As part of my weekly cherishing of myself, this past Sunday evening I registered for a live Zoom by Dolores Whelan and Mari Kennedy on the “Gifts and Wisdom of the Celtic Tradition for these uncertain times.” The Celtic religious traditions – both spiritually and socially – were quite different until Christianity went the way of Rome after the Synod of Whitby in 665 CE. Between the Celtic spiritual sensibility and the Brehon legal system based on reparative justice as opposed to punitive measures, life on the Celtic fringes was the light that blazed during the Dark Ages. Brehon law lingered in the Gaelic areas of Ireland up until the 17th century and was a liberal system that enshrined women’s rights when few existed elsewhere in European civilisation.
Nor did the Whitby Synod completely extinguish the underpinnings of Celtic spirituality and religious practice. The popularity of John O’ Donohue’s writings tapped into a hunger for that older wisdom creating something of a renaissance.
Ancient Celtic wisdom revers nature, contemplative silence, the giving of hospitality as a sacred duty, and the porous veil between our material world and ‘the other world.’ Dolores gave us an Irish proverb in translation- “Tir na nÓg is behind my house.” As Mari Kennedy discussed, the ancient Celtic world a millenia and more ago operated so that individuals were responsible for being in ‘right relationship’ with themselves, with the land, with their neighbours and with their god. Sovereignty was not just for the high king. It was, and still is, about living with integrity and maintaining that wholeness in all one’s dealings. That right relationship with all four is the cross surrounded by the circle of wholeness. Right relationship opens a way for there to be reparative justice rather than the punitive justice of our current systems.
The Celtic world was not afraid of darkness or death. The Cailleach is a terrible hag and rules winter. But she is also credited with being the Creatrix of our known world. The Celtic New Year – Samhain – or Halloween as it is known elsewhere – is at our darkest time of year. Out of that darkness the light is reborn at winter solstice.
I am reminded of the time I listened to our cat Zelda purr her litter of kittens into the world as she sat beside me. A few months earlier my husband sat with our cat Sophie as she purred her way out of this world. Birth and death both require labour; they are two sides of the same coin.
We are in that liminal space (there’s another point that Mari brought up in the webinar!) where we are witnessing the death of our old known world. The birth of the ‘new normal’ is not yet with us. We stand on our threshold with the door open. We are between the old model of our known world and the yet to be seen new model. We are needing to hold our uncertainty and stand with it – in our own integrity.
This was all very synchronous for me. The previous Friday I sat with my husband and a friend outdoors mulling over how I might devise a course that would speak to the the long days of December. With indoor visitations disappearing across the map as areas lockdown because of localised Covid19 spikes, I wondered how the Covid19 Christmas would look in 2020. I had already emailed siblings in the States asking that we don’t do the present parcel routine this year. I really do not want my siblings – all over 69 years of age – queuing for a long time in a post office, potentially exposing themselves to pathogens.
On Saturday, a discussion with some students who stayed in the Zoom room after class helped clarify what I can offer. And, credit where it is due – thanks to the late Mammy Rountree who helped construct the name for the course.
Which will be…21 Days Journey through the Dark Days of December. I will be writing more about this next week. For now, just know that my hope is that there can be a community of souls helping each other hold the uncertainty as they wait upon the return of the light.
If you want to learn more about the wisdom of Celtic spirituality I refer you to Dolores Whelan’s website (http://www.doloreswhelan.ie) and Mari Kennedy’s Celtic Wheel year long course starting soon. (https://www.marikennedy.com).