Shapeshifting and the Shamanic
The Connections and insights from Participants
Here are some of the most significant connections and insight from participants which were collected by the Bard team in the breakout meetings and the big group sessions at the event:
1 – Mythic History from the Hawk’s Perspective
There was clearly an impersonal, detached quality in the hawk’s reflections in the dialogue with Fintan. Was the hawk being sadistic, or bureaucratic and simply doing what a hawk does? Was the hawk relishing in the bloodiness of a battlefield or simply fulfilling what a bird of prey does in its cosmic and transcendental role in recycling the dead (warriors on the battlefield) and reintegrating them into nature. Hawks, it seems, don’t do compassion or sentiment! Fintan on the other hand did bring some compassion to his telling! The contrast was very clear!
2 – The Ecological Role of Birds
From the perspective of the narrative it was easy to see the ecological importance of birds, especially birds of prey in playing an important role as recycler. The hawk was detached from the personal or tribal sentiments. From here it was possible to appreciate their role in the greater good in regard to nature and the natural world. So what we as humans might see as a cruel detachment could also be framed as ecologically positive!
3 – The Ecological Role of Birds
In the colloquy both the hawk and Fintan have lived for thousands of years. They have seen the entire ‘mythic history’ of Ireland. What this clearly spoke to was an extraordinary wisdom and insight. But as listeners we were left with a feeling of the loneliness that goes with an extremely long life. It means the guaranteed and repeated loss of everyone one knows. This sense of loneliness also had strong resonances with people in the Covid 19 context with people having to deal with the deaths of people close to us and also large numbers of people dying alone in care homes and hospitals. That shared loneliness acted to bring Fintan and the Hawk together at the end despite prior antagonisms in a deep understanding and companionship.
4 – The Fighting and Bloodshed
There was, it seems, considerable amounts of fight and bloodshed in the two shared stories. Or is it that these are the stand out moments in a mythic history? Were the Irish always fighting?
5 – Shapeshifting and Oneness with Nature
The shapeshifting of Fintan who told of his time as salmon, hawk and eagle was felt as a meditative journey but also in a current context, was felt to be relevant to how lockdown gave rise to new rituals and ceremonies (including the Bard sessions) that help us to remember how it is to be human.
6 – Circularity of Life
Connections made to the circularity of life being from death to life to death whether it was for Fintan or the Hawk or individuals or communities or even Ireland as a whole. Unlike the linear rational thought of Greco Roman culture this world view is far more circular.
7 – Encounters with Shamans
The pursuit of shamanic energy and experience was valued but how could it be the real thing as opposed to New Age type stuff which misuse language and symbols. Discussion took place on the impact of the Catholic Church and modernity on the shamanic values. In Irish myth the connection with the Cailleach and the negative branding of shamanic elements as “witches” etc. Reflection on the loss of the shamanic experiences and indigenous communities around the world was expressed especially in relation to Chaobang Ai’s recounting of meeting shamans with indigenous people in Guyana and the Philippines.
The Story from the Myth Teller’s Perspective
Bard Teller: Emmet J. Driver
As always, I began with the version of the story available on the Bard Mythology website. Next after some research I discovered the “Colloquy of Fintan Mac Bochra and the Hawk of Achill” translated by Eleanor Hull. This originally was a poetic chant, between the two characters. It was a sort of completion of memory which I thought was fantastic. So using this as my basis I began work on an updated version. The idea struck me to have the Hawk address the audience and set up the story, after that it was just about timing, making sure all information came across clearly, and a few jokes!
I also practised a distinct de-christianising of the story, which perhaps suits more an older view of the story, but definitely makes it more relevant to modern Ireland.
The Bard believe in using a Mythic Method which means that the audience, the listeners have the primary responsibility for determining the meaning and “take outs” from the story.
However, we do know that the tellers will always have their way of telling the story and to do it well have to make the story their own.
What we also know is that these stories pre-dated the arrival of christianity and that the new religion had its own agenda. We are hugely indebted to the monks for the wonderful job they did in writing down the stories and their obvious respect for the material and the wisdom. However, where there are obvious religious additions, we sometimes tell the story two ways or remove the changes. This is to attempt to recapture the older world of pre Christian Ireland.