Running with Ravens; Dancing with Wolves: Dancing with the Bones- A Rather Startling Discovery
by Martha Brumabaugh, PhD. Featured in Counter Culture Magazine June 2014
It was a sultry day and there seemed to be no escape from the mid-day heat. We had returned to Paris just after Bastille Day, to spend our last couple of nights in the city we had all grown to love. My sister and I were travelling with my two sons, and had in tow my “third” son, a kid who spent a lot of time with us, and referred to me as Mom #2. Three teen-age boys seemed to add to the exhaustive heat. We spent the morning at the Louvre, had a leisurely lunch and then took the metro across town to the Denfert Rochereau Metro station. We emerged near the Lion de Belfort, but headed straight to the entrance of the Catacombs. I hoped that going underground would be the answer to the heat. What I didn’t know was that we were destined to have an experience that would change four of us forever.
We paid the fee, and began the descent down the 130 steps on an old stone spiral staircase. At the bottom we followed a long, low corridor for what felt like forever. It smelled of earth, and mud, and at 57 degrees, it was a relief from the heat on the surface, twenty meters above. We wandered down the corridor, chatting, and wondering where the bones were. And then we approached a veritable gateway, a door with a sign that read, “Arrête, c’est ici l’empire de la mort,” or in English, “Halt, this is the realm of death.” At this point we left the earthen corridor entering into a maze of dimly lit stone walls embedded with skulls. We stopped very suddenly, and it seemed as though the conversations around us stopped as well. With a shudder, I realized that the walls were not made from river rock but from bones. I turned to say something to the boys only to find that I was alone. Everything was silent, and for all intents and purposes, I was alone in this “realm of the dead.”
I pushed aside my initial sense of panic, and began to walk deeper into the maze. I had no idea where I was, and there was no sign of a living creature. Just me with all those bones. I stopped periodically to read the plaques that noted from which cemetery the bones had been moved, and when. I reached out and felt the energy emanating from them. I cried at the huge number of infant and children’s bones. And then, in a flash, I remembered that I had lived more than one life in Paris, and there was a strong chance that some of those bones could be mine. What if I was in the presence of my own bones? Was this an opportunity to reshape my understanding of reincarnation, and to embrace the knowledge that there are moments when we can truly look back through time and see remnants of who we were? I was here. I was looking at what could be me. There could be many versions of me, and we were all in this place at this time. I was overwhelmed at the possibilities, and sank onto a nearby stone bench.
And then, I heard the music. I felt the urge to sing, and to dance with the bones. I was all alone, and so I let go of all my inhibitions and stood up, and began to dance among the bones. The music was a song written by Victoria Marina Tompkins (1992) and I shifted the lyrics to match the setting.
Bones, come dance with me! Bones, come dance with me! Bones, come dance with me! We’re dancing under Paris, under Paris tonight! Dancing under Paris, under Paris tonight.
Bones dance, know the shaman’s death. Bones dance, hear the raven cry. Bones dance, see the ancestors! They’re dancing under Paris, under Paris tonight! Dancing under Paris, under Paris tonight.
Bones, come fly with me! Bones, come fly with me! Bones come fly with me! We’re flying under Paris under Paris tonight!
Bones dance, know the shaman’s death. Bones dance, hear the raven cry. Bones dance, see the ancestors! They’re dancing under Paris, under Paris tonight! Dancing under Paris, under
Bones, come die with me! Bones, come die with me! Bones, come die with me! We’re dying under Paris, under Paris tonight! We’re dying under Paris, under Paris tonight.
Bones dance, know the shaman’s death. Bones dance, hear the raven cry. Bones dance, see the ancestors! They’re dancing under Paris, under Paris tonight! Dancing under Paris, under Paris tonight (Marina Tompkins, 1992; adapted by Brumbaugh 2003).
I have no idea how long I danced and sang my way through the maze. The experience was nothing less than magical. And then, just as suddenly as it had started, it ended. An announcement came over the loudspeaker that it was time to close and we had ten minutes to leave. Again, I felt a sense of panic, because I had no idea where I was, and the corridors in the catacombs stretched over 200 meters. I must admit, I thought that perhaps I would have the chance to spend the night with the bones. But then I became aware of conversations in German and French not far from me, so I followed the voices. There, in a room with a vaulted ceiling stood the three boys who wasted no time bombarding me with questions about my disappearance.
They said that they were following me, and I just vanished. Because they were all raised in homes that encouraged the acceptance of non-rational experiences, they understood that I had stepped out of time. My sister, more resistant to anything that can’t be scientifically proven, had long since gone up to the surface.
More than ten years later, I continue to ponder my experience in the Catacombs. I talked to my older son, Russell, this morning, and found that he had nearly forgotten it. As I began to retell the story, he remembered. I was rather stunned that it hadn’t stuck with him, and a little saddened by it. I guess that the day his mom vanished in the Catacombs of Paris was obviously not at the top of his list of life-altering experiences! Nor was it on the list for my “third” son, Brian, but after several tours of Afghanistan and Iraq, I can understand why. I spoke with my younger son and was not surprised that he remembered. Nicholas reminded me that the three of them were not only separated from me, but from everyone else as well, and for at least five minutes, Brian too had disappeared. It seems that they stepped back through the veil when they entered the chamber at the end of the catacombs.
Sometimes a shared experience such as this one can change the worldview, and perhaps the core belief systems of a person. Sometimes it just fades away. Perhaps the difference between the experiences of Nicholas and myself are different, because of our continued relationship with the magical world and the fact that we share the ability to slip through the mists to the other side. Or maybe it reflects that, although unexpected at that moment in time, it was not something they would consider to be out of the ordinary. If that is the case, then I have done my job.
Before I close, I would like to say a few words about my first shaman teacher, Victoria Marina Tompkins, who wrote the original lyrics to “Bones.” I had the honor to work with Victoria and consider her to be the most significant influence in my work. Victoria’s work at Flight of the Hawk, Center for Contemporary Shamanism, propelled me on to a path that led me to my doctoral work and beyond. The flier for her beginning class was nestled in a bag of Amway product delivered to me by one of her students. The message that I got from that was that it was not only time to clean up my house, but to clean up my life. Victoria’s teachings, circles, vision quests, and her music will be with me always, and I am deeply indebted to her for showing me the way. I will never forget the impact that she has had on my life.
You can visit Victoria’s work at http://www.flightofthehawk.com and listen to a sample of the original recording of “Bones,” at http://www.flightofthehawk.com/music.html. The CD, Flight of the Hawk: Shamanic Songs and Ritual Chants is available through her website. (I had the privilege of participating as a vocalist on this CD.)
Martha Brumbaugh, PhD, is an artist, writer, ceremonialist, and shaman whose ground-breaking doctoral dissertation, Out of the Mists: An Organic Inquiry into Sacred Ways of Knowing and the Shaping of Reality(2006) brought lived shamanic experience into the world of academic discourse. She has mentored women and men on spiritual paths since 1988 and is co-founder of The Edge of Lemuria, Crossroads for Healers and Seekers. When she isn’t working, teaching or writing, she can be found petting her two cats, staring out to sea and contemplating the unlimitedness of possibility.