Sunday, December 30, 2007

The spaces between

One of the themes that arises again and again in the Gaelic corpus is that of liminality -- the places and spaces between. It may be between times or worlds or genders. It may be between sleep and waking, between day and night, between the inside and the outside.

Strange things take place there. The taibhsear (tahv-shyer) stands in the doorway, hands upon the jambs, and looks out for an omen in the first thing she sees in the morning. A fili sits on a mound and fasts, waiting until the mist rises so the spirits can appear. Lugh stands on one leg with one eye closed and one hand behind his back, half in this world and half in the other, to work his crane-magic. 

Liminal spaces and liminal people are a deep part of the CR tradition. Those of us called to filidecht often find ourselves "in-between" in some way. It may be the razor's edge between sanity and oblivion. Perhaps it is a sense of being between genders, partaking of the nature of all. It might be that we are called to walk the mists between worlds, bringing back insights and vision in hopes of integration for self or community. We might look into the spaces between life and death and perceive the spirits there. In some cases, we might be poised between cultures, the child of many different deities and traditions.

In the words of Hedwig in "Tear Me Down", 

There ain't much of a difference 
Between a bridge and a wall

Those of us who stand in the borders, who walk the mists, might act sometimes as either or as both. As we learn, we become both the guardians and the revealers of mysteries. We become guides and challengers. Ideally, we work to integrate ourselves within both the mundane world and the Otherworlds, and help others to find their own balance in those precarious places without losing our own footing.

A fili is, in so many ways, a shape-shifter. It takes fluidity and changeability to walk between worlds. Like Suibhne, we might be called upon to grow feathers and fly. Like the fénnid (fay-nid), we might be pressed to fight in wolf-shape, battling the forces that would rage against the safety of hearth and home. Like Amairgen, we may be called upon to take up a myriad shapes, calling out a litany of what we have learned:

I am a wind on the sea
I am a wave of the ocean
I am the roar of the sea
I am a powerful stag
I am a hawk on a cliff
I am a dewdrop in the sunshine

What do we learn in our shapes? What do we learn through our transformations? What functions and services do we perform?

Am I a bridge, or a wall?


  1. I'm sure you're familiar with John Matthews' hashed-up "Celtic shamanism". Would it be correct to say that filidecht is closer to being a Celtic shamanic tradition?

  2. Well, I think some aspects of filidecht are shamanistic, but I don't think they're "Celtic shamanism" in the way most people would mean it. The filidh and others in Gaelic society used trance techniques from what we can tell, yes. The literary tradition suggests that Otherworld journeying happened, though whether it was accidental or deliberate often depends on who you ask. The filidh did in fact have an internal energy philosophy and structure that can be roughly compared to some simplistic aspects of yoga.

    I have to admit a kneejerk reaction to that combination of words -- it's not about what Matthews seems to think it is. People who go around calling themselves Celtic shamans in public almost invariably have no idea what they're talking about. It's a shame, really. Lovely concept, lousy execution.