Bone Dance:  Kaleidoscope Gathering 2015
Austin Lawrence, November 2014

The theme for the Kaleidoscope Gathering in 2015 is “Bone Dance.” It is a theme that touches parts of the spiritual traditions and philosophies of a number of paths that cross at Raven’s Knoll, in the Pagan community. It is not a simple theme, and it may be challenging to explore in all its aspects. We invite everyone to dance your thoughts around this theme, within the bone box of your skull, before next year. Provided here are a few concepts and ideas to get you started.

‘T ain’t no sin to take off your skin, and dance around in your bones

The Bone Dance is about freedom from social categories. To dance in your bones is to exalt in existing beyond gender or class categories, beyond your body type, or your physical abilities. Ironically, in the dead skeleton our common living humanity is unmasked in its most potent form. That knowledge and joy in pure camaraderie is the music of our common dance.

Activities related to this element of the theme could include discussions of gender, race or oppression in Pagan societies or our modern spiritual paths. It might involve how archaeologists and osteologists actually read social categories back into human remains. Body positive, expressive movement or dance activities could be appropriate.

Roll the bones

From the Ancient Levant to Ancient Greece to the Mongol steppes, the “knucklebones” of sheep, their astragalus, have been used both as games of chance and to determine the will of the gods. Like the dice that they evolved into, they fall in unique ways. The tumble and dance of these bones, the foot of the sacrifice, the life we offered to the gods and ate ourselves, is a staccato tune that voices a message. A message in which we can see our fortunes rise or fall. The dance of these bones can foretell or change our future, but we cannot. Our roll is merely to accept it.

Games of chance, particularly those involving dice, are related to this part of the theme. Also too fortune telling using bones, shells, and associated objects comes directly to mind. Discussions on the nature or meaning or ethics of sacrificing animals for religious or life sustaining purposes is in keeping with the theme of Bone Dance. Viewpoints or understandings of fate that involve acceptance rather than a desire to change are to be considered.

Memento mori

The Bone Dance reminds us that we all must die. The Black Death brought to Europe new folk philosophies. The grateful dead danced with the living to remind everyone, woman or man, serf or lord, of the vanity of materialism and the transient nature of all goods and pursuits. In the certain knowledge of death, and the uncertain knowledge of what lies beyond, cultivating detachment and other virtues rises to the fore. In memento mori, understandings of what was meant by the relationship between life and death are expressed in the artistic or symbolic reminders of spiritual teachings.

Discussions on this movement of the Bone Dance could relate to how spiritualities resolve the issue of death or how religions change due to catastrophic social upheavals. Specific figures such as the Grim Reaper or the Grateful Dead or Kali or Santa Muerte have arisen as objects of special devotion. Art dedicated to that which is beyond life describes the bone dance so people can see it. Many religious philosophies, like Roman stoicism or the zen of the samurai class or Odin’s cult, can exist in the place of momento mori.

Buried in the sky

Within the flesh, below conscious thought, moves the bones. When the living body dies, it becomes a corpse and rots to carrion. Carrion is consumed by the vulture, by the eagle, by the raven. Upon wings the memory of life flies into the sky, circling high above, joining the circling wind that envelopes the Earth. In many traditions, the white bones stripped of all else represent pure, egoless consciousness. The still bones only exist for a time, before they too join the rest of the body to circle and dance through imagining that is beyond the individual one, to the One that is greater.

Examining eastern religious philosophies such as Tibetan Buddhism or Hinduismism can deepen an understanding of the theme of the Bone Dance. Scientific understandings, whether biological or psychological, of how we individuate as people from the rest of the world, human or animal, are possible ways to engage with the theme. A common shamanic initiation and transformative dream or vision is having ones’ flesh stripped away to the bone. Thus, initiation and religious transformation into a new mode of being are a way to explore the bone dance.

Rattle the bones

As is known, the Danse Macabre, no matter what any of us may do or think, unites us all. Music too unites humanity over time and space, from the bone flute of the Neanderthal to playing the rib bones to beating a Sámi drum with a reindeer bone hammer. Any such dance needs music to set things in motion. Within our ribs is the beating heart, over bone white tooth our breath sends sound to swirling.

Concerts, workshops and performances using bone instruments would be fascinating. Music made using simple and ancient techniques strip music to its core, as a body is striped to the bone.

Plate of bones

All living things are fed through cycles of death and rebirth, whether nurtured by a dying star or the sister creature beside them. One day we eat and another we are eaten. Whether cloaked in skin, fur, feather or scale, whether in joy or despair, love or hate, wonderment or fear, the form of life clings to the bones. Before the final transformation, the bones remain. Remaining a moment longer to rattle and to remind us of the gift of life. Many hunter gatherer traditions form a direct relationship with the spirit of the animals and plants that they hunt and gather. Giving thanks for their gift of life, using their bones to commune with them and respectfully beseeching their assistance in staying alive.

Many religious traditions use dance and use bones to connect with the spirits. In particular, shamanic traditions are ones that dance the bones. Art, workshops and rituals exploring these traditions are within the theme. Discussion of the craft and science that describes how different life forms are connected to one another or how parts of ecosystems support one another are of interest. How to make ritual tools that connect to the spirits or the gods using the natural products of dead fauna or flora is part of the bone dance. How religions teach of the importance of life in the midst of the knowledge of mortality is a wisdom to pass on to others, too.

Psychopomps, powers of the beyond and ancestors

Our own flesh and bone is given to us through our ancestors’ experience and their very DNA. We are their continuity; we share their flesh and their bone. In both a physical and metaphorical sense, they are we, the dead live. The interactions of ancestors and spirits with the living are the purview of the shaman, the witch, the priest, the elder. The veil, the river, the rainbow, the earth, time … whatever separates the living from the dead, can be spanned. Spanned with mind and thought, but in many traditions, also by a designated god or a spirit guide. These psychopomps protect and provide traditions for us to interact with our ancestors, the mighty and belovéd dead.

Gods and Goddesses are often associated with the ancestors or spirits of the dead, take Baron Samedi and the Gede or Lady Freya and the Disir as examples. Workshops and rituals of gods and goddesses that span the space between living and dead, or those entities that receive and protect the ancestors are part of this theme. Obviously too, the act of ancestor worship, or how the living are received themselves as ancestors or transformed again into the living after their death are part of the bone dance. The techniques and application of graveyard or burial mound practices, magickal bone-work, and ‘tapping the bone’ rituals are all recollections that could be shared and explored.

Enjoying the clouds and the rains

Death arrives for us all. But death happens throughout life, too. We are always dying, yet our cells constantly renew. Sometimes in life we exist beyond ourselves, beyond time, beyond thought. It is at these times when we die to ourselves to become immortal. This experience of living in the bottomless beyond may be found in sleep and dream, in sex and ecstasy, in contemplation and mind, in plant or brew, in drum and dance. In the bone dance, nothing matters, but it all does.

Techniques for exploring dissolution of the self and the creation of spiritual understandings of transcendence are within the theme. As are explorations of the biology of longevity and aging, how they occur, and how we respond to them medically, socially and spiritually.

We have come to Be Danced
(by Jewel Mathieson)

We have come to Be Danced
Not the pretty dance
Not the pretty pretty, pick me, pick me dance
But the claw our way back into the Belly
Of the Sacred, Sensual Animal dance
The unhinged, unplugged, cat is out of its box Dance
The holding the precious moment in the palms
Of our hands and feet Dance

We have come to Be Danced
Not the jiffy booby, shake your booty for him dance
But the wring the sadness from our skin dance
The Blow the chip off our shoulder Dance.
The slap the apology from our posture Dance

We have come to Be Danced
Not the monkey see, monkey do dance
One two Dance like you
One two three, Dance like me Dance
but the grave robber, tomb stalker
Tearing scabs and scars open Dance
The rub the Rhythm Raw against our Soul Dance

We have come to Be Danced
Not the nice, invisible, self-conscious shuffle
But the matted hair flying, Voodoo Mama
Shaman Shakin’ Ancient Bones Dance
The strip us from our casings, Return our Wings
Sharpen our Claws and Tongues Dance
The Shed Dead Cells and slip into
The Luminous Skin of Love Dance.

We have Come to Be Danced
Not the hold our breath wallow in the shallow end of the floor dance
But the Meeting of the Trinity, the Body Breath and Beat Dance
The Shout Hallelujah from the top of our Thighs Dance
The Mother may I?
Yes you may take 10 giant Leaps Dance
The olly olly oxen free free free Dance
The everyone can come to our Heaven Dance

We have come to Be Danced
Where the Kingdom’s Collide
In the Cathedral of Flesh
To Burn Back into the Light
To unravel, to Play, to Fly, to Pray
To root in skin sanctuary
We have come to Be Danced

We Have Come.

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