The early Celts and probably even the Neolithic peoples conceived of their deities in the abstract. This was why Brenius, the Celtic leader during the attack on the Greek Temple at Delphii was seen to laugh when confronted by all of the statuary! Celts believed the Gods to exist on a different plane of existence than that which we humans occupied. The visits of these deities to humans could be in any form that the Gods so chose. This could be as a horse, a spring, a well, a flame, an eagle, a seed and even as a tree or a giant. The deities were masters of Draiocht and manifestation.
A very important concept to be considered here is something called "dúile". I understand the concept of dúile to represent the manifestation of the individual human spirit and its interaction with the surrounding environment. This means that a dúile can be considered a part of our body that transcends the physical. It can be the effects that physical, mental or spiritual events have upon our "Being". The deities themselves were thought to be perceptible as dúile. One could "feel" the presence of Divinity when in a sacred place, such as a well, a lake or a cave. Megalithic structures must have had this same sort of a "feel" to them, since they were said to be the "homes of the gods". These sites were passage graves or "houses of the dead" and were covered with strange symbols that defy the conscious mind yet speak deeply to our subconscious selves. The symbols of the ancient priesthood and builders attempt to connect our spirit to the gods and to the honored dead in such places. I believe that the speech of these ancient stones spoke deeply to our Celtic ancestors as they became married to the Lands surrounding them.
In this marriage and interconnection of spirit to Deity and Deity to spirit, I find the ancient Celts to be remarkably advanced in their philosophies. The outward simplicity of many of their tales (dindshenchas and imrama among them), belies the complexity of their "hidden" inner meanings. I maintain that these "inner meanings" were covered in the many years of intensive study and the lessons learned by an aspiring Druid. Many of these hidden meanings were contained within the Secret Language of the Poets. I further believe that the Ogham were used to cross reference this mass of information. The interconnection of all things was related to the elements or dúile. It is within these elements that we will find the secrets of the spirit. If we are to understand the hidden secrets of the Cosmos and the self; if we seek to understand their correspondences, directions, elements and/or their use in ancient Celtic, modern Celtic and Druidic divination, there is only one place to start: the Center of the World. Come journey with me from the Homes of the Gods or the Houses of the Dead to quite a different sort of a house: the House of the Spirit at The Center of the World.
"I was made from the ninefold elements - From fruit trees, From paradisiacal fruit, From primroses and hill flowers From the blossoms of trees and bushes, From the roots of the earth was I made, From the broom and the nettle, From the water of the ninth wave. Math enchanted me before I was made immortal, Gwydion created me with his magic wand. From Emrys and Euryon, From Mabon and Modron, From five fifties of magicians like Math was I made - Made by the master in his highest ecstasy - By the wisest druids was I made before the world began, And I know the star-knowledge from the beginning of Time." Taliesin, Chief Bard of the Britons (circa 600 CE) as found in the Cad Goddeu and translated by Caitlin Matthews
To further define the self, our first center, I am presenting a list of nine elements that I have derived from a study of Celtic traditions. Just as the hatha yoga define the human body as a "house with one column and nine doorways", the Celts defined the body as composed of many elements or "dúile". The neach ("living being") or duine ("person") was composed of nine dúile ("elements"). Each of these elements had it's corresponding cosmic element in the "Bith" (Cosmos). It was the interconnection of the dúile that gave truth to the saying, "As Above, so Below". When the corresponding elements of the Self and Cosmos were in harmony with one another, that was the time when the greatest Magicks could be worked. A Celt's Spirit was centered within the house of his body. Her home was focused upon where the hearth fires were "smoored". Their life was contained and centered around the clan or tuath. Magick was everywhere and Life was only "real" within the boundaries of the Land. Everywhere else was considered to be "other". The following table attempts to define how the windows and doors of the body connected to the Land, the center and the Cosmos.
Fein (The Self) Bith (Cosmos) Directions Magical Tools 1. Cnaimh (Bones) Cloch (Stone) Thuaidh (North) Lia Fail (Destiny) 2. Colaind (Flesh) Talamh (Earth) Faoi (Under, About) The Nemeton 3. Gruaigh (Hair) Uaine (Plant Life) Amach (Outwards) Ogham and Herbs 4. Fuil (Blood) Muir (Sea) Ior, Siar (West) Undry (Cauldron) 5. Anal "Breath" Gaeth (Wind) Air, Oithear (East) The Sword of Nuada 6. Imradud (Mind) Gealach (Moon) Isteach (Inwards) The Well of Segais 7. Drech (Face) Grian (Sun) Deas, Deis (South) The Spear of Lugh 8. Menma (Brain) Nel (Cloud) Thrid (Through) Imbas (Inspiration) 9. Ceann (Head) Neamh (Heaven) Os Cionn (Above) The Torque/HaloThese elements of the self can be equated to the chakras, the visible (and invisible) planets, the senses and the colors, but that is another story. During this discussion of divination, we will use the nine dúile and we will reference the Three Cauldrons of Warming, Vocation and Knowledge rather than the chakras.
Before we discuss the elements and the Three Cauldrons further, let's see what an Ollamh had to say concerning their Mysteries as he attempted to harmonize his own Dúile with the Cosmos. This "look behind the scenes" is contained within a great and ancient invocation called, "The Mystery" and is attributed to Amergin, son of Mile, Ollamh of the Milesians (circa 1000 BCE. This translation is by R.A.S.Macalister from the Book of Invasions or the "Leabhar Ghabala")
I am Wind on Sea, I am Ocean-wave, I am Roar of Sea, I am Bull of Seven Fights, I am Vulture on Cliff, I am Dewdrop, I am Fairest of Flowers, I am Boar for Boldness, I am Salmon in Pool, I am Lake on Plain... I am Word of Skill, I am the Point of a Weapon (that poureth forth combats), I am God who fashioned Fire for a Head. Who smootheth the ruggedness of a mountain? Who is He who announceth the ages of the Moon? And who, the place where falleth the sunset? Who calleth the cattle from the House of Tethra? On whom do the cattle of Tethra smile? Who is the troop, who the god who fashioneth edges...? Enchantments about a spear? Enchantments of Wind?"
Amergin was able to "become" one with his Cosmos and by this act of "becoming" he was able to summon the Power of Making as well. It is clear that we must ourselves understand the relationships of the body and the Cosmos before we attempt acts of Celtic Magick such as Ogham Divination. We must identify with each of the elements of ourselves and our surrounding world. In Part I of this paper I identified this need to connect the many levels of Self and Consciousness. In this segment, we will describe the Dúile and discuss the derived information (directions, elements, etc.) to clarify the assignments that have been made and establish how each can be used for divination. The following discussion covers the Cosmos, the Self, Directionality and Space.
The Bones are the structure that supports the body. Bones formed the shape of the Cauldron of Vocation. It is the bones that "give us backbone". To the Celts, and the Neolithic peoples of the British Isles, bones contained the Magick of a person. Bones were used to produce Magical implements and were carved with symbols and even Ogham were carved upon bones to enhance their effect. It was on stone that Ogham was also written, and it was by the "cries" of stone that the king was chosen. Stone is the foundation of a house just as the bones are the foundation of the body. It is no mistake that the most powerful Magicks in Ireland were carved and contained within the stones of the Brughs and the "centers of life". Meteorites were accorded a very high and mystical position, as the bones of the stars, "stones that burn".
The Flesh is the part of the body that connects to the structure of the bones and provides us with a shape or form. This shape was known in Ireland as the "delb". The flesh is what moves us and empowers us. It is the substance that we consume , burn and sacrifice (along with blood) when we are making offerings to the Gods. The flesh of a bull was offered and consumed to facilitate the visions of the Tarbh Feis. Sometimes the blood or the flesh of an enemy was eaten during after-battle rituals (according to some authors...this matter is by no means certain, though I wouldn't be surprised). Earth is the Cosmic analog of flesh. It is the Land that supports our being and it is upon Her surface that we labor. Flesh is the main laborer of the Cauldron of Vocation.
The Hair and the Skin are the sensors and "feelers" of our bodies. The skin is the largest sensory organ that we possess. It is reactive to touch, heat, cold, pain and pleasure. The skin is one way in which we become aware of ourselves, our boundaries and our surroundings. The hair, extending beyond the skin, is an additional way we can sense our surroundings without actually touching anything. We can perceive the winds and even electricity caused by nearby objects. The hair also reflects our general well being (as does the skin). When we feel good our hair is shining and sleek. When we are depressed, the hair droops and is drab. The behavior of the skin closely parallels the behavior of the hair as an indicator of our body's condition and even its state of health. The Trees, shrubs and grasses of the earth are the Cosmic analog of the skin and hair of the human body. A healthy environment is reflected in the presence of green and growing trees, shrubs and plants. Our skin and hair provide coverings for the Cauldron of Vocation.
The Blood is the river of life within the body. It is what sustains the flesh (along with the breath). It also warms us and reflects our emotional state. The blood is one of the three fires of the Cauldron of Warming. Are we warm or hot blooded? Is our blood up? Do we have blood in our eyes? Is our blood racing? All of these expressions characterize the flowing, sustaining and reactive nature of blood. As Blood is the life spring of the Body, so the Sea is the Cauldron of Plenty for the World. The Sea reflects Her moods and tempers, just as the Blood does. The Sea is in a constant state of change. It is the Blood of the World.
The Breath is the constant renewal of the spirit. It provides cleansing for the feelings as well as relief for tension. Our breath is also used to ignite the nutritional processes that invigorate the blood. The breath is one of the three fires of the Cauldron of Warming. The winds (and "breath of change") are what affect our moods and our perceptions. Our first act of awareness is to take in the "breath of life". It is no coincidence that the words for breath, soul and name all have the same root in the Irish language (anail, anam, ainm). The breath and the wind are body/natural correspondences. The Celts viewed the "airts" or winds as the breath of the heavens. The airts were also used by Celtic sailors to predict the weather and to foretell their catches.
The Mind, on the other hand, was a much deeper consideration for the Celts. Wisdom was said to flow from wells and cauldrons. It is an amazing coincidence that this "flowing of wisdom" from a well of knowledge directly parallels the nature of the mind's alpha waves that our modern science has discovered. Perhaps the Druids discovered this wavelike nature of thought when they were performing brain surgeries? (examples have been discovered in the remains of Celtic burials). The Moon is the natural phenomena that controls the waves of the earth and sea. The moon is the symbol given by the Celts for inner thoughts and the wavelike cycling of Nature Herself. The mind is one of the three fires of the Cauldron of Warming.
The Face was thought to be the window on the personality. How one appeared in public and how one were perceived was very important. The reputation and personal prowess were both extolled in the praise poems of the poets and the bards. A man's word and honor (or a woman's) were considered to be as important as life itself. This importance of face and appearance might account for the emphasis placed upon satire by the Filidh and may well account for their ability to "blemish" or even kill the object of their scorn (using only words). In the world around them, face was represented by the Sun. It was the Sun that illuminated the world for all to see and to be seen. It was in turning with the Sun or against the Sun that praise or insult were communicated. The Sun was the epitome of face to the Celts. The face was the opening to the Cauldron of Knowledge.
The Brain serves as the platform for supporting our thoughts and memories. It is like the paper of books or the silicon of modern computers. It is the media that sustains our minds and contains our thoughts. The brain is the organizer and the architect of our mental abilities. Being a "brain" implies a very strong deductive capability. It is a sign of our mental powers. The brain is the "stew" that is contained within the Cauldron of Knowledge, just as the Clouds and Stars are the Cosmic stew of the Gods. The Druids read the stars and clouds to obtain the Wisdom of the Gods. Druidic Astrology was called "Neladoracht", literally "cloud watching".
The Head was so venerated among the Celts that they took the heads of their most prominent enemies and adversaries as trophies of war. It was thought that a person's Soul could be controlled if his head was possessed. The head was thought to contain the essence of personality and personal power. This is the reason that they were preserved in cedar oil and displayed in a place of honor within the Celtic banqueting hall and home (as well as on the war chariots and horses). The head ruled the Self, just as the Heavens ruled over the Earth. The Sacred King governed the Sovereignty of the Land (as head of the Tuatha and husband of the Goddess). The head was the container for the Cauldron of Knowledge.
There's much more that can be said about elements and cosmology. For one thing, the Celts used the directions to establish their center (as well as the Sun itself and the stars). They then had a here, above and around (out there and underneath) dimension to their space. This world and the Otherworld touched in just about every location but at certain times and places the doors would open just a wee bit wider. But that's the stuff of countless other stories!
For more information on the ways of Druids and the mysteries of the Ogham, read my series on Ogham Divination in the Journal of the Henge of Keltria or visit The Summerlands.