A Celtic Solstice – Belfast, Northern Ireland

A Celtic Solstice
Belfast, Ireland

Recently I traveled to Ireland. This journey, coupled with my years old interest in mythology and all things mystical, led me to the Celts. The Celts are my ancestors, but I have known precious little of this heritage as all my familial bonds were severed in childhood. I know I was named for my paternal grandmother, Kate O’Shaughnessy, who moved to Canada from Ireland to escape genocide via famine induced by the British government. There she met and married Carl Preston. Preston means “priest town.” Apparently, in twelfth century Scotland, there was and still is a town named Preston, run by a group of Catholic priests. Eventually the pair moved to the Adirondack Mountains of upstate New York where I was born.

My life seemed to be in a state of chaotic-limbo, so I took the opportunity to do some traveling and digging into the history and mythology of “my people.” I use quotes around the phrase “my people” because I have never really felt a sense of nationalistic identity. I grew up in a foster home where African-American, Native American, Irish-American � you name it- were all my brothers and sisters. I didn’t realize it then, but I see now that there was hidden treasure in the hardships of life as an orphan. Considering people from all walks of life to be my kin has led to a world view that is inclusive of all human beings and all life.

For much of my life, however, I felt like an outsider in my own culture: a culture that takes many of its ideas of civilization from a Greco-Roman world view. Interestingly, the name “Celt” comes from the Greek word “Celtoi” meaning “stranger” or “outsider.” For many years I found a “home” in the theater. Migrating across America, performing plays, writing poetry, and maintaining an ancient oral tradition that I had no idea I was part of. Today I am a writer, poet, actor, singer, and somewhat of a mystic. Since I was not in a position to learn this behavior from my parents, I have surmised that these gifts can only have been passed down through the ages from the original Bard by means of genetics or Jung’s collective unconscious.

When I speak of the “original Bard,” I don’t mean Shakespeare (though I love his work dearly.) Contrary to popular belief, the term “Bard” is of Celtic origin. In ancient times, the Bard would perform his poetry during feasts, satirizing or glorifying his warrior tribesmen, while the Chieftain looked on. What appeals to me most about this character, the Bard, is that although he had a formidable intellect, and was an exquisite performer and public speaker, the real magic of his “critiques” lay within the intimate connection he had with each member of his tribe. That kind of kinship and connection steeped in history and tradition is what I have envied Europeans for all my life. Now, I realize that my ancestors were the fathers of Europe, and I am more connected than I ever realized. A simple flick of the switch inside my head has produced a connectivity heretofore unknown to me. This connection illuminates “ways of thinking” that I thought were unique to me, but is actually unique to the Celts.

It is a non-classical, Celtic mind that believes opposing facts can be equally right, and that a conclusion can be arrived at from a number of different directions. In contrast, it is the Greco-Roman mind that thinks in terms of strict order, hierarchies, beauracracies, squares, rectangles, and boxes. My thinking has always been much freer, more fluid, more abstract. Celtic art forms were inspired by the land and sea they loved so well. Their art, like their lifestyle, was about freedom of movement: open-ended curves and beautiful swells. Celtic art and music reflects a philosophy of freedom. I realize that what I am about to write is a rather romantic notion, and probably every orphan’s deepest desire, but I wish I could live with a tribe of people who love the land they live on as fiercely as they love one another. I met a native who describes a rural man as knowing and loving the land he lives on the same way he knows his lady-love. An Irishman feels the soil the same way he runs his hands through his true love’s hair. He is as familiar with the contours of the land as he is with every nook and cranny of his beloved’s body. If everyone honored the spirit of the land and the spirit of the feminine in this manner, there might be more “peace on earth.”

My research on Celtic Solstice rituals has provided me with illumination and guidance as to why my life seemed in limbo. Ancient Winter Solstice festivals consisted of four rituals:

1. Rites of mortification, austerity. This is the natural cycle we are in at this time of the year. The sun is in stasis. Sol = “sun,” and stice = “still.” There is a suspended animation that happens at the end of one cycle (death of the old), before the New Year (birth of the new sun/son) begins. This explains my feeling of limbo, but what is its purpose?

2. Rites of purgation: expelling bad moral or physical habits. Fasts, abstinence; getting rid of the old so the new can flow in. Then, having surrendered to austerity for the purpose of purification (preparing for the new ) we move on to:

3. The rites of invigoration, rejuvenation of energies. Ancients did this through ritual combat (much like stage combat of today); battles between death and life, old and new, winter and spring. And last but not least:

4. The rites of jubilation: comes from an overwhelming sense of relief that death has been beaten and the continuance of life has begun.

I believe that my world was turned upside down recently because it is only within the fertile ground of chaos that creation, renewal, and transformation can happen. I feel that I am on the verge of letting go of old ways that no longer serve me so that I may loose the chains that have held my heart in bondage. I am on the precipice, about to cross the threshold into that portal which is my own heart. I am about to discover a new world, abundant with possibility, as generations of fathers and mothers before me had done. Their journey was physical. Mine is spiritual.

As I shed my old skin and reinvent myself and my life, I also have a sense of advancing my ancestors’ legacy: to bring freedom of thought and new ways of being into the present moment; to create my life as the highest form of art, and to share all of this with others in the interest of Unity.

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