Unverified Personal Gnosis, Truth and Imbas

Unverified Personal Gnosis, Truth and Imbas

by Searles O’Dubhain

Thumbnail photo of Searles O'Dubhain.

Searles O'Dubhain

As Amergin White Knee has taught us in the Cauldron of Poesy materials:

"When the Cauldron of Knowledge is turned by divine ecstasy, rather than by human joy alone, its special grace is a gift that transforms a person, who becomes both sacred and knowledgeable, so that their works include miracles, prophecies, judgments and precedents. It is these people who establish the wisdom that guides our knowledge and regulates the forms of our speech. Though this knowledge comes from within a person, its truth and its power is from the gods and originates from outside of a person."

This is one of the main abilities of the Draoithe (Irish Druids) and the Filidh (Irish Vision-Poets) that distinguishes them from all others. It is the knowledge that illuminates and is known as imbas in Irish and is called awen in Welsh/British writings and traditions. Some modern folks term such inspirations as UPG (Unverified Personal Gnosis). This seems to be an attempt to negate prophetic knowledge and inspiration as being only imagined (until it is verified by currently accepted science or through academic logic alone). To apply this term as a blanket to divinely inspired knowledge is to overlook a few truths from that heritage:

In ancient Irish society and tradition, that which was true was considered to have its own power to stand alone in the world or anywhere, to the point that those who heard truth could see its meaning and importance even when it seemed to contradict those things that were supposed to be the “accepted wisdom.”

To this point, it was the Druids and Poets who were seen to be the sources of imbas and the judges of truth in that society. This attitude and basis in that society had an accompanying paradigm saying that no person could be a Druid, Poet or Judge who had ever been demonstrated to have broken the truth and to have presented a falsehood.

Generally, the imbas or awen that was received by a Celtic Seer was seen to be verified in Nature or in the actions/results of the people presented in the traditional tales. If not already a tradition, then  the results of a divine prophecy or a discovered wisdom had to be eventually demonstrated in society by examples or outcomes (remembering that a given for a wise person in Irish Celtic society was that they retained their status and position only so long as they were shown to be true and correct).

As Katheryn Simms observed and stated in her article, the “Poetic Brehon Lawyers,” this idea of truth from imbas bringing real results to the people was not just an Irish or a Welsh notion, but was a pan-Celtic concept:

“The pagan belief that the moment when a judge issued his verdict was an encounter between the human and the divine, and that the will of the gods was outraged by an unjust decision, while just judgements drew down divine blessings, is already testified among the Celts of Gaul in the first century B.C. where Strabo remarks that the druids were chiefly trusted to try cases of homicide, and that when there is an abundance of these they consider that there is also abundance of the land, presumably because their many just judgements drew down the gods blessing on the crops. “

Imbas is not a free ride. It has to be demonstrated to be true wisdom from the gods. Such inspiration and universal truth is not unlike Einstein’s brilliant understanding about the ways in which matter and energy are related. The truth of it came to him in a flash and he spent years (if not the rest of his lifetime) proving and expanding upon this insight. I expect that ancient and modern druids also do the same with their own knowledge that is received from the minds of the divine. It is not enough to receive the revelation; one must also do the work of bringing the new truths back to the people in a useful and relevant way.

Being true and wise is wonderful but one must also be useful and productive. That is why the demonstration of imbas is to be found in the results that grow from its seeds rather than in claims or even discussion. The tales are filled with how prophecy and the uncovering of hidden things is accomplished or demonstrated to be true. These tales formed the basis of society’s codes of living and morals to the point that prophecy and divine truth were considered to be usual rather than exceptional (or to be challenged as untrue out of hand, as is often the case in our more disillusioned and skeptical modern society). The use of the term UPG, a classification and claim that something is merely made up or an illusion, as a club nowadays to quash inspirations and unusual wisdom to the point that thinking remains within the confines of accepted wisdom, is also a great wrong. Society must continue to advance in its life or it risks the death of stagnation and rot that accompanies the imprisonment of any idea or material thing. Innovation and inspiration deserve open fields upon which to exercise their creative truths to the benefit of all. To keep these in a box only makes for humus and decay, to the point that only nature in her long-term laboratory can transform them into anything new or renewed.

So, let’s rejoice in imbas and rather than calling it UPG, let’s get up and go out into the great laboratories of existence, science, and Nature, to ascertain what the power of truth has uncovered for us via inspiration and knowledge provided to us by the gods. It is only through the verifiable and proven results that we should be known as druids and not by our own or anyone’s claims, or even the acclamations of others, for there really is a truth against the world. Sometimes, one must journey far to find it and bring it back to the people and the lands where life is lived.

-SO

From the Editor – Keltria Journal #42

Keltria: Journal of Druidism and Celtic Magick - Issue #42

From the Editor - Tony Taylor

Tony preparing for a handfasting.

Tony preparing for a handfasting.

When I think about spring and summer all sorts of wonderful activities come to mind. Weddings, festivals, conferences, and eisteddfods all contribute to the excitement of these seasons.  The contributions of those who follow the bardic path enhance all these activities and are an important part of Keltria. For example, during Keltrian weddings and handfastings, we often practice the art of storytelling as part of the ceremony. It is great fun and enjoyed by everyone assembled. We weave the usually mundane story of couple’s meeting into a Celtic wonder tale completely blown out of proportion and peppered with innuendo. For example, the bride is the not so-helpless-princess and the groom is a knight who rescues her anyway. The “best woman” and “best man” tell the story then dissolve into an argument as to whether or not the groom is worthy of the bride and vice versa.

With hands on hips, the best man paces back and forth critically eyeing the bride while extolling and exaggerating the virtues of the groom. The groom is subjected to the same scrutiny by the best woman. Each attempts to top the other’s story. These tall tales always contain a bit of truth, as a Celtic boast should. For example, in reality the bride may have cooked a roast beef dinner for her family, but the boast might be that she single-handedly slaughtered the last aurochs when it threatened the tribe. She ate its heart, which gave her the beast’s strength and bravery. Then, she cooked the carcass in a huge cauldron, cast by her own hands, which fed her entire tribe for many days. Ultimately, the dueling duo agree they will allow the wedding to proceed and heartily shake hands.

At gatherings, and particularly at eisteddfod, there is a time and a place for the bards assembled to tell stories and enthrall the audience with their skills. We appreciate the opportunity these events provide us to hone our storytelling abilities.


Cover - Keltria Journal #42

Keltria Journal #42

The theme for this issue of Keltria Journal is storytelling. The authors come from a variety of backgrounds and share different perspectives. We begin with Jenne Micale, who, like many of us, comes from a family that did not speak of their history. She carries us along on her personal journey of discovery.

Isolde Carmondy and Chris Thompson, the Story Archaeologists, lead us through three different tales of the past demonstrating why telling the stories of places (dindshenchas) is important today. They emphasize that tales of time and place provide a connection and continuity, which explains our place in the universe.

Daphne Bishop associates the authors and film makers of today, such as J. K. Rowling, J. R .R. Tolkin, and George Lucas, with ancient storytellers. She challenges us to modernize the ancient Celtic lessons, imbuing them with relevancy to our times, thereby keeping them alive.

Mary Gavan, a professional storyteller, describes the characteristics of an effective raconteur beyond the mere telling of the tale.  If we follow our personal convictions and succeed against all odds, we become the inspiration for the storytellers of the future. However, stories are more than just the content. The successful storyteller captivates the mind, body and the spirit of the audience, creating an aura of wonder.

Finally, in the 1990’s many members of the Henge of Keltria were actively creating new mythology. Inspired by “The Power of Myth” the idea of  “MYTH” (Make Yourself The Hero) Keltrians staged “cattle raids”  at several festivals. The concept was to capture participants’ “cattle icons”, i.e., stuffed toys, by making imaginative plans and implementing them using guile and skill rather than brute force. At the evening’s campfire, tales were told of the day’s exploits in the form of the Celtic boast.

The results were marvelous. Twenty years ago, Beltaine 1993, we published “Cattle Raids”, the first of several stories from “The Book of the Valley”, as an example of how a tale can grow in the telling to become a Celtic wonder tale.  Elements of truth weave through the story but Celtic exaggeration runs rampant.  The story is clearly among the “Best of Twenty Years Ago.” Enjoy.

Send your thoughts and opinions regarding this issue, future themes, or other comments to letterstotheeditor@keltria.org. Be sure to indicate if the letter is publishable.

Note: Keltria Journal Issue #42 is available on the Keltria Member Webpage until Issue #43 releases.

Keltria Journal: White Ravens and Druid Birds

Excerpt: White Ravens and Druid Birds:

Wisdom, Power and Prophecy in Traditional Celtic Bird Divination

by Sharynne MacLeod NicMhacha (Sharon Paice MacLeod)

Photo of Sharon Paice MacLeod

Sharon Paice MacLeod

Receiving guidance from the appearance, movement and sounds of birds and animals is one of the oldest forms of prophetic divination, and is found around the world in both ancient and indigenous cultures. In traditional societies humans are understood to be part of the natural world, not separate from or above it. The other living beings who inhabit our world – animals, birds, fish, and insects – are perceived as having wisdom, power and blessings which they can share with human beings, as long as they are honoured and respected.

For those involved with the study or practice of Celtic religion, there are many options to choose from when learning how to understand and interpret the movements and wisdom of our partners in the living web of life. One method is to connect with other living beings and interpret their arrival according to your own personal spiritual or mythic symbolism. Certain animals may appear in dreams, meditations or journeys, and accordingly will have special and perhaps very personalized significance for you.

Photo of a White Raven

White Raven

For example, for one person the owl may be a wonder to see but not evoke a sense of connection. For another the owl who appears in dreams and then on the branch of a tree outside your window will constitute a very different experience. Keeping track of the content of dreams, meditations and other personal workings helps track the appearance and potential symbolism of animals, birds and other creatures.

Another option is to learn about the traditional symbolism of animals in the area in which you live. Someone living in Maine may see different animals than someone in Texas, as might someone living in the south of Britain and the north of Scotland. People following Celtic spiritual traditions in Australia experience a very different natural world than the homelands of their Celtic ancestors, and may not see any of the animals described in Celtic mythology or folklore. Respectfully learning about indigenous traditions associated with birds and animals in your region is another way to connect with the wisdom of the natural world.

For those people practicing Celtic spirituality in Ireland, Britain and other parts of Europe, the indigenous beliefs of their own ancestors are available to them, and are present in the landscape around them. The traditional symbolism associated with divination in Celtic traditions may also be practiced in other areas as well, where many of the same animals may be seen (parts of the north-east and north-west of the United States and Canada, for example). Similar animals may be found in other regions, and some associated symbolism can be connected with those creatures in the area you live in.

Continued...

[This five-page article was published in Keltria: Journal of Druidism and Celtic Magick, Issue #41.  It is available in its entirety to members of the Henge of Keltria via the Members Home page.  It is available to non-members of the Henge via Mag Cloud.]

Keltria Journal 41Keltria: Journal of Druidism and Celtic Magick #41

Yule 2012-Imbolc 2013

Includes:

White Ravens and Druid Birds by Sharynne NicMhacha
Against Over-interpretation by Nimue Brown
The Visit by Tony Taylor
Birds of Ill Repute by Jenne Micale
The Pelegian Heresy by Brendan Myers

Find out more on MagCloud

Solitary practice: A full moon rite to Manannan

Solitary practice: A full moon rite to Manannan

by Jenne Micale

Photo of Jenne Micale

Jenne Micale

Connecting with your Gods – whether it be your matron or patron, the Gods of the season or whomever you wish to work with at the time – is an important part of Druidic practice. And as a special blessing for solitaries, much of this connection must be made on your own time, rather than with a grove. Grove rituals augment your personal practice but cannot replace it; solitary work provides the spiritual depth and skill development that group ritual draws on.

In my experience, one of the best ways to foster such connection is to have a designated time and ritual to connect with your matron or patron. I have a vigil ritual I perform every 20 days in honor of my matron Brighid, as part of Ord Brighideach. For Manannan, my patron, I do a divination and/or trance-themed rite on the full moon.

“Why the full moon?” you may ask. “Isn't that Wiccan?” The reason I honor Manannan on the full moon is two-fold; first, and most importantly, He requested it. The second concerns his role as sea god; the moon is the puller of the tides, both oceanic and spiritual. Traditionally – and yes, the Wiccans are right about this part – it's an opportune time for magic and divination. Unlike Wicca, however, my full moon rite does not center around a moon/mother goddess, but on the god of the sea and liminality. Granted, one could conceivably honor Manannan on the dark moon as well, but the ritual would have a far different tenor; whereas the full moon is the time of peak flood-tide, the dark moon marks the deepest ebb.

The ritual below can be inserted into the typical Keltrian ritual structure, with the honoring of direction, opening of the Gates and honoring of the Gods, Nature Spirits and Ancestors. Much of the language is co-opted and occasionally reformulated from Alexander Carmichael’s [amazon_link id="0940262509" target="_blank" ]Carmina Gadelica[/amazon_link], that indispensable book of Scottish lore. I did use some from Kenneth Hurlstone Jackson’s compendium [amazon_link id="0140442472" target="_blank" ]A Celtic Miscellany: Translations from the Celtic Literature (Penguin Classics)[/amazon_link]. If I marked it, it’s borrowed from elsewhere. The working/trance invocation — the one that mentions the crane bag — is my own. The salt-water and sage purifications aren’t all that different from other Pagan traditions, probably; feel free to substitute whatever form of purification you feel comfortable with. Feel free to share with whoever is interested; it’s for public use.

Invocation (combination of 11th and 9th century Irish verse from A Celtic Miscellany):

The ocean is full, the sea is in flood, lovely is the home of the ships. The sandy wind has made eddies. The rudder is swift upon the wide sea…. Look before you at the glorious sea, home of creatures, dwelling of seals; wanton and splendid, it has taken of flood tide. Manannan, Lord of the Sea, of wave and of magic, of travel and journeys, of wisdom and truth, I honor you on this night.

Salt water blessing:

I cleanse myself with the salt and the water, with the waters of the sea, the realm of Mac Lir.

Anoint and sing, from the Carmina Gadelica:

A wavelet for thy form
A wavelet for thy voice
A wavelet for thy sweet speech
A wavelet for thy luck
A wavelet for thy good
A wavelet for thy health
A wavelet for thy throat
A wavelet for thy pluck
A wavelet for thy graciousness
Nine waves for thy graciousness.
May the spirit satisfy me with the water of grace.

Cleanse with smoke:

I cleanse myself with the flame and the herb, so that all that is ill is washed from me.

Waft and sing, from the Carmina Gadelica:

Ward from me every distress and danger
Encompass my course over the ocean of truth
I pray thee, place thy pure light before me
O Mananann on this very night
O Mananann on this very night
Be thyself the guiding star above me
May you light every reef and shoal
Pilot my boat on the crest of the wave
To the restful haven of the waveless sea
To the restful haven of the waveless sea

The working; use divination, scrying or trance. Sing:

May Manannan grant me
A glimpse of the crane bag
A glimpse of the mysteries
In the bag of secrets.
A glimpse of the Apple Isle
And its cup of truth
The isles of the Otherworld
And the swine at its feast.
Rattle the silver bough
To laugh, cry or sleep
To lead me on my journey
And to bring me home.

The divination/trance follows; use whatever you’re called to.

The return.

Ground and sing (from the Carmina Gadelica):

Bless to me, O Manannan
The earth beneath my foot,
Bless to me, O Manannan
The path whereon I go;
Bless to me, O Manannan
The thing of my desire
Bless to me, O Manannan
Bless me to my rest.
Bless to me the thing
Whereon is set my mind
Bless to me the thing
Whereon is set my love
Bless to me the thing
Whereon is set my hope
O Thou Lord of the Wave
May I be blessed in your eye.

Close with the standard Keltrian ritual format.

Celtic knotwork bar

Review: Celtic Visions

Celtic Visions: Seership, Omens and Dreams of the Otherworld

by Caitlin Matthews

Reviewed by Autumn Rose

Celtic VisionsTypically for this author, Caitlin Matthews’ newest book is a blend of information and practical suggestions.  On the information side, she gives us nine meaty chapters describing and interpreting the psychic practices of our druidic Irish and Welsh ancestors.  The descriptions go well beyond dictionary definitions and are illustrated by quotations mostly from original sources.  In addition, Matthews offers in some cases interpretations not previously encountered by this reader.

For example, she touches on the corrguinnacht, the crane posture.  In this posture the practitioner stood on one foot, with one hand raised and one eye closed, while performing a spell.  According to Matthews, the aim was to “cancel” one side of the body in the physical world so that it could appear in the Otherworld, thus allowing the practitioner to exist in both realms simultaneously.

Another such interpretation involves the ancient Irish custom of imposing geasa, or taboos.  Matthews describes geasa as soul contracts, designed to protect the soul for as long as the contract was not broken.  If the person in question was a king, the protection extended to his kingdom.  Violations of geasa chipped  away at the soul, and successive violations weakened it progressively.  Thus, in the tales of Cú Chulainn and of Conaire, when each had violated all his geasa, he became vulnerable to death.  It’s interesting to note that this interpretation links the strength of the body to the integrity of the soul.  In the case of a king, again, the health of his soul determined the health of the land.

Beyond these and other explorations of ancient Celtic psychic beliefs and customs (e.g., the bull ceremony , the Three Cauldrons, poetic inspiration and so on), Matthews seeks to help readers adapt these customs for personal use today.  To quote the author herself, “This book will not make you a seer, but it will help you become better attuned to your instincts, imagination,  insight, and inspiration.”  When an author makes a claim like this for his or her work, it should always be understood that fulfilling the promise depends almost entirely  on the effort the reader/practitioner puts into it.  Reading the book is not enough by itself.  Nobody gets from Point A to Point B by reading a map.  One has to undertake the journey.

Matthews gives the reader plenty of help along the way.  At the end of each chapter she provides a suggested exercise intended to put the practitioner in closer touch with both the proximate world of Nature and the Otherworld.  For example, after the chapter titled “Omens and Divination” she shows how readers, by habitually observing their natural surroundings and noting events that follow, may learn to recognize omens that can inform and guide them.

The icing on the cake of this book is a pronunciation guide---always a gift to those not versed in Old Irish.  I recommend Celtic Visions, especially to beginning students, for its wealth of  information and  its usefulness as a guide to personal development.

[amazon_link id="1780281110" target="_blank" ]Celtic Visions: Seership, Omens and Dreams of the Otherworld[/amazon_link]

  • Hardcover: 242 pages
  • Dimensions: 7.5 x 5 inches
  • Publisher: Watkins Publishing, 2012
  • ISBN: 978-1-78028-111-7

The Bard’s Path: Storm

Storm

by C. L. McGinley

Let me be the compass
With which to chart your journey
Through the darkness of this night;
Without the shining stars to guide you,
Set your course by me.

Let me be the beacon
That helps you navigate the storm.
Where the horizon glimmers hope,
Winds of change lose the power
To blow you from your heading.

Let me be the hand that lifts you
From the depths of your despair,
From the surging sea that threatens
To engulf you in cold and fear.
I do not hope to save you from the torrent,
Only to buoy you from the swell of this tsunami
To the blessed relief of smoother seas.

Review: Ensouling Language

Ensouling Language: 
    On the Art of Nonfiction and the Writer’s Life

by Stephen Harrod Buhner

Review by Karl Schlotterbeck

TEnsouling Language Book Coverhis is a marvelous that is remarkable in a number of ways. I was excited by the title when I first heard about it. When it arrived, I was dismayed at its heft (463 pages); amused at the irony of its cover illustration of a quill; and sorry when I came to the end of it. In the first pages, I was captured by the little story he told so well to demonstrate the affection and meaningfulness of words, books, and experience. My expectation had been of a formulaic how-to book of which we see so many, but it was itself a journey into the place of perception and creativity where words are as alive as we are, and reveal their sacredness as containers of soul and of meaning – and how to get to that place. Buhner pulled me deeper and deeper into the subject – stacking up meaning behind the words like water behind a dam, as he would say.

In fact, Ensouling Language called me back into myself, a reminder to write for what might be communicated about the interiority of my subject in its meaningfulness, and in the fact writer and readers’ communication occur well beyond (or deeply within) black text on white page, deeper than the dictionary definition of words. Rather, it occurs in the heart of the matter – where creation and some spirit of the nature of things seek to express themselves through the human heart and tongue and hand, and to result in something larger than either.

I struggle to find a descriptor for what he does. He nudges us out of a little ego’s perspective with its petty needs for common currency and approval, out of our humanocentric viewpoint, and out of any illusions of being objective. Perhaps it is this very difficulty in trying to “reduce” his effort to an easy few words that affirms the beauty and depth of his work.

I found him sometimes speaking as a shaman, sometimes as an analytical psychologist, sometimes as a prophet or Druid – and this is the work’s most direct relevance for us. For Buhner, words are not just things to be used to fill the space around us, nor are they something we use to avoid our fears by yakking about superficial things. Nor are they a tool to try to bridge our loneliness as human beings; but they have the capacity to take us to a place of discovery, where our fears are created, where our loneliness is rewarded and relationship is intimate – whether that be with a tree, a dolphin, another person’s experience or our own. As he says:

These moments of touch with the nonhuman world are what the ancient Greeks – the Athenians – called aisthesis. The get to aisthesis, those moments when we are touched in return, our nonphysical touching must go deeper than merely feeling the world. It must go to the place where touching travels both ways. And this, very definitely extends awareness a great deal further than our society wants it to go. It involves a living exchange between the human and the nonhuman world, eventually, with the world itself. By engaging in that exchange, we break a very powerful cultural injunction that is present in many Western cultures. We abandon the view of life that does not allow us to extend interiority to dolphins or trees or stones. (p. 143)

His writing was, in many ways, watching a deft psychoanalyst pay attention to a person’s utterances and what they reveal about the speaker, how they may fall short of their purpose and thereby shows the hidden baggage of the writer. He notes how one’s unresolved and unreflected upon personal issues become revealed and how hiding those issues flatten the work. Facing then directly gives depth and richness. It’s like my own work as a psychologist: not just listening to what people say, but how they say it in terms of the words they use, the tone of voice, facial expression, body language and context.

Something in me found a home in this book or, perhaps I should say, several aspects of me found a common heart through his writing: Druid, shaman, psychologist, writer, poet.

This is an easy book to recommend for its meaningfulness, its intelligence, depth, and genuineness in practicing what it is prescribing. He challenges the readers’ ways of perceiving and relating to the world, meanings put into words, framing of propositions and need to beware of the inevitable hidden baggage. But it’s not directly about a philosophy of genuineness, depth and presence: it’s a how-to manual (as he reminds us). He addresses the tension between “proper” grammar and writing for impact, dealing with editors, publishers and contracts; getting help and the whole business of delivering one’s words to the readers who hunger for them.

This is a book I can highly recommend, not only for aspiring writers, but for anyone who wants to engage the world deeply and recognizes the value of words in the exchange.

Ensouling Language: On the Art of Nonfiction and the Writer's Life
Paperback: 480 pages
Publisher: Inner Traditions

Kindle Edition available!
File Size: 754 KB
ASIN: B00462RVFK

[amazon_enhanced asin="1594773823" /]