The Three Cauldrons: Celtic Myth and Spiritual Wisdom

Academic and historically based study and exploration of authentic Celtic religion, mythology, druidism, folklore, literature, languages, wisdom texts, archaeology, ethnography, ritual, poetry and visionary practices, as well as the anthropologically supported identification of shamanic elements in Celtic contexts.

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Creation out of Darkness: Celtic Cycles of Time and Spiritual Growth

In Western culture, we have often been taught that darkness is bad and light is good, and that life energies begin at the point at which light is perceived.  However, if we look at other cultures, particularly traditional cultures, they are not as influenced by Judeo-Christian traditions as is our modern culture. Light and dark can be understood as important parts of a holistic existence.

Our culture is also very lacking in a healthy understanding of and relationship to death. We don’t speak about it, we don’t learn about it, and it is to be avoided at all cost.

In addition, we are impregnated with the idea that time is linear, but this also comes from biblical influence. In traditional cultures, life, time and existence are understood as existing in a circle, or perhaps even a spiral; life energies and experiences are cyclical.

I bring up these ideas today because of my own experiences over the last year, during which time I have not been able to attend to this blog space, for which I apologize. It has come into my mind many times but I have been overwhelmed by experiences of death and loss, going into the darkness and working very hard to enter into a new cycle of health, growth and creativity.

 I recently published a new book - my fourth one - called ‘Celtic Cosmology and the Otherworld: Mythic Origins, Sovereignty and Liminality.’ During the proofreading process, I noted a number of times throughout the book where Celtic concepts pertaining to time and existence, light and darkness were discussed.

An early Classical account from the pagan era noted that the Celts reckoned time by nights rather than days. That is to say, instead of the day beginning at dawn, it began at sundown... a concept that has created some confusion when trying to reconcile the lunar calendar of the Celts with our solar calendar, particularly in relation to when the four  Celtic feast days (Imbolc, Beltane, Lugnasad and Samhain) took place. The feast days began at sundown - so Samain began at sundown on what we recognize as October 31st and continued into the day of November 1st, and so on...

We know that the Celts did not celebrate the equinoxes or the solstices, but it is very likely that they knew when these occurred, and that those astronomical events were utilized in calculating when the four feast days would occur (on a new moon between the relevant solstice and / or equinox).

 But apart from calendrical considerations, what is really noteworthy in regards to this Celtic belief, is that a new cycle begins in darkness. This is so different from how we have been indoctrinated to view time and existence, and light and darkness. And this belief arises from the awareness of what some refer to as the primal darkness. 

This is a fruitful darkness, a cauldron of mysteries, a womb of rebirth. In this place, all of life’s energies and possibilities exist. It is the place from which we came and the place to which we will return. It is a sacred darkness, filled with spirit and memory, creativity and healing.

Perceived in this way, it is easy to understand how and why the Celts not only believed, but perceived and understood that life arises from the point or place of darkness. This place is very sacred, a holy vessel, an abundant well, a fertile cave into which we may journey to connect with the world of spirit.

 There are several fruitful ways to interact with this sacred concept. The first of these consists of a meditation in which we create for ourselves a completely dark meditation or journey space... a space in which we must utilize our other senses, and connect with that primal darkness. What exists in the womb of rebirth? What mysteries are waiting to be found inside the darkness of the cauldron? What ancient voices linger inside the cave of memory, waiting for us to be still and silent in order to hear them?

The other method consists of learning to recognize when we are in that place of potentially fruitful darkness in our own lives... when we are in a mental or emotional space where we are experiencing life’s challenges: death, loss, disappointment, frustration, sadness, disconnection...

 That is the time to remember that you have not hit a wall, or an insurmountable difficulty, but that time and life‘s experiences and energies are cyclical.

So when we have entered into that place of darkness, if we can remember that we are actually in a sacred place, a place of potential, of holy and truly remarkable possibility, then we can breathe into that space - the cavern, the womb, the cauldron... and we can breathe ourselves back into our center, back into connection with the sacred, the ancient, the wise mysteries... and the voices of the Gods. 


 Note: For more information about lunar symbolism and traditions in Celtic cultures, you may enjoy my first book, ‘Queen of the Night’ (Red Wheel / Weiser). Additional information about the roles of goddesses and women can be found in ‘The Divine Feminine  in Ancient Europe.’ For a solid foundation in Celtic spiritual traditions, see ‘Celtic Myth and Religion.’ The new book (‘Celtic Cosmology and the Otherworld’) follows upon that one, with more in-depth information about seasonal cycles, sacred origins, deities, cosmology and poetic inspiration.





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Born on the eve of Lugnasad, your guide and ban-fili/ban-druí 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, the International Celtic Congress, the Harvard Graduate Study Group for Ancient Magic and Religion, and the Ford Foundation Lecture Series.

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), ‘Celtic Cosmology and the Otherworld: Mythic Origins, Sovereignty and Liminality’ (McFarland), 'The Divine Feminine in Ancient Europe' (McFarland), ‘'Queen of the Night' (Weiser), ‘Early Celtic Poetry and Wisdom Texts: The Three Cauldrons, The Songs of Amairgen, and other Cultural Studies’ (forthcoming) and a chapter in the academic collection ‘Celtic Mythology in the 21st Century’ (University of Wales Press).

Currently she is Director of the Eolas ar Senchais research project, which received international grant funding to research and restore authentic ancient Celtic instrumental music and vocal art forms, and historically attested Celtic ritual in socio-religious context.

She sings in many of the modern and medieval Celtic languages and is a multi-instrumentalist. Her previous musical 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.


  • Erika Rivertree
    Erika Rivertree Wednesday, 01 August 2018

    I have oft wondered about modern folks' obsession with fixed calendar dates. Also, they fail to consider the differences in dating due to the Julian-Gregorian calendrical shift. To me, that feels disconnected from natural cycles. I time my holy days according to the signs in my local landscape - Imbolg when the first snowdrops peep forth; Beltaine when the hawthorns begin to bloom; Lughnasadh when the Spring wheat crops ripen for harvest (mid-August); and Samhain when my local cattle farmer culls for beef CSA shares (late October-early November). It seems to me that our Celtic ancestors' seasonal celebrations would likewise vary according to local landscape. What are your thoughts about dating differences relevant to local landscape?

  • Síthearan NicLeòid
    Síthearan NicLeòid Wednesday, 01 August 2018

    Hello Erika - Thank you very much for your interesting and insightful question. Yes I do think that many pagans are unaware of the Julian – Gregorian calendar shift. And these days I think many people stick with the February 1, May 1, August 1 and November 1 powder and out of convenience. I do think that people would have been paying attention to signals and events in the landscaping weat thank you very much for your interesting and insightful question. Yes I do think that many pagans are unaware of the Julian – Gregorian calendar shift. And these days I think many people stick with the February 1, May 1, August 1 and November 1 powder and out of convenience. I do think that people would have been paying attention to signals and events in the landscape and weather. In addition, prior to the adoption of the Christian calendar, there is some pretty good evidence that the four Celtic holidays would’ve taken place on a new moon in between the solstices and equinoxes. I write quite a bit about this in my first book, Queen of the Night. Also, there would be some activities associated with herding and farming that would have added to or even dictated when certain things took place. For example, at a certain point in spring the herds and flocks had to be moved away from the young growing crops. And taken up to higher summer pasture. There is information about this in ‘ Celtic myth and religion,’ and in the new book, ‘Celtic Cosmology and the Otherworld.’ And I do think there would be variations depending on region and latitude, affecting herding, farming and weather.

  • Síthearan NicLeòid
    Síthearan NicLeòid Wednesday, 01 August 2018

    Erika there are strange typos in the above. I’m not sure how to edit after submitting. Let me know if anything is not clear!

  • Erika Rivertree
    Erika Rivertree Wednesday, 01 August 2018

    I reckoned twas a tech glitch. Heh, no worries, I understand your post. So, yes, transhumance; “going up to shieling” in Summertime, then returning in time to cull for the Winter. The Celtic seasonal cycle seems to me primarily an agricultural-pastoral rhythm and secondarily a “celestial” system. I do like what you say about new moon timing - I can see that, considering the Celtic custom of reckoning the new from the dark. :)

  • Síthearan NicLeòid
    Síthearan NicLeòid Wednesday, 01 August 2018

    How delightful to chat with someone who knows the word ‘transhumance.’

  • Erika Rivertree
    Erika Rivertree Thursday, 02 August 2018

    I just ordered your new book. I enjoyed reading "Celtic Myth & Religion" a few years ago. I look forward to reading your new one. Especially with such an enthusiastic review by Searles O'Dubhain. Keep doing such good - and needed - work! :)

  • Síthearan NicLeòid
    Síthearan NicLeòid Thursday, 02 August 2018

    That’s wonderful to hear! Searles did an amazing job, didn’t he? I hope you enjoy it and that you find it of service and inspiration!

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