The Three Cauldrons: Celtic Myth and Spiritual Wisdom

Historically based study and exploration of Celtic religion, mythology, folklore, and shamanism.

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Síthearan NicLeòid

Síthearan NicLeòid

Born on the eve of Lugnasad, your guide and ban-fili is a published author, teacher, and Celtic singer and musician. She trained in Celtic Studies through Harvard University, and has taught Celtic mythology and folklore at the university level. Her research in Celtic myth and religion has been presented at the University of Edinburgh, University College Cork, and the Ford Foundation Lectures.


She has served as Faculty at the Celtic Institute of North America and the Omega Institute, and her books include 'Celtic Myth and Religion: A Study of Traditional Belief' (McFarland), 'The Divine Feminine in Ancient Europe' (McFarland), and 'Queen of the Night' (Weiser).


Currently she is Director of the Eolas ar Senchas research project, with grants from the Canada Council for the Arts and the Scottish Clans Association of Canada to research ancient Celtic music and ritual. Her previous group, The Moors, has cult status in the pagan world. She leads workshops and distance training programs, with new books, CD's and research on the way.

Last winter I moved from the city to a small, rural town, seeking a deeper and more frequent connection with nature, quiet space for introspection, and a more flexible lifestyle (as the cost of living is much less out here). I arrived on Imbolc, raw from almost two years of misfortune and disconnection, and felt Brigid's presence as I was rebirthed into a warm blanket of a welcoming home, land and a new start. I gave thanks that day, and immediately went outside into the still, white blanket of snow and made offerings to the Guardian Spirits of the land, thanking them for bringing me here, and asking for their blessings. I felt immediately that my offerings had been well received. 

Almost daily I walked a few yards from my apartment into a small patch of forest where I could be alone with the Spirits, creating a path in the snow that I followed each day, and which sometimes deer followed as well (as I noted from their hoofprints). At other times, it was their path that I followed, although we never saw each other. I reveled in the clean air, the wisdom of the tall trees above me, and a place to sit in utter stillness.

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  • Síthearan NicLeòid
    Síthearan NicLeòid says #
    Thank you Carol! It's more personal than many of my postings, but it felt right. Are you well? I hope your life and work are on a
  • Carol P. Christ
    Carol P. Christ says #
    This is beautiful, showing us a path to reconnection with the land, our communities, ourselves!
Both Roots and Blossoms: Tips for Cultivating Celtic Wisdom

The image of the tree is ubiquitous in both Celtic mythology and Celtic folklore contexts. Otherworld trees surround the Well of Wisdom, dropping their nuts into the water, where the salmon of wisdom crack open the kernel of knowledge inside. Many types of trees are mentioned in the source materials - oak, yew, hazel, apple, holly, hawthorn, ash, just to name a few. Often times there are descriptions of remarkable fruit, leaves, nuts or flowers, sometimes all bursting forth at once (something which does not typically occur in nature).

Less mention is made of the roots of these magical or sacred trees, and it is to the roots that I wish to draw attention in this entry. Without roots, the plants could not 'take root,' or draw from the earth what they need in order to burst forth from their seed-shell and begin growing. The roots permit the plant to exist 'between the worlds,' rooted in the dark, moist soil of the earth, and also growing towards the sun and the rain - a balanced existence between the Lower World and Upper World.

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  • Síthearan NicLeòid
    Síthearan NicLeòid says #
    You are most welcome! I'm so glad it was of service
  • Michelle Simkins
    Michelle Simkins says #
    Thank you so much for this article! I appreciate the tips for ways to dig deeper!

It occurs to me that it might be of interest to say a little something about the name of this blog - "The Three Cauldrons." The name comes from the content and theme of a fascinating little collection of poetry and prose found complete only in one manuscript (TCD MS H.3.18), small parts of which which were copied in other texts. It was first edited some years ago and entitled by the editor (not the original author or scribe), 'The Caldron of Poesy,' a somewhat out-of-date title (and spelling) that has nonetheless been used by subsequent editors.

A more appropriate title would be 'The Three Cauldrons,' as this is the subject of the text. Although the extant manuscript dates to the sixteenth century, the content clearly goes back to an Old Irish original, probably dating to the first half of the eighth century. Students of early Irish belief will remember that the filid (poet-seers) were in existence at this time, as well as the druids (who had legal status into the ninth century, although their influence seems to have been waning by that point).

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  • Jamie
    Jamie says #
    Ms. NicLeoid, Thanks for sharing! I'm a Platonist Hellenist now, but owing to my heritage I've read many books about ancient Celt
  • Tony Lima
    Tony Lima says #
    What Ireland needs to do concerning the Romantic explorations is in the mannerisms involving mating 100%, this can be straightened
  • Tony Lima
    Tony Lima says #
    From what I understand, the Irish culture is indirectly driven by Psycho-electromagnetism - a superior nature in self-realization,

To understand Celtic literature and the parts of that literature that may represent Celtic mythology, we must have at least a basic understanding of who the Ancient Celts were (and along the way, clear up some misconceptions that are quite prevalent in popular culture these days). First, we must emphatically state that there is not a Celtic 'race' - this is a mistaken concept promoted by the Victorians (or earlier), passed along through early 20th century writings, and still (sadly) used by some hate groups today. Being 'Celtic' has more to do with language and culture, than it has to do with DNA.

This is not to say that people today are not descended from the Celts (they are!) or that someone does not have Irish ancestry when their grandmother is Irish (they do!). There is not a lone genetic marker for being 'Celtic' (although some interesting patterns emerged over the millenia) - and much of the genetic research shows that in many regions we associate with Celtic culture, the primary genetic makeup of the people who live there is the same as those who lived there before Celtic culture arrived or emerged. This is not true everywhere, but it does show that for various reasons the people who were already living in these European regions adopted Celtic language and culture.

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  • Síthearan NicLeòid
    Síthearan NicLeòid says #
    Hello there and thanks for this great question. I too reject his theories - it's possible some details were accentuated in medieva
  • Jamie
    Jamie says #
    Ms. NicLeoid, How do you feel about the theories of British archeologist Francis Pryor? Do you share his belief that the Anglo-Sa

For many people, the term 'Celtic music' conjures up images of foot-stomping fiddle music, skirling bagpipes, or ethereal vocals floating over a bed of synthesizers. All of these genres are evocative and have many fans around the world - and for good reason: the music is wonderful, quite diverse, and appeals to our senses on many levels.

However, none of this would be recognizable to a Celtic speaking person during the pagan period - bagpipes didn't appear on the seen until the late medieval era, fiddles were introduced a few hundred years ago, and synthesizers are of course quite modern.

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  • Jamie
    Jamie says #
    That is very, very interesting. I was aware that metal horns and rattles were used by the Iron Age Celts, but I hadn't any idea th

The retrieval and revival of indigenous ceremonial traditions is a growing concern in this increasingly disconnected world, and one that has great promise for the restoration of methods of sustainable living, sound ecological practices and the preservation of ancient knowledge. Sound recordings of elders are being made around the world, as well as video recordings (where possible and appropriate) of aspects of traditional ritual. For some tribes, preservation and the training of the younger generation are key. For other native cultures, these efforts hinge around the retrieval of fragmentary and partially forgotten evidence. This is the situation with native Celtic ritual practices, some of which have died out, and others which survive in traditional Celtic-language speaking communities and which are not advertised or generally made public.

Every book, group and spiritual teacher who professes to practice 'ancient Celtic or Druidic ritual' has a completely different system on offer, which in and of itself is a red flag. The vast majority of these are based on modern occult and Neo-Pagan traditions, Neo-Shamanism of a non-Celtic provenance, and various New Age ideas, with a smattering of Celtic words or symbols. The reason for this is totally understandable: without living elders to pass along an intact tradition, or detailed written evidence that preserves such a system (provided by and approved by living descendants of native tradition bearers), there is enormous confusion and controversy over what Celtic ritual is or should be like.

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  • Alan O ' Domhnaill
    Alan O ' Domhnaill says #
    Language is in a continual state of evolvement. Possibly our way of expressing and understanding too. Should ritual not also be ev
  • Alison Leigh Lilly
    Alison Leigh Lilly says #
    Thanks for this article -- a good, informative run-down of some basic commonalities in ritual from different ancient Celtic cultur
  • Síthearan NicLeòid
    Síthearan NicLeòid says #
    Hi Alison - Thank you for your very insightful and thoughtful message! Yes, I can clarify.... Since what I am personally trying t
  • Greybeard
    Greybeard says #
    Thank you for this article and knowledge.
  • Síthearan NicLeòid
    Síthearan NicLeòid says #
    You are very welcome, Greybeard! May it serve and inspire!

In previous blogs, we've explored some of the basic aspects of Celtic cosmology - the existence of a sacred Otherworld (or worlds), probably conceived of as being connected with the Upper World and Lower World (as in many shamanic or traditional cultures). The inhabitants of those worlds - the Gods and Goddesses - known in Ireland as the Aes Síde or Tuatha Dé Danann - embodied a wide range of powers and attributes, depending upon location, era, and many other temporal and cultural factors.

What do we know, if anything, about how the ancient Celts constructed or performed ritual? This is quite a hot topic, of course - many will say 'We don't know anything at all, and to try and make any sort of theory or assumption is folly or wishful thinking." This attitude can be found both in academic circles and amongst practitioners, oddly enough, and in some cases this negative (and unfounded) stance can be used to either assert power over others, or serve as an obstacle to tackling complicated issues (academic or otherwise).

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  • Alan O ' Domhnaill
    Alan O ' Domhnaill says #
    I always thought climbing up the Paps of Anu , stripping bare, covering myself with mud and howling at the moon would do it. Now

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