THE CELTIC UNDERWORLD AS RESONANCE
I often think that the inner world is like a landscape. Here, in our limestone landscape, there are endless surprises. It is lovely to be on top of a mountain and to discover a spring well gushing forth from beneath the heavy rocks. Such a well has a long biography of darkness and silence. It comes from the heart of the mountain where no human eye has ever gazed. The surprise of the well suggests the archaic resources of consciousness awakening within us. With a sudden freshness, new springs come alive within.
The silence of landscape conceals vast presence. Place is not simply location. A place is a profound individuality. Its surface texture of grass and stone is blessed by rain, wind and light. With complete attention landscape celebrates the liturgy of the seasons, giving itself unreservedly to the passion of the goddess. The shape of a landscape is an ancient and silent form of consciousness. Mountains are huge contemplatives. Rivers and streams offer voice; they are the tears of the earth’s joy and despair. The earth is full of soul.
Plotinus in The Enneads speaks of ‘the souls’ care for the universe’: ‘this All is one universally comprehensive living being, encircling all the living beings within it, and having a soul, one soul which extends to all its members in the degree of participant membership held by each’.
Civilizations has tamed place. Ground is levelled to build homes and cities. Roads, streets and floors are level so that we may walk and travel easily. Left to itself the curvature of the landscape invites presence and the loyalty of stillness. In the distraction of the traveller and the temporary its ancient thereness goes unnoticed. Humans only know the passing night. Below the surface of landscape the earth lives in the eternal night, the dark and ancient cradle of all origin.
It is no wonder that in the Celtic world wells were sacred places. The wells were seen as threshold places between the deeper, dark, unknown, subterranean world and the outer world of light and form. The land of Ireland was understood in ancient times as the body of the goddess. Wells were reverenced as special apertures through which divinity flowed forth. Manannán mac Lir said: ‘No-one will have knowledge who does not have a drink from the well.’ Even to this day, people still visit sacred springs. They walk several rounds of the well, travelling in a clockwise direction, and often leave votive offerings. Different wells are thought to hold different kinds of healing.
When a well awakens in the mind, new possibilities begin to flow; you find within you self a depth and excitement which you never knew you had. This art of awakening is suggested by the Irish writer James Stephens who saw the only barrier as our readiness. We often remain exiles, left outside the rich world of the soul simply because we are not ready. Our task is to refine our hearts and minds. There is so much blessing and beauty near us which is destined for us, and yet it cannot enter our lives, because we are not ready to receive it. The handle is on the inside of the door; only we can open it. Our lack of readiness is often caused by blindness, fear and lack of self-appreciation. When we are ready, we will be blessed. At that moment the door of the heart becomes the gate of heaven. Shakespeare expressed this beautifully in King Lear: ‘Men must endure/ Their going hence, even as their coming hither:/ Ripeness is all.’