Mysticism and prophecy in ancient Ireland.
The ancient history of the magical emerald isle is steeped in mystery and myth. The Celts brought to Ireland a sophisticated language and rich storytelling. However, it was not part of their culture to record their history or philosophy with written word. The only exception being the Druid language of Ogham (pronounced O-wam) which consisted of 25 groups of lines (scratches really) usually written on bark or occasionally stone and not meant for longevity.
What we do know about the ancient Celts of Ireland we learn from Christian monks from about the eighth century, who obviously incorporated Christian fundamentals into Irish myth. Luckily, storytelling was an important tradition among Irish Celts and the monks preserved much of the themes even though some names are changed and embellishments added.
Although very little is known about the basic ideology of the early Irish, their beliefs on how the world began or the nature of a Supreme Being, we do have some knowledge of the works of the Druids, the priests of the ancients Celts.
There is no word for shaman in the Druid or Celtic languages but the use of shamanism was a spiritual practice in Ireland. Druids used medicinal herbs to “travel inward” and find answers to spiritual questions. The ancient ritual Tarb-feis, meaning bull-feast, began with a Druid chewing on bull meat and then placing it under a stone or broad-leafed plant. The Druid then slept on the animal’s skin and waited for a prophetic dream or vision.
Another shamanic method used by the Celts was “path working”, a way to plan and influence your life using something called Fionn’s Wheel. Found in the Book of Ballymote, Fionn’s Wheel contains all 25 Ogham symbols in interwoven circles, each symbol represented an aspect of life; health, love, affairs of state…etc. The Druid would place items of symbolic significance, such as an image of a deity, on a relevant Ogham, to try to coax fate in a certain direction.
The ancient Celts used three forms of fortune telling; augury, divination and prophecy. Augury could be anything from interpreting bird flight to fire and water gazing. Divination, a more sophisticated form of augury, uses Ogham, tree alphabets, and astrology. Prophecy uses the linking or channeling of a higher wisdom to foresee important events, this was done using three shamanic methods; Tenm Laida, Dichetal Do Chennaib, and Imbas Forosna.
Tenm Laida uses repetitive song, dance, drumming or chanting to release conscious thought and allow the spiritual to be heard. This technique is surprisingly similar to transcendental meditation, Buddhist chanting and Sufi dancing.
Dichetal Do Chennaib is the unlocking of wisdom by immersion in ritual. Attention is focused on a ritual object such as a knife or sword. The object is usually held close to or touching the forehead of the Druid where knowledge contained within the item could be unlocked. The ritual object could contain information about the objects past and the people that owned it.
Imbas Forosna is a powerful meditation technique that incorporates sensory deprivation. The practitioner would isolate themselves in a dark location and attempt to relax and float. Once the Druid felt separate from the body the door is opened and he would quickly enter the bright sunlight. The sudden sensory overload would cause visions, prophecy and illumination.
The ancient Irish Celts saw spirit in everything, in rock, trees and rivers and they believed that Deities and faeries watched at all times leading to a deep cultural respect toward nature. The religious and mystical traditions followed closely the rhythm of observable natural events. The tides, the phases of the moon and sun, and the path of stars and constellations were all important cycles in Irish mysticism and prophecy.