Drinking from the Sacred Well: Personal Voyages of Discovery with the Celtic Saint

Drinking from the Sacred Well: Personal Voyages of Discovery with the Celtic Saint

by John Matthews

Hardcover(1 ED)

$17.97 $19.00 Save 5% Current price is $17.97, Original price is $19. You Save 5%.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780062515612
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 11/04/1998
Edition description: 1 ED
Pages: 304
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 7.37(h) x 1.01(d)

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

CHAPTER I

In Search ofa Secret CountryBrendan of Clonfert

Seven years in all were they On the voyage—fair was the band—Seeking 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.
—Navigatio Brendani

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 Patrick—389—461—was 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.

Barinthus's Story

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

Acknowledgments x(1)
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
1. In Search of a Secret Country: Brendan of Clonfert The life of Brendan, in which we see how we can live our lives by observing the soul's voyage.
1(33)
2. The Blackbird's Cry: Kevin of Glendalough The life of Kevin, in which we learn how we can follow the example of all living creatures.
34(21)
3. All the Bright Blessings: Brighid of Kildare The life of Brighid, in which we learn of the importance of the feminine in our spiritual lives.
55(24)
4. The Wisdom of Wild Words: Columba of Iona The life of Columba, in which we learn how language and learning can weave bright patterns in our lives.
79(29)
5. The Friend of Angels: Senan of Scattery The life of Senan, in which we learn how the hospitality of the spirit can open the many doors of the soul.
108(27)
6. Giver of All Gifts: Mochuda of Rahen The life of Mochuda, in which we learn how the giving of gifts can bring its own reward.
135(15)
7. The Friend of the Spirit: David of Wales The life of David, in which we learn how the deep friendship of the spirit can teach us to live more fully.
150(17)
8. A Vision of Trees: Ciaran of Clonmacnoise The life of Ciaran, in which we learn how the life of nature can deepen our awareness of everything.
167(17)
9. Son of the Star: Maedoc of Ferns The life of Maedoc, in which we learn how visions are windows of the soul's voyage.
184(22)
10. The Hospitality of the Heart: Berach of Rathonn The life of Berach, in which we learn how hospitality of the heart can open the way to the depths of the spirit.
206(21)
11. The Deer's Cry: Patrick of Armagh The life of Patrick, in which we see how opening the soul's doors can lead us to experience life in a new way.
227(21)
12. The Well and the Salmon: Kentigern of Scotland The life of Kentigern, in which we learn how a love of nature can heal the deepest wounds.
248(25)
Sources and Further Reading 273

What People are Saying About This

Meinrad Craighead

"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."

Gary Snyder

"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.

David Spangler

"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."

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See All Customer Reviews