Jun 30, 2010

Psalm Singers

Found at: - FilesTube

The early Gaelic Christians sang their Psalms. In the monastic communities one who was a Psalm singer was called a salmchetlaid. We don't know what the music sounded like, just like we don't know what tunes David used with the Psalms.

St. Benen, one of St. Patrick's Irish converts, was known as his Psalm singer. It's said that he drew thousands of souls to Christ with his sweet voice. Compare the modern Psalm singers (track above) to this YouTube video of Psalm 79: 3-4.

"Their prayers were songs, and as they crooned or intoned them, they seem close to the continuous prayer the Orthodox describe as a murmur in the heart."~Esther DeWaal in God Under My Roof

Jun 28, 2010

Celtic Music in all Languages is Still Beautiful!

My friend Deirdra Doan recently visited friends in Germany and posted about it on her blog. Deirdra's husband, John Doan, is a musician, and so they have many musician friends all over the world. I watched the video she posted of Andy Lang & Friends. Part of the song is in another language--not sure if it's German or not--but part is in English, so listen very carefully for that part. It's very beautiful. Enjoy!

Jun 25, 2010

The Celtic Tree

"Original design Celtic Tree of Life" by Jen Delyth ©1990 - www.celticartstudio.com

From Celtic Wisdom:
(on St. Ciaran of Clonmacnoise)
"Once, when he visited St. Enda on Aran, he had a vision of a great tree growing in the middle of Ireland with branches spreading to all four corners of the land. Enda believed that this meant that Ciaran would be that tree of great influence, and he was, in a matter of speaking, by founding Clonmacnoise."

Trees were very important in ancient Ireland, so it's no wonder this symbolic vision involved a tree. The pre Christian druids never built temples, but they did have sacred spaces where they worshipped--tree groves, usually oak or yew. Ancient Christian monasteries were usually surrounded by a sacred grove of yews, and this may have been left over from pagan times. According to one source, some of the yews still growing in Ireland and Britain might actually predate the coming of Christianity.
Below is a picture of one such tree.

Brehon Law divided the trees into four classes (spelling out the penalties for felling each type unlawfully.)
  • Chieftans: oak, hazel, holly, yew, ash, pine, and apple.
  • Peasant trees: alder, willow, hawthorn, rowan, birch, and elm.
  • Shrub trees: blackthorn, elder, juniper, and reed, which was included because of its usefulness.
  • Brambles: dog-rose, bramble, fern, and spindle.
They aren't all trees, but they were classed as such. Sometimes tribes had a certain tree associated with them, and homes were erected around one of these trees. What is it about trees? I live surrounded by mature trees and even though fall drowns me in leaves, I wouldn't have it any other way. I feel relaxed among the trees. Mine include oak, maple, shag bark hickory, beech, pine, and probably some others I haven't identified.

The Celtic symbolism of the Tree of Life (pictured at the top) signifies the connection between the earth and the sky. It reminds us that we are connected both to heaven and earth. (I'm sure there are other symbolisms as is the case with all Celtic symbols, which are open to interpretation.) Like the legend of St. Enda's tree, trees in general have great influence over me. What about you?
My trees in the spring.

Jun 23, 2010

Favoured by Heaven

Favoured by Heaven--by Providence endowed
With Qualities most noble and divine,
Thou rosest like the sun, when not a cloud
Prevents the radiant God of Day to shine;
The powers of might and majesty were thine--
With virtues rare to light immortal fame,
And think the genius, learning to refine,
That sheds a lustre round thy honoured name.
A fadeless glory that shall never die,
So long as sunshine gilds the earth and sky.

~From a Poem about Ireland by James Sylvius Law , 1831

Jun 21, 2010

Welcome, Summer!

The solstice was celebrated in ancient Ireland. While most people know about Newgrange, the Megalithic passage tomb in County Meath, there is at least one other site in Ireland where the solstice was observed by ancient people. (I'm sure there are more, and there were even more.)

Even standing stones may have marked the sun's movement as this web page suggests.

An email sent recently by Michael Fox alerted me to Carrowkeel where there are cairns identified by letters. The cairnes are located on the top of the Bricklieve Mountains in County Sligo.

The summer solstice is also celebrated on the Hill of Tara.

In the US the summer solstice is considered the first day of summer, but in Ireland, it's considered mid-summer. But whatever you call it, it is an event that astronomers would have recognized, and the ancient Irish druids were astronomers. It's no wonder they built monuments to capture the sun (or the moon) during these cycles.

Jun 18, 2010

Pelagius--A Story

He was a large man, both in physical size and in influence. A natural orator, Pelagius’s voice boomed loud and clear as he sought to bring the Gospel to the people. Whether in the woods where the unfortunates scraped out a living by hunting and salvaging for berries and roots, or in the coastal cities where the Roman church held mass in Latin and collected tithes from blacksmiths, tailors, and farmers, Pelagius had one message: The God of Creation calls you to his feast. Come, call on his name, turn from evil, embrace what is right. Jesus came for our salvation.

It wasn’t his preaching that had landed him in hot water, not initially. It was his letters. He was a scribe, educated in the monastery schools in Ireland and France. He answered questions with his stylus and ink, and the Church had gotten hold of his words and twisted them.

Pelagius slammed his large fist on the fishmonger’s table. He had gone to the marketplace, hungry like everyone else.

“You preach heresy,” a priest said, pointing a long, bony finger at him.

“I do no such thing!” Pelagius had gotten angry when he’d first come to the populated area from the monastery. There he’d seen people embracing an excuse to sin. They were saved from hell already, they reasoned. Why not do as we will?

“If the Holy Spirit cannot save us, then we denounce it. And to do that is an abomination against God!” the priest continued.

He had no intention of denouncing God. Pelagius argued until the sun slipped behind the fishing boats and the sky grew charcoal. Even with a voice that could be heard beyond the docks and to the little shacks where mothers were serving up ladles of fish stew for their children, Pelagius could not convince the priest. Where would it end?

Jun 16, 2010

The High Crosses

The high crosses are believed by some to be a marker, an indication to the wayward traveler that he or she was about to enter the domain of a monastery. The area around a monastery was declared a sanctuary, and like my previous post illustrated, it was a place where someone accused of a crime could come and be safe until he could be lawfully judged. There is even a story about St. Brigid that says that she once offered sanctuary to a wild boar that had run onto her monastery while being pursued by hunters.

Many of the crosses were used to illustrate and teach Bible stories to an illiterate public. Scenes such as the resurrection of Christ, and Daniel in the lion’s den, were carved into panels on the crosses. While the case is made that the cross symbol itself may have had pagan origins, the high crosses in Ireland and Britain were of Christian origin.

Whenever someone tries to separate the Christian and pagan there is difficulty. Paganism is the belief in many gods; Christianity believes in one Supreme Being. But beyond that what ancient practices can be attributed to each is not always clear. Contemporary pagans may have adopted some ancient symbols, but what the symbols represent is open for interpretation.

I do not believe a symbol can alter your faith. But it can, as with the Christian cross, be a daily reminder of the things that are important to you, such as sanctuary in God.

Jun 14, 2010


Sometimes I wonder what it would have been like in ancient Ireland where danger lurked everywhere and just surviving was a challenge. Here's my imagination running wild:

The forest above his head is so thick that sunlight only glimmers in as though through a sieve. If he cannot reach the monastery before nightfall he’ll be doomed to wander about aimlessly in the dark and pray that his pursuers will not find him. A bell tolls in the distance, calling the monks to prayer. He is close.

His heart pounds a rhythm like the ancient beat of an ancestor’s drum, a song that holds the memories of the lives of those who went before him. He’d disgraced them, but the penalty should not be his life. There are laws to protect him from an unfair sentence, but he will not have his day in court if he does not reach the sanctuary boundary before those he’d wronged find him.

As he hurries, dodging brambles of blackthorn, he keeps an eye heavenward. Eventually the forest cover will give way to sky and then he will see them, the magnificent crosses.

A hound cries in the distance--his pursuers. They will just as soon run a spear through him as to seek true justice. The ground softens under his leather shoes. The sacred yews leading to the monastery cannot be far away.

The sun grows warmer on his back. The end of the forest is now in sight as he keeps his focus ahead. Soon he is leaping through tall grass and heading toward the ancient yews that will lead the way.

Voices behind him grow louder. Now that they are in a clearing, his enemies will gain ground with their horses and chariots. His feet ache. His knees beg him to stop, but he dares not. In the distance a massive structure casts a long shadow—the cross that marks one corner of the sanctuary.

The hound’s cry is near and it will soon be nipping at his heels. Tears stream down his face.

He built his sanctuary like the heights, like the earth that he established forever.

A few more paces. He can make it. The dog lunges at him, but misses, tripping over a stone or maybe a tree root. Soon the beast is back on its feet, coming harder. The man races through the shadow of the cross and keeps running. A whistle calls the hound back. He has made it. The monks will shelter him until his case can be fairly judged. Praise be to God!

Jun 11, 2010

Skellig Michael up close

About a month ago I blogged about Skellig Michael. After I saw this documentary, I knew I wanted to share it with you. It's in two parts. Part One is here. And Part Two is here.

This is absolutely as close as you can get without being there. I love that they didn't overrun the video with loud music or too much narration. You can hear the birds (tons of them) and the sound of the sea. Fantastic! For someone like me who's too chicken to climb like the man in the video, seeing it through someone else's eyes is just fine. I'd love to hear what you think.

Jun 9, 2010

A Day to Remember St. Columcille

That I might search the books all,
That would be good for my soul;
At times kneeling to beloved Heaven;
At times contemplating the King of Heaven,
Holy the chief;
At times at work without compulsion,
This would be delightful.
~Attributed to St. Columba

It's the feast of St. Columcille (Columba) today, the founder of Iona. He is one of the most fascinating ancient Irish saints, and is in fact of one of Ireland's patron saints (along with Patrick and Brigid.) He lived from approximately 521 to 597AD and was born to the power O'Neill clan who were probably the ones responsible for St. Patrick's kidnapping!

In addition to his position as abbot for many monasteries in Ireland and Iona as well, Columcille was a poet, a position highly respected in ancient Ireland. Here is one of my favorite stories about St. Columcille from my book, Celtic Wisdom, Treasures From Ireland.

Under the cover of darkness, without so much as a candle because, according to legend, his fingers were luminous, Columcille copied a Psalter belonging to Finian of Moville.

An old Irish saying declares that "All sins cast long shadows," and it was true that Columcille could not hide what he had done. His deceit was uncovered and it was considered a major offence. By copying a book the original lost its unique value. The case was brought before King Diarmait, a rival of Columcille's clansmen, who rendered the following judgment: "To every cow her calf; to every book its copy." Columcille had to return his copy to Finian.

Ancient Ireland saw many tribal feuds and wars. Columcille belonged to the most powerful family in Ireland at that time, and they had no hesitation in defending their rank with force. He seized an opportunity for revenge because of some wrong supposedly committed by Diarmait...The battle of Cooldrevy (in Sligo) in 561 was a massacre. Three thousand of Diarmait's warriors were slaughtered while Columcille's army lost only one. As a result, Columcille received his coveted book, but at a great price.

This story is the reason Columcille went to Iona and established a community there. He banished himself (or else his confession did) to a place where he could no longer lay his eyes on his beloved Ireland.

It's interesting that this copied book may be the one known as The Battler, which is held today by the Royal Irish Academy.

Jun 7, 2010

The Triad

Irish triads are little sayings that list or compare three things. Some examples:

  • Three candles that illumine every darkness: truth, nature, knowledge.
  • Three unfortunate things for a man: a scant drink of water, thirst in an ale-house, a narrow seat upon a field.
  • Three things which justice demands: judgment, measure, conscience.
  • Three sparks that kindle love: a face, demeanor, speech.

Most of these triads come from ancient manuscripts such as The Yellow Book of Lecan and The Book of Ballymote. The lists of triads in these books are quite lengthy. The number three has always held significance in Ireland. Some speculate that this contributed to the easy assimilation of the Irish people to the Triune God of Christianity, and it's also why Patrick may indeed have used the shamrock to introduce the concept.

Have any Irish triads to share? Leave them in the comments section.

Jun 4, 2010

The Celtic Church

It's difficult to define a "Celtic Church." The Christianity that the early Celtic Christians practiced was the same (in their eyes) as the church in Rome. But it was different even though they didn't realize it at first.

In Ireland and in some areas in Britain, the church developed within a monastic model rather than the diocese model of Rome. This was in keeping with the tribal tradition in the Celtic regions. Here is a video that I think does a wonderful job of explaining this. Let me know what you think. If you have any questions, I'll do my best to answer them. Don't be afraid to post questions. Others might be wondering the same thing.

Jun 1, 2010

Celtic Wisdom at the Ohioana Book Festival

Last month I was invited to the Ohioana Book Festival in downtown Columbus. I had a great time and was even seated next to my friend, Brenda Nixon.

Husbands sometimes get bored at book signings, but Tom and Paul were good sports.

The gardens at the Governor's Residence. (I guess it's not cool to call it the governor's mansion anymore!)

Ohioana had a reception there after the festival for the authors and sponsors.
I was trying to get a shot of the crowd. Sorry this is not so great. The reception was held in the garden under large tents. It was freezing cold, but the food was wonderful! I ate a ton of mini crab cakes and chocolate covered strawberries. The reception was funded by private corporations--no tax dollars!

A chair seat cushion.

This is a bookcase in the study that is filled with Ohio products. I loved the large globe. A lot of people posed for their picture near it.

The carved chairs were a marvel. I learned later that they were carved by inmates at an Ohio prison.

This is the only photograph that proves we were at the governor's residence. You can see more photos at http://ohioanabookfestival.org/