About Karl Schotterbeck

Archdruid Karl Schlotterbeck, MA, CAS, is a longtime student of the Druid way (including the Druid grade of OBOD), a shaman, drummer, and licensed psychologist. He was elected Archdruid in July of 2009. He is the author of Living Your Past Lives: The Psychology of Past-Life Regression (iUniverse 2002 revision), The Karma In Your Relationships (iUniverse 2003), and Lion of Satan, Lion of God (co-author), and other manuscripts in progress. He lives in Minnesota with his wife, children and assorted animals.

Commentary on Reading Buhner’s Ensouling Language

Review by Karl Schlotterbeck, MA, CAS, LP - Archdruid

Photo of Karl Schlotterveck

Karl Schlotterbeck

I first heard of Buhner’s writings when a shamanic teacher recommended one of his earlier books, [amazon_link id="B004WLCSC6" target="_blank" ]The Lost Language of Plants [/amazon_link]  (2002 by Chelsea Green Publishing). In that book he wrote about the deep relationship between humanity and the natural world and how much of our human world is not only losing its ability to communicate with the natural world, but also altering it through our use of pharmaceuticals, most of which pass through the body unchanged into the environment.

[amazon_image id="1594773823" link="true" target="_blank" size="medium" ]Ensouling Language: On the Art of Nonfiction and the Writer's Life[/amazon_image]

Buhner advocates knowing things so deeply that there is a response from them. It is an active and interactive perception that does not just see, but is also aware of being seen by what, to the blind, is a lifeless object.

Thus, he advocates more than a writing style, but a deep way of being that has escaped many of the schools of psychology that purport to help us, and most of the religious movements that want to tell us how to live. He asks for nothing less than an awareness and integration of the imaginal, feeling and thinking realms – not just having emotions and thoughts, but developing the capacity to feel into a subject, to be able to touch something from a distance – a form on non-physical touch. He calls for integrity and being aware where one’s baggage interferes with one’s intent, and the kind of choice one has to make about reality.

Writers in our time are caught up in a great conflict between two competing worldviews. It is in many ways the great problem our species now faces: whether the world is alive, filled with intelligence and soul, or whether it is just a ball of resources hurtling around the sun, there for our use in any way we see fit. (p. 370)

This, of course, has implications regarding what rights and responsibilities we grant corporations, social movements, governments, trees, stones and soil. Our treatment of the vulnerable will reveal who we are; and we begin to see a link among women, children, the elderly, ill, homeless, poor, mentally ill – and the environment. Do we recognize value and worth only when something (or someone) is of use to us? Only for what can be mined from it? Or do we walk through the world with respect and honor, recognizing that we are part of a community – not only of people, but of spirits, creatures, stars and the earth itself? Thus, the act of writing, when done well, reflects a deep awareness (both objective and subjective), and deals honestly with suppositions about the nature of life that must be examined, decisions about the distribution of power (in all its forms) that will be healthy for a community, and how we place value on people and things, and whether one can actually tolerate truth.

In America there is debate about whether corporations have the same privacy rights as actual human beings, or whether real people have a right to know the truth about how the power of wealth is used to influence their lives; there is debate about the role of government in business, economic and sexual worlds, and about who has what responsibility for the vulnerable, and whether we as a community care at all about who owns our natural resources and who can profit from them.

Unfortunately much of the debate is framed in sound-bite-sized thoughts passed around with shrill commentaries, avoiding any deep thinking or examination of principles beyond surface allegiances. Instead, we have packaged opinions manufactured by both sides of the debate, poured into our media outlets with a force dependent not on their truth but on the wealth of their backers – as if the more times it is said the more true it must be.

This debate is healthy and necessary; its execution, however, has been dishonest. The Cup of Truth will have been shattered many times over; the Goddess of the Land will have withdrawn her favor at the lack of honor in too many leaders; tribal lords in the form of corporate bosses and religious tyrants run amuck like warlords who justify their predatory nature with religious, political or anarchic clichés under cover of some self-appointed “divine” mandate. This is not so different from Middle Eastern countries with their hunger to free control from an autocratic power only to be faced with tribal warlords who will fill the vacuum. The ordinary people who want to live, want to raise their families and protect their children, to do some honest work and to enjoy what this world’s beauty has to offer are used for fodder in military, political and economic warfare. It seems little different from what is happening here in America: we can see the dissatisfaction in things as they’ve been here.

In Western culture, it may well be the poets, writers and other artists who have been carrying the mantle of Druidry, seeking obedience to their gods, celebrating the life found in all of nature, and reminding us of the truths lost in media onslaught, the race for the next dollar and the manufactured propaganda of our politicians, corporate behemoths, separatist militias and religious movements.

Any piece of Nature, broken off, immediately begins to degrade. Everything here in this place is meant to be biodegradable (including ourselves). (p. 368)

What might all this mean for Druids? I propose that we should expect honest, evidence-based and respectful debate. There’s hardly one answer here, but some application of the principles of Truth, of Honor, and of Courage should carry some weight – perhaps to inspire us to hold our leaders (both governmental and business) accountable to community values, to the ancestors, and to the Natural world that we share and hope to pass down to our children. This is not an easy road. If we honor truth, we must honor it not only in our own positions, but also where it might be found in the position of our “enemies.” In America, it seems we have two great forces: one shaped by its fear, hatred and drive for conformity; and one by its guilt, lack of commitment and spinelessness.

It’s not the assertions of the right or the left that is my first allegiance, but what keeps us in healthy relationship with Nature, what honors our ancestors and what brings me alive. Is what I profess consistent with reverence for the Nature Spirits that, from the beginning of time, have given us the means to live? Does it honor our ancestors, which includes our elders who are soon to become ancestors, and the children for whom we will one day be an ancestor? Are my philosophies worthy of the gods I say I worship? If we approach this with honor, with truth, with awareness and integrity, it would be of great service to ourselves, our families, our communities, our world, our relationship with the Otherworld, and our Druidism.

[amazon_enhanced asin="1594773823" /]

The Mistletoe Rite

The Mistletoe Rite

by Karl Schlotterbeck

Photo of Karl Schlotterveck

Karl Schlotterbeck

The mistletoe rite has special significance to Keltrians, partly because of the reverence our ancestors had for mistletoe itself, and partly because the Mistletoe Rite is probably the ritual we most celebrate and is also a point of contact with the public. In addition, the Mistletoe Rite represents and enactment of many Keltrian principles. Thus, it is important that anyone with an interest in Keltrian belief and practice, as well as members have as thorough and understanding of it as possible.

The ritual is explained in detail in the Book of Ritual. Nevertheless, because of the significance of this rite, we will examine some of the most important of its aspects.

The significance of the Mistletoe to the ancient Druids is certainly legendary, through its meaning, because nothing was written, is open to conjecture. Of course, there is the “historical” report about Druids cutting the mistletoe with a golden sickle, catching it in a white cloth and making a sacrifice -- all on the “sixth night of the moon.” Since this would have meant in olden days that the fist night of the moon was the first visible crescent (the visible “new moon” as opposed to the astronomical misnomer of new moon which now refers to the conjunction of sun and moon during the “dark of the moon”). Thus, the sixth night of the moon would most likely have been about the first quarter, when the moon was half dark and half light as its cycle was moving toward increasing light (or waxing).

Modern writers have noted Mistletoe’s medicinal uses (which can be explored in most any herbal reference). Others have suggested that it had more symbolic significance since it did not seem to be rooted in the earth, seemed to appear out of nowhere and who’s berries were associated with fertility (though they are toxic). The fertility aspect of mistletoe survives to this day in our winter holiday tradition of kissing under the mistletoe.

Keltrians and the Mistletoe Rite

The focus in the Keltrian Mistletoe Rite is on healing and communion. Then, if we place these purposes within the context of Keltrian traditions, we will see more clearly the meaning of the elements as well as their order. In summary, during the Mistletoe Rite, we consecrate the space, open the veil, meditatively create our symbolic grove of tree-beings, and invite the presence of ancestors, nature spirits and gods and goddesses.

Since the Book of Ritual explains the specifics of each of the elements of the ritual, we will primarily concern ourselves here with the meaning of the various elements. Naturally, proper preparation of the ritual tools, controlling intrusions (like the ringing of a telephone) and selection of the ritual space itself are all part of the preparation. They are “setting the stage” for the celebration and the consensual use of the participants attention and energy for a common cause (healing and communion). When done properly, there will have been a gathering of people who create a timeless and boundless “space” into which is invited those of the Other World whom we revere for the purpose of sharing in feasting and fellowship.

The Rite

In the Mistletoe Rite, celebrants gather to create a timeless and boundless “space” into which are invited past, present and future Druids, the assistance of Manannan Mac Lir, the ancestors, nature spirits and gods and goddesses for a sharing of healing energy as well as feasting. During that time, we have joined consciously with the Other World and those beings share in our world as we do in theirs. Thus, they partake in our songs and food.

The ritual itself is laid out in detail in the Book of Ritual. Some flexibility is certainly permissible in the ritual, however, since it is an organic living thing and its flow of energy may best be served in various ways at different times. Indeed, one may note a discrepancy between the Outline for Mistletoe Rite and the following text in the Book of Ritual. Be that as it may, there are some significant routines and changes should be made only after considering what the original part was intended to do and the spiritual/psychic effect of the change. First of all the veil is parted before the Triads are invoked. (We would not invite someone in without opening the door to ease their entry.)

The Mistletoe Rite begins with the Processional which includes anointing with the oil with blessings of mind, body and spirit. This act alone has several meanings. First, it acknowledges right in the beginning that we are of a triune nature, it honors the Celtic focus on the skull, it begins to bring us into a state of togetherness as well as the first benchmark that we are leaving the ordinary world. The tri-line is a connection with early mysteries since its origin is uncertain.

Marking Sacred Time and Space. Keltrian Druidism takes an approach different from most other traditions in terms of time and space. Many traditions create a circle to contain energy, to banish negative influences, to protect the activity or to otherwise set a boundary between the inner ritual space and the outer (profane) world. Keltrian tradition, however, “universalizes”  sacred space. To do this, Druids, Bards and Seers of the past, present and future are invited to the place of the ritual (into the Otherworldly Tree), making all time now.

In addition, the powers and gifts of the directions are also invoked into the Otherworldly Tree to make all space here. In this way, the Otherworldly Tree becomes the focal point of all time and all space and is symbolically planted in the Hill of Usneach which was considered the ancient Druidic Center of Ireland.

Announcement of Rite. A simple announcement of the nature of the rite may be said, followed by an optional song.

Tree Meditation. The tree meditation is explained more fully in the Correspondence Course.   It helps to move the consciousness of those gathered from their everyday worlds into the sacred space which has just been created.

Parting the Veil. Having brought ourselves into the sacred space, the designated Seer acts to part the veil which normally separates this world from the Otherworld. Generally, a sea shell is the ritual tool used to request of Manannan assistance in parting the veil between the worlds so that we may have more conscious communion. Manannan is considered guard of the veil and in mythology often helps humankind. The optional Manannan chant/song can be sung here.

Triad Invocations. With ourselves gathered at the center of time and space, and the veil between the worlds thinned,    celebrants make specific invitations to the ancestors, spirits of nature and gods and goddesses -- in that order.

A bowl of water is presented and the ancestors invited to enter into it so we may have a physical medium to realize their presence. The celebrant who has invoked the ancestors then anoints the brow of all present with the water into which the ancestors have been called. Optionally, an ancestor chant or song may be sung here.

Similarly, nature spirits are invoked into the cauldron of earth which is then used to anoint the brow of each participant.  Optionally, a nature spirit chant or song may be sung here.

In the same manner, one of the celebrants then invokes the gods and goddesses into the cauldron of burning incense who’s blessing is then disbursed by wafting the incense toward the brow of each person. Optionally, a gods and goddesses chant or song may be sung here.

In this way, with the ancestral waters, earth of the nature spirits and scent of the gods all on our brow, our physical selves are given a sense of real participation and connection with those of the Other world.

A note is due here about ritual protocol. Celebrants who invoke those from the Otherworld (Manannan, ancestors, nature spirits, gods and goddesses) are expected to exercise a respectful manner which we would give any visitor invited into our space: the speaker identifies her or himself -- using their given or magical name -- the way we would if we make a telephone call. After all, the beings invoked during the rite are not servants to do our bidding, but respected guests invited to share the evening with us. This process is more fully explained in the correspondence course invocation lesson.

Explanation of the Rite. Two celebrants (called D1 and D2 in the Book of Ritual) engage in a ritual dialogue which helps to further explain the purposes of the evening’s rite as commemoration of the ancient gathering of the mistletoe at the sixth night of the moon.

Consecration and Blessing. Three drops of mistletoe tincture are put into the two chalices which are then blessed with the sickle and branch and pronounced “the waters of health.” These chalices are then passed sunrise for all who wishes to do so to drink. Generally two chalices are prepared, one with mead and the other with water. Each is equally consecrated.

Feasting. First the drinks are gathered and, using the sickle and branch, a blessing is asked of the ancestors to help us grow in wisdom. In the same way, the food items are gathered together and, again using sickle and branch, the blessings of the nature spirits are asked to bring the celebrants sustenance. A plate and cup of libation offerings are prepared and then all eat as a community, sharing of each other’s bounty. Those of the Otherworld take this opportunity to share in our world’s pleasures as well.

As the celebrants feast, there is often much levity, sometimes songs, stories or poetry or, in more serious moments, theological discussions.

Closing. When deemed appropriate by the primary celebrants, an announcement is made that the closing is drawing near and it is time to bid farewell to those whom we have invited. In closing, all things are done in reverse order. Thus, the gods and goddesses are first thanked by the one who invited them. The nature spirits are thanked by the one who invited them. The ancestors are thanked by the one who invited them.

The one who invoked Manannan to part the veil once more steps forward, thanks him and asks that the veil be returned.

Participants are returned from their tree consciousness created by the tree meditation to human consciousness through a reversal of the tree meditation by the one who lead it in the beginning.

Finally comes the announcement of the closing which includes a statement that time and space will resume their normal course. This may be followed by a song.

The Ritual Process

Over all, one should be aware of the progression of actions within the ritual leading more and more deeply into that boundless, timeless space of gathering and Otherworld connection and, when finished, an orderly return to ordinary consciousness, having been refreshed and renewed through the communion with each other and those on the Other Side of the veil.

  • Processional and Announcement
    • Creation of sacred Time and Space
      • Tree Meditation
        • Parting the Veil
          • Triad Invocations
            • Consecration and Blessing
            • Feasting
            • Thanking the Triads
          • Closing the veil
        • Reversal of Tree Meditation
      • Announcement of Closing

Keltrian Druid Sigil

Ancestors Chant

Ancestors Chant

by “A chorus of Karl’s”

Photo of Karl Schlotterbeck

Karl Schlotterbeck

Archdruid Karl, bard extraordinary put together a fresh Ancestor’s Chant.  The words are simple, and there is a drone of “ancestors” in the background.  You’ll love it.

  • Ancestor spirits, here with us today
  • Waters of blessing, inspire us on our way

The music is available to download or listen. Hear:  Ancestor Chant by Karl Schlotterbeck

Master of the Veil

By Tom Haddox and Karl Schlotterbeck

Photo of Karl Schlotterveck

Karl Schlotterbeck

Riding the edge of waves and Sky,
Riding the shore from the Sea –
You bridge between our world and your own,
Oh, master of the veil.

Hail, now let our worlds be one
As we share this time and place.
We share this time and place.

Rider of the Nine-Wave Sea
You part the veil that divides,
As one we stand in this holy place
In breath and heart and life.

Hail, now let our worlds be one
As we share this time and place.
We share this time and place.

To Mannanan we give our thanks
For celebrations of joy;
Joining our roots in fond embrace
With wisdom in our hearts.

Hail, now let our worlds be one
As we share this time and place.
We share this time and place.

Hail, now let our worlds be one
As we share this time and place.
We share this time and place.

Copyright 2010 Tom Haddox and Karl Schlotterbeck.

[Ed note:  An audio edition of this song is available on the Keltria website at Maser of the Veil at: http://www.keltria.org/Sounds/Master_of_the_Veil.mp3 Words and all voices are Karl’s as well as bells, drum and penny-whistle.Music was written and engineered by Tom Haddox, who also played keyboard and guitar.]

Celtic Shamanism: Fad, Fact or Fantasy?

By Karl Schlotterbeck, MA, CAS, LP, 2009

Karl Schlotterbeck

Karl Schlotterbeck

The possible presence of “Celtic Shamanism” in the old Celtic world has, at times, been questioned. Although there are clear references to Bards, Ovates and Druids, nowhere is there reference to a class of individuals easily identifiable as shamans. This is in contrast to the popular activities found in workshops, books and Henge activities, and the modern work of such individuals as Tom Cowan, Frank MacEowen, John Matthews and others. Indeed, anything Celtic has become popular. Of course, what we do today in the name of “Celtic” does not mean it was actually done by Celtic people long ago. For example, one book on supposedly Celtic spirituality and shamanism included a section on the Germanic runes and nary a word about the ogham. Another fairly well-known author has re-defined fairies after the fashion of the English garden variety and does not admit into her conceptualization their much longer history and fairy lore from genuinely Celtic peoples. Thus, it is indeed fair to say that things Celtic and Shamanic can be considered faddish.

To look seriously at this question, we need to examine some definitions of shamanism and “Celtic.” We would also do well to recognize how some of these definitions came into being. First let’s address a definition of shamanism.

We, unfortunately have a reductionist, stereotyped view of shamanism, shaped in part by Eliade’s massive work (noted below). In his effort to make sense out of many varieties of practices, it is understandable that a western observer might need to look for a few common practices and claim those as the essential features of the field. Such re-defining, however, does not do justice to the breadth and variety of shamanistic expression that is evident to the practitioner who actually shares the shamanic world view. In fact, Eliade asserted that to admit too many variables into the definition is to make it too vague to be useful. But that is, in fact, the reality with which we are dealing. Shamanism, as experienced in its own cultures, as well as by the outside observer, is a messy, shape-shifting world view with multiple expressions and practices.

As I read the various writers about Shamanism, a lot more attention goes to the observable practices more so than the world view on which Shamanism is based. (This is a common problem in our action-oriented, observation-based, measure-obsessed approach, as opposed to the experiential, perceptual one.) In other words, I believe it is more the world view that is the primary common element in Shamanism. This world view takes the position that there is a spirit world (often multi-layered), with which we (humanity) have a relationship; that that world and our world have mutual influence and interdependence; that that world is populated by classes of spirits, many of whom are willing to communicate with us; that everything is alive, has intelligence and may communicate; and that the Shaman has a particular place with specific spirit-defined roles in the intercourse between these two worlds. The faddish nature of modern shamanism makes this specialness an attractive status to many people today, but shamanism is anything but status-based. The Shaman is given the responsibility, by both social and spirit worlds, to use his or her relationship with the spirits to effect healing (in people, animals and other living systems, including the Faery World) and to gain information for individuals and groups (what we know as divination). From the rich soil of this world view, and the Shaman’s individual relationships with his or her helping spirits in the context of the land on which he or she lives, arises the diverse set of practices identified as Shamanic. The one that seems to have most captured the interest of writers (from the time of Eliade and before) is the purposeful trance journey. Note that I’m certainly not reducing the importance of the trance journey, but to enlarge our perspective to include the context that makes it significant. Indeed, one does not become a shaman by sitting on this side of the boundary between the worlds, but travels between the worlds in a controlled way for defined purposes.

Having expressed the danger of doing such a thing, let us take another look at some of the common features of Shamanic practice. To do so, we’ll need to examine the world view, tools (including clothing), practices, and position in his or her social group.

In order to foster healing and promote good relationships with the spirit world and gain information, the Shaman may do a wide variety of interventions such as the trance journey, dance, ritual, recitation of song, poetry and story (power of the word), divination of many kinds (with rocks, pieces of metal, sticks, runes, Ogham, clouds, planets, consultation with spirits, etc.), employing wands, bones, skins, costumes, smoke, liquids, water, oils, massage, psychotropic substances, and drumming, to name a few.

Would we then say that a Catholic priest is a shaman because he executes rituals for healing, for maintaining relationship between his people and his Divinity; or would we call the drummer in a rock band because of his or her entrancing, inspiring rhythms; or would we call a trance medium a shaman because of his or her divinatory activities; or would we call a charismatic minister a shaman because she speaks in tongues, performs hands-on healing? The answer to these questions from my view is ‘no’ primarily because of their world view and, secondarily, because of the failure to themselves cross the boundary between the worlds and to acknowledge their interdependence on the spirits (the latter a product of the world view again). It could be said, however, that the function of the priest is a somewhat degenerate form of shamanism, having lost touch with the origins of the practices and generally lacking the personal-spirit relationship.

Mircea Eliade’s work, Shamanism: Archaic Techniques of Ecstasy, is usually invoked as the “classic” study of shamanism. As most people know by now, the word “shaman” comes from Siberia and had been generalized to apply to a body of practices of indigenous peoples – both past and present. He and others have defined the core element of shamanism as “soul flight” or journey into the Otherworld. Eliade, however, is not considered the final authority on the subject. In fact, he has been called to task for significant omissions and errors in interpretation in his voluminous observations and research. His reduction of shamanism to a few elements suggests a unity that does not exist in reality. As noted above, shamanism has immense diversity, with many cultural variations. In addition, his was an outsider’s perspective, trying to make sense of a set of data foreign to his culture.

Part of the problem is that knowledge of shamans has been brought to us by outsiders: missionaries, government agents and anthropologists – who, we might note, would be in the same position as a Western historian reading the Latin text written by a Roman emperor (Caesar) about a people he wants to conquer (like the Celts and their Druids). Unfortunately, it may require someone steeped in a shamanic viewpoint and practice to identify shamanic elements that would otherwise be easily overlooked, but that have survived modernization, religious conversion, rationalization and outright suppression. Established authorities (secular and religious) are often threatened by shamanic practice as Caesar was by the Druids, as priesthoods are by prophets, and as spiritual teachers are by shamans.

From this description, we see that the shamanic functions in our time have been diluted and taken over by various elements in modern culture such as clergy, politicians, poets, economists, healers of the mind and body, and various psychics and commentators. And yet the calling for direct experience and relationship never dies for there are those who hear the calling from the other world and respond in a direct way. These are the shamans, spiritists, witches, prophets and mystics of history. Each resurgence of the direct shamanic function is, of course, generally suppressed by those in political and religious power. One can see this in the early history of Judaism when the initial balance between priests and prophets (clergy and shamans) was maintained until the Temple was built which resulted in their religion becoming centralized and monolithic. Therefore, the troublesome warnings, predictions, channelings, and calling to tasks by the prophets (like Bards) threatened to detract from the power of the priesthoods. In this way, they attempt to hold to one world view, to keep things stable and to maintain the authority of those in power. This gave meaning, purpose and generally took care of the people’s shamanic needs while disempowering and marginalizing the prophet/shamans. This tension may be one of the factors that will always make it difficult for anyone in a priestly role to be hospitable to the shamans, prophets and mystics whose authority lies not in knowledge and social structure, but in direct knowing (revelation) and Otherworldly contact.

Writers and scholars with an intimate knowledge of shamanism and the Celtic world are much less dismissive of the concept of Celtic Shamanism. Stuart Harris-Logan (in Singing with Blackbirds) notes that there are a number of words in the Irish language and practices in their history that appear very much shamanic in nature. In addition, Tom Cowan has read the legends and history and, himself being a shaman, has also recognized practices typical of Shamanic activity that would not be noticed as such by the non-Shaman. As Harris-Logan noted, the Greek and Roman writers on which we rely for much of our Celtic history, were not particularly familiar with Shamanic cultures and lacked the language to understand and describe such practices – not to mention their political and religious biases. A people without a word or experience of something not only are inadequate in describing something, but will, in fact, have difficulty even perceiving it accurately as it will be filtered through their limited experience. We might refer parenthetically here to rumors about the early Christians in Roman times during which Christians were thought to be cannibals because of a misunderstanding the symbolism of the Eucharist (fueled by fear and political purposes, of course) and because of external observation. To the participant, however, the Eucharist ritual is a communion with their god.

All that being said, let’s turn our attention to what we think we know about the old Celtic world, with a recognition that it may be folly to reduce this wide-ranging, multi-tribal collection of individualistic peoples to some monolithic description (as nearly everyone does).

The Celtic world view seems to parallel many shamanic concepts, including the interpenetration of the physical world and the Otherworld, their mutual dependence, the possibility of both ordinary people stumbling into the Otherworld accidentally or by trickery as well as special people traveling into the otherworld on purpose, the human relationship with spirits (beings of the Otherworld), the legends of shape-shifting, the use of story-telling and music to heal, enchant and entrance, and special classes of people whose roles in their society were the management of the relationship between the people and Divinity, engaging spirits (heroes, gods and local spirits) in healing, in many forms of divination and certainly the accoutrements of bells, feathered costumes, cloaks. It is this worldview that I assert is quite characteristic of shamanic perspectives and practices.

We must acknowledge here, too, that all Druids were not the same nor were they created equal. With a wide variety of roles that Druids might play in Celtic society, it seems unreasonable to expect that one Druid would play all of them. Naturally, those with natural or developed aptitudes would shine in certain areas of specialization.

In addition, the reductionist definition of shamanism (being primarily soul flight), although reducing complex enterprises to a few simple ideas results in cognitive comfort by taking a large subject and allowing us to ignore much of it, it is, nevertheless delusional: it betrays the worldview of the shaman and the wide variety of expressions of shamanic activity. It is this singular error of thought (and lack of imagination) that leads to a failure of recognition in shamanic activity that occurs in the everyday lives of many people and the various divisions of shamans into their specialties – just the way Druids were not of one cloth but could serve in various specialties in the Celtic world. I doubt that all Druids were shamans or shaman-like: one whose focus was primarily the law had less need of altered states and soul flight. On the other hand, various healers, diviners, poets, story tellers, musicians, ritualists, mediators, etc had to be able to shift consciousness in themselves and in others to heal, to make contact with spirits of the Otherworld or to divine information – all common practices of shamans.

The very idea that spirits or the Divine speak to us through naturalistic phenomena is a characteristically shamanic view of things and becomes evident in throwing the bones, scapulamancy, scrying, divining through the behavior of animals and winds, mirror gazing, throwing coins, using cards (or Ogham staves),etc. Again, this does not mean that all who do these things are shamans because that is, again, only one piece of the larger context, which is a particular mindset, perception of the world, and the individual’s place in both worlds with his or her allies.

My conclusion is that we can see in the old Celtic world a shamanism without designated shamans or, more accurately, shamanism with its functions spread across a variety of practitioners – as often happens in developed and complex societies – and, indeed, appears to be the case in the very societies that gave us the term “shaman.”

For further reading:

  • For shamanic elements in Gaelic culture and language: Singing with Blackbirds, by Stuart Harris-Logan, Grey House in the Woods, 2006;
  • For evidence of survival of the Celts’ intense interaction with the natural world into the 19th century: Carmina Gadelica, by Alexander Carmichael, Lindisfarne Press, 1992;
  • For current expositions of the “Celtic/Irish” worldview: see the works of John O’Donohue (including various audio recordings and) Anam Cara, Cliff Street Books, 1997;
  • For evidence of survival of indigenous practices in Ireland, see “Interview with an Irish Shaman,” in Shamanism, Vol. 9, No. 2, The Foundation for Shamanic Studies, 2006;
  • For a credible work on Celtic Shamanism: Fire in the Head: Shamanism and the Celtic Spirit, by Tom Cowan, HarperSanFrancisco, 1993;
  • For a more complete look at the variety of shamanic identities: Shamans, by Ronald Hutton, Hambledon and London, 2001.

Review: The Seeress of Prevorst

The Seeress of Prevorst: Her Secret Language and Prophecies from the Spirit World, 
by John DeSalvo, Ph.D.

Review by Karl Schlotterbeck, MA, CAS, LP

This is a mixed bag of a book. To be sure, there are interesting sections, particularly those about the life of the Seeress (Frederika Wanner Hauffe) and her physician (Justinus Kerner) who, though initially skeptical, became convinced of her genuineness and took her into his family for the last years of her short life. The Seeress was an interesting character, with her prophecies, visions, communication with spirits, idiosyncratic language and script, beliefs about the world and her strange illness. In addition, there is a chapter on Mesmerism, which was used as a treatment for her illness.

Seeress of Prevorst

Seeress of Prevorst

Some of the interesting features of the story of the Seeress are:

  • Her physical frailty
  • Her descriptions of  the deceased
  • A practice of scrying using a mirror or glass of water
  • Speaking in an unknown language as well as a form of German she hadn’t learned
  • Her tendency to sometimes speak in verse when in a clairvoyant state (as Bards would have done)
  • Her practice of psychometry
  • Her magical use of numbers (each human being having a personal number)
  • Healing with herbs that were used both as medicine and as amulets
  • Diagrams of circles that she used to express some of her prophecies
  • Philosophical statements such as that

o    Soul is the bearer of everything

o    Animals are less isolated from the spiritual world than human beings and more sensitive to the presence of spirits

o    “The world of nature, as seen from within, changes itself thus into a spiritual one. . .”

Despite these interesting features, there is much extraneous material apparently intended to prove the value of séances and spiritualism, including Abraham Lincoln’s séances in the White House. The first chapter of the book is about “The Language of the Spirits” in which DeSalvo asserts the existence of a secret wisdom found in the “Primal Language,” the knowledge of which allowed people throughout history to perform magic or display unusual wisdom. His thesis is full of speculations and leaps of faith that go well beyond logic, rationality and known history. He too often crafts his thesis with questioned possibilities such as “could it be. . .” or “perhaps. . .,” assumes a positive answer, and then goes on to additional speculation as if something has been proved. Thus, he builds one speculation on top of another. It was not convincing to this reader.

Furthermore, he says he does not believe all the stories in the Bible, but then goes on to use numerous Biblical statements as support for his theories. And, where he used Biblical statements as support, he often seemed to make errors in his reading of the Bible, as well as accepting it as historical – even where it is contradicted by well-known history. [For example, he suggests that this Primal Language was possessed by the early Hebrews and taken into Egypt by Jacob; and he accepts the myth that humankind had only one language before the mythical Tower of Babel. The facts of history tell us that the Hebrews did nothing unusual until after their stay in Egypt where Moses (whose name is Egyptian for “child”) apparently absorbed “the wisdom of the Egyptians” along with the monotheism of the pharaoh Ikhnaton. Also, the Tower of Babel myth was invented as a teaching story, which used the by-then ruined temples in Babylon as the foil for their tower story. He also asserts that we are not told why the God of Eden did not want Adam to eat of the Tree of Good and Evil when, in the story, God explains that they (people) “will become like us. . .” (Note here the plural form for deity.) He also claims that Adam and Eve lost their original state of cosmic consciousness when they “willingly” left the presence of God – while the text actually says they were driven out of the Garden by God for having eaten of the Tree.]

Dr. DeSalvo’s naiveté about the history of Egypt is curious as he also authors a website regarding the pyramids of Giza and is the director of “The Great Pyramid of Giza Research Association.”

Among his unsupported and unreferenced claims is that one of Columbus’ motivations for seeking out the New World was related to his presumed Primal Language. Another was that Leonardo da Vinci was a recipient of this mythical secret language who, the author asserts, may have also been the author of a mysterious yet-untranslated manuscript. A final example is when he claims that Carl Jung attributed “the origin of all his ideas” to a series of séances with his cousin. There is no doubt that Jung was deeply interested in “occult” matters, but such a bombastic assertion as this demands its reference. In DeSalvo’s bibliography, there are no books referencing Jung, and several that bear little relevance to the topic.

Although many interesting anecdotes and factoids are scattered throughout the book, it is tainted by its unreliable versions of history, narrow Eurocentric religious perspective, speculation misused as facts, and too many detours for this reader.

Not recommended.

The Grail, The Shaman, and Druidism

by Karl Schlotterbeck

Let me begin with a summary of part of one of many versions of the Legend of the Grail, noting that the grail stories had a significance of their own before the gloss put onto them by the church. Thus, I’ll be referring not to religious associations, but the teaching of the story itself.

The Grail

Perceval, whose mother raised him away from civilization since his father’s death, encounters knights in the forest and realizes he is destined to become one. The Spell of Safety woven by his mother is broken. He leaves and has many adventures, of course, and becomes part of King Arthur’s court. He eventually encounters the wounded Fisher King (Lord of a failing land) who invites him to stay at his castle. During the evening meal, a strange procession enters the room: a young man carrying a bleeding lance, two boys carrying candelabra, and a beautiful young girl carrying a magnificent grail. Perceval, who had been warned by his mother about talking too much, withholds his questions. When he awakes the next morning, he’s alone, and returns to Arthur’s court.

Back at the court, a loathly lady enters and admonishes Perceval for failing to ask his questions about the grail because, if he had, it would have healed the wounded king. So, Perceval begins his years-long search for the Grail Castle. And find it he does.

This time, Perceval has the presence of mind to ask his questions:

  • Whom does the grail serve?
  • Why does the lance bleed?
  • What do these things mean?

All is restored, although – significantly – we do not know what the answers were to his questions. As it turns out, it is not the answers that are as important as the questions.

“So” – the story-teller might say – “it was the asking of the questions that stabilized its presence and brought healing to the land” – for in the old Celtic world, the state of the land depended on the health of the King.

The Shaman

Come forward in time to the present day. A modern Celtic Shaman, Tom Cowan, renders the questions this way:

  • Whom does my life serve?
  • Why does my life bleed?
  • What does my life mean?

Dr. Cowan’s transliteration of the questions brings them closer to our quest. I found the shaman’s questions parallel to some of the great philosophical queries which we all – consciously or not – answer with the words of our lives:

  • Who are we?
  • Why do we suffer?
  • What does it all mean?


What does this have to do with Druidism? We wrestle with those questions for ourselves, our co-workers and our families every day. Let’s look at those around us first.

“Who are they?” is a question of identity: it asks for an assessment of strengths and weaknesses, interests and fears, history and hopes.

“Why do they suffer?” is a question of interpretation of the data. We ask what it is about others’ functioning that challenges their success and well-being. Perhaps, if we know who they are and why they suffer, compassion might grow in us.

“What does it all mean?” in this context, is a question about. After all, if we know what the problem is, we can move forward to restoring the health of the “land.”

These questions are vital for us, too.

“Who are we?” is the question that defines our roles, boundaries, responsibilities, strengths, limitations, personal and professional capabilities. Without asking this question, boundaries are violated, potential untapped, and, if you will, destiny unfound.

“Why do we suffer?” is a question about our well-being and our effectiveness. When we become aware of our unrealized potential, of imposed limitations, of boundary violations, we have taken the first step toward healing.

“What does it all mean?” is the question we must ask ourselves. This is the question about value – our value and our values; the worth, worthiness and usefulness of what we do. Curious, - is it not? - that the word for “means” is akin to the word “meaning.”

The answers we formulate lead us to attempt to grasp the deep truth about who we are as human beings living in this world and in relationship with other. Furthermore, if we stop asking the questions, the Grail and its Castle disappear: we lose touch with the numinous. Put less poetically, we lost touch with who we are becoming, as well as that edge of awareness that could move us out the static and habitual wounded waste land of shallow relationships in the world – and toward becoming truly present.

With both silence (failing to ask the questions), as well as with rigidly “final” answers, the world disappears – or our access to the means for healing. Life, healing and meaning are lost. That is why the Grail Questions are not answered: because the questions themselves are instructive and reveal relationship as the Grail. Despite its magnificence, is not its own, but it serves another.

This leaves us with the question: whom do we serve? Do we serve here a Deity, money, spirits, our families, society, each other, or our own destiny?

Perhaps, if we pay attention, or ask a good question, we might (re)discover our own gifts, foster the gifts of others, and honor the Grail that we all carry within us and yet may come to serve.

Thus, the Grail through its questions serves us still, reminding us of relationship, of service, and openness to our vision of our own and others’ becoming.

Karl Schlotterbeck, MA, CAS, LP

Review: Weather Samanism

REVIEW: Weather Shamanism:

Harmonizing Our Connection with the Elements

By Nan Moss, with David Corbin

Review by Karl Schlotterbeck

Book Cover Weather Shamanism

In our Celtic mythology, weather working was one of the “magical” activities of the Druids. As Moss and Corbin note, humankind has had an interest in influencing weather well into history and they give many examples of weather workers into modern times. The format of their book is a description of their discovery through their shamanic work of what the spirits expect of us. “Weather dancing” is how they describe their method and, for them, “the path of weather dancing is necessarily about your unfolding relationship with yourself and your soul, in partnership with compassionate helping spirits.” Thus, weather shamanism is not about the wish to command or dominate nature but, rather, about the development of relationship with the spirits behind the forces of nature. They note the cross-cultural recognition that “the forces of weather are spiritually alive and sentient,” and have their own lives, personalities and purposes in the world.

They build upon the idea of interaction between our psyches and emotions, and the natural world. Moss and Corbin give considerable time to addressing the issue of our conditioned view of the world and how that view shapes the way we perceive, what we think of the world, and what we believe we might do. They present messages of their own spirit teachers as well as many participants in their workshops over the years.

Weather Shamanism is much less about formulaic technique than about the quality of our relationships with the natural world. Ritual is a support to this relationship, but it is not a defining element. Rather, ritual is a means of reciprocity and honoring those who work with us. Those looking for quick pointers of ritual magic will be disappointed at the call for the development of one’s perceptual habits, preconceptions, and capacity for relationship with the spirits of the natural world.

I found this a mature, valuable, and enjoyable rendition of what it means to be in relationship with the spirits of nature – and how we’re all in this together.

Highly recommended.

Weather Shamanism: Harmonizing Our Connection with the Elements, Published by Bear & Company, 2008, ISBN 978-159143074-2, $16.00

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Review: The Spiritual Practices of Rumi

REVIEW: The Spiritual Practices of Rumi:

Radical Techniques for Beholding the Divine

by Will Johnson

Review by Karl Schlotterbeck

Book Cover: The Spiritual Practices of Rumi

In popular writings, Jalaluddin Rumi is often seen as the enigmatic “whirling dervish” and Sufi mystic who, infatuated with his teacher, produced vast amounts of ecstatic poetry, and also gave rise to a sect known for its whirling dances. Some have interpreted his writings as metaphoric references to Allah, while others have suggested a deep human love relationship between Rumi and Shams-i Tabriz. Will Johnson, however, asserts that much of Rumi’s writings refer to a specific practice in which he engaged with his teacher/partner Shams: the simple but profound act of gazing into one another’s eyes.

This concept of the practice of the gaze puts many of Rumi’s verses into a new light for they refer not just to a soft-headed romantic staring, but an open-hearted discipline. Thus, at least some of Rumi’s verses are not just about an infatuation between two mystics but, rather, a practice that, when surrendered to, creates a delicious union and a spiritual otherworldly experience, while awakening sensations in the body.

Again and again Johnson circles back like a spinning dancer to the theme of union. He encourages this practice not just for exploration with a “great friend,” as he calls it, but also with one’s consort (in a Tantric manner), as well as with nature, and even in the city because, as he says, everywhere you look - if you look properly - you will see the face of God. This gazing practice is intended to help us wake up to the fact that union is available and “free for the taking.” Johnson, further, suggests ways to prepare for gazing with the beloved, such as practicing with a candle, with one’s own face in a mirror and breathing practices.

There are some interesting parallels to the Celtic worldview. The physical world and physical body are not to be transcended here, according to Johnson. Rather they are the door that grants entry into the invisible world. As one learns acceptance and surrender, Johnson says that one begins to look not just with the eyes but with the whole body. “Presence is the key that opens divinity’s door,” he says. Also, a few years ago, I presented some workshops on Celtic Spirituality in which I read passages from the writings of John O’Donohue while participants sat looking into one another’s faces. In just a few minutes, many were deeply moved – showing the power of gazing receptively and without judgment into the eyes of another.

Since meditation is so often seen as a solitary practice, and since so many of our human interactions are superficial avoidance of genuine intimacy, I wholeheartedly recommend this book. Because of its meditative nature, and because of its promise of opening the heart and vision to the deeper nature of all around us, it seems especially appropriate for those engaged on the Ovate and Druid paths.

[amazon_link id="1594772002" target="_blank" ]The Spiritual Practices of Rumi: Radical Techniques for Beholding the Divine,[/amazon_link] by Will Johnson; ISBN: 1-59477-200-2; pp 192; Inner Traditions; $14.95.

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