Opening the Circle – The Celtic Tradition


“In the Irish psyche, landscape has a unique presence. One of the wonderful insights of the Celtic imagination is that landscape is alive, the outer landscape becomes a metaphor for the unknown inner landscape”   John O’ Donohue

The ethos of Pilgrimage Project is one of a collaborative and experimental spirit. Our cultural expedition to the North West of Ireland was to navigate inspiring territory on the interior and the exterior. We invited a group of eclectic pioneers diverse in experience and practice to come and share with the pilgrims. The pioneer sessions were designed as touchstone enquires to allow both pilgrims and pioneers to dive into a deep learning process.

Our opening Pioneer Session was hosted by Dolores WhelanKaren Ward and Mari Kennedy. Together, they worked collaboratively to reveal the ancient wisdom of the Celtic Tradition, taking the group through mystical layers of time and space through storytelling, movement, song and ceremony.

The Celtic spiritual tradition can be understood as something that is both very ancient and new. It is a way of perceiving the world and reality and a way of being in the world. The tradition embodies what has become known as Celtic consciousness, or Celto-megalithic consciousness, as it unfolded within Ireland over the millennia, in a conceptual rather than chronological way. The pioneers weaved spirals of connectivity linking the ancient Celtic Tradition to time, myth, nature, landscape and pilgrimage.

Below is the story of Sheela Na Gig as told by Karen Ward :

Once upon a time the five sons of the HIgh King of Ireland went hunting together. At twilight they set up camp and one of them went off to find water.
He returned without any, saying, ‘There was a monstrous black hag guarding the well. she wouldn’t let me have any water because I refused to kiss her’.
 One by one the other brothers went and came back with the same account – without water, except Fiachra who gave her ‘a bare touch of a kiss’, for which she promised him ‘ a mere contact with Tara’.
 Finally, the youngest prince, Niall by name, went and returned with an abundant supply. Not only had he kissed the hag, he lay with her. With that, she turned into the most beautiful woman in the world. ‘Who are you?’ asked the hero. ‘I am sovereignty (the goddess of the land)’and because you honour me, you will be High King over the whole of Ireland and your seed shall be over every clan’. And so it came to pass.

The Celts integrated “The Great Mother” as the original energy of the Druidic Religion. Symbolized in the ‘Sheela na gigs’, these carved stoned female figures exposing their genital organs, represented the land, fertility and new life. Later, as Roman Church supplanted Celtic Christianity,

these figures were turned from Divine Hag into Harlot. Freedom from fear, ecstasy and at-one-ment with Sophia the goddess of wisdom are the gifts the Sheela archetype brings. The one who has the courage to look beyond the illusions is rewarded with sovereignty over self, genuine love, inner peace and peace on earth. Sheela Na Gigs are still found all over Ireland and many are under lock and key at our National Museum of Ireland in Dublin.

Mari Kennedy brought the teachings of the Celtic tradition into a contemporary context by exploring ideas of inner landscape and the journey between shadow and light. She led a meditation practice and a deep enquiry in to the art of collaboration highlighting the Celtic way of welcoming complexity and paradox – finding light amid the darkest shadow of our inner terrain.


That evening following supper we prepared for our Opening Ceremony by getting crafty in the dining room with Ivy and Blossom. We learned how to weave ceremonial headdresses which ingeniously doubled up as portals in the other world.

We walked together by candlelight down to the beach at Ard Tarmon where John had prepared a roaring fire for the Pilgrimage Opening Ceremony. At midnight the ritual began under the stars with the elemental sounds of the waves crashing down on the shore. The portal had been opened……