7. Bushmen of the Kalahari


In November 2011, while recovering from my participation in the shift of 28/10, I read an article by a South African academic that described ancient rock art in the Drakensberg mountains and linked this to trance dances of the San people (Bushmen) of the Kalahari Desert. I felt called to visit both places and dreamt of praying into the roots of an actual tree that for me had strong associations with the Tree of Life. Following a string of weird synchronicities, I arranged to travel with my friend Sean, who lives in Cape Town and has long-standing connections with both rock art and the Bushmen.

The motivation behind my journey clarified right up to my departure at the end of July 2012. Its elaborated pattern evolved out of preparations for a Sacred Play called ‘Birthing the Divine Child’ which I presented in May. This aims to restore qualities of innocence and spontaneity to our adult ways of being in the world and links to the completion of 9 Underworlds described by the Mayan calendar. As the role of these implicit contexts of thought and judgment is realised in consciousness, this realisation becomes a factor in the intentional regulation of later consciousness development. The way in which I responded to my intuition regarding a need to visit South Africa is an example. If I hadn’t acted on it, these ‘pieces’ would never have been written.

All I knew as I set out was that I needed to connect with the culture of the Bushmen and then go to a particular place where I would pray as a modern person with a view to reconciling in myself a disjunction between Archaic-Magical-Mythic modes of consciousness on the one hand and the ‘Mental’ consciousness of our modern world. I approached this assignment in the manner of a Fool, which happens to be my primary archetype and is very close to the spirit of the Divine Child. Intuitively, I knew that the main qualification required for my task was a sense of innocence in relation to it so I trusted to my spontaneity on the occasion without further deliberation or research.

*

Sean and I left Cape Town early on the morning of August 1. We drove 1,000 km to Blumfontein, where we met another friend who has specific expertise in San culture and has also received initiations from Bushman elders. The next day we drove into Botswana. We were due to attend a Dance Festival here at which Bushman clans from South Africa and Namibia would also be represented. This was to be my introduction to Bushman culture. As a dancer, I had even hoped to participate in a trance dance but tearing a muscle in my right calf during July put paid to that aspiration and also made clear that my involvement was to be of a quieter, more reflective nature.

So it proved. With my leg still sore, I felt tender and appreciative over the weekend. The highlight came on Saturday night, away from the main arena, when local Bushmen staged an authentic trance dance until sunrise and invited us to attend. I have often danced myself into trance but never under such conditions. By now I was reconciled to simply observing and offering energetic support. The dance was already under way when we arrived, I think shortly before midnight. Six or seven male dancers moved with great precision around a blazing fire, supported by the songs and clapping of a women’s circle which we joined.

(We had earlier learned in discussion with the elders that the dance serves to regulate community life by bringing healing and balance to it. Bushmen groups who have lost this ancient practice tend also to lose coherence and direction as a result. Increasingly deprived of access to it and their traditional hunter-gatherer lifestyle many become prone to alcohol and other forms of addiction. For this reason, leaders of the present group were strict and zealous in their observance.)

A few minutes after I kneel into the circle I close my eyes and meditate, transported by the women’s songs. I open them soon after in an altered state and thrill to behold the immemorial sight of six almost naked figures caught in fiery silhouette against a star-packed sky, moving in charged unison over percussive claps and chants. The dancers wear leg rattles made of shell to amplify the rhythms of their stomping in the soft desert sand. Periodically one of the men goes into trance and gives healing to members of the circle. The process is fundamentally ecstatic, a bliss practice designed to lift consciousness beyond the groove of everyday and into contact with invisible orders of being that also affect our world. Behind this lies a tacit awareness of Source, mediated by ancestors who oversee the welfare of the living.

I have an opportunity to watch closely as two dancers, particularly, move in and out of trance. I perceive this as being akin to kundalini rising, where energies usually coiled at the base of the spine uncoil and pass up through the higher consciousness centres. This reminds me also of vestigial western symbolism concerning ‘dragon’ energies that lie dormant in a cave (base), sitting on a treasure that they don’t know how to use. I sense intuitively that this relates to a second phase of my journey to the Drakensberg (Dragon’s Mountain), but that is a story for Piece 8.

I’m relieved to note that I feel no urge to participate. Two years previously I had an opportunity to dance with Tuareg natives of the Sahara after a Vision Quest but injury prevented that also, to my deep chagrin. Now I am entirely reconciled. My powers of observation are heightened such that I perceive a deeper affinity between archaic and integral consciousness in my own being. This involves a transcendence and even enlightenment of former ego dispositions, including my one-time wish to dance. I am actually happy now not to and, having absorbed all the energies of my privileged attendance, I pay final respects and take my leave. Sean stays and, in keeping with his purpose, joins the dance.

*

Two days’ driving takes us to another Bushman camp on the South African side of the border with Botswana. Sean already knows these people and I have no doubt that this fact has been instrumental in the focusing of my mission through him. There is a Tree here that corresponds to my dream and an elder who has manifested spiritually in my sacred movement practice back home. On a broader symbolic level, the roots of the Tree of Life are found in southern Africa. The Bushmen are the earliest known modern human inhabitants of this region, which is also where our species’ core ancestor – Homo Erectus – first appeared 1.9 million years ago. The Bushmen of the Kalahari are thus the most direct descendents of our common human ancestor.

The tree around which this encampment has formed evokes archetypal imagery of the Tree of Life while also linking it to a contemporary Dream of a New Earth. None of this became clear until after I arrived. My inspiration has been simply to travel in faith, without making any effort to load outcomes. Aptly, the tree is known locally as the Tree of Faith and was established as such by visionary means. I understand that Izak, a leader of the community, will share its story with me ahead of our gathering. All he knows is that, prompted by a Dream, I have come here to deliver a prayer. My sense has been that I will come here, kneel before this Tree of Faith/Life and pray into its roots, depositing a seed whose precise nature remains unclear to me.

Sean tells me that we are to meet the elders next morning at the edge of their encampment and walk together to the Tree. It feels appropriate that we should camp on the cold desert sand, midway between the Bushmen and a sumptuous Afrikaans lodge that proclaims a very different Dream. I have several dreams myself through the night. These serve as a final orientation and mostly concern abuses that modern-progressive consciousness has inflicted on Archaic/Source consciousness, causing it not to be spontaneous and innocent. Two examples will suffice to make this clear:

I’m fleeing with a woman through a pitch black night. We are pursued by dark beings whom I turn and face.

The prevailing energy is one of fear. We still fear Night and powers that would return to awareness from the Dark. This process cannot be fulfilled while we remain in flight but when I turn, it is to fight. Survival concerns dominate my (representative) human consciousness. This siege mentality governs our resistance to integrating powers that seek now to return from a ‘dark’ (archaic) past upon which we project fears that arise out of defensive ego postures. On awakening, I allow these ‘dark’ powers to catch up and absorb them lovingly. Then a more specific image arises.

A German officer (WWII) stands over a terrified prisoner. He puts a rifle in the prisoner’s mouth and is poised to pull the trigger. Other soldiers look on indifferently.

Consciousness in this dream distributes equally over the perspectives of the officer, prisoner and lookers on, making it Integral (aperspectival) in Gebser’s sense. I wake up, registering the fractured, tormented consciousness of this scenario in all its details. I take it into my Heart (Consciousness) of Unconditional Love, allowing fully all that has been in order to let it go. I hold this until all determining traces release, such that the officer is left standing, perplexed and ashamed, as if awakening from a nightmare. Embarrassed he withdraws the rifle and apologises to his victim, who rises gratefully, also awakening from constricted awareness. The officer then instructs the other soldiers to disperse.

At the end of this processing, a Source-point opens at the centre of my spiritual Heart and a pure drop of Clear Light issues forth. This is the restored Light of Innocence and I gather that it will be the seed deposited in the roots of the Tree. Symbolically, it evokes a return to innocence on the part of post/modern consciousness, paralleled by my work with the orienting dreams. Soon I must enact the pattern as a carrier of this consciousness in the course of my symbolic return to a place of origins at the Root of the Tree of Life. This also will be a gesture of Faith and Renewal (11).

*

It is cold the next morning. A man called Gheert comes to meet us, dressed shabbily against a piercing wind. We greet each other and embrace. He has a totally open Heart and dark eyes that shine with a deep love. Izak and his wife Lys follow, and also a fourth man named Toppies. They know from the energy of my embrace that I have not come to take photos. In fact, it feels entirely clear that I am embracing reflections of One Self and the emotional charge is proof enough that the Bushmen sense this too.

I say via Sean’s translation (into Afrikaans) that I bring greetings from my Heart, my people and my ancestors. These words are graciously received. I have come to pray into the roots of the Tree. The intention behind my prayer is that modern people may learn to be in harmony with it, appreciate the wisdom of all indigenous people and allow them to live as they choose. We then walk slowly to the Tree. Once there Izak explains how, years before, he had been passing close by and felt called to pray. His prayer turned into a vision which directed him to live near the Tree in the hope that others of his group would follow and build a renewed sense of community around it. This has happened since.

My vision, it seems, is really an expanded version of Izak’s – urging that all people might re-unite around the spirit of this Tree of Faith/Life as one extended clan. I ask permission then to turn my attention to the Tree as it is calling. This is given ‘with honour’. I kneel before the Tree and turn inward while attuning to it. A silent prayer begins. It feels like I have been preparing forever for this moment so there is no uncertainty or hesitation. Rather the energies I am to deliver rush in, overwhelming in their tenderness and power. I have a sense of being transported back to Origin via deep roots, restored to lived awareness of it and emptying all my love into them.

A sequence follows where I align silently with the Hearts of Heaven and Earth while bringing forth the innocence and spontaneity of my Divine Child (unsullied essence) as a modern person. I connect then with Powers of the Cosmos and remember the unfolding through them of One Self/Consciousness that lives through All That Is. This involves certain gestures that may be considered Magical within the felt empathic stream of archaic awareness by which I am held. They flow powerfully, benignly and unselfconsciously to immediate effect. Somehow I understand that, behind the ecstasy of my immersion, I am rededicating post/modern intentional consciousness at Source.

This happens through me, of course, but since I do not own this consciousness the process has collective significance. I don’t reflect at all in the event. Rather, from the moment I begin, inspiration which has been gathering since January 2012 erupts, so that my physical frame is shaken. Within this I feel solid and calm. My consciousness is clear and wholly given to its task. My eyes are closed and my focus inward so I have no idea whether any of this is observed or how it’s being received. Climax comes when my prayer reaches a point of saying ‘May the Body of my Mother be clarified and renewed as appropriate by the energy of Source rising in me’.

Then, although I hadn’t anticipated this prior to last night’s dream, a Point of Creation opens at the centre of my spiritual Heart and a pure drop of the purged essence of my post/modern human sensibility pours out and down through the roots of the Tree into the Heart of Earth. As it does, I become aware of myself as a human embodiment of the Tree’s abstracted structure, with kundalini/serpent/dragon energies racing up my spine. I am also aware of the physical tree before me in all its symbolic resonances. A prayer of apology, gratitude, forgiveness and love follows on behalf of all people, together with a plea for creative renewal. I am kneeling like a mountain, very strong, by the time this moment comes. The sequence ends with a pledge of my dreaming to the fulfilment of Earth’s Highest Dream.

When this has finished I think to relax but the Point of Creation at the centre of my Heart opens once again of its own accord and a voluminous stream of liquid crystalline Light gushes out into the roots of the Tree of Faith/Life. Soon after, I open my eyes. All is silent and calm. The sun is shining more strongly and only a slight wind blows. Everyone is bowed in prayerful devotion. Izak is the first to stir. He has been crying and takes a handkerchief to dry his eyes. Lys, also tearful, gets up and walks around the tree. Each of us slowly finds our own way back. I stay kneeling and intuit that the first fruit of this seed will come in the Drakensberg next week.

For now we form a circle. Izak says that I went to the dance to learn about Bushman culture and then came here to pray. Now the seed has been planted and will grow. He also says that the Bushmen will dream about me. These words come as a surprise. Through all my preparation I never anticipated what the human aftermath might be. I am used to ignorant intellectuals ignoring or presuming to correct me but now, nourished by the Heart depth of these First People, I am Home. Izak and I walk back arm in arm. He says that I am walking with an old Bushman in the red sand. I feel that I am walking as one.

*

Gheert comes to our tent with Sean a couple of hours later, while I am still making notes. He looks like the humblest of men but is also somewhat retiring around the sharp energies of the Afrikaans Lodge where we are camped. He takes a palm-sized stone from his pocket and, mumbling something, hands it to Sean. Sean passes it to me with a translation: ‘He says that if you look at this every morning when you wake up, you will think oh him and he will be in your Heart.’ One side of the stone bears the most exquisitely executed depiction of a Bushman with their Sacred Animal, the Eland. It has been signed by the artist who is also its bearer – a small tramp-like figure, almost furtive in this alien world. I become the most humbled of men as he embraces me with his deep and ancient love.

*

We are invited back to share a meal that night. It is already dark and getting cold. A fire burns in the lean-to where food we bring will be prepared and another outside where we will eat (12). People gather slowly at the outer fire. Toppies approaches and speaks in broken English. I crouch beside him, descending from the plastic chair with which I have been honoured. He says that he felt great love this morning, not just for the Bushmen but all people. Then he mentions Jesus. Unable to follow, I call Sean to translate. Toppies has a message for me from Great Spirit and referred to Jesus to get this across. He says I am the only man to have come to them from the direction of the Dream. They had dreamt that a man would come and now I am here. I don’t know what this may portend but stress it now to underscore a vital element of ancient-modern complementarity between the Bushmen’s Dreaming and my own.

Later Toppies becomes a story-teller. Word spreads quickly and maybe thirty people gather around the fire as he begins. Exaggerating gestures and pausing artfully, he tells how Earth and Heaven discovered each other through the agency of Tortoise and Giraffe. Everybody gasps anew through his rendering of this time-worn tale. Then we laugh uproariously at an irreverent metaphysical parable that is also political satire. (All dog species are required to register by surrendering their rear ends but everything must be done very quickly so mistakes are made as they scramble to retrieve, which explains why dogs sniff each other to this day.) Another scatological tale explodes a myth of Christian piety (13).

Much later, just before we leave, I have an urge to sing in Gaelic at the fire. Only Izak, Lys and a handful of young people remain. The stars are fully out and all is quiet. My song relates to events of the day and carries strongly through the stillness of the night. The lyric and the melody are both mesmerizingly beautiful to me. After I finish, Sean translates my English version into Afrikaans. The Bushmen, already rapt, nod approvingly and smile. The lyric is as quoted in Piece 6:  You are my Love/ You set me free/ For my sake/ For your sake/ And I pray/ That we will come together/ Like fresh flowers/ Under a New Tree.

*

We take our leave of the Bushmen next morning and, having travelled all day, spend the night at a lodge convenient to rock art locations. There is just enough time before dark for me to see one of these ancient embellishments. The images are often faded or over-painted to renew old connections and keep faith with ancestors. This is the first example I have ever seen in situ and viewing it turns a subtle key in my psyche. I am advised through the night to approach tomorrow as if in the Dreamtime. In the event I have no option but to oblige.

I walk as in a dream, out of time. Reflection is the hallmark of our human genius and here are reflections that date from a Time of No Time: sacred time. Perceiving them in this timeless mode, I am re-minded and remember what it is to be of one mind with their creators; of One Heart, feeling, sensibility. This is a matter of communing, not assertion. One thing is abundantly clear: the work is of an inherently spiritual nature. Our ancestors didn’t wait to transcend mental perspective before becoming ‘properly’ spiritual. They were already that ab initio, from the dawning of Archaic consciousness  through Magic and Myth (in Gebser’s sense rather than Wilber’s).

At one point I touch a stone of great beauty, just a hand’s length beneath stick figures etched in black. The consciousness of the stone, its vibration, pours into me. I don’t communicate with it, I become it: one with all that it has held and holds in trust. As reflective stone I know this in my bones. It is a knowing ‘I’ will never forget.

*

(11) For Holocaust echoes, see ‘A Journey to Poland’ (under Reports/Sacred Journeys). For dream work in general, see ‘Dreams: A User’s Manual’ under ‘Dreaming’. Restoring a sense of innocence has been a prevalent theme of my spiritual life. I will not pursue this here except to say that it has helped to prepare me for the task in hand.

(12)  This Bushman group is materially impoverished to an extent that threatens its spiritual wealth. Like others, it is vulnerable to problems of addiction and other forms of abuse. The previous week, for example, Izak had been struck by a white driver when he refused to let his people board a truck for transportation to a lodge where they are employed as human exhibits. It is doubtful that they can sustain even their presently contracted lifestyle for much longer. How then can they sustain a legacy which they still hold in trust for all humans?

(13) Sean recorded this session and will share it in due course. See www.seancaulfield.com for details of this and his art/spiritual work.

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