In his Life of Saint David, written in the late eleventh century, Rhygyfarch drew on older traditions that spoke of three ancient Shamanic symbols in connection with Saint David of Wales, (who is remembered today, March 1st,) namely, the honeycomb, the fish and the stag (Life of Saint David Chapter 1). For Saint David and his monks, the honeycomb was the ancient symbol of his wisdom. The fish was an ancient symbol of timeless life in the waters of regeneration and illumination and the stag was the ancient symbol of the royal glory of antlered crowning, with its mysterious capacity to transfix the serpent. The venom of snakes is the sting of death, but this same poison, taken safely as medicine, heals all the sufferings that infect fallen humanity. These three mysterious and very ancient Shamanic symbols connect us, through Saint David and the Age of Saints in Wales, to our distant spiritual past, which is made present today in ways that uncover profoundly integral mysteries of wisdom. The honeycomb of wisdom is the mystery of oneness that is unveiled as countless bees act as one, generating honey that nourishes and heals with wax that lights the darkness of the night. The fish of wisdom is the mystery of timeless life in the sea of uncreated light, life that is death by drowning for temporal beings bound by temporality, but joyous life for fish in the seas of timeless life. The stag of wisdom is the mystery of antlered crowning, due to the stag’s skilful capacity to kill tricky serpents, whose venom is deadly, but when dead, used as wise medicine, curing and healing broken souls.
Shamanic wisdom is still accessible to us through our ancestral saints, saints like Saint David, who founded the ancient sanctuary and monastery of Saint Davids, patron saint of Wales. Shamanic wisdom predates religion and so roots us upstream from religion in wisdom that we can draw on in a time that is shedding religion, but which is simultaneously awakening again to wisdom. The honeycomb, the fish and the stag reach out to us in new, renewing ways that we have yet to discover. The honeycomb has far more to teach us about how wisdom works as one in many hearts, like bees in their hive, than we have been able to assimilate thus far. The fish is able to communicate to us how we may flourish without drowning in the timeless sea of divine presence. The stag holds ancient, antlered secrets that wisdom shares freely with all, secrets that transform deadly venom into life-giving medicine, curing spiritual death by means of life-renewing excruciation, skill that, like wisdom, makes all things new. Wisdom in our time becomes truly integral when it embraces, through Saint David, the Shamanic wisdom tradition of the honeycomb, the fish and the stag.
It is extremely difficult, in our very secular age, for modernists to listen to the Age of Saints, saints like Saint David, but in some ways, post-modern spirituality appears to be more willing to listen to ancient Shamanism. But post-modern neo-paganism is not always what it seems, and may miss the point of the stag’s antler points if it is unwilling to swim, like fish in the timeless seas of God, or work as one like the bees. Few are willing to be profoundly questioned by the bees, the fish and the stag, as were Saint David and the ancient saints of old. We actually need their humility if we are to listen to wisdom, or to abide in the wisdom that reaches out to us through the bees, the fish or the stag. It is difficult to see how their wisdom might become ours if we are trashing the saints who embraced them, because our pride is as deadly to us as they knew pride was deadly to them. On the day of Dewi Sant, the patron saint of Wales, it is not the leeks or the daffodils that are decisive, but the humble radiance of the saints that communicates the wisdom of the honeycomb of bees, the wisdom of the fish in the timeless seas of God and the wisdom of the stag, king of the forest and its healing, wisdom mysteries. The wisdom of the bees opens to the wisdom of the fish, and thus to the wisdom of the stag, in the humble heart of saints like Saint David, showing that we cannot in fact assimilate genuine wisdom from the far distant past without embracing the humility of saints in the Age of Saints in sixth century Wales.