This Week's Sunday Message

Celtic Mysticism in Today's World

Reverend Arlyn Macdonald Picture

There has been resurgence of interest in Celtic mysticism in recent times, not just around St. Patrick's Day. People are looking for a renewed vision of the sacred in today's technical world. In "Kindling the Celtic Spirit" by Mara Freeman, she says "… whether or not we have Celtic ancestry, many of us today are finding ourselves deeply attracted to Celtic spirituality, living as we do at a time when the sacred seems so absent from our world… adrift without a living tradition today, as so many of us are. The many faceted jewel of Celtic spirituality sparkles like the sun on water, inviting us to set sail for those longed-for islands of the soul."

She continues, "To step ashore is to discover a world in which there is no separation between the visible and invisible, between Spirit and Nature, Heaven and Earth. Here we can embrace an awareness of the sacred in every moment and within all forms of life… Although they prayed to Christian saints and angels, these figures thinly veil the pagan gods and goddesses whose names they once bore… And if we follow them home, they may invite us into their houses and teach us how to kindle the flame of Spirit within our hearths and our hearts."

Who were the ancient Celts and where did they live? We usually think of the Celts as the early people of Ireland and Scotland, but in the Iron Age and Medieval times, the Celtic people spread from Turkey to Ireland, across Central Europe, including Spain, Portugal, Italy, and even Poland. The homeland of the Celts, it is believed, was Hallstatt, Austria. They were not a nation, but a congregation of tribes, each with its own gods and goddesses, sharing a belief in the Three Mothers and a central belief about the divinity of nature.

In the British Isles, the Druids rose to prominence as the Celtic priests, performing ceremonies in sacred groves and stone circles, like Stonehenge. The Druids were also the astronomers and teachers. Researchers have found close links between the early Hindu beliefs and the early Celtic beliefs.

The Celts did practice human sacrifice but with the advent of Christianity into the British Isles, Celtic mysticism took on a more civilized tone. Today's understanding of Celtic spirituality has been widely influenced by the early Roman Christian church, which spread across all the lands inhabited by the Celts.

But what were these beliefs the Celts held so dear that people today are returning to them? An editorial in FAITH magazine says that Celtic mysticism "implies a closeness to nature and a mystical frame of mind, personal warmth, and freedom of spirit."

Father John O'Donohue says that "Celtic mysticism brings us closer to the magical and unobtrusive realm of our own divinity--where the soul and the eternal are one." He says that "The Celtic mind was not burdened by dualism. It did not separate what belongs together." It might surprise you to learn that an ancient people were aware of duality. We talk about duality here at SAC when we say that we must move away from perceiving the world as black or white (duality) to perceiving the world and all of creation as a oneness – black and white together intrinsically entwined. (Unity) Black and white or any opposites are now seen as belonging together.

The Celts, it seems, were also very passionate in their belief that the sacred is right here in this world all around us and that we have a sacred divinity within us. I agree that everything is sacred. We don't always see the sacred, but we are trying to be more mindful of the sacredness of all life.

They had a real reverence for nature for they believed that God, the essence of Creation, was in all of life. They especially felt the presence of the Creator in sacred groves, springs and pools of water and would leave personal items as offerings. There is a British series on BBC called Time Team, which goes to various sites around Britain and digs for three days to discover what treasures are still hidden under the ground. It seems like anywhere you dig in Britain, you find an archaeological treasure. When the Time Team finds an Iron Age site near a spring, or what used to be a spring or pool, they always dig up rings and bracelets, broaches and small daggers, which visitors would take off their persons and throw into the water as an offering with their prayers. The items were not ornate, but everyday items people would have with them as they journeyed.

In this reverence for nature, horses played an important part. Horses were considered very spiritual animals and when you developed a deep spiritual connection with your horse, it could take you on a spiritual journey. It's interesting that a Celtic goddess, Epona, protector of horses, was the only Celtic divinity honored by the Romans when they took over the Celtic lands.

In the book, "Horses and the Mystical Path: the Celtic Way of Expanding the Human Soul," authors Adele, Marlena and Thomas McCormick, talk about this sacred connection. Their work with horses has been very much influenced by Celtic wisdom.

"We must be careful not to weigh down these most beautiful creatures with our selfish needs, particularly if we are to know them as our spiritual friends. Often without thinking humans today use horses for therapy, burdening them with our troubles. When we come to horses only to dump our emotional problems on them, we are thinking only of ourselves, and we forget that friendship is about giving and receiving." Developing a spiritual connection to horses is just an example of the kind of spiritual relationship we are supposed to cultivate with all of nature. Nature is our greatest spiritual teacher.

Part of the work that the McCormick's do with their horses is to practice communion with them. They may sit together in the silence and spiritual thoughts and guidance come from the horse or they may ride out together just to enjoy nature and return home renewed in spirit. According to ancient wisdom, to stay in communication was an act of true intimacy. British mystic, Evelyn Underhill explains, "We know a thing by uniting with it, by assimilating it…it gives itself to us in so far as we give ourselves to it." This intimacy with the creatures of nature is one of the basic principles of life of Celtic mysticism because it opens the heart to the Divine in a very personal way through the path of kinship.

The Celts did not separate the visible from the invisible. In today's world, we are told to believe only what we can see with our own eyes, and yet we live in a world of the invisibles. We can't see our electronic information stored in the cloud, its invisible to us. We know we are connected to everyone else in the world, who has a cell/smart phone, but we don't see the process that connects us. It is invisible as is the invisible world of miracles, coincidences, prayers, and manifestation.

Several months after the McCormick's completed their book, Adele was visiting the Main Cathedral in Mexico City. A middle-aged man walked over to her and asked to be her guide. She agreed even though she had not planned on having a guide. They walked through the cathedral but instead of pointing out the sights he talked instead about communion, the mystery of the saints, the significance of altars and of angels. He talked about St. Michael being the Celtic Christian saint of horses always ready to help whenever we call on him.

As she listened to him and watched his eyes, he seemed very familiar to her. It was as if she already knew him. She was overcome by an odd sense of love in his presence. Although he spoke perfect English, her guide said he had never been outside Mexico City. She wondered why he had singled her out.

As they strolled, he spoke about hermeticism – the study of the unseen dimensions of reality – and about humanity. He told her, "All healing comes from the spirit. If you wish to know God, you must immerse yourselves in nature, spend hours contemplating a flower or an animal. Your heart will open to the unseen world." As she listened she realized what seemed so familiar about him. He had the same essence as the mystical Scottish shepherd they had met in the hills when they were lost and the other spiritual guides that had come their way since that time.

The tour came to a close, and her guide turned to her and said, "As a student of human nature, you already know many of these things. Keep going. Go deeper. The whole of reality is invisible, and those of us who know it are connected in a cosmic brotherhood. We always recognize each other." Then he walked away, fading into the blinding sun.

This story reminded me of a dream I had a few years ago. I was with a class in a university built of white marble walls. We were outside in a beautiful rose garden and we were all wearing white robes. Our instructor invited us to come closer and watch while he created another rose blossom. I remember watching it grow from a pinpoint of color to a fully opened rose. Then he stepped back and instructed us to try our hand at creating a rose. Even in the middle of this dream, I realized in that moment, that we humans are here to learn how to be creators, especially creators of beauty. This is our true purpose, our destiny.

As we embrace the wisdom of the Celts, we realize that this is the same ancient wisdom that has been handed down from mystic to mystic to our generation. We are an integral part of nature and all of creation. The invisible is as real as the invisible. We are truly one and when we learn how to call on the spiritual realm and take our place in the cosmic brotherhood of the divine, we will become all that we are meant to be – true creators with the Divine. Namaste.