Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Celts to Vikings 6b: What the Druids Said

Irish poetry is full of passages like this:
I am the wind that blows over the sea,
I am the wave of the sea,
I am the roaring of the sea,
I am the bull of the seven battles,
I am the god who gives fire to the head. . .
I have been a narrow, gilded spear,
I believe in what is clear,
I have been a raindrop in the air,
I have been the furthest star,
I have been word among letters,
I have been book in the beginning
I have been light of the lamp. . . .
I have been path, I have been eagle,
I have been fisherman's boat on the sea,
I have been shield in the battle,
I have been string of a harp,
in this way for nine years.
In the water, in the foam,
I have been sponge in the fire,
I have been tree in the uncharted wood.
The last time I taught about the ancient Celts I passed along the interpretation of the poems that I learned from the textbooks: that these are poetic expression of the doctrine of the transmigration of souls. Lately, though, I have reading some half mad scholars with a spiritual bent (notably Jean Markale) and they have convinced me that the very rational Julius Caesar did not understand the teachings of the druids. I now think that the doctrine behind these poems is much broader than just human souls moving from body to body. I think these poems express a vision of the universe as a process of transformation, in which everything is always being changed into something else. In this view a human soul may just be one way of seeing a single spark of the cosmic fire as it flashes past, before it is reabsorbed into the conflagration.

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