Wednesday, March 30, 2011



It is mysterious that the human body is clay. The individual is the meeting place of the four elements. The person is a clay shape, living in the medium of air. Yet the fire of blood, thought and soul moves through the body. Its whole life and energy flows in the subtle circle of the water element. We have come up out of the depths of the earth. Consider the millions of continents of clay that will never have the opportunity to leave this underworld. This clay will never find a form to ascend and express itself in the world of light, but will live for ever in that unknown shadow world. In this regardm, the Celtic idea is very beautiful; it claims that the underworld is not a dark world but a world of spirit. There is an old belief in Ireland that the Tuatha Dé Dannan, the tribe of Celts banished from the surface of Ireland, now inhabited the underwolrd beneath the land. From there they conrolled the fecundity of the land above. Consequently, when a king was being crowned, he entered into a symbolic marriage with the goddess. His reign mediated between the visible landscape with its grass, crops and trees and the hidden subterranean world in which all is rooted. This balance was vital since the Celts were a rural, farming people. This mythological ans spiritual perspective has had an immense subconscious effect on how landscape is viewed in Ireland. Landscape is not matter nor merely nature, rather it enjoys a luminosity. Landscape is numinous. Each field has a different name and in each place something different happened. Landscape has a secret and silent memory, a narrative of presence where nothing is ever lost or forgotten. In Tom Murphy's play The Gigli Concert, the unnamed man loses his senses of landscape and loses the ability to connect with himself simultaneously.

The mystery of the Irish landscape is mirrored in all the stories and legends of different places. There are endless stories about ghosts and spirits. Near my home, a magic cat minds ancient gold in a big field. One finds an enthralling weave of stories about the independence and structure of the spiritual world. The human body has come out of this underworld. Consequently, in your body, clay is finding a form and shape which it never found before. Just as it is an immense privilege for your clay to have come up into the lightm it is also a great responsibility.

In your clay body things are coming to expression and to light that were never known before, presences that never came to light or shape in any other individual. To paraphrase Heidegger, man is a sheperd of being, we could say: man is a shepherd of clay. You represent an unknown world that begs you to bring it to voice. Often the joy you feel does not belong to your individual biography but to the clay out of which you are formed. At other times, you will find sorrow moving through you, like a dark mist over a landscape. This sorrow is dark enough to paralyse you. It is a mistake to interfere with this movement of feeling. It is more appropriate to recognize that this emotion belongs more to your clay than to your mind. It is wise to let this weather of feeling pass; it is on its way elsewhere. We so easily forget that our clay has a memory which preceded our minds, a life ot its own before it took our present form. Regardless of how modern we seem, we still remain ancient, sisters and brothers of the one clay. In each of us a different part of the mystery becomes luminous. To truly be and become your self, you need the ancient radience of others.

Essentially, we belong beautifully to nature. The body knows this belonging and desires it. It does not exile us either spiritually or emotionally. The human body is at home on the earth. It is probably some splinter in the mind which is the sore root of so much of our exile. This tension between clay and mind is the source of all creativity. It is the tension in us between the ancient and the new, the known and the unknown. Only the imagination is native to this rhythm. It alone can navigate in the sublime interim where the lineaments of these differing inner forces touch. The imagination is committed to the justice of wholeness. It will not choose one side in an inner conflict and repress or banish the other, it will endeavour to initiate a profound conversation between them in order that something original can be born. The imagination loves symbols because it recognizes that inner divinity can only find expression in symbolic form. The symbol never gives itself completely to the light. It invites thought precisely because it resides at the threshold of darkness. Through the imagination, the soul creates and constructs your depth experience. Imagination is the most reverent mirror of the inner world.

Individuality need not be lonely or isolated. Cicero said so beautifully, 'Nunquam minus solus quam cum solus.' One can come into harmony with one's individuality, if it is viewed as a profound expression or sacrament of the ancient clay. When there is a real awakening in love and friendshipk, this sense of the clay within can dawn. If you knew the beloved's body well enough, you could imagine where his or her clay had lain before it came to form in him or her. You could sense the blend of different tonalities in his or her clay: maybe some clay comes from beside a calm lake, some from places where nature was exposed and lonely, and more from secluded and reserved places. We never know how many places of nature meet within the human body. Landscape is not all external, it has crept inside the soul. Human presence is infused with landscape.

This profound and numinous presence of nature is brought out in the poem by Amairgen, chief poet of the Milesians, as he steps ashore to take possession of the land on behalf of his people:

I am the wind which breathes upon the sea,

I am the wave of the ocean,

I am the murmur of the billows -

I am the ox of the seven combats,

I am the vulture upon the rocks,

I am a beam of the sun,

I am the fairest of plants,

I am the wild boar in valour,

I am the salmon in the water,

I am a lake in the plain,

I am a world of knowledge,

I am the point of the lance of battle,

I am the God who created the fire in the head.

(ed. P. Murray)

This is traditionally believed to be the first poem ever composed in Ireland. All of the elements of the poem have numinous associations in early Irish literature. There is no dualism here. All is one. This ancent poem pre-empts and reverses the lonely helplessness of Descartes' 'Cogito ergo sum', I think therefore I am. For Amairgen, I am because everything else is. I am in everything and everything is in me. This magnificent hymn to presence outlines the ontological depth and unity of the anam-cara experience.

The Celtic world developed a profound sense of the complexity of the individual. Often the places within us where conflict arises are places where different parts of our clay memory come together; the energy here may at times be unrefined, raw or difficult. The recognition of our clay nature can bring us a more ancient harmony. It can return us to the ancient rhythm which we inhabited before consciousness made us separate. This is one of the lovely things about the soul. The soul is in the middle ground between the separation of the air and the belonging of the earth. Your soul mediates between your body and your mind; it shelters the two and holds them together. In this primal sense the soul is imaginative.

No comments:

Post a Comment