Wednesday, March 26, 2008


Back in January I was working on a project to get the bedroom closet cleaned out for creating an incubation chamber. Everything has been moved out into the garage now, though I'm still waiting for somewhat warmer weather so I can do a second coat of paint with the windows open. The time it required to air out the bedroom after the first coat was an abject lesson in proper timing. Best to work on this kind of thing when the weather is cooperative.

Incubatory practice is still on my mind, though. It shows up again and again in hints and pieces through the literature of Ireland, Scotland and Wales. Today I read an article by Patrick K. Ford from the Bulletin of the Board of Celtic Studies titled The Death of Aneirin about the Gododdin poem that probably originates in 7th century Wales. The article involves references to being imprisoned or buried under the earth as a potential reference to initiatory and/or incubatory ritual.

The ogam fid úr is soil and its word ogams refer to the grave and to burial and death, but this metaphor is taken up in so many places as one of incubation and initiation. Whether the poet is buried in the ground, lies within a darkened chamber with plaids over her eyes or a stone on his belly, whether she is bound up in a bag and set adrift for forty years, the themes of darkness and restriction of movement appear over and over again. Aneirin lies under the earth with a chain about his knees. Taliesin was found in a bag in a salmon weir. The poets in Scotland lay within windowless huts seeking inspiration.

What is apparent is that illumination comes from within. External objects of meditation -- images, fire, the stars in the sky -- are not a focus in this particular practice. Blindness is its metaphor. To be blind in one eye is to see into the Otherworlds, those places that can't be seen with the physical eyes in this realm. Darkness opens a door. 

When we look at what the filidh sought when they went to sit on a burial mound we see the same thing -- poetry, madness, death. Madness is what pursues us, death transforms us, poetry arises as the fili arises out of the darkness of the incubatory chamber of the symbolic grave. The search for poetic inspiration brings death to our old life, our old personality, and a new spirit, alive with imbas, is born.


  1. I've been thinking a lot about burial/darkness, and rising up out of it again; in fact, I've come to realize that in my own art (writing), the theme of burial/rising is a strong and prevalent one, and, moreover, as a initiatory process, I've come to realize the only way to discover what it is *me* in... well, buried underground.

    Struggling with depression makes the metaphor of "rising up" out of the darkness very real and very powerful to me, and so I guess it's only natural to feel that I am on the brink of something big that can only take place under/in the dark.

  2. Erynn - I'm a recent reader of your site, and new to the Bardic path. I plan on taking the distance-learning course with OBOD, but I'm in the Seattle area and looking to connect with other Bards to discuss and share and connect.

    Thanks for the great resource. Feel free to contact me if you'd like to set up a meetup!

  3. Hi Finn -- There's a lot of material in the tradition to think about when it comes to burial and rising up. I know exactly what you mean about depression and how the metaphor is very real within that condition.

    I think our society really doesn't give people a place for that kind of subterranean work. We're expected to be happy all the time for some idiotic reason. There should be room in life for solemnity, for seriousness, for grieving, and for working through depression.

    Poetry can be a huge part of working through it and of expressing those needs and struggles. Poetry is incubated like an egg; it takes time for what is within to ripen and come to maturity. Give yourself time and let the shell crack on its own.

  4. Symbiotic -- welcome! I know that at least a few years ago there was an OBOD seed group locally, though I'm not sure if they're still in operation. You're more than welcome to come to the Celtic Reconstructionist monthly gatherings at Edge of the Circle on the second Monday of each month. We meet from 7-9pm at Edge of the Circle.

    The next one will be Monday, April 14th. We usually go out afterwards for snacks and socializing. The last couple of times we've gone to Charlie's because it's nearby and not too expensive. Our April meeting will be about Bealtine and what we want to do in May for our ritual. We usually have about 8 or 10 people show up to the meetings.