Celtic Shamanism

What exactly is Celtic Shamanism? For that matter, what is “Celtic”? This article looks into the question of Celtic Shamanism.

18th-century engraving reproducing a bas-relie...
18th-century engraving reproducing a bas-relief found at Autun, France, depicting “two druids” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Is there such a thing as ‘Celtic shamanism’? Probably not.

Do we have a native shamanic tradition within the British Isles? Certainly.

These two statements are in no way contradictory. It only seems that way because of the word ‘Celtic’.

‘Celtic’, in fact, has been so over-used and so abused in its usage, that we can no longer say with any certainty exactly what it refers to. Nor can we assume that the use of the word, by any two different writers or historians, means precisely the same thing.

The fact is that we have little hard evidence about the Celts and, given this vacuum, the people themselves, their practices and beliefs, have been variously mythologized, idealised, and/or demonised in order to create solidity out of Irish mist.

The ‘hard evidence’ and ‘real information’ we believe we have about Celtic ‘shamanic’ practices is not without problem either, since most of it was passed on orally and has been subject to elaborations, embellishments, distortions and, indeed, fabrication, over time.

It was not until the Christian colonisation of Ireland, for example, that the ancient stories, passed from mouth to ear across the generations, began to be recorded in writing at all – and then, we can imagine, they were ‘shrunk to fit’ the Christian agenda. Under this new spiritual regime, for example, the earth goddess, Brigid, is ‘miraculously’ transformed into St Bridget, with similar but quite different attributes to her natural predecessor and, of course, a new-found belief in the ‘one true [male] god’.

Notwithstanding the slight problem of a dearth of factual evidence, however, everyone seems to have their own ideas about the Celts. These ideas are really projections of ourselves onto the fog-screen of history and an archetypal reflection back to us of what we would like, or need, to be true. No doubt it fits our modern, urban, need for romance and escapism to imagine our ancestors as poetic warriors, living wild and free in great sacred forests, in idyllic communion with the whole of nature.

The Romans, however, had very different ideas, stemming, again, from their own (imperialistic) needs. To them, the Celts were savage barbarians, sacrificing their children, prizing the severed heads of murdered enemies, and living in the woods like animals, where they worshipped pigs and dogs and other lowly beasts. Such projections enabled the Roman leaders to justify their invasions of Celtic lands, where they would do us all a favour by ‘civilising’ the barely-human heathens who had the audacity to live there.

The Greeks, too, had their conception of the Celtic people, a somewhat different conception to that of the Romans. They called them Keltoi, which has connotations of ‘Hero’ and also of ‘Strangeness’. The Keltoi were the ones who stood outside of civilisation and had an unusual understanding of nature and the elements. To the ‘civilised’ Greeks, the Celts were still savages, but perhaps they also had something about them, some secret power or knowledge…

In summary, there are as many ‘Celts’ as there are windows into the human imagination. What we know (almost) for certain, is that they lived between 700 BC and 400 AD. Apart from that, their very tribal natures, as well as the different landscapes they occupied and the variation in natural resources available to each tribe, obviously meant vast differences between them in terms of beliefs, customs, culture and living (as well as ritual) practices. Even in the British Isles today, there remain huge differences between the way of life of the Scottish, Irish and Welsh-speaking peoples.

As Emma Restall Orr has written, in her commentary on the ‘classical’ Druid (the Celtic ‘priest’), as a man “in white robes, bearded, with ornate staff and golden sickle tucked into the belt”…

“In fact, this image of the Druid in white is little more than two hundred years old, created during a period of revived interest in the tradition when one picture from the classical literature of two millennia ago was chosen from many: Pliny’s image of the Druid cutting mistletoe from the sacred oak. If Strabo had been used, the stereotype might be rather different, but his Druids – in red, adorned with gold – had not perhaps the dignity and nobility that was needed”.

Despite its fanciful nature, however “it is this figure that is responsible for drawing many into the tradition. But what is that tradition?”

Shamans Of Britain

Druidry is the native spirituality of Britain, which has its origin in the animistic principle of honouring the earth, the ancestors, the elements, and the connection between all things. “Druidry emerged out of the rocks and forests and rain of Britain, and its very nature is wrapped in the beauty, power and shifting stories of all that Britain has been over many thousands of years”.

For Orr, the focus of Druidic practice is ‘awen’, an old British/Welsh word which means ‘flowing spirit’. The word contains notions of creative genius and poetic imagination, in a similar way to the Irish word ‘imbas’, which refers to a sense of wonder and inspiration.

“Understanding that all creation is imbued with spirit (matter and physicality being the creativity of spirit), the Druid knows that it is in relationship, spirit to spirit, that inspiration is found… In recognizing the spirit of some aspect of creation, be it elemental, plant, animal, rock or human, we are given the opportunity to know our own spirit, to respond from our own spirit… Where spirit touches spirit, where there is communion on this level and the energy of life is exchanged, awen flows. [Awen] is the lightning that reaches between earth and sky, between lovers’ eyes.

“Yet simply breathing in the beauty of inspiration is not enough. It is the Druid’s responsibility to ensure that this energy continues to flow, spirit to spirit, for energy which is held in the body or soul stagnates and swells with sickness or pride. So inspiration must be expressed, the energy inhaled must be exhaled, and this is done through the Druid’s creativity”.

What we might call the Keltic ‘Path of the Hero’ had, we imagine, three ‘Ways’ or areas of expertise: The Way of the Bard, the Ovate and the Druid, each with its own means of inspiration and creative expression.

The Bard is the poet and storyteller, who weaves magic and mystery with words, and can find mystic prayers, blessings and songs of empowerment, of protection, and enchantment. His words have the power to harm or to charm, to soothe and to transport the listener into the worlds of poetic imagination, where the wellspring of creative genius, the shamanic landscape, is to be found.

The Ovate is the seer, who perceives the holism of the world, the bigger picture of life intertwining with forces beyond the mundane and the human. His is the power to foretell futures, to witness the past, and to understand its cosmic dance into the life-yet-to-come. Through this, he may unravel the past and shift the events of the present so that new potential and healing may come in to being.

The Druid is more fully the shaman, the rounded Man of Power, who knows the arts of the Bard and the Ovate, and is able to use these skills, and personal magic, to negotiate with the spirits, the elements, and the power of nature Herself, in order to bring back their gifts to the tribe. The church of the Druid is the sacred grove of the forests – a “church not made with hands” – which exists within, is part of, and represents the infinite power of Nature.

“The sacred text is the landscape within which we live. Its language is that of the deciduous forests, the ancient oaks, the heather-tinged moors, the meadows of grass lit with buttercups and daisies, the long dark winters that creep into the bones, the laughter and dance of chilly May evenings. Its path has been trodden for many thousands of years by those who found inspiration in the beauty and fertility of these lands”.

The very mention of ‘Celtic shamanism’ will inevitably lead to debate, discussion, and argument, notably between academics, frustratingly unable to pigeonhole the meaning of that elusive concept; but also among ‘new agers’ with a cosy modern notion of forest rituals and flowing robes; and among more conservative members of the public, who are likely to view it as in some way similar to ‘witchcraft’ or perhaps even ‘Satanism’. It seems that we all have a notion of who the ‘Celts’ were and of ‘natural British magic’.

For that reason alone, it may be best, in some ways, to forget the word ‘Celtic’ altogether (‘Keltic’ is, in any case, more accurate) – but not to forget the power of its tenets and beliefs.

Creative genius, poetic imagination, the power of Nature, and the living Spirit of the World; these are the things which will create positive change in our lives, the skills which need to be honed.

About the Author

Ross Heaven is a therapist, workshop leader, and the author of several books on shamanism and healing, including Darkness Visible, the best-selling Plant Spirit Shamanism, and Love’s Simple Truths. His website is http://www.thefourgates.com where you can also read how to join his sacred journeys to the shamans and healers of the Amazon.

Enhanced by Zemanta

How To Set Up A Wiccan Altar

This article discusses things to consider and think about when planning and setting up a Wiccan altar.

English: A traditional Wiccan altar displaying...
English: A traditional Wiccan altar displaying magical working tools, including athame, boline, sword, wand, pentacle, chalice and censer. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So, you’ve decided to embark upon a Wiccan path, and you’re trying to figure out what all is necessary to set up your Wicca supplies. You would like an altar, but you aren’t quite sure how to go about it. There are lots of “instant altar and tools” kits you can find on the Internet. We have a few ritual tool kits ourselves, but where to start? What to include? Where to put it? How to set it up? With all the possibilities, how do you go about choosing what is right for you?

An altar can be as elaborate as a custom carved church style massive affair with ornate ritual tools placed in specifically measured positions. An altar can be a stump of wood in a forest, a TV tray in your living room, or anything in between.

One of the first considerations for your altar space is likely whether it can be displayed openly, If you feel that your practices would bring unwanted scrutiny on you, you might decide that discretion is the better part of valor, and find a small cabinet you can hide your altar tools and ritual supplies in, and close.

My altar is placed in an armoire with doors that close. Not because she wishes to keep things “secret,” but more that she feels it is more respectful for the altar tools and ritual supplies to be kept for the eyes of those who would appreciate them rather than gawkers wondering if the athame is used to murder small animals.

Other possibilities for an altar can be just a regular table with an altar cloth, a nightstand, a bookshelf, a tree stump, or just about any other surface you desire. It can be as large or as small as you are comfortable with, that will hold your Wicca supplies, and where you can work with them appropriately.
Once you have chosen your altar, then you can decide which ritual tools you wish to place on it. Of course, you CAN choose the ritual tools first, then find an altar that will fit them all, but in either case, you can modify the advice to suit your particular situation. See, that’s the fun part about being Eclectic … very few instances result in the accusation that you “aren’t doing it right.”

First comes the altar cloth. I always choose a cloth that is pretty, functional, and not too difficult to get wax off of. You know you’re going to be dripping wax from time to time. It’s inevitable. That’s why I personally don’t buy very expensive altar cloths, since I know I am a clumsy witch. The altar cloth is generally used to protect the altar, and is not “necessary” but can be meaningful (depending on its symbolism) or merely functional.

One of the things I always put on my altar is a statue of the Matron Goddess I am working with at the time, and, depending on the ritual I am about to perform, I may include my patron God. Well, what if you don’t HAVE a Matron or a Patron yet? That’s perfectly fine. You may always choose to exclude a statue, or to instead include a generic statue of the Spiral Goddess and/or the Spiral God. I place my statues in the top center of the altar, just because I like them there.

Next comes the candles. My personal taste is three candles, one white, one red, and one black signifying the Goddess in her maiden, mother and crone phases respectively. These I put in the top center right in front of the statues, making sure they are far enough away from the statues not to drip wax on them or to set them on fire. There’s nothing more annoying during ritual than having things catch fire when you do not intend them to.

My cast iron cauldron with a chunk of charcoal in it goes in the center of the right hand side of my altar. I prefer cast iron cauldrons and charcoal to stick or cone incense, but your mileage may vary and you can use what suits you best, of course. You can also place it anywhere you like, as I am merely using my set up as an example.

So we have our Fire (candles) and our Air (incense). Where’s our Earth? For Earth, I use an offering bowl. And in said offering bowl, I place some sea salt . So why would sea salt signify Earth instead of Water? Well, to me it’s a little of both. Salt comes from the earth and mixes with the water of the sea. You can, of course, put dirt in there, or anything else that signifies Earth to you. I put the Earth to the center left side of my altar.

And then, the either totally elaborate, utterly plain, or maybe even paper cup chalice . Anything that can hold water can be your chalice if it has that meaning for you. As we have said, the chalice holds the element of Water that you can use for your ritual. Whether you add salt to it to purify it or not is up to the type of ritual you are doing and your personal preference. I put the chalice in the center center part of the altar, in front of the candles and the statues.

That just leaves the athame and/or the wand. I like to use both, the athame to cast the circle, “cutting” out a sacred space beyond time, and the wand to direct power. I generally carry my athame on my degree cord around my waist, or in the center of the altar to the front, in front of the chalice. I put the wand next to it.

So, that, in a nutshell, is my altar set up. If you feel that your correspondences (i.e. must put Earth in the East, etc.) do not agree depending on the position of your altar, that’s all right. The important thing is that you understand why you are placing things where you are placing them, not that you copy someone else exactly. If it doesn’t have specific meaning to you, the ritual itself will not be as meaningful or powerful.

About the Author

By Knot. Whether you are Pagan, Wiccan, or just spiritually minded in general, www.Wiccame.com online will surely have something in their large, unique collection or wares that will supply you with the proper ritual tools and altar items for your rituals and spells.

Enhanced by Zemanta