A Celtic dreaming

milky way.jpg

“To hear never-heard sounds,
To see never-seen colors and shapes,
To try to understand the imperceptible
Power pervading the world;
To fly and find pure ethereal substances
That are not of matter
But of that invisible soul pervading reality.
To hear another soul and to whisper to another soul;
To be a lantern in the darkness
Or an umbrella in a stormy day;
To feel much more than know.
To be the eyes of an eagle, slope of a mountain;
To be a wave understanding the influence of the moon;
To be a tree and read the memory of the leaves;
To be an insignificant pedestrian on the streets
Of crazy cities watching, watching, and watching.
To be a smile on the face of a woman
And shine in her memory
As a moment saved without planning.”
Dejan Stojanovic

Pic from Ebor Benson Photography:”Last nights milky way on the rise, battled against the moonlight to capture this.” 30th March 2016


moon sky.jpg


BEHOLD the Lightener of the stars
On the crests of the clouds,
And the choralists of the sky
Lauding Him.

Coming down with acclaim
From the Father above,
Harp and lyre of song
Sounding to Him.

Christ, Thou refuge of my love,
Why should not I raise Thy fame!
Angels and saints melodious
Singing to Thee.

Thou Son of the Mary of graces,
Of exceeding white purity of beauty,
Joy were it to me to be in the fields
Of Thy riches.

O Christ my beloved,
O Christ of the Holy Blood,
By day and by night
I praise Thee.

(Carmina Gadelica)

“At Tara in this fateful hour”


At Tara in this fateful hour,

I place all Heaven with its power,
And the sun with its brightness,
And the snow with its whiteness,
And the fire with all the strength it hath,
And the lightning with its rapid wrath,
And the wind with its swiftness along its path,
And the sea with its deepness,
And the rocks with their steepness,
And the Earth with its starkness
All these I place
By God’s almighty help and grace

Between myself and the powers of darkness

(Madeline L’Engle)

Photo of Hill of Tara from http://www.hilloftara.com/blog/hill-of-tara-why-millions-of-tourists-are-so-attracted-to-it/

“The Celt… is a visionary without scratching”


“The Celt, and his cromlechs, and his pillar-stones, these will not change much – indeed, it is doubtful if anybody at all changes at any time. In spite of hosts of deniers, and asserters, and wise-men, and professors, the majority still are adverse to sitting down to dine thirteen at a table, or being helped to salt, or walking under a ladder, of seeing a single magpie flirting his chequered tale. There are, of course, children of light who have set their faces against all this, although even a newspaperman, if you entice him into a cemetery at midnight, will believe in phantoms, for everyone is a visionary, if you scratch him deep enough. But the Celt, unlike any other, is a visionary without scratching.”
W.B. Yeats

St Columba: Celtic environmentalist


St Columba  (Colm Cille, ‘dove of the church’) ;was the sixth century Irish missionary  credited with spreading Christianity in  what we now call Scotland. Importantly, he also founded  Iona, which became a dominant spiritual centre for centuries to come. He is one of the Twelve Apostles of Ireland.

Around 563, as the picture indicates,  he and his twelve companions crossed from Ireland to Dunaverty near Southend, Argyll in Kintyre before settling in Iona in Scotland, then part of the Irish kingdom of Dál Riata, where they founded a new abbey as a base for spreading Christianity among the pagan picts.

Here’s a lovely clip of some early medieval Latin hymns which are often attributed to him.


And environmentalist?  He is credited with the statement:  “He who tramples on the world tramples on himself” which resonates (with me at least!) of the need of our society to heed the Celtic call to rediscover both the real value of self and the real value of our lovely planet, within the framework of an awareness of the Divine.

Wild Geese

wild geese

“You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body

love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting –
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.”
Mary Oliver

The Well of the King of Sunday


Photo: Sancreed


Thirty minutes from our house in the Irish Midlands, over the winding bumps of tiny lanes, and endless white stone walls threading soggy sheep pasture, and you come to the townland of Ballyboy, by Abbeylara, and to the ancient ruins of a Cistercian abbey.

And there, nooked away, is one of Ireland’s holy wells with the wonderful name of Tobar Righ an Domhnaigh. It means “The Well of The King of Sunday.”

To the ancient peoples, certain springs were deemed to have healing properties and thus were under divine protection.; Even the standing stones and circles of Ireland and Britain are generally found near wells or running water.

Archaeological evidence suggests it predates the abbey by many centuries, and will probably have been the cause of the abbey’s location in the first place. As Christianity spread, more and more springs were built over with chapels and well houses, and the groves around them removed.

Many such areas were deemed to be troublesome bastions of paganism.  In the 5th century, a canon issued by the Second Council of Arles stated:

“If in the territory of a bishop infidels light torches or venerate trees, fountains, or stones, and he neglects to abolish this usage, he must know that he is guilty of sacrilege.”

Yet pagan beliefs proved harder to eradicate than the sites themselves, for in the 10th, 11th and 12th centuries a stream of edicts were issued from church authorities denouncing the worship of “the sun or the moon, fire or flood, wells or stones or any kind of forest tree.”

Over time, however, pagan and Christian practices slowly blended together, and holy wells all over the islands were celebrated with Christian festivals that fell on the old pagan holy days. On the Isle of Man, for example, holy wells are frequented on August 1st, a day sacred to the Celtic god Lugh. August 1st is Lammas in the Christian calendar, but the older name for the holiday, Lugnasad, was still in common rural usage until late in the 19th century.

The custom of “well dressing” is another Christian rite with pagan roots. During these ceremonies (still practiced in Derbyshire and other parts of Britain), village wells are decorated with pictures made of flowers, leaves, seeds, feathers and other natural objects. In centuries past, the wells were “dressed” to thank the patron spirit of the well and request good water for the year to come; now the ceremonies generally take place on Ascension Day, and the pictures created to dress the wells are biblical in nature.

The  Christian tales attached to springs and wells are often as magical as any to be found in Celtic lore. Wells were said to have sprung up where saints were beheaded or had fought off dragons, or where the Virgin Mary appeared and left small footprints pressed into the stone. Over the Channel in Brittany  “granny wells” dedicated to St. Anne (so called because Anne was the mother of Mary, and therefore the grandmother of Christ) were attributed with particular powers concerning fertility and childbirth.

According to one old Breton legend, St. Anne settled there in her old age, where she was visited by Christ before she died. She asked him for a holy well to help the sick people of the region; he struck the ground three times, and the well of St. Anne-e-la-Palue was created.

Up until the 19th century, the holy wells were still considered to have miraculous properties, and were visited by those seeking cures for disease, disability, or mental illness. Some wells were famous for offering prophetic information — generally determined through the movements of the water, or leaves floating upon the water, or fish swimming in the depths. At some wells, sacred water was drunk from circular cups carved out of animal bone. Pins (usually bent), coins, bits of metal, and flowers are common well offerings; and rags (called ‘clouties’ in the West country) are tied to nearby trees, the cloth representing disease or misfortune left behind as one departs.

Places like the Well of the King of Sunday manage to retain a tranquil, mystical atmosphere despite now doing dual duty as a sacred site and something of a tourist attraction. One often finds small offerings in the circle around the well: flowers, feathers, stones, small bits of cloth tied to a near-by tree … are these just the old pagan ways that quietly persist, or something as old as time itself, the recognition of spiritual power, the presence of mystery, the call of eternity

There’s a line from an old song that came to mind this morning:

“God made a song when the world was new

Water’s laughter sings it through…

Teach me the lesson of flowing.”

An Irish Welcome (13th Century)


fireside kid

Hospitality in Ancient Ireland
Anonymous verse from the 13th century (translated by Kuno Meyer)

O King of stars!
Whether my house be dark or bright,
Never shall it be closed against any one,
Lest Christ close His house against me.

If there be a guest in your house
And you conceal aught from him,
‘Tis not the guest that will be without it,
But Jesus, Mary’s Son.

Like the joy of the sea




Like the joy of the sea coming home to shore,
May the relief of laughter rinse through your soul.

As the wind loves to call things to dance,
May your gravity by lightened by grace.

Like the dignity of moonlight restoring the earth,
May your thoughts incline with reverence and respect.

As water takes whatever shape it is in,
So free may you be about who you become.

As silence smiles on the other side of what’s said,
May your sense of irony bring perspective.

As time remains free of all that it frames,
May your mind stay clear of all it names.

May your prayer of listening deepen enough
to hear in the depths the laughter of god.”
John O’Donohue, To Bless the Space Between Us