer (except for the queen) and so the survival of the colony depends on the contributions of all members – each one responsible for a fraction of a teaspoon of honey. The health of the queen is paramount and her condition is broadcast to the entire hive through pheromones. If anything in the hive becomes unsatisfactory – like crowding or an ailing queen – the workers feed some larvae “royal jelly” to make a few new queens. The first queen out of her cell finds and kills the others, and then leaves with half the hive to establish her own colony. Watching a swarming hive is an awesome sight as tens of thousands of bees take to the air, circling around an invisible center making a noise like no other. I’ve seen them move slowly away like a cloud of hums. And I’ve seen them cluster on the branch of a tree where, if I’m careful, I can bring them to an empty hive where they make their new home.

We see some parallels here with old Celtic society, where the health and uprightness of the ruler meant a good relationship with the Goddess of the Land which, in turn, brought prosperity to the tribe. Not only men, but also women were rulers, warriors and workers, and the male ruler’s authority derived from the Goddess of the Land. An unfit ruler who lost her or his connection to the fertility of the land could be dethroned and a new one selected. Rulers were, above all, servants to the relationship between the people and the Spirit of the Land.

For bees, there seems little significance given to individual survival as the bee can make only one strike (sting) – and then she dies. Thus, their champions go out to meet the invader and are ready to sacrifice their lives to attack or drive them off. There is an immediate cost to aggression.

We know that bees are responsible for a tremendous amount of pollination and thereby our food. In this way, they are truly intermediaries in the fertility of the land as they go about their work. And they are willing to die for the sweetness they produce.

Modern times have seen “Colony Collapse Disorder” where whole hives disappear. Theories abound, but it seems caused by a combination of factors including the stress of moving colonies for pollination of fruit fields, diseases, and insecticide. This sounds like our life today: accosted by stresses that weaken the immune system, diseases becoming resistant to our treatments, and environmental toxicity. Our needs are so similar to those of the bee: safe food, clean water and air, community and a balance of contribution and benefit.

In short, the state of the bees and that of the land (and, therefore, us) are inextricably entwined; the fate of the bees and human food sources are interdependent. It’s true: what we do to the land we do to the bees and to ourselves. Disruption of the colony’s organized tasks in which all contribute and receive benefit, as well as any cult to an individual, are threats to the survival of the tribe.

That said, we do not have one ruler these days, but rather a collective of people who are charged with making our land prosperous and safe. It’s now difficult to see how our “rulers” (legislators, senators, warriors, presidents, oligarchs and mega-corporations, etc.) gain their right to rule from their fitness in the eyes of the Goddess of the Land. These days it seems to be about the amount of money one can accrue – power for its own sake. And I hear the sounds of discontent, a swarming of people in city after city, objecting to how the benefits of American society are apportioned, perhaps looking for the new queen or champion who will take up their cause and make their lives-in-community worth living again.

It appears that bees do know what it takes to make a working tribe, and they show us what endangers it. So maybe we’d be wise to, indeed, ask the Wild Bee what the Druid should know.
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Review: Ensouling Language

Ensouling Language: 
    On the Art of Nonfiction and the Writer’s Life

by Stephen Harrod Buhner

Review by Karl Schlotterbeck

TEnsouling Language Book Coverhis is a marvelous that is remarkable in a number of ways. I was excited by the title when I first heard about it. When it arrived, I was dismayed at its heft (463 pages); amused at the irony of its cover illustration of a quill; and sorry when I came to the end of it. In the first pages, I was captured by the little story he told so well to demonstrate the affection and meaningfulness of words, books, and experience. My expectation had been of a formulaic how-to book of which we see so many, but it was itself a journey into the place of perception and creativity where words are as alive as we are, and reveal their sacredness as containers of soul and of meaning – and how to get to that place. Buhner pulled me deeper and deeper into the subject – stacking up meaning behind the words like water behind a dam, as he would say.

In fact, Ensouling Language called me back into myself, a reminder to write for what might be communicated about the interiority of my subject in its meaningfulness, and in the fact writer and readers’ communication occur well beyond (or deeply within) black text on white page, deeper than the dictionary definition of words. Rather, it occurs in the heart of the matter – where creation and some spirit of the nature of things seek to express themselves through the human heart and tongue and hand, and to result in something larger than either.

I struggle to find a descriptor for what he does. He nudges us out of a little ego’s perspective with its petty needs for common currency and approval, out of our humanocentric viewpoint, and out of any illusions of being objective. Perhaps it is this very difficulty in trying to “reduce” his effort to an easy few words that affirms the beauty and depth of his work.

I found him sometimes speaking as a shaman, sometimes as an analytical psychologist, sometimes as a prophet or Druid – and this is the work’s most direct relevance for us. For Buhner, words are not just things to be used to fill the space around us, nor are they something we use to avoid our fears by yakking about superficial things. Nor are they a tool to try to bridge our loneliness as human beings; but they have the capacity to take us to a place of discovery, where our fears are created, where our loneliness is rewarded and relationship is intimate – whether that be with a tree, a dolphin, another person’s experience or our own. As he says:

These moments of touch with the nonhuman world are what the ancient Greeks – the Athenians – called aisthesis. The get to aisthesis, those moments when we are touched in return, our nonphysical touching must go deeper than merely feeling the world. It must go to the place where touching travels both ways. And this, very definitely extends awareness a great deal further than our society wants it to go. It involves a living exchange between the human and the nonhuman world, eventually, with the world itself. By engaging in that exchange, we break a very powerful cultural injunction that is present in many Western cultures. We abandon the view of life that does not allow us to extend interiority to dolphins or trees or stones. (p. 143)

His writing was, in many ways, watching a deft psychoanalyst pay attention to a person’s utterances and what they reveal about the speaker, how they may fall short of their purpose and thereby shows the hidden baggage of the writer. He notes how one’s unresolved and unreflected upon personal issues become revealed and how hiding those issues flatten the work. Facing then directly gives depth and richness. It’s like my own work as a psychologist: not just listening to what people say, but how they say it in terms of the words they use, the tone of voice, facial expression, body language and context.

Something in me found a home in this book or, perhaps I should say, several aspects of me found a common heart through his writing: Druid, shaman, psychologist, writer, poet.

This is an easy book to recommend for its meaningfulness, its intelligence, depth, and genuineness in practicing what it is prescribing. He challenges the readers’ ways of perceiving and relating to the world, meanings put into words, framing of propositions and need to beware of the inevitable hidden baggage. But it’s not directly about a philosophy of genuineness, depth and presence: it’s a how-to manual (as he reminds us). He addresses the tension between “proper” grammar and writing for impact, dealing with editors, publishers and contracts; getting help and the whole business of delivering one’s words to the readers who hunger for them.

This is a book I can highly recommend, not only for aspiring writers, but for anyone who wants to engage the world deeply and recognizes the value of words in the exchange.

Ensouling Language: On the Art of Nonfiction and the Writer's Life
Paperback: 480 pages
Publisher: Inner Traditions

Kindle Edition available!
File Size: 754 KB

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