Since ancient times the Celts have followed a path of total involvement with the natural world-a love of the earth, the pattern of seasons, and the magical presence of animals. Their quest for truth and sense of wonder in the beauty and power of the landscape, expressed today in immensely popular Celtic music and poetry, is deeply rooted in their early spiritual practices.
In Drinking From the Sacred Well, renowned Celtic scholar John Matthews recreates the mystical journeys of twelve Celtic saints, capturing the wisdom and insight of these extraordinary men and women who lived from the third to the seventh centuries A.D. In carrying the faith of Christianity to the people of Britain and Ireland, they adapted the earthly wisdom of the Druids and other Celtic mystics. The result was a rare combination of Christianity and Paganism that left a powerful legacy that lasts to this day.
Step with St. Brendan onto the deck of a ship headed for a strange and wondrous country, experience the hospitality of the spirit with St. Senan, discover the feminine voice in your creative life with St. Bridget, or learn from St. Kentigern that a love of nature can heal the deepest wounds. You will recognize in these lyric stories your own journey and the questions that both challenge and fuel your ongoing spiritual quest.
Like Joseph Campbell's Myths to Live By, these tales, along with Matthews' incisive commentary and suggested meditation points, will inspire us all to live more courageous and spirited lives.
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About the Author
John Matthews is a world-renowned authority on the Celtic wisdom tradition and the Arthurian legends. He is the author of numerous books, including The Encyclopedia of Celtic Wisdom.
Read an Excerpt
In Search ofa Secret CountryBrendan of Clonfert
Seven years in all were they On the voyagefair was the bandSeeking the Land of Promise With its flocks, a strong subtle turn.
And they found it at last In the high meeds of the ocean, An island rich, everlasting, undivided, Abounding in salmon, fair and beauteous.
With the story of Brendan we are plunged into a world where the Voyage leads out of this world, out of ordinary, everyday consciousness, into another place. The Land of Promise it is called here, a name also applied to the Otherworld by pre-Christian Celts. It is the first sign that we are entering a place where two ways meet, the old magic of the Time Before and the new magic of Palestine are joining hands. When Brendan sees an angel who instructs him to set forth on a voyage of inner discovery he stands in the shoes of older heroes, like Bran mac Ferbal, who undertook an earlier voyage after a faery woman came to draw him away. In both cases the purpose is the same; angel and faery each comes to offer an opportunity to discover something new and wonderful. Indeed, the parallels between the Christian "Voyage of Brendan " and the pagan "Voyage of Bran" are so close as to include the names of certain islands and virtually identical adventures taking place on them. From this we can see that the later storytellers not only knew the older tales but were influenced by them when it came to the description of the other worldly islands visited by Brendan.
Brendan lived from about A.D. 486to 578. In that time Christianity had been established in Ireland for some time (Saint Patrick389461was its main source) so that Brendan was part of a tradition that had taken hold and was putting down deep roots. Born at Annagh on the Bay of Tralee, he became a monk and later an abbot and founded monasteries at Clonfert and Ardfert. He traveled widely, including to Iona, where he met with Columba, as well as to Wales, Britain, and Gaul.
There are more than one hundred manuscript versions of the Voyage of Brendan, many of them differing markedly and adding other islands. I have worked primarily from the version ascribed to a "poor friar" named Michael O'Clery and dated 1629. Although late, this version seems to me to capture the wonder and innocence of the story, which so clearly harks back to the adventurers of earlier voyagers in the Celtic tradition.
The Birth of Brendan
The day Brendan was born the whole sky above his village of Alltraighe Caille lit up with fire. The wise bishop Etc said that a great soul had come into the world that night. Brendan was the son of Findlug who, the night before his birth, dreamed that her breast became golden, as though filled with light. When he heard this, Bishop Erc said that the child was to have a special destiny, and when he was one year old placed him in the care of a woman named Ita. Wise and full of wit, she cared for the child until he was five, at which time the bishop himself took him in and taught him the ways of Christ. Thus Brendan grew in stature and knowledge until he was a young man, when he saw an angel standing in a field of corn. The angel pointed westward, and though he did not understand it then, Brendan ever after wished to the west.
One day when Brendan was at a place called Leim na Subaltaige a man named Barinthus came to see him. Now this Barinthus was known to possess a great knowledge of the tides and the stars, and was a great sailor. He told Brendan a story and this was the way of it.
Barinthus had a son named Mernoc who, when he came of age, decided to leave home in search of adventure. He was gone a long while before his father received news of him. He had, it seemed, found his way to an island where there were a number of peregrini, holy men who sought to learn the ways of God more deeply through wandering and living in isolation. Desiring to know more, Barinthus set sail and in three days arrived at the island. The peregrini came out of their huts like a swarm of bees, clustering around the visitors as though there were pure honey. Barinthus; spent some time with Mernoc and his brethren, learning their ways. They lived simply on the island, eating only apples and nuts, studying the paths of the stars and the movement of the tides, which sang to them day and night.
Then Mernoc came to his father and led him to the shore where a little boat lay at rest. "Father," he said, "let us get into the boat. It will take us to a place that is called the Land of the Saints, where there are many wonders."
Together they stepped into the boat, which at once drew away from the shore, though no one could see how it was driven or who steered it. A mist settled over the water, so that neither Barinthus nor Mernoc could see where they were headed, until suddenly there was a great light ahead, and the mist began to dear. They found themselves close to the shore of a new land, where white sands edged the water, and the trees that grew there were heavy with fruit.
Father and son went ashore on this beautiful country and for the next fifteen days they wandered without seeing anyone. Then they came to a wide river that blocked their path. On the far bank they could see a place that seemed to them even more wonderful than that in which they stood, but there was no way to cross the river, which ran swift and high between its banks.
Table of Contents
|Calendar of the Celtic Saints in This Book||xi||(2)|
|Immrama: Voyages of the Soul The history of Celtic spirituality and the lives and teachings of the Celtic saints.||xiii|
|Sources and Further Reading||273|
What People are Saying About This
"Like the Celtic illuminated manuscripts themselves, these stories of twelve Celtic saints weave an interlacing pathway which winds inexorably to the Center, the Blessed Land of their deepest yearnings. Their voyages of discovery are filled with the dance of the natural world, the patterns of the earth, sea, and seasons, and the familiar company of wise animal guides. The stories are wonderful. One can only rejoice in the creative imagination of these ancient holy folk and in the genius if the poets who sang the tales for hundreds of years and kept them alive for us. The saints' messages are clear and timeless:
Set forth and have faith in your vision
Be guided by your inner certainty
Because you believe, you will always be cared for
You will enter the blessed land."
"Like the Celtic illuminated manuscripts themselves, these stories of twelve Celtic saints weave an interlacing pathway which winds inexorably to the Center, the Blessed Land of their deepest yearnings.Their voyages of discoevery are filled with the dance of the natural world, the patterns of the earth, sea, and seasons and the familiar company of wise animal guides.The stories are wonderful. One can only rejoice in the creative imagination of these ancient holy folk and in the genius if the poets who sang the tales for hundreds of years and kept them alive for us.The saints messages are clear and timelss:Set forth and have faith in your visionBe guided by your inner certaintyBecause you believe, you will always be cared forYou will enter the blessed land."Meinrad Craighead, author of THE MOTHER'S SONGS and THE LITANY OF THE GREAT RIVER.
"To read anything by John Matthews is to drink from a sacred well, but this is particularly true of this book. Lyrical, inspirational, and filled with spiritual power, it is truly a voyage to a luminous source from which we may refresh and empower our everyday lives. Drink deeply and drink well."