The Celtic practice of meditation (called anal-duccaid; “breath prayer”) is a poetic way of resourcing personal power and discovering peace; a harmony between body, soul and earth. In this article I discuss – very briefly – a basic practice of anal-duccaid (for the benefit of those who may not know how) and then move on to the creation of a symbolic Internal Landscape called “the Cromlech of Meath” in which the Celtic mystic may meditate. I discuss the symbols through which this internal ‘landscape’ can be constructed and chants through which it can be maintained. I conclude by discussing three general benefits of this praxis of meditation.
There are two dimensions to any authentic spirituality; an Internal Way and an External Way. This applies to Paganism as much as to the so-called ‘World’ religions. The External Pagan Way consists of things like rituals, seasonal festivals and the three ancient arts – magic (draíocht), divination (taghairm) and herbalism (corrguine). While these external disciplines are useful and beneficial, there can also be an Internal Way in Paganism, characterized by disciplines that align the anam (soul) with the Earth, restore peace to the coích anama (“soul house;” i.e., the body) and draw us toward wholeness.
The inward dimension isn’t something that many Pagans seem to be aware of. I’ve heard wicchan practitioners lament and Christians boast that “Paganism has no contemplative depth.” While I think this is patently untrue, there has been something of a bias in Neo-Pagan spirituality toward the more out-going, extroverted dimensions of practice, and a subsequent lack of attention paid to the inward dimension as implied by various traditions, rituals and beliefs. If Paganism is going to offer people more than just love spells, potions, astrological charts and a variety of outlets for pent-up eroticism, we must eventually explore these more ‘contemplative’ elements in our traditions.
What we will explore in this article is a Pagan Celtic paradigm for meditation that facilitates self-transcendence and transformation, wholeness and ultimately a contemplative experience of “union.” This paradigm is grounded in Celtic myths, brought together in a contemporary synthesis that I have been using – personally and with students – since the early 1980’s. As this paradigm has evolved I have learned a great deal and gone places I never expected even existed, all the while discovering my ‘true self.’ Practicing this Internal Way has brought me to a deeper understanding of the External Way.
What we are calling “meditation” here is known by the more technical term anal-duccaid in Celtic spirituality. This word means “breath prayer” and refers to the practice of breathing in a rhythmic and formal way in order to better connect the anam (soul) with Nature and the Cosmos in which we are living.
To practice anal-duccaid is simple. Sit down in a comfortable position – preferably on the ground or on the floor – and close your eyes. Focus on your breathing as you inhale and then exhale. Breathe just a little more deeply than usual. When done right, this will introduce just enough added oxygen into your system to release some of the tension that gathers in the neck and shoulders. You will sometimes feel this release as a slight tingling, followed by a sense of energy moving up through your back and across your shoulders.
Once you experience this release of tension, you have made it to the first threshold of anal-duccaid. If you continue breathing in this way for a few more minutes, a vivid sense of peace may come over you. This is the state that we are initially seeking in the beginning stages of meditation. It is the trailhead of many psychic and spiritual mysteries.
If you find yourself getting light-headed, you are breathing too deeply. If you yawn, this may mean either that your breathing is too shallow or that you are releasing deeper tensions. Adjust your breathing, perhaps by counting quietly to yourself on the in-breath and then the out-breath, until you achieve a certain balance and easiness about sitting and being where you are. If problems come to mind, or if you get flashes of things that make you tense, use a word that makes you think of peace and say it softly to yourself; this will usually allow the mind’s errata to pass by, leaving you relatively undisturbed.
This praxis of breath-prayer is common to many traditions; Zen Buddhists, Christian monks and Moslem Sufis all practice similar forms of “letting go” and “coming to peace.” It is a very human practice, based as it is in our biology; the way in which breathing affects our bodies and the flow of energy within them. You might just sit and breathe, for about ten to fifteen minutes a day, and refresh your physical energies; this is a very beneficial discipline. It will bring you to peace and help you release negative energy and worry. However, there is much more to anal-duccaid than just breathing well.
The Internal Way as I teach it begins with the creation of an Internal Nemeton. A nemeton is a sacred place in the woods. An Internal Nemeton is a sacred place in the wilds of our own internal geography; it consists of landscapes that we create within our coích anama through the Disciplines of the Imagination. Celtic mystics have long believed that we are – each of us – “a world unto ourselves.” Because the anam (soul) is immortal, and because what is immortal doesn’t have the same finite limitations as what is mortal, our souls can encompass much that our bodies cannot comprehend. We can begin to explore this internal geography by establishing an Internal Nemeton; a place to which we can ‘go’ in meditation (i.e., a place that we create by imagining it as existing within us).
The Internal Nemeton that I ‘go’ to is called The Cromlech of Meath. A Cromlech is a circle of standing stones surrounding a Dolmen. A Dolmen is a stone structure composed of three upright stones across which a “table stone” has been placed to create a chamber. All of the stones used to construct the Dolmen and the Cromlech are rough and unmarked. The Dolmen’s table stone should be imagined as being high enough to walk beneath without grazing your head on it. The chamber should be just large enough for you and perhaps one other person to sit down in around a small fire. The stones of the circle around the Dolmen may be imaged as nine (signifying birth and rebirth) or thirteen (signifying lunar power and the Muse’s influence) in number.
“Meath” is a term describing what in other spiritual traditions is called the “Center” or “the Heart.” “Meath” was the name of the central fifth county in ancient Ireland, created as the place where the High Kings set up their courts at Tara. At the very center of Meath was a hill called Uisnech, upon which was a stone called the Alill na Miremm; the “Stone of Divisions.” This stone stood at the spiritual ‘center’ (the “omphalos”) of Ireland. When we go to the Cromlech of Meath in our own interior landscapes, what we are hoping to do is come to this stone in ourselves; the absolute ‘center’ or ‘heart’ of our living self. The Cromlech of Meath is like a ‘shrine’ constructed around the Alill na Miremm.
After you have practiced basic breathing for a while – perhaps once a day for three to nine days –try imagining the Cromlech of Meath. Once you are quiet and undisturbed, call to mind an image of a cromlech. See the standing stones around the dolmen. How are they shaped? Then turn to the Dolmen. See the three upright stones? Are they massive and squat or more aquiline and tall? See the table stone. Walk (or fly) around the dolmen in your imagination and see the shape of it. Examine the Dolmen. What kind of stone is it made of? Sandstone? Granite? What color(s) are the stones?
You might imagine this scene in general at first and then begin to focus on particular aspects of it, or – if the first thing you see is some particular detail of the Cromlech – build up from there to where you can eventually see the whole scene. Some people are generalists, and will see an imaginative scene as a whole all at once, though without much detail. Other people are particularists, and cannot build up a general scene in their imagination until they’ve seen enough of the details to ‘know’ how to imagine it as a whole. How you imagine things will tell you a lot about your own orientation in the spiritual life and help you to understand why you do certain things; e.g., creating rituals or preparing to cast spells – the way you do.
It may take you several days or even weeks to be comfortable imaging this scene. Whenever you engage in anal-duccaid, simply close yours eyes and bring the scene of the Cromlech of Meath to mind. See it. Feel yourself there. Sit down in the stone circle or in the dolmen, or else walk the rounds around the inside of the circle of stones. Do this meditatively, connecting with the details of the scene and allowing the place to become yours; every practitioner’s Cromlech is different, because we are each unique in our individuality. Conformity in the spiritual life usually leads to a distortion of our true spiritual selves. Yet we can each go to the Cromlech of Meath – seeing it as a general touchstone of the spiritual and psychic “center” of our being – making of this imagined place something unique to our own personality and disposition.
As a way of becoming familiar with this Internal Nemeton, imagine the cardinal points of the circle. As you do, look beyond the Cromlech in each direction and see something characteristic of it. In the North see mountains or dark skies or perhaps the Aurora Borealis. In the East see a golden field of grass over which a Hawk or an Eagle flies. In the South see thick wooded landscapes. In the West see a pond, lake or seashore. Each of these landscapes should be close enough so that you are not daunted by the thought of hiking out to them in your imagination from time to time.
Now that you have established the horizons of this internal geography, go to the Dolmen and enter into it. Sit down. You are now at the very center of the Cromlech; the existential vortex through which all of the lines of power pass in the depths of your soul. Here you may sit and meditate, looking out between the three standing stones of the Dolmen or perhaps staring at one of their blank surfaces. This is your Uisnech; here you are at your own Alill na Miremm (Stone of Divisions). From here you can journey out to the North, East, South or West on imaginative journeys. Stationed here, you can sense the powers of the Four Sídhe intersecting you. The Four Sídhe are the islands from which the Tuatha Dé Danann (People of the Goddess Danu) brought the Four Magical Treasures to Ireland in prehistoric times.
To deepen your experience of this place, chant the names of the Four Sídhe: FALIAS (North)—GORIAS (East)—FINIAS (South)—MURIAS (West).
From FALIAS comes the Stone of Destiny; the coronation stone of the ancient Irish and later the Scots. This stone represents the element Earth, which is connected with the North in Celtic mysticism. This stone was later imagined as having a Pentacle (five-pointed star) carved on it, thus linking this mystical symbol with the North and Sídhe FALIAS in Celtic mysticism. Turn Northward and meditate on the Stone, the Earth and the Pentacle.
From GORIAS comes the Spear of Lugh; the lightning fast weapon of discernment. This spear represents the element Air, which is connected with the East in Celtic mysticism. This spear was later reduced in size to become the magic knife in Celtic magical arts; the Athame of wicchecraeft. Imagine holding the Spear of Lugh and then the Athame. Let the one be transformed into the other. Looking Eastward from within the Dolmen, meditate on the Spear, the Air and the Athame.
From FINIAS comes the Sword of Nuada; the precise weapon of differentiation, separation and cauterization. The Sword was red-hot when in use, and so Fire came to be associated with the South in Celtic mysticism. As the Sword was used to wield and direct magical energy, it was later turned into a Wand; the ordinary person’s ‘sword.’ With the Wand we cull energy to ourselves from the four elements and direct it whither we will; for purposes of separating, differentiating and fusing. Looking Southward, meditate on the Sword, Fire and the Wand.
From MURIAS comes the Cauldron of the Daghda; the vessel of restoration, invigoration and abundant blessing. As the cauldron always had something cooking in it, it became associated with the element Water. As life-sustaining food came from it, it was later symbolized by the Chalice; the ordinary person’s cauldron. The Chalice is used to bless, to invigorate and to restore our energies. From it we drink the Wine or the Beer of the God. Looking Westward, meditate on the Cauldron, Water and the Chalice.
Learning these associations will help you to create a symbolic vortex in your own Internal Nemeton out of which powerful intuitions and connections can arise. As you get better at imaging the Cromlech of Meath, extend your usual meditation time by sitting within the Dolmen and, turning to each cardinal point in turn, chanting the names of the treasures, elements and tools associated with each Sídhe:
Chanting the associations of the Four Sídhe will bring these tools, elements and treasures together, over time, in a particular psychological configuration that will enhance your practice of the three primary external arts; draíocht (magic), taghairm (divination) and corrguine (‘herbalism’). This exercise will also orient you within the Cromlech of Meath in such a way that you will be poised to go even deeper into the Well of your own Self, moving beyond the surface of consciousness where we ordinarily exist on a moment to moment basis, venturing down into the realm of the True Self; the Blue Woad Self, as it is called in Celtic mysticism.
It is out of Blue Woad Self that our personality and character in each incarnate life grows. The Blue Woad Self is itself the archaic source of our being and becoming. When we are first incarnate in a body it is the Blue Woad Self that is the spark of life and that takes shape as we grow-up, maturing and experiencing all that life has to offer. When we die, a lot of the surface layers of our embodied personality are said to dissipate, leaving the seed-germ of this deeper, truer self for the ongoing journey in the Otherworld and for future incarnations.
Out of this kernel self arises our consciousness, usually 3 to 9 days after our discarnation if this was our first life; sooner if we have been here before. Our character and ideals in this life determine how quickly and how fully we re-emerge on the other side of the sídhe. The stronger our ideals and passions for life, the better developed Blue Woad Self will be when we discarnate. Though all of those things that are dependent upon the senses and bodily functions to exist disintegrate at the point of death, we have the memory of those things in the next life; we remember the feeling of the breeze and the smell of the wood burning in the hearth, the taste of mead and salmon and the sound of music and a lover’s cries on the way to ecstasy. As Blue Woad Self awakens on the otherside of the Veil, these memories become the basis for soul-senses that enable us to experience things in the Otherworld without the need for physical senses. If we have lived a disciplined spiritual life on this side of the sídhe, our Blue Woad Self will have developed psychic parallels to the bodily senses by the time we die.
For those who are not in their first incarnation – i.e., those who have been here before – their Blue Woad Self will be mature enough already to carry memories of the Otherworld as well as memories of former lives. When we become incarnate again, though, a new personality and character emerge from the dwelling of the Blue Woad Self in a new coích anama (body) in concert with a new external environment. Thus, the memories of former lives and the impressions of the Otherworld carried by the Blue Woad Self are not at the surface of one’s consciousness in a second incarnation and beyond. Rather, they are stored up deep within us, where we can only get at them by dreaming-true, by deep resourcement in anal-duccaid and in the experience of being lifted up into Ceugant; the highest form of incarnate consciousness, comparable to “union with God” in monotheistic mysticism.
As you practice anal-duccaid, imaging the Cromlech of Meath and connecting with the Four Sídhe and their associations, you will go deeper and gain in poetic and psychic resourcement. As you dwell at the center, sitting in the Dolmen in your imagination as you breathe and chant, imagine that you are becoming more and more naked (if you didn’t see yourself this way already) and that your skin is slowly becoming blued with the stain of acquired depth. The longer you practice anal-duccaid in the Cromlech of Meath, the deeper you will go, and the bluer (i.e., wiser; whole) you will become.
To facilitate this process, chant the names of the icons associated with Meath at the center of your being. Meath is like the Four Sídhe in that it is invested with certain powers. However, it is unlike the Four Sídhe in that it is the vortex where all of the other icons – and the powers associated with them – converge. There is no traditional ‘treasure’ per se; rather, dwelling in Meath you become aware of the basic power underlying Nature in all of its manifestations. This ‘power’ is called shunnache in the ancient language of the Sluagh-Sídhe (the Faeryfolk). Shunnache is ever-present, radiant in all things and available to magicians and other practitioners for direction and employment. Shunnache is ‘structured,’ and the patterns we experience in it are called, collectively, manred.
The Celts believed that the whole universe is underlain by a level of shunnache that comes together in patterns (manred) that lie behind the visible structures that we see and experience in the world around us. This patterned energy is symbolized by a “tool” (mystical rather than practical) called the Serpent’s Egg. This is a representation of the origin of the cosmos. At some point in the distant past, long before the Mists of Time, the Celts believed, the universe came into existence by being born from an egg. From this egg, mythic serpents swam out in all directions, coming together in various patterns (manred) through which the visible universe was eventually wrought out of the ever-flowing, ever-radiant ‘background energy’ (shunnache).
When in Meath, at the very center of ourselves, we can come into contact with this primordial event by meditating on the Serpent’s Egg; an icon of the origin and destination of all things that can be known, experienced and dreamed. You might get an egg and hold it in your hands while meditating. If it breaks, think of the yoke and egg-white running out over your fingers as symbolic of the fecund serpents that swam out of the original Cosmic Egg at the beginning of time. If you don’t want to run the risk of a mess, hard-boil the egg first. Otherwise, purchase for yourself a plastic egg (such as you find in stores around Easter) and hold this during meditation. As you sit imaginatively in the Dolmen of the Cromlech of Meath, turn to each cardinal direction in turn and chant the names of the treasures, elements and tools associated with them. Then chant: Shunnache—Manred—Serpent’s Egg. This is the chant of deepening self-awareness and empowerment at the center (Meath).
Eventually you may want to procure for yourself a more natural icon of the Serpent’s Egg. Thus, if you are ever out walking along a stream or at a beach where there are water-rounded pebbles, look for one with an egg-like shape. If you find one, ask the local water goddess or the anima loci (spirit of the place) for permission to remove the stone from its natural setting. If you get a positive sense that you are being allowed to take the stone home, consider yourself gifted with a symbol of the cosmos and its mysteries. Carry the egg-shaped stone away in your pocket. Use this stone for your Serpent’s Egg during anal-duccaid.
Meditating at Meath with the Serpent’s Egg, chanting the associations of the Four Sídhe and the Omphalos (“Navel of the World”), will have various long-term effects, both on your external practice and on your deepening mystical experience of your self and the world. There are three primary repercussions that should be noted: (1) self-revelation (2) union with the cosmos and (3) union with the divine.
Self-Revelation is what happens as you clear away the clutter of your life through the practice of anal-duccaid. As you let go of distractions and obstacles (as described at the beginning of this article), you free yourself up so that you can better become, over time (usually measured in years and decades), your true self in the external world. The experiences that we acquire as we are born into this world and grow up, taking on the personality that emerges through social and cultural conditioning, and as a result of our particular genetic make-up, can sometimes obscure deeper, older aspects of ourselves. These can be liberated by anal-duccaid, becoming manifest as we mature, spiritually and psychologically.
Union with the Cosmos happens as we awaken to our truer self in the Cromlech of Meath and connect with the tools, treasures and elements associated with the Four Sídhe. Sitting in the Dolmen makes us aware of the cosmos in a psychic and magical way. This awareness eventually generates a sense of “union” with Nature and with the entire Cosmos as we realize just how everything is connected. Don’t expect this “union” to happen all at once or even for some time to come. While beginners can get a flash of this sense of being united with all things, it may take years of our lives to nurture an ongoing sense of kinship with Nature. You will know when you are really experiencing Union with the Cosmos, as your priorities will shift. You will become more ecological and earth-loving, unselfish and generous.
Union with the Divine is an experience of one-ing and being oned with the mystery beyond all of our names of gods & goddesses, God & Goddess, spirits and the Spirit. The logic of Celtic mysticism implies that all our various names for what’s ‘beyond’ the veil of reckoning are but symbols; they point to something we might experience or believe in, but which is more than what is alluded to by the words we employ as ‘pointers.’ By practicing anal-duccaid in the Cromlech of Meath we loosen our mind’s grip on these symbolic names, entering into a state of ever-darkening experience where, when we say the name of a god or goddess, we simply ‘know’ there is a mystery there; we do not need to know what it is in-itself.
I have found this experience to be deeply liberating. Over the years, as I have become ever more ‘blue’ in the vortex of the Dolmen of the Cromlech of Meath, I have experienced a “thinning” of all names for the divine. While as a Celt I invoke ANU—DANU—TAILTIU (see my article on the Triple Goddess on this web-site) and while I follow the Horned God Cernunnos (Again, see my article on “Cernunnos” on this web-site) as a spirit-guide and anamchara (soul friend), over the years I have come to realize that these are just names. While the mythology, stories and rituals connected with deities are interesting and edifying, they are pointing to something beyond themselves; the ‘Divine Mystery.’
Once you begin to become blue – i.e., once you begin letting go of your surface self, awakening as the Blue Woad Self that you are – an experience of illumination may occasionally overtake you in which you are your self and yet you are out-of-your-self. This is the state in which one communes with the Divine Milieu without names; beyond the need for myths and rituals. This is a Pagan Celtic experience of self-transcendence; it is complementary to the experience of “union with God” in monotheistic religions and is perhaps parallel to the experience of nirvana in Buddhism, though it begins in a different world and is structured and inspired by a different poetics.
If you taste of this union, you will never be quite the same. I have found that the deepest consequences of it include (1) a sense of tolerance toward people with other beliefs, (2) a release from existential angst, frustration and self-doubt, and (3) an openness to truth wherever it may be discerned. If you practice anal-duccaid as outlined in these pages, perhaps you will someday have this experience, which is akin to what is called “contemplation” in certain monastic traditions. So mote it be.
© Copyright 2002 Montague Whitsel, All Rights Reserved.