Meeting Bara: A Shamanic Vision

Reid State Park Beach, Maine: July 2005

whaleReid State Park Beach was another rocky one, with lots of sheer cliffs and stones underfoot, and piles of driftwood on the upper sands. The sea was pretty violent after days of rain and storm, and was smashing itself hard into the cliffs. I had barely finished my drumming call when Bara came sauntering up to through the surf, if indeed one could name a sort of bouncing swim as sauntering.

She was an enormous mermaid - not just tall (or long, I suppose one could say), which she was, but wide around as well. Hugely fat, billowing rolls of flesh, great breasts bouncing in the water, long dark brown hair draped over her broad, muscular shoulders, which were also draped with hundreds of strings of beads. Her face was round and fleshy, with at least two chins, and a big crooked-toothy grin. Wide sea-dollar earrings dangled from beneath her draggled locks. Her tail was that of a whale's, and she carried a big club that looked like the toothed jawbone of some enormous animal.

She hailed me merrily, and slammed her club onto the rocks, and the waves leaped up and hurled themselves at the cliff with a roar. In spite of myself, I laughed. She looked very much as if she was enjoying herself thoroughly. "Come dance with me!" she cried, and although the water was bitterly cold, I tried my best to come in and swim a little. She rolled over and over in the water, great flukes splashing, rolls of pale mer-flesh billowing, and then she rushed at the land again in a great wave and slammed her club against the cliffs once more.

Bara is all about the sea's relationship to the dry land, which she explained to me saucily in no uncertain terms. We tend to talk about the sea as nourishing the land, but the land directly by the ocean is not terribly good for growing cultivated human food, although in a balanced ecosystem there is plenty of wild food at the seaside. But Bara's feelings were something else entirely, and reminded me yet again that the ocean does not exist for our benefit.

Bara's Lesson

tidal wave 2

The sea's relationship to the land is always one of antagonism. Yes, I know, that makes you shake your head, you think that all things in Nature work in harmony with each other. Well, they do. Harmony does not always mean kindness. The wolf is in harmony with the rabbit when she catches and eats him, yes? At least, they are in harmony with Nature's plan for them. And what the sea wants to do, what all water wants to do if it admits it, is to take the land apart.

So it tries, bit by bit, piece by piece. If the sea has its way, the land would all be floating in tiny bits within its waves, or at its bottom, the way it used to be before the land became arrogant and heaved itself up. In the end, the sea remembers the time long ago when all the earth was ocean, before the land was forced up high. The sea wants to go back to that time, and because part of water's nature is endless patience, it will keep trying until it succeeds.

But patience doesn't have to mean peacefulness! My pets, the whales - they once came out of the sea and grew into predators on the land. Then they came back to the sea and became predators there! That's a story I like. What you need to know from me is that patience takes muscle, it takes strength. What kind of surety does it take to know that you are the oldest element, and that you are intent on destroying the whole world? This song is about wearing down the endurance of obstacles, not like a mouse who gnaws a tiny hole, but like the ocean waves who get out there and bang away, day after day. This is a song for your own endurance as well, and the ability to wear down the task, bit by bit, when you are feeling weak and tired. This antagonism is good, it is good for the world. It is joyful antagonism. Those who say that all things must be accomplished only with serenity, who do not understand the sacredness of joyful antagonism, they are not looking at the real world, the natural world. We Jotnar understand this. So should you. So slam away at it!

Bara's Song

Hear a sample.

wave and rocks

Carry you out to the white-capped waters,
Wash you away to the wild wet womb,
Batter you, bash you, beat you down,
To be worn by the waves is the way of your doom.

For I am the strength of the mighty ocean,
The patience of ten centuries,
Though once it birthed you, spat you, flung you,
Return you now to the endless seas.

Stone, you are lucky to be backed by cliff and
Cliff, you are lucky to be backed by land,
But I will grind you grain by grain,
From cliff to stone, from stone to sand.

For I am the strength of the mighty ocean,
The patience of ten centuries,
Though once it birthed you, spat you, flung you,
Return you now to the endless seas.

A CD containing this and other shaman songs is available from Asphodel Press.