Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Fire in The Head (Celtic Shamanism)

Fire In the Head (Celtic Shamanism) by Tom Cowan

I finished awhile ago the book “Fire in the Head.” One can make a case certainly for Celtic practices being in the general family of circum-polar shamanism. In cultures like some in Siberia there is a long-standing tradition of shaman training. The Celts have of course lost the continuity of these traditions although sizable fragments certainly appear in traditional Witchcraft. Unfortunately for Celtic Reconstructionists there is not so much in the way of literature and exact techniques of pre Christian Celts.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book. No doubt, this is a fascinating study of both Celtic lore and shamanism. I think most of us have had some form of “spontaneous shamanistic experiences” whether in dreams, traumas, or altered states. The section on shape-shifting as the shifting of consciousness was interesting. He sort of defines shape-shifting as experiencing “consciousness-as -object” and shamanic journeying as “consciousness-as-landscape.” The Celts and shamanistic societies obviously have a very pantheistic/animistic view of reality so the energy of consciousness can imbue anything including inanimate objects. Of course, the consciousness energy of inanimate objects may be hidden much deeper than in life forms. Then of course, the Christians came along and gradually externalized the divine as something far away and only accessible through their methods.

The Celts were a warrior culture in a world where warriors were very necessary so their practices reflect this. Generating the warrior frenzy as an altered state could certainly improve success rates. One has to be hyper-aware on the battlefield. Feigning madness and showing brutality certainly has its psychological effects. This is one difference between now and then I think. More people in the past died violent deaths and were necessarily trained as warriors, with all the insensitivity and willingness to do whatever it takes that goes with it. Nowadays we have technology to fight our wars so the warrior spirit can maybe be utilized for something more beneficial like overcoming our psychological problems.

Tom Cowan contemplates in a way that considers these views of consciousness energy in depth as in the following quote,

“The Celts appreciated the shamanic view that energy or magic resides in everything , and that any object or thing can be a protective spirit. Thus the vital essence of the universe interconnects all creative things. Behind these concepts is an unspoken sense that the nature of the universe is fluid, and that our personal identity is not bounded by skin and ego, but is holographically present in all of creation. We actually persist through all time and space and can manifest in physical forms other than the one in which we currently dwell.”

That is a very interesting statement. Our essential interconnectedness on the levels of matter and energy make possible certain transformations. I don’t think however that the ability to transform or perform magickal feats should be the goal in itself but what one can do with such abilities.

In terms of the future of Celtic or any other form of shamanism - I think that now things are different. We no longer live in a society where war and war skills are essential to our survival. We now have instantaneous access to the magickal, spiritual, and cultural traditions the world over -and even the opportunities for authentic initiations. Even though our science and medical technologies are vastly improved - traditional forms of holistic healing offer much for our benefit especially used in combo with modern science. We no longer rely on hunting for our food needs (at least most of us don’t). Cultivation of livestock is no longer necessary for many of us.

As for we witches, we are definitely still “outsiders” to our mainstream society and as Tom Cowan suggests that is part of our power of enchantment. Apparently, even in a shamanistic society the more powerful shamans are often outcastes.

Tom Cowan did much in this book to interpret the Celtic/shamanic worldview, archetypes, and some practice ideas. The archetypes of the fool/minstrel, the fantastic journeys to magickal islands in Irish mythology as shamanic travels to realms of the dead, detailed analysis of the legends of Arthur, Avalon, and the Grail, descriptions of the Celtic Otherworld and its inhabitants the Faery Folk, Sacred Groves, the Hollow Hills and People of the Wells - are among the topics.

Perhaps we as modern neo-pagans are also on the symbolic quest for the Magickal Grail or its Celtic predecessor the Cauldron of Mystery - the quest to understand and integrate reality in a holistic way without the dogmas and body-denying tendencies of Christian culture that tries to tie salvation to the mere belief in a specific scenario. I also think that Celtic culture is a part of American culture through fairy tales, stories, movies, etc. where there are pieces of that worldview in all American peoples.

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