We should forever bear in mind that the beautiful world our species inherited took the biosphere 3.8 billion years to build. Like it or not, and prepared or not, we are the mind and stewards of the living world. Our own ultimate future depends upon that understanding. — Edward O. Wilson
Honeybee. Photo Courtesy USDA
As a shamanic practitioner, you may have noticed an upswing in communications from helping spirits about the oneness of all beings. I’ve seen these messages coming more frequently and urgently in personal journeys, drumming groups, workshops, and my own practice. It’s not surprising. The planet is in trouble and we’re being called.
Species are vanishing up to a thousand times faster than before humans spread across the earth. It’s a serious, life-and-death problem because the Earth’s ecosystem needs a high diversity of species to sustain itself. Plastered around the planet like a razor-thin membrane, this “biosphere” contains all life, with organisms so diverse and interrelated that the loss of one species can lead to a domino effect of extinctions involving large numbers of other species that depend on it.
Eminent American biologist, naturalist, and author Edward O. Wilson prescribes a radical solution and shows how it can be accomplished: We must set aside fully half the earth’s surface for wilderness preservation. As part of this effort, he recommends finding a human sponsor willing to learn about and serve as an advocate for each known species. He estimates there are now about one thousand humans alive on earth for each known species.
As shamanic practitioners able to recruit spirit allies, we can be especially effective in championing a chosen species. As we journey to its spirit and shapeshift into its form, we can develop deep insight into how a species experiences the world and what it needs to survive.
To illustrate how this can be done, I’ve chosen the honeybee, Apis mellifera.
Working Shamanically with Honeybees
Honeybees are amazing creatures, responsible for 80% of all pollination and involved in producing one of every three bites of food we eat. They’re dying off at the rate 30-50% per year in the US and 30-35% in Europe from manmade causes including pesticides, drought, habitat destruction, nutritional deficit, air pollution, and global warming. They need our help.
Honeybees are like humans in showing a high degree of altruism, which allows them to outcompete less well-organized rivals—as we have done, effectively becoming the dominant species on earth. Female worker bees sacrifice their ability to reproduce, and even their lives, to the hive. When they sting an enemy, their internal organs come out with the stinger and they die. Male drones give up their lives when they mate, as their penis explodes with an audible pop. It breaks away from their body to remain inside the queen along with substantial portions of their insides.
Shapeshifting into honeybee and hive spirits offers a powerful experience of their extreme altruism, which will help us extend human altruism to endangered and vulnerable species. But don’t worry, our human type of altruism is different. We’re in no danger of turning into identical robotic units. Our larger brains give us complex societies organized for mutual support and the creativity to use our unique talents in jobs of our own choosing.
Here are some step-by-step instructions for working shamanically with honeybees:
1. Learn as much as you can about honeybees and their hives by direct observation in ordinary reality.
2. Consult books, articles, videos, and documentaries to learn about their anatomy, lifestyle, birth, death, behaviors, and habitats.
3. Journey to their spirits. Merge and “dance” them.
4. Shapeshift into their energy forms.
5. Use your knowledge by taking action in ordinary reality.
You can follow these same steps to experience the lives of any vulnerable and endangered species.
Observe honeybees in nature
Spend a few hours watching bees in the wild or around domestic hives. Notice what they look like, how they act, how they gather honey, what kinds of flowers they visit, how they relate to other bees and insects, how fast they fly, what threatens them and how they respond, what attracts them, and anything else they want to show you. Use all your senses along with your imagination and shamanic intuition to empathize with them.
Learn about honeybees from books, websites, and videos
Check out books and search for internet resources about honeybees with key words such as “honeybee,” “honey bee,” “hive,” “honeycomb,” “swarm,” etc. Youtube videos offer a great way to tune in to less obvious aspects of their lifestyle. Avoid books that purport to tell you the divinatory “meaning” of bees. These are generally centered on human concerns. Our object is to connect with and learn from the living spirits of the bees about their lives, not add purely mental symbols to our brains.
Journey to a honeybee spirit
For best results, journey to the upper or lower world rather than the middle world to contact the honeybee spirit. Interact with it as you would with a power animal or spirit helper. Merge with the spirit and “dance” it by allowing it to move your body. You might want to prepare by watching videos of bees doing their “waggle dance,” in which field bees communicate the location of good flower fields to their hive mates, or the “tremble dance,” in which hive bees tell field bees to stop flying off to collect more nectar and pollen and help unload bees returning to the hive.
You can also journey to the spirit of an entire hive and dance to enact events in the hive’s life cycle.
Example: Journey to Honeybee Spirit
I entered an overgrown wood in the lower world and found a beehive in an old fallen tree trunk, half rotted and covered with moss. A few bees circled around its hollow end, flying in and out. Honeybee Spirit appeared, small and transparent, and hovered before my face. I asked if we could merge and she made a beeline for my heart. I was moved to stand (in ordinary reality) and dance the journey. Supported by nature spirits and buoyed within an atmosphere of smooth, golden happiness, we flew to a flowery meadow. We felt strong and purposeful, completely at home and in our right place. As we approached the waiting flowers they showered us with pollen. It was ecstasy to drink their nectar. When our stomach was full and pollen pouches stuffed, we zoomed home to dance for our hive sisters, sharing our joy over the flowers and telling them where to find them. Younger sisters unburdened us of the nectar and pollen we’d brought, and we felt so light and eager we rushed back to the meadow for more.
Example: Journey to the Hive Spirit
Bee Hatching in Nursery (center), photo courtesy US Dept. of Agriculture
Again I visited the bee colony on the forest floor and asked to meet and merge with the hive spirit. As I blended with its diffuse presence I began to feel safe and protected, as though I’d come home. I sensed individual bees out foraging in the surrounding fields as parts of my body. A deep, strong current of love connected me with the babies taking form inside their wax cells in the nursery. I felt my oneness with plants and little animals and other insects in our busy ecosystem, knowing our hive played a necessary part. The great, eternal spirit of my hive was an intelligence who felt and knew everything going on without actively directing anything. Its personality was like that of a thunderstorm spirit, diffuse but powerful. The low-grade anxiety about not fitting in that so often plagued me as an individual human disappeared. I felt calm, easy, and normal.
Shapeshift into the bee’s form
Shapeshifting into a bee essentially means aligning your own energy body with that of the bee so that the body you feel from inside is the bee’s body. You’ll need to activate your kinesthetic senses. As with journeying, use your imagination to help you along until it starts to feel like it’s happening by itself.
Claude Poncelet’s excellent book, The Shaman Within, provides one way to shapeshift into an animal. The steps include:
1. Journeying to the spirit of the animal to obtain permission to take on its shape.
1. Calling the animal’s spirit in front of you in nonordinary reality in the middle world.
3. Aligning your chakras with those of the animal, starting with the third (solar plexus/will) chakra, and at the same time aligning yourself through this chakra with the Will of the Universe.
4. Aligning your other chakras with the animal’s, one by one, in any order you choose.
Another way to shapeshift, explained in detail below, is:
1. Make each of your body parts feel inside like the corresponding body part of the animal.
2. Notice how the world feels when you experience it through your animal senses.
Instructions for Shapeshifting into a Honeybee
Images of Mimulus flower in visible light (L) and UV light (R) showing a dark nectar guide visible to bees but not humans. Photo by Plantsurfer,
The following can be read out loud with soft drumming for use as a guided meditation:
Imagine your head has grown as wide as your shoulders. Your face is a triangle, wide at the top and narrow at the bottom. Your eyes have turned into huge, bulging compound eyes, able to see above, below, and far out to each side, and your visual field is broken up into hexagonal pixels, as though you were looking through a window screen with six-sided holes. The range of colors you see has shifted toward the ultraviolet. Red is gone, but you can detect yellow, blue-green, blue, violet, and “bee purple” (a mixture of yellow and UV light). Yellow flowers now look blue (see photograph), and have markings invisible to your human eyes — shapes like targets and runways to guide you to the center. Above your compound eyes are three simple eyes that sense the presence of light, but can’t make out images.
Two antennae sensitive to touch, smell, and hearing sprout from the front of your head, moving freely in their sockets. You like to wipe them with your front legs every so often to clean them. When you work on building honeycombs, you know how to use your antennae to measure dimensions.
You smell through your antennae to locate flowers and other bees, but the main smell you care about is the queen’s. As long as she’s producing her familiar pheromones, the whole hive stays happy.
You can detect vibration through a fuzz of small hairs that covers your body, each with a nerve at its base. Unfamiliar frequencies fill you with alarm.
These tiny hairs also interact with dust and pollen particles, so that when you’re out foraging, you can build up a positive electrical charge as high as 450 volts. Flowers have a negative charge in clear weather. As you approach them, their pollen jumps out to meet you and sticks to your positively charged body.
Deaf to high-frequency birdsongs, voices, and cries above 500 vibrations per second, your awareness is filled with the constant thunder of the hive, like the rumble of giant trucks. , The vibrations of your wings as you dance to tell your sisters where you found pollen and nectar contribute to the roar, as does the rumble they make with their feet on the honeycomb floor. At the same time, your sisters feel your electrical field as you dance through tiny hairs in their antennae joints.
Your tongue is too long to fit into your mouth without folding. If you feel a touch on your antenna, you can’t help extending it for a possible taste of nectar. In your bee form, you can distinguish the same sweet, sour, salty and bitter tastes as humans.
Honeybee with Pollen Basket, Photo by Jeffrey W. Lotz, Florida Dept. of Agriculture and Consumer Services, Bugwood.org
As your shapeshifting proceeds, you feel your midsection turning into a thorax with three sets of legs. Your human legs migrate up your body and change shape to extend out of your thorax at right angles, becoming hind legs. Your human arms turn into front legs, and you bend over until they touch the floor, realizing how small you’ve become. A middle set of legs pops out from the center of your thorax and all six legs now end in claws. The main joint on your hind legs doubles as a press to pelletize pollen for storage in the baskets on your upper hind legs.
Two sets of flat, thin wings equipped with powerful muscles grow out of your thorax. You beat them at speeds of 200 beats per second, twisting them in a propeller-like motion to keep your body in the air when you fly. , Air sacs beside the wings force air into small internal tubes to distribute oxygen all over your body.
Notice that your abdomen and pelvic area have merged together and grown large, tapering to a point where your stinger sticks out about an eighth of an inch. When you sting an enemy, you release an odor like bananas that attracts other bees to come and join the fight.
See if you can sense the earth’s magnetic field from an area in your upper abdomen corresponding to your human solar plexus where you’ve accumulated a store of magnetic material that responds to the field. You need to feel this to orient yourself, navigate on your flights, and regulate your daily activity cycle.
Imagine your life in the hive. As a worker bee in summer, your life is only six weeks long. You developed in a hexagonal wax cell from a tiny egg to a curled up larva, to a pupa with visible eyes that turned from pink to purple to black as your legs, wings, and fine body hairs took shape. As soon as you clawed your way out, you set to work cleaning the cell to receive new eggs or store nectar and pollen. For two days you served as a housemaid cleaning cells.
On day three you started working as an undertaker to carry bodies of dead and diseased bees out of the hive before they became a health hazard. The fourth day you might also have taken on the role of nurse, tending baby sisters developing in their cells.
On day seven, you were eligible to wait on the queen, who is virtually helpless. Her only jobs are to lay more than her own weight in eggs, up to 1500, each day, and kill any rival queens that hatch. She’s unable to feed, groom, or even relieve herself without her attendants.
On day twelve, you may have started receiving nectar and pollen from foraging bees and packing it into cells in the honeycomb. Or you might have served as a living air conditioner, controlling temperature and humidity in the hive by fanning your wings. Also at day twelve, you began to produce wax flakes so you could be a construction worker building new wax honeycombs and capping off cells of ripening honey or eggs that had developed into pupae.
On days eighteen to thirty-five, you might have drawn guard duty, hanging around the hive entrance and sniffing every bee that showed up to see if she belonged. If you took a bribe of nectar from a stranger bee to let her in, don’t worry. She wouldn’t have stolen much pollen or nectar before she left.
On day twenty-two, you could finally graduate to field bee status. You darted around the entrance of the hive for a while in widening circles to learn the landmarks and then took off to forage. You can range as far as three miles from home and visit ten flowers a minute. It’s a good thing you have lots of sisters working with you because it takes about five million flowers to produce a pound and a half of honey and your hive needs twenty to thirty pounds to survive the winter. Because you’re all hard workers, you often produce two or three times that much.
Anatomy of a Honeybee, Photo (without labels) by Charles J. Sharp
Of course if you hatched out as a male drone, all you did was lie around the hive and let the workers feed you until time for the mating flight when you gathered with drones and virgin queens from nearby hives at a mating area up to a mile away. If you were lucky, you found a queen and mated — dying in the process. If you failed to mate and returned to the hive, the workers would cast you out when the weather turned cool so as not to waste food on your worthless carcass through the winter. Continue exploring your bee world while the drumming continues for five or ten more minutes, making sure you’re still in shapeshifted form.
Follow-up: bringing it home to ordinary reality
Now you know what it’s like to be a honeybee, bring it back into ordinary reality. Some things you can do:
• Read E.O. Wilson’s book, Half-Earth. Liveright Publishing Corporation, 2016.
• Pick another species, learn about it, and journey and shapeshift to find out what it needs.
• Teach others to journey to and/or shapeshift into spirits of endangered or vulnerable species. When teaching others with no experience or facility with shamanic journeying, the Shapeshifting Instructions can be used in the form of a guided meditation.
• Support the Half-Earth movement to set aside half the Earth’s area as wilderness to preserve the biodiversity of the planetary ecosystem.
• Start or support an organization committed to preservation of your adopted species. Check out the United Nations World Heritage Fund, http://whc.unesco.org/en/world-heritage-fund, and the Center for Biological Diversity, at http://www.biologicaldiversity.org.
• Write your government representatives in support of preservation of your adopted species.
• Write or speak in aid of protecting your adopted species.
Life’s great power can’t easily be destroyed. On earth, life expands to fill every niche and evolves to produce ever more complex and conscious forms. Nature won’t go down without a fight, but it remains to be seen whether we’ll turn out to be one of her failed experiments or the crowning glory of evolution we think we are.
The power of Nature and all her spirits will be working with us, behind us, and in us, carrying and inspiring us every step of the way as long as we’re acting in her service. We can do this, working to preserve biodiversity, journeying and shapeshifting on behalf of honeybees and other vulnerable species to help the spirits bring new and more compassionate understandings of our oneness with Nature into ordinary reality.