Clap Sticks and The Cave

clap sticks over gullyA big part of bush spirit work in Australia is acknowledging and respecting land nature and ancestor spirits. Indigenous Australians have been doing this for around 50,000 years a bit longer than 224 years  white fellas have been here since colonisation began in 1788. Clap sticks ( see image) are an integral part of that acknowledgement and respect ritual.

I got involved with clap sticks in a strange way……………….. ……………………..  about six years ago I was bush bashing in the local forest, its a big place 160000 hectares. I kept pushing my way through the bush, wanting to stop but there was something that kept pushing me. Then I came upon a large sandstone cave, and knew this was where I was meant to be. I visit from time to time, sleep there by a fire, do some meditation and exploring. I had begun my bush spirit journey. It is my sacred place and has very strong energy.

One day a person who claimed great knowledge of indigenous spirituality asked me to take them to my spot. It was a strange and disturbing experience for me as the person seemed somewhat of an imposter and was claiming all sorts of visions which were a bit made up, like a fantasy world. I ended up getting quite disturbed and we left and back at my place I struggled to get her to go. I needed to ground myself in gardening work after the experience.

That night I had a strange and strong dream. In it, there was a man who was going crazy and I felt he was going to kill someone. I went  behind him and killed him with a big stick. The dream disturbed me and I struggled to understand it.

clap sticks anthony 02The next week my lovely neighbour Sarah, who worked in Sydney during the week, said that she had met an Indigenous consultant, Les Bursill (archaeologist and anthropologist )   Sarah knew I did some therapy and group work with Indigenous men both in prison and some mens gatherings in the Northern Territory as a domestic violence consultant. She had told Les about my work and involvement in the local Buddhist monastery. Les expressed a wish to meet me and visit the monastery. So that happened and afterwards over a cup of tea at my place we chatted about our work in prison with indigenous men. As he had been a therapist with Indigenous prisoners for 15 years dealing with  spiritual and cultural issues and I had been a Buddhist prison chaplain for six years often working with indigenous men.

I  asked  him if he minded listening to my experience surrounding the dream and maybe give me some advice. I had mentioned that I and others who had visited that area in the forest had felt that it was a mens business place. Indigenous people have a very strong sense of areas having mens or womens energies. Those who explore the bush and are sensitive to these energies also sense this. Les, after hearing the story and dream, said he had a strong sense  on the meaning of the dream. Hitting with a stick was a very traditional method of punishment and teaching. For example when men were learning ritual dances and got it wrong they were hit with a stick to let them know that.

So his interpretation was that I was being given a very clear message, that this place was for mens business and a place for ritual and to respect it properly and not take women there or boys under 14. I was also told of  a strong ritual that should be used when going into these special places. At the boundary one should sound clap sticks ( or just clap loudly with your hands) and speak to the ancestors and nature spirits explain the purpose of your visit and seek permission after acknowledging your respect. ( Les’s book on the Dharawal people is downloadable free )

red ironbark tree

red ironbark tree

Message was clear, now to make some clap sticks, make, as I am a making kind of guy. I had just the thing. When building my house 12 years ago I got some red iron bark for building the stairs. It was such beautiful timber that I bought some extra, knowing that someday I would have a use for it. It had come from trees in the Batemans Bay area, so it was from Yuin tribe country. My spot was in the Wodi Wodi clan of the Dharawal language group country, on the border with Yuin and Gundungurra tribes.(I would like to acknowledge that the Gundungurra peoples also claim use of the land where this spot is)  So it was of the country and an honouring of the trees, things important in indigenous spirit culture.

As it was one of the most dense timbers in Australia I felt it would sound good as well and they did. So off into the bush with my new iron bark clap sticks and creating my own ritual of asking permission to enter and use. Everything has been pretty smooth since then.

Is it true or real? … whatever that means. I cant answer that, but I can say it works for me and creates a richer and more full relationship with  nature that is present… It works for me and is fun. I have made a few sets of clapsticks now and have given them all away, the last set to Uncle Max ( my next post). So I need to make a few more sets especially for my up and coming soul food mens spirit journey workshop. So I bought a cheap Chinese wood lathe and have just made my first new pair in the picture above, and cut my thumb being stupid. I would like to thank Les Bursill for sharing his knowledge with me.

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