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Celtic Shamanism Basics
This lens is an overview of what I know about celtic shamanism, both from reading about it and personal experience. It will tell you the basics and lead you to resources for further study. Be sure and read my Gentle Warning if you are a beginner.
Although originally the Celts, as a people, were found all over Europe and Asia Minor, today "celt" is generally associated with the people of Ireland, Scotland and Brittany (France). I feel a link to the Celts through my Irish and Scots ancestry.
Elements of Celtic Shamanism
This is a quick reference list of the elements. Some of them are clickable and will lead you to modules about them in other parts of this lens.
Crafting a Clear Intention
Going on a "journey", or conscious dream-like state.
Masters, Teachers, Mentors
Sacred Places in Nature
Journeying is a kind of daydreaming except that you allow images to come to you as much as you generate them. Shamans often use drums or rattles or some other sort of repetitive sound such as a waterfall to help them change their brainwaves in order to "journey" into an alternate reality.
A journey starts by envisioning some natural place where you can either go up, down or through a gate. The place is often a tree, but can be a river or stream, a cave, a path up a mountain, across a bridge, etc. Whatever presents itself to you is appropriate.
Depending on what you want to work on you then choose to go up, down, or sort of "next door". Often you'll have the sensation of being in a tunnel. When Alice of Alice in Wonderland went down the rabbit hole she was embarking on a classic shaman's journey.
While on a journey you can meet and talk with your power animals, plants, tree, rocks, places, spirit guides, fairies, deities, and so on. You can ask them for advice or a gift and usually promise to do something for them in return. Relationships in the Otherworld are the same as in "real life". Politeness and generosity go a long way. Rudeness and ingratitude will not further your cause.
You can explore and map out the Otherworld (with one of your Otherworld guides) so that you can revisit places at another time.
After you have accomplished what you came to do it is customary to retrace your steps the way you came and come back through whichever gateway you entered through.
Michael Harner's Way of the Shaman is the classic textbook on the core aspects of shamanism from around the world. This is where I would recommend starting when first learning about shamanism.
Power animals are animals that you meet in either ordinary or non-ordinary reality that help you remember skills and talents you have and help you develop them further. You can emulate the animal and take on its power to help you integrate and learn these new skills. Usually the best animals to start a shaman's relationship with are those that are familiar to you and live in your area.
Some of the animals common to celtic shamanism are:
Follow these links for more information:
Spirit Guides are Beings you meet in the Otherworld. They can be angels or fairies, human masters of their field, your ancestors, etc. Sometimes my guides take on the look and personalities of celebrities because it is easier for me to connect through someone living that I'm familiar with and my mind has a mental picture of already. Also, these famous people are usually lined up in some way with the same energy as the spirit guide and are channeling it to fuel their talents and gifts. This is an old bardic trick.
Ancestors can be communicated with. Some even become spirit guides. They can also simply be acknowledged in some way such as by keeping a remembrance altar. Activities such as tracing your genealogy and scrapbooking enhance your connection as well.
Trees and Plants
For me what makes Celtic Shamanism stand out from other shamanistic paths is the special connections made with trees and plants, especially trees. If you want to study herbalism or have a natural affinity for trees, Celtic Shamanism would be a way to strengthen both. All forms of shamanism work with the plant world in some way but the Celts especially revered trees.
You may find various gods and goddesses in your travels in the Otherworld.
If you are lucky - as I was - they will initiate contact. In my case it happened one night at work when I sensed Brigid in front of me above my computer monitor. Although I'd been developing my intuition for years, I'd never felt any Presence like that before! I had been very depressed and it was, without a doubt, Divine Intervention.
Just as is encouraged in many mainstream religions of the world today, I recommend that you cultivate a relationship with any deities who agree to partner with you. Treat them like people with superhuman powers. Don't be greedy, ungracious and ungrateful. They may decide to teach you a lesson in humility. (Again, I speak from personal experience although I was mainly just ignorant.)
I don't know what fairies are, really, except that I sense their energy through the filters of my mind as mainly happy little beings. I have also "met" the Sidhe (the Bright Shining Ones of Celtic lore) who are angelic but more human in some ways. It's said there are dark fairies but I think it all depends on the state of your psyche. If you have a lot of buried fears you will probably sense fairies as scary. They can be mischieveous but not malicious, really. And it is easy to get lost in Fairyland because a) it can seem very glamorous and b) it doesn't operate by the same rules as mundane life. If I could be a fairy I would!
Storytelling and Writing
Storytelling is central to Celtic society (and still is today). It can be used for healing because the listener is more engaged and unguarded. In ancient times the Bards would have storytelling battles exactly like rap battles today.
Originally the Celts highly valued not writing anything down and the Bards with the best memory were the mental gladiators of Celtic society. I have included writing for the modern day celtic shaman because I often use it as a way to journey. It is sometimes easier for me to take a step back and let the story tell itself to me if I'm writing.
Dance and Movement
In modern western culture people tend to think that connecting with the Divine is something you sit still and do with your mind. In fact, the body is often thought of as a stupid animal with no divinity of its own. Nothing could be further from the truth. The body IS the divine being. Therefore movement can be a big part of the shamanic practice although it is often overlooked. If you are as kinesthetic as I am, movement can make your journey easier and deeper.
Make Your Own Altar
An altar can have many purposes. It can be a physical way to remind yourself of your goals as a shaman. It can also serve as a gateway to the Otherworld. It can also act as a kind of "post office" where you leave symbolic messages for otherworldly beings. Altars can be as elaborate -or not- as you want them to be. In some traditions the spirits will ask for more than you may be comfortable with. My opinion is that you only go as far as your heart leads you to. Don't do more than you are able just because somebody tells you to.
Does a Celtic Shaman Use Magic?
Not necessarily. It depends on how you define magic. If you are thinking of spellcraft as magic, then not so much. it is possible to be a shaman without using magic, but it doesn't hurt to know how magic works.
A word about magic, shamanism and manipulation: These days people are worried about having their subconscious manipulated against their will and then spending hours in front of the TV or on the Internet or listening to music without realizing that all of that...all. of. that. ..is manipulating their subconscious and unconscious minds. It's a way of life! Every day you are consciously and unconsciously navigating the subtle currents of the agendas of other people, animals, plants - even the earth and stars! Magic and shamanism are systems for becoming increasingly more aware of these influences on life and navigating through them in a way that is beneficial. Exactly like driving a car on a busy freeway, you must be aware of the other cars in such a way that you don't have an accident. There are many "cars" in the form of energies that are flowing along beside you all the time. So you might as well know what's going on so as to avoid as many wrecks as possible.
Now...people will be people, and there are those that have learned to manipulate this flow through a place of fear. These are the infamous evil witches that dispense poxes and hexes. (Although I would venture to say that even those that are "harming" are probably really healing but it is the energy of the "victim" that makes things go awry. But that's for another lens.) Most of the time, though, the level of manipulation that is going on is no more malicious than trying to decide which checkout line is going to be the fastest to get through.
Is Shamanism Evil?
In a word, no
Shamanism is a tool and a practice designed to connect the practitioner with other realities. In some cultures the shaman does indeed encounter evil in the otherworlds and works to vanquish it. In other cultures there is no such thing as evil and so it isn't an issue. Shamanism can be practiced no matter what your religion. If you look at the core elements of shamanism you will find that all the leaders/masters of the world's great religions were, in fact, shamans.
Also, if you get to digging around in your psyche you can find all sorts of things that look like "evil". If you don't know how to handle them you can get into trouble. See my Gentle Warning below for more.
Gentle Warning and Disclaimer
This lens is meant for information and reference only. It cannot teach you how to be a shaman.
Be careful how you approach shamanism. If you are turning to it because you are confused, lost, lonely, depressed and searching for another way to deal with these things please be VERY careful. I've been there, done that, and although it may seem like nothing is happening - for years, even - it has the very real potential of putting you into a terrifying mental, emotional, and even physical place that can seem beyond your control. I'm lucky I didn't end up completely psychologically incapacitated. I urge you to have at least one person that you consider a spiritual mentor with whom you can discuss your experiences before you start working with shamanic practices. I recognize that you are most likely highly intelligent and just want to get on with it no matter what the cost, but don't say I didn't warn you. Much of shamanism goes beyond your regular mental capabilities and is therefore unfamiliar and amazingly powerful.
I am not a mental health professional or a master shaman or spiritual counselor. In writing this lens I am acting as a writer and researcher. If you get into trouble I can't help you.