Saturday, November 3, 2007

Soul, soul, an apple or two...

As a boy growing up in Northumberland this season and time of the year held several significant and symbolic rituals, very different from the custom of the ‘trick or treat’ here in the United States. Perhaps the most basic was the veneration of the humble apple, whose crop surfaced toward the late fall, my favorite was the ‘Cox Orange Pippin’ a small but incredibly sweet and wild taste. On this dark night by a crackling coal-fire we played a simple game of ‘apple-dooky’ which involved attempting to take an apple out of a bowl of water only using our teeth. This of course is purely Celtic in origin; the water representing the passage-way to the otherworld, and the apple being the ‘isle of apples’ of whom Manannan Mac Lyr was the resident chief deity. The Gaelic heaven is perhaps better known in Arthurian legend as ‘Avalon.’ My mother would also bake huge 1lb apples stuffed with brown sugar, nuts and raisins, cinnamon and brandy. And there was also the candied apples covered in hard caramel which we licked until our tongues were sore. It is said that the apple was the customary payment to ensure the safety of a soul in ‘spiritual transition’ to the otherworld. Thus in ages past groups of children would go around the village, knocking on each neighbor’s door and sing a soul-plaint in return for an apple;

“Soul, soul, an apple or two
If you haven’t an apple a pear will do,
One for the Crow-Queen, two for the lost-soul,
And three for the Ferry-man
Who carries us all…”

The Great-Queen ‘Morrigan’ in the shape of a Crow is the one who consumes our strips our decaying body of its flesh, and the Ferry-man guides our spirit across the vast dark ocean of death. Then at school we would weave small crosses out of white milk-straws, originally these were constructed from the left-over sheaves of wheat after the harvest and called ‘parshells’ in the Irish tradition. Very similar to the St. Brigit’s cross created at Beltaine. Hung up over the lintel of the front door they were said to protect the home from the unwanted attentions of mischievous spirits.

Pumpkins were unknown in Britain, we used turnips which were hollowed out and used as lanterns with a candle inside, and left by the window to illuminate the cold bitter darkness outside. The leftover orange-flesh was boiled, mashed and served with some ham for the evening meal.

Discarding the incorrect assumption that Samhain was a old and dangerous God of the harvest we are left only with its ancient conception as the ‘new-year.’ A potent transitionary period from the light half of the year into the darkness of winter;

"Dhe, beanaich dhomh an la ur,

Nach do thuradh dhomh roimhe riamh:

Is ann gu beannachadh do ghnuis,

Thug thu'n uine seo dhomh, a Dhia..."

("God, bless me to this new day, never vouchsaved to me before: it is to bless thine own presence, thou hast given me this time, O God..." - Carmina Gadelica).

Like the wild Adder we shed our skin for the last time before being enveloped in the Crow’s wing of hibernation. This season invites renewal through introspection, reflection and repose, quiet solitude in a shrouded mist of dreams. The Black winds of the North invite us to harbor a small ember of hope through to Beltaine in the Spring. It is through the medium of darkness, the ‘dark night of the soul’ that we can realize our hidden potential; the brilliant sub-conscious light that lies beyond the boundaries of our physical existence, one warmed not by the sun but by a deeper sense of joy, life, love, creativity and wisdom. Like the oldest creation myths our seed is nursed under a primordial blanket in preparation for the fullest sense of blossoming.

Another key festival we celebrated at this time of year was ‘Guy-Fawkes Day’ on November the fifth. In the post-Elizabethan age this was the commemoration of the arrest and execution in 1605 of a group of individuals who attempted to destroy the British crown and Parliament:

Please to remember the Fifth of November,
Gunpowder Treason and Plot.
We know no reason why gunpowder treason
Should ever be forgot.
Holla boys! holla boys! huzza-a-a!
A stick and a stake, for King George’s sake,
A stick and a stump, for Guy Fawkes’s rump!
Holla boys! holla boys! huzza-a-a!

This ritual involved building a pyramid shaped structure out of collected pieces of old wood scraps, and on the night setting fire to it. But, before this a figure of a man would be constructed out of an old suit and stuffed with newspaper, with a face and hat. A week before the ‘burning’ we would take the old ‘Guy’ out with us on a small cart and ask for ‘pennies in his name’ and all of this was concluded on the fifth, when we threw his mortal frame into the burning fire. We set off fireworks, roast potatoes in the fire and sing and dance around the flames in a festival which seems strangely like the Hindi ‘Festival of lights.’

This is a highly charged event that has absolutely shocked many foreign observers, but its origins are clearly in the Celtic-Pagan past; both Caesar and Strabo recall the Celtic tribal tradition of creating a ‘wicker-man’ out of old branches, straw and wood, and then setting fire to it in a specific ritual as an offering to the Gods. The only deity I can identify within this context is ‘Cromm Cruach’ (or ‘Crooked-Head’) in the Irish tradition; a god of the harvest whose feast day is on July 28th. He is personified as the ‘sheaf of wheat’ the agricultural spirit of the land, and after the harvest of Lughnasadh he must be symbolically burned like stubble to return to the earth, as a source of nourishment and enrichment. As a patron of the harvest he is sometimes accompanied by a writhing snake and a sharp scythe like the mysterious ‘Grim Reaper.’

“It is I who nourish the shoot, the root,
Who feeds all that grows from the earth,
I suffer no decay,
I am the heavy ear of corn and the ripe branch,
I am the trembling of the earth,
Deeply lodged in the clay…”

At this time of year we are thoughtful of both life and death, our ancestors and ancient relations, in recollection of their sacrifices and the work they committed themselves too in order for our lives to blossom now in the present. We also join in the delight of our children swirling, dancing and singing around our lives, with a deep desire that they will grow and mature and soon become themselves the wardens of this beautiful earth... let the advice to the youth be an illuminating one; respect, honor, creativity, passion, and absolute faith. This is a perfect time to address our limitations, investigate shortcomings, explore self-imposed restrictions and dive deeper into our pool of existence to retrieve those skills we need to be even more than we could be before.

As we settle tonight in this season for sleep let us spend a moment of reflection in silence; with each breath allow the sacred Earth spirit infuse our souls with calm waves of harmony, dispelling the knots of anger, frustration or turbulence... and allow us to navigate the dream-world with gilded delight, to awake refreshed and ready for a new day and a new year of challenges. This is a beautiful time to make ourselves holy and sacred with a traditional Scottish ‘sain’ or rite of purification with smoldering sage or the more traditional juniper:

I purify my being with the three whispers;


The birth of Originality
The Life of Inspiration,
The Sleep of Imagination…

Great Path

Creator Within and Without, All-Encompassing

Heart, Soul and Mind

At one

In the Shrine of my life

Preserved from the eye of Dawn till Twilight;
And through the darkest night of forgetting.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

The Zen Process of Uncovering Self Deception...

Meditation and illumination cannot teach a child, it can only make one. It is like a sword, a sharp and distinct bolt of lightening that cuts a person into two parts and of the space that remains; this is it! Without notions and only being, un-graspable and unknowing, not perceived by normal senses or existing... it has no name, form or function and yet wholly everything: the sum total of being. It is not attempting to navigate through a room filled with dense smoke, nor trying to focus upon a thing, but becoming the smoke and the room, experience and understanding. Finally, not sensing ourself as a container but containing all things... and then when all of this seems like a dream, of forgetting our self and being the child enveloped by zen.

How is 'what' not possible? 'What' is the distinction we create between our self and other things. It is a protection rather than an explanation. It is a terrible God that prevents our complete dissolution from an accumulated identity. We are therefore slaves to this perception of color, we struggle to maintain these confining bonds and create yet more chains to justify our existence through comparison. True compassion is not weighing the quality of something or improving it to our own standard, but truly an identification which is the same as a simple act of breathing with everything: a total absorption of all the energy, and in this process our 'what' disappears and dissolves as one tremendous wave like a blind, ecstatic cry of joy; un-contained and all-embracing.

Desire is only a form created within ourselves. It has little to do with that object we wish to embrace. In the action of desire our whole being succumbs to fragmentation like an exploding grenade or a shattered mirror that comes to reflect our self in a thousand myriad forms. In this way we are totally incapable of 'one-ness.' With a thousand heads we are completely drowned in a crazy, uncoordinated mass of individual voices screaming. We are forcing our-self to make constant decisions, to define, qualitate, select and categorize. To charge one with more importance over another and the many. Every moment of our time is thus filled with confusion and abstract emptiness. Perception becomes separated senses devolved into base survival; a struggle to manipulate the universe to our own demands, the strongest and the weakest, light and dark, hot and cold, birth and death... for ever.

Thus desire is the corpse that we make love to in our minds, a blind act of necrophilia which only satisfies the itching rash of a fever. In a genuine act of passion there is a complete symbiosis that incorporates all of existence; where two beating hearts are transformed into one complete breath. In one naked perception there are no distinctions or distractions. We embody all differentiations and transcend both positive and negative, assuming all forms and become an energy without a name that is pure and sparkling. This is not seeking a solution to a predefined dilemma but realizing the 'I am You.' This is the burning in one flame that illuminates the darkness surrounding us, and questions fall away in direct experience.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Book Review: Myths and Symbols in Pagan Europe by H. Ellis and Davidson

This book is mainly concerned with the format and content of pre-Christian Scandinavian religion, using Celtic and Germanic equivalents as a means of reference, support and comparison. I first became aware of Scandinavian culture during my schooldays in North-East British Northumberland, and the lessons were mainly concerned with depicting the savagery of the Viking raiders, the terrible ‘dragon-headed’ long-ships, and their rape, pillage and plunder of civilized Anglo-Saxon Christian settlements. This image of barbaric ice-warriors filled my imagination until the mid-eighties when excavations and archeological discoveries at Coppergate in York revealed many interesting and highly cultured facets of Viking life in the early medieval period. Much of these discoveries and subsequent research was installed as a permanent museum now called ‘Jorvik Viking Centre.’ A decade later I was fortunate enough to visit Bergen in Norway and experience Scandinavian culture and history first hand, the Bryggens Museum is a showcase of finds from the earliest settlements and includes ceramics, rune inscriptions, artifacts and the remnants of a principally shipping and commercial society up to the Middle Ages. ‘Myths and Symbols in Pagan Europe’ provided me with a carefully researched and detailed account of the spirituality of the Scandinavian peoples, and which brought to maturity all my previous thoughts and experiences, to an understanding which gives considerable credit to those communities for their important cultural legacy in Western Europe.

Davidson has used the medieval literature, myths and legends of Iceland and Ireland as the primary reference source for this book, in combination with archeological research papers and sources, and iconography of pre-Christian Western European culture. Her main inspiration appears to come from many scholars of Celtic history including Nora Chadwick, Kenneth Jackson and Anne O’Sullivan, although the principle thesis of the this research is prompted by Georges Dumezil (1898-1986) the religious historian who specialized in the analysis of Indo European civilization, who asks; “Is it possible to fit these Norse and Irish legends into a general pattern of Indo-European religious beliefs, extending back far into prehistory?” This question it seems, is the answer that Davison was seeking to explore within her work, and she does so with imagination, clear perception and a satisfying conclusion. With a broad yet defining sweep she manages to assess and investigate seven principle areas of interest; sacred places and sanctuaries, feasting and sacrifices, warriors, codes and rites and battle, land spirits, deities and ancestors, prophetic knowledge, divination and the priestly caste, cosmology and the other worlds, and finally the ruling gods, goddesses and divine pantheons.

Davidson begins with the earliest sources of a broad Indo-European culture, the archeological sources of Halstatt and La Tene circa 800 BCE to 200 CE, and follows through her study to approximately 1000 CE when the Scandinavian Vikings began to convert to Christianity. She employs free use and comparison of geographical sites, archeology, linguistics, cultural, social, artistic and spiritual characteristics, and the dynamics of the anarchical tribal-feudalism of early European society to successfully accomplish the study.

I grew up within a traditional working class British community. There, the cultural inheritance was composed of remnants of ancient and medieval thought whose pattern and dynamic has evolved little beyond the concept of ‘indentured servitude.’ Tribalism still exists albeit in the form of soccer, and beyond the boundaries of the town there still exists a fear, a dreaded chaos, of foreigners and disorganization. Even when I was a lad in the seventies there was a strong sense of home, a hearth and odd yet valid seasonal customs whose origins may be traced back a thousand years. From a curious perspective, even a psychological one, this volume (and others like it) helped me to understand my background, language, beliefs and culture from a traditional point, and subsequently how those traits still influence my perception and actions today. It is not a book that changed my life, but illuminated facets of it and helped me in understanding myself more.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

The Gentle Bee Shaman: Keeper of the Pollen Path

Last night, as I was sleeping,
I dreamt a marvelous error;
That I had a beehive here inside my heart.
And the golden bees were making white combs
And sweet honey from my past mistakes.

-Antonio Machado

The Shamanic spiritual path of the anthropologist Simon Buxton developed slowly over a 13 year apprenticeship with a European Bee-Keeper. During that time he established the British branch of the Foundation for Shamanic Studies, and The Sacred Trust; an organization which guides those seeking native spiritual traditions. His sharp and enlightening path is detailed in his book; ‘Shamanic Way of the Bee: Ancient Wisdom and Healing Practices of the Bee Masters.’

I find this a strange, beautiful but not altogether surprising occupation. The ‘Pollen Path’ is certainly mystical, yet based on practical elements and possesses a sound purpose. The honey bee and all its relatives have been exchanging information with humans since the beginning of our time, they themselves are prehistoric, having been here for at least 55 million years since the Cenozoic era. Within the concept of healing and nutrition we are indebted to this marvelous creature, their beneficence is without doubt. Buxton’s initiation into this secret world came when as a nine your old boy he succumbed to a fatal infection of encephalitis, yet was miraculously saved by an Austrian bee-keeper Shaman. We need only consider the various healing agents of the hive to understand; honey, pollen, propolis, wax and royal jelly to understand the immense potential. I myself recently created a successful skin healing salve with bee’s wax and lemon balm for a particularly bad irritation. This is animal-spirit medicine at its most potent; traditional practitioners even used the bee stings as a form of acupuncture!

In medieval Ireland there was a saying; that one of the three most difficult things to understand was the work of bee’s (obair na mbeach) and as such were closely connected to the mysterious and magical priestly functions of the Druids. Legal restrictions were imposed as to who kept bee hives and who was entitled to the seemingly divine produce of honey, but especially mead; reserved for warriors and nobles. Throughout Europe, especially amongst monastic orders the bee was not only symbolic of the soul, death and rebirth but also of the Virgin Mary herself; the queen bee of heaven. Amongst the Native Navajo the pollen path is sacred, representing the very source of life and incorporates a ritual as a way of envisioning the center of existence. They sing;

“O beauty before me, beauty behind me, beauty to my right, beauty to my left, beauty above me, beauty below me, I am on the Pollen Path.”

It is a journey to understanding the deepest aspects of the self, to the hive of the heart, to listen to the constant drone of the song of creation, and extract the honey-like essence of our mind and bodies. Pollen is the substance of the earth, the spirit, the cosmos; truly the finest blessing.

As a totem animal the bee possesses the powers of a higher consciousness, prophetic dreams, industriousness, diligence, productivity, creativity, immense sexual attraction and can act as a divine messenger. Like the Queen Bee in the Grimm fairy tale, this creature has the capacity to restore order, life and love; a balm blessing on the lips of the ‘forever young.’

One of my favorite stories is that of Saint Modomnoc; as a young lad of the O’Neil clan in Ireland he longed for a spiritual life, life his relative St. Columba. So one day he set off across the sea to serve and study as a monk in the monastery with St. David in Wales. Modomnoc was given charge of the bee hives, and diligently he cared for them like they were his own children; even planting the sort of flowers they liked best in the garden. The bees likewise became enamored of the monk, constantly following him around, buzzing about his head singing fair melodies in an enchanting manner.

Soon it came to the end of his time their, and after his ordination he packed up and prepared to return to Ireland; bidding farewell to his bees. Every time he boarded the ship the bees would fly after him, not even twice but thrice times in a row. He tried all means to persuade the creatures to remain in the Welsh monastery, but all without success until eventually St. David himself told Modonmoc to take them with him. He eventually settled in Bremore near Dublin and built there a spiritual dwelling which soon became known as ‘The Church of the Beekeeper.’

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Garden of the Bears...

“I am the black bear, around me see the light clouds extending. I am the black bear, around me see the light dew falling………” – Pima Indian medicine song.

As we slowly drift into fall it is worth reflecting on this season from the perspective of the majestic and noble bear; those of us lucky enough to live close too or near mountains or forests will experience this creature at first hand this time of year. The gradual approach of winter alerts the creature to the necessity of building up its weight for a long hibernation, and it is frequently found scavenging and roaming amidst human settlements for tasty morsels. The relationship between bear and human is a long epic, full of myths, fantasy, amazing adventure and struggle. And so, before our tired eyes begin to falter before the slowly fading Harvest moon I will recount some of the great legends of our gentle forest cousin.

Once upon a time, a long, long time ago (believe it or not) the mighty and majestic bear once roamed all across Europe, dwelling in the dark forests of oak and ash… free and plentiful. It was the inspiration for many legends and tales amongst the Celts and Scandinavians, its strength and stamina was imitated through heroic deeds of valor. In ancient pagan Norway there were specialized bands of warriors called ‘Beserkers’ or ‘bear-shirts’ because they donned the hides and furs of the bear, adorned themselves with their teeth, claws and bones, and were always the first furious combatants in battle… invoking the strength and ferocity of their totem beast. Such fearless warriors were in high demand as body-guards for the nobility and persons of the highest rank. The Norwegian term bjorn was one of the titles of Thor, the mighty god of thunder.

Fionna MaCleod recounts an ancient Irish Celtic legend of the Pole Star; the youthful Finn mac Cumhail went bear hunting beyond the western mountains. Together with his two faithful hounds Luath and Dorch they discovered an immense bear and chased him all the way to the icy North-lands to an everlasting rainbow, across which the bear climbed. It was met in the middle by the two hounds and all seemed to have brought to a conclusion when it crashed to the ground, mortally wounded it seemed… but not! It started running again. The ‘All-Father’ the Great Creator watching this spectacle from the heavens decided this escapade was more than enough and so he hoisted the bear by means of a rope noose into the pitch dark sky where it raced around Arcturus the ‘North Star’ or ‘Northmen’s Torch.’ Finn didn’t give up, with the hero’s leap he mounted the rainbow, then again onto the hill of heaven and gave eternal chase to the divine beast. Here the magnificent northern lights we see are said to be the spears of Finn, forever being hurled at the Great Bear… forever in pursuit.

In ancient Ireland there were two names given to the bear; art which is cognate with the Greek arktos and the name of the star Arcturus, and math or mathus which is the origin of the name mac-mathghamhna or the ‘bear-club clan’ of the Mac Mahon’s. In Pagan Irish tradition the bear possessed a unique divinity and was often regarded as a god of the heavens, forming a triplicity in the night sky with Arcturus as the ‘Bear-Guard’ or ‘Fort of the Bears’ and the two smaller bears sleeping around it, called Ursa major and Ursa minor. There is another myth that these sleeping bear gods will arise from their hibernation and come to the aid of their people when called, and this obligation is borne by the bear-tribe of the Mahon’s.

Bears still existed all across Western Europe as late as the fifteenth century, although they had become extinct in Britain by the 10th century. They were frequently caught, imported and used in games and entertainment, for public spectacle. In 16th century Elizabethan England fighting bears were common; famous bears such as ‘Harry Hunks’ and the ‘Great Sackerson’ became national idols, fighting at the Paris gardens in Southwark London every Sunday. By the beginning of the Spanish civil war in 1936 bears had almost completely disappeared in Western Europe, only in the eastern parts of Romania, Hungary, Poland and the Transylvanian mountain ranges do they still live in considerable numbers. In the Apenusi mountains is the ‘Pestera Ursilor’ or Bears-Cave where the 15,000 year old skeletal remains of an ancient family of 140 bears has been discovered. Even when the bear is no longer with us in a physical way, we can always sense its powerful spiritual presence, like the invocation-song of Vainamoinen in the Kalevala:

Autumn weather is slippery, winter days are dark.
My bear, my darling, honey-paws, my beauty,
You still have ground to cover, heath to clamber upon.
Start, splendid one, to go, glory of the forest, to step along.

We cannot fail to recognize the primitive importance of the bear to our sense of being, when our lives as children begin with old tales like ‘Goldilocks.’ In the original oral tradition the young fair girl was a silvered widow, and before that a crafty fox called Scrapefoot… when we dig deep we become wild creatures living in the dark deep forest just like the bears, then we stole their food and now they repay us likewise. Beware; before you scream in fear remember he is just a prince with a fur-coat!

I send my blessings to you all this fall Equinox, and pray your harvest and hibernation during the dark months be a peaceful one, deep, relaxing and refreshing.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Personal Political Soul - Power Struggle

“The Matrix is everywhere. It is all around us. Even now in this very room. You can see it when you look out your window or when you turn on your television. You can feel it when you go to work... when you go to church... when you pay your taxes. It is the world that has been pulled over your eyes to blind you from the truth” – Morpheus.

I may have appeared in the past as a classical anti-communist emerging from the swampy depths of the McCarthy era; continuing the struggle against political and religious extremism. Not so! I care little about the personal beliefs of any individual, providing of course that their adopted system does not seek to affect the lives of others in a detrimental fashion. The core truth about all modern political and governmental systems is that by their very nature they seek to manipulate the ‘people’ and this is as true of Communism as it is of Capitalism; political leaders of all persuasions maintain their lifestyles, authority, characteristics and dynamic by feeding on the energies of the populace.

I am not a political scientist. My views and opinions are all based on personal experience, and from an early age I disliked the political mainstream. I always viewed the politician as a blood-sucker, a manipulator, a base creature that needed recognition and popular assent to pursue his/her vain-glorious career to boost his/her petty and frivolous ego. Politicians maintain their dysfunctional, Babylonian empires through perfectly repackaged lies and deceptions… until everything begins to fray and fall apart from the burden of the nightmare that is bureaucracy and ever increasingly insane forms of indentured servitude. And so I automatically gravitated toward writers and political philosophers such as Henry David Thoreau;

“That government is best which governs not at all” and “Until the State comes to recognize the individual as a higher and independent power, from which all its own power and authority are derived, and treats him accordingly.”

My political allegiances hover (idealistically) between anarchism and a sort of tribal-feudalism. To me, democracy is only the illusion of power, where an individual is inspired to imagine that through the act of submitting a name on a piece of paper they have exercised something profoundly sacred. The government is a government; like a ship on a particular course… it cannot change itself, perhaps the captain can be replaced or exchanged for another, but it is still exactly the same vessel pursuing the originally designated destination. In these sorts of arguments I always seem to end up comparing the supervisory management of the modern world to the ‘Mutiny on the Bounty’ (I prefer the Hopkins/Gibson version) and in which, using the analogy of the ship as a micro-cosmic version of the state chaos ensues, the revolution deposes the dictator, as Captain Bligh says;

“The Royal Navy is not a humorous institution, sir, and insubordination is no laughing matter…Now the crew is deeply demoralized and I must accept, as every captain must, the inevitable and theoretical responsibility for that. The actual and immediate responsibility, however, I place on you, my fellow officers who met this crisis with lethargy, impudence and flagrant defiance, publicly uttered. And perhaps for that I am also to blame. I counted on strength of character which you do not possess. However, the cure for our predicament is discipline and I shall apply it with an even hand of course, but most where it is most required.”

Yet even as one power structure is disposed of, another is put in its place… perhaps in this case with one which makes its people destitute exiles on the lost island of their desire. The natural way is not always concerned with order, it need also not concern itself with governance that we as human beings have constructed it. It may perhaps be more construed as a form of anarchy, since much of it is beyond our will and appears to all concerned to be wholly without directorship. I step lightly here, for I am walking through the thickets of religious thought! Omnipotent, omnipresent, omniscience are all terms applied to dictatorial fascism, the ‘1984’ of George Orwell. Of course you are free to express yourself in any way you desire… but, remember that the ‘state’ has wired and tapped your telephones and is now sorting through your personal email account, it is x-raying your letter-box, your name is in a file… just in case you are a terrorist!

I have no answers. I am a no-body. I am deaf and blind. I present no clear or distinct danger to the order. And by the order I mean the notional limitations of doctrines, dogma and laws that we construct in an attempt to explain the universe and our role within it. Such a stance is and of itself very fine… but yet it disallows the very real motion of constant universal change and metamorphosis. The most common and basic experience that one observes in nature is the lack of rigidity, no straight lines, infinite variation, abnormality and a perpetual flux of form and invention. I see subtle connections between these myriad spheres of energy… we are all part of a massive and beautiful web of life, more than anything we must come to the realization that we all have choices regardless of pressure from authority, and a choice is the bed we lie in… even if it is spiraling totally out of control, as Renton in ‘Trainspotting points out;

Choose life. Choose a job. Choose a career. Choose a family. Choose a f……g big television, Choose washing machines, cars, compact disc players, and electrical tin openers. Choose good health, low cholesterol and dental insurance. Choose fixed- interest mortgage repayments. Choose a starter home. Choose your friends. Choose leisure wear and matching luggage. Choose a three piece suite on hire purchase in a range of f……g fabrics. Choose DIY and wondering who you are on a Sunday morning. Choose sitting on that couch watching mind-numbing sprit- crushing game shows, stuffing f……g junk food into your mouth. Choose rotting away at the end of it all, pishing you last in a miserable home, nothing more than an embarrassment to the selfish, f……d-up brats you have spawned to replace yourself. Choose your future. Choose life... But why would I want to do a thing like that? I chose not to choose life: I chose something else. And the reasons? There are no reasons. Who need reasons when you've got heroin?

So, I choose myself… the complete package wherein lies all imperfections, obscurity, eccentricities, beauty, ecstasy and ugliness… the right to curse every now and again. I don’t need the proverbial ‘nanny’ state to dictate the rules of life to me or/and attempt to shape me into a mold of absolute perfect obedience. But sadly it seems that these days this is the way things are working in the modern world; basic freedoms are fast disappearing like soluble aspirin in a cup of murky water!

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Book Review: A History of Pagan Europe by Prudence Jones and Nigel Pennick.

I had been previously accustomed to reading Pagan history from the viewpoint of Christian literature and writers, who unfortunately portray this faith as cruelly despotic, ignorant, irrational, filled with hatred and prone to bouts of fiery persecution. In choosing this book I was seeking a balanced, informative and historically accurate account of Pagan culture from an objective perspective. I began to read with some trepidation as to whether the book could fulfill my criteria, knowing that Prudence Jones is a respected Pagan academic. However, she clearly remained within the stringent ethics of scientific research and enquiry, carefully laying out her extensive 20 year period of dedicated study into this subject.

The first amazing revelation for me was the authors etymological elucidation of the term ‘Pagan’ and its origins, misuse, and applications throughout history. She forwards a correct working definition in combination with the principal characteristics of its use within an animistic religion. As a modern spiritual movement Paganism is a holistic, earth-centered, Goddess orientated, polytheistic, theophanic religion, having as its foundation the values, ethics, culture, reasoning and rituals of ancient, pre-monotheistic societies. My understanding is that the core principals of Paganism are its capacity for inclusivity and pluralism: essentially possessing the capacity to hold or incorporate almost any philosophy, notion or spiritual concept.

Jones manages to assess the entirety of European Paganism, from the pre-classical civilization in Crete (circa 2800 BCE), through to the Greeks, Etruscans, and the Romans up to the fall of the empire; the incorporation of foreign cults from the east such as the worship of the Egyptian Isis, Mithraism and Christianity. She also considers Islam, the Irish and Celtic world, the Germanic peoples, the Baltic, Russia, and the Balkans to Byzantium. From the high Medieval period (950-1350) her story takes the reader through to the renaissance and the reformation, the great witch hunts (1480-1650), the age of reason and science to the principle romantic revival movements of the 19th century; the Druidic revival at Primrose Hill in London in 1792, the romantic notions of Edward Carpenter (1844-1929) and Neo-Paganism in the 20th century typified by the Order of the Golden Dawn, Theosophy, Wicca and Celtic Druidism.

Several observations and accounts of the author improved and enlightened me. The appraisal of the ancient and classical Greek and Roman pagan faiths were contrary to my previously held understandings and gave a more realistic and accurate picture. My perceptions of ancient Greece and Rome were colored by ideas of empirical, domineering and arrogant cultures. I was surprised to learn of their day to day faith, hearth cultures, belief in spirits, numerous deities and complex organization. I found myself truly inspired by Jones account of the actual mechanics of ancient pagan spiritual practice, this not being a subject I had encountered before. I was also struck by the manner in which political allegiances affected the status of paganism as official religion in many countries, that there was an ‘ebb and flow’ of belief and practice (Christianity did not simply replace the old order); groups or individuals reverting back to their prior religious path or even holding a dual faith. Just as amazing for me was to discover that there were Pagan intellectuals, polemicists, and apologists working to defend their faith against Christian incursions.

As I read on to through the historical accounts I realized that as a religion Paganism has never really died out, being practiced in some form, in some way somewhere in the world. As the Catholic Church spread across western Europe it incorporated many Pagan rituals, the reformation preserved the ancient languages and dialects of people through the translation of the Bible. Jones's conclusion is that Paganism is constantly being reaffirmed, repackaged, in constant revision within the context of establishing itself as a movement concerned with balance, harmony and social equality, a spirituality that is complimentary to rather than at odds with mainstream forms of belief. Modern Neo-Pagans are not concerned with hierarchy or dominance, and it is comforting to know that the voice of a relative minority is leading the path with spirituality married to ecology and humanist concern on a global platform.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Ancestors Envisioned in a Power Meditation...

Idho (Yew)

Old ones twisted and entwined;
Embracing in the cragged wind
Of a rumbling Eirrean vale, two yews
Whose knotted embrace, reflecting...
An ancient binding.

And in their wedded cincture;
A dark hollow, echoing lyrical...
Walking within a candle wakens
Shadows slip away...
Revealing inner etched thoughts.

Slumbering in the belly of the chamber
A silent, solitary adder
Bedecked in a robe of glistening jewels
And as she speaks…
The walls pulsate and breathe.

An ochre cave of life, inscribed;
Hand-painted; of elk and wolves and
Hunters, and the origins
Ship voyage on the waves of memory, in moonlight
On the edge of distant oceans.

Fire thunders down, drenching;
From the axle star far above, and
The body becomes lacertine in a storm...
Of electrifying mist…
And almost transparent.

Walking on the Plains of honey;
Of poppies and welcomed by the two…
Fragrant bronzed limbs
Tongues drenched in the blood
And juice of ripe berries.

In orchard shadows;
Snow blossoms showering,
Drifting upon an breathing mound
Along the contours of an open palm,
The egg-stone of beginning

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

9/11: Is The Universe Friendly?

Thoughts on the Ocean of Life, in constant revision according to experience:

I believe in synchronicity... that formulation by the psychologist Carl Jung in which differing facets of a greater reality come together (perhaps in what seems like a conspiracy) and present us with a rare insight or revelation.

Yesterday a friend in Australia passed me a message that his wife had suffered a miscarriage: an immense misfortune that greatly affects our view of life. This happened to me and my wife 15 years ago... we had a son who we called Samuel. We were fortunate in being able to go through a process of grieving, assessing life and death and to bury the small and delicate spark... to rest. The brief life of a departed child is one of the most difficult for any parent to experience, but important to realize that nothing is manifested in the circle of life without reason… however short the span of time a person spends with us is significant and ultimately gives us a greater and more sacred appreciation for existence.

And then today I realized that it was the anniversary of 9/11 and the horrific events that occurred in New York at the Twin Towers. This is another aspect of life in the universe that demands our attention and certain contemplation... maybe a representation of chaos. Events such as these can completely alter our view of the world, other cultures and the humanity in ourselves. My thoughts today are with General Petraeus in Iraq (the outcome of 9/11) who is commissioned with the seemingly immense and difficult task of finding a solution to all this madness!

When our lives are surrounded by traumatic despair, the horrors of war, personal loss, and fractured systems of morality how can we believe in divine justice… if a God or divine power actually exists beyond our sphere of life how can it allow such events to take place let alone permit their continuance… making way for the wanton destruction of life and peace? In my investigations and experience I saw something greater than a notion of God… a powerful and vibrant presence throughout the Cosmic order.

In contemplating the 'friendliness' of the universe, and this ‘Cosmic Order I discovered that I had to go beyond phenomenal, definable characteristics. I saw an ocean of vast powers and energies of which we ourselves are a reflection... indeed an embodiment, flowing, singing, birthing and dieing... an ocean with great waves in ebb and flow constantly. And I think that it is important to consider that we are all connected to this 'Great Song' that is the universe. We cause our own futile pain and anguish by distancing and distinguishing ourselves; the creation of barriers and ultimately a dualistic pattern of thought.

In conclusion, for me it is not a matter of whether the Universe is friendly or peaceful, orderly or chaotic, angry or complacent; it is more about accepting the beauty within ourselves in relation to everything else that exists... all of one, existence as a whole monumental thought. I have been working today on a prayer, based on some thoughts of R. Tagore, but humbly molding them to reflect my perspective:

"Let us not pray to be sheltered from the storms of life...
But to possess courage in navigating through them without fear,

Let us not pursue a relief from painful events and personal
But the heart to face and conquer them with sacred purpose,

Let us not seek blind guidance without foundations in troubled
But the strength of character and a strong stride to resolve our

Let us not crave in anxious fear for a resolution of dreams...
But hope for patience to win an infinite peace."

This moment I believe in the sacred energy within the core of my being... this moment I believe that this energy can flow from my body in endless rhythms of harmony and healing... this moment in complete breath with all the spirits of life.
Many Blessings to All

Monday, September 10, 2007

Book Review: Drawing Down the Moon (Witches, Druids, Goddess-Worshippers, and other Pagans in America Today) by Margot Adler. Beacon Press 1986.

I picked this book up in a local thrift store for $1.99, intrigued by the beautiful red and black cover design with a mysterious witch standing against the backdrop of an ocean expanse, within a circle of flames. The title of the book was equally enigmatic to me, not knowing the relevance or meaning of it within Pagan history or practice. Flicking through the pages I noticed that there was some discourse on the RDNA (Reformed Druids of North America), the ADF and Isaac Bonewitz, and I guess that this was the crucial factor in deciding to part with the best portion of two dollars in return for some practical knowledge.

Before I read this book I saw modern Pagans as crack-pots, foundationless cults, weirdo’s and overgrown hippies. I was at a stage where I could accept the slightly eccentric but practical spirituality of ‘OBOD’ and the AODA but found even the notion of polytheism beyond my understanding. My mind was absolutely closed to this book in the beginning, the 1 ½ inch’s of solid paper suggested a good door-stop and I lay it down in a corner of the room where it gathered dust for several months. Visions of naked feminist witches haunted my dreams, strangely effeminate men on LSD staring into glass globes on a wayward camping trip whispered profanities behind my back. I secretly made private jokes about people with names like ‘Ferret-Raven Wolf Prancer’ and ‘Moon-Swirler.’ !!!!

This book actually scared the hell out of me, literally. I clearly saw the book for what it was; a genuine account of modern American Paganism and this frightened me, maybe because I didn’t want to come to the realization that such a thing actually exists. I was too wrapped up in the comfort of a semi-gnostic, spiritual haven of abstract and unspecific wandering. I began reading with a heavy sigh, expecting complete penta-grammatic nonsense. After reading the three chapters of the first section; Paganism and prejudice, a religion without converts and the Pagan world-view I began to feel a sense of shame for my previously held beliefs.

This is a first hand experiential account of modern Paganism. The author didnt sit in a silent room of academia pondering the subjective and objective implications of alternative theology... she went out and got totally involved, met totally intriguing and often eccentric people, participated in rituals and 'walked the walk.' I am glad I forced myself into this, otherwise I would be a complete and utter ignoramus!

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Book Review: The Druids by Stuart Piggot

I read the ‘Druids’ with slightly amused rapture as I imagined the croaky voice of a pre-war colonial authority on primitive tribes. This book had been recommended to me so many times that I eventually caved in and procured it as a bargain on E-Bay. I was perhaps slightly wary of the semi-divine official status of Professor Stuart Piggot, an accepted archeological authority at Oxford University, and whilst he follows the standard principals of academic research and remains objective throughout, his style of writing provokes a ‘Monty-Python’esque’ humor for its occasional eccentricity.

What I found immensely helpful was Prof. Piggot’s approach to analysis, categorization and organization of evidence and information. This would include the use of archeological, iconographic, epigraphic, classical and vernacular sources. Whilst I groaned every time I came across the word ‘savage’ or ‘barbarian,’ I was also grateful for the authors introduction to the terms ‘hard and soft primitivism’ to explain the differences between the classical Greek and Latin accounts of the Gallic tribes and the Druids.

Piggot is absolutely thorough in his approach and account of the Druids. He is prepared to examine every facet, each crumb of evidence and article of information available to him, regardless of academic opinion. I can imagine how revolutionary in format this book might have been when first published, since even today few academics are willing to explore a subject beyond their own particular specialism. For this I admire Piggot, who evidently pushed out the boat, broadened his field of enquiry and tackled the subject as a whole rather than remain in a subjective arena. And so, I found myself looking at the importance of maps, place-names, technology, science, agriculture, economy, social order, language and literacy, archeology, shrines, temples, earth-works, burial sites, votive sites, etymology, rituals, education and literacy, cosmology and religious beliefs, magic, gnomic wisdom, philosophy, and politics. In this respect, ‘The Druids’ is definitely comprehensive, provocative and inspiring; it provided me with a wealth of topics for deeper consideration and contemplation.

The bulk of the text is conveniently divided up into four main chapters. In the latter part Piggot deals with the romantic ideal and the Druid revival. Whereas many scholars would begin perhaps in the 17th century with Tolland and Stukely, Piggot draws back to the last phase of the European Renaissance to discover the roots of paganism as we know it today. I found it interesting to learn that many early speculations on the nature of the Druids and Celts were colored by the discovery of native American Indian tribal cultures and systems. Piggot takes the reader up to the romantic revival, the ‘dignified nonsense’ of the Welsh Gorsedd and Iolo Morganwg, the shady mysticism of dreamers and the ‘cosy world of lunatic linguistics’ of individuals like Rowland Jones. Piggot’s view of this latter modern development in ‘native spirituality’ is one without historical or cultural foundation, a colorless and fanciful imagining, and I for one must surely agree.

In his epilogue Piggot succinctly draws his conclusions and theories together. He defines the practices of the earliest Druids as being developments of customs and rituals in Paleolithic prehistory, and proposes the possibility of syncretism with other Indo European cultures. Piggot even considers the possibility of a strain of shamanism within Druidic practice, a question which regularly appears within online discussion groups today and inspires fierce arguments.

Having absorbed the radical content of this volume I can now see how vastly it influenced the beginnings of a traditionalist Celtic Pagan movement in the latter half of the twentieth century. Piggot has created a stable foundation on which reliable research can be conducted for the implementation of traditional practices and rituals within a modern context. Perhaps his final comment reveals the most about the inherent characteristics of the Druid, that the truest modern evocation of their spirit is within the realms of scientific exploration and computer engineering than mythic reconstructionism and ‘role playing.’

The message I got from this book was that I should be prepared to question everything, to analyze and carefully weigh the evidence of any spiritual matter but particularly those subjects dealing with ancient concepts. Piggot provided me with the academic tools to disseminate, examine, and probe beyond careless ambiguity and imagination… and seek the core dynamic of a topic rather than peruse its exterior decoration.

Friday, September 7, 2007

Book Review: The Celtic Realms by Myles Dillon and Nora Chadwick

This book is a scholarly account of the history and culture of the Celts, from the earliest archeological evidence in the Iron-age Hallstatt culture circa 800 BCE, To the Norman invasion of Britain under William the Conqueror in 1066. The authors discuss the mysterious origins of the Celts using place-names as a guiding demographic to trace their principle routes of migration and their established settlements. The book then goes on further to discuss the formation, structure and the bodies of independent Celtic kingdoms, of Gaul, Britain, Wales, Brittany, Ireland, Scotland, Cornwall and the Isle of Man. Of particular interest is the changing and reforming political and social change which occurred in Britain following the withdrawal of Roman governance C. 4-500 CE. The fifth chapter on Irish secular institutions gives an interesting account of a Gaelic society, its inherited laws, the class based structure, customs and dress, festivals, and the organization of time. All of this is done in comparison with the Welsh system, but interestingly draws many parallels with Indo-European culture, particularly the Vedic and Hindu codes of law.

The 6th chapter outlines the structure and organization of the early modern Celtic kingdoms, providing information on the Pictish tribes and the Dal Riata, Irish incursions and influence in Scotland, the development of the Celtic Welsh and their relations with the Saxons, and overall the influence of the Viking and Nordic raids and settlements throughout the Western Gaelic communities. This period history spans from the 5-6th CE to the late 9th, leading up to the invasion of the Normans at Hastings in 1066. The remaining chapters examine Celtic culture from the perspective of literature, myths, language, religion and art.

I chose this book because I wanted a broad but academic and scholarly account of Celtic history, its formation, structure, people and culture. This volume fulfills all of those criteria, but it was certainly not a ‘casual’ read, indeed it took me several weeks to digest and may properly be used as a reference and source of information rather than leisurely perusal. Both authors are renowned and respected academics, Myles Dillon having been the senior professor at the Dublin Institute, and professor of Celtic studies at Wisconsin, Chicago, and Edinburgh universities. Nora Chadwick is a veteran lecturer at Cambridge University and Newham and Girton Colleges. Celtic Realms is written with an absolutely serious attention to detail, woven together and cross-referenced in the true tradition of Celtic knot-work, and is perhaps the result of several years dedicated study and research. It belongs in the library of any reader with more than a passing interest in Celtic history, and itself provides a student with valuable resources.

What I enjoyed most about this book were the accounts of literature and arts, where the authors bring the voice and actions of the Celtic people to life. The study of any history can be susceptible to a dry and flaky recount, yet Dillon and Chadwick have cleverly avoided such a downslide by depicting the passion, ingenuity, creativity, artistic beauty and linguistic enchantments of individuals who lived so many years ago.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

The Wild-Woman's Dream...

A beautiful, dark-haired Wild Irish Woman once dreamed that a certain Druid visited her in the night and made passionate love to her. When she woke up, she called her maids, described the Druid to them and asked them to demand recompense from him for his midnight sojourn. They seized the Druid as he was walking along a path into town, told him of the affair, and asked for 50 silver coins. The honorable scholar was flabberghasted. But the surly maids grabbed him and would not let go. A passerby saw the bitter argument and told the king of Tara, and so he summoned both the Wild Woman and the Druid to his court.

The Wild Woman said, "I am accustomed to being compensated for intimate alliances. This man visited me in a dream last night and enjoyed himself… He must pay me for this illicit pleasure."

The king said, "That seems fair enough, but wait a moment." Then he ordered a pole to be planted in the street, then he hung a bag of silver from the pole, and placed a mirror under it.
"Now," he said to the Wild Woman, "Put your hand into the mirror and take your money. It's all yours."

The Woman was baffled and said, "How can I put my hand into the mirror and take my money? Give me the real money in the bag."

"Oh no, no, no," said the king, "the money is not yours. The Druid visited you only in your dream. The proper payment is only the money that you can see in the mirror."

And so, the Wild Woman marched off in a huff whilst the Druid retired with a smile… dreaming!

Friday, August 31, 2007

Sijo poetry form: Dancing with Sounds...

Hand swinging beat, striking a skin drum: repeating fragments of sound...

Pounding, kneading, forming the air into perfectly round bubbles...

All-enclosing, enchanting energy, carried on one constant breath.

Little energy

Tranquil Mountain

A wasp humming melodies

Sudden tsunami

Thursday, August 30, 2007

The Owl… Celtic Myth and Legend:

"'S co-aoise mise do'n daraig,Bha nafhallain ann sa choinnicli, 'S ioma linn a chuir ini romham,'S gur mi comhachag bhochd na sroine."

(Ancient-ness upon me is that of the oak . . . whose mossy roots spread wide: many a race have I seen come and go: and still I am the lonely Owl of Srona.) – Donald Finlay, 1590.

The lonely owl that drifts through the night of our dreams in the Celtic tradition is the totem bird of the crone Goddess, and it bears her name; Cailleach oidhche (pron: Kayl-uck oheeche). As such it symbolizes the powers of darkness, hidden wisdom, detachment, metamorphosis. The owl is a hunter, dwelling in the shades of moon-light, perceptive, silent and swift. Throughout many cultures it is feared for its connection to death, its haunting voice is reminiscent of the lament of mourning. To encounter an owl at midnight might be a prophecy of loss or bereavement, but certainly she are a reminder of life, age and the eventual scythe of time… the harvester of souls.
Others connect the owl, particularly the snowy or Cailleach Bhan (pron Kayl-uck ban) or ‘the Auld white wife’ with storms, thunder, lightening, hero’s and love maidens. On the Island of Arran she was believed to be the herald of both the morning star or Reul na Maidne and the evening star or Reul na Fheagair; opening the gates of life and light, and later closing the curtains of the day with patience and serenity.

Whatever the belief, it is certainly a mystical experience to be walking out at night and feel the soft, silent flutter of an owl flying above our head… an almost imperceptible rush of power like muted lightening, and then gone… into the velvet mist of darkness, like a whispered prayer in the wind.

The Colorado Raptor Education Foundation was created in 1980 to promote environmental literacy, preserve injured or un-releasable raptors (hawks, eagles, falcons, owls), increase nature awareness and promote respect for wildlife. They actively train, educate and hold regular programs and seminars around their conservational efforts:

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

The Butterfly Effect...

May the wings of the butterfly kiss the sun, And find your shoulder to light on,
To bring you luck, happiness and riches, Today, tomorrow and beyond.

~Irish Blessing

In the Irish folk tradition the butterfly or ‘an Féileacán’ is the spirit of a departed person who returns to visit their favorite place; in the 1814 Parochial survey of Ireland an old Granny was heard to say to a youngster chasing and attempting to catch a butterfly "How do you know it is not the soul of your grandfather” It is a common belief that the souls of the dead return as all manner of animals, and insects. Even up to the 1600’s it was against common law in Ireland to kill a white butterfly because they were believed to contain the souls of dead children. In the Irish myth ‘The Wooing of Etain’ (Tochmarc Étaín) the heroine is turned into a butterfly by a jealous rival:

“Conaire Mór was a descendant of Etain, the most beautiful woman in the world. Etain was a Danann and the second wife of Midir, son of Dagda. Midir's first wife Fuamnach, became jealous of Etain's beauty and grace, and using a hazel wand turned Etain into a butterfly, and drove her away from the magic palace with gusty wind. The wind blew the butterfly to many parts of Ireland, until she arrived in Ulster. Here, the butterfly fell in the cup of Etar's wife. Etar's wife drank her cup and unknowingly swallowed the butterfly, where she later became pregnant with Etain. When Etain was born, she became mortal, without any memory of her former life as a Danann…”

In Scottish Gaelic the butterfly is known as Dealan De or ‘The Fire of God’ and meaning the flame, light or gold of the divine, or the ‘brightness’ of the Gods. The Gold-fly was indeed considered a sacred sign from the heavens, and if seen fluttering near the corpse of a recently deceased person it was regarded as a good omen, that the individual was on their way to celestial bliss. Another reference to this is the ‘tiene-dhe' which describes a stick of fire (referring to both the butterfly and the flame) which is used to light all manner of sacred community ritual fires, the hearth, and as a guide to the recently departed… using the lighted stick to usher them out of the house through the window to the sky.

Other aspects of Gaelic belief in combination with observations of the butterfly as a human soul are its symbolism as the power of transformation, inspiration and creativity, and eventual rebirth. It is thus used in an iconic manner in rituals surrounding conception, labor, birth and nurturing children.

For the most part the butterfly is seen in a positive light within Celtic culture. Like many societies throughout the world it is revered for its capacity in metamorphosis; echoing beliefs in reincarnation and the transmigration of the soul. Perhaps the one singular exception to this is an old Scottish belief that red butterflies are the souls of witches seeking general mischief.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Man is a Shepherd of Being...

Non in depravatis, sed in his quae bene secundum naturam se habent, considerandum est quid sit naturele (We should consider what is natural, not in things of a perverted nature, but in those that are rightly ordered according to nature.) Aristotle, Politics 2:2.

The body, mind and soul are all interconnected in the Gaelic tradition. Within this is the belief that the soul is wrapped around the body, like a garment of finely woven cloth. The body inhabitats the soul. The body is the rich composite inheritance of the ages of existence, a fragrant and cavernous monastery (mainistir) for contemplation, journeying, living (aistir) and more than anything the dream (aisling) of the soul. The soul emerges from an ever-bubbling spring (tobhair na beatha) or the well of life, and unfolds into this life like a butterfly emerging from a cocoon. The soul seeks discovery, intimacy, creativity, and imagination. As a pure force of life it is enriched by balance and harmony, by attending to fruitful relationships at the right time and in the correct context… it blossoms with the fragrance of wild honey in summer. The purity of the soul is intensified with contemplation and prayer, it grows by hospitality, it is gilded by charity and generosity, and it rises to the heavens on the winds of truth and honest labor. More than anything, the soul belongs to the body, the earth, the flesh… the most sacred ground, the greatest inheritance of the ancestors, the lyrical memory of distant ages, the firelit dance of creation, and the final descent into the womb of the Mother… awaiting for a new dawn of life.

Often we are nourished by the simple earthly fruits, of bread, meat and water… but whose symbolism extends our dream of life beyond the borders of imagination, and lead us to an eternal vision in which we can dwell.

A blessing of solitude.

John O’Donahue ‘Anam Cara’

May you recognize in your life the presence, power, and light of your soul.

May you realize that you are never alone, that your soul in its brightness and belonging connects you intimately with the rhythm of the universe.

May you have respect for your own individuality and difference.

May you realize that the shape of your soul is unique, that you have a special destiny here, that behind the façade of your life there is something beautiful, good and eternal happening.

May you learn to see yourself with the same delight, pride, and expectation with which God sees you in every moment.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

The Tradition and History of the Irish Poet...

Tréde neimthigedar filid: immas forosna, teinm laeda, dichetal di chennaib. Three things that constitute a poet: 'knowledge that illumines,' 'Illuminating song’ and Divination by touch.’

The most enduring manifestation of the Druid, particularly in Ireland is that of the Filidh or Poet. Poetry, verse, chanting, hymns, satire, and other forms of vocal expression were the principle means of oracular expression for the learned Druid. According to the ancient Gaelic Brehon laws the requirements of a Filidh were; ‘purity of hand, bright without wounding, purity of mouth, without poisonous satire, purity of learning, without reproach, purity of vows.’ According to the Crith Gabhlach (another legal treatise) the difference between a Bard and a Filidh, was that the Bard is one without lawful learning but his own intellect (bard dano: fer gin dligid foglama acht inntlicht fadesin). The Poet and his/her art was therefore officially recognized in law as a trained, professional and respectable occupation. One could not label oneself as a poet without passing several stages of intense education and exams, monitored by a professor. According to the Auricept na n’Eces (The Scholars Primer) and the Uraicecht Na Riar (The Poetic Grades in Early Irish Law) the specific stages of development were, (with Ollamh (professor) being the highest):

Taman, Drisuic and Oblaire.

The Irish term fili or filidh is derived from faith whose original meaning was a ‘seer’ or ‘prophet.’ They existed throughout history as a powerful and influential group of visionary artists, maintaining Pagan rites, practicing divination and prophecy, as well as being historians, genealogists, preservers of wisdom and culture, satirists and teachers. Many Filidh were accomplished in several arts, and frequently practiced a craft such as metal-working, also law (Brehon), medicine, as well as composing verse. The curriculum of the Filidh lasted 12 years, in which Ogham (alphabets of understanding), tales, composition, philosophy and other standard learning requirements were met. Using a template created by Eugene O’Curry in Manners and Customs of the Ancient Irish, we can chart the progress of a student from the beginnings to the award of Ollamh:

Year One: The Oblaire (Elementary student). The study of 50 oghams, basic grammer, 1-20 tales.

Year Two: Fochloc-Macfuirmid (Word-maker to fermenting student). 50 oghams, six easy lessons in natural philosophy (six meters called Dians: air-sheang, midh-sheang, iar-sheang, air-throm, midh-throm, air-throm.) specific and introductory poems, 20 – 30 tales (dreachts). Grammer called Uraicept na n-eigsine, part of that book called reimeanna (courses?).

Year Three: Macfuirmid (continued). 50 oghams, six minor lessons in moral philosophy, certain specified poems, advanced grammer, 40 poems or tales.

Year Four: Macfuirmid – Dos. The Bretha Nemed or Law of Privileges, 20 eman or poems with couplets sharing form and meaning (or ‘births’), 50 tales.

Year Five. Dos – Cano. Grammer, 60 tales.

Year Six: Cano. The secret language of the poets, 40 poems of the species called nuath or ‘twins’ which may be elegies in the form of couplets, 70 – 80 tales.

Year Seven: Cano – Cli (journeyman). Brosnacha or miscellanies, the laws of Bardism.

Year Eight: Cli. Prosody, dindshenchus (glosses, the meaning and origin of obscure terms and words), Teinm Laegda (illumination of song), Imbas forosnai (illumination of knowledge), Dichetal do Chennaib (Extempore incantation).

Year Nine: Cli. Sennet or poems of ancient wisdom, lusca or chants of swinging and rhythmic oscillation, nena or truth-saying, eochraid or warding and shielding (keys), briocht or spells, sruith or veneration and calling of the ancestors (streams), duili feda or wisdom tales (mastery of the elements). To master 175 tales to this and the next two years.

Year Ten: Cli. A further number of the compositions from year nine (part of 175 tales).

Year Eleven: Cli – Anruth (master/warrior). 100 composition of Anamain or the use of breath in magical toning.

Year Twelve: Anruth - Ollamh. 120 cetals or religious chants/orations, the four arts of poetry, 175 anruth or glorious victories. During this year and the two previous, to memorize and master the 175 tales together with the 175 anruth. This completes the 350 tales learned by heart.

The Ollamh’s had their colleges at Clogher, Armagh, Lismore and Tamar, all situated on notable rivers, and later taken over by Christian clergy in the 5th century for seminaries. The process of education within this system appears to have observed ‘seven degrees of wisdom’ which may reflect several key examinations which were required before progressing to the next stage. In this respect it may have resembled the ancient Greek and Latin Trivium and Quadrivium, the lower division consisting of grammar, rhetoric and logic, with the upper concentrating on arithmetic, geometry, astronomy and harmony (music). The practice of chanting appears to have been a primary method of learning, an ecclesiastical observer in 1571 (Edmund Campion) tells us that Irish students sang out their lessons piecemeal using a technique called ‘cronan’ or crooning. Other notable refrains perhaps practiced may have been the caoine or death lament and the fonn or mantra of repetition.

The Prima – Scela or Primary tales outlined in the ‘Book of Leinster’ which the Filidh learned included: Aideda (death and violent tales), Aitheda (elopements), Baile (frenzies and visions), Cuthanna (battles), Comperta (conceptions and beginnings), Echtrai (otherworldly journeys and adventures), Fess (feasts), Fis (visions or dreams), Forbasa (sieges), Immrama (sea voyages), Longes (exiles), Oircne (murderings and ravagings, Serca (loves), Sluagada (hostings and military expeditions), Tana (cattle raids), Tochmarca (wooings and courtings), Tochomluda (setting forths and advancings), Togla (attacks and destructions), Tomadmann (bursting forth of lakes and rivers), Uatha (horrors and terrors).

However, these tales were memorized in two separate groups; being the primary myths and the secondary stories. The first group were the Irruptions, visions, loves, expeditions and invasions. The second group were the destructions, cattle-raids, courtships, battles, feasts, adventures, elopements, and slaughters. It appears that the first group of tales were widely available to all the filidh, whilst the latter was only kept for the cano, cli, anruth and ollamh.

By contrast the bard only studied for approximately seven years, or the first part of the curriculum and rarely advancing to the more esoteric techniques of the file. It was thus that a bard was considered inferior, such that whilst a File could expect the payment of three milking cows for his services, a Bard may only get one calf. Bards (or bairds) were divided into two classes; the Saor and the Daor or the Patrician and the Plebian. The Saor where known as the Sruth di aill or Stream down two cliffs, the Tighearna bhard or Lord-bard, the Admhall, Tuath-bhard or lay bard, the Bo-bhard or Cow-bard, and the Bard dine. The highest ranking of the Daor bards was the Cul-bhard or Back-bard, followed by the Sruth bhard or Stream-bard, in rank going down came the Drisiuc, Cromluatha, the Sirti-ui, Rindhaigh, Long-bhard and Bhard-loirrge.

Draoicht na Filidh: The Mystical Path.

The study, pursuit and practice of magic, visionary work, and mysticism may also have been restricted to the upper echelons of the Irish Druid network. Druids at this level were considered by Brehon law to be classified as being nemed or within the sacred. Within this they may have performed a role as priest, spiritual councilor, advisor, and enacted rites of sacrifice, offerings to the gods, public and private rituals, and maintained the social and communal festivals. As spiritual guardians and representatives of the divine forces they practiced draoicht or ‘the way of wisdom’ and what we would call today ‘magic.’ What was that? Sean O’Tuathal and Searles O’Dubhain have constructed an Oghamic list of Druidic magical skills:

Briocht a fully verbal spell or charm used for general protection, but also employed in battles and conflicts. Leapaidh lanlaidhi ‘harborage of complete attentions.’ This is a type of sanctuary wherein a well-focused intention could be invoked in preparation for divination or briocht work. Faistine or ‘divination.’ A term derived from ‘faith’ meaning prophet or seer. It implies soothsaying or use of the second (inner) sight. Suilacht or ‘magical insight.’ A feeling of being magically influenced, possession of a ‘magic eye.’ Nealadoireacht or cloud divination. This may have included all forms of divination, prophecy and power work involved from astronomy, astrology, weather, the elements of air and wind… indicating key strengths above. Huideacht or traveling through life and/or death. Applied to vision journeys that go beyond earthly boundaries, across perceptions of time and space through trance. Dicheadal or incantation. Diechetal do Chennaib or incantation of the fingertips, the science of understanding hidden causes through physical touch, taking the pulse. Tamhneal or ‘trance.’ Anything connected with a loss of physical consciousness and dreamwork; stupor, fainting, blackouts, epilepsy… mind storms and moods, remembrance of effects within that state. Corriguineacht or ‘crane magic.’ A type of briocht, mallacht or directly deadly, pronounced on one foot, one eye closed with the left hand in one’s belt or pocket. Used by Lugh as a technique in the battle against the Fomoragh. Associated with edges, boundaries, liminal space – between energies. The poetical meter used in a killing invocation was 7(3)a, 7(2)b, 7(3)a, 7(3)b. The Crane magician may also have possessed a ‘bag’ of religio-magical tools. Cumhacht power, authority and influence. A term used to describe the power or influence exerted by a greater force in or around it. The power of words, sounds, names arranged in such a rhythm within a poem or incantation to affect the shape of reality. Millteoracht or ‘magical attack.’ A term used in place of destruction, ruining and perversion. A poetic technique placed within the structure of a poem to denigrate or destroy the power of the subject. Gabhlairdeall or ‘forked attention.’ A division of consciousness during somhoill (a suspension of briocht in stasis to adjust details). This may be related to the term samailt meaning double; the process of constructing or invoking a second energy… perhaps a spirit-helper charged with some task whilst the Druid continues his/her principle focus of attention. Ngesadoirecht or ‘sorcery.’ Divination. Activites involving or concerning geasa (prohibitions, taboos, interdictions). Associated with the time of birth, the winds, weather, astrological events. The process of identifying the central key dynamic in a persons life, their destiny and path. Sruth bhua the current, stream or flow of ‘bua’ or energy. The flow of this energy is a key principle in the work of Draoicht and Filidhecht, charging the individual with the power to perform their duties and activities. The capacity to direct this flow of energy toward matter, and thereby change it. It is both immediate and experiential, knowledge and experience locked together. Reamhfhuireach is the trigger which sets off a ‘briocht’ set in place as a hidden trap, or shield of energy. A spell that protects, directs focus of attention away, bounces off incoming, meant to delay, postpone, or restrain. The essential meaning is to be wary or alert. Aithroicht is shape-shifting, the physical changing and manifestation of another creature… to actually become another self, to assume an alternative image, a disguise. Ortha a charm, physical not verbal. Mainly to infuse with power in the making of a tool or concoction. Used by blacksmiths, herbal healers, craftsmen… Upthaireacht or folk-magic. From upa meaning a ‘folk-charm’ and perhaps the construction of charms used in healing; the charms used in sacred springs to cure eye-disorders (of common folk). Earaid a magical interference or hindrance. The affect of a ‘curse’ upon an individual, or a compulsion… the ways to release it. Idircho an area of overlapping liminality. An in-between place in time and space where the edges of reality are blurred… the connection between this world and the other is stronger and allows more powerful communication and magical work to be initiated. Easca or ‘moon.’ Also meaning fluid, nimble and swift. Associated with lunar periods, tides, movements of the earth in relation to the moon, expectancy, exaltation, cleansing, the mind and fertility. The menstrual cycle and women’s mysteries. Oibelteoireacht is religious contemplation, meditation, discipline of the self, mind body and soul. Iompochur a briocht to reverse in boomerang fashion. A term derived from impod menaing to turn, return, warding or annulment. A briocht to deflect rather than seek direct confrontation. Uinde seeing or beholding. Visions, revelations, spiritual communications, dreams, translating cryptic signs or messages in nature. Airbhe is a hedge of protection. Encircling those within a barrier or boundary of spiritual strength, through which nobody could pass without injury. Created by a ritual and chant like the caim.

As previously mentioned, the Bards tasks never ventured further than versification and composition. The Saor Bard was entitled to use a specific type of meter called Nath in which the word at the end of each line makes a vowel rhyme or alliterates with the beginning of the next. The syllabic count of the Nath is irregular. There were six kinds of Nath meters called Deachna, which were practiced by the High Bards together with another form called Seadna. Suffice to say here that each category of bard was only permitted to practice a limited set of meters, and it was forbidden to compose anything out of that range.

Three Forges of the poet: of the burning embers of memory, of the university of reclining, of the clinging tendrils of knowledge.

As the poetic tradition developed in history most of the separate and distinct ancient meter became fused collectively into what is now known as Dan direach or ‘straight verse.’ These changes began in the 12th century under Norman influence and extended toward the 18th century. All that we know about previous poetic forms in encapsulated within the structures outlined in Dan direach. We know that poetic composition was extremely complex and structured. The basic form was a quatrain called a rann, with a set number of syllables per line. Ornamentation called comhardadh involved the marriage and blending of consonants and vowels individually categorized into slender and broad, hard, soft, rough, light, and strong. Three other ornamentations were employed; amus or assonance, uaithne or consonance, and uaim or alliteration. Two other distinctive features of most poetry included the dunadh or a technique which involved repeating the first word of a composition as the ending, and cross/internal rhymes. An example of the structure of one form called Rannaicheacht Mhor:

BC x x b x ac
x x x a x x bc
x b x x x x ac
x x a x x x BC

The complexities of these grammatical rules become more understandable when considering that Irish native poetry evolved within a purely oral context. The grammer is reflective not of the way a poem should be written but recited in public. Form, structure, rhythm and rhyme, intonation, and expression all play an essential part of the credible performance of poets who were expected to amaze an audience with vocal virtuosity, knowledge, and spiritual depth. It is little wonder how the Filidh came to be viewed with a sense of awe, respect and complete fear. As satirists they had the capacity to evoke elemental forces of immense power to blight and destroy the reputation of even the highest in the land.

Within the core of Irish poetics satire called Aer was an art-form all of its own. Satire was the whip of the Filidh, often used to command respect, punish the stingy, exact revenge or employed as an extortionate means to gather wealth. The variety, complexity and color of satires was immense, ranging from petty blasphemy to ridicule and banishment. Some satires were reputed to bring disease and blemish to the accused, others humiliation. Quite often the satire was used only as a threat to obtain a price. The three main categories were; Aisnes or a declaration in prose, Ail or an insult, and Aircetal or an incantation, of which there were ten varieties ranging from the private to the most public; Mac Bronn or ‘Son of a bitch’ a private insult. Dalbach or blindness, an innuendo. Focal i frithshuidiu or a word in opposition, a quatrain of praise in which there is a derogatory remark embedded. Tar n’aire or an outrage of negative satire. Tar molta or an outrage of praise, ironic or ludicrous praise. Tamall aire or a touch of satire, less outrageous than the last. Tamall molta or a touch of praise, assailing the victim with faintly credible remarks. Lanair or full satire, the entire family and reputation of the victim is assaulted. Ainmedh or sarcasm. Glam dicind is a full religious and magical rite of denunciation, aimed at completely destroying the victim and his/her life.

The first serious blow to the power of the Filidh came in 574 CE, under King Aedh Mac Ainmire who desired to banish all the poets from Ireland because of their great numbers and insolence. His complaint that the Ollamh have a retinue of 30 attendants, and the Anruth possess at least 15 followers, with lowers grades all possessing a certain number of disciples gives the definite indication of their extent of influence, popularity and breadth of importance. On this particular occasion they were all saved from extinction by none other than Saint Columcille himself, pleading on their behalf. The final demise of the ancient institution of the filidh and Bards came after the battle of Kinsale in 1601, the defeat of Hugh O’Neill and the Elizabethan re-conquest of Ireland in 1603. As a system of professional education that relied upon the Irish nobility for patronage, the aristocratic loss was immense when replaced by the English. The final nail in the coffin of the hereditary Irish poet was a historical even called the ‘Iomarbhágh na bhFileadh’ or The Contention of The Bards, a polemic and venemous contest between various principal poets lasting between 1616 to 1624 in defense of their respective patrons. The precise nature of this contest between 30 poets was over the relative merits of the north and south houses of descent. Later developing into vehement criticism over style, content and meter, language and presentation. The argument descended into base sarcasm and bickering, and perhaps as a result the traditional styles of composition within the system of Dan direach became regarded as obsolete, and a new, looser, fresher style called Amhran or Aisling was adopted.

There has never in history been a country or people more attached to the poetic arts as Ireland. In the years following the ‘Contention’ poetry was still practiced and developed with dedication, creativity and in the pursuit of personal vision. Perhaps the last and greatest Irish bard in the traditional sense was Toirdhealbach O Cearbhallain or Turloigh O Carolan (1670 – 1738). Despite being blind, O Carolan was a composer, poet, a writer and accomplished musician. Other poets of this era include Daibhi O Bruadair (1625 – 1698), Aogan O Rathaille, followed by the great Irish satirist and social commentator Jonathon Swift (1667 – 1745). The beautiful style of the Aisling poem was captured by the poet Brian Merriman (1747 – 1805) in his Cuirt An Mhean Oiche or ‘The Midnight Court.’ The standard was thence carried from the 18th to 19th centuries by artists such as Oscar Wilde, and into the 20th with Ezra Pound, Samuel Beckett, Padric Colun, and Seamus Heaney.

Irish Poetic Forms. Maureen O’Brien:

The Ogmios Project, Labara 5, by Meredith Richard:

Master Poets and their Kings in Late Celtic Society, by Bennett Blumenburg:

Eugene O'Curry's Manners and Customs of the Ancient Irish Vol. II.:

Crane Magic by Iain MacAnTsaoir:

The Power of Words in Gaelic Culture by Iain MacAnTsaoir:

Poetic Brehon Lawyers, by Katherin Simms:

Brehon Law and the File, Michael Ragan:

Foclóir Draíochta - Dictionary of Druidism, Sean O Tuathail:

Toirdhealbhach Ó Cearbhalláin - Turlough O'Carolan:

A Smaller Social History of Ancient Ireland by P. W. Joyce:

The Contention of the Bards (Iomarbhágh na bhFileadh):

Cuirt an Mheán Oíche—The Midnight Court by Brian Merriman:
Irish Druids and old Irish Religions by James Bonwick:

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Five Spokes of the Wheel...

"A Chief does not grant speech except to four: a Poet for satire and praise, a Chronicler of good memory for narration and storytelling, a Judge for giving fair evaluations, and a Historian for ancient lore."

Much has been discussed of the origins, practices and roles of the Druids in history. We understand them as figures in an ancient world, as practitioners of law, religion, art and poetry within Celtic society. How does this benefit us now, and how can we define the spiritual path of Druidry within a modern context? A modern Celtic scholar, Searles O’Dubhain has identified five key and integral aspects of a modern practitioner, and this profile gives a solid working foundation for the pursuit of Druidry as a religious faith. The Druid passes through three distinct phases in their personal evolution, firstly a state of wonder or questioning, secondly an arrival at understanding, a sense of peace and harmony, and lastly a sense of accomplishment and awe, a realization of the greater sacred.

1) The Scholar. Enquiry is the beginning of true knowledge. The foundation of the self is realized through an investigation and understanding of tradition, myths, systems of belief, culture, organization and methodologies of the ancestors. Thoughtful reflection becomes the essence of purposeful action and quantifiable realization.

2) The Poet. Creativity is the effect of inspiration, within any mode of operation. The illumination of the mind provokes a physical manifestation in which an understanding can be reached regarding a question possessed. Poetry is a process of discovery, valuable insight, charged with wisdom.

3) The Philosopher. The evaluation of qualities, quantities, states of being and purpose is active regard. The action of identifying the mechanics of nature, life and the cosmos provides the necessary information to understand ourselves and our role as human beings.

4) The Judge. Understanding balance and harmony, the key to justice is to be obligated to a truth greater than ourselves. The measurement of all things is by the will of truth.

5) The Doctor. When all levels of existence are perceived as one whole, and all the strands of life are revealed as being of one garment; then the perception is elevated to understand the sacred. There is seen to be no differentiation between subjects, only energy in varying degrees of intensity, and the energy flows like water. The infinite, ever eternal, without ending, supreme bliss. The subject enters the flow of life fully aware, and cognizant. Truly only a reflection of nature, of the great spirit.
Oran Mor: The Great Song, The Song of Birth.

Moladh daoine is dó is moladh an neach do-ní a gcruthoghadh (Praise of people, and you, is praise of the spirit that does the creating)

The beginning of the journey of wisdom is a step from the ocean of birth onto the shore of existence. The first consideration is of yourself, who you are, and then your relationship within the world. As the Poet has said; “Am gaeth far na bharraige… (I am the wind across the sea…). This is understanding the dynamics of your inner momentum, the ideals which constitute your core of being. There may be one, or several, but the weight of your core existence is the keystone of individual character, and the anchor of integrity will allow for the development of a true knowledge.

In transpersonal psychology and spirituality the core ideal/s of individuality represent the North Star, by which we navigate through life. It is nourishing, sustaining and guiding, a measurement by which we can ascertain our sense of place, time and appropriate conduct. To recognize a core ideal we should ask ourselves some key questions; what human qualities do I value most, such as peace, love, harmony, honesty? What is the summit of my ‘best self’ or the greatest exhibition of quality of consciousness? What aspect of my life am I most in direct contact with? What are the peak spiritual experiences of my life, the beautiful epiphanies of realization?

In the Druidic and Celtic spiritual path the core ideal/s may be selected from traditional values; piety, vision, intelligence, courage, integrity, perseverance, moderation, fertility, creativity… and many more. The morals, ethics and virtues outlined in a traditional text like the ‘Testament of Morann’ or the ‘Instructions of King Cormac’ provide inspiration enough to begin. However, this is serious work on the self, it is the deepest contemplation of your primal essence, consideration of your most refined spirit.

Coch Anam: The Soul Shrine.

“Man is not himself only… he is all that he sees; all that flows to him from a thousand sources… he is the land, the lift of the mountain lines, the reach of its valleys…” - Mary Austin.

In the Celtic tradition the soul shrine is the sum total of the body. From a cosmological standpoint the body is composed of all the elements of the earth; the blood is the waters, the bones are the mountains, the brain and mind are the sky, the breath is the wind and so forth. The body has three aspects; crabadh or soul trust, devout observance and will. This represents the spirit of a being. Creideamh or consent of the heart, the body of a loving nature which seeks connection, it is physical action in space. Iris or faith, a pledge or intention of the mind, thought and purpose. Thus in primal Celtic thought the human is mind, body and soul which if correctly coordinated and in complete accord provide a beautiful sense of harmony.

Because we are of the earth and reflect its principal mechanics we must be in harmony with it. Everyday the totality of the body yearns for Nature, to revel in its glory. The path to a secure connection to nature is through communication, and this occurs in two principle ways; active involvement which is participative and responsive, and passive contemplation through meditation, reflection and is nourishing.

Active communication occurs not as a recognizable language, but in observation and interaction through the development of senses. The first and most important sense is visual narrative, and I call this the ‘rainbow perception.’ We see through cones and rods of power in the eye, all colors, forms, distances, shades. This is the science of light and suffice to say here that it is enough to simply be aware of this faculty, to be aware of and use it. To be ‘sensual’ is to fully experience the world we live in and belong to it. I mean sensual as ‘sense-all’ and to explore and regenerate all of our faculties of perception. The eco-psychologist Dr. David Cohen has estimated that we possess over 50 differing senses with regard to nature, many of which have become dormant due to our advanced technological lifestyles. These particular senses lie within the realm of the intuitive, instinctual and primitive; the inheritance of our ancestors.

As a technique of communication within the context of Druidic spirituality, meditation is a passive exchange of energy. The most effective of this type of meditation is the ‘Two Powers’ (see link below) in which an individual draws energy from the sky, and the earth/waters, replenishes and restores inner balance, function and internal order to initiate a greater spiritual strength, and draw inspiration. The Two Powers energize what are seen within Celtic tradition as three internal ‘cauldrons’ which correspond to the anatomical cavities of the body; the cranial/spinal, the pleural/thoracic, and the abdominal/pelvic. This purification of the generative, vital, and spiritual energies is similar to the Daoist concept of the three Tan-Tien fields, but in the Gaelic tradition according to the Cauldron of Poesy the primary purpose is to engage within the stream of life, being poetic inspiration.

The totality of these attribute enables the manifestation of a dynamic creative inner force which greets each and every life experience as a building block for future growth. Standing close by a tree is a passionate revelation, a short walk opens a rain-storm of inspiring energy, and as William Blake says;

“To see infinity in a grain of sand, and eternity in an hour.”
Inspiration of Memory

Tri caindle forosnat cach n’dorcha: fir, aicned, ecna. (The three candles of illumination in darkness: truth, nature and knowledge.)

Perhaps the single most defining characteristic of Druidic practice throughout history is memory. The act of memorizing vast tracts of information might be said to be a reflective imitation of Nature herself, who has no books, scrolls, or stone tablets; only the memory of characteristics, forms and structures. She then repeats these codes into ever new and complex creations, again and again. This is like the traditional Gaelic saying; “Who is the birth that has never been born, and never will be?” This is the tuirgen (plur: tuirgente), the circuit of births or the circle of creation. In his glossary, Cormac defines this as; ‘the birth that passes from every nature into another… a transitory birth that has traversed all nature… through every wonderful time down to the end…” Memory can therefore be seen within the context of Celtic spirituality to be both subjective (in the mind) and objective (existing outside of our experience). For comparison I quote the concept of the collective sub-conscious of memory and myth offered by Carl Jung, where we all inherit the thoughts, rituals, and patterns of life of all our ancestors. The other is the statement by Krishna in the Baghavad Gita: “I have been born many times… and many times you have been born… but I remember my past lives, and you have forgotten yours… although I am unborn, everlasting, I am the Lord of all, I come to my realm of nature and through my wondrous power I am born…” - BG 4:5-6.

Combined, these fragments of information point toward the Druid belief in reincarnation, and the transmigration of the soul, where the spirit retains a memory of a previous form and travels into another, birth, life and death are merely physical manifestations of being. The point of liberation from this cycle of repetition is simply being aware of it, having knowledge and illumination of processes, and of recollection to the farthest limits.

The triad above (three candles) indicates that we begin in darkness. Our primary state of perception is blindness, not knowing, oblivious to anything around us. We are senseless, groping around until we begin our search… and it is like a seed beginning to sprout within our mind, and our first action is to light our darkness and to see with more clarity. This initial process involves three states which then expand; the experience of common knowledge or that which we know as being around us; the ordinary truth. Experiential knowledge or that which we learn by the process through our common senses, fire is hot and therefore burns… do not touch it. Investigative knowledge or that which we attain through comparison, conjecture, evaluation, discussion, theory…ect. These three primary means of experience are typified into the most common forms of Druidic practice called ‘Imbas forosnai’ or illuminating wisdom, ‘Dichetal do cheanaib’ or experience of fingertips, and ‘Teinm laegda’ or burning song. These practices are used to step into the lake of memories, of intuition, dreams, instinct… to travel within the microcosm then outward to the macrocosm, and understand all connections, meanings and perceptions.

Imbas Forosnai.

This means ‘the illumination of tradition’ or ‘inspiring wisdom.’ A method of receiving insight through spiritual perception. The ancient form followed a peculiar ritual of chewing on the raw flesh of an animal, formulating an incantation on the palms, then being enclosed in darkness to await the spark of an answer to a specific question. In modern Druidry this is achieved through meditation, reflection, concentration, or simply deepened thought. The cosmic mind may be seen as an ocean or lake, a well-spring, or other source of water, the fish within the water are thoughts swimming about. Concentration in darkness is the vehicle by which an individual arrives at the body of water and catches a fish which represents the wisdom of illumination he/she has been seeking. In Shamanic terms it is a form of journeying for a resolution or result. The hero Fionn Mac Cumhail achieved all of his wisdom by tasting the salmon caught by the Druid Fintain.

Dichetal do Cheanaib.

The dictionary definition is ‘extempore incantation’ and the earliest scholars suggest that this type of divination involved the use of the fingertips; dichetal is cognate with the term digital, from Latin digitus meaning finger (or toe). Typing without rhythm, cracking open the nuts of wisdom, or incantation on the knuckles are other descriptions. Ancient Druids used this method to divine the inner energy of something, to understand internal rhythms, messages, problems, or blockages. In this sense it might be seen to be akin to the methods of pulse diagnosis in some traditional forms of healing, such as Ayurveda in which the principle activities of internal disease are recognized simply by touch and sensation. Similarly the touch can locate energy in most objects, the energy translated into an image in the mind and then vocalized by the practitioner. Sometimes a Druid would employ the use of a stick, wand or staff as the point of contact and transmission of energy-information. When fully developed this form of divination can be of immense help in investigative, curative, and correctional modalities.

Teinm Laegda.

This is ‘illumination by song.’ Another term used is ‘chewing the pith’ and essentially is a means of decoding the internal essence of a thing through song, chant, mantra (fonn in Gaelic) or poem. It may be seen as a form of ‘echo-location’ of the type used by animals such as bats or undersea creatures like whales as a guide in darkness or low visibility. Modern science tells us that sounds behave much like water waves, and can move through matter such as air, and on a molecular level may be able to pass in some way through any object, thus sound of any kind is a form of energy capable of being harnessed for any intention or purpose. The essence of teinm laegda might be summarized as vocalized illustration of the heart.


The Druid is urged to develop and cultivate all of their faculties, senses and perception to the greatest extent possible. With these attributes he/she can investigate any matter of concern or interest. The three illuminations suggest a triad of ways that an individual can assume a greater sense of inspiration; using the mind/thought through meditation, the body, hands and feet for manipulative research, and the voice, hearing, vibration through songs of understanding. The validation of their effectiveness can only come from personal practice and experience, such techniques can never be learned thoroughly from books or manuals alone.

Shamanism in Gaelic Culture by Iain MacAnTsaoir:

Divination and the second sight, Gifts of the Gaels by Iain MacAnTsaoir:

Imbas Forosnai by Nora Chadwick:

The three illuminations, Searles O’Dubhain:

The Soundry:

Biodh se, David
Sources of Illuminating Inspiration:

The Song of Amergin:

The Ogham Tract (from the Auricept na n’Eces):

The (ADF) Two Powers Meditation:

The Cauldron of Poesy, translated by Erynn Laurie:

The Colloquy of the Two Sages (from the Book of Leinster):

The Instructions of King Cormac (translated by Kuno Meyer):

The Testament of Morann (translated by Fergus Kelly):