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Opening the Circle – The Celtic Tradition

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“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.

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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……

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“The mountains are fountains of men as well as of rivers, of glaciers, of fertile soil. The great poets, philosophers, prophets, able men whose thoughts and deeds have moved the world, have come down from the mountains” –  John Muir

Early on Sat May 11 2013, our pilgrims gathered quietly in preparation for our final destination – Croagh Patrick. The Reek, as it is colloquially known, overlooks Clew Bay in County Mayo and is considered the holiest mountain in Ireland. The tradition of pilgrimage to this holy mountain stretches back over 5,000 years from the Stone Age to the present day without interruption.

CroaghPatrick_creek Manchán Magan wrote this piece for The Guardian in 2009: “ A staggering 20-25,000 pilgrims still climb Croagh Patrick mountain – a soaring cone-shaped 765m (2,500ft) peak that rises above Clew Bay in Co Mayo – each year on the last Sunday in July (the nearest Sunday to the original pagan festival of Lughnasa), often barefoot. This is where the Irish have always come for guidance and reassurance at the beginning of harvest time; later, it became a place for penance for sins committed. We’ve been coming here for more than 3,000 years, since our Neolithic ancestors first chose it as a sacred site. Later, we came to worship the Celtic sun god, Lugh; then, in AD441, the site was cannily co-opted by St Patrick, who fasted here for 40 days and nights before banishing the snakes from Ireland. Ever since, we have been coming in memory of him.” <read the full article>

Our Pilgrimage Project expedition weaved together an eclectic array of artists, musicians, writers and performers from Ireland, Iceland & Greece. This was the final stretch of Pilgrimage Project.We were joined by friends, family and curious strangers who soon became friends. We were also aided and abetted by a motley crew of pioneers including Pat Collins, Ruth Meehan and Manchán Magan who joined our expedition to share their work and experiences with the pilgrims.

Arriving at the summit is a rite of passage and was emotional for some who had soldiered through fire and sword to get there. The instructions for penitential rituals and prayers added a surrealist Catholic touch for our international guests.

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The view from the top is spectacular – particularly when assisted by homemade sandwiches and flasks of tea. We began our mountain descent like wild goats in the knowledge that some creamy pints of Guinness where calling our thirsty pagan souls.

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Pat Collins’ extraordinary film What We Leave in our Wake was a touch stone for Pilgrimage Project and we hosted a screening of it at The Model, Sligo later that evening when we came down off the mountain. Ruth Meehan hosted a conversation after the film with Pat Collins and with Aoife and myself as the project curators.  It was a beautiful way to unwind and make sense of our collective fieldtrips to ancient burial sites, monastic settlements, graveyards, seaweed baths and well-worn pilgrim paths.

Watch the video below of our closing journey.

 

 

 

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Croagh Patrick or The Reek, as it is colloquially known, overlooks Clew Bay in County Mayo and is considered the holiest mountain in Ireland. The tradition of pilgrimage to this holy mountain stretches back over 5,000 years from the Stone Age to the present day without interruption.

On Sat May 11 2013, an unusual group of pilgrims will make a journey together to the summit of Croagh Patrick. The expedition gathers together an eclectic array of artists, musicians, writers and performers from Ireland, Iceland & Greece. This will be day 6 of Pilgrimage Project – a cultural odyssey. The Pilgrimage Project is a cultural experiment situated in North West Ireland from May 06 -12.  We envision this collaborative project to be a collective odyssey through time and space in the Irish psyche. We are making a series of fieldtrips to ancient burial sites, sacred islands, monastic settlements and a final journey to Croagh Patrick as Pilgrimage Project draws to a close.

We will be aided and abetted by a motley crew of pioneers including Pat Collins and Manchán Magan who are coming to share their work and experiences with the pilgrims. Pat Collins made this short film Pilgrim in 2008. Click here to view.

Manchán Magan wrote this piece for The Guardian in 2009

“ A staggering 20-25,000 pilgrims still climb Croagh Patrick mountain – a soaring cone-shaped 765m (2,500ft) peak that rises above Clew Bay in Co Mayo – each year on the last Sunday in July (the nearest Sunday to the original pagan festival of Lughnasa), often barefoot. This is where the Irish have always come for guidance and reassurance at the beginning of harvest time; later, it became a place for penance for sins committed. We’ve been coming here for more than 3,000 years, since our Neolithic ancestors first chose it as a sacred site. Later, we came to worship the Celtic sun god, Lugh; then, in AD441, the site was cannily co-opted by St Patrick, who fasted here for 40 days and nights before banishing the snakes from Ireland. Ever since, we have been coming in memory of him.”

Continue to read here

Both Pat and Manchán will be joining us to climb Croagh Patrick on May 11 and Pat Collins will be interviewed later that evening at The Model, Sligo following a screening of his film What We Leave in Our WakeBook your free ticket for the film here>.

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Photo used with kind permission from: http://www.philarmitage.net

This little film was made about The Northern Lights Observatory in Feb 2011. The maiden voyage of the ireland : iceland project.
Some of our pilgrims are here Andri Snær Magnason, Kate Ellis & Noeline Kavanagh and it was shot by Mr. Myles O’Reilly.

 

The Inner Landscape of Beauty

The late Irish poet and philosopher, John O’Donohue, is beloved for his book Anam Ċara, Gaelic for “soul friend,” and for his insistence on beauty as a human calling and a defining aspect of God. In one of his last interviews before his death in 2008, he articulated a Celtic imagination about how the material and the spiritual, the visible and the invisible worlds intertwine in human experience. John’s work was a big inspiration for PIlgrimage Project . This interview is provocative and full of beauty.

Listen to the full unedited version here: http://www.onbeing.org/program/inner-landscape-beauty/203/