Monday, February 26, 2007

Nine Celtic Virtues...

1) Wisdom.

Wisdom is the measurement of knowledge, and the ability to exercise and balance situations, arguments, problems, and opposing differences through the use of intellect and arriving at a reasonable and effective solution, one that achieves harmony and acceptability. In the Audacht Morainn the term which describes this virtue is ‘firbrethach’ which literally means ‘giving correct judgement.’ In the Trecheng Breth Fene – 201 (the collected Irish triads) fir or truth is further explored:

‘Tri caindle forosnat cach n’dorcha: Fir, aicned, ecna.’ (Three candles that illuminate every darkness: truth, nature, and knowledge.)

Wisdom in the Gaelic tradition can therefore be seen to be diametrically opposed to darkness (or ignorance) and to possess three vital facets. Firstly truth, as a guide for ones personal ethical behavior and responsibilities, as a bond between members of a family, a tribe, a nation, and within the context of relationships with the Gods, Spirits and Ancestors. Secondly, wisdom is connected with the natural order, and nature is never deceptive or misleading, only descriptive. In this sense we seek to fairly evaluate the facts and details of any situation or problem in order to appreciate a balanced view. Thirdly, knowledge is employed in the exercise of wisdom since it draws upon past experience, the voices and exercises of the ancestors.

The exercise of wisdom therefore requires that we contemplate the totality rather than the fragmentary. To use our intellect in assessing facts, and that our behavior is aligned to an objective reality.

2) Piety.

The technical definition of piety is; dutiful devotion to God or the Gods, the observance of commonly accepted spiritual, ethical and moral principles, and obedience to parents, superiors and elders. To be ‘pious’ is to possess or express reverence for God or Gods, to bind oneself to religious demands, laws or ethics, and by one’s nature exhibit a sense of spirituality, and consider the sacred quality of life. Piety is related to the Latin piare, which means to expiate, to atone for, or redress wrongdoing, to make amends.

The depth and breadth of spirituality amongst Gaelic people is commented on by several classical authors. Julius Caesar says (in De Bello Gallico VI 14):

Natio est omnis Gallorum admonum dedita religionibus (The whole Gaulish people are much given to religion.)

And Diogenes Laertius says:

The chief maxim (of the Druids) is that the people should worship the Gods, do no evil and exercise courage.

In a modern context the individual can express piety through an established form of ritual and traditions, to maintain equitable social relations, to possess a sense of personal and communal responsibilities, and to enact with sincerity and intention the rituals and ceremonies of the calendar year, more commonly called the eight feasts; Samhain, the Winter Solstice (Mean Geimreadh), Imbolc, the Spring Equinox (Mean Earrach), Bealtainne, the Summer Solstice (Mean Samraidh), Lughnasadh, and the Autumn Equinox (Mean Foghmar). There are two Irish proverbs which relate to the sense of individual and personal responsibility that should be assumed throughout life:

Na brise do gheasa (Break not your vows) and, Mairg chailleas a gheasa (Woe to him who fails in his obligations)

There are several reasons to practice these rituals, ceremonies and feasts, but principally to serve and honor the Gods and Goddesses, the land and ancestors, to maintain a sense of spirituality and sacred purpose, and to honor and celebrate the old ways and the holy days of the wheel of the year.

In modern times piety is so often married with the concept of sin, however this term originates from the Old English synn which was a term used in archery and indicated a missed shot, or in other words a mistake. In Irish Gaelic sin was the name given to the metal collar or neck band worn by a judge, which was reputed to tighten and strangle the wearer when a wrong judgment was given.

3) Vision.

Vision is the pursuit of a clarified view of oneself, the world and the cosmos. I would say that vision is knowledge gained by study, work, practice and illumination and inspiration. In the Irish tradition there were a group or class of individuals called the Aes Dana, and these represented the ‘noble craft-workers’ and included poets, artists, healers and smiths, otherwise known as ‘the people of vision and knowledge.’ Through their dedication, practice and perseverance with their crafts they developed rare insight and creative processes which fueled their abilities and perspective of the world. The Aes Dana were held in high regard:

Beannocht leo a los saoire, Dronga ar nar cheisd cruadhlaoighe, Am coimhthinal dar choir seare, Doircheadhan doibh nir dhoircheacht. (Blessings upon their noble nature, To whom complex poems were no hardship, To that beloved gathering of poets, The darkest verse was daylight dawning.)

Vision and inspiration comes from hard work, study, meditation, analysis and dedication. It involves communication and interaction, both within a communal forum and with one’s craft and the world and nature.

4) Courage.

Courage is the power to formulate and carry out an effective response to any given situation, where such a situation demands an action from an individual. In some cases such a situation may be dangerous and the response may involve risk of death, then courage is that emotion and belief in oneself which actually emboldens and preserves in the action taken. Aristotle described a mean value in virtues that exists between two extremes, which in the case of courage is the midline between recklessness and complete inertia (or cowardice), and the thought-principle behind a chosen path of action requires a correct evaluation of the situation, the possible types of action which may be taken and the actual choice of dynamic to be employed.

The actual definition of courage is the quality of facing fear, danger, or pain. It comes from the Old-French corage, from the Latin cor, meaning ‘heart.’ In essence it means to stand in defense of one’s beliefs, to have confidence and the desire to protect and preserve a particular lifestyle. The Celtic scholar Geo Trevarthan sees courage as a primal attribute of the warrior’s path, evoking both Lugh Samildanach and Cuchulainn as examples of this quality:

“The God Lugh is a great warrior God of Celtic tradition, yet he is also known as Samildánach, the All-Skilled One, because, as it's been said, "Courage is the virtue that enables us to practice all the others." The warrior virtues are versatile, encompassing effective behavior in all areas of life, because the warrior energy is our effective power — the energy that makes both actions and honor possible.”

So, we need courage as a primary ingredient in our life, to make our spiritual path strong and bold, to be justified in action, and have confidence and be effective. Within the context of a warrior society the virtue of courage was of paramount importance, and there are many terms to describe it. Perhaps the most widely used term was meisneach, which means ‘to keep one’s head’ and comes from a root meaning to measure, which in other words indicates a capacity to maintain control over ones moods. Another term, calmacht, indicates strength and endurance. In the final analysis, courage in the Celtic sense implies a heartful bravery inspired by resolve and enduring strength and spirit in adversity.

5) Integrity.

On the most basic level integrity means to be honorable, truthful to one’s word or oath and trustworthy. It also indicates a sense of wholeness, whereby the individual is emotionally stable and able to present a sense of sound equanimity, composed and orderly in conduct, manners and presentation. In traditional Gaelic society, integrity was a virtue held in high regard alongside other noble characteristics such as generosity, fairness, and patience:

• The three chief obligations of a person to their country and family; to gain possessions by diligence and integrity, to profit their country and their kindred in all they do, and to seek lawful learning wherever they go.
• Three things of less worth than all else; a woman without dignity, a man without knowledge, and a teacher without patience.

Integrity in the Celtic community meant to be an aspect of the whole, the family, the tribe, the nation. To respect and be respected, to share and be a channel for the good of all. Honesty and a sense of honorable conduct were vital ingredients to the preservation and healthy wellbeing of the community, since the Brehon laws centered mainly around a compensatory system rather than being punitive, strength of character and reliability were key characteristics.

6) Perseverance.

Perseverance is the sum total of effort invoked to start, maintain and finish a task. One of the most noticeable traits of the ancient Celts was their absolute pursuit of excellence, and this is no better seen than through the eyes of numerous Irish parables regarding the nature of work:

Making the beginning is one third of the work. The person of the greatest talk is the person of the least work. Put it on your shoulders and say it is not a burden. It’s no delay to stop and sharpen the tool. It destroys the craft not to learn it. Do it as if there were a fire on your skin………

In the Celtic frame of mind perseverance is the total of patience, purpose and perfection. This is evidently seen in the Irish triad in the Trecheng Breth Féne #119:

Tréde neimthigedar liaig: dígallrae, díainme, comchissi cen ainchiss. (Three things that constitute a physician: a complete cure, leaving no blemish behind, a painless examination.)

7) Hospitality.

Hospitality is perhaps the most significant and important Celtic virtue, the one which actively promotes and sustains a working sense of community. The requirements of hospitality demand that the host be gracious and generous and the guest be appreciative and thankful, for all that we possess are merely gifts in themselves and we are merely conduits of grace and benevolence. It is a common Celtic belief that to give is also to receive, the two go in unison as typified by this Irish proverb:

Ag te a thabharfas sceal chugat tabhar faidh se dha sceal uait (Whoever will bring a story for you, will take two stories from you.)

This indicates that true hospitality is a reciprocal virtue, not one sided or unbalanced. Generosity in this context can take many forms; with words of appreciation, with a contribution of ourselves as labor toward a neighbors household task, as a gift for a significant life commemoration, to provide comfort, warmth and/or food. Often the Celtic notion of hospitality went beyond normal perceptions of reason and law, as in this proverb:

Bheirrin cuid oidhche dha ged a bhiodh ceann fir fo achlais (I would give him food and lodging for the night, even if he had a man’s head under his arm.)

In this context I believe that we should behave with curteous manners, and to be the best we can be; a veritable model of a human and present the ideal characteristics that we desire in others. We can never know the true sequence of events in a person’s misfortune and current state, and therefore never judge or condemn. Even if we can never offer anything material, a kind word or a smile may be enough to bolster the confidence of a person who is down.

8) Moderation.

Moderation is a virtue cultivated by the restraint of appetite and desire. It engenders a sense of knowing when enough is plenty, and avoids excess which in the Gaelic mind is injurious to the content of mind, body and soul. Moderation extends to all aspects of a person’s life, as exemplified by these Irish proverbs:

Eat well, drink in moderation and sleep sound, in these three good health abound. And, The virtue of justice consists in moderation, as regulated by wisdom.

Moderation is a form of self-training, to recognize one’s own passions, and the limits and boundaries of those desires. Ultimately it is a sure way of cultivating the refinement of the spirit, and building self-respect. This is seen as a form of wisdom, as outlined in the triad # 251 in the Trecheng Breth Fene:

Cetheora aipgitre gaise: ainme, somnathe, sobraidh, sothnges; ar is gaeth cach ainmnetach sai cach somnath, fairsing cach sobraid, sochoisc cach sothengtha. (Four elements of wisdom: patience, docility, sobriety, well-spokenness; for every patient person is wise, and every docile person is a sage, every sober person is generous, every well-spoken person is tractable.)

To follow one’s hunger without thought makes one into a slave, a glutton, an idiot. Eating to excess is the cause of many serious medical conditions, and in the Gaelic view leads to an ill-fitting and tight grave. The intoxicating and indulgent excesses of Queen Maeve in the Tain bo Cualigne present a good example of the disasterous and lethal results of unmoderated desire, on a symbolic level she presents an example of the danger of alcohol and its misuse, in excess it leads an individual to complete and utter disaster, disrespect and destitution.

9) Fertility.

In the widest possible sense fertility includes the growth and activity of mind, body and spirit, the creation of art and crafts, poetry, foods, and nurturing intellect and inspiration. Also training the senses to appreciate the world around us, our community and life. Celtic festivals such as Beltaine are a reminder of our role and participation in a greater fertile cycle, that of the earth and nature. In this particular ritual the key role of fertility is given special status in an agricultural sense, traditionally a time when the shoots of the first planting would be coming forth from the soil, and the ‘light-half’ of the year is increasing in its strength.

Another interesting fertility figure in Gaelic tradition is the ‘Sheela na Gig.’ The Sheela is a carved stone female figurine with open legs, exposed and showing her clutching her vulva with both hands. Most scholars associate her with the ‘cailleach’ or Old-Hag, and many examples are found inserted into the masonry of churches, cathedrals or monasteries. One community in Ireland has been reported as using the figurine as a power object for woman during the process of childbirth and to ensure a easy delivery. Kathryn Price NicDhana sees the figure as one primal aspect of the changing year of traditional Celtic seasons:

In much of the Scottish lore the year is ruled alternately by the Hag of Winter and the Maiden Queen of Summer.(6) Yet I see Síla as another, lesser known, third face of this well-known duality: the manifestation of the usually-hidden doorway that emerges when these forces are balanced or in flux. She holds the doorway which opens in the liminal-times: the days of Bealtaine and Samhain, the twilight of sunrise or sunset, and when the mists arise where the land and the sky meet the waters.(7) She is both and neither, an Otherworldly force that refuses to fit into either/or categories.

Many animals in Celtic mythology are representative of fertility, vitality and virility. In particular boars and pigs, horses, cows, bulls, are all indicative of tribal prosperity and increased regeneration. It was a customary ritual for an elected king in Ireland to mate with a pure white mare (as a representative of the earth goddess) to ensure the fertility of the land, and to enter into a covenant as a protector. At Beltaine cows were usually driven between two fires as both purification ritual and to ensure prospective fertility for the tribe.

In a modern context we can ensure our own fertility by pursuing creative and rewarding activities, stimulating the mind, body and soul with nourishing tasks: learning and knowledge, exercise and fresh nutritional foods, and the cultivation of a sacred and spiritual path to culture our soul. A deeper involvement with nature and the environment can be rewarding, also building and maintaining meaningful relationships can drive away the deserts of depression and loneliness.

It is sad that all too often fertility is seen today solely as the capacity to breed in an already overpopulated world.

Thugamar Fein An Samhradh Linn: A History of Beltaine...

Beltaine: A History of Spring Celebrations.

Seo e an samhradh a thiocfas go haerach
Thugar fein an samhradh linn
Samhradh bui o lui na griene
Thugamar fein an samhradh linn

(This is the Summer that will come gaily, we have brought the Summer in, Yellow summer from the bed of the sun, We have brought the Summer in). – Old Irish Beltaine song.

Beltaine (pron. Bel’ta-na) or ‘bright fire’ is the Celtic festival which marks the beginning of the summer. It is traditionally celebrated on the 1st of May, or in pre-reformation times on the first Monday or Tuesday of May. In astronomical terms it is the cross-quarter day at the junction of the vernal equinox and summer solstice. Beltaine was the opening of the fertile season toward the second division of the Celtic year known as ‘An ghrian mor’ or ‘the great sun,’ as opposed to ‘An ghrian beg’ or the lesser sun which ran from the festival and time of Samhain to Beltaine. Thus Beltaine opened the light half of a year, the other half being dark. On the Coligny calendar Beltaine is represented by ‘Samivisionis’ or the time of brightness and illumination occurring from May to June.

The Irish chronicler Cormac in the 9th century links Druidic ritual to Beltaine, in a description of the creation of two bonfires between which a herd of cattle were driven in symbolic ritual to ward off disease. These ritual bonfires had several purposes, being principally the acknowledgement of the power of the sun, as a source of heat, light, power and sustenance, a recognition of the powerful solar healing powers, and it is believed by some scholars as a form of worship of the sun as a deity. In essence the bonfire was a homage and intended to replicate the sun’s power on earth, as a fertilizer; spreading the remnants of ashes over the ground to aid the germination of seed crops, the fire may also have been seen as a purifier which burned out the old year like a hot fever.

Irish myths show a connection between Beltaine, fire and rituals. In the Lebor Gabala Erin (The Book of Invasions) a Druid named Mide who founded Meath, is recorded as being the first to light a Beltaine fire. The tale is somewhat continued in the Dinnschenchas (The History of Places), where the fire started by Mide spreads throughout Ireland much to the annoyance of other Irish Druids. Mide then proceeds to cut out their tongues and ritually burn them, thereby depriving the other Druids of their essential power of expression; speech, prophecy and satire. Tara is the sacred site in Ireland, in County Meath, which dates back to Neolithic times and mythology represented the royal seat of the kings of Ireland. It was later designated as the location for the Congregation of the National Assembly at Beltaine.

Beltaine was also known as ‘Cetsamhain’ or opposite Samhain in Ireland. It does seem possible that the festival was associated with the continental Celtic sun-god and healer Belenus. The name Bel also means mouth or an opening, tane means fire. Belenus probably represented the curative powers of solar energy, whilst also providing a pathway of visionary power between this world and the spiritual plane of existence.

Beltaine appears to have been a major fertility festival, celebrating the birth process behind the agricultural season, and accompanied by explicit and symbolic sexual rituals. The so called ‘Long Man of Cerne’ or the Cerne Abbas Giant, a naked male image carved into a chalk hillside in Dorset, in south-west Britian was the location for annual Beltaine festivals, all recorded in the early 1900’s. The image of the giant with a huge erect phallus definitely connects the festival to fertile celebrations. A description of a May-day festival by the Elizabethan puritan Philip Stubbes (1550 – 1593) in his ‘Anatomy of Abuses’ in 1583, gives an opinionated but enlightening depiction of the process of the celebration:

“Every parish, town, and village assemble themselves together, both men, women and children, old and young……… and either going all together or dividing themselves into companies, some go to the woods and groves, some to the hills and mountains……… where they spend all night in pleasant pastimes, and in the morning they return, bringing with them birch boughs, and branches of trees to deck their assemblies withal. And no marvel, for there is a great lord amongst them, as superintendent and lord over there pastimes and sports, namely Satan the Prince of Hell. But their chiefest jewel that they bring from thence is their Maypole, which they bring home with great veneration, as thus; they have twenty or forty of oxen, each ox having a sweet nosegay of flowers tied on the tip of his horns, and these oxen draw this Maypole (this stinking idol rather) which is covered all over with flowers and herbs, bound round with strings and sometimes painted with variable colors, with two or three hundred men, women and children following it with great devotion. And thus being reared up with hankerchiefs and flags streaming on top, they straw the ground about, bind green boughs about it, set up summer halls, bowers and arbors hard by; and then fall to banquet and feast, to leap and dance about it, as the Heathen people did at the dedication of their idols, whereof this is a perfect pattern.”

In Stubbes account there is a definite sense of ‘earth veneration’, fertility and celebration of life, with the involvement of live-stock/animals as oxen, and gay decorations. The origins of planting a representation of a phallus into the earth (womb) and venerating it as a symbol of fertility is primarily Indo-European or Aryan in nature. The Maypole is still the ‘Great Lingam’ (a penis or phallic pillar) found in the core of Hindu temples in India, firmly planted into the receptive ground. John Stow (1525 – 1603) the London chronicler gives an altogether more spiritual assessment of the May festival:

“On Monday in the mornings, every man would walk into sweet meadows and green woods, there to rejoice their spirits with the beauty and savor of sweet flowers, and with the harmony of birds, praising God in their kind…”

The month of May represents Maya or Maia, the virgin Goddess of spring. Worship of this particular Goddess and the rituals associated with her have strong connections and are identifiable with the Roman spring festival of Floralia. One key aspect of these celebrations is the presence of a ‘May Queen’ who is inevitably a virgin bride representing the earth mother or Maya herself. The ancient Irish ceremony for the inauguration of a king involved a similar symbolic earth deity, a feminine protectress to whom the king was married, and establishing a contract to guard and preserve the land. The British tradition however appears to lean toward a Latin Paganism, William Stuckley observed several intimations of this in a May celebration in 1724;

“There is a Maypole near Horn Castle, Lincolnshire, where probably a Hermes (a phallic pillar) in Roman times. The boys annually keep up the festival of the Floralia on Mayday, making a procession to this hill with May gads (as they call them) in their hands. This is a white willow wand, the bark peeled off, tied around with cowslips, a thyrsus of the Bacchanals. At night they have a bonfire, and other merriment, which is really a sacrifice, a religious festival.”

In Britain the May festival was celebrated with branches and flowers of the hawthorn (Crataegus oxyacantha), picked the night before and used to decorate windows and doors, which are symbolic of openings, birth, passageways of life through the earth; the feminine aspect of the festival. The hawthorn in this respect was perceived as a cleansing and protecting agent, with the heavy and pungent musky aroma of the flowers observed as an essentially feminine attribute. The ritualistic nature-blessing is preserved in this children’s rhythm from Mother Goose;

The fair maid who, the first of May
Goes to the fields at break of day
And washes in dew from the hawthorn tree,
Will ever after handsome be.

Hawthorn, or in Gaelic huath, is the 6th letter of the Ogham tree alphabet. As it flowers in May it was seen as a rising aspect of sexuality, a garland of the leaves were often placed around the tip of the phallic Maypole. Wood from the hawthorn was the principle ingredient for bonfires at this time, since it provides the hottest fire known. Presumably it was thus used by blacksmiths and metal workers and gained a mystical and magical reputation as a tree which provided traditional crafts with the fire of inspiration. Common names for the hawthorn are may, may-blossom and may-bush. The Hitchin Mayday song gives an important role for the hawthorn;

“Remember us poor Mayers all!
And thus we do begin
To lead our lives in righteousness,
Or else we die in sin.

We have been rambling all the night,
And almost all the day;
And now returned back again,
We have brought you a branch of may.

A branch of may we have brought you,
And at your door it stands;
It is but a sprout,
But its well budded out,
By the work of our Lord’s hand…

… The heavenly gates are open wide,
Our paths are beaten plain;
And if a man be not too far gone,
He may return again... “

Despite being Christianized the Hitchin song preserves and reveals several Pagan themes and symbols. The term Mayers is purely pre-Christian Roman from the Latin Maiores, who were elder statesmen in the senate, and could possibly be derived from devotees or worshippers of the spring Goddess Maia. Righteousness and sin may refer to the original two divisions of the Celtic year, with Mayday or Beltaine being the cross-over. Rambling during the night contains clear sexual connotations, of the performance of fertile activities to encourage the blossoming of a new year, as does the branch of may with a sprout. Dew was regarded as being left on May morning by the earth spirits or Faeries, and as previously mentioned, anyone bathing in this natural nectar was said to retain their youthful countenance, the perfect health and shape of the inhabitants of ‘Tir na n’Og’ or the Land of Ever-Young. It was on Mayday that the doors or gates of this otherworld were opened up, bringing fresh blessings, and the man who has not gone too far may refer to the ancient Celtic myth of Tir na n’Og; a place of eternal time, beyond normal perceptions… perhaps this man has traveled there, come back yet remained unchanged?

Over the years there were many attempts on the part of the Christian church to prevent the May celebration. In the 7th century the Bishop Eligius of Noyens begged his flock to stop the sexually infused rituals, but without success. Where the church failed, the industrial revolution gained ground. The process of urbanization succeeded in dismantling the village community based cultural expressions of spirituality, in 1829 Thomas Carlyle commented;

“For some unearthly reason, we have machines and mechanical furtherances; for mincing our cabbages; for casting us into magnetic sleep. We remove mountains, make seas our smooth highway; nothing can resist us. We war with rude nature; and by our restless engines, come off victorious, and loaded with spoils……… But, leaving these matters for the present, let us observe how the mechanical genius of our time has diffused into quite other provinces. Not the external and physical alone is now managed by machinery, but the internal and spiritual also…”

Toward the twentieth century, community celebrations like Mayday became increasingly fractured and remote, only distant memories of the past, renamed and politically neutralized, sanitized by increasingly conservative morality, misogynistic anti-feminist propaganda and the desire to mount, extract and control natural forces. Paul Theroux comments on a Mayday journey in the early 1980’s;

“It was London’s labor day, celebrated by marching Union-men and speeches in Trafalger Square……… neutralized as a Spring Bank holiday……… associated with a trip to a coastal resort……… “

Perhaps with an ever growing interest in earth based faith, ecology and spirituality, new links to the ancient practice and significance of Beltaine and Mayday can be forged, with a reworking of the old rituals that lend a profound understanding of the human relationship with nature. Various annual ‘earth day’ celebrations have been instituted worldwide, the most famous being the April 22nd Earth Day started by Gaylord Nelson in 1970. A rival Earth Day creator who claims seniority is John McConnell (purporting to have established his festival one month earlier on the 1st of March 1970 to coincide with the Spring equinox). The McConnell earth day specifically seeks to provide a genuine spiritual, cosmological, intellectual and ancient basis for a dynamic day of earth based activities. The more secular Arbor day, usually celebrated on the last Friday of April, and instituted by J. Sterling Morton in 1872 is again a genuine springtime attempt to involve people with one of the most visible aspects of the natural world; the tree. It may be a romantic notion, but maybe the new naturalists are silently inspired by the words of the mythical bard Fionn Mac Cumhail, hero of the Irish Fiann cycle, who after receiving his divine wisdom sings a beautiful ode to spring;

“It is the full month of May, the pleasant time; it’s face is beautiful: the blackbird sings his full song, the living wood is his holding, the cuckoos are singing and ever singing; there is a welcome before the brightness………

The man is gaining, the girl in her comely power growing, every wood is without fault, from the top to the ground, and every wide good plain………

There is a hot desire on you for the racing of horses, a bright spear has been shot into the earth and the flag flower is golden beneath it……… “

The true essence of Beltaine is the resonance of revelation, the birth of a new vision and belief in ourselves. A true May ritual refreshes our connections with the land, establishes a firm foundation as a marriage in which as respective partners we work together to ensure success, fertility and a bountiful future of joy and bliss. It is encouraging to realize that a new and invigorated movement of Celtic spiritualists are actively pursuing a reformation and reconstruction of the Beltaine festival. Current Druid practitioners see Beltaine as being a dynamic integration of three primal and cosmic energies, and it is with this that I will conclude, giving enough space for contemplation, meditation and formation. From the Irish Triads:

The three most powerful divinations are by fire, by water, and by clay.
These are the three great powers:
The power that ascends, which is fire; the power that falls, which is water; and the power that lies level on the earth, and has the mystery of the dead, which is clay.

Green M. Dictionary of Celtic Myth and Legend. Thames and Hudson, London 1992.
Green M. The World of The Druids. Thames and Hudson, London 1997.
Mountfort P. R. Ogam. Rider Press, 2001.
Nicholas R. The Book of Druidry, Thorsens, 1990.
Plowden A. Elizabethan England. Readers Digest, London. ISBN 0340 23044.
Walker B.G. The Womans Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets. Harper and Row 1993.
Herbal Remedies, Gedes and Grosset. London 1996.
Theroux P. The Kingdom by the Sea. Washington Square Press 1994.
Dorner P. The Culture of Craft. Manchester University Press 1997.
Kondratiev A. The Apple Branch. Citadel Press 2003.

An Ceangal Foundation:
Meaning of the Ogham Staves:
The Hitchin Mayday Song:
The Gaylord-Nelson Earth Day:
The John McConnell Earth Day:
Arbor day:
Denver Druids:

Tiobraidarana... A Fountain of Perception, Enligtenment


Anois osclaím an doras. Anois téim i mbéal an dorais. Anois dúnaim an doras i mo dhiaidh.

(Now I open the Door. Now I enter the Doorway. Now I close the Door behind me.)

There are a few, humble but bold people around the world attempting to recreate and preserve the noble ways of their Gaelic ancestors. This is not 'historical reconstruction' or role-playing, but a genuine attempt to maintain a tradition which goes back over 2000 years. I have recently been trying to define the modern trend of reaching back in time to define a native spiritual path for the present, particularly amongst individuals of Celtic origin, but the best I can do for now is to allow them their own voice and present their efforts:

Mothú Treibhe - A Sense of Tribe

With the defeat of the Irish forces at the battle of Ceann tSáile in 1601, the outcome of the Elizabethan conquest of Ireland was assured. This was a major turning point in Irish history and in the following centuries, the old aristocratic order disappeared and without the leadership and protection of the old clan system our lands were confiscated. The English, in order to enforce strict rule upon the Irish, carried out a policy of forcing all of Ireland to abandon its traditional language, customs and law, replacing them with those from England. With the defeat of the old order, the social and political pillars which upheld and maintained our traditional culture crumbled and the effects of this cultural upheaval are still apparent in Irish society today. Thankfully, however, this brutal policy of cultural repression did not have the desired effect.

So what is Craobh Chrua all about? Well, in a word "Culture". We're trying give the 'clan' a modern expression by bringing together people who have a sense of personal responsibility towards the welfare of our cultural heritage and to encourage this sense of responsibility among others. If Irish people resign their traditions and their heritage to the past, they will be the poorer for it. Our traditions have survived all attempts to put them down and will continue to do so as long as there are people who work for the well-being of the tradition. Culture outlives generations.

Although Craobh Chrua is still in it's youth, we have high hopes, plenty of ideas and I personally intend to make this my lifes work.

Stiofán Ó Broin, Craobh Chrua.


Tuatha is a small group of dedicated seekers located at the foot of Pikes Peak in Colorado Springs, Colorado. We have been active a little over two years now and welcome anyone interested to join us. We seek to become more and more a "tuatha". "Tuatha" (pronounced 'TOO-uh') is a Gaelic word that means "people, land". Tuatha, to us, means "the people and the Land are one". We celebrate the turning of the year and the changing of the Land by celebrating the Four Celtic Festivals. We long to learn more and more about the Celtic spirit, the Land of Colorado, each other, and ourselves.

We look to the Celts of the past (and the present) for inspiration in how to live, work, love, and prosper, in our lives today. We call on many Gods and Goddesses to help us in anyway they wish. Our goals are lofty. We hope to live and die without regret.

For many of us, the act of listening to the deeds of the Cuchulainn, or the tragic death of Dierdre, is more stirring to the blood and spirit than can be expressed. We study Irish Gaelic, Celtic forms of folkdance, Celtic star lore, wilderness survival, martial arts, meditation, parenting, public speaking, herbalism, prayer, storytelling, Celtic music, and a thousand other things besides. We welcome those who wish to help preserve the Celtic spirit, and be a part of a Tribe in the truest sense of the word.

We believe the Land of Colorado is sacred. We love her rivers, lakes, wildlife, people, mountains, trees, waterfalls, and stones. Getting to know Colorado is a large part of our spiritual life. What is the spirit of a Ponderosa like? What wisdom and stories does the spirit of Mount Shavano hold? How do we learn from Colorado and Her spirit tribe? These are the questions that enflame and enliven our souls:

The Butterfly Tradition:

The Butterfly Tradition of Druidry was created on Samhain 1990 by three college students: Saymion Odinson, Sean Clark, and myself. Our purpose, at the time, was to venture on to the path of neo-druidry and explore different Pagan and Occult traditions.

Our focus was on neo-druidry taken from Irish lore and tradition. We embraced the Tuatha de Dannan, each in our own way, and ran off into the woods to frolick and play in the shadows there. As modern-day druids we revere all of nature and our hearts yearn for the emerald shores of Erin. But above all we love our local environment. Idaho is full of sacred spaces and over the life of Butterfly we have found hundreds of places that hold special meaning to us. In particular we have made a special connection to Caribou Natl. Forest, She has given us much so we honor her when we can and try our best to heal her with our hands.

The first rule set forth for the Butterfly Tradition was that it would eventually, upon gaining over a dozen initiates, be released. We agreed to start out on our own at that point and engage the world as solitaries or as members or founders of other Traditions. It is the whole idea of the Butterfly: change. Kind of a forced metamorphosis planned from the start. Well, here we are, 16 years later, and near enough to our limit that Butterfly is evolving and changing on its own. Half of our number lives in the State of Oregon, while the other half reside here in Idaho. We still practice most holidays together but each of us has begun to walk differing paths over the years. We will always be Butterfly Druids but we will also flutter off to cause our own set of chaotic events and as a result become something new.

My greatest hurdle of all has been the death of my brother, Saymion last year. He died of a heart attack at the age of 33, leaving behind his beloved son, Noah, and a group of druids and druidesses that miss him dearly. Saymion and I, together with Sean Clark, started this tradition together. In fact we were together at its inception...

One day we sat in the woods in the early days of January. The snow was over a foot deep and we had hiked a mile into the trees off the road. It was hovering around 5 degrees that morning and it had been below zero for a week. We sat in silence and began a meditation only to see a tiny moving object in the trees. Nothing else stirred in that coldm but we watched as a small butterfly fluttered towards us. All of the insects were dead or sleeping by this point so we were surprised to see its aproach. It flew up to us and fluttered about our heads, making three complete circuits around us, before it flew away into the trees. In a world of white silence, it was a wondrous gift to meet this colorful spirit that day. So we called the dream The Butterfly Tradition.

In the ancient times the butterfly was a symbol of the soul... that life energy of a loved one, flying away to the Otherworld. It is silent yet it sings with color and merriment. I dedicate this site to my best friend and brother, Saymion, and to all the butterflies in the group who have flown up to me over many, many cold winters since we began. I love you all.

Dùn Sgàthan:

Pàganachd Allaidh is Gaelic for Wild Paganism and is our own path of Celtic Reconstructionism, not a generic term. This is an involved path, which will be described with out a lot of detail further down the page, and we only recognize those who have actually trained with us as being Pàganach Allaidh. We are willing to share some of our ideas.

Rath De ort (The grace of God be with you)...

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Vis Medicatrix Naturae

Vis Medicatrix Naturae: Meditations on the healing power of nature

©2004 by David John Drew. All rights reserved.

As I sat in the cool shade of an ancient Gambel Oak in the blistering dry heat of a Colorado summer I questioned my inner desire to be closer to nature. The apparent silence was in fact dense with my inner mechanical ruminations, lost in the maze of complex relationships that exist between the world environment and humanity, good, bad and indifferent. From an apparently fractured and discordant state how could I establish, build, and maintain a harmonious existence with this nature, with what seemed to be an abstract, chaotic mass of undecipherable signs, seasons and unpredictability. I sensed myself being plunged into darkness with my monumental meditations, into a dark, muddy ocean which blinded my senses but brought a surreal tranquility. Within that womb-like state I came upon an island, in the center of which was a gentle mound, an apparition stood atop the hill shining in glory. The aura spoke to me in a voice akin to the soft rose gilded clouds of a spring dawn;

"A blessing exists for every realization of why you exist in a certain time and space within the cosmos. That which you seek the answer to already exists within you as a map of nature. Fathom the beauty of your spirit and the harmony of the universe will reveal itself and resonate through you, eroding the stone wall of your blind ego..."

And the aura blew me backwards into the vast sea. I landed in the tumultuous vortex of a whirlpool which sucked me down in spirals until I awoke, slowly breathing beneath the oak in the clarity of midday.

Time and again I visited and reclined beneath my adopted tree, pondering and digesting the message of Aurora without realizing it. My earthly path was limited to a concentric circle between labor, meditative speculation, and my abode, but without seeing the whole unified center. But, I felt a gradual change in my perception; a release and subsidence of anger, frustration and depression. I saw others on the same path as I, although without the pause for contemplation and they appeared to be disjointed, fractured and sad, a woebegone existence trapped in a material mechanistic cubicle. The oak tree had imparted a mysterious healing energy on me, and this infused me with a positive spirit to discover why.

Ius Naturale

With Mater Matura or the Mother of Dawn, my vision of Aurora came also with the revelation of a natural law (Ius naturale), the ancient legal system of the Matriarchate. Equality and democracy were the ruling principles, it was not hierarchical and there are no special privileges. The natural law flows through air, water, nature and matter, it inspires fertilization, forges bonds and relationships, secures freedom, demands justice and truth, it will build a wall of ignorance and blindness around the persecutor, it rewards the diligent and those who seek inner light. It is a law of morality, from which the communis omnium possessio or law of common property sprung, and from which we can all claim equal rights to the air, sea and vacant spaces. I learned the vocabulary and origin of the Matriarchate, mater, like the Sanskrit matra, and Greek meter, signify both mother and measurement. The cycle of creativity, nurturing, life, love, healing, and death are all calculated according to the principles of the natural law. Our language infused with root words of the Matriarchate; mantra, matrix, matter, material, matrimony, matron, metric, mensuration, mentality, mark, mathematics, geo-metry, hydro-metry, and many others.

Matrilinialists of the matrix

Throughout recorded human history, across nations and in varying spheres of activity I became aware of significant individuals who possessed a visionary perception of the earth. Inspired people, inventors, engineers, biologists, scientists, naturalists, psychologists, spiritualists, theologians, doctors, philosophers, architects, gardeners, ecologists and others who had observed, recorded and defined the forms of nature with an alternative but equally valid perspective in comparison with orthodox scientific thought, they had glimpsed the "essence," viewed the elements and constituents as a complex and intricate web of relationships. Some were aware of contemporary forces of erosion that in some way disrupted or were in the process of destroying those harmonic bonds and offering proposals or initiating action to halt the malignance and restore an equilibrium. Collectively I began to call this group of workers the mystery-workers of the matrix. They acted as spiritual guardians of a nature-faith to protect the "Mother" to follow and uphold her laws regardless of the historical time and space they occupied. They provided luminous examples of inspiration for me on my spiritual path, venerable saints who pointed and guided me in the right direction and infused me with a sense of purpose and worth.

Wunder-Wasser and Aquae Sulis

A core element expressed in ancient systems of faith is an active belief in the sacredness of earth. Archeological, historical and cultural evidence of rituals and seasonal festivals indicate that human communities have endeavored to maintain a symbiotic relationship with the earth. Indigenous tribal people conceived the earth as a living spiritual being, a Goddess with primal wisdom and knowledge, the source of life with a womb from which the seed or source of live of all existence issues, the Creatress or Mother Nature. One of the most significant properties ascribed to Mother Nature was her ability to nurture and heal, (together with a destroying force) which was regarded as a divine blessing. In this context doctors were originally individuals trained in the processes of natural healing, and would teach and educate their people in best ways to remain healthy, never the arrogant belief that they could prevent disease since everything was in the hands of Mother Earth and the constituents she had provided in the earth.

In the Celtic tradition the element of water was accepted as the primary restorative and therapeutic dynamic of the earth, Dana the Great Mother of the Gods, The Tuatha De Dannan was essentially a water deity with countless rivers named in her honor. Bodies of water such as rivers, springs, wells, lakes and oceans where they met or came into contact with earth were perceived as channels to the subconscious realms of the divine otherworld; Tir na n'Og or the Land of Youth, everlasting beauty devoid of illness, as Niamh Chinn Oir describes in the Fionn cycle;

"It is the most delightful of places, all rich and fertile, fruit grows on the trees in every season, rivers run with wine and honey, a hundred warriors will feast with you, a hundred harpers play sweet music, allow my father to shower you with gifts...You may defy the passage of time, no-one ever grows old in our land, beauty, strength, and good health will always be yours, you will get silver, gold and many precious jewels, you will get everything beyond them of which I have no leave to tell."

As the very soul of the Cosmic Mother, Tir na n'Og is the source of restoration, peace and timeless being, which the perceptive and open can always access through divine ritual. Water as a medium of health and healing is exemplified at Aquae Sulis at Bath in Britian, founded by the leprous and disinherited Prince Bladud who through a series of misadventures was plunged into the primal spring and cured of his affliction. The temple is built in the honor of the Goddess Sulis (a Q-Celtic term for eye, orifice or hole) who presided over and monitored the healing process. The spring pumps out hot water at a temperature of 115 F, and at a rate of 250.000 gallons a day it represents the abundant embodiment of the Earth Mother herself. A similar site exists in Dijjon, France. The Fontes Sequanae is dedicated to the Goddess Sequanae and its curative waters specifically applied to rectify eye disorders. A Christian Welsh "Water-Prayer" may be an affirmation or extension of previously held pagan beliefs in water healing;

Living God, who turns dry land into pools of water,
Lead us to the springs of eternal life,
May we drink and be satisfied
And become channels of your grace.
May those who thirst find the water without price.
Enable us to play our part in leading them
To the never failing fountain of life.

The curative powers of water were rediscovered and made popular by the Revd. Sebastien Kniepp (1821-1897) in Bavaria, Germany. Soon after being admitted to seminary he became seriously ill with pulmonary tuberculosis. Discovering an 18th century book on hydrotherapy he decided in the winter of 1849 to immerse himself in the icy cold waters of the Danube river. Several brief exposures to the waters appeared to stimulate his immune system and affected a rapid recovery from his condition, enabling him to continue his theological studies in Munich. After being ordained in 1852 he continued his practice of natural health, combining other modalities such as phytotherapy, nutrition, exercise and health education for the benefit of his poor parishioners. Several times he used his natural healing techniques and brought dying patients back to life. Kniepp physiotherapy is recognized as an early form of classical naturopathy and despite the fact that he was regarded as a charlatan by the medical establishment a German study in 1977 discovered that immunological reactions to protein and bacterial antigens were much higher in patients who had undergone a course of hydrotherapy.

Viktor Schauberger (1885-1958) contributed the most dynamic and creative thought on water as an active and energetic primal force. Born in Austria to a long line of foresters stretching back 400 years he refused to go to university at 18, instead he left home and spent extended periods of time deep in the remote regions of forest. With an analytical and almost scientific mind he observed, contemplated and pondered on the subtle energetic mechanics and motions of the earth, especially natural water courses, waterfalls, springs, and whirlpools. Schauberger viewed water as a living entity which he termed "the blood of mother earth" which he perceived as being born in the womb of the forest, water had a life and death;

"The upholder of the cycles which supports the whole of life is water. In every drop of water dwells the Godhead, whom we all serve; there also dwells life, the soul of the 'first' substance - water - whose boundaries and banks are the capillaries that guide it and in which it circulates."

In his observations of what he considered to be a primeval mother earth Schauberger developed very profound and radical theories on the formation and use of natural energies, a careful study of whirlpools, tornadoes, cyclones and hurricanes, enabling him to forward his theory of implosion; "all movement is the outcome of attraction or repulsion - between expansion and contraction" using the principle of the vortex and two types of natural movement, centrifugence and centripetence to create energy capable of directing mechanical movement. It was through this particular aspect of his research that he was able to produce the type of nutrient rich water that comes from natural springs. As a substance that Schauberger believed to have life and death, water could also become polluted and diseased through misuse and consequently cause illness in humans. Healthy water, which is capable of nourishment and preventing disease by supporting the immune system is that which has optimum levels of energy and nutrients, and in essence Schauberger developed the technology to convert any water source to this curative level. For his contributions to the understanding of aqua-nutrition and his "wunder-wasser" Schauberger was called the "Water Wizard.'

Alchemy of the Earth

Nearly two years ago I began to study herbal medicine. From the beginning of the course I was introduced to semi-orthodox scientific approach to phytopharmacy, the chemical constituents, drug interactions and a fractured sense of herbalism divorced from its ancient origins and place as a primary earth orientated healing system. My heart yearned for a traditional spiritual dimension of the art. I was introduced to the Astrologer/herbalist Nicholas Culpepper (1616-1654) whose most famous work is "The English Physitian" published two years before his death. Culpepper was odd by the standards of his day, working against the medical establishment with his curious but fascinating cosmological faith;

"If you don't consider the whole universe as one united body, and man an epitome of this body, it will seem strange to none but madmen and fools that the stars have influence over the body of man, considering he, be an epitome of creation must needs have a celestial world within himself."

The "universal man" was a primary belief of Culpepper, a sacred energy flowed throughout creation and nature within and without existence as we perceive it. Plants, animals and humans are all affected by this energy, through exploration, extraction, implementation and balance we can enact and promote the healing process. Looking up at the dark sky at night I realized that the stars, planets and the moon were not faraway untouchable bodies but reflections of myself. I gazed at Orion, the light of Heaven or "Ur-Anna," described by the ancient Greeks as the roamer or foot-turning wanderer with a beautiful composition of stars, and slowly realized that this dancing stellar skeleton, beheld a primal version of my own being in the cosmos. Betelgeuse (the armpit), Rigel (the foot), Mintaka (the girdle or stomach), Trapezium or Thetal Ori (the heart), Bellatrix (the west shoulder), Al-nilam (an arrangement of pearls, teeth?), Al-nitak (belt), Nair al Saif (bright tip of the sword), Saif (sword), and Meissa (the shining head). Like the Goddess of creation, Aruru in the Epic of Gilgamesh, who conceived of a form of man in her mind, of the substance of the firmament, created of water and clay which was then dropped into the wilderness and called the primal or wild man "Enkidu," so, perhaps I too am a reflection of this Matriarch of creation, of divine essence, primal ingredients, minerals, stars and dark matter, animated by bright flowing energy. The Bereishitic Adam of Ha-Adamah (Earth-being formed from the womb of Earth-Mother). I subsequently discovered a 12th century herbalists spell, translated by Charles Singer which awoke me to definite spiritual aspects of the herbalists art, and identified the primordial, Goddess-Matriarch who inspires life, creation and healing;

"Earth, Divine Goddess, Mother Nature who generates all things and brings forth anew the sun which you have given to the nations, guardian of the sky and of all Gods and powers...You are the source of strength of the nations and of the Gods, without you nothing can be brought to perfection or be born, you are the great Queen of the Gods...Now I make intercession to you all your powers and herbs and to your majesty, you whom Earth Parent of all has produced and given as medicine of health to all nations and has put majesty upon you..."

This inspired my study of herbal medicine, and perhaps protected me from the infectious and dangerous belief that through my study of a medicine I would have that "God-like" control over the lives of others. In the spell the name of the Goddess is neither implied or stated openly which caused me concern. Maybe she has no name, being the unimaginable source of all life, but what I grasp from this prayer is the notion that time is considered circular and repetitive, existence is cyclical; the Divine Goddess is invoked as a triad representing the constant repetitions of birth, life and death, then again rebirth. She is the "One"of infinity, mentioned in the Vedic Hymn of Creation;

"There was not then what is not, there was no sky, and no heaven beyond the sky. What power was there? Where? Who was that power? Was there an abyss of fathomless waters? There was neither death nor immortality then. No signs of night or day. The ONE was breathing of its own power, in deep peace only the ONE was: there was nothing beyond. And in the ONE arose love. Love the first seed of soul."

I became aware of the Irish Goddess of herbs and healing Airmid, the daughter of Dian Cecht the God of Medicine. In the 2nd battle of Mag Tureadh Airmid inherits the spiritual knowledge of 365 herbs which grow from out of the body of her dead brother Miach. Airmid has since been the primary focus for invocation when it came to the application for herbal healing. Apart from these references there is very little information on the uses of herbs in Celtic culture. Lacking evidence in the Celtic-Pagan sphere of herbal arts I began to explore the early Christian use of herbs, and discovered the Benedictine monk Basilius Valentinus, an alchemist and mystic with a strong spiritual belief. Valentinus established the foundations of chemistry in the Western tradition, but his views on the nature of medicine and healing were unorthodox and fascinating;

"The earth is not a dead body, but is inhabited by a spirit that is its life and soul. All created things, minerals included, draw their strength from the Earth Spirit. This spirit is life, it is nourished by the stars, it gives nourishment to all the living things in its womb. Through the spirit received from on high, the earth hatches the minerals in her womb as the mother her unborn child."
Like many alchemists Valentinus believed that perfect human health was attainable by the administration of transformed substances from the earth, be they plant, mineral or metal. These constituents of the earth were believed to contain vital essences that are released and obtained through chemical processes. In his work The Twelve Keys Valentinus describes the extraction and transformation of such medicines for specific symptomatic conditions. The keys are highly symbolic, shrouded in mystic metaphor and symbolism, they require extensive study and analysis to decipher, but represent a deep and profound understanding of the living composition of the earth, as a body and form.

Contemporary British scientist James Lovelock gives a name to this entity in a unique hypothesis: Gaia. Gaia is the earth Goddess in the Greek creation myth, and the divinity who formed the earth out of a chaotic mass. Lovelock developed his hypothesis of a living organic earth after participating in the NASA Viking project, which involved sending a complex information gathering vehicle to Mars to assess the planet for life-forms. Lovelock realized afterwards that in essence Mars had no atmosphere and hence had a dead equilibrium, contrasting his discovery with planet earth the conclusion that he come to was that earth's atmosphere provided a "far from equilibrium" state, meaning that other complex processes were happening but not apparent. His involvement with the Mars project gave Lovelock a unique perspective of earth life, almost an independent view. He began to see that Earth was not so much a planet capable of supporting various life forms but itself was a whole self evolving, living, communicating and regulating system. The processes he observed happening, types of homeostasis together with positive and negative feedback loops drew Lovelock to the conclusion that earth was a living being, whom he subsequently named Gaia, a complex, interlaced entity that defies time and space;

"The name of the living planet, Gaia, is not a synonym for the biosphere - that part of the earth where living things are normally seen to exist. Still less is Gaia the same as the biota, which is simply the collection of all individual living organisms. The biota and the biosphere taken together form a part but not all of Gaia. Just as the shell is part of the snail, so the rocks, the air, and the oceans are part of Gaia. Gaia as we shall see, has continuity with the past back to the origins of life, and in the future as long as life persists."

Consilience and Biophila

There are many who are working within the Gaia hypothesis, inspired and intrigued by its revolutionary proposal. Since 1984 the evolutionary biologist E. O. Wilson of Harvard University has gathered various strands of studies, and brought them together in what he terms consilience in order to explain natural phenomena. Consilience in essence is theoretical ecology and a jumping together of knowledge, facts and theory across a wide range of disciplines such as anthropology, biology, zoology, philosophy, theology to investigate and explain natural laws. Wilson went further with a theory he titled biophilia. This concept holds that because humans have evolved in the natural world, their primary instinctual motives are deeply rooted in an environment of plants, animals and landscape. The gradual transference of the landscape from a natural one to a concrete suburban one has induced symptoms of stress, high blood pressure, muscle tension and other chronic disorders. Humans need the essential "touch of the earth"to be truly healthy.

Vis Medicatrix Naturae

The belief that humans are inextricably connected and part of natural order is defined in one of the first principles established by Dr. Benedict Lust (1872-1945). Inherent in his naturopathic system of healing (inspired by the Revd. Sebastien Kniepp) was the belief that the earth, human body and environment possess integral means of rehabilitation, Vis Medicatrix Naturae or The Healing Power of Nature, the doctor can only preserve life for a short time but ultimately it is nature that heals the body:

"In all cases, and in all diseases, therefore, man can recover and again become happy only by the use of the agents of Life; man must strenuously endeavor, in his mode of living, to heed again the voice of nature's path...choose the food that nature has laid before him...bring himself again into the relation with water, light, air and earth, that nature originally designed for him..."

And the wild-one therapy

Modern science and medicine in the Western tradition are slowly awakening, realizing and investigating these healing ways of nature. The incorporation of nature into the fabric and design of medicinal centers is what primarily concerns Dr. Roger Ulrich, professor and Director of the Center for health Systems and Design at Texas A and M. Dr. Ulrich believes that nature is important for emotional and physical health and has conducted serious research on the beneficial aspects of practical implementations such as the effect of hospital window views on individuals recovering from surgery, healthcare gardens and art on patients and hospital staff. His discoveries indicate that even 2-dimensional images of tree's have a positive impact on individuals who are removed or isolated from nature and the environment. This research has had a far reaching impact on the world wide medical profession, architects, interior designers and urban planners who now incorporate healing gardens, garden rooftops, interior plants and landscapes, and nature art into their designs. A study at Deakin University in Australia recognizes that public parks are an essential and fundamental health resource, particularly the salutary role thay play in disease prevention, lowering blood pressure, cholesterol levels, stress and depression.

Dr. Howard Frumkin at Emory University Department of Environmental and Occupational Health looks forward to the day when he could prescribe nature as a treatment for conditions, saying "Spend time in the park instead of taking this medicine." This desire is in fact being made a reality, many universities and colleges such as Naropa in Boulder, Colorado are offering courses in "wilderness therapeutics" as an added healing modality to healthcare professionals such as psychologists. Structured retreats in natural settings have been found to benefit cancer patients, emotionally disturbed children, and rape victims amongst others. Perhaps we have become too civilized, surrounded by walls and restrictions of our own construction, defined by temporary and transient notions of citizenship based on certificates of ownership, employment and nationality. Our poverty is not of means but of ideas, resulting in a blind, fumbling illness. This is summed up by Janet Thomas in her book "The battle in Seattle":

"The reductive challenge we face in contemporary life to describe, weigh and measure the secrets of our lives means that they (the administrative power and control of governments) lose their power, their numinous nature, their stature...Try sitting with a cedar tree for ten minutes and listening to what it has to tell you...The truth is that nature is always attracting, recovering, healing. It is our biological and psychological ability to regenerate, and when we connect to the natural world with our own reasoning, consciousness and language, together with all our other senses, we are opened up to real power."
I personally realized the importance of nature in healthcare whilst I worked as a Chef at Bowden House, a psychiatric clinic at Harrow, Middlesex in England. The building is a converted ancient manorial residence situated in the grounds of a beautiful tree-laden landscape. With a nearly 100% success rate I'm sure that the surrounding peace, tranquility, gentle tree energies and birdsong contributed a tremendous amount to the patients healing process and recovery. Whilst I applaud the most recent developments in Western medicine towards the healing power of nature it also makes me despondent to realize that the ancient practitioners of the healing arts, who worked as partners of Mother Earth and were pointing out these facts since the sun first rose, were either ignored, laughed at or regarded as charlatans.


So, in terms of Druidry and the Earth Path how can we incorporate these valuable lessons into our everyday life in a practical way. Mother Earth has three primary principles to offer to anybody who seeks enrichment through positive transformation. Through the study of habitat, ecosystems, wildlife, plants, weather we can develop our sense of the knowledge of unity, that everything is connected and related yet also infinitely diverse. A simple interaction with nature initiates a healing process, a deeper study of this process is a journey into natural medicine. A developed partnership with Mother Earth through a medative process begins a heightened and broader ecological spirituality. In conclusion the Earth path offers knowledge, spirituality and healing. On a purely practical level I began to change my own life to attune myself with the "Mother." This involved doing practical voluntary work with an organization called Clean Water Action, which actively campaigns for the maintenance and support of legal standards to ensure that the water we consume is free from pollution, and meets and exceeds accepted standards of purity and health. I also joined a water monitoring group called CoCoRaHS (The Community Collaborative Rain and Hail Study) in which my little home became a registered meteorological station and I measured daily rainfall. This enhanced my appreciation for the value of natural sources of water in an area of the country which is constantly on "drought-alert." I committed myself to cycling, walking or bussing to work and participated in a scheme entitled Ride Smart Thursdays, who encourage forms of transport which reduce urban pollution. With help from the National Wildlife Federation I turned my back yard into a haven for indigenous species of plants and animals, they offer both practical advice and an online "university" with free courses in habitat creation, preservation, ecosystems and endangered species. But, the core of my personal transformation has been my study of herbal medicine, which is constantly developing and integral to my daily life, matured by studies in ecopyschology. It is all hard work but the blessings are infinite, as infinite as the divine source of creation that I am slowly coming to realize.

Book of the universe

One day I was one the way to visit my oak tree, anticipating the bright lunation it would bestow upon my spirit. To my horror I discovered a steel fence had been erected around the area and I feared the worst, construction workers were clearing the parkland, chopping down trees and marking out the foundations for a complex of buildings. My heart fell and I said a whisper of a prayer;

O Ancient ones that tread softly through the earth
Winged Spirits of breath across the sky from Heaven
Musical guardians of rippling waters and ocean depths

O Armies from the hive of the Queen
Enwrap your armor around the oak
Burnish it with fires of bronze

Let its memory not fade
Let its age not tell
Let its wisdom prosper.

And I had a vision of numerous bronze coins being retrieved from the deepest and darkest parts of the earth. The coins were strung together on a hemp cord and wrapped around the trunk of the oak tree. A sign was written on parchment in oak gall ink, the blood of the oak which cursed any man who lifted a sharpened tool against it.

Of all the trees in the park the oak was one of the few to survive, later I learned that the area was to be turned into a rehabilitation and detoxification center for drug dependents and abusers. Whether my petition to Mother Earth had enabled this or the healing power of nature had ultimately planned it all along I cannot say. What is sure is that the mighty oak was now on another purpose, to heal others that had become sick, isolated and distracted from their true nature of being. And so, I leave the last word to the Italian Renaissance visionary, Dante Alighieri (1265-1321), in the Paradise of the Divine Comedy;

Nel suo profondo vidi che s'interna,
Legato con amore in un volume,
Cio che per l'universo si squaderna.

La forma universal di questo nodo
Creo ch'io vidi, perche piu di largo
Dicendo questo, mi sento ch'io godo.

("Within its deep infinity I saw ingathered and bound by love in one volume, the scattered leaves of all the universe. The universal form of this complex whole I think that I saw, because as I say this I feel my joy increasing.')


David Drew was born on the North banks of the river Tyne in Northumberland, NE Britian in 1964. He graduated with a Degree in Design from Plymouth University (Devon, SW Britian) in 1989. Studied Culinary Arts at various London schools including the National Bakery School at South Bank University and was the Executive Chef at the Science Museum in Kensington, London. Currently lives and works in Aurora, Colorado with his wife (a jeweler and silversmith) and a triadic coven of inspirational daughters.


Clean water action:

CoCoRaHS (Community Collaborative Rain and Hail Study):

Ride smart Thursdays:

Backyard wildlife habitat program:

Wildlife University. Free courses in habitat creation, wildlife preservation, ecosystems, endangered species, native plant and animal conservation:

Ecopsychology (free course):

Herbal medicine (free courses):

Practical plant alchemy course by Mark Stavish MA (free):

A Daily - Celtic Prayer Devotional...

The conception and Practice of Daily Celtic Prayer.

All of these prayers are inspired and adapted from a series of books collectively called ‘The Carmina Gadelica.’ They represent the prayers, invocations, and sacred poetry of the Scottish Islands compiled by the scholar Alexander Carmichael in the latter half of the 19th century, and represent the inherited oral traditions of a Gaelic community from over a thousand years of history. A careful analysis of the Carmina provides a unique insight into the spiritual beliefs of both pre-Christian Pagan Celts and of the developing Catholic theological framework. In short, the Gaels considered all space, sacred. The entire landscape was woven of intense spiritual and heavenly threads, and each moment or life experience was awarded a prayer in dedication. It can also be observed that the ancient Celts followed specific points in the day with spiritual devotions, specifically dawn, midday, dusk and mid-night. This is known as the Trathan or ‘four-times.’

Generally speaking the name and concept of God within the Carmina Gadelica is translated from Dei, a term which is cognate with the Latin Deus, Greek Theos, and Sanskrit Deva. In Irish it precedes the designation of every day, and itself can mean day. The root meaning of this name is both sacred and source of illumination. For me, it means the revolution of the sun around the earth and thus emblematic of unity, it represents life, growth, healing, the flow of the celestial sea and infinite energy, and thus is symbolic of the Great Spirit. Another term for God within Gaelic culture is Cruithear or ‘Creator’ or ‘Shaper.’ This conception of a supreme being is similar to Native American and First Nation peoples. The Creator in Native Gaelic culture is both supreme in kingship and personal, immanent and an essential aspect of a world perceived as a woven fabric.

I conceive and believe in Cruithear within the traditional trinitarianism of both Gaelic and Indo-European theology, whereby the creator possesses both masculine and feminine characteristics, although beyond gender definition, and composed of three primal aspects; creator, sustainer and destroyer. Cruithear is the Great Father Sky, joined with the Holy Mother Earth, expressed in the divine word of the Son of Light.

The traditional posture of prayer in invocation is standing erect, raise the arms outward (to form a T shape) then bend the arms at the elbow up-to head level to form an L shape. This posture is described in a medieval Irish monastic manuscript called ‘The Rule of Tallaght’ and believed by some scholars to imitate pre-Christian Druid practice. Traditionally this posture would be assumed in greeting each of the four sacred directions.

Morning Prayer.

The morning prayer is pronounced upon waking, or more effectively at the moment of the sunrise, and facing the east. It was the tradition that the Chief Druid of a village sing a song of greeting to the sun at dawn to welcome it back from the underworld, and likewise another farewell song at sunset, both times being considered the most liminal and sacred of spaces in the natural world.

I will kindle the flame of my soul this morning,
In the presence of Deep-Sea, Heavenly-Sky, Rich-Earth,
Without malice, jealousy, envy, fear, without terror of
Anyone under the sun.

O Great Creator
Kindle thou in my heart within
A flame of love to my neighbor, my foe, my friend,
To all my kindred
To the brave, the knave, the thrall,
From the lowliest thing that lives
To the name that is highest above all.

Exalt my thoughts, my deeds, my word, my will,
My understanding, my intellect, my way my state.
I beseech thee this day;
To keep me from harm, mischance, grief,
Shield me, fill me, keep me, watch me.

Traditionally the morning prayer is accompanied and ended by a form of encircling protection called a caim or ‘hoop.’ The suppliant stretches out their right hand with their forefinger extended and turns around deosil (sunwise) like a pivot, describing a circle. This ritual invokes a spiritual protection around the person. The most famous caim prayer is found within the Lorica of St. Phadraig, and of undoubtable pre-Christian origin, and which invokes the power and energy of natural elements:

I arise today
Through strength of Heaven:
Light of sun
Radiance of moon,
Splendor of fire,
Speed of lightening,
Swiftness of wind,
Depth of sea,
Stability of earth
Firmness of rock

The Creator to navigate and guide my soul………

Midday Prayer.

The midday prayer is directed toward the sun at its highest position in the sky toward the south. It is not in itself a solar adoration but a form of thanksgiving for its great capacity to heal, promote growth and spiritual illumination.

Eye of the Great Creator,
Eye of the Glorious Creator,
Eye of the King of Heavens, Lands of Harmony and Bliss,
Eye of the Chieftain of the Living-Ones,

Here, settled in the throne of the sky, Pouring upon us,
At each time and season,
Pouring upon us waves of energy, heat and strength,
Generous waves of gold,

Glory to thee, thou glorious sun
Glory to thee thou sun,
Face of the Great Creator of Life.

The Dusk Prayer.
The evening prayer bids farewell to the sun as it leaves us in the west, a time for recollection and assessment of our day’s activities and preparation for a new day. The new day begins after sunset in Gaelic culture.

I smoor the hearth of my soul, within and without…
And on all my household,
I close this bright day
And end the song of my spirit
I bid farewell…

O Creator,
Compass me this night
Both soul and body,
Compass me this night
And on every night.

Compass me aright
Between earth and sky
Enfolded in the mystery of thy laws
Secure in your darkest robes
Illuminated by moons light.

The Midnight Prayer.

The sleep prayer is directed toward the north, visualizing the Pole star above the head as a guiding light, and the sun beneath our feet in the ‘underworlds.’ Together they form a symbolic shaft of light which passes through the body, cleansing the soul of dark impurities, filling us with cosmic energy. The Gael imagined retirement as boarding a coracle or small boat, and drifting through an ocean of sleep.

I am now going into the sleep,
Be it that I shall be in health awake,
Keep though my coracle,
Keep it always…
As my soul soars in the shadows of heaven.

The white day comes to the fire,
Thou to me as a star,
Thou to me as a guide,
From my life’s beginning to my life’s closing.

Be a bright flame before me,
Be a guiding star above me,
Be a smooth path below me,
Be a navigator behind me…

Today, tonight…
Unto the guiding light of eternity…

A perfect world without end, changeless through life eternal.

Perhaps with the Gaelic notion of the day as a microscopic equivalent of an entire life, and the eternal cycle of being and existence, the final evocation summarizes the tidal nature of the cosmic order, and the threefold nature of the Creator, of birth, life, death and eventual rebirth;

As it was,
As it is,
As it shall be
O thou Triune of Grace…
With the ebb,
With the flow,
O thou Triune of Grace…
With the ebb,
With the flow.

Purpose and practice of the prayers.The principal motive and intention of these prayers is to in-tune with the natural celestial rhythms of the day, which itself reflects the year, the seasons and indeed a lifetime. They are a method for immersion in the sacredness of the moment and time, together with a harmonic understanding of space and movement. They naturally inspire a commitment to a natural spiritual path. It is also an opportunity to step back out of ordinary time, to contemplate and consider within a silent and sacred space, created by you for you. Yet, in doing so the personal soul-aura is lightened and polished to a sparkling radiance which benefits all around. Ultimately our consciousness evolves to a greater understanding of the beautiful music of cosmic truth.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Mythic Assessment and The Celtic Sources:

The Structure and Definitions of Myth.

To many of us the term myth may not go beyond the notion of fairy or folk tales. Yet I have found an amazing body of serious academic research which seeks to translate, define, understand and interpret many ancient cultural myths. Within this scientific anthropological academia there exists extensive discussion, argument and theory regarding the roles and purposes of myths. My study in this subject begins inevitably with the standard textbook definition of a myth, here taken from the Wikipedia Free Encyclopedia, which is:

“a myth is a sacred story concerning the origins of the world or how the world and the creatures in it came to have their present form. The active beings in myths are generally gods and heroes. Myths take place before time, before history begins. In saying that a myth is a sacred narrative, what is meant is that a myth is believed to be true by people who attach religious or spiritual significance to it. Use of the term by scholars does not imply that the narrative is either true or false”.

This gives an indication that myths lie outside our common notions of time, space, fact or fiction. Myths are an inherent ingredient of common culture with similar traits, such as archetypical individuals (the mother, the saviour, the hero, the trickster ect), they take place within a sacred space or are typically spiritual or religious in nature. As Miranda Green (1993) further states:

“A useful definition involves the perception of a myth as a symbolic story, similar to a parable, a means by which human imagination can express a concept whose meaning is too complex and profound to be conveyed by simple verbal messages.”

The myth also involves aspects of the human imagination. A deeper sub-consciousness enters into the narrative which allows the communication of possibly untranslatable concepts. Green’s definition of myth is in part one aspect of a broader field of research into the subject. She indicates that myths transcend the physical senses and regular human perception of the world. Through symbolism they hold information, concepts, and language beyond the realms and limits of everyday experience. Within more specialized scholarly research there are six main ‘monolithic’ theories or strands of studies followed in defining various myths:

1) The Phenomenic, translated means of describing origins. This includes the creation myths, battles between light and darkness, truth and falsehood.

2) The aetiological, which is proto-scientific and seeks through myths to explain natural occurences and events, examples such as fires, floods, catastophic events.

3) The charters, are myths which define customs, institutions and beliefs.

4) Structural theory, as defined by the anthropologist Claude Levi Strauss in his publications Elemental Structures of Kinship, Structural Anthropology, and The Savage Mind.

5) The Pyschological theories of myth, established by Sigmund Freud, and Carl Gustav Jung.

6) The Ritual theory of myths, which is the connection between myths and formalized rites and their narrative. This theory is expounded most by Walter Burkett in his publications Homo Necans, Savage Energies, Greek Religions, and Ancient Mystery Cults.

One of the most popular strands of research into myth in modern times has been in the field of psychology. Carl Gustav Jung states (in The Structure of The Psyche):

“The whole of mythology could be taken as a sort of projection of the collective unconcious.”

Jung defined three categories of the Psyche: (1) Consciousness, (2) The Personal Consciousness, and (3) The Collective Consciousness. In his assessment, the latter of this triad of human awareness represents the ancient inherited symbols, meanings and understandings of the physical environment and our place in it. The collective unconsciousness is not individualistic but comon to all, and the basis on which the individual psyche is constructed. As a psychologist, Jung concluded that imbalanced mental states could be studied could be studied and corrected through the collective unconscious of an individual. In other words, it was the belief of Jung that the way an individual see’s is dependent on primordial traits inherited from previous generations, and that these perceptions could be analysed through mythological motifs.

Using Jung’s model of the psyche and definition of mythology it could be said that myth, in terms of the Celtic people is relevent and important in the sense that it provides a definitive connection between the ancestors of the past, both in the written mythological cycles, and those notions of the world which are inherited through a collective ‘genetic’ process. The integral possession of myths and perceptions at all levels of consciousness allow a passageway to meditation and reflection on the human state in the environment, universe and greater cosmos. This provides the opportunity of understanding past mistakes, failures, successes, and strengths, allowing a possible range of choices to ultimately define and mold the path of life. To harmonize, maintain balance, preserve acceptable notions of truth within the land and community.

The concluding importance of myths, pointed out by Joseph Campbell is that they allow a greater perspective on life, they permit the ability to compare, provide pieces of information that have supported generations of human life, created systems and civilizations, interpreted great mysteries and rites of passage. Myths are the paths and guidelines which enable choices, and conect us with our predeccesors. Without the value of these myths we become alienated, dislocated, arrogant, and dysfunctional. Ultimately with the loss of an essential community (of which myths provide the ‘glue’) comes a wandering disorganization, criminal activity, lack of mutual respect, and relationships.

For the modern Celtic-Druidic movement myths are a potentially powerful tool for reviving and revitalizing their community. It has the capacity to build connections, partnerships and mutual benefits, with the collective ancient myths used as a bond of strength, instruction and comparison. The benefits are increased sense of spirituality, physical and mental well-being, deeper ecological, environmental and universal understanding.

The literal interpretation of myths as concrete forms becomes a barrier to a greater transcendental experience, the ultimate experience of primal energies and eternal truth’s, albeit in symbolic and/or metaphorical terms. Carl Jung said:

“Religion is a defense against the experience of God”.

Where religion is composed of a set of dogmatic laws or rules extracted from the primary mythic sources and designed to be followed on pain of some equally rigid punishment. The experience of God represents the active, conscious participation in a divine stream of illumination, or unseen source of knowledge. The anthropromorphization of myths is an attempt to fix them in terms of time, space, and truth regardless of the infinite, eternal narrative which allows for inspiration and open dialog.

Mythic forms should be interpreted in a more abstract form (with the text providing the substance or meat of the experience), elemental, the powers of (human) nature, primal energies of earth and creative forces. Taken literally myths can present an extreme and distorted view of the world – since no myth can in fact be validated by scientific analysis they exist essentially outside of the normal perceptions of time and space, they are the complex inner narratives of human existence exposed for their beauty and significance. Literal interpretation may be likened to building a strong wall around something unsubstantial or without a bodily form, the enclosure becomes inpenetrable and self-decieving, an accepted belief or notion which an individual or community must continously struggle to defend against all reason and/or logic. Christian theologists developed a special science called Apologetics to defend their literal interpretation of mythic events in the Bible and their cosmology and worldview. This process of aggressive defense is in reality an entrenched fundamentalist isolationism fuelled by fractured perceptions. The movement to defend the literal belief in the creation of the world by a particular God (or Creationism) presents an endless, argumentative duality without any possible resolution when opposed by the rationality of evolutionary science which seeks to disprove the belief. Some Christian scholars and theologists have attempted to find a ‘third-way’ to this dilemma, and with some success, such as Pierre Teilhard de Chardin whose unique blend of science, theology, history, religious-mysticism and myth are inspiring:

“Blessed be you, universal matter, immeasurable time, boundless ether, triple abyss of stars and atoms and generations: you who by overflowing and dissolving our narrow standards of measurement reveal to us the dimensions of God……… The man who is wholly talen up with the demands of everyday living or whose sole interest is in the outward appearences of things seldom gains more than a glimpse, at best, of this second phase in our sense perceptions………a very dim awareness of that aureole, thrilling and inundating……..disclosed to us at every point of contact the unique essence of the universe.”

The anthropologist Mircea Eliade has also defined and investigated the third-way-path of myth and spirituality amongst traditional tribal communities. In his book Myth and Reality he concluded his studies with several important observations and definitions, that many myths are concerned with the genesis or creation of the world and things in it, and that myth represents the ‘truest’ of all stories. The structure of myths serve as models for human behaviour in traditional societies, and periodically re-enacted in the form of sacred rituals of confirmation – connecting the participants to the individuals to the community to nature to divine forces, and ancestors in a total, complex but dynamic gesture.

The Nature and Sources of Celtic Myths.

Although there are three main sources of Celtic mythology and cultural information (the classical, vernacular, and archeological), within that scope there exists a further three branches of tradition, being the Goidelic (composed of Irish, Scottish, and the Isle of Man), the Insular Brythonic (composed of the Welsh and Cornish), and the Continental Brythonic (composed of the Gaulish-French and Brittanic). The latter classification points to the fact that the Celtics were not a homogenous people with a centralized governing structure but a loose confederation of tribes which collectively inhabited regions stretching out from eastern Europe across the west to Ireland. Similarities occur, but also differences in terms of language (the so called ‘P and Q Celtic), cultural and cosmological beliefs, rituals, regional Gods and Goddesses and varied creation myths.

The study of Celtic mythology may also be made more complex by the various phases and influences that Celtic culture has been through. Beliefs and rituals may have developed and changed as the basic culture expanded through the Paleolithic, to the neolithic and Iron-age cultures of La Tene and Hallstat, thereafter splitting up into differing strands of traditions with Celtic tribal expansion. Changes in the mythologies occurred with their transcription by monks in the transitionery phase of the Christian era, revision and redaction were primary concerns of the scribes who whilst concerned with preserving the rich Celtic traditions and myths also attempted to ‘temper’ the tales in line with a monotheistic faith. In the modern age there is an added dilemma of actually translating older technical terms and meanings of a substantially older form of the gaelic language, which significantly points to the fact that just as a culture develops and changes so does it’s language, myths and perceptions of the world.

The one primary obstacle in researching and reading Celtic myths and religion in a Pagan, pre-Christian format is the fact that ostensibly Celtic society was literate only in an oral based tradition. For the most part Pagan Celts and Druids were disinclined to write down their myths, traditions and beliefs. In essence all written evidence is regarded as secondary information and indirect, much based on the observations of outsiders. The main classical sources of information on the Celts and their myths are of Roman origin and dated between 50 BCE to 300 CE with Ceasar (mid 1st BCE), Strabo (late 1st BCE to early 1st CE), Diodorus Siculus (60-30 CE), Lucan (1st CE), and Dio Cassius (late 2nd to early 3rd CE). These sources provide information on varied rituals, the Druids role and practise in Celto-Gallic society, beliefs, divination, human sacrifice, the preservation of human heads, death, and the ‘other-world.’

The vernacular sources, the transcription of oral legends and myths in colloquial and local languages (other than Latin or Greek) began in the 5th to the 6th Centuries CE by Christian scholar monks, particularly in Ireland. Most of the surviving manuscripts date from the 12th CE, representing copies of earlier pieces, although many scholars believe that the material recorded depicts a much earlier phase of Celtic society, at least pre 5th CE. In the Irish vernacular tradition there are four main collections of prose tales taken to be of special interest and importance in Celtic studies:

The ‘Leabhar Gabhala Erren’ or Book of Invasions. The charted history of Ireland and its inhabitants, with general geneologies, tribes, origins, battles and invasions. From this book many Celtic scholars have derived a primal Irish-Gaelic creation myth.

The ‘Dinnshenchus’ or History of Places. This manuscript descibes the notions, origins and meanings of many Irish place-names and their associated mythologies, it is an indispensable aid to the study of Celtic-Irish mythology.

The ‘Leabhar na h’Uidre’ or Book of the Dun Cow. Composed by 3 monks at Clanmacnois in County Offaly in 1106, it is also known as ‘The Ulster Cycle.’ This manuscript contains the epic ‘Tain bo Culaigne’ or Cattle Raid of Cooley, an epic quest for the possession of two mystical bulls.
The Fionn Cycle. This book charts the character, life, exploits and adventures of the Irish Celtic hero Fion mac Cumhail and his war band, called the Fianna.

The Welsh mythological tradition is more sparsely documented when compared to the Irish. The principle text for study is the Pedair Ceinc y Mabinogi or the Four Branches if the Mabinogi. This collection of stories is preserved in two medieval manuscripts; The White Book of Rhydderch 1300, and The Red Book of Hergest of the late 1400’s. The tales are rich in Celtic symbolism and mythology; a pagan ‘underworld’ ruled by Prince Annwn, a cauldron with the magical capacity to bring dead warriors back to life, metamorphosis and shape-changing, and the living head of the decapitated Bran buried at Tower Hill in London. Within the continental Gaelic tradition there is the Barzaz Briez or ‘The Plaints of Brittany’ which is a collected volume of ancient folk tales, legends and songs of Brittany by Theodore Hersart de la Villemarque in 1839. This contains the story of the mystical city of Ys, which was consumed by the sea.

The most recent method of investigating the nature and origins of Celtic myth use the science of archeology. This can provide valuable evidence and insight into the material culture of the Celts, ritual behaviour, sanctuaries and sacred places used for votive offerings to deities. One recent and interesting archeological project has been the Das Grab des Kelten-Fursten or ‘The Celtic Cheiftains Grave’ at Eberdingin-Hochdorf in Germany. A full scale and extensive excavation of the site has revealed a great deal of information on a Celtic Prince circa 580 BCE.

Myth and Poetry in Celtic Society

In Irish Gaelic society myth and the telling of tales was the sole responsibility of a special category of Druid, offically called the ‘Filidh’ and the ‘Baird.’ These individuals commanded great respect and were entitled to immense privelages. The Filidh underwent an extended and detailed course of learning over a period of 12 years, learning all rules of grammer, texts and the memorisation of a considerable corpus of texts; at least 250 prime tales, and 100 secondary stories. The Bard was lesser in status to the filidh, and an Irish text comments; “Bard dano; fer gin dliged foglama acht inntlicht fadesin.” Or “A bard is a person without a proper education, but one who possesses intellect.”

An Irish text called the Auricept na N’Eces or ‘The Scholars Primer’ gives valuable information regarding the grade structure of the Filidh. There were seven grades: Ollamh, Anruth, Cli, Cano, Dos, Macfuirmid, and Fochloc. There were also three sub-grades of Taman, Drisiuc, and Oblaire. The highest rank, that of Ollamh, could be equated with the modern equivelant of Professor or Doctor (of Poetry). The memorisation of texts included a wide range of mythological categories: Togla or Destructions, Ta-Na or Cattle-Raids, Tochmarca or Courtships, Catha or Battles, Fessa or Feasts, Echtrai or Adventures, Athid or Elopements, Airgne or Slaughters, Tomadma or Erruptions, Fi-Si or Visions, Serca or Loves, Sluigid or Expeditions, and Tochomlada or Invasions.

Within these categories there exist several myhtic archetypes which are universally held by most cultures, and these include; sun, sky and moon, healing and fertility, fire, thunder and mountains, land and water, animals and zoomorphism, festivals, sacrifice and ritual, death, rebirth and otherworlds. Being a principally polytheistic culture the predominant and over-riding belief was in the numinous spiritual properties of all things, gods, goddesses, spirits, ancestors and spiritual energy was an inherent aspect of the Celtic cosmos and world. On a simpler level, the Celtic myths reflected the triadic nature of their cosmological beliefs, that is, of the earth, sea and sky: of actions and adventures, of history, geneology and ancestors, and of the Gods, Goddesses and magic.


Myths work for us only when we accept them on their symbolic value, and use them to enlighten aspects of our deeper sub-conscious. Taken literally they enslave us into the belief that we must conform to a pre-designed set of morals and ethics. Religion is the grave-stone of myth, and the deepest appreciation that we can hold for the ancient tale is simply the enjoyment of the lyrical flight of words as poetry, like a butterfly that shimmers before us, giving a brief glimpse of something more profound.

'I go to encounter for the millionth time the reality of experience.And to forge in the smithy of my soul,the uncreated conscience of my race.'—James Joyce

Myth: Problems of Definition:

Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Myth:

Claude Levi Strauss: The Structural Study of Myth:

A Review of Walter Burkert’s Homo Necans (The Anthropology of Ancient Greek Sacrificial Ritual and Myth):

Das Grab des KeltenFursten (The Celtic Chieftains Grave at Hochdorf):