contemplativeinquiry

This blog is about contemplative inquiry

Tag: Celtic Christianity

NOTE AND SONG

I have continued to experiment with the forms of contemplative prayer and mantra work I use in connection to my Ceile De paidirean.  Having worked some time now with the heart prayer, I have started to engage with other expressions of this tradition. These are drawn from the wider range of Ceile De fuinn (chants).

My overall morning practice is customarily held within a circle cast in “the Sacred Grove of Sophia, the luminous spirit of wisdom”. I have found a fonn (chant) for my walking meditation that links back, for me, to her.  The words are:

Gun tigeadh solas nan solas air mo chridhe; gun tigeadh ais an spiorad air mo chridhe

Goon tee-guch solus nan solus air mo chree; goon tee-guch aysh an speer-utch air mo chridhe

Come light of lights to my heart; come wisdom of spirit to my heart

When I use this fonn (chant) in walking meditation, I use Sireadh Thall (Sheer-ich Hall) as a mantra, for periods of time, when sitting. It means “seek beyond” and according to the Ceile De, Sireadh Thall is “one of the many poetic names for the Great Goddess of the Gael, Brighide or Bridget”. She has sometimes been called the northern Sophia (as in Caitlin Matthews’ book, ‘Sophia’).  Sireadh Thall, as a divine name, gives me a sense of the Goddess pointing beyond herself to a place where names, forms and images of the divine dissolve.

Gun tigeadh solas nan solas air mo chridhe; gun tigeadh ais an spiorad air mo chridhe is the fifth fonn on the first Ceile De fonn CD.  Sireadh Thall is the tenth.  I find this latter especially moving.  For me it is presented here in a perfect weaving of voices.  There is no soloist, yet the loss of any one voice – each with its unique integrity – would diminish the piece.  So collectively this fonn gives voice to the Oran Mor, the great song of what is.

In working with different fuinn in this way, I can listen in to them, feel them, taste them – their resonance, their energy, and their inspiration. I get closer to finding my note within that song.

(Sireadh Thall can be accessed and downloaded on http://www.ceilede.co.uk/company/the-fonn.)

PAIDIREAN (PAHJ-URINN) II

I started wearing my Paidirean – the Ceile De prayer beads – for my morning practice on 19 December.  In the Ceile De Order they are used in conjunction with what in this tradition is called the Heart Prayer:

 A Thighearna … Solus an domhain … Chriost mo chridhe … dean trocair oirnn

 Ah hee-earn-ah … Solus on dowain … Chree-ost mo chree … Jaun trok-ir orn

O Lord … Light of the world … Christ my heart … show mercy/compassion/grace

I don’t follow the practice as prescribed, but I notice that I soon started saying this prayer aloud (having listened carefully to the Ceile De CD) when doing walking meditation – initially drawn in by the sound of the old language.  In walking meditation I am mindful to each footfall and so in working the Heart Prayer I have become mindful to each footfall and a syllable of the Heart Prayer as well (except of course when I am not).  As time has gone on I have increased the use of the prayer, sometimes said aloud, sometimes not.  I intersperse this with times of complete silence within as well as without to make the practice more spacious. Likewise in sitting meditation, essentially a plain breath meditation, I have introduced the key phrase “Chriost mo chridhe”, as an intermittent mantra within the practice.  These words in particular anchor in my sense that ‘Christ’ stands for an interior awakening rather than an external or historical being.

Why has this prayer become resonant to me?  I am reminded again of the summer of 2007.  At midsummer I went to Melrose and had the experiences I described in my previous blog post.  On a weekend late in July I was scheduled to go to a conference with my partner Elaine. The plan involved getting from Bristol, where I lived, to Stroud, where she lived.  But we were cut off from each other by floods: roads closed, railway in chaos.  So we both stayed put.  I was following the OBOD Ovate course at the time and decided to have a day of ritual derived from the course followed by a day of reflection and recovery.  The main result of all this, the one image that fully imprinted itself and which I took away, was that of a dove feather falling gently down beside me  It felt initiatic and it gave me my felt sense of connection with Sophia the Holy Wisdom.  It changed the course of my work.  My centre of gravity had shifted and I realised that I had quite a bit of work to do to make this breakthrough good.  How was I going to use the altered state of the ritual experience to create a more lasting change?  Although not fully recognized at the time, this was the beginning of my ‘contemplative’ turn.

Sophia brings a gnostic understanding to Christ consciousness, awakening the practitioner to a non-dual awareness where knower, known and knowledge, lover, love and beloved, are one.   Except that this last sentence is also a formula of sorts and formulas – even if authentic messages from those who have gone before us – are necessarily suspect.  This, at least, is what I take away from the gnostic Gospel of Thomas:

“Jesus said to his followers, ‘compare me to something and tell me what I am like. Simon Peter said to him, ‘you are like a just messenger’. Matthew said to him, ‘you are like a wise philosopher’. Thomas said to him, ‘Teacher my mouth is utterly unable to say what you are like’. Jesus said, ‘I am not your TeacherBecause you have drunk, you have been intoxicated from the bubbling spring that I have measured out.’  Two followers have personal and cultural presuppositions so strong that their availability for direct experience is compromised.  Only one is sufficiently open and unknowing to make the connection and the shift that goes with it.

Thich Nhat Hanh puts it another way.  “In Buddhist circles, we are careful to avoid getting stuck in concepts, even concepts like ‘Buddhism’ and ‘Buddha’.  If you think of the Buddha as someone separate from the rest of the world, you will never recognize a Buddha even if you see him on the street.  That is why one Zen Master said to his student, ‘When you meet the Buddha, kill him’.  He meant that the student should kill the Buddha-concept in order for him to experience the real Buddha directly.”  (From Living Buddha, Living Christ.)

Following my experience in late July 2007, I wrote a blackberry Lughnasadh verse for my wheel of the year tree poem.

 I am Blackberry

The bramble and the fruit and the wine

And the spirit.

Intoxication as from a bubbling spring,

Freely measured out.

It alluded to the words in St. Thomas and reflected my realization, such as it was. It was not particularly mature or fully integrated, but it did push me into seeking and developing a more rigorous and systematic personal practice.  My hope is that the new shift inspired by the paidirean will deepen and extend it.

PAIDIREAN (PAHJ-URINN)

The Paidirean are the prayer beads of the Ceile De.  Some believe that they have a Druid origin.  They have always been part of the Ceile De tradition are known to have been used in the days of Columcille (St. Columba).

I got mine from the Ceile De shop a little before Christmas.  There are 150 beads, each about 5 mm wide.  They are made of unstained rosewood and were left immersed in rose damask oil for a month.  As well as scenting the beads, the oil gives the beads a pinkish colour. An equal armed and circled silver cross hangs from the beads – at heart level when worn as a necklace.  This form of cross – Celtic, Gnostic and universal – is an ancient symbol, found in pre-Christian and Christian carvings, and sacred to many people from many cultures.

Each Paidirean is ceremonially strung in Scotland by a Ceile De Order member.  The process takes two hours and involves prayer, meditation and continuous chanting during the stringing.  Then a blessing is spoken over the completed Paidirean which is anointed with water and with oil from a local holy well, used for at least 1500 years.  Sister Fionn strung my Paidirean.  Many blessings to you, Sister Fionn, at the turning of the year.

The Paidirean is an object of power as well as beauty.  I wear it as a necklace when practicing, as well as an OBOD Awen necklace which ends just below the throat.  Wearing the two feels like a kind of completion, and I am reminded of a visit I made to Scotland at Midsummer 2007.  I was in Melrose in the Scottish border region, an area with strong family connections. And I seemed to be in business with three locations.  One was the semi-ruined Abbey, and in particular its orchard and garden.  One was the Eildon Hills, looming up into low clouds.  One was a path by the River Tweed.

I was wondering where I felt most spiritually attuned and where I wanted to spend most of my time.  In its gardens the Abbey felt like a place of peace and tradition, though clearly also compromised by conflicts between nations and orthodoxies. The hollow hills of Thomas the Rhymer fame held challenge, glamour – the heroic spirituality of the vision quest in its local form.  But I turned to the river, and had a small epiphany whilst contemplating a wild rose on the riverbanks.  And I later wrote this verse, which became part of a longer poem.

I am Rose.  I am wild Rose.

I am Rose at Midsummer.

The river flows by me.

Fragile, I shiver in the wind.

And I am the heart’s core, mover of mountains.

In a sense, that experience, and the verse that recorded it, established the direction for my subsequent spiritual life and practice.  The Paidirean sets the seal on it.

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