Philip Shallcrass - 'Greywolf' Chief of the British Druid Order.
Shaman Pathways - The Druid Shaman: Exploring the Celtic Otherworldby Danu Forest
Covering the basics of Celtic shamanism, with reference to traditional lore and source materials through the lens of both ancient and modern Druidry and shamanic practice, The Druid Shaman is a well rounded guide, showing the seamless cross over between Druidry and shamanism in the Celtic tradition. It covers topics such as how to attain and work with guides and allies, understanding the spirit realm and interaction with spirits of all kinds, accessing powers of place, traveling the world tree and working with the seven directions and exploring and navigating within the Celtic Otherworld. With practical techniques, exercises and core skills, The Druid Shaman can be used as a practical manual as well as a valuable resource for practicing shamans and druids as well as those new to the subject.
Philip Shallcrass - 'Greywolf' Chief of the British Druid Order.
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Shaman Pathways - The Druid Shaman
Exploring the Celtic Otherworld
By Danu Forest
John Hunt Publishing Ltd.Copyright © 2013 Danu Forest
All rights reserved.
The First Signposts
Who were the Celts?
In order to explore the practices of the druid shaman, we must first briefly clarify our definition of some familiar terms. The people from whom we get the term 'Celt', the 'Keltoi' were first mentioned by the Greek historian Herodotus, as a group of people living in the region of the river Danube around 550BC. These people were distinctive in their incredible art, highly sophisticated culture, and material wealth. They were especially rich in gold. By this time it is believed that these people were a point of interchange with the Greeks, while also being part of a wider culture sharing common languages, customs and beliefs. These 'Celts' were an ethno-linguistic group of tribal Iron Age societies that spanned a large part of northern and western Europe as far as Britain and Ireland. They shared common values and traditions, with variations over time and from region to region. Contrary to popular belief, they were not a distinct genetic race, although some 'Celtic' customs and linguistic similarities survive today in most Celtic areas.
Britain, Cornwall, Wales, Scotland, the Isle of Man and Ireland are all considered to remain Celtic heartlands to this day, together with Brittany, and are often described with the term 'Insular Celts', as opposed to the 'Continental Celts'. These 'Insular Celts' diverged into the Gaelic Celts, of Ireland, Scotland and the Isle of Man, and the Brythonic Celts of Brittany, Cornwall and Wales. Scholars in the 19th and 20th centuries often argued that the Celts arrived in Britain via an invasion or succession of invasions around the 6th century BC from Continental Europe, but this has now been largely overturned due to a lack of archaeological evidence, and the work of archaeologists such as Barry Cunliffe. The British Celts were for the most part probably the indigenous Britons, arriving in the early Bronze Age (2500BC) or even earlier, adopting and adapting Celtic culture due to their extensive relations and trading connections along the Atlantic seaboard and beyond.
These people are notoriously hard to pin down, although their cultural effects have been profound on later generations, creating a 'Celtic consciousness' and traditions that have spanned millennia, so that today much of Wales, Scotland and Ireland would still call themselves proudly 'Celtic' and often maintained practices which are distinctly Celtic in nature well into the modern era, such as those recorded by Alexander Carmichael in his Carmina Gadelica in the latter part of the 19th century.
For the purposes of this book, the term Celtic is used in its widest and most common usage sense; primarily to refer to these British and Irish 'Celts' of the Iron Age as well as later Celts and Celtic practices spanning from them through Celtic Christianity to this day, with minor references to Iron Age Celtic Europe. This exploration of shamanic druidry, therefore, relates primarily to the traces of shamanic traditions as found in the British Isles and Ireland, translating their practice into forms applicable to today.
What is druidry? Who were and are the druids?
Druidry to some is a nature-based religion, to others it is a philosophy, a gentle way of life, focusing upon our relationship with nature. One thing that unites a lot of druids is a distrust of labels and categories; for some it is about researching, and reconstructing our Celtic past, for others it is about finding ways now, in the modern era, to reinvigorate our connection to the spirit in nature ... and there are infinite variations. The druids of antiquity were Celtic priests, healers, seers and lore keepers, who worshipped the Celtic gods, and performed a wide variety of roles within the community. Today, not all druids worship gods of any kind, or do so outside of the Celtic tradition. However, a wide consensus would consider druidry today to find its roots, and certainly its spiritual aspirations, in the Celtic religious leaders of the Iron Age.
Most of what we know about the Celtic druids comes from Classical writers, although much can sensibly be gleaned from archaeological evidence as well. Caesar tells us that the home of the druid religion was in Britain although traces of druidic practice are found across Celtic Europe, particularly in their sacred enclosures known as nemetons or groves. While some argue that druidry came to Britain via Europe, it is equally arguable that the spiritual beliefs of the indigenous tribes of Britain evolved and developed over time into the druidry of the Iron Age which expanded into the lands of the Continental Celts. Certainly great importance was placed upon the sacred spirit of the British landscape, which was honoured long before the arrival of Celtic culture.
The druids were divided into three groups, the bards of Wales and the fili of Ireland performing as oral historians and storytellers of great magical significance, as well as the ovates, and the druid class themselves. Some of the greatest bardic works are attributed to the Welsh bard Taliesin, a deeply shamanic character, whose works reveal an ability to access the supernatural and knowledge of the spirit world. Both the bards and the Irish fili often appeared to perform tasks that were commonly held to be in the realm of the ovates, or soothsayers; uttering prophecy, giving advice or healings after going into trance states or forms of spiritual ecstasy, while the druid class themselves – who were judges, philosophers and astronomers, also appear to at times perform what may be understood today as shamanic practices ... Their relationship with spirit, whether the gods, the ancestors or the spirits of the landscape, being central to their beliefs and activities, and the source of their knowledge and ability.
The word druid comes from the Indo-European root of the word for oak, 'dru' with that of the word for knowledge or wisdom 'wid', thus meaning 'those with the knowledge of the oak tree'. It is also argued to come from 'deru-weid' meaning someone with strong and steadfast wisdom and insight. It is possible that both these meanings are in fact closely entwined, having the steadfast strength of the oak, and the knowledge of 'seeing' or seership – a shamanic source of knowledge from spirit. The word survived into the Old Irish period giving us druidecht meaning 'magic' and in the Welsh as dryw meaning seer, which was a term used well into the 13th century.
What is a shaman?
A shaman is someone who reaches altered states of consciousness in order to encounter and interact with the spirit world. The term originates from the Tungusic and Samoyedic speaking peoples of North Asia, used to describe their magico-religious practitioners; but the term has spread today to describe those from cultures all around the world who act as intermediaries between the mortal world and the infinite, or the realm of spirit. Scholars now believe that most world religions have a basis in shamanic practice, going back as far as the Palaeolithic. Historian and philosopher Mircea Eliade called shamanism a 'technique of religious ecstasy'; the shaman while encountering the world of spirit becomes a conduit for vast amounts of energy, direct from the Otherworld, or Source, to be used and applied in the mortal realm, for healing, guidance and to effect real change.
Central to shamanic practice is the interaction with spirits, both mortal and supernatural. Shamans believe we are all spirits made manifest in the mortal world, our wellbeing, health and wholeness stem from our connection with Source, and our own souls, just as a tree reaches upwards and outwards from the earth. When we are in a good state of wellness, we are continually renewed and strengthened by this connection. However, when this connection is weakened or partially disconnected (it can never be wholly severed) illness and imbalance result, our lives wander without a sense of purpose or fulfilment. Often in life someone will have a sense that something is 'missing' and this can be a sign that our connection to the deeper world of spirit via our own souls is not in a state of health. Often shamans talk of soul or power loss, which can result from all sorts of negative experiences. This has a profound effect on our lives and sense of self ... we become disconnected and 'lost'; sometimes suffering illness or misfortune, or we find we feel we are lacking vitality, enthusiasm or inspiration. The shaman can restore this connection, returning lost soul parts, and vital power or life force. All illness and imbalance can be understood as stemming from the pre-manifest state of spirit, reaching manifestation in a person's body or general wellbeing, and the shaman may repair any damage by going direct to the source of the problem, with the resulting ripples in the manifest world returning health and wellbeing to the person in their everyday life.
Yet shamanic work goes far beyond this, as someone who is primarily in service with spirit, shamanic work also entails caring for nature and all beings, our environment and community, as well as the pursuit of health, wholeness and spiritual evolution within ourselves. This is not separate from shamanic healing, but in fact all part of the same tasks and activities. By interacting with the spirit world and aligning and reconnecting oneself with the whole of creation, we naturally heal and effect healing in others, as well as grow and develop along our own soul's journey. The end result of this is enlightenment, expressed in the Celtic tradition as the attainment of bardic inspiration, revealed as the 'radiant brow' of shaman poets such as Taliesin and the expansive knowledge of all things he shares with key characters of Celtic myth, such as Finn Mac Cumhaill and Tuan Mac Cairill. Prioritising care for all beings, especially nature, is also key to most druidic practice today.
The term 'Celtic shaman' is a modern one, utilising the modern understanding of both 'Celtic' and 'shaman' and thus viewing the practices of the Iron Age druids and earlier, through a 21st century lens. However, while it is impossible to ever know the Iron Age druids and their beliefs and practices from their point of view, we can draw sensible and logical conclusions extrapolating from what we do know, even if we are aware they may have used different names and terms of reference for their activities. If we turn ourselves away from historical reconstruction and archaeology for a moment, and also consider that our relationship with the unseen and the world of spirit is just as much our birthright as theirs, then we may also access the spirits of our lands, the gods, and the Otherworld, and using their examples, experience it through our own senses, through our own eyes. The old roads may be less trodden today, but they still remain, for those prepared to follow the trail once again.
A guide on the path ... Taliesin
Taliesin, meaning 'radiant brow', was perhaps the greatest shaman poet of Britain. Taliesin Pen Beirdd is a historical character, living in Wales in the 6th century, composing many songs and poems which survive in various forms to this day. Many were rediscovered in the 18th century and translated from Welsh into English with varying forms of success. However, the title 'radiant brow' was for a time often misunderstood, and it is now a common belief that while some poems are the work of the 6th century poet, others are part of an oral history recorded at that time, but originating centuries earlier, referring to beliefs and practices of a far older date. 'Radiant brow' is thus a description or title, rather than a personal name.
The figure of Taliesin has a mythical beginning, recorded in the 16th century manuscript Hanes Taliesin as the boy Gwion Bach, who was set to serve the Lady/Goddess Ceridwen by attending to her Cauldron of Inspiration, which was brewing a magical potion to give her son, Morfran, knowledge and wisdom beyond all men. Yet three drops of the brew spilled out and burnt Gwion, who sucked at his fingers, and received the potion's magic instead. (This is also a key feature in the tale of Finn and the salmon of knowledge.) He is then pursued by the terrible and fearsome Goddess, both Gwion and Ceridwen undergoing numerous shape-changes, until he becomes a grain of wheat, and she a hen who eats him. Ceridwen is then pregnant with the boy Gwion, and when she gives birth to him, this being Gwion's second birth, she is so struck by his beauty that she cannot bear to hurt him, but places him inside a leather bag upon the sea. Gwion is finally found, by the Lord Elffin on the shore of the river Conwy, while he is fishing for salmon (a symbol of wisdom). Thus Gwion is reborn a third time when he is brought forth from the bag, Elffin naming him Taliesin upon seeing his great radiance. Able to utter prophecy, and recite poetry with magical effect from birth, Taliesin is one of many 'wondrous children' in Celtic myth, marking them out as beings of both the mortal realm and the Otherworld.
Here we see Taliesin is three times born, as a mortal, then from the womb of the Goddess, before a final birth out into the world where he serves as chief poet and magical ally (shaman) to Elffin, and later at King Arthur's court. This is a shamanic initiation seen through the eyes of myth, with its shape-changing, animal embodiments, and divine interactions before being cast upon the great ocean of spirit, to come into relationship with the whole of creation itself. This is every shaman's task and objective.CHAPTER 2
Preparing for Voyage
Within the crane skin bag – a druid's shamanic tools
The crane skin bag is a perennial motif in several Celtic myths. Originally it was made from the magical skin of the Goddess Aoife, who spent many years as a crane – a bird able to travel between the worlds. When she died, her husband, the sea God Mannanan, made the special bag in order to store the great treasures of the land, known as the hallows, within it. This can be understood as symbolising the great powers of the land, and the tools of the soul, as residing within the womb of the Goddess, Lady Sovereignty herself, who goes under many names.
The crane skin bag was then passed to the hero Cumhail, and then to his son, the shaman hero Fionn mac Cumhail, who held these talismans of the earth's power in protection and guardianship of the land and its sacred soul, after tasting the 'salmon of knowledge' which gave him almost super human powers. Later traditions used the motif of the crane skin bag, as a pouch or container in which to store magical tools, herbs and other items of spiritual or magical significance.
This is still a term used by druids today, and it is possible to buy or make your own 'crane skin' bag, of cloth or leather, in which to store things which you use in your practice – stones, feathers, herbs, as well as other druidic or shamanic tools. We will now look over some 'shamanic' tools which may help you in your practice. While none of them are necessary, they are nonetheless very helpful in assisting your gentle change of consciousness, and should not be immediately overlooked.
A druid shaman doesn't need a lot of equipment. There is a temptation to go out and buy lovely tools, indeed there are some beautiful drums, rattles and other tools on the market these days, but it should be said that these objects, over time, become just as much your allies and power sources as your spirit guides and guardians. For this reason it is always best to make your own tools if you can, or at least customise, decorate, bless and consecrate them yourself. The aim is to build a relationship with the spirit of your tools, and to empower and energise them through respect and good use. This is much easier done when you have put your own energy into its construction or birth.
The shaman's drum
A drum is an excellent and really versatile shamanic tool. It can be used to help you and others reach into meditative or trance states for journeying, and the skill of drumming a regular rhythm for a length of time teaches presence, intent and the kind of relaxed focus that is central to shamanic work of all kinds. Drumming can be used in ceremony, as an energy raiser, as a voice of spirit, as an invoker and as a gift to the spirits. It can be used in healing, to shake and raise the vibration of a person or area, to clear and energise, dislodging stuck or negative energy. It can create atmospheres and assist in directing will and intention, by beating fast or slow, it can motivate a climb to the upperworld, or echo a flock of birds taking flight, it can slow and relax, and become the heartbeat of the earth.
The drum is the shaman's friend, almost more than any other. They come in so many shapes and sizes; the traditional Irish bodhran is great for Celtic shamanic use, but you needn't feel that an Irish drum is compulsory. Take your time, and find a design that works well for you, that feels right, that excites your enthusiasm.
Rattles are another excellent shamanic tool. Like the drum, the rattle can be used to alter consciousness, build energy, evoke, banish negative energy, and for healing, but its energy is quite different, faster and lighter, its effects are often subtler. Rattles are particularly useful when working with nature spirits, wind and rain. Gourds make excellent natural rattles, and ones filled with seeds are very good for blessing new growth, or encouraging the patter of rain upon dry ground. Antlers, sticks and bones are also useful percussive tools, and can be very powerful, often drawing upon the spirit of the material used to construct them.
Excerpted from Shaman Pathways - The Druid Shaman by Danu Forest. Copyright © 2013 Danu Forest. Excerpted by permission of John Hunt Publishing Ltd..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Meet the Author
Danu Forest is a Celtic Shaman, Witch and Druid Priestess with over 20 years working in the Celtic Mysteries. Danu runs the Druid group 'Grove of the Avalon Sidhe' and teaches workshops and successful online courses on Natural magic, Celtic shamanism, Faery tradition and Seasonal Celebrations. She also runs a magical and shamanic consultancy in Glastonbury, UK.
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