Brightness of brightness: Seeing Celtic shamanism
Trevarthen, Geo Athena
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Early Irish literature, other Celtic literatures and later folklore are rich with descriptions of personal contact with the sacred. The Otherworld, or spiritual aspect of reality, is a constant and vivid presence in the legends. This reality does not seem distant, but rather, always ready to break through into physical reality, transforming those who encounter it. In earlier times, druids, and sometimes heroes and saints, seem to function fully as shamans as described by Mircea Eliade in his definitive work on shamanism, undertaking spirit journeys into the Otherworld. and returning with gifts for their people. In later times, when overtly primal shamanic practice was increasingly repressed, personal contact with the sacred became in many cases less defined and more individual. However, we continue to see contact with the Otherworld in folklore. hagiography and the mystical experiences fostered by later spiritual movements. While scholars such as Carey, Nagy and Melia have recognised and explored some of the shamanic themes present in Early Irish literature, the full complex of these themes, along with their implications for our understanding of Early Irish and Celtic culture, have not yet been hlly examined. A holistic approach to these difficult issues indicates that one must not just dissect the texts themselves for meaning, but take into account the research of archaeologists, anthropologists, psychologists and neuroscientists as well as Celticists. By doing so, I hope to show not only the evidence for Celtic shamanism itself, but suggest possible fbnctions of shamanic experience in Early Irish, and more broadly, Celtic culture, Because shamanic traditions typically have a clear cosmology and ideas about spiritual growth, I have also considered if the early Irish and, more broadly, the Celts may have had such a cosmology and ideas of harmonising with the sacred they came into such intense contact with.