Much has been discussed of the origins, practices and roles of the Druids in history. We understand them as figures in an ancient world, as practitioners of law, religion, art and poetry within Celtic society. How does this benefit us now, and how can we define the spiritual path of Druidry within a modern context? A modern Celtic scholar, Searles O’Dubhain has identified five key and integral aspects of a modern practitioner, and this profile gives a solid working foundation for the pursuit of Druidry as a religious faith. The Druid passes through three distinct phases in their personal evolution, firstly a state of wonder or questioning, secondly an arrival at understanding, a sense of peace and harmony, and lastly a sense of accomplishment and awe, a realization of the greater sacred.
1) The Scholar. Enquiry is the beginning of true knowledge. The foundation of the self is realized through an investigation and understanding of tradition, myths, systems of belief, culture, organization and methodologies of the ancestors. Thoughtful reflection becomes the essence of purposeful action and quantifiable realization.
2) The Poet. Creativity is the effect of inspiration, within any mode of operation. The illumination of the mind provokes a physical manifestation in which an understanding can be reached regarding a question possessed. Poetry is a process of discovery, valuable insight, charged with wisdom.
3) The Philosopher. The evaluation of qualities, quantities, states of being and purpose is active regard. The action of identifying the mechanics of nature, life and the cosmos provides the necessary information to understand ourselves and our role as human beings.
4) The Judge. Understanding balance and harmony, the key to justice is to be obligated to a truth greater than ourselves. The measurement of all things is by the will of truth.
5) The Doctor. When all levels of existence are perceived as one whole, and all the strands of life are revealed as being of one garment; then the perception is elevated to understand the sacred. There is seen to be no differentiation between subjects, only energy in varying degrees of intensity, and the energy flows like water. The infinite, ever eternal, without ending, supreme bliss. The subject enters the flow of life fully aware, and cognizant. Truly only a reflection of nature, of the great spirit.
Moladh daoine is dó is moladh an neach do-ní a gcruthoghadh (Praise of people, and you, is praise of the spirit that does the creating)
The beginning of the journey of wisdom is a step from the ocean of birth onto the shore of existence. The first consideration is of yourself, who you are, and then your relationship within the world. As the Poet has said; “Am gaeth far na bharraige… (I am the wind across the sea…). This is understanding the dynamics of your inner momentum, the ideals which constitute your core of being. There may be one, or several, but the weight of your core existence is the keystone of individual character, and the anchor of integrity will allow for the development of a true knowledge.
In transpersonal psychology and spirituality the core ideal/s of individuality represent the North Star, by which we navigate through life. It is nourishing, sustaining and guiding, a measurement by which we can ascertain our sense of place, time and appropriate conduct. To recognize a core ideal we should ask ourselves some key questions; what human qualities do I value most, such as peace, love, harmony, honesty? What is the summit of my ‘best self’ or the greatest exhibition of quality of consciousness? What aspect of my life am I most in direct contact with? What are the peak spiritual experiences of my life, the beautiful epiphanies of realization?
In the Druidic and Celtic spiritual path the core ideal/s may be selected from traditional values; piety, vision, intelligence, courage, integrity, perseverance, moderation, fertility, creativity… and many more. The morals, ethics and virtues outlined in a traditional text like the ‘Testament of Morann’ or the ‘Instructions of King Cormac’ provide inspiration enough to begin. However, this is serious work on the self, it is the deepest contemplation of your primal essence, consideration of your most refined spirit.
Coch Anam: The Soul Shrine.
“Man is not himself only… he is all that he sees; all that flows to him from a thousand sources… he is the land, the lift of the mountain lines, the reach of its valleys…” - Mary Austin.
In the Celtic tradition the soul shrine is the sum total of the body. From a cosmological standpoint the body is composed of all the elements of the earth; the blood is the waters, the bones are the mountains, the brain and mind are the sky, the breath is the wind and so forth. The body has three aspects; crabadh or soul trust, devout observance and will. This represents the spirit of a being. Creideamh or consent of the heart, the body of a loving nature which seeks connection, it is physical action in space. Iris or faith, a pledge or intention of the mind, thought and purpose. Thus in primal Celtic thought the human is mind, body and soul which if correctly coordinated and in complete accord provide a beautiful sense of harmony.
Because we are of the earth and reflect its principal mechanics we must be in harmony with it. Everyday the totality of the body yearns for Nature, to revel in its glory. The path to a secure connection to nature is through communication, and this occurs in two principle ways; active involvement which is participative and responsive, and passive contemplation through meditation, reflection and is nourishing.
Active communication occurs not as a recognizable language, but in observation and interaction through the development of senses. The first and most important sense is visual narrative, and I call this the ‘rainbow perception.’ We see through cones and rods of power in the eye, all colors, forms, distances, shades. This is the science of light and suffice to say here that it is enough to simply be aware of this faculty, to be aware of and use it. To be ‘sensual’ is to fully experience the world we live in and belong to it. I mean sensual as ‘sense-all’ and to explore and regenerate all of our faculties of perception. The eco-psychologist Dr. David Cohen has estimated that we possess over 50 differing senses with regard to nature, many of which have become dormant due to our advanced technological lifestyles. These particular senses lie within the realm of the intuitive, instinctual and primitive; the inheritance of our ancestors.
As a technique of communication within the context of Druidic spirituality, meditation is a passive exchange of energy. The most effective of this type of meditation is the ‘Two Powers’ (see link below) in which an individual draws energy from the sky, and the earth/waters, replenishes and restores inner balance, function and internal order to initiate a greater spiritual strength, and draw inspiration. The Two Powers energize what are seen within Celtic tradition as three internal ‘cauldrons’ which correspond to the anatomical cavities of the body; the cranial/spinal, the pleural/thoracic, and the abdominal/pelvic. This purification of the generative, vital, and spiritual energies is similar to the Daoist concept of the three Tan-Tien fields, but in the Gaelic tradition according to the Cauldron of Poesy the primary purpose is to engage within the stream of life, being poetic inspiration.
The totality of these attribute enables the manifestation of a dynamic creative inner force which greets each and every life experience as a building block for future growth. Standing close by a tree is a passionate revelation, a short walk opens a rain-storm of inspiring energy, and as William Blake says;
“To see infinity in a grain of sand, and eternity in an hour.”
Tri caindle forosnat cach n’dorcha: fir, aicned, ecna. (The three candles of illumination in darkness: truth, nature and knowledge.)
Perhaps the single most defining characteristic of Druidic practice throughout history is memory. The act of memorizing vast tracts of information might be said to be a reflective imitation of Nature herself, who has no books, scrolls, or stone tablets; only the memory of characteristics, forms and structures. She then repeats these codes into ever new and complex creations, again and again. This is like the traditional Gaelic saying; “Who is the birth that has never been born, and never will be?” This is the tuirgen (plur: tuirgente), the circuit of births or the circle of creation. In his glossary, Cormac defines this as; ‘the birth that passes from every nature into another… a transitory birth that has traversed all nature… through every wonderful time down to the end…” Memory can therefore be seen within the context of Celtic spirituality to be both subjective (in the mind) and objective (existing outside of our experience). For comparison I quote the concept of the collective sub-conscious of memory and myth offered by Carl Jung, where we all inherit the thoughts, rituals, and patterns of life of all our ancestors. The other is the statement by Krishna in the Baghavad Gita: “I have been born many times… and many times you have been born… but I remember my past lives, and you have forgotten yours… although I am unborn, everlasting, I am the Lord of all, I come to my realm of nature and through my wondrous power I am born…” - BG 4:5-6.
Combined, these fragments of information point toward the Druid belief in reincarnation, and the transmigration of the soul, where the spirit retains a memory of a previous form and travels into another, birth, life and death are merely physical manifestations of being. The point of liberation from this cycle of repetition is simply being aware of it, having knowledge and illumination of processes, and of recollection to the farthest limits.
The triad above (three candles) indicates that we begin in darkness. Our primary state of perception is blindness, not knowing, oblivious to anything around us. We are senseless, groping around until we begin our search… and it is like a seed beginning to sprout within our mind, and our first action is to light our darkness and to see with more clarity. This initial process involves three states which then expand; the experience of common knowledge or that which we know as being around us; the ordinary truth. Experiential knowledge or that which we learn by the process through our common senses, fire is hot and therefore burns… do not touch it. Investigative knowledge or that which we attain through comparison, conjecture, evaluation, discussion, theory…ect. These three primary means of experience are typified into the most common forms of Druidic practice called ‘Imbas forosnai’ or illuminating wisdom, ‘Dichetal do cheanaib’ or experience of fingertips, and ‘Teinm laegda’ or burning song. These practices are used to step into the lake of memories, of intuition, dreams, instinct… to travel within the microcosm then outward to the macrocosm, and understand all connections, meanings and perceptions.
This means ‘the illumination of tradition’ or ‘inspiring wisdom.’ A method of receiving insight through spiritual perception. The ancient form followed a peculiar ritual of chewing on the raw flesh of an animal, formulating an incantation on the palms, then being enclosed in darkness to await the spark of an answer to a specific question. In modern Druidry this is achieved through meditation, reflection, concentration, or simply deepened thought. The cosmic mind may be seen as an ocean or lake, a well-spring, or other source of water, the fish within the water are thoughts swimming about. Concentration in darkness is the vehicle by which an individual arrives at the body of water and catches a fish which represents the wisdom of illumination he/she has been seeking. In Shamanic terms it is a form of journeying for a resolution or result. The hero Fionn Mac Cumhail achieved all of his wisdom by tasting the salmon caught by the Druid Fintain.
Dichetal do Cheanaib.
The dictionary definition is ‘extempore incantation’ and the earliest scholars suggest that this type of divination involved the use of the fingertips; dichetal is cognate with the term digital, from Latin digitus meaning finger (or toe). Typing without rhythm, cracking open the nuts of wisdom, or incantation on the knuckles are other descriptions. Ancient Druids used this method to divine the inner energy of something, to understand internal rhythms, messages, problems, or blockages. In this sense it might be seen to be akin to the methods of pulse diagnosis in some traditional forms of healing, such as Ayurveda in which the principle activities of internal disease are recognized simply by touch and sensation. Similarly the touch can locate energy in most objects, the energy translated into an image in the mind and then vocalized by the practitioner. Sometimes a Druid would employ the use of a stick, wand or staff as the point of contact and transmission of energy-information. When fully developed this form of divination can be of immense help in investigative, curative, and correctional modalities.
This is ‘illumination by song.’ Another term used is ‘chewing the pith’ and essentially is a means of decoding the internal essence of a thing through song, chant, mantra (fonn in Gaelic) or poem. It may be seen as a form of ‘echo-location’ of the type used by animals such as bats or undersea creatures like whales as a guide in darkness or low visibility. Modern science tells us that sounds behave much like water waves, and can move through matter such as air, and on a molecular level may be able to pass in some way through any object, thus sound of any kind is a form of energy capable of being harnessed for any intention or purpose. The essence of teinm laegda might be summarized as vocalized illustration of the heart.
The Druid is urged to develop and cultivate all of their faculties, senses and perception to the greatest extent possible. With these attributes he/she can investigate any matter of concern or interest. The three illuminations suggest a triad of ways that an individual can assume a greater sense of inspiration; using the mind/thought through meditation, the body, hands and feet for manipulative research, and the voice, hearing, vibration through songs of understanding. The validation of their effectiveness can only come from personal practice and experience, such techniques can never be learned thoroughly from books or manuals alone.
Shamanism in Gaelic Culture by Iain MacAnTsaoir:
Divination and the second sight, Gifts of the Gaels by Iain MacAnTsaoir:
Imbas Forosnai by Nora Chadwick:
The three illuminations, Searles O’Dubhain:
Biodh se, David
The Song of Amergin:
The Ogham Tract (from the Auricept na n’Eces):
The (ADF) Two Powers Meditation:
The Cauldron of Poesy, translated by Erynn Laurie:
The Colloquy of the Two Sages (from the Book of Leinster):
The Instructions of King Cormac (translated by Kuno Meyer):
The Testament of Morann (translated by Fergus Kelly):