Light & Shadows of Chalandor Book of Shadows
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Title: The Wide Spun Moment a little history
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Autumn_Heather
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Registered: 11/21/2008

(Date Posted:02/17/2009 05:56 AM)
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There is a high mountain in North Wales called Cader Idris, the chair of
The giant Idris, who had a liking for the stars. Although it is a pleasant
Enough climb of sheep-cropped turf and rocky outcrops by day, the legend goes
That to spend a night there will cause you either to die, go mad or become a
Poet. For Cader is one of those sacred Celtic mountains, hills or barrows
Which can lead the traveler into bourns from which they may, if unprepared, not
Return.
The legend of Cader makes evident how thin the line is that separates
Ecstasy, madness and death in Celtic tradition. Early literature abounds with
Examples from real life and legend, both of people who have purposefully trained
In techniques of ecstasy, and those whom fate has carelessly hurled outside
The confines of ordinary consciousness.
Among the highest ranking men in early Ireland were the filidh, a title
Meaning both ‘poet’ and ‘seer.’ The word itself comes from the root ‘to see,’
For to the Celts, vision and poetry—the rapture of illumination and the
Inspired voicing of it—were inseparable, the in-breath and out-breath of the
Ecstatic experience.
As in Eurasian shamanic cultures, the fili was trained in mantic techniques
That taught him how to leave his body to ascend to the sky or descend to the
Underworld to communicate with spirits and the dead, for as Irish scholar
Daithi ÒhÒgáin writes, the Irish poet-seer "was a mediator between the
Supernatural powers and the human race" who displayed many of the traits of the
Shaman. The ecstatic journeys of the Irish druids and filidh (their functions were
Often interchangeable) was to gain imbas, roughly translated as "knowledge
Which enlightens," which was seen as a gift from "the god that kindles fire in
The head." The treasures they brought back from these realms might be poetry
Or prophecy—hidden truths with which they returned to enlighten the tribe.
The Christian church put an end to most of these practices, so we have only a
Few brief but tantalizing glimpses of what must have once constituted a
Substantial living body of magical knowledge.
In one story, for example, we hear how the great druid Mog Ruith embarks
Upon ecstatic soul-flight:
Mog Ruith's skin of the hornless, dun-coloured bull was brought to him then
And his speckled bird-dress with its winged flying, and his druidic gear
Besides. And he rose up, in company with the fire, into the air and the
Heavens..
To enter an inspired trance dressed in bird costume was a common technique
Of Siberian shamans, for as Mircea Eliade comments:
"Birds are psychopomps. Becoming a bird oneself or being accompanied by a
Bird indicates the capacity, while still alive, to undertake the ecstatic
Journey to the sky and the beyond."
But this was only one of the many paths that took druids and filidh through
The gates of the Otherworld. They might have traveled by the road of darkness
And dreams as described in a 10th century glossary: The poet lies on his
Back with his hands over his eyes and invokes the spirits to come to him. He
Stays in this position for three days and nights, guarded by watchers who make
Sure he doesn’t turn over. This is reminiscent of the classic position for
Incubatory sleep used in the Asclepian healing temples of Ancient Greece,
Because it bestows sleep only deep enough for significant dreams to be recalled
Easily on awakening. A similar technique was in use much later in the Bardic
Schools of 17th century Scotland where, according to a traveler’s account:
"They [the Bards] shut their Doors and Windows for a Days time, and lie on
Their backs with a Stone upon their Belly, and Plads about their Heads, and
Their Eyes being cover'd they pump their Brains for Rhetorical Encomium or
Panegyrick; and indeed they furnish such a Stile from this Dark Cell as is
Understood by very few..."
Special foods or drinks may have been consumed as a means to ecstatic
Consciousness. The Celts were from Indo-European tradition and most likely had
Their own version of the mysterious drink of the Vedic people: soma, which was
Personified as ‘lord of speech’, and as a poet, seer and sage. The word for
Drunkenness, meisce, signified both "intoxication" and "inspirational ecstasy"
In Old Irish, and in later days at least, it was fully expected of any
Serious Irish poet that he would "add strength to his flights of genius" by
Downing several jugs prior to composition.
If the juice of the barley kindled "fire in the head" of later poets, in
Earlier times the brew of inspiration may have been a mead made from hazels, the
Tree most associated with poetry and magic in the Celtic world. Many early
Irish tales describe poets and seers as "gaining the nuts of wisdom" from
Hazels, while Scottish druids were said to eat the nuts to gain prophetic
powers. Hazel mead was said to be a powerful intoxicant, and even to this day there
are country-dwellers who believe hazel-nuts to have divinatory powers, and
use them in fortune-telling games at Halloween.
Whether the Celts, like the Norse, drank an actual "Mead of Poetry" we will
never know, but eating and drinking magical substances is also clearly a
metaphor for imbibing the wisdom of the Otherworld. Early Irish literature
abounds with tales of heroes who venture into the Otherworld and gain its wisdom by
drinking from a wonder-working cup or well. And Welsh bardic literature
frequently refers to the "cauldron of inspiration" which contains a mysterious
substance called awen, the Welsh equivalent of imbas. Awen literally means
"flowing spirit" and is bestowed only by the generosity of Ceridwen, the poets’
muse and mistress of the cauldron. An early poem by a Welsh bard describes
his experience of awen when he taps into its powerful force:
"The Awen I sing,
From the deep I bring it,
A river while it flows,
I know its extent;
I know when it disappears;
I know when it fills;
I know when it overflows;
I know when it shrinks;
I know what base
There is beneath the sea."
Here the source of awen is in the depths of the sea, a traditional location
For the Celtic Otherworld. But it emerges also from the depths of the poet
himself, who may have drunk the "intoxicating mead" of the druids. The flowing
drink from cauldron or cup sets into motion the flowing spirit from deep
within.
One class of Welsh people acted as oracles when filled with awen. In the
12th century, the traveling monk, Giraldus Cambriensis, met these Awenyddion on
his journey through Wales. He recounts:
"When you consult them about some problem, they immediately go into a trance
and lose control of their senses... They do not answer the question put to
them in a logical way. Words stream from their mouths, incoherently and
apparently meaningless and lacking any sense at all, but all the same well
expressed: and if you listen carefully to what they say you will receive the solution
to your problem. When it is all over, they will recover from their trance,
as if they were ordinary people waking from a heavy sleep, but you have to
give them a good shake before they regain control of themselves... and when
they do return to their senses they can remember nothing of what they have said
in the interval... They seem to receive this gift of divination through
visions which they see in their dreams. Some of them have the impression that
honey or sugary milk is being smeared on their mouths; others say that a sheet of
paper with words written on it is pressed against their lips..."
As we have seen from the legend of Cader Idris, special places in the
landscape were gateways to the Otherworld, and could be entered in a state of
trance or sleep. These might be hills or burial-mounds known to be frequented by
faeries or ancestral spirits, or sometimes by riversides or on the sea, since
water led down into the underworld. The sleeper usually experienced being
taken to a magical land by a faery woman who became his mistress and muse, and
bestowed the gift of poetry and prophecy upon him. This was most likely to
happen when the turning of the year from one season to another left the gates
to the Otherworld ajar: at Beltane (May Ist) or Samhain (November 1st,) the
threshold times.
Such journeys take the inner traveler out of time, seeming to last for
hundreds of years, when only a night has passed. Or as Irish writer James Stephens
described it in his retelling of a story about Fionn McCumhaill:
"In truth we do not go to Faery, we become Faery, and in the beating of a
pulse we may live for a year or a thousand years. But when we return the memory
is quickly clouded, and we seem to have had a dream or even seen a vision,
although we have verily been in Faery. It is wonderful, then, that Fionn
should have remembered all that happened to him in that wide-spun moment…"
Fionn, who gained imbas by drinking from an Otherworld well or by eating the
Salmon of Wisdom according to different accounts, was a true poet-seer who
could alter consciousness at will, and bring full remembrance of the ecstatic
state back into the everyday world. But there are others in Celtic tradition
who were blasted open by forces so strong that ever after the gates to the
Otherworld hung loosely on their hinges, swinging wildly in the wind that blew
through their minds.
In Ireland these people were known as geilt, probably meaning "wild." Many
of them lived in Glenn Bolcan, a valley in County Kerry where "all the
lunatics in Ireland" were supposed to be. They lived as wild men, foraging for roots
and watercress, in kinship with the animals. Stories about the geilt and
their British counterparts often recount how it was the horrors of war caused
them to lose their minds.
The most famous of these was Suibhne, once king of Dalriada, who, during a
battle was beset with terrifying visions:
"Huge, flickering, horrible aerial phantoms rose up, so that they were in
cursed, commingled clouds tormenting him…hovering, fiend-like hosts constantly
in motion, shrieking and howling…"
Suibhne rises up out of the battlefield, and flies away to the forest where
he proceeds
"to turn his back on mankind, and to herd with deer, run along with the
showers, and flee with the birds, and to feast in wildernesses."
The shattering of his mind sentences him to a life of stark alienation from
society, but has also unlocked for him the gifts of poetry and seership. Like
the druid Mog Ruith, he now is able to fly to the upper world like a bird,
and he makes his home in a yew tree dressed in feathers reminiscent of the
druid’s cloak. Here God speaks to him, granting him prophetic knowledge "every
morning and every evening."
He describes his life in the woods in verse of heartfelt intensity and
poignant beauty. When he is told that his wife is sharing his bed with the
pretender to his kingdom, he asks her to come and see him, and recites poems to her
about their past life – poems that are considered among the most beautiful in
Irish literature. But madness is never far away, and periods of exquisite
clarity give way to insane visions: headless bodies and bodiless heads,
streaming blood, come screaming and leaping towards him, talking about him among
themselves and clutching at him till he escapes "into the filmy clouds of the
sky."
More than one scholar has compared Suibhne and the geilt to novice shamans
whose first entry into ecstatic states is a disorienting and terrifying
experience that sends them fleeing into the wilderness. Among some Siberian
communities, experienced shamans would teach these sensitives how to control such
states and integrate them within their lives for the benefit of the tribe.
Another famous mad poet-seer was Merlin, in early Welsh literature termed
"Wyllt," the Wild. Long before he appeared as the wise magician of Arthurian
legend, his history was recounted in the 12th century by Geoffrey of Monmouth
in his Vita Merlini whose opening lines declare: "I set myself to sing of the
madness of the bard of prophecy."
Like Suibhne, Merlin was a king who went mad at the horror of seeing so many
of his friends and family slaughtered in a battle. He too becomes
"wood-wild" and spends his days wandering through the great forest of Celydon, with a
gray wolf by his side. He suffers harsh freezing winters foraging for food,
and whenever the occasional traveler chances to catch sight of him, he runs
away. His chief refuge is an apple-tree which seems to have magical properties,
because when he is in it, none of the search-parties can find him. Here,
according to a Welsh text, he composes many prophetic poems, mostly full of grim
warnings of the doom that would come upon Wales at the hands of the English,
but made personal and touching by each verse being addressed to another
beloved companion, a small wild pig:
"Oh little piglet,
oh blissful sow,
don’t take your morning nap,
don’t rummage in the undergrowth,…
if you saw
the sheer violence
that I saw,
you wouldn’t sleep in the morning…"
For a short while, he recovers his sanity when his brother-in-law, Rodarch,
sends a musician to sing and play to him:
"Little by little as he played, he coaxed the madman to put by his wild mood
under the sweet spell of the zither."
But when he returns to court with the minstrel and sees the crowds of people
waiting to greet him, he "went mad; and once more his derangement filled him
with a desire to go off to the forest, and he longed to slip away."
At length his sister Ganieda, realizing that nothing will persuade him to
return to the life of the court, builds for him in the forest a house of glass.
Here he wanders by night, gazing at the stars and singing the prophesies he
learns from them. And unlike Suibhne, who meets with a violent end, Merlin at
last recovers his sanity by drinking from a healing spring. In his prayer of
thanks to God for this miracle, he rejoices that he is no longer plagued by
an ecstasy that gave him no peace:
"I was taken out of my true self, I was as a spirit and knew the history of
people long past and could foretell the future. I knew then the secrets of
nature, bird flight, star wanderings and the way fish glide. This distressed me
and, by a hard law, deprived me of the rest that is natural to the human
mind. Now I am myself again, and I feel strong in me that life with which my
spirit had always filled my limbs."
For to live in the forest like these "wild men of the woods," is to pay
allegiance to the untamed hinterland of consciousness, the rich but dangerous
preserves of the mind that lie beyond the well-paved courts of consensus
reality. The dense and often trackless medieval forest represents a halfway state
between this world and the Otherworld, and Suibhne and Merlin in their trees
also live suspended above the ground, not unlike certain early hermits of the
Middle East who lived on top of columns to be closer to heaven. The crazy
poet-seers literally lived on the very threshold of the Otherworld, but unlike
the trained filidh, had no ability to close its gates at will. As Welsh
country-people knew for centuries: to spend the night on Cader Idris is to be
close to the brilliance of the stars, but also within reach of the cwm annwn, the
Hounds of Hell that fly above its crest hunting for souls. .. © Mara
Freeman 1998
.

Aes Sidhe Blessings
May the Sidhe Bless you and your Wisdom grow.

Three lights that illumine any darkness...Truth, Nature and Knowledge. The
three Triads of Ireland.

Cuimhnichibh air na daoine bho'n d'thainig sibh.(Remember the people whom
you come from
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