The Sweet Nectar of Lady Nightshade
The Role of Bees and Psychoactive Honey in Shamanism
On the Ancient World of European shamanism in the areas of Britain, Ireland, and Gaul, Druids held the bee as a sacred link between the Great Mother and man. Psychoactive honey was one of the many gifts given to man by the bees. Mediating between the Great Mother and man were the many spirits of plant, fungi, animal, and insect alike. They would serve by channeling its wisdom through these many mediums and Agents of Divinity. This is why it was so important for man to keep a link and alliance to nature. Plant spirits would transfer great benefits and insight through its medicinal and hallucinogenic properties. The Bees would provide numerous teachings to man throughout our history and while producing honey we developed further spiritual and medicinal applications to learn and benefit from.
Intuition, clairvoyance, and psychic abilities were at one time part of our natural abilities. As we cut ourselves off from nature over centuries these gifts became dormant and today are almost non-existent since they longer served our need for its practice in the current lifestyle we are in.
There are still remnants of a tradition still utilized today by man in both indigenous cultures and those who have made a conscious decision to return to our nativity and re-secure our alliance with nature.
One of our most important relationships in the natural world is with bees, and most notably, the honey bee. It is known that the Druids considered the Great Mother as Queen Bee. Her resulting priestesses were known as the Melissae. Melissa, the common name today actually came from the Greek word melissa which translated to honey bee.
The bee was closely interwoven to the living arrangements of the Ancient World as they were the pollinators of flowers and crops. This is still the case today although largely unacknowledged by the current power structure. The Ancient World regarded honey (along with pollen as one of its precursors) as one of the many gifts of the Great Mother and thereby making bees and their work extremely respected and sacred.
Among some of the other sacred gifts of the Great Mother were the many entheogens and medicinal plants we acquire through the plant kingdom. In the Druidic traditions there was high reverence for the baneful herbs like henbane, belladonna, and other tropane-containing nightshades more common to that area of the world.
Keep in mind that the use of these plants back then had much wider scope of application than just as a hallucinogen. Before we had the more mechanical and technological advances of modern medicine, they had to find other means to carry out surgical procedures like bone setting and other procedures that required soporifics; what we would understand today as being ‘put under’ by powerful gases and compounds to induce a similar twilight sleep.
By the shamans of that time however, it was much probably more common to use plants like these in a way to aid and intensify their psychic abilities communicating with the spirit world along with prophecy and seeing. They had a much deeper understanding of how to measure, dose, and control its effects for spiritual matters. In other words, they took it for spiritual purposes and had a deep respect for the plant unlike irresponsible thrill-seekers do today. This is reflected by a Mexican curendera/witch in a passage from James Endredy’s The Flying Witches of Veracruz*:
“Flying with the datura spirit is quite different than normal states of consciousness. But I’ve been around it my whole life, and what I do know is that when most people take it, they remember nothing afterwards- even if its many days after. That’s mainly because they didn’t invoke the spirit with a clear purpose or have someone experienced guiding them. Mostly people foolishly try datura just to see what it feels like or because they’ve heard it is dangerous and want to experience with it as some kind of a kick or a thrill. But when witches use it, they invoke the spirit in special ways that have been handed down through countless generations, and they always invoke it in a sacred place and in the company of other experienced witches. This is what is called proper use of set and setting: why you are doing it, with whom, and where.”
So as I’ve presented some of the background behind it I have now given some of the basic tenants of:
- A spiritual relationship of man and bees
- the sacredness of pollen and honey
- the sacredness and respect for henbane, belladonna, and others in the nightshade family
- the reason hallucinogens were used by shamans
- How different the effects of tropanes can act in regards to intent
We can now take a look into how it all ties together as a system and branch of shamanism:
There is a book out there by Simon Buxton called The Shamanic Way of the Bee** where he describes an initiation to a Path of Pollen and his teaching by an experienced bee shaman. I will point out that the authenticity of the account of his initiation has been seen as highly questionable and claimed by some to be concocted or ghost-written. What I will say is that while that could certainly be the case, It would be safe to conclude that at the very least the practices described within the book are based on real practices and probably more known in ancient times by the Druids. Perhaps he was only told about this over actually being initiated in such a fashion. Much like the description in Castaneda’s books can be debated as his own account but are still most likely true accounts of the practices used in working with the Devil’s Weed by generations of shamans and brujos.
In Buxton’s book there is a chapter devoted to the bees creating psychoactive honey isolated on an island known as Potato Island (the nightshade family is also sometimes called the potato family since potato is a member of the Solanaceae). This island is inhabited by luscious growth of henbane and belladonna where massive beehives have been strategically placed by these shamans for the purpose of getting these bees to create psychoactive honey as a unique form of flying ointment and as ingestable honey that held both the Spirit of nightshade and bees.
In the account there is another reiteration of its practical and spiritual use by shamans and accurately put:
“The Bee Master knows that the flying ointment of our forbears was the jewel in the crown of ancient pharmacology. It was a poison to the layperson, but the spiritual tool sine qua non [absolute necessity] to the practitioner.”
There is further description of the history and almost certainly a description of the Druids’ use and practice of ingesting the psychoactive honey:
“Our forbears intentionally produced this psychoactive honey as a visionary tool for use in certain work. It is taken as honey, and in the form of ritual metheglin [spiced or medicated variety of alcoholic honey called mead]. In fact, the bees first led our ancestors to these sacred plants. having innocently ingested the delicious honey, those ancestors stepped into the other world and experienced ecstasy and communion with our spirit kin. After that, they followed the bees to the plants from which this honey was made, and the beginning of the lineage was initiated. The bees called certain men and women who then sought out and forged a relationship with the hive, wishing to be part of that world as well as this”
Now one can wonder how dosage can be presumed safe if collected by bees. It is said in the book that the bees’ processing, collection and subsequent extraction of alkaloids into the honey brought about just enough of the psychoactive compounds to bring about the necessary experience and not been known to bring about any deaths in its use by its practicing shamans. While this certainly seems kind of like a wild notion, It would make sense to think as though the Great Mother was really directing Her knowledge and wisdom through plant and insect directly to man as shamanic thought would have it. I certainly find it worthy of consideration.
Part of my intention of creating this site was to show how far reaching the psychoactive tropane-based nightshade plants actually go. And also to put out information to reduce simply thinking of it as only a deliriant and poison. That there is a more secret side of her Spirit and not to hex and harm. There are invaluable spiritual teachings one can learn from Her apprenticeship in a spiritual context.
My personal relationship to this plant is on a spiritual level. I learn from and interact with this Plant Spirit in many ways and on many levels. many times without any kind of ingestion. I hope to eventually align with more experienced herbalists and witches that can teach me more about the methods of extractions, applications, and further my education of these magnificent plants. Perhaps this will be a topic for another day. I am certain of it.
There is a wealth of information out there concerning the Druids and both their interaction with both bees and plants like henbane and other psychoactive nightshade plants. I would bet to say that there is also information on other cultures that have had similar practices and interactions with bees and psychoactive honey similar to the Druids. I have researched a far number of accounts on the Druids and their beliefs and practice. Perhaps I will add some sites of interest at a later time.
Buxton, Simon. The Shamanic Way of the Bee: Ancient Wisdom and Healing Practices of the Bee Masters. Rochester, VT: Destiny, 2004. Print.
Endredy, James. The Flying Witches of Veracruz: A Shaman’s True Story of Indigenous Witchcraft, Devil’s Weed, and Trance Healing in Aztec Brujeria. Woodbury, MN: Llewellyn Publications, 2011. Print.