On Wednesday the 1st of July 2015, I once again had the pleasure of attending a meeting of the Empyrean Pagan Interest Group in Nottingham (UK). This time to witness a rare public appearance of Shani Oates, Maid and Virtue holder of the Clan of Tubal Cain.
The Maid is a well-known author with several books to her credit, exploring Mysticism, Gnosticism and Traditional Witchcraft within the context of Clan matters. The Maid has also contributed numerous essays to journals as varied as Pagan Dawn and Pillars, the latter published by ANATHEMA.
TIM RAWLINGS ©2011
The presentation ‘Sacred Mask Sacred Dance’ takes its name from the famous and long out of print work of the Maid’s immediate predecessor, the illustrious Evan John Jones. In that work Jones referred to certain Clan practices under their more correct title, the ‘Masked Rites of Tubal Cain’ and we attending therefore, were privy to Clan praxis rarely exposed to public gaze.
To begin, we were introduced to the consideration that the cycles of life were all once considered sacred in their entirety. Thus recognising that sacred is derived from archaic French and Latin, meaning to make Holy. This links us and the sacred acts themselves to religious ritual, including acts of veneration and priestly rites that importantly, are without gender. It is within these rites historically and culturally, that we discover the concept of Sacred Dance and Masking, in which a performer is spiritually inspired in their performance or dances in veneration of a God or Goddess.
There exists five basic forms of dance; Processional (think Wicker Man), Pole, which is a weaving dance around a fixed point such as a pillar and should not be confused with a nightclub performance, the Circle or Mill form, the Troy Dance, a form of spiralling meditative dance and the fifth, a Shamanistic form that may manifest in a wild or frenzied style
These five forms of dance it is suggested, equate with five stages of the Sacred Round of Life itself. Rebirth is the Processional Dance or the Path of the Holy Fool. You may remember that I did suggest the Wicker Man. The second stage of life is Youth, representing love and connected therefore, with the weaving dance of the Maypole. The third stage is Maternity, the Circle Dance representing the endless knot of life itself. The fourth stage is Maturity, representing wisdom, which is the Troy or Maze spiralling dance and the fifth, Death, Fate and the Shamanistic frenzy.
GORDON MCGOWAN ©2015
As the Maid expounded these five forms of dance in far greater detail than I am able to give here, each was demonstrated by Gaynor Fairweather, a professional dancer and performer. Provided for this part of the demonstration and placed on display, were a selection of ritual masks from the private collection of the Clan of Tubal Cain. This was therefore, a rare opportunity for those outside the Clan, to see carefully selected ritual items usually kept private.
Miss Fairweather to the drumming of the Maid, performed each dance with a different choice of mask, enabling the audience to appreciate the otherworldliness, created by rhythm, movement and mask. An important observation being that once the mask is worn, the bearer is whatever the mask represents, the mask is the face of the Spirit. The God or Spirit is not behind the mask, he or she is the mask. The bearer joins the mask to become one being.
This has an important historical precedence, as illustrated by the famous Dancing Sorcerer or Shaman of the Trois-Frères cave of Ariège in France. Is this example of cave art, left by our ancestors and now dated to 13,000 BCE, a Magician, a Shaman or a God? Is this a depiction of a ritual, an act of worship or hunting magic in which the individual enacts the part of the prey?
PUBLIC DOMAIN IMAGE
Although there has been a re-evaluation of the meaning and context of the figure since its discovery in 1914, today the original interpretation that the figure is that of a shaman, has returned to the fore. However, other examples of cave art suggest more overtly the practise of hunting magic and this leads us to possibly that most famous of folkdances, the Abbots Bromley Horn Dance of Staffordshire.
The Maid chose to use this dance as a multifaceted example of several theories expounded in the presentation. The dance although it appears simplistic in form, is a complicated set piece of Processional, Weaving, Circular and Spiral Dancing. There can be few dances that incorporate such forms in a deliberate union.
In this example however, the dancers are not masked but carry their totems before them in the form of antlers on poles. The Maid used the dance as a link to archaeological examples found in Britain and mainland Europe, of antlered head-dresses designed to be worn high on the head. Although the wearer was not facially masked, we return full circle to the underlying principle of the Dancing Shaman, who while not masked but bearing antlers, supports the archaeological interpretation.
CHATTERING MAGPIE ©2015
To end the evening the audience were invited to pair off, each with a mask and to sit facing each other, whilst meditating in the semi-darkness to drumming and a miniature Bullroarer. The audience were further invited to literally “get up and dance” if they felt the need, joining Miss Fairweather. Only one brave soul chose to do this, providing an imaginative freestyle interpretation to the deliberately monotonous rhythm, it was obvious that the young lady had some previous dance training.
GORDON MCGOWAN ©2015
I suspect many in the audience found this experience a fascinating and exciting one, to sit facing a partner, observing their masked face, with drumming and a bullroarer to accompany the meditation. What did they see, what messages did each bring back from beyond the mask?
This presentation was a unique opportunity to observe and experience in a limited capacity, praxis rarely discussed never mind demonstrated publicly. The Maid granted us with a glimpse, an all too brief a glimpse, of the ‘Masked Rites of Tubal Cain’ and left us much to ponder further.
GORDON MCGOWAN ©2015
Shani Oates the Maid of the Clan of Tubal Cain, will reprise her presentation at Pagan Pride in Nottingham (UK) on Sunday the 2nd August 2015. See below:
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