Engaged Druidism: A Practice Handbook

Contents
Introduction 4 Part I: Daily Practice The Physical Senses 6 Place Bonding 7 The Sacred Senses 8 Elders of Nature 9 Working with an Altar 10 Becoming ‘An Sith’ 12 Sitting Meditation 13 Dreamwork 14 Healing Breaths (Willowwind) 16 Body Practice 18 Art as Contemplative Practice 19 Journaling 21 The Sacred Dreamtime 22

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Engaged Druidism: A Practice Handbook

Part II: Transformative Practice Stepping Back into the Body of the Ancestors (Frank MacEowen) 24 The Otherworld Journey 29 The Cauldrons of the Soul 33 The Irish Spirit Wheel as Problem-Solving Tool (Frank MacEowen) 35 Pilgrimage 36 Vision Poetry 41 Storytelling 42 Prayer Fast

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Engaged Druidism: A Practice Handbook

Introduction
A deep and personal spiritual practice is an essential part of all of major traditions of the world, and is also a cornerstone of engaged druidism. By engaging in the practices outlined in this handbook, we can deepen our experience of the tradition of druidism and broaden our personal spiritual lives. The effects of these practices will be seen and felt on all levels of our interior and exterior lives. While many of the world’s traditions prescribe a rigorous and pre-defined set of practices and rules, this is not the intent of this handbook. The practices you will find here are suggested practices. You are encouraged to find your own way – if a practice does not resonate with you, there is no requirement to engage in that practice. You are also encouraged to adapt the practices to your needs, or to add new practices that you feel are meaningful to you. Having said that, keep in mind that spiritual growth can be uncomfortable and resistance to a practice is often times a subtle form of denial or avoidance of that growth. Resistance to a certain practice might indicate that there is something within that practice that is extremely important for your growth. Before discarding any of these practices, you are encouraged to honestly ask yourself questions that will clarify the reasons for any resistance you might feel. The practices outlined in this handbook are organized into two types: daily and transformative. The daily practices are intended to provide a regular grounding in the tradition to allow us to go about our daily activities from a position of our authentic presence. It is sometimes difficult to incorporate these daily practices into our busy schedule, but the results of this daily grounding are great and you are encouraged to do so. Although the daily practices offered are all deeply transformative, there is a second section dedicated to more intense practices which are aimed more specifically at radical transformation. The transformative practices, such as Pilgrimage, are neither practical nor intended to be practiced on a daily basis. The results of these practices can be quite profound, and it is desirable to have sufficient time away from daily work and obligations to adequately experience them. You are encouraged to practice these as often as seems meaningful to you and if possible, while not daily, on a regular basis. If used properly, both of these types of practices can form a solid foundation for our inner and outer lives. There are no diplomas to be earned in these practices. There is no graduation from any level to the next. You are encouraged to return to practices you have already done, for at each stage of our journey, these practices will have different meanings and will open new vistas for our growth. This handbook is an integral part of the Anam Thuras Wisdom Center (ATWC) courses for engaged druidism. This handbook is available to all members of the Foundation for Engaged Druidism, and though the ATWC courses will add depth and breadth to these practices, enrolment in the engaged druidism courses is not a requirement. Finally, as no one is an island, there is a dedicated discussion board on the FfED forums for the discussion of these practices. You are encouraged to visit this board and share your experiences with other people who are using these practices in their lives. We wish you the deepest of blessings as you embark on this journey of engaged practice.

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Part I: Daily Practice .

then. 6 . as much time as you can give. Now bring your awareness back to the whole picture. shadow. You might also try the following when you have finished: repeat this sensory exercise in a town or city. What do you see? Spend time focusing on color. and just spend some time being mindful and aware of it all. light. Spending time with and attuning to the physical presence of nature can reveal just as many treasures to us as speaking with the spirits and attending to the non-ordinary layers of reality. How often do we attend to the physical presence of nature? Even when out on the land. or go wading in a stream. or thinking ahead to what we will have for dinner. Attend to the physical presence of nature. What do you notice about the way your senses reaction in both areas. and suddenly we aren’t in nature at all! We are back at the office. old arguments. whatever information registers to your senses. What do you hear? Spend time just listening to nature. smell the flowers. It doesn’t matter particularly how. movement. wander aimlessly through a park. We find our minds wandering from us. sit under a tree. many of us have a tendency to become distracted. What do you taste? Don’t be afraid to get in there! What does the air taste like? If you know of the edible plants in the area. both its sounds and silence. is this: spend some time out in nature. and stillness. but the experience can be quite profound. and soil. What do you smell? Spend time with the smells of nature.Engaged Druidism: A Practice Handbook The Physical Senses This practice is quite simple. The practice. the grass. class. Go for a hike. Where do they open up the most? Where do they shut down? Spend as much time with this exercise as you’d like and I invite you to come back to it often. You might find it helpful to spend time with each of your physical senses individually. taste them (warning: do not do this unless you are absolutely certain of the plant).

Make yourself comfortable and just take some time to arrive. It might be a particular tree. 3. Go out into the green world of nature. What are the problems posed by perceiving the physical and spiritual as a duality? Optional: Try the above exercise in an urban setting. the house cats. Whatever is available will work. 2. or your beloved venus fly trap. Find a place that you are drawn to. the physical and the “spiritual”. Notice what you notice. the plants. As the saying goes. 4. If the only place you can get away to is a local park. the streams. which is comfortable enough to spend a bit of time in. Begin by becoming aware of yourself as being the “watcher” of the place. 7. etc. What is it like to participate in the experience of place? Some questions that I would like you to spend some time with after this exercise: 9. 11. then that is fine. or even just a house plant. a stone. Now shift your perception. the backyard. beside a stream. did I experience something that I would consider sacred? Of the two experiences of place. bring your attention to the physical presence of your place. noticing what you notice. Sit with this for a while. “notice what you notice”. 6. Continue shifting back and forth between these. Now imagine for a moment that what you are feeling as the physical presence of the place is also the spiritual presence of the place. While doing this exercise. Sit with this for a while. Next. a clearing in a forest. which one did you perceive as the soul of place? This exercise asks you to contemplate a fundamental gap between nature and soul. What do you notice? 7 . Now become aware of yourself as being part of this place. Cycle between this experience of the physical and spiritual presence of place. as much as the trees.Engaged Druidism: A Practice Handbook Place-Bonding 1. 10. Tune in to your physical senses. the wilder the better. you’re favorite corner of the yard. and become aware of yourself as the “watched”. 8. 5.

something which is going on at all times and which we can choose to participate in or not. When you notice this happened. Rather. But it is a practice. The practice is a simple one: start with just a single day. to relating to every thing that you do or experience throughout the day as infused with the sacred. place. like any other. Everything as mundane is tying your shoes and brushing your teeth. one in which each moment is infused with a quality of the sacred. What happens to each task when it is infused with these qualities? What happens to your day when it is infused with these qualities? Now imagine that you lived your entire life with this awareness? What would happen to your life if it were infused with these sorts of qualities? Now live your life from there. you’re mind will sometimes wander away. like your return the mind to the breath during meditation practice as described later in this handbook. I do not believe that sacredness is something that an object.Engaged Druidism: A Practice Handbook The Sacred Senses This awareness practice is concerned with cultivating our senses to perceive the sacred inherent in each moment. Neither of these things are inherently bad of course. when you try to live your life from here. gentleness. This is part of what we have talked about as “warrior training” fearless cultivation of openness. to the more profound acts of meditation and love-making. going from task to task until we have the space to relax. 8 . Commit yourself to openness. and mindfulness. That of course is easier said than done. Often when the way we approach the day-to-day minutia of our lives is one of mindlessness – we close ourselves off. or person can possess. Just like the practice of meditation. I think that it is a mode of perception. Usually when we are granted this space we choose to relax in ways which continue to contribute to a lifestyle of shutting down and tuning out. but they do not foster the openness of spirit that is available to us in each moment of our lives. We watch TV or we spend excessive amounts of time at the computer. Imagine another way of approaching your life and the world. simply return your awareness to the sacred.

You might open up a dialogue. of divine power into our human consciousness. In fact there’s little reason to believe that even the computer I am writing this on is not a spirit. Pay attention to your feelings. and is relevant here: “The world is not a collection of objects. When we talk about dana-spirits though. I am particularly fond of a waterfall in Glendalough. The dana-spirits are a way of articulating a cross-cultural phenomenon in the primal Irish tradition. These are the real druids. In Ireland. where we encounter the numinosity of soul. The Tuatha Dé are dana-spirits.Engaged Druidism: A Practice Handbook The Elders of Nature: Conversations with Nature Everything is a spirit. the goddess is experienced as a hierophany. “Objects” also are spirits. There is a quote by Father Thomas Berry which I like. I prefer to use Patricia Monaghan’s definition of the kami. and where your gaze is most drawn to. to a place that is special to you. in Tibetan Buddhism they might be called dakinis. Obviously stones and trees don’t speak English (or any human language for that matter). most notably certain spirits in nature. Next. from drums and rattles. your senses (both physical and non-physical). you might consider making an offering (I often use tobacco in the States or whiskey). However. hold a different sort of space than others. In Japanese Shinto religion it might be expressed as kami. Co. In any case. Go there with the intention of identifying a dana-spirit in that area. just spend some time with it. we can read nature too – the shadows falling across the face of a stone. 9 . and if we practice openness. an elder spirit that serves as an ambassador of the numinous into the place. To do this. a breaking through. which she uses to illuminate the idea of the goddess in Ireland. but this term can also apply to certain ancestral spirits. but rather a communion of subjects. the grass. just the simple act of spending time in the presence of these spirits is enough. the trees. They have a different language. the mountains. Certain spirits however. simply tune in to the place while you wander through. The simple definition of a dana-spirit might be. “It describes these moments and places and myth and beings in which divine presence makes itself felt. Wicklow. Much like we read a book though. the Sidhe (alternately Síth or Sí in modern Irish). Which features of the land seem to be “holding the space”? What evokes a quality of divine beauty that sings to your soul? When you have identified that spirit. walking sticks. These are all languages in their own right. a sharp outcropping of rock.” The practice then is this: go out into nature.into which we are born. Ireland. the rustle of tree leaves. and wind chimes to coffee mugs and wall hangings. the sun bursting through clouds: these are kami because they remind us of the order . and later in folk memory as the Faery People. These are the real elders of the tradition. then in time these languages can become as clear as when speaking with old friends. how in the space they hold they seem to provide a doorway to the liminal. the gurgle of a stream. and listen deeply with our intuitive senses. these spirits were collective known as the Tuatha Dé Danann.” The wind has its spirits. Notice how it affects you. anything that invokes the quality of Dana or a quality of the sacred. or which you feel drawn to. similarly. Speaking with nature is different than speaking with other humans. with specific natural settings and moments as the medium of communication. or the singing of birds. The blossoming of cherry trees. or the spirits that inhabit certain places in the natural world. or certain objects. In Ireland. This is essentially the animistic understanding of things.the divinity . it is not solely the Tuatha Dé Danann that we are speaking of. which I recognize as a dana-spirit. She writes that.

they are in fact found all over the world. many from the 10 .Engaged Druidism: A Practice Handbook Working with Altars Altars and shrines have been used in a variety of traditional spiritualities and religions. They can be a potent way of orienting ourselves to the world as well as the inner dimensions of the psyche and soul. For this reason working with an altar as a form of regular daily practice can be powerful. It is however not the only way. becoming a being in its own right. This can be as complex or simple as you like and the symbols need not be actual representations of each association. Ireland is divided into four provinces. Leinster. the Irish word for “element” can be found in several lists. air. What follows are two sets of instructions for setting up and working with an altar. These dúile. taking the place of the Greek aether). In any case. music in the south. though often associated with Eastern religions (the word mandala is a Sanskrit one. Therefore it is the search for wholeness. The Four Winds Altar The primary mandala of Ireland is embedded deeply into the configuration of the land. the order of things is disrupted when this basic pattern of human life is forgotten. and psychology (and it is only within the era of modern psychology that psychology and religion have become separated) are a set of assumptions about what is good and healthy for an individual. And what was that pattern? Not hard: learning in the west. (Connaught. These are the associations of each division of Ireland. both what they mean personally to you and what they mean on a more mythic and collective level. and the earth our body. They are the wildness of the world and the wildness of the self. In most animistic and shamanistic cultures we find that the assumption is based on observations of that full circle of the horizon. It would in fact be a far more powerful experience if the symbols you choose are things which you associate with the symbolic meaning of the directions. Mandalas. The mandala. battle in the north. our breath. a way of locating our own bodies in the world by way of correspondence with nature. and Meath respectively) and so because the human heart and mind mirror the earth they are also the divisions we might find within ourselves. and given a variety of names. An Elemental Altar The inner and outer landscapes are not separate. and kingship in the center (see the essay The Four Winds: Mandala of Wholeness by Jason Kirkey or the book The Celtic Way of Seeing by Frank MacEowen for a more thorough discussion of these divisions). Although many have argued that the druids used a similar system. At the end of this section you will find a suggested daily practice for working with your altar. air. Explore the airts and their meanings. At the center of every spirituality. with a hidden fifth province in the center. Due to the personal nature of this practice though. In Ireland this “mandala” is spoken about in terms of the layout and configuration of the island itself. Most modern people working in a Western tradition of paganism work with the “classical” system of the four elements. There are a variety of lists. As the story “The Settling of the Manor of Tara” describes. religion. water. which becomes the modus operandi of the culture. and as you continue practicing to refine it in ways which feel more organic to yourself. The fire in the sun is the heat of our body. Over time an altar can take on a life and spirit of its own. in terms of Jung and archetypal psychology. the Great Feast of Tara could not commence until the pattern was recalled. practice becomes a dialogue of waking up to the inner configuration set up on the altar. Ulster. this is open to debate. the ocean the blood and water which we are made up of. Munster. the center of the circle or mandala. You might consider trying it as it is written. which are speculated to be a part of the native druidic traditions of Ireland. working with these elements is not inappropriate to the Celtic tradition. One of the primary systems of orientation in nature-based spiritual traditions is the elements. from Greek thought: fire. meaning “circle”). If these orientations speak to you then you might consider setting up an altar dedicated to their energies and teachings. prosperity in the east. There are no right answers. it is important to feel free enough to alter these as is appropriate. is the archetype of wholeness. In the case of the story. each airt and province. often of up to nine elements. and earth (spirit is sometimes added to this. as described above.

(Footnotes) 1 quoted in: Ó Duinn OSB. To begin. I arise today through the strength of heaven. The human being becomes a microcosm of the world. perhaps.” What is your experience of them? Before you move on to the next direction contemplate what these teachings or energies mean to you. Spend at least two minutes. speed of lightning. (translated by W. and that is an old prayer often called St. none more primary. and certainly at least the listing of the dúile seems to have druidic origins. settling the mind. Patrick’s Breastplate. As I have stated there are several other lists to be found as well. Strachan)1 This is only a small section of the longer prayer of the breastplate. including the center. with each direction. 179 11 . Stokes and J. Classifying the many shapes of the world was not centrally important. but rather what was important was that there were shapes. stability of earth. and the world a macrocosm of the human. This prayer is speculated to predate Christianity. See the meditation section of this handbook for suggestions on practice and sitting posture. Perhaps a search for a uniquely Celtic system of the elements is fruitless because there was not one homogenized teaching on this subject? Rather it seems that there may have been many lists of elements. a morning prayer. Blackrock. For this particular practice meditation is not the focus. but if you have a longer period of time to spend at the altar you might choose to extend this period. 2000. What was important. Spend at least 5-10 minutes meditating. and that within the natural world we might find reflections of ourselves. The Deer’s Cry. Seán. Contemplate each direction. light of sun. splendour of fire. and the length can be increased as you develop in the practice. and more importantly. There is however at least one Irish source of interest. ask yourself “how can I bring this teaching into my life today?” Consider dedicating yourself to the embodiment of that direction today. brilliance of moon. but also known by an older name. If you resonate with a different orientation it can easily be used with that as well. Ireland: The Columba Press. This same practice can be used for the elemental altar as well. This suggests that there was no uniform system of classifying what the elements were. swiftness of wind. more authentic or correct than another. do not intellectualize them. move your attention to your altar. Co. depth of sea. Where Three Streams Meet: Celtic Spirituality. You are invited to increase this time as you wish. and these shapes were infused with divine consciousness. Dublin. firmness of rock. p. The Altar as a Place of Practice Sit down at your altar. When you have finished meditation. Just place your attention with them and “notice what you notice.Engaged Druidism: A Practice Handbook Scottish text compiled by Alexander Carmichael called the Carmina Gadelica. invoking the strength and power of the cosmos into the day. 10 minutes is good as a starting place. to the Celts was the philosophy which lay behind any articulation of the elements: that within ourselves we may find the elements of nature.

flowing through and enlivening everything here. as if you were moving through that layer of reality. we talked extensively about the memory of places and the land. An Síth. go to a place in nature that is special to you. which we might think of as existing as a strata below the physical earth that we walk on. a rocky ridge in the mountains. Although it is quite possible to use this practice to connect with particular features of the land. Sit with this for a few moments. a park. That said. as well as to the peace of the land. Shift your attention to the experience of Dana in the land. literally translates to “the peace” and it refers both to the Faery People. Sit with this for a few moments. Consider that the physical presence of the place. such as certain beloved trees or stones. Go there and sit down. (Footnotes) 1 MacEowen. without neccessarily taking a shamanic journey. The Spiral and Memory of Belonging: A Celtic Path of Soul and Kinship. of attuning to the currents of Dana there.”1 Becoming an síth is a way of merging with the land. Novato. Everything above the land went to the Milesians. begin to focus now on the soul of the place. this time try using a more undefined larger area: a place. This time however. or the sacredness of the place. but also as a source of nonordinary information that is stored in the inherent wisdom of the land. the land was divided in two. is the numinosity of the place. both as a means of attuning to the rhythm of nature and soul. In the Second Battle of Magh Tuireadh. and of the memory of the place. recognize that by thinking of the place as other you are essentially separating yourself from it. Becoming an síth is also a way of tuning into the memory of a particular place. it has tremendous value. the power of the place. Once again. you are merged now with the land. p. shift your awareness. Sit with this for a few moments. 139 12 . is within the nonordinary spiritscape of the land. Feel this for a while. As Frank MacEowen describes it. it is a way of “tapping into the nonordinary reality of a place. You are an síth. Focus your attention now on numinous quality that the place holds. is the soul of the place. etc. when the invading Milesians (the Gaelic people) defeated the Tuatha Dé Danann in battle.Engaged Druidism: A Practice Handbook Becoming ‘An Síth’ This last awareness practice is something that I have come to call “becoming an síth”. often called the People of Peace. As if shifting to a slightly different strata of experience. Wild Earth. and that just as you are a part of nature and a part of Dana. In the first article in this text. California: New World Library. the dwelling place of Dana. To begin the practice. 2004. In other words. Allow yourself to dissolve that barrier by knowing that you are in the same flow of Dana as the place. consider that the soul of the place. and then shift your attention. Wild Mind. One more time. Stay with this for as long as you would like. Frank. continuing to notice what you notice. Feel the physical presence of the place. and everything below the land went to the Dé Danann. A particular patch of woods. Sit with this for a few moments. This provides us with a potent metaphor for our practice of becoming an síth: “the land beneath the land”. consider that this numinous quality of the land is the currents of Dana. Again.

It is something you cultivate. Without judgment of analyzation. For a more detailed study of meditation and the path of sacred warriorship (a path which I think is incredibly relevant to the Druid path and awakened Celtic warriorship) I highly recommend: Shambhala: The Sacred Path of the Warrior by Chogyam Trungpa. Place your hands on your thighs. Just allow yourself to feel whatever you are feeling without judgment or thought. looking at the floor (or wall) about 6-8 feet in front of you. You will know when your mind has wandered when you have either forgotten why you are sitting. thoughts will no doubt arise. it is important to develop the discipline of actually doing it. Because it is the nature of the mind. but stick with the practice and you will no doubt find it to be immensely illuminating. • It sounds much simpler than it is of course. That said. Whatever you are feeling. Because meditation is a practice. label each thought that arises: ‘thought’. called Shambhala meditation. Keep your eyes open. If you’re unable to sit on the floor it is alright to use a chair. below is an outline of a style of sitting meditation which the Tibetan Buddhist teacher. and then let it go. There is no easy step-by-step guide to perfecting the practice. Breathe in deeply but comfortably. Keep your back straight and upright.Engaged Druidism: A Practice Handbook Sitting Meditation Meditation is a basic practice of mindfulness. or go even further and place your awareness in the gap between breaths. It is a secular form of meditation meant to be part of ‘sacred warriorship’. You may want to sit on a cushion to elevate yourself a bit. meditation is a technique of slowing down and cultivating the awareness to observe one’s self. • The Posture: Sit on the floor with your legs crossed comfortably. The mouth can be slightly open allowing for easy breathing. but rather a state of sensitivity and awareness to the presence of mind in oneself. 13 . you also do not need to “think” about it. To begin. Mindfulness does not mean a distracted mind full of thoughts. Keeping them on your thighs rather than your knees or resting in your lap will help straighten your back. let them go too. Chogyam Trungpa. apply your awareness to the tips of your nostrils. drifting through your mind like clouds. Simply put. As your mind settles. Label whatever you were thinking as: ‘thought’. Feel the cool air entering and the warm air as it leaves. and then return to your breath. and provide comfort for longer meditation sessions. The Practice: is simple: follow your breath. and then out. Visualizations are also thoughts. you might loosen the reigns of your attention and just focus on the out breath. or tell yourself the story of why you feel the way you do. Meditation is also a process. or you have lost track of your breath.

you might draw a spiral going inward. with the intention that you will have a dream (perhaps on a specific topic). Because of this each dream serves as an invitation and initiation to growth and transformation by symbolically suggesting the ways in which the ego is mislead. is to write brief notes about major elements of the dream. Each symbol in the dream should be interpreted by the dreamer by way of personal association. Waiting to write down dreams is a problem because they quickly dissipate from the conscious mind. Although free associating can be a powerful way to ‘get to the bottom of things. Dream Interpretation There is no code for interpreting dreams. slowly. A dream dictionary will help you about as much as viewing another’s medical records will tell you about your own health. a dictionary of traditional symbolism (unrelated to dreaming). You might also consider getting a voice activated recorder to speak your dreams late at night instead of waking up to journal. You might interpret glasses to be a symbol of clear vision. The first thing to do before analyzing the dream is to consider your situation in the waking world.1 This of course is not the only perspective.Engaged Druidism: A Practice Handbook Dreamwork One powerful way of working with the unconscious is through dreams. All these techniques help to ingrain dreams into your psyche. There are many theories about what dreams are.’ in dreamwork it tends to take us away from the actual content of the dream. compensating for unconscious or unexpressed psychic content. Narrate the dream to yourself (or another person) in first person. we will be focusing on dreams as symbol-laden stories from deep within the unconscious. Dreams do not play the flattery game with the ego – they are meant to assist us in our growth and transformation. Remembering Dreams Many people complain of being unable to recall their dreams after waking. and later when you have the time to use them as a means of re-entering the dream and journaling. a few of which we will discuss below. One important point to note about dreams. we will be focusing on the initiatory aspect of dreams. Another option. Dreaming is the soul’s way of taking a magnifying glass to our mediocrity so that we might grow beyond it. ranging from the purely objective to the deeply archetypal. train stations to be waiting places. Dreams can be interpreted in a variety of ways. but are also transformative experiences rooted in the unconscious. For example. don’t start making associations about characters or situations from that book. and writing them down right when you wake up. The spiral serves as a potent symbol of going inward towards the unconscious. Sometimes dreams are actually just mirroring back to us a process at hand. The most often cited one is of course keeping a journal and a pen by your bedside. Before going to bed. If you dream of books and your personal association with books is the novel you just read. return to the symbol itself and make your next association from there. There are several methods of working with dreams. or wrong. ranging from the purely scientific to the overly fantastical. After each personal association with a dream symbol. as if it were all happening at that moment. It is true that some dreams contain archetypal symbolism from within the collective unconscious. to make the unconscious conscious. which is the purpose of dreams. let us say that you have dreamt that you have lost your glasses in a train station and the conductor won’t let you on the train without them. acting “too small”. For the sake of this example let us say that you have just lost your job and are feeling stuck in life. however. but for the purposes of this practice. These are stories which are not only trying to communicate important messages to the ego self. If you are compelled to use a dream dictionary or better yet. You might also re-play the dream(s) again through your head. if you are pressed for time in the morning or during the night. and the conductor as the doorkeeper between waiting and taking the 14 . trains as long journey. Here. is that in every dream the ego character (the I in the dream) is wrong. and perhaps even serving in a prophetic manner. which was made by noted psychologists such as Robert Jordan and James Hillman. There are several methods that can help you to remember dreams. but for the most part a dream dictionary is only a waste of time and will lead to confusion. After this analyzation of the individual symbols a wider perspective can be gained of the dream as a whole. like watching a movie. Do not be tempted to free associate. make your personal associations first.

Plotkin. Bill. or perhaps one of the people in the train station knows where to find your glasses). speaking with people or taking conversations to deeper levels with some of the characters of the dream (for example. You might use the technique with the spiral described above to attempt to incubate a recurrence of the same dream in deeper detail (without changing the essentials of the “plot”). Soulcraft: Crossing into the Mysteries of Nature and Psyche. California: New World Library.e. You might use what Jung called “active imagination” to speak with some of the dream characters. perhaps the conductor could tell you why you cannot board the train without your glasses. This can be done in several ways. This basically involves talking to yourself. please see the next chapter. You take on the role of “you” in the dream (i. and re-experience the dream. (Endnotes) 1. 2003. but it can be quite a powerful technique. For more on shamanic journeying. to a life change necessary for the growth of your ego. using shamanic techniques to enter nonordinary reality. You might feel a little silly doing this at first. Another option is to more literally journey into the dream. your ego consciousness) and let your unconscious speak as the other characters. Novato. In such instances it can be helpful to journey back into the dream.Engaged Druidism: A Practice Handbook journey. The Dream Journey Sometimes our dreams remain obscure to us even after our attempts to interpret them. p. As a transformative power this dream is probably trying to push you towards taking that step over the edge. As such you might interpret the overall dream to mean that you are at the cusp of a serious life change (long journey) but will continue to stay at the edge of the cusp (station) unless you can “find” your ability to see things more clearly (lost glasses). With this method you can approach the dream in a more conscious manner. 140 15 .

Ya Kafee has an implied pause to make 4 counts. so the number of syllables depends of the level of practice. This should take you to the heart level mentioned above. The traditional phrase used in Sufi practice with this is Ya Shafee. being sure to expel the breath completely. Two syllables in. One way to deepen this practice is to choose or make a verse with syllables that will give you the right number of counts and repeat this to yourself as you breathe. Traditionally the breathing is done to a rhythm of 4 counts in. The first three months. the breaths should become deeper as well as longer. You can make a correspondence with the four directions as you do this with ether representing the center. but it can also be done before meditation. Four in. they should reach the base of the spine. Choose lines that feel right for you. this is your practice. Some experienced practitioners make it longer. “Deep peace of the flowing air to you”. There are many other lines relating to the winds and elements also. four counts out. One example would be to use lines from the well known Deep Peace poem in association with the elements. 4 out is the prescribed degree for someone who can breathe deeper. out 4. Similar useful line might include “Deep peace of the running wave”. Ether breath – 5 very subtle breaths concentrating on the element ether.Engaged Druidism: A Practice Handbook Healing Breaths by Willowwind This breathing cycle. (Inayat Khan’s original practice was 20 breaths. It can be done lying down if a person has health or mobility problems. comes from the teachings of the Sufi master Hazrat Inayat Khan. for example: deep peace/quiet earth. But this is also a chance for inspiration and creativity to fashion a way of marking the rhythm that works best for you. As time progresses. However. For instance as you do the earth breath you could use “Deep peace of the quiet earth “. this can be shortened at first if this is the personal need and lengthened later as the practice develops. It is preferable do practice this outdoors or in front of an open window. 2 out works well for someone just starting out. Water breath – 5 breaths in through the nostrils and out through the mouth concentrating on awareness the element water. 16 . O Divine Remedy”. before eating. The full breath is 4 in. sometimes called the healing breaths. It means “O Divine Healer. There is no particular line for fire or ether in this poem of which there is more than one version. this cycle most likely has it source in yogic pranayama techniques. The fifth breath was probably added by his student SAM Lewis who was also a Buddhist master. hold 4. concentrating on awareness of the element of earth. Air breath – 5 breaths in and out through the mouth concentrating on the element air. (Note: this is not a proprietary teaching. the breath should be felt to reach the solar plexus (heart). Since Inayat Khan was born and raised in India. Fire breath – 5 breaths in through the mouth and out through the nostrils concentrating of on awareness of the element fire. The second three months they should reach the navel. The breaths are as follows: Earth breath – 5 breaths in and out through the nostrils. It can be found in various published sources) Inayat Khan did not in his original description of this practice associate the elements with the types of breath but it has become traditional to do so. during the third three months the abdominal region. Ya Shafee. As this is more than four syllables you would need to practice of bit with the tempo and might need to shorten it at first.) This practice is usually done first thing in the morning. four counts hold. Ya Kafee. five each of the first four techniques. The most difficult part is the exhale because it is important to get all the stale air out of the lungs. Eventually. Ultimately. Learning to breathe more deeply is not to be forced in this tradition. The goal is to slow and deepen the rhythm. This should not be forced but develop naturally. You might use “Deep peace of the shining stars” for ether or “Deep peace of the Sovereign Queen”. The Deep Peace poem was originally an eolas of healing so it seems appropriate to combine here. prayer or other spiritual practices.

like aether I rejoice Note from Willowwind: When I first began to work with this practice. although it has great physical benefits. 17 . Some experienced practitioners feel that even if you do nothing else. Breath is deeply connected to spirit in almost all cultures. The wisdom of this was preserved in Asia and is available for Druidism to re-discover and integrate. Breath is also related to relaxation so tension shows up very quickly. I suspect this may be the case for many people raised in contemporary Western culture. peace Exhales: Earth: talamh (TAH-loo) lit. like water I cradle Fire is her spirit. courtesy of Aidan. emotionally and spiritually. Inhale: síocháin (SHEE-chawn) lit. water Fire: tine (CHEE-nuh) lit. soil Air: aer a shéid (ERR HAYDGE) lit.5 count sequence in English as an example for those working with a goddess aspect. It occurred to me that I had never been taught how to breathe deeply and fully. my breath was very shallow and tight in my chest. Earth is her body. gods During the breath also try to feel the connection with the element in question. you should cultivate a breathing practice. Working with it can be of great benefit physically. like air I cleanse Aether is her soul. fire Spirit: Deithe (JAY-huh) lit. The lowered oxygen in-take and tension associated with tight. shallow breathing has negative impact on the body and mind both short term and long term. You can make it four counts by either repeating the phrase or holding the syllable longer. It is also a form of meditation or even prayer. like earth I create Water is her womb. Here is an approximate 4 . This is not just a physical exercise. aer that blows Water: uisce (ISH-kuh) lit.Engaged Druidism: A Practice Handbook Here are some examples in Gaelic for a two count cycle. earth. like fire I consume Air is her breath.

When your mind wanders bring your attention back to the awareness of your body. yoga. still played today) are just a short list of possibilities. I will keep this to a brief reflection on contemplative practice and the body. As John O’Donohue says. “the body is in the soul. especially in the more “New Age” circles. There are many approaches that one can take to this form of practice. Consider starting out using a similar technique as sitting meditation. Our bodies are the earth. while others. yoga. With these more free-form practices you will need to find your own way of making it contemplative (though it may happen for many folks naturally). it is important to remember that we are body-mind-soul’s. the spiritual is the subjective interior (not inside. or running the involvement of the body in practice is an important component of the contemplative life. that which involves the soul and nonmaterial and spiritual and that which involves the body is material and nonspiritual. such as hiking or running. and like a ‘dream-ladder’ we can more deeply connect with the earth through the body. hiking. Part of this is residue from the classic Western split between spirit and matter which polarizes the body and soul as opposites. This relic will not aid us here however. It may seem strange.” There is only one world. like yoga. Too often. and thus it is important that we cultivate awareness both of our interior dimensions of the mind and soul as well as our bodies. 18 . rather than courageously facing it and engaging with it. However.Engaged Druidism: A Practice Handbook Body Practice Many of the practices described in this handbook are oriented towards inner dimensions of the psyche and soul. Because this area is so broad. qi gong. and because many of the specific practices involve forms that are far too detailed and complex to relate here. or even hurling (an ancient Irish sport. rock climbing. require a certain degree of instruction to learn the form and method. Some forms. and thus that work with the mind or soul must be tempered with practice with the body. but even meditation can be used as a means to anesthetize ourselves to reality. T’ai chi. spirituality and contemplative practice is used as an escape from reality. swimming. and it is spiritual-material. Alienation from one is alienation from the other. Like ourselves. and many variety of forms and disciplines that one can employ. can be done independently. as the mind is the subjective interior of the body. but hidden and invisible) of the material. Let your awareness of your body be the focus of your attention and mindfulness. aikido. It is important that you find a practice which you enjoy and connect with. running. Whether your practice is t’ai chi. lu-jong.

hopefully perhaps glimpsing a gap in our ego-run experience where we can tune into something more primordial.Engaged Druidism: A Practice Handbook Art as Contemplative Practice Often people think of spiritual practice in a way that is limiting. In describing my own experiences I hope to illuminate how you might turn your awareness toward your art in a way which fosters the contemplative and transformative spirit. Above all he watches where he steps. Wild Heart: Finding Courage and Clarity through Poetry. writing prose or poetry. In this way the lines between art and artist are blurred. Free Play by Stephan Nachmanovitch is a wonderful book exploring art as a contemplative and transformative practice. pure. This misses out on one of the most widespread and potent contemplative traditions: the tradition of art. t’ai chi. We are of course not talking about a literal listening here. We are not talking about something we do exclusively with the ears. The senses overwhelm him 19 . we all do… [Y]ou are essentially being invited to explore an intuitive way of seeing. as do the lines between life and art. to find a more dynamic experience of the self through contact with what is Other. or any of the hundred and thousand of disciplines are all essentially contemplative in nature. This is why art is the perfect compliment to contemplation – true listening results in true speaking. This is no different than sitting meditation. When I sit down to write a poem. Art has both a transformative and contemplative function. listening to the self and listening to the world. As the poet David Whyte often says. even the body. In The Celtic Way of Seeing Frank MacEowen says. working wood or stone. As if it matters where he leaves his prints. When we come into contact with such depths it instigates a transformative process.’”1 We could say the same for listening. Painting. THE POET by David Whyte moves forward to that edge but lives sensibly. are transformed into a set of ‘eyes. The deeper my ear runs. “By seeing. drawing. through the senses not because of them. the poem is only as good as the depth of my listening. sitting meditation. yoga. the deeper and better the poetry which emerges. He doesn’t even mention writing or speaking. and you’re lucky catching an auditory glimpse of the dialogue between them. but rather the entire body-mind-soul becomes an ear with which we can listen to our own heart and the heart of the world. an audio lecture series by David Whyte is an excellent resource of poetry as a contemplative practice of life and art. but the result of listening must be in the voice and the speaking of difficult truths. Additionally. where our simply paying attention to our experience. It is worth pointing out for the sake of clarity that it is just as valid for any artistic process. prayer – all practice rooted in an inherent spirituality or religious tradition. Poetry is the art of listening. he establishes poetry as an act of listening. both functions are secondary to the act of listening. a way of seeing in which the heart. A partially or completely blind individual still has the capacity to see in the Celtic way. I do not mean with the eyes exclusively. the inner reaches of the mind and soul. “poetry is the art of overhearing yourself say things you didn’t know you knew. whether to yourself or from the rooftops to the world. Much of what I intend to say in this brief discussion is directed specifically to poetry. For one. as well as recommending two sources of material for those who wish to explore this topic further: Clear Mind. a spiritual way of seeing. I will end this section with a poem.” There’s a lot to unpack in that statement. It is no different than entering the green world of nature. and indestructible. photography.

Melting away apparent surfaces and displaying the infinite which was hid.Engaged Druidism: A Practice Handbook at his peril. He looks for quiet. 2007. Though he must be taken by something greater. California: New World Library. works with the fierceness of acid on metal. p. makes the first utterance and tries to overhear himself say something from which in that silence it is impossible to retreat. That is what he uses senses to perceive. In the early morning he listens by the window. 6 20 . The poet’s task is simple. and speaks to what he finds there. The Celtic Way of Seeing: Meditations on the Irish Spirit Wheel. But like Blake in his engraving shop. Novato. Frank. (Footnotes) 1 MacEowen.

195 21 . hear. and meetings with remarkable people (including those in the form of animals. offers advice in this practice: In a soulcraft approach to journal work. reflections. the numinous. and touch? Observe yourself in nature. smell. You write as a way of tracking and cultivating a relationship with the sacred. the mysterious. Who do you become in relationship with the Other-than-human world? Track your unfolding relationship with your deepest nature. Bill Plotkin. You chronicle your experiences with soulcraft practices. plants. weave them together into a single personal mythology. feel. one for each direction as well as the center. rocks. Novato. • • • (Footnotes) 1 Plotkin. and stars). If you are in a transitory stage in your life you might track what is dying and what is being born in you. Reflections in nature – what do you see. Below is just a short list of general themes you might focus on: • • • Dreams Personal mythology (see the section on storytelling) Frank MacEowen suggests in The Celtic Way of Seeing using the four winds as guiding principles in your journal work. mountains. trees. p. 2003. with five sections. rivers. California: New World Library. emotions. author of Soulcraft. taste. Soulcraft: Crossing into the Mysteries of Nature and Psyche. trances. to track your relationship with the winds (see the article Mandala of Wholeness or Frank’s book. Bill. when the time is right. dreams. hopes.Engaged Druidism: A Practice Handbook Journaling Journaling is an easy practice to turn into a meditation. You track the strands and themes of your soul story and. The Celtic Way of Seeing for more information on the directions and for a more elaborate exploration of this method). You record your memories.1 There are as many approaches to journaling as there are people. birds. major life transitions. visions. with relevant entries in each section. wind. you write to connect with your depths.

For example. • The first is this: experience all sensory inputs to one of your senses simultaneously.Engaged Druidism: A Practice Handbook The Sacred Dreamtime: Doorways to Eternity Before we attempt to enter the Sacred Dreamtime. and your feelings on it. For the exercises done in a certain place. Let your thoughts float and soar experiencing all input as one. has been determined by your past choices and decisions. the strongest scent. but receive all sound as one sound. but not required. we can train the senses to be all inclusive. For example. Again. but even if you can do this only for a space of one or two seconds. Do not allow your sense of hearing to “latch onto” any one sound. By practicing two exercises. attempt to hear all sounds at once. We must train our senses to be all-encompassing. during and after the exercises. After the exercise write a journal entry describing your emotions. You will find that it becomes easier with practice. This is very similar to shamanic drum work and can be very rewarding. thoughts. Name two or three specific instances where a decision made in the past is determining your life right now. If you find yourself being distracted. Although being in nature is ideal.this is the exact opposite of the preceding exercise. the results are great. but one that is nearly always effective is the doorway of the senses. do this exercise for an extended time (30-60 minutes) in a place that calls to you. focus your hearing on one sound and experience all nuances of that sound. a wild place in nature is preferred. What are the foundations of the decisions? What are the motives behind the decisions? How does it feel? How might these different decisions effect your life? • • • • • 22 . Contemplate on how decisions and choices made from the Sacred Dreamtime might be different than those made in “normal time”. This leads our senses to be exclusive. • • Write a journal entry describing this. It is ironic that the senses are also the very things that often prevent us from entering the Sacred Dreamtime with distractions of noise. This is sometimes difficult and requires concentration. consider how your current life. on the physical and spiritual levels. I have done these exercises in busy railway stations and other “busy” places. and/or visions you experienced before. There is no need to do it for hours. Do not allow your mind to focus on any one stimulus. the brightest color. mirroring time. Let the sound enter through your hearing and expand to fill your entire being. even as the Sacred Dreamtime is all-encompassing. Normally. excluding all other sensations for the sake of experiencing the strongest. The second practice is to deeply experience one sensation . include any insights or visions you had of the story and soul of that place. our minds focus on the strongest sensation it is experiencing: the loudest sound. Exercise There are many doorways to the Sacred Dreamtime. mirroring the sacred. vision. On at least three days. Consider your perception of time and write a journal entry describing this. It is by learning to use the senses differently that we can enter the Sacred Dreamtime. Do one of these exercises three times a day for ten days. Try for a few minutes. relax and try again. Exclude all other sounds. or smells.

Part I: Transformative Practice .

If you are not comfortable with it. on completion of each breathing cycle. is used in many traditions. stoking the fires.” This practice is your vehicle for shamanic memory. In between each breathing cycle are specific instructions to guide you that are precisely augmented by selected music. As you take in these deep breaths allow yourself to contemplate for a moment the notion that the element of air is permeating your entire being. With this method of shamanic journeying you can go as deep as you want. this very simple practice harks back to our origins beneath the ebb and flow of tides in the great salt oceans. as if your breath were a bellows fanning a small. chant. Breath is your guide. Try that now. You will still experience a benefit from using this technique as a transpersonal practice. including Sufism. I drum. Your own breathing puts you. In essence. taking five deep but slow breaths. fanning the flames of inner vision. If this practice fits into your belief system and cosmology then I recommend doing it. We are not trying to cover distance with this step. Stewart. they are what I call “quickening” breaths. or you can use the technique as a less intensive contemplative meditation. kundalini yoga. This kind of focused breathing enlivens the cells of memory and. The first five breaths are very deep and slow. only about the distance of your shoe size.Engaged Druidism: A Practice Handbook Stepping Back Into the Body of the Ancestors from The Spiral of Memory and Belonging: A Celtic Path of Soul and Kinship by Frank MacEowen Used with permission from the author. Once you have completed the cycle of ten breaths.” Breath is your accelerator and your brake. just to feel like we have shifted our position. The point of this work is to gain awareness about the living realm of energy connected to our ancestors. but it is not required to work with this technique successfully. multidimensional beings. Upon completing each cycle of the breathing practice you will take a very small step backward. then. We are not “worshiping” ancestors. The anchoring element comes from the fact that you will be standing for the entire process. when we breathe it causes a salt solution to percolate up and down the spine. and the Holotropic BreathworkTM of Stanislav Grof. The sequence. which are designed to relax the body while also stoking the visioning eye. These breaths occur rapidly. In entheogenic shamanism the practitioner’s nervous system is surrendered to the patterned flow and directives of a plant spirit. another way of looking at it is as a transpersonal method of personal growth. but while these breaths are also very deep. to use the vocabulary of Scottish seer R. You will activate this breathing practice a number of times with this technique of shamanic work. but the second set is then exhaled with great force. and we are not holding a séance. The breathing practice1 uses a cycle of ten breaths. I built this stepping back ancestor process on a breathing practice that forms a crucial aspect of the work. the greater range of consciousness we will have. is optional. goes like this: 24 . This method is unique because it involves two rather different energies: solidity and anchoring combined with a kind of wildness or whirlwind quality. Both sets of five breaths involve taking in a lot of air through the mouth into the lungs. “Activated breathing”. in effect.or rattle-guided shamanic journeys. A final element. set up my altar and ask for the life-affirming presences among my ancestors to act as a support. “begin the breathing practice now. Like with drum. On a physiological level.J. as I call it. You will know when to use this technique when I say simply. invoking the ancestors. with your feet planted firmly on the floor. feel the ancient wind and the binding power of the element of air entering your lungs. Feel the power of the oceans flowing up and down your spine. When we breathe in and out. let it go. Try these breaths now. “arouses the blood”. The more awareness we gain about the various elements that make up who we are. while the whirlwind energy stems from the activated breathing practice itself. I always include it. five deep but quick breaths. Another five breaths immediately follow the first set. activating the nonordinary senses and expanding our kinesthetic senses. including ancestral energies and issues. The important thing to know about shamanic breathing is that it can be an effective replacement for entheogenic catalysts. you will simply return to your natural rhythm of breathing. with shamanic breathwork you are always in control. in the “driver’s seat. Although I view this process as a shamanic method. flickering flame in the center of your forehead. these types of techniques serve as tools that can guide us in our evolution into multisensory.

to support you. At a later point. You can analyze your experience later on. not on the level of facts – though very often the perceptions people have during this work are verified later through normal fact-finding methods. Allow the music. behind them. Start disk two of Steve Roach’s CD The Serpent’s Lair. Take five deep and slow breaths. or record the words into a small tape recorder and play it back. Follow the induction sequence carefully. You will be effortlessly pulled toward one parent or the other. even if you do not have factual information about them. We are not hunting for dates of birth and death. Usually. Turn off the ringer on your phone and set up a space where you will not be disturbed by family or roommates. when we fear something. since the custom of fosterage was extremely important in the Celtic world. 3. lies someone very valuable and worth connecting to. I assure you. I would like to share some last suggestions and reminders about the stepping back process: • • • • • • Find a room large enough for you to take five to six small steps backward without bumping into any furniture. This is not a matter of trying to replicate my shamanic dream experience. the departure records for ancestors who left Ireland or somewhere else in the world. I encourage you to access and connect with the ancestors of your foster parents. Take a small step backward. Q: What if I don’t have any information about my ancestors? A: It does not matter. Finally. because there is something there we need to see. into one family line or another. it is not necessary for you to have factual knowledge about your parents or ancestors to glean information about them through this technique. it is best to just go where you are pulled. Return to your normal breathing rhythm 4. Before I share the detailed instructions for this stepping back process. but of encountering who and what you need to become aware of. We can become catalysts for the ancestors through this work. as well as your own breath. When you have finished the ten breaths. 25 . Rather. and some people report switching over to the other family line midway through the process. approximately seven to ten inches. before moving on to the actual instructions. something that needs to be transmuted or released. We are tuning in on the level of the soul and heart. Should I just use their family lines? A: Again. But for this initial experience try working with the energetic stream of your biological ancestors. If one of your parents or grandparents is responsible for some kind of wounding or trauma you need to know that they are not able to wound you within this experience. Either have an anamcara (soul-friend) read you the introduction script provided. I would like to address some frequently asked questions: Q: Should I explore my paternal or maternal side? A: Initially. You may experience difficult emotions surrounding them. When told to do so. we are seeking to experience – through nonordinary sense perceptions – the dynamic reality of ancestral energy. Allow your consciousness to be directed by the visualization 5. and stand still again. something Celtic mystic Tom Cowan calls one’s “milkline” (as in the people who have nourished you). and the lines of these people are extremely sacred. by the wayside. or the specific names of our ancestors. and. somewhere back in the line of your ancestors.Engaged Druidism: A Practice Handbook 1. Can I still do the work? A: I firmly believe that in ancestor work we are often guided precisely into the area where we have resistance or fear. begin the breathing practice again 6. Try as much as possible to leave your questioning mind. Trust that you are being taken to where you need to be taken Q: I have a major resistance to exploring one of my family lines because I have ill feelings toward them. but this is just awareness. Q: What if I am an orphan and don’t know who my parents were? I have foster parents whom I love very much. that is precisely the place we need to go. then step back again. and so forth. plus five deep and quick breaths 2. your analytical faculties.

] This may be someone you did not know. feelings. approximately fortyfive to sixty seconds. allow yourself to really feel what it is like to stand in his or her body by imitating their posture. I invite you to begin the breathing practice again. You are now standing in the body of one of your parents. drink lots of water. taking five deep and slow breaths. [Pause fifteen seconds].] Take a very small step backward.] Take a very small step backward. followed by five deep and quick breaths. [Pause five seconds] What is it like to stand in his or her body? [Pause ten seconds] Does it feel good or is it uncomfortable? [Pause five seconds] Whether this person is alive or has passed on. but it does not matter. [Pause ten seconds] How does your father or mother stand in the world? [Pause five seconds] Allow yourself to become aware of any images. Allow yourself to feel his or her energy. asthma. Take a few moments. or images. as you breathe in your natural rhythm.Engaged Druidism: A Practice Handbook • If at any point you feel dizzy or unable to proceed with the technique. Feel what it is like to have this body. allow yourself to really feel what it is like to stand in his • • • • • • • • • • 26 . sit on the floor. I invite you to begin the breathing practice again. and record your experiences in a journal. [Pause five seconds] What is it like to stand in their body? [Pause ten seconds] Does it feel good or is it uncomfortable? [Pause five seconds] Whether this person is alive or has passed on. and how you feel in your body. Stepping Back Induction Sequence: A Shamanic Breathwork Technique for Ancestral Awareness • Take three deep breaths to begin. knowing fully that you can return to this level of awareness about your grandparent at any time.] What is it like to stand in this ancestor’s body? [Pause ten seconds] Does it feel good or is it uncomfortable? [Pause five seconds] Whether this person is alive or has passed on. it’s a good idea to consult your physician or psychologist before doing the breathing practice. [Pause ten seconds. return to the present. [Pause forty-five to sixty seconds.] Now. Be aware of your posture. Now I invite you to begin the breathing practice. about the distance of your shoe size. or are struggling with mental health issues. or impressions as you connect and commune with the energy of your grandparent. You are now standing in the body of a great-grandparent. Open your heart and senses and allow the energy of this ancestor to be present. [Pause ten seconds] How does your grandparent stand in the world? [Pause five seconds] Allow yourself to become aware of any images. take a very small step backward. followed by five deep and quick breaths. [Pause to allow enough time for the breathing practice. Now. sensations. [Pause forty-five to sixty seconds. feelings. followed by five deep and quick breaths. and if you have heart problems. [Pause five seconds. knowing fully that you can return to this level of awareness about your parent at any time. sensations. taking five deep and slow breaths. [Pause ten seconds] What does he think of you? [Pause five seconds] What does she feel about the earth? [Pause five seconds]How does he experience the land? [Pause five seconds] What are her joys and dreams? [Pause five seconds] What are his struggles? [Pause five seconds] What qualities has your grandparent passed on to you? [Pause five seconds] What gifts or abilities can she offer you today? [Pause five seconds] Take a few more moments to make note of any final impressions. When you are done. You are now standing in the body of one of your grandparents. taking five deep and slow breaths. allow yourself to really feel what it is like to stand in her body by imitating her posture. sensations. ground yourself. to reflect on the following questions: How do I feel about the earth? [Pause five seconds] What are my dreams and joys? [Pause five seconds] What are my struggles? [Pause five seconds] What is my vision of my future? [Pause ten seconds]. or images. [Pause ten seconds] What do they think of you? [Pause five seconds] What does she feel about the earth? [Pause five seconds]How does he experience the land? [Pause five seconds] What are his joys and dreams? [Pause five seconds] What are her struggles? [Pause five seconds] What qualities has she passed on to you? [Pause five seconds] What gifts or abilities can he offer you today? [Pause five seconds] Take a few more moments to make note of any final impressions. sensations. This technique should not be performed while under the influence of drugs or alcohol. open your eyes. or impressions as you connect and commune with the energy of your parent. and ground yourself. what kinds of tensions exist in your body. Now. [Pause fifteen seconds]. with its particular weight and structure.

Now. I invite you to begin the breathing practice again. I invite you to begin the breathing practice again. [Pause fifteen seconds]. taking five deep and slow breaths.] Take a few more moments to make note of any final impressions.] Take a very small step backward. taking five deep and slow breaths. someone who lived a very different kind of life from the one you lead today. sensations. return your awareness to the posture of this ancient ancestor. Now. [Pause ten seconds. [Pause ten seconds.] For a moment.] Allow your hands to form naturally a gesture that expresses the energy and presence of this person. or impressions as you connect and commune with the energy of your great-great-grandparent. [Pause forty-five to sixty seconds.] For a moment.] What is it like to stand in his or her body? [Pause ten seconds] Does it feel good or is it uncomfortable? [Pause five seconds] Allow yourself to really feel what it is like to stand in her body by imitating her posture. Just note this. [Pause ten seconds.] Allow your hands to form naturally a gesture that expresses the energy and presence of this person. lived in greater connection to the earth. [Pause fifteen seconds]. [Pause ten seconds] How does your great-grandparent stand in the world? [Pause five seconds] Allow yourself to become aware of any images. What impressions do you have of where she lives? [Pause five seconds. [Pause five seconds. [Pause five seconds.Engaged Druidism: A Practice Handbook body by imitating his posture. sensations. [Pause five seconds. sensations. Just note this. feelings.] This is someone you never knew. Open your heart and senses and allow the energy of this ancestor to be present. [Pause ten seconds] How does he stand in the world? [Pause five seconds] Allow yourself to become aware of any images. [Pause ten seconds] What does he think of you? [Pause five seconds] What does she feel about the earth? [Pause five seconds]How does he experience the land? [Pause five seconds] What are her joys and dreams? [Pause five seconds] What are his struggles? [Pause five seconds] What qualities has she passed on to you? [Pause five seconds] What gifts or abilities can he offer you today? [Pause five seconds] It is possible that this great-great-grandparent is from a different landscape than the one you live in now. the person assisting you should say the following words (or record these on the tape you will use): You will now travel farther back in time to an ancestor you did not know. [Pause ten seconds] How does she stand in the world? [Pause five seconds] Allow yourself to become aware of any images. Allow yourself to feel his or her energy. Open your heart and senses and allow the energy of this ancient one to be present. sensations.] What is it like to stand in his body? [Pause ten seconds] Does it feel good or is it uncomfortable? [Pause five seconds] Allow yourself to really feel what it is like to stand in her body by imitating her posture. the seasons and rhythms of nature. feelings. This primal ancestor. or images. knowing fully that you can return to this level of awareness about your great-great-grandparent at any time. • • Take a very small step backward. this ancient one. sensations.] This is someone you never knew. Allow yourself to feel his or her energy. return your awareness to the posture of this great-grandparent. [Pause five seconds. What impressions do you have of where he lives? [Pause five seconds. [Pause ten seconds] What does she think of you? [Pause five seconds] What does he feel about the earth? [Pause five seconds]How does she experience the land? [Pause five seconds] What are his joys and dreams? [Pause five seconds] What are her struggles? [Pause five seconds] What gifts or abilities can he offer you today? [Pause five seconds] What impressions do you have of where she lives? [Pause five seconds. [Pause five seconds. or images. You are now standing in the body of a primal ancestor.] For a moment. but it does not matter.] 27 . [Pause ten seconds] What does she think of you? [Pause five seconds] What does he feel about the earth? [Pause five seconds]How does she experience the land? [Pause five seconds] What are his joys and dreams? [Pause five seconds] What are her struggles? [Pause five seconds] What qualities has he passed on to you? [Pause five seconds] What gifts or abilities can she offer you today? [Pause five seconds] It is possible that this great-grandparent is from a different landscape than the one you live in now. knowing fully that you can return to this level of awareness about your great-grandparent at any time.] • • • • Note: As you do the final cycle of the breathing practice. [Pause ten seconds. followed by five deep and quick breaths. [Pause forty-five to sixty seconds. You may or may not know any facts or details about them. or impressions as you connect and commune with the energy of your great-grandparent.] Take a few more moments to make note of any final impressions. or impressions as you connect and commune with the energy of your primal ancestor. return your awareness to the posture of this great-great-grandparent. followed by five deep and quick breaths. You are now standing in the body of a great-great-grandparent.

Just note this. 28 . feelings. Take three deep breaths and open your eyes. [Pause ten seconds. and place your palms on the floor. Communicate this to him or her now. • • (Footnotes) 1 If you have a medical condition. [Pause fifteen seconds]. I invite you to make a commitment to this old one. to maintain an awareness of them in some way. If it feels appropriate to you. do not attempt this or any breathing practice without consulting a medical expert.] Ask this ancient one if she possesses any particular quality that can aid you in cultivating it for yourself. place your palms face down on the floor. If you feel faint.Engaged Druidism: A Practice Handbook Allow your hands to form naturally a gesture that expresses the energy and presence of this person. [Pause ten seconds. sensations. and begin to ground your energy. sit down on the floor. I invite you to slowly sit on the floor wherever you are standing. knowing fully that you can return to this level of awareness about this primal ancestor at any time. [Pause ten seconds.] You may be the first person in a very long time to turn your awareness to this ancestor.] Take a few more moments to make note of any final impressions. or images. cease the breathing practice. this primal ancestor. Now.

but they are only partial and secondary roles. shamanism is an “archaic technique of ecstacy”. and a particular perspective that can be applied to any condition or situation. though scholars such as Mircea Eliade. The ability to travel between the worlds exists because of the need for this relationship. The ability to heal the community. who was ritually married to the goddess of the land. which takes much inspiration from shamanic world-views. mountains. the people of the community were also oriented to the same shamanistic cosmology and set of practices. there are people of Celtic descent. and whether Celtic culture can be considered shamanic at all. living on Celtic lands. each individual was responsible for their own personal relationship with the land and the deities. as well as from the angle of comparative studies to other cultures. That is not my aim here. such the incubation of poetry by sensory deprivation and trance. There could be (and are) whole books written on Celtic spirituality and cosmology as understood from a shamanic perspective. As valuable as the research of Eliade and his colleagues is. or make judgements comes from the upholding of reciprocity between the community they serve and the natural world of which they are a part. nor is to prove that the Celts had shamans. This is where many Celtic scholars disagree with the idea of Celtic shamanism. a philosophy. The the objective of this practice is not to make anyone a shaman. the Druids may have been responsible for meditating on behalf of the community. Whether you think the ancient Druids served shamanistic roles in society. Shamanism is the oldest psychology. No other proof is needed. Both play crucial roles. Even certain Christian theologians are starting to talk about and practice a tradition called “Creation Spirituality”. who speak Celtic languages. a way of life. We are truly working towards the creation of what Tibetan Buddhist teacher and lineage bearer Chogyam Trungpa called an “enlightened society” then we need both shamans and shamanists. a true science of consciousness and the soul. An abundance of such practices like the making offerings of swords and cauldrons to bogs and rivers certainly mark it as a votive expression of spirituality. As Eliade defines it. These people have been termed “shamanists”. The claim is that Celtic religion was far more votive than it was ecstatic in practice. to accounts of imbas.Engaged Druidism: A Practice Handbook Shamanism and the Otherworld Journey There is much debate on the subject of “Celtic shamanism”.”1 Just as shamanism can be applied to “any condition or situation”. in that it is a practice. it no doubt integrates easily into the primal Celtic vision. This adds a new dimension to our understanding of “Celtic shamanism”. and bodies of water. Part of this ease of integration (as well as another point of correlation between traditional 29 . Rather it is about exploring shamanic practice from the perspective of a “shamanist”. Celtic shamanism exists. as in the case of Suibhne Geilt. have identified countless cultures around the world with their own variation of shamanism and shamans. This role also fell to the one in the position of the sacral king. animals. Just so in Celtic society. it makes the mistake of misidentifying the major role of a shaman as a healer or traveler between worlds. between humans and the green world of plants. the notion that Celtic culture was not shamanic stems from a misunderstanding of what the purpose of shamanism in a culture is. It is worth pointing out that in Celtic society it was the role of the Druid to mediate the reciprocity between the tribe and the land. so too can it be practiced along side any religion. I think Frank MacEowen sums it up nicely: “shamanic practice is more akin to Zen in some ways. These are no doubt true. and no king could speak before their Druid had spoken. or if you are just looking to compliment your practice with shamanism. birds. Another dimension of shamanic cultures often ignored by anthropologists is that although the shaman may have been a central (and simultaneously fringe) character of these cultures. The primary role of a shaman is as intermediary between the human and natural communities. who are reanimating this ancient practice within the spirits of their own cultures and landscapes. However it also ignores a plethora of ecstatic practices. and recognizes that the primal vision of Christianity was very shamanic and mystical in nature. It is enough that in the present. The term “shaman” originally comes from the Tungus tribe of Siberia. tell the future. or poetic madness. Shamanism is not a religion. as they oversaw the rituals. More than this however. Ancient or new. insects. But it is the Druids who were truly responsible.

presented in a “traditional” style of approach. in sets of ten (you can play with the number to find what works best). rattling. When most people journey for themselves it is usually for healing or the discovering of wisdom that will help us grow into a more authentic relationship with soul. Breathing. it is the physical act of playing the drum. and to alter consciousness (recommended: The Serpent’s Lair by Steve Roach and Byron Metcalf available through www. narrow it down to a specific question that you can hold in your mind. You might try alternating between the fire breath and deep slow breaths. You might journey for this purpose. Everywhere we go we are confronted with consciousness.” Shamanism may be a derivative of the animistic worldview. The cultivation of this skill will aid you in the exploration of your own psyche (a word which means “soul” but is often translated as “mind” in the West) throughout this practice and in your life. and use that as a method of journey. These worlds are generally spoken of as the Underworld. Adapt it to your individual needs. For me. From here there are several methods you might use to facilitate the necessary shift in consciousness: 1. but it is more than that: it is a practice. feel or hear your way through a journey. Middleworld. both worldviews include a tripartite vision of the realms. To these people though. one after the other. A Shamanic Journey Start by formulating a specific question or problem you want to explore.Engaged Druidism: A Practice Handbook shamanism and Celtic cosmology) is that the cosmological structure of the universe is similar. Certain people also have a difficult time visualizing. Music. a rock is just dead matter. Perhaps you have been experiencing a recent bout of illnesses. This can be anything from drumming.steveroach. but a communion of subjects. or crossed legged on the floor. start by readying a place to lay down and be comfortable and undisturbed for a period of time of thirty minutes to an hour. and you are seeking a method to work with your grief process. Find what puts you in contact with your unconscious. Or maybe a love one has just passed away. to a shamanist it is a being and a spirit. which is usually the way “journeying” is approached. chanting or even certain soundscapes. drumming. You might journey to find the cause of these illnesses so you can correct it. You might want to put a blanket beneath you and pillow under your head. To begin the journey itself. Various breathing techniques can be used to achieve the transition to nonordinary reality. there are other methods of achieving the same states of mind. However it is not the sound of the drum that ushers me into an altered state of consciousness. Don’t make yourself too comfortable though. and Upperworld. Use your body. Even the traditional method of laying down and altering consciousness doesn’t quite work for some. The music of such people as Steve Roach and Byron Metcalf has been intentionally designed to be “entheogenic”. If you are unaware of any issues in your life at the present that might be benefitted by a journey you might simply go with the intention to connect with a spirit helper in the form of an ancestor or an animal spirit. What works best for one person won’t necessarily work best the for the next. “the world is a not a collection of objects. stone. We journey for many reasons. and it is important for each practitioner to find what is most effective for them. Whatever the purpose of your journey. etc. or chanting. Shamanism is essentially a practice of altering one’s consciousness from “ordinary reality” to “nonordinary reality”. Father Thomas Berry writes. For more in-depth studies. because the goal is not to fall asleep. 30 . rattling. This is traditionally accomplished in a number of ways. One potent method is what I call the “fire breath”. please see the end of this section for recommendations for further reading. and use as a point of intention. of opening myself and letting the spirit of a rhythm move through me that characterizes my shift in consciousness. and thus deserves our respect. This relationship to life serves as the backbone of shamanism.com). Land. The ultimate goal of this practice is to lead you on a shamanic journey. what is often the most effective is drumming. if that is more comfortable for you. Each tree. You can also sit upright in a chair. and mountain has its spirit and everything possesses innate consciousness and intelligence. to a CD of drumming. When we can relate to all the world as consciousness it is as the prolific teacher. 2. stream. In the Celtic vision this is Sea. the imbibing of entheogenic substances. With this comes the opportunity for relationship with all things. Below is a brief guide to this practice. ranging from breathing techniques. Shamanism is closely related to animism which sees the world as an enlivened and enspirited place. As you practice the fire breathing feel yourself transitioning. and Sky respectively. Where as in non-animistic visions of life. and are starting to believe that they stem from a spiritual imbalance. deep rapid breaths for a sustained period of time.

In such cases. There is a particular feeling of “arrival”. At the end of this section is a brief review of the three realms to assist you. When you are finished with the journey return to the place that you began. Take stock of your surroundings when you arrive. and is a term used for organic hallucinogenic substances when used for ritual. 4. Although the shift in consciousness can be subtle sometimes. When you feel ready. The repressed contents of our psyche dwells here. or even several first. you might cross it again as a cue that the journey is ended. moving to your arms and legs. It is anything but casual “drug” use. if you are so inclined. this is not necessary. You might try visualizing such an image while doing breathwork. Keep practicing. climbing up or down a world tree. If you did not formulate a question you might simply spend this time speaking with the guide who showed up for you. how does it feel? Seek out the base of the world tree here. when combined with one of the other methods. while it is fresh in your mind. 3. it is likely that you will know when it happens. dizzy. The effective use of these teachers in transformative ritual or shamanic journeying requires the guidance of a seasoned practitioner who is capable of guiding such work. what does it look like? If you are unable to see in this way. This method is not being recommended. You might want to take this time to journal about your experience. and are thus given respect and honor. or playing soundscapes. Entheogens. Or it may feel like going out. and there are few legal settings for safe practice. It can be a difficult skill to learn and is far from easy to master. and so Jung’s archetype of the Shadow (the shadow being something like a splinter personality made up of the repressed contents of our psyches. You will likely feel a bit odd and discombobulated for a brief period after the journey. whether mushroom or vine.Engaged Druidism: A Practice Handbook This could feel like a number of things. Drink some water or eat some food to help with this. It is common for people to shift into nonordinary reality by way of visualizing a gate of some sort. or shamanic purposes. These visualizations can act as cues to the mind that it is time to alter the consciousness in a certain way. a physical doorway. breath normally. to feel the effects physically. are seen as plant spirit-teachers. especially the continued use of a particular chosen image. and thus 31 . open your eyes and sit up. Your intention of travel is to the middleworld. Maybe it feels like turning inwards. If you used a visual image of a “gateway” to arrive. One note of warning however: it is unwise to practice any sort of intense breathwork such as this. going through mist. in most cases. if you have breathing or heart problems without first consulting with your doctor. and works best perhaps. Slowly begin flexing your muscles. and leaving your body. so bring your attention there. However. elders who possess the wisdom of appropriate use for entheogens are hard to come by. Simply be mindful to your condition and honor your limits. It is also the dwelling place of soul’s roots. especially with the fire breath. drumming. At its foot you will be met by your guide on this journey. spiritual. When drumming or doing certain breathwork. Rather entheogens. and the technique you are using. your adeptness at the practice. depending on your state of mind when trying to journey.As a psychological state this is the dark realm of the unconscious. With the assistance of your guide journey to find an answer to the question that you formulated before taking the journey. the practitioner remains in control of their own state of consciousness. If you are unsuccessful in your first. entering into a well. crossing a stream. The actual shifting of consciousness can often take some time. you might try treating them as you would elements of a dream. or a headache develops then stop the exercise. attempts do not be discouraged. A Brief Guide to the Three Realms Sea (Underworld) . If at any time during the practice you begin to feel faint. or engage in any grounding activity. This method can be. However. To end the journey you need only bring your awareness back to your own body. and then your head. in the shamanic tradition. If you “see” your environment with your visioning eye. Place your hands palm down on the floor to ground your energy. rather than being abused as they so often are in modern Western culture. etc. often as a burning or tingling sensation in the head (hence the traditional “fire in the head”). and place your hands palm down on the floor to ground your energy. positive and negative) plays an important role. Visualization. starting with your fingers and toes. This can be a place of both great fear and great healing. but I felt it important to say a few words about entheogens here. Unfortunately due to their illegal status. The word entheogen means “revealer of the divine within”. It is normal however. when using entheogens you surrender that control to the plant spirit. or when the events of a journey seem cryptic or confused. depending on what you associate a shamanic journey with. Remember that often the occurrences of a journey happen in a symbolic manner.

Sky (Upperworld) . it is ordinary reality. and so it is also the numinous realm of Dana in its myriad of forms. The Spiral of Memory and Belonging: A Celtic Path of Soul and Kinship. As a spirit-realm. As a spirit realm it is home to transcendent deities. The imminent sacred. (Footnotes) 1 MacEowen. Land (Middleworld) . and enlightenment. Its darkness is the darkness of the womb of the earth. The Underworld is within our world. The middleworld is a threshold between the Underworld and Upperworld. because it is the one in which we dwell.Engaged Druidism: A Practice Handbook contains our dán or soul image. wisdom. The middleworld is the world of outward action and embodiment of the inner states of consciousness and the fruition of wisdom from the spirit-realms. or egoic consciousness. and so a harmony of the influences from the other two worlds is important to a soulful life in the middleworld. the Upperworld is the realm of the transcendent sacred. Calif. the Underworld is home to the ancestors and gods and goddesses of the land and earth. That does not mean that it is an easy place to be. 32 . the Upperworld is what is beyond our world.The middleworld is perhaps the simplest of the three realms to understand.Just as the Underworld is the place of the imminent sacred. p. Psychologically the middleworld is our normal waking consciousness. then the Underworld is Soul and the Upperworld is Spirit. As a distinct realm. It is the realm of poetic inspiration. 208. vision. Frank. Novato.: New World Library. If we use Bill Plotkin’s definitions of Spirit and Soul. 2004. The here and now of our everyday lives.

and the first two chakras of Hindu philosophy which seem to embody many of the same properties as the cauldron of warming.”1 This ties in closely with the difference between an aes dana. the liquor of inspiration in the story of Taliesin and his initiation. prosperity. and as the Dagda’s “cauldron of plenty”. more commonly known as the cauldrons of poesy to the scholarly community. with the cauldron of warming being in the belly or the womb. It is likely that this cauldron’s association with the head is the reason that many scholars have interpreted Celtic headhunting and head revering traditions as a sign that the Celts saw the soul as residing in the head. detailing the process by which poetry is made. “indicating a closed circuit of experience. indicating health and vitality. dispensing art. similar perhaps to the Hindu kundalini awakening. and Coire Soís. Not much is said of this cauldron in the poem. the cauldron of warming. In the 16th or 15th century a poem was transcribed in an Irish legal codex. Others’ cauldrons are inverted. if Dana is what fills this cauldron. and it is said that by these emotions it is turned. This seems to suggest that this cauldron is important for the uncovering of our “soul-gift”. The Cauldron of Vocation (Coire Ernmae) In the text of the poem this cauldron is intimately connected with joy and sorrow. which seems to be common to all Celtic people. appropriately told by Amhairghin. What is interesting about this is that the Irish word for both a poem and for destiny is dán. It appears in countless stories: as the Grael of the more ancient Arthurian sources. and is said to be our connection with the poetic arts. it describes three internal cauldrons.Engaged Druidism: A Practice Handbook The Cauldrons of the Soul The cauldron is an important and recurring motif in the Celtic tradition. With this text I would like to explore another context in which the cauldrons are used as a symbol for very similar themes: the cauldrons of the soul. and Otherworldly wisdom. Each of the cauldrons is also said to be in a certain position naturally in people. the cauldron of vocation at the heart. in which poetic verse and wisdom is incubated and dispensed. Additionally the Gundestrup Cauldron was found in a bog in Denmark. offering enlightenment. In short. the gift which lies in our soul which we were. it is called the cauldron of vocation. Personally I am drawn 33 . Coire Ernmae. poetic inspiration. so it is perhaps safe to say that its function is as simple (and important) as providing the nourishment of life that keeps us breathing and moving. the cauldron of wisdom or knowledge. For this reason I have also heard it referred to as the cauldron of longing. the people of skill or art. The cauldron of warming is upright. and thus a symbol of rebirth and initiation. such as the Chinese tan t’ien. Those who practice poetry. born to birth into the world. We might imagine. and the cauldron of wisdom in the head. In the Irish tradition we might say that the cauldron of warming is the receptacle of our life force. The following is a preliminary introduction to the topic. as a vessel for brewing awen. Each of these is said to be located in a part of the body. To turn this cauldron is to drink from the pool of wisdom. and an ordinary person: the aes dana drink from both the “streams of the senses” and the “pool of wisdom” in the Land of Truth. The three cauldrons are given the names Coire Goiriath. Interestingly however it is not named anything that one normally thinks of in relation to emotions in the text. It is the womb of the goddess and the earth. in a sense. The cauldron of vocation is “upside down in unenlightened people. the Well of Segais. showing what appears to be some sort of initiation ritual on one of its plates. of Dana if you will. inverted. that the process of turning the other cauldrons happens through a process of raising this energy though the body. have their cauldron of vocation tipped on its side. and nourishment.”2 as Caitlín Matthews says. The Cauldron of Warming (Coire Goiriath) It seems no coincident that the cauldron of warming is located where traditionally many cultures have said our life force exists. This action of engaging with our own creativity is the motion which allows the cauldron of wisdom to be turned as well. It is a pervasive symbol. or in more general terms. and before it can be turned the cauldron of vocation must also be activated. the cauldron of vocation. The cauldron of wisdom is born on its lips. those who tap into the inherent creativity of the soul and the Otherworld. The Cauldron of Wisdom (Coire Soís) Finally we come to the cauldron which is our connection with vision. it is on its side in those who practice bardic and poetic skills.

stop the breathwork. but maintain its depth and fullness. Maintain this breath for as long as you are able or for as long as it feels appropriate. You may choose to try the following breathing exercise or not. rather than vice versa. Place your awareness in your breath. If you are sitting in a chair keep your feet firmly on the ground. Eat some food or drink the water to help ground yourself. Rather it suggests that the soul is pervasive to the whole being. What do you notice? Is your life force flowing freely? Is something stuck or constricting the movement of life force? If so. on the cauldron of warming. An interesting way one might look at these upper two cauldrons is to be in a relationship similar to the Zen concepts of kensho and satori. and use a similar breath to guide your explorations with this cauldron. Massachusetts: Element Books. your arms and legs. just let your breathing become natural. Allow it to be your guide as you explore your cauldron of warming. This does not discount native Irish sources. 34 . become more full and deep. An Exercise Sit or lie down as you would for a meditation exercise. As with the pervious cauldron you may want to go deeper. and keep your spine erect. Gently breathe into where your hands are. p. John and Caitlín. but the cauldron of wisdom is the integration of dán into our lives. and try to become aware of what conditions might turn it. just notice it. Move your fingers and toes. It may change naturally as you place your awareness on it. Allow your awareness to drift up from the cauldron of warming into the cauldron of vocation. p. Allow your breath to become deep and slow. using your hands as a guide to where your breath is being placed. as if you were hyperventilating (a technique called “holotropic breathwork” used by transpersonal psychologist Stanislav Grof. and let your breath fill your head. which place an emphasis on the head. the cauldron if vocation is a taste and understanding of our dán. Try to take it easy with yourself for at least thirty minutes after this meditation. slowly begin to come back to your awareness of the body. Satori however is much deeper. a constant state of dwelling in such knowledge. When you feel ready sit up if you were lying down. 231 3 Like all intense breathwork. Just notice it. the cauldron of vocation. cross your legs loosely. Take a few moments to connect with your breathing.3 Allow your breathing to become more rapid. Breathe into your heart. The breath here is a long deep inhalation followed by a quick exhalation. 225 2 Matthews. Allow your awareness to drift up from the cauldron of vocation to the cauldron of wisdom. What conditions might support the further growth and development of this cauldron? When you feel complete with the exercise. 1994. to what really is. If at any time during the exercise you start to feel faint or nauseous. Place the palms of your hands face down on the floor if you feel ungrounded. or further support its development. (Footnotes) 1 Matthews. but that within the head. as if you are sighing.Engaged Druidism: A Practice Handbook more to Irish philosopher John O’Donohue’s explanation that the body exists within the soul. Kensho is a brief glimpse of enlightenment. Breathe quick deep breaths. you should not attempt this part of exercise if you have heart or respiratory problems without first consulting your doctor. Rockport. Eating and drinking is a good way to support yourself getting back into your body after this type of work. There can be a tendency here for the ego to reinforce itself by giving us visions of fully upright cauldrons. place your hands on your belly. If you are sitting on the ground or a cushion. Now. In all cases try to see through what you might want to think. Finally. Don’t force it. a flash of insight such as a peak experience which reveals the illusory nature of the self in the Buddhist tradition. but found as a technique for altering consciousness in many traditional societies). What do you notice? What position is the cauldron in? Is it inverted? Is it on its side? Is it upright and bubbling? Do not place judgment on the position of this cauldron. The Encyclopedia of Celtic Wisdom: A Celtic Shaman’s Sourcebook. move your hands up to your head. What might be blocking it? How does your relationship with the other cauldrons seem to affect this one? Be honest with yourself. which is entering this cauldron. examine this. When you feel complete with this part of exercise move your hands up towards your heart area. the third cauldron of the soul connects us in a very deep way with our spiritual power and with the Otherworld. and open your eyes. Likewise. suggesting spiritual mastery. and place your hands palm down on the floor. You don’t need to change your breathing. What do you notice? What position is this cauldron in? What is its activity? It is unlikely that this cauldron will be completely upright.

or issue promote or diminish your sense of person sovereignty? Remember the words of poet David Whyte: “Anything or anyone that does not bring you alive is too small for you. however. 35 . very far from the kind of harmony found in music? Suggestion: Spend time in nature and surround yourself with music that uplifts rather than depresses you. This can be a very clear method for getting at the heart of a situation and for opening yourself to ways of bringing about the proper order of things. have you taken care of the “house” of your body? In what way can you extend hospitality to yourself around the issue? Are you sabotaging the prosperity in your life in some way? What can you do to sculpt a more sustainable way of being in relation to the issue? Hint: You already know.Engaged Druidism: A Practice Handbook The Irish Spirit Wheel as Problem-Solving Tool from The Celtic Way of Seeing: Meditation on the Irish Spirit Wheel by Frank MacEowen Used with permission from the author. Below is a simple five-step process for bringing some of the deeper questions of your life to the Irish Spirit Wheel for the sake of gaining deeper clarity: 1. However. If you work with its energies in an honest and forthright manner. 4. Are you “doing battle” with something? Is it with someone else. a situation. With the inspiration or an energy-sensitive householder. the person seeking understanding and resolution must be willing to embrace the truth that presents itself to her through the energies of the wheel and her own heartcentered intuition (another way of saying the Celtic way of seeing). Carry the issue or problem to the SOUTH. How have you adhered to or forgotten your own rhythm (the music of your soul) in relation to the problem or issue? What do the wisdom energies of the SOUTH suggest you need to restore yourself to your proper rhythm? Is part of the issue related to a fundamental lack of inspiration? Are you feeling disconnected from something. Contemplation: If you were told that you had three weeks or three months to live. it will guide you to clarity. An added dimension of using the Irish Spirit Wheel (and the journal if you so choose) is exploring the wheel as a proactive problem-solving tool. what would you do differently? Carry your issue or problem to the NORTH. The Irish Spirit Wheel. 5. like any good counselor. isn’t going to tell you what you’re hoping to hear. as with all problem solving methods. What are you longing for? Does the issue relate to some deeper knowledge that you need? Perhaps you are already “in the know” but you need the boldness of the NORTH to act on this knowledge. Carry your issue to the WEST. or a part of yourself? Does some part of you need to experience some tempering or refinement for the issue to be resolved? Are you aware of any habitual ways of thinking that consistently limit you? Do you have any “power leaks” that need to be addressed? 2.” Carry your problem or situation to the EAST. How does the issue relate to your sovereignty. 3. The energies of life augment whatever energies we surround ourselves with. destiny. have you done what you can do to optimize your energy around the issue? Does your body relate to the issue. or sense of mastery? Does the situation. Carry your problem or situation to the CENTER of the wheel. person.

or issue that you have been facing with you. and an enlivened relationship with the terrain of our voyages. There is a similarity between this process of pilgrimage and the initiatory journey because both deal with cultivating a relationship between the ego and the soul.”1 Longing is the force in our lives that conspires to make this darkness conscious. or are navigating a difficult time in our life. it is meant to illuminate the practice of the Contemplative Nature Walk and offers a model both of growth and journey that can be adapted to many more specific practices. And that is where our practice here begins. Although no specific practices are offered in this section. whether internal or external. or limited by the confines of the walls of our own houses or apartments. than we can see in our own reflection in the bathroom mirror. Although pilgrimage is most often associated with a journey to an actual location. Maybe it will come when your eyes catch sight of a mother duck tending to her children. and just walk through the soul of nature. It combines the healing power of nature with the healing power of walking. Go into nature. Walking too can be a therapy. and the unknown horizon is our 36 . What follows us a brief exploration of pilgrimage and each of its identifiable stages (many other versions of the stages also exist). When you go. taking a journey to a sacred site. What follows is an in-depth reflection on the stages of pilgrimage or the contemplative nature walk. by calling us to the cliff-edge of our life. a practice of awareness. There are no rules to how nature will mirror the contents of our own soul – it is a fluid and dynamic process that only requires our openness and willingness to come face to face with the honesty that it presents. The Danish philosopher Kierkegaard once stated. usually of spiritual import. what the Welsh refer to as hiraeth. One might say that initiation is a kind of pilgrimage. Not only because it often has the tendency to relax us and soothe us. This is the frontier of pilgrimage. Maybe it will come within your own process of thinking and mulling the question over. Notice what you notice. I suppose it is not without purpose that we have terms such as “human nature”. Whether we are simply traveling to work in the morning. Psychologist Carl Jung writes that. Our footsteps through this terrain. but because if we truly pay attention we might see ourselves more clearly in it. but by making the darkness conscious. The simple act of just being out in nature can be therapeutic. and we are capable of bringing meaning to each moment. More than half our lives are lived below the “ground”. We see. “One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light. contemplation. a deep longing of the soul. can be approached as prayer. so to speak. suggesting to you that a solution to your problem might be to simply spend more time with family. a reflection of our own nature. ecopsychologists and wilderness therapists have noted the wisdom of taking their practice out of the office and into the green world of nature. which calls us to journey. the wilder the better. let your self be saturated with it. that too is alright. dangerous Celtic Christian circuits to sites such as Skellig Michael. take a question. I maintain that the experience and practice of pilgrimage has as much to teach us about our daily lives as it does of those in which we travel. Pilgrimage: Longing It is longing.Engaged Druidism: A Practice Handbook The Contemplative Nature Walk Sometimes nature is a mirror for the soul. Simply bring it with you. within the underworld of our unconscious. reflected within the twisted knots of branches and the swirling patterns of the currents in a stream. but if all you can get to is a city park. the art of pilgrimage has something to teach us. or the Islamic hajj to Mecca – all of these and more provide us with a framework of sacred travel. All of our life is a journey. “Every day I walk myself into a state of well-being and walk away from every illness that would have me.” There is a good reason that many psychologists. From Tibetan Buddhist circumambulatory rites around sacred mountains. It has a way of “moving energy” when we are stuck. and I know of no thought so burdensome that one cannot ‘walk’ away from it. problem. I have walked myself into my best thoughts. but that pilgrimage is the way we walk the path itself. Pilgrimage has a long and diverse history in many spiritualities and religions as a contemplative practice.

I brought with me two stones which I had taken from Ireland on my first trip. Voyage Pilgrimage asks us to give up everything. Whatever it is. not to be confused with the selfish desires of the ego. are the calls of pilgrimage. To make our journey. we must also give away that which will not serve us through the journey. I wrote these lines in a poem in honor of the experience: Then you must give everything you ever knew to the darkness of the night. Severance Severance is an important stage in this process. one with a rhythm that honors the voyage. which places us in the role of participant. All of these things. missing the landscape stretched out before us? How often do we actually take the time to attend to the feast coming in through our senses? Most of us are not accustomed to moving this way. and at the same time it also asks us to adopt something new. including death. a soft drizzle of rain began coming down. The call is an imperative set before us to grow beyond the comfortable confines of our life. how often do we retract into the unconscious chatter of the mind. Later. I have made several pilgrimages in the past. we are required to let go. is rooted in the soul. and left them on the cairn there. of being prepared for anything. Longing. and to seek new meaning and direction within the unknown. a deeper understanding and a deeper surrender to the process was allowed. habits. whether through the soul or across the land. It may be the temporary letting go of our homes. None of the pilgrimages I have taken have been particularly dangerous or harrowing. That night on top of Knocknarea in Ireland. It asks us to adopt a new way of “walking”. but one which I think sometimes is taken for granted. our families. and not honored and approached consciously. the most that may have happened to me was the possibility of cold rain on a mountain in the spring of Ireland. and our friends – or the more permanent letting go of a way of life. in order to give ourselves to the experience wholeheartedly. or patterns of thoughts. if truly grounded in the sustainable vision of our unfolding souls. Perhaps we are called the make a journey to the homeland of our ancestors. or a change of career. to make a major life change such as marriage. and I contemplated returning to the warm hostel where I was based in Sligo. When we move across the land. I act. as fully as possible. and a cultivated relationship with it can act as a trustworthy navigator on our pilgrimage through life. and it is followed. but stayed until the sun rose that morning. and so it can present a challenge at times. I did not leave however. In some cases severance could even be the purpose of a pilgrimage. This imperative can be ignored. children. There are ways of moving across the land. and have developed a particular approach to this stage of the journey. as though I do not know if I will be returning. only that I was following my longing. and of moving through the terrain of our souls. so that we might learn what is truly ours. but tends to continue to re-assert itself to greater and greater degrees until ignoring is no longer an option. I did not know at the time why I had come to the mountain. said to be the grave of Queen Maeve. Perhaps we are called to plunge deep within ourselves and find our true gifts and quest in life. over a year earlier.Engaged Druidism: A Practice Handbook destination. And yet by bringing this awareness of severance. Sometimes we must give up everything to learn what is truly ours. rather than observer. you belong to whatever returns with the rising sun of dawn. The way of pilgrimage asks us to walk gently with a deepened awareness for the environment 37 .

There is no “this land” and “this mind”. and the threshold is the space in which we are prepared for that arrival. to change our fundamental being in this world. Even if we have no destination. Sometimes though. The common saying that “the journey is the destination” holds true here. and this liminal space acts as just that. or even sometimes. or rather what we belong to. and the feel of our environment – we simultaneously open ourselves to an awareness of the dreamlike quality of our more subtle experiences. Threshold There comes a time in our journey when we reach a threshold. The threshold strips these from us. because we must be willing to pay that price. but that doesn’t make it any easier to arrive. and other times we are thrown into it without ever consciously making a decision. It is not hospitable to what is reserved and hidden. The threshold is the true purpose of our pilgrimage. If we knew what the threshold would ask of us. We do not know the condition of our arrival. moving from the egocentric to the soulcentric. This sort of awareness brings us to the place where the boundaries between inner and outer are dissolved. our arrival is tinged with the pain of loss. We can never know what sort of arrival waits for us at the end of our journey. but rather one continuum of consciousness. The journey fundamentally changes something about us. dawn. This is why when we set out we let go of everything. a potent transformer of consciousness. Sometimes we choose to take pilgrimage. When we open our senses – attending to the sights. This sort of gaze may be suitable for watching television. also signifies a doorway. The way a waterfall cascades down a granite wall could tell you just as much about your life and situation as your thoughts and mind could. The threshold is a powerful place of transformation. it is a sensuous participatory rhythm which forms a dialogue with the land. Sometimes we arrive exactly where we hoped. the tastes. It is not just walking or just traveling. This is the place where inner and outer pilgrimage meet. This holds just as true for the inner pilgrims of mind. Threshold. recognized as such in the Celtic traditions. our way of moving is the same. for that is the purpose of pilgrimage. whether we travel on land or through the soul. The way of doing this is softening the gaze and opening the soul to the shaping power of the land. Arrival to destination or intention is the reason for which we travel. In difficult arrivals it is easy to feel as though we have been abandoned. as if we may never return. or heading to the right place for the wrong reasons. but important to remember 38 . Sometimes we were heading to the wrong place. but can see nothing of the soul. a beautiful “Promised Land” in our psyche or our lives. where mist. As David Whyte says. When we travel. the smells. however. whether we will arrive where intended or not.”2 To befriend the soul we must soften this gaze. we do so most often with purpose.”3 We cannot dictate the journey. the seashore. but we can be sure that if it the place where our longing lead us. In order to arrive we must be transformed in some way. Without the threshold of transformation our arrival would be hollow. We may know it’s just where we need to be. Within the threshold these opposites are united. arising here as a tree or stone and here as a thought or feeling. Even in pilgrimages made intentionally we never know the price that we will later be asked to pay. the true purpose of pilgrimage is the threshold of transformation. allowing our arrival to whatever destination or intention we set out towards. Often pilgrimage can ask us the most frightening thing. Arrival We think we travel to meet an arrival. I think often we would never set out in the first place. sometimes “the nature of our struggle disqualifies us from the very garden we have so long desired. traveling perhaps through some difficult circumstance.Engaged Druidism: A Practice Handbook we are within. We may arrive weary and bruised in a place we had never anticipated. then it is exactly where we need to be. We do not always arrive where we want or how we want and the reason for this is the threshold. twilight. leaving only what truly belongs to us. we hold an intention which guides us. Arrival can be joyous or it can be painful. whatever beauty may follow. Too often our interior gaze is too harsh and penetrating. John O’Donohue calls this “neon vision” and writes that “This neon light is too direct and clear to befriend the shadowed world of the soul. but as I have said. or crossroads are recognized as symbols of the juxtaposition of opposites. but rather it co-arises as a conversation between our own bodies and the terrain through which we travel. This union of opposites creates a liminal space. Whatever the journey.

and coming full circle without any of the boons of the voyage. I wrote the following poem after reading some lines by Rainer Maria Rilke. will require some adjustment from us. but just as important as this is the return home. and bring new life and vision to it. Return The journey metaphor often leads people to believe that the so called “spiritual journey” is a linear one. or back to our center. The transformations I had undergone through the trip were now surfacing in a way that I could not ignore. but the transformative power of the threshold itself can not create this growth. called the “cosmic two-by-four”. This is similar to the upward spiral of the initiatory journey. This is not true. or the “center” of our psyche. It takes us to our depths. In Four Quartets T. I was being overambitious with my time and energy. We gain our new vision. asking to be integrated. or out beyond the edge of ourselves. and continue the pilgrimage on my own. knowing that my time here had to come to and end. and was not properly honoring the process of returning home. The integration of a pilgrimage is both the act of coming home and developing a new. In 2004 I made my first pilgrimage to Ireland. planning to spend a night there and then make my way to Kildare. There is always beauty to be found. Pilgrimage changes us. who was leading the group. but integration of the threshold is what makes it real for us. but ultimately rewarding. My plan was to stay for another month afterwards. and was inspired by the power of his words to reconcile dissonance with beauty. longing will always continue to carry us towards new horizons. visiting sacred sites and doing ritual work.S. whatever your grief of loss or joy of love 39 . The poem is called “And the Song Goes On. If anything it is circular or spiral. the process can be a painful one. Return does not mean forgetting the journey. and often is. a life long pursuit. or went within to search the hidden corners of our soul. but we must take that back to our lives. we must return to the center. I thought similar words might be said to someone after the ordeal of a pilgrimage.Engaged Druidism: A Practice Handbook that we have not been. As I have stated several times throughout this essay. and richer and richer rewards can always be uncovered – even years after we thought we had “processed through it”. It was also a very transformative experience. The threshold provides the impetus. Pilgrimage brings us a treasure house of insight and transformation. Integration The work of integration is where we come face to face with the sustainability of our vision and arrival. hopefully more aware and enlivened relationship to the place we left. if we can maintain the open softness of our gaze. This task can be. If we stayed forever we could never do the real work of integration. be it to a physical home. By the end of the group trip however. In order for us to truly reap the benefits of the journey we must integrate it into our lives in a way which supports our deeper unfolding and engagement with the spirit of life. whatever lives or dies within through the fierce trials of the voyage. and one which I will not soon forget. I was there with a group for the first week and a half.” Whatever the shape of your faithful vessel upon arrival. Eliot wrote the following lines that speak to this process of homecoming and integration: And the end of all our exploring Will be to arrive where we started And know the place for the first time. When I arrived I broke down in tears. It was an incredible time. I was hit with what my friend. even in the painful places. If we stay small and hidden we will never grow. and it must be recognized that any return. I got on the bus back to Dublin. Whether we left our homes. Returning is the stage of our journey in which we begin to embody the pilgrimage and arrival.

335 2 O’Donohue. New York. Anam ara: Spiritual Wisdom from the Celtic World. New York: Bantam Books.4 (Footnotes) 1 “The Philosophical Tree” (1945). And looking back towards the dark voyage of an arrival we could never have anticipated. Crossing the Unknown Sea: Work as a Pilgrimage of Identity. 109 3 Whyte.Engaged Druidism: A Practice Handbook you will always have the singular pillar of breath to turn you towards the embrace of the one song you were born to sing. Portraits of Beauty. Whatever our darkness. p. New York: Riverhead Books. p. suddenly all our struggles are confirmed as we tracked the footsteps of our breathing to this moment of renewal. p. the longings lost to us to the unrelenting waves the song always goes on. 1997. resonating in the dark and secret chambers of the hidden night of your soul – beautiful. Boulder. our brokenness. The sun rises for another dawn and the geese return from their winter migrations announcing their arrival through the clear air and always the sure return of life moves in to claim us. Jason. 140 4 Kirkey. In Collected Works 13: Alchemical Studies. 2006. David. p. John. 101 40 . Colorado: Hiraeth Press.

becoming aware of your breath. The same technique may be used by us to compose what we might be called “vision-poetry. a practice which has roots stretching back to the time of the Filidh. Perhaps spend some time contemplating or meditation on this question or topic. What is likely to have been taking place here was a technique of altering consciousness. light a candle or turn on the flashlight and write. • As was stated this practice was used with the students contemplating specific topics. Now begin breathing. What follows is a brief instruction. Much like a shamanic journey you will benefit from going into the practice with a topic or question in your mind. Once your awareness is well anchored in the breath. Sometimes the poetry has come out good in the artistic sense—sometimes not—but the real fruits of this practice are the insights and awareness which it generates. You may not want to move. Try to get the room as dark as possible. cool on the tips of your nostrils as you breathe in. Have a pad of paper and a writing implement next to you. It should be heavy enough to feel the weight of but light enough that it is not causing discomfort. but just have the pen and paper ready at your side. As you hold this question or topic in your mind let it arise poetically. Once your awareness is settled in with the stone. the stone being used as a means to focus the awareness and to perhaps keep them from falling asleep. scribbling as you lay there. find an image that speaks to this question and let it become a poem. You may want to have a flashlight or candle at hand as well so you do not need to immediately turn on the lights. If your attention wanders return it to the breath. If you attention wanders return it to the stone. • • • • • • • • • • 41 . move your awareness to the stone. going into a dark hut. You might. Or. continued. instead of writing. We know that in the times of the Filidh their training would consist of being given a particular topic. move your awareness to the question or topic in your mind. and probably as far back as the druids. if you can sit up and open your eyes and stay within the “vision” then you might want to sit up. warm on your nostrils as you breathe out. The student would then compose poetry. When you are ready begin writing.” I have used this method many times and the results are always different but always interesting. even want to invest in a tape recorder and speak into it to stay in the moment. Darken a room and lay down. You may need to blindfold yourself or place something over your face in order to block out the most amount of light. We know very well that sensory deprivation is a viable method of inducing altered states of consciousness. Place a good sized stone on your chest. The aesthetic aspects of the poem can always be worked on later. If your attention wanders return it to the question. laying down and placing a stone on their chests.Engaged Druidism: A Practice Handbook Vision-Poetry Up until at least the 17th century in Ireland. Feel free to experiment to find what works best for you.

unlike many other forms it requires us to be in dialogue. a story which I feel we all benefit through know and telling. Another way. an intellectual way of working with it that may aid certain people. but most accounts of history lacks the dramatic and emotional impact of true storytelling. It could be approached in many ways. I would like to focus on one particular story. If that feels too exposing at this time you could tell it to a tree. a community we are a part of. from learning and telling the myths of the tradition to using it as a tool for teaching and communicating ideas and experiences. Myth allows us to put parts of ourselves into a language that is respecting of their depth. in symbolic language. I use the word voice in the largest sense of it. or a natural being such as a tree or rock – we are engaged with an Other. or a way to use alongside. Write your story as if it were a myth. Who are the characters? What are their names? Where does it take place? What time period is it set in? Tell your story – the whole story – honoring your wounds and defeats as well as your accomplishments and victories. our “life myth.” This is related to the art of journaling. When the myth is written. We may never sit in a dark Irish pub telling stories to a captivated audience (but its certainly worth aspiring to) but whether our audience is a close friend.Engaged Druidism: A Practice Handbook Storytelling Like art. 42 . even if it is an imaginary Other. you could always go back when you have finished writing it and see what connections you can discover. of course. This is why ancient people told their own histories through myth. That is. and complexity. Knowing and being able to tell this story is the ground on which we might build a larger storytelling art and practice. From there you will know what other stories need to be told. What makes storytelling such a unique form of practice is that. or you uncover deeper and deeper layers of your own personal story. mystery. You might consider looking into the work of the mythologist Joseph Campbell (the hero’s journey. a stone. The story which I am talking about is each of our own stories. In order to tell our life myth we must become acquainted with the idea of our life as story. To tell a story effectively we must know and be comfortable with our “voice”. storytelling can be a powerful form of practice as well. would be an intuitive “feeling out” of the story and myth. also called the monomyth may give you some insight) and the depth psychologist Carl Jung and their work with archetypes and mythology might help you go deeper into the symbolic substructure of your life. a stream. our ability to effectively and confidently communicate our depths. Consider keeping this life myth and adding to it as your life unfolds. If archetypes interest you. you might choose a close friend or a partner and tell it to them. or a place which you feel a connection to. Let your story be a dialogue that brings you into deeper understanding of yourself and brings your life into dialogue with the world. You may even want to go back now and again and revise it as certain things become clearer to you. So often we consider our lives to be history. For this section though.

but it nonetheless remains a powerful practice. I try to convince myself that this is a bad idea. I summited shortly before the sun went down and had my last and only meal of that day. and so I intended to fulfill my promise. a symbol which I deeply resonate with as a soul-image. I would like to tell a story as a means of illuminating this topic before giving some general instructions. Some General Guidelines • If you’re on your own and have never done this kind of work then it is recommended you just do one day and night or just one night before you consider three days and nights. Often when people think of prayer fasts and vision quests they imagine profound trances and “hallucinatory” states of consciousness evoking life changing visions. even with layers of thermals and sweaters. The center of my altar corresponds to the center of the Irish mandala. you belong to whatever returns with the rising sun of dawn. and when I left the mountain I whispered a promise that I would return. Maeve is without a doubt a goddess par excellence of sovereignty. On my first trip to Ireland a little over a year and a half before I had traveled there with a group. Rain threatened in the sky. and to bring my travels full circle. sovereignty. A story in the Colloquy of the Ancients suggests that there may have been similar practices in Ireland. The wind was incredibly powerful and I had to take shelter beneath the cairn to avoid getting blown off the face of the mountain. I replaced them with a casting of the triple spirals of Newgrage. The above story illustrates that profound initiatory experiences can be evoked in short periods of time. I was taking a pilgrimage to come into deeper embodiment of my own sense of sovereignty and personal kingship. My time living there was no less transformative. curled up in the fetal position to conserve as much of my own body heat as possible. That first trip was incredible formative and initiatory. two apples. Before I left I took two stones from my altar which had been there since I brought them back from my first trip. particularly if you have an opportunity to fast at an ancestral sacred site. 43 . Extreme physical conditions elicit extreme states of mind. much more intimate that you could miss it if you aren’t paying attention. Whether it was practiced by the ancient Celts or not is certainly a matter of debate. As the night wears on I begin pacing back and forth to keep warm.Engaged Druidism: A Practice Handbook Prayer Fast Vision quests and prayer fasts are used in a variety of cultures as a means of cultivating a sustainable vision for life and for marking major transitions such as growth from adolescence to adulthood. Sometimes what comes though is much more subtle. It is essentially a conversation between my soul and my ego and it deepens as I continue pacing. A conversation emerges between the parts of me which are afraid and the deeper parts of me that know. and the sun mirrors my own sense of personal sovereignty which I earned that night through the conversation. Then you must give everything you ever knew to the darkness of the night. to a mountain called Knocknarea. and that I should go back down to the hostel where I have a room and a bed. I walked from Sligo town to the foot of the mountain (no short walk!) before ascending up. and which is tattooed on my chest. For mid-April it was absolutely freezing. In 2006 while living temporarily in the west of Ireland I took a few days to go up to Sligo. where a massive cairn sits named Queen Maeve’s Cairn. When the sun rises I am still on the mountain. then laying on the ground. When my legs get cold I get up and walk some more. Quality not quantity as they say. an intention and pattern was set. All that is truly required of us is to show up as completely as we are able. moved as I was by the place. As I walk I begin to talk to myself.

this opens the door to a state of mind where a psychological death. This may seem morbid.Engaged Druidism: A Practice Handbook • • • • • If you are planning on three days and nights then it is recommended you seek out a wilderness rites of passage group or at least take some courses in wilderness survival. The rest will happen organically. refining it. though in some cultures you do not bring water. Carry that intention with you. It also has tremendous power in terms of getting your priorities in line with your values. Be fully present to the moment of the experience. Integration happens in your ordinary mode of consciousness. Spend some time thinking about it. contemplating it. When I fasted in the above story. perhaps as a physical item which can act as a symbol for this. Show up. Pay attention to the “severance” stage (as outlined in the Pilgrimage practice). The Pilgrimage: Contemplative Nature Walk practice in this handbook may provide some relevant material for how to approach your work. and on other similar occasions I have taken the attitude that I would not be returning from my trip. and you can expect to “drop down” back into your normal state of consciousness. Integrating does not mean trying to retain the state of consciousness you experience during the fast. • • 44 . Water is recommended even if you choose to fast from food. that I was going to my death. but the way I was taught suggests that the purpose of the vision quest is to bring to you a place where you are accepting of your own impending death (which is impending no matter how you look at it). A prayer fast is a pilgrimage. a transformative or initiatory experience. bring it anyway. Without integration work your ego is just masturbating. whether you cover a lot of terrain or are confined to a circle drawn on the ground. If you are in a dry area. is possible. Just because you have a powerful experience during your prayer fast does not mean you are automatically transformed. Set an intention. Be gentle with yourself on return. Be mindful of the necessary work of integrating your experiences upon your return. Say goodbye to your home and your family and friends. You will likely feel “high” on your return. whether you plan to drink it or not. Plan to come back and have at least a day without any major obligations to allow yourself to recuperate.

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