The Shamanic Way of the Bee by Simon Buxton

The Shamanic Way of the Bee: Ancient Wisdom and Healing Practices of the Bee Masters
Simon Buxton
Destiny Books, 2004
208 pages

If you’ve been reading my reviews for a while, you’ll know there are three things that set me off. (Okay, more than three. But these are big ones.)

–Nonfiction, particularly speculative, really niche, or otherwise shaky, with poor research backup.
–Highly questionable anecdotes presented as literal, undeniable truth, without even an acknowledgement that there may be questioning of the sources.
–The idea that the above two are okay because spiritual writing doesn’t need academic/historical/other factual justification.

Sadly, there’s a lot of neoshamanic material that pings these pet peeves of mine. And this book especially hits them hard. The basic premise is that this guy meets this bee shaman when he’s a child, and spends a couple of years learning about beekeeping as well as spiritual elements thereof. Then later on in his twenties he manages to find another bee shaman of a secret, unbroken tradition called the Path of Pollen. Of course, there’s no written record or other evidence of this tradition. While there are some possible bee-related spiritual traditions associated with ancient Greek civilizations, the idea of a complete system derived from that, or contemporary to it, that survived into modern-day Austria and England is highly questionable. So we’re already starting on incredibly shaky ground.

Then come the amazing spiritual experiences–a bee flying through the author, who is accepted by his teacher without question right after his other apprentice graduates (which just seems conveniently perfect). Oh, and the sex scene. There are apparently sexy bee priestesses in this tradition. And we’re treated to a highly metaphor-laden (how many times can you fetishize a bee entering a flower? Never mind that worker bees are female…).

Finally, I want to know how in the hell he managed to kill a full-grown red deer stag (that just happened to knock itself out on a nearby tree) by suffocating it with his hand full of pollen without only a single gash from an antler. Don’t you know there’s a reason wolves and other smaller-than-stag predators, humans included, hunt them in packs? Not to mention, for fuck’s sake, that’s one of the cruelest ways you can kill an animal–if that even actually literally happened.

The whole book is like this. If it’s a Castaneda-style allegory presented as a real, completely true story, then the author is irresponsible for not prefacing it as such. If this all actually happened, then he really needs to question spiritual gurus and their authority.

One pawprint out of five.

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10 Comments

  1. Erynn said,

    April 19, 2010 at 10:46 pm

    And let us not forget that male bees are drones — they only things they ever do are fertilize a queen (maybe) and drop dead. Yeah, there’s a great role model for ya.

    • Briar said,

      April 21, 2010 at 1:10 am

      I have always taken this book to read more like a good novel than anything else, and only treated it as such. Viewed in that light, it was actually pretty entertaining, but as a non-fiction book…I agree…not so much.

  2. Dver said,

    April 20, 2010 at 6:42 am

    Couldn’t agree with you more on this book. It should have been right up my alley, but I was completely disappointed.

  3. April 20, 2010 at 1:21 pm

    Hi Simon,

    I am smiling broadly. I share your ire, and enjoyed your review. While I have not read the book, I now believe I won’t. Too often popular books about neoshamans share the trait of not being grounded – or even believeable. Unfortunately, they make life hard for real, down to earth, shamans and medicine people. The magic of everyday life – and there is much – is enough.

  4. Nykti said,

    April 20, 2010 at 5:45 pm

    I absolutely adore bees, and really love reading about their roles in ancient Greece, I’m not deluded enough to believe this is real.

    Sounds like great fiction, though! Heh.

  5. Cissa said,

    April 22, 2010 at 1:15 pm

    When we first started beekeeping, wqe went to a dinner party in which people were very interested in learning more about bees. One guy took STRONG exception to the FACT that drones exist only to fertilize the queen, and are not only otherwise useless, but in fact require workers to even FEED them- which is why, come fall, they’re kicked out of the hive to die. He found this very offensive. But- it’s still what bees DO.

    I have a copy of this book and am looking forward to reading it and writing a scathing review.

  6. Jason said,

    May 6, 2010 at 2:33 am

    While there are some possible bee-related spiritual traditions associated with ancient Greek civilizations, the idea of a complete system derived from that, or contemporary to it, that survived into modern-day Austria and England is highly questionable.

    Highly questionable? That’s a very diplomatic way of putting it! In England the word we would use is ‘bollocks’. 🙂

  7. May 7, 2010 at 11:49 am

    Yah, I saw the one awhile back. Thought it looked very silly, though I didn’t realize it was being presented as a novel.
    Now I could be wrong, but I wonder if this guy is riding on the coattails of the popularity of “The Secret Life of Bees”.

    I notice every time I go to the metaphysical/pagan/occult section of bookstores, there’s less that interests me. I also notice there is less pagan content, and more new-agey than there used to be, not that there’s a strict division.

  8. Maenad said,

    May 26, 2010 at 9:04 am

    I adore bees. I laughed aloud reading you review and I am so glad I would not be tempted to waste time on this book.

  9. ross said,

    March 22, 2013 at 6:38 am

    It is about time this ‘way of the bee’ rubbish was exposed. Good review.

    A ‘bee maiden’ (i.e. a woman who has spent a considerable amount of time and money on Buzzton’s ‘path of pollen’ “initiation” courses) writes to me just today that…

    “I’ll be as brief as possible. I was drawn to undertake Path of Pollen workshops and trainings having read The Shamanic Way of the Bee and taken it on trust that the book is, as it claims, an authentic account of the author’s initiation into the Path of Pollen. What I have recently discovered has shaken that trust considerably and left me wondering if I have been a) duped and b) exploited.

    “As you will see, it appears that significant passages in The Shamanic Way of the Bee (TSWOTB), including whole paragraphs, appear to have been lifted virtually word-for-word from the much earlier essays of the late P.L. Travers, who is best known as the author of Mary Poppins but was also a lifelong student of and writer upon myth and fairy tales. Worse still, these key passages are variously presented as either the dialogue between Bridge and Twig in TSWOTB and also the first person narrative. There is no indication that use of the passages in question was authorised by P.L.Travers or her estate and P.L.Travers’ work is not acknowledged either in footnotes or the bibliography at the back of TSWOTB.

    “Some people may not care whether or not there is any truth in TSWOTB or if it is simply one man’s eloquent modern fantasy, but to me at least there is something deeply unethical about passing another’s words off as one’s own and it raises serious questions about the authenticity of the Path of Pollen as a whole. I present some of the evidence below for you to make up your own minds.

    “The P.L Travers work I quote from is “What The Bee Knows – Reflections on Myth Symbol and Story, foreword by David Applebaum, Codhill Press edition 2010

    “P.L. Travers, What The Bee Knows (WTBK) (from the essay entitled What The Bee Knows, first published in Parabola magazine, New York 1981) page 81: “For the Bee has at all times and places been the symbol of life – life as immortality. In the Celtic languages, the Cornish ‘beu’ the Irish ‘beo’, the Welsh ‘byw’, can all be translated as ‘alive’ or ‘living’; the Greek ‘bios’ has been mentioned above and is the French ‘abeille’ not akin to these? So, the Bee stands for – or is a manifestation of – the fundamental verb ‘to be’. ‘I am, thou art, he is’, it declares, as it goes humming past. … No wonder then that mythologically the bee is a ritual creature of a host of lordly ones… To anyone capable of suspending for a moment the cavortings of the rational mind, of accepting myth for what it is – not lie but the very veritable truth – it needs no great inward effort to act upon such advice. It’s a matter, merely, of listening.”

    “Pp30-31 The Shamanic Way of the Bee (closing paragraphs of Bridge’s first knowledge lecture): “The Bee Master knows the bee as the most remarkable of creatures, a social alchemist and truly nature’s most astonishing being,” he reflected before displaying his discreet passion for language and linguistics. It has at all times and places been the symbol of life – life as immortality. In the Celtic language, the Cornish ‘beu’ the Irish ‘beo’ and the Welsh ‘byw’, can all be translated as ‘alive’ or ‘living’. The Greek word bios should also be mentioned. So, the Bee stands for – or is a manifestation of – the fundamental verb ‘to be’. ‘I am, thou art, he is’, it declares, as it goes humming by.. if we look to myth the bee is the ritual creature of a host of lordly ones. To anyone capable for a moment of suspending the cavortings of the rational mind, of accepting myth for what it is – not a story or a lie or a corruption of the facts, but the very essence of truth – it should need no great inward effort to access their significance.” His eyes bore into me, testing to see if I had yet understood. Then he spoke again, very slowly: “It is a matter, merely, of listening.”

    “P.L. Travers, (WTBK) p86: “When does the old year end?” asks a child. “On the first stroke of midnight”, he is told. “And the new year – when does it begin?” “On the last stroke of midnight.” ” Well then, what happens in between?” The question, once asked, required an answer from those who know what the Druids knew. Long after I had written down this story, I listened to a radio reporter who was describing the ceremonies of an African tribe at the end of their lunar – or solar? -year. At a given moment, it appeared, the chanting and the drumming ceased as the gods invisibly withdrew. For a few seconds – twelve perhaps – absolute silence reigned. Then the drums broke out again in triumph as the gods as the gods invisibly returned with the new year in their arms. ‘And’ the reporter added ‘though I do not ask you to believe it, I can vouch for the fact that my tape recorder, for those few moments of sacred silence, without a touch of my hand, stopped spinning”

    “p35-36 TSWOB: “The end of the year falls exactly at the beginning of the first stroke of midnight on December 31, and the new year begins as the last stroke ends. But what happens in between?… … In answer to Bridge’s question, I told him a story I had heard as a child that had stayed with me over the years. A correspondent for the BBC World Service was describing the ceremonies of an African tribal people at the end of their lunar cycle. At a given moment, the chanting and drumming ceased as the gods and deities invisibly withdrew from the world… … For just a few moments, absolute silence reigned in Africa as the gods withdrew. Then the drums broke out again in triumph as the spirits invisibly returned, cradling the new year in their arms. The reason I had recalled the story was that the reporter, a modern western man, had added that though he did not expect his listeners to believe him, he would vouch that during the few moments of sacred silence, his tape recorder had completely stopped working.”

    “P.L.Travers WTBK p86: “Anyone used to yoga practice experiences the ritual pause between the outgoing and the indrawn breath. Between one breathtime and the next, between one lifetime and the next, something waits for a moment.”

    “p37 The Shamanic Way of the Bee “… the Bee Master continued. He reminded me that in meditation working with the breath, there is usually a ritual pause between the outgoing and incoming breath. “Between one breath and the next, between one lifetime and the next, something waits for a moment….”

    “P.L Travers WTBK p11: “The homeland of myth, the country which in the old Russian stories is called East of the sun and West of the moon, and for which there is no known map”

    “TSWOTB p98 “To my surprise and delight, on this occasion Bridge continued to elaborate: “The Melissae are women who live in a country that is east of the sun and west of the moon for which there is no known map.”

    “P.L. Travers WTBK P267 From the essay “About The Sleeping Beauty” “The Thirteenth Wise Woman stands as a guardian of the threshold, the paradoxical adversary without whose presence no threshold can be passed.”

    “p102. TSWOTB “Early next morning, I wandered into the garden and found an austere presence dressed in black, awaiting my arrival before the Gate of Transition. She was as the Thirteenth Wise Woman who stands as guardian of the threshold, the paradoxical adversary without whose presence no threshold may be passed”

    That should tell you how authentic ‘bee shamanism’ is – seems its an “ancient tradition” stemming from 1981 and its “druidic” credentials stem from Mary Poppins. Oh yes, and the author is a plagiarist.

    This is not the only email Ive received from a ‘bee maiden’ by the way. A few days before the one above, I got this , which might serve as a cautionary tale if you’ve aspirations to beecome a ‘bee goddess’ yourself…

    “My name is XXX and it is now around six years or so since I was a shamanic practitioner student under the “tutelage” of Simon Buxton. I am myself trained as a psychotherapist, having specialised in working with abuse and am now writing a Phd on the embodiment of the sacred. Indeed it is partly some of the work on a chapter I am writing at present (exploring in part Gerald Gardner’s of Golden Dawn fame own initiatory relationship with the questionably existing muse “Old Dorothy”) which prompted me to write to you, as I found myself thinking about what I perceive to be the similarities in the cases of Buxton and Gardener. My own relationship with Simon was difficult, such that at the end of a period of extensive financial and spiritual investment, I found myself having to make a choice between what I experienced as abusive spiritual authority and my own and needing quite simply to walk in the opposite direction to the organisation I had hoped would provide me with a supportive home. I chose my own, amidst considerable confusion and pain…”

    The author however seems to be raking in pots of ‘golden coins’ by selling workshops based on this drivel, which are all full according to his website. What a shame that people are so gullible or so desperate for a title like ‘bee maiden’, ‘priestess’, ‘princess’ or ‘goddess’ that they will pay any amount of dollar to any fraud who offers them one.


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