Working with the Sacred


Working with the Sacred: a little muse and reflection.........reflection and muse

Working with the Sacred: a little muse and reflection

There are numerous names of gods, goddesses or deities available from the Celtic World, working singularly, in pairs, and even in a triplet form. They too pertain to either a specific group or tribal area where named deities are shared by several groups. These are not necessarily adjacent to each others territory, but span across large distances of regional separation. This is true in regards to the evidence available where altars and indeed iconographical images have survived. Such examples are Ogma, and Lugh which can be traced spasmodically across Europe towards Ireland or even visa versa, which ever the case might be. Likewise Epona is also widely venerated over a large area in various forms.

Such gods or entities given mental and abstract form, in the minds eye are often displayed in related images and symbols to the deity concerned. These in themselves, are not religious artifacts as such, but reflect the power attributed to the god/goddess depicted in their material form. They are, after all, created to deal with specific social and life problems or unanswered questions about the unknown. Often placed in a hierarchical order, where some relate to everybody within their social sphere, while others become specific to family or clan, even to a cultural society sub group. Additionally, they are there to explain the functions and formation of nature via natural philosophy. They too are often coupled with designated sacred places which are gender specific or open to the whole community; in those places specific rites to respective deities are performed and undertaken. These might be considered to be sacred or secular in its ritual performance. On the other hand, personal and individual dedications take on a different form of sacred. A sacred form might be considered to be a personal votive offering, where an exchange takes place with a verbal personal contract with the god/goddess. Alternatively confirmation of the sacred experience might be had, reinforcing individual confirmation of the deity consulted existence. However, these become secular if no personal experience of transformation is forthcoming.

What is being discussed here, are two different methods of working with the sacred, one is indeed considered sacred and the other is secular. The definition of sacred is taken as being holy; blessed; consecrated; hallowed; revered; sanctified and sacrosanct. On the other hand secular definition is taken as worldly; material; and lay. The two opposites of sacred and secular when joined together form a religion, which is bound with theological thought relating to, and overcoming existing social and life problems previously mentioned. This is often coupled with social moral behaviour guidelines of what is considered to be the accepted social norm by the community group majority, on how people should act. These are contained within customary, secular, cannon law codes or in the modern sense, legislative laws.

Taking the sacred separately and being determined psychologically as a personal and individual experience concentrated within the human senses. It will trigger off feelings and transformation of worldly perceptions while moving into a temporary ecstatic state of euphoria. In such a state of being, non premeditative thoughts or images arise. Even the sensation of being transported into a different time and space, could surface when the real world becomes a muffled reality. Either way sensations of euphoria erupt transforming the inner world, where the release of the "wild genius" traversing from one side to the other. Indeed such experience could bring feelings of meddling with the sacred forces associated to deity, to even meeting them on a personal level. Over all the euphoria creates a feeling of being connected, giving an inner relief, and a release from the mundane human world.

These experiences could be contributed to relating to a god or goddess of an individual choosing. When taking an early Celtic Cultural paradigm, rather than a natural working of the human mind, allowing the amygdala gland, the ability to consciously and subconsciously bridge, and connect with the universal impulsive of everything. Such experiences of the mind are often beyond all logic and reason. Yet the sacred is also integrative, labels are chosen with descriptive language to set the scene as it becomes shared or not shared, if one wishes to communicate the personal experience socially with other members of any community. In some way it is similar to the images and symbols of deity illustrating their associated power and attributes placed in another form. Shared experiences of this type could act and indeed encourage the listener to start out on there own quest to experience the sacred.

Another illustration of sharing the sacred is seen in the work of a shaman, a practice still evident in the northern circular Polar Regions. Sacred powers are induced moving the shaman into induced euphoria states and trances for the community benefit. This could be to heal a community member; finding a lost spirit or soul; locating the whereabouts of game for the hunters, too pacifying and communicate with the community gods/goddess in the other worldly realm are just a few examples. The knowledge returning with the shaman is then shared with the community.

Undertaking a shamanic experience is very different from the personal and individual one previously described. An abstract mind map of the material world relating to the conceptual realm where helpers, guides, gods and goddess can be contacted often takes the form of a vertical layered and three tiered world, interconnected by a central world mountain, a single world tree or even the axis mendi or world axis. Traversing the worlds through naturally mental induced ecstatic states, combined with acts of death and rebirth gives the shaman an edge and safe passage through a layered geocentric universe.

Reaching the shamanic realms by mental states is heightened through a combination of ritual, theatre and performance. Spiritual helpers in the form of inanimate objects of antlers; stones; wood; herbs or other specific plants become employed in the process. Items which are either burnt to play on the sense of smell; magical ritual objects etched with sacred symbols of power in a material form. Likewise musical objects such as drums and rattles which can produce a single monotonous rhythmic beat and sound. The use of costume, allows for a symbolic exchange and personification embodying and embracing any animal, or spirit/soul or material image of the deity. All or any of these combinations assist in kindling the mental cross over to the other worlds.

This combination adds to the outward display of the ritual theatre to the community, but hides the mental alchemical process; one which assists, in creating an altered state of consciousness allowing movement over the bridge into the realms. A controlled mystical experience allows the shaman to bring back the knowledge required by the community. It might be worth bearing in mind, the three tiered world is predominately a shamanic worldview. A concept recorded in the world literature, and even a human pre agrarian age memory, from the hunter gatherer period. That is prior to the natural environment becoming manipulated, as monuments appear in the landscape. Even when mythological stories, legends and folktales inform about the Celtic gods and goddess, and those from other cultures travelling within this layered world to the underworld, into the sky and universe. Indeed some are associated to the man built monuments in the landscape. Nonetheless it might be a straight forward process why such shaman's and the associated Celtic deity were or still hold status and value, even when feared or revered by the population they severed.

Another form of sharing the sacred and experiencing the gods/goddesses is available through the secular community ritual. Little is known today of the form of Druid ritual, although intellectual hypothesis from various disciplines have reconstructed strong possibilities. An example, from the "Archaeology of Theatre" is the ritual circle. The circle people create when they gather together becomes inclusive when one faces inwards to the centre. Their backs form the outer circle which excludes any community member not within it. The circle participants might be far removed from any sacred and monotonous shamanic preparations before hand. Some might be just waiting for some form of ritual entertainment. Irrespectively, the traditional ritual specialist, or its modern equivalent, has the capacity to create and induce the atmosphere, which leads from the secular to the sacred.

People within the circle participating within a secular community ritual, it can become profound, where something is happening in the centre creating an interest which holds the circle attention. However ritual participants when it's acted out as a theatre that embodies and personifies an aspect of a god or goddess, acting out a created part as they embody the spirit or soul of the deity. They too have access to the sacred shamanic element allowing emotions to rise moving into ecstatic euphoric states. Likewise attendees forming the circle also have the opportunity of enlightenment, transcendence, and access to the tiered worldview. This is when the profound becomes the secular which leads to the sacred personal experience.

Taking a modern world perspective of nuclear families and split communities. A minority group of unrelated people; with a shared interest that comes together as a single community with intent of undertaking a secular ritual. Human minds can easily wander when a group comes together for a short space of time. Access to the sacred via secular action is not always guaranteed yet it is available when the ritual specialist creates the atmosphere relevant to all attending. Indeed to actually move all participants over the threshold would certainly be something to behold.

Whatever the case might be, the successful sharing of the sacred through community secular ritual contributes towards a social integration creating "Quest ". This might be a quest similar to that taken by King Arthur revived in the early medieval period renaissance of the 9th century from monastic institutions of Europe, incorporating acts of Chivalry into moral behaviour. Indeed, add in a few symbols of compelling power like drawing the material/spiritual sword from the stone, or concentrating on a religious relic such as the "Grail". The quest can then begin, either one opens a doorway, where experiences of self transcendence become available, not just in its story form. Such a story could be considered marginal and outside the main stream at its time, it has the ability to institutionalise the pagans, sending them on a quest to be verified culturally and collectively. Indeed the integrative quest can also marginalise the collective experience.

It's an interesting facet within modern Druidry and probably Paganism when considered as a quest depending on the individual or group preference. It can either be considered a religion; a philosophy; a network; a protest group; a reconstructionist group, or a social community group. Indeed all are labels which assist in describing what Druidry is, or what it is not. It's more likely relates to a combination of all these labels, embraced in harmony with either a personal contract with deity, albeit a sacred, secular, or even a profound experience.


Goleman, D., 2000, Working with Emotional Intelligence, Bantam

Demerath N.J., 1999, ‘The varieties of Sacred Experience: Finding the Sacred in a Secular Grove' in Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, pp 1-11

Hayden, B., 2003, A Prehistory of Religion: Shamans Scourers and Saints, Smithsonian Institution

Insoll, T., 2004, Archaeology, Ritual, Religion, Routledge

First published in Aontacht, Volume 2 Issue 1 Summer-Winter Solstice 2009

Druidry, Paganism, Profane, Sacred,
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