Pre-Christian Celtic Traditions
  At its peak (c.300 BCE) Celtic civilization extended over much of Europe, from present-day Ireland and Iberia in the west, and across the Alps to the Balkans and into Asia Minor. The Celts were a formidable enemy to both the Greeks and the Romans, but by the end of the 1st century CE, the Romans had conquered much of the Celtic world, leaving their civilization to thrive only at the fringes of what was then the known world.

The Celts Today
  Today the Celtic people and their culture survive in Scotland, the Isle of Man, Wales, Ireland, Cornwall (SW England), Brittany (NW France) and Galicia (NW Spain). Some of their traditions survive in Catholicism, but our greatest understanding of their original spiritual and religious views can be gleaned from their well-known myths and stories: from the Welsh Mabinogion and an array of Irish stories and sagas, to the famous tales of King Arthur Pendragon. In these stories we discover the "tension between reality and fantasy" -– or, in shamanic terms, between the physical and spiritual realities –- that characterizes all Celtic art, and in so doing we re-discover their perceptions of the world.

Modern Celtic shamanism builds on "core shamanism" by drawing primarily on the myths and traditions of the British Isles.

The Power of Numbers
  Celtic mysticism does not share the dualistic thinking of our culture, which perceives reality as divided into two opposing, hostile camps (good vs. evil, male vs. female, hot vs. cold, etc.); to the Celts these are distinctions which only appear at the surface of things. Instead, their mystical thought revolves around the number three: surface dualities are synthesized into an interwoven whole, a polarity which both unites the apparent opposites and expresses the inherent tension between them. Balance and harmony in the universe are maintained by recognizing these polarities and negotiating a third, or middle path, between them.

Five is also a potent number in Celtic mysticism, as it includes the five directions: east, south, west, north and center. The center of a place -– whether a land, a sacred circle or a medicine wheel -– was the focal point of its sacred energy.

The Otherworld
  The cosmos was divided into three main parts: heaven, earth and the Otherworld. The Otherworld, the realm of spirit, exists alongside the everyday world; the two realities are separated by a Veil. As the word implies, this separation is not an impenetrable barrier, but a fluid, diaphonous thing which "thinned" or even lifted entirely, at different places and times. A mist, a lake, a hill -– all could be places where the Veil was thin enough to allow passage between the two realities, and Celtic literature is rife with stories of such travels. Because of this perceived juxtaposition of natural and supernatural realities, Celtic shamans usually journey to the Middle World to access the spirit realm.

The Veil also grows thin at the approach of Samhain (pronounced "SAH-wen") on November 1, the most important of the four great feasts in the Celtic calendar. The night of October 31st was a time of transition, when the boundary between the natural world and the Otherworld lifted, and its spirit inhabitants came through quite easily. Humans stayed indoors to avoid them, and in this we find the precursor of modern Hallowe’en.

Along with the spirits of ancestors, the Otherworld had three main groups of inhabitants; the Tuatha Dé Danann (gods of light & order, usually human in appearance), the Formorians (gods of darkness & chaos, appearing as monstrous, malformed human), and mischievous spirits known as Sidhe or Faeries.

Druids, Bards & Cauldrons
  Historically, shamanic roles among the Celts were filled by bards, ovates and druids. Druids were not just priests; they also were responsible for receiving and holding knowledge of the past, present and future; for regulating political, scientific and medical learning; and for settling legal disputes.

Bards were persons who were trained as druids, but then went on to specialize in memorizing and reciting vast stores of their people’s myths, sacred lore and incantations in verse form. With his recitations, a bard could bestow good fortune, protect the community from evil spirits and drive out disease. Warding and protection were major functions of the Celtic shaman, and protective incantations called on the various gods and deities for aid.

Bards often had the gift of prophecy as well as poetry. In some myths, bards gained this power by falling asleep on a hill or fairy mound, and dreaming of a leanon sidh (learning-faerie) who granted gifts of divination and inspiration.

The cauldron is an important symbol for Celtic shamans as it embodies concepts of receiving, holding, and nurturing. Human consciousness is contained in three inner cauldrons: the belly (cauldron of warming); the heart (cauldron of calling & yearning); and the head (cauldron of knowing & understanding). Since all things in the universe have consciousness -– manifested as one type of cauldron, if not all three –- a shaman can connect to any thing in the world by aligning her own cauldron(s) with that of the other.

Sacred animals in Celtic practice include cattle (cows and bulls), stags, horses, salmon, ravens and wrens.

Faery Doctoring
  To read about this special Celtic healing practice, click through to the subpage:
Faery Doctoring


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