The Salmon in the Spring: The Ecology of Celtic Spirituality by: Jason Kirkey

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“Here at the end of the Cenozoic Era with the life systems withering away, a surprising creativity appears, a kind of mystical balancing act. The world’s spiritual traditions are entering into deeply engaged conversations through which the riches of each are ignited in new ways. With The Salmon in the Spring, Jason Kirkey has boldly carved out his place in this exciting work with his original interpretations of the concepts and stories of ancient Ireland . . . Kirkey’s vision speaks directly to our present ecological challenge. Rejecting those nature-denying forms of spirituality that have been used too easily to justify our domestication of the planet, The Salmon in the Spring announces its thrilling spiritual foundation: “Our wild nature is our soul.” —Brian Swimme, California Institute of Integral Studies

Transcript of The Salmon in the Spring: The Ecology of Celtic Spirituality by: Jason Kirkey

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Hiraeth PressSan Francisco

Jason Kirkeyforeword by

Frank MacEowen



theSPRINGTh e Ecology of

Celtic Spirituality

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Copyright © 2009 Jason Kirkey

All Rights Reserved. This book may not be reproduced, in whole or in part, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means without permis-sion from the publisher, except by a reviewer who may quote brief passages.

An eff ort has been made to trace the ownership of all copyrighted material con-tained in this book, to request permission where necessary, and to use that material in accordance with the terms of fair use. Errors will be corrected upon notifying the publisher.

The author and publisher gratefully acknowledge the following for permission to reprint excerpts from their work:

“Love Dogs.” Barks, Coleman, trans. The Essential Rumi. New Expanded Edition. New York: HarperCollins, 2004. Reprinted with permission of Maypop Books.

First Edition 2009Reprinted with corrections, 2010

Cover and text design by Jason KirkeyCover photograph: © / Natalia Bratslavsky

ISBN: 978-0-9799246-6-8Library of Congress Control Number: 2009908769

Published by Hiraeth PressSan Francisco, California

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To the ancestors—whose wisdom must not be forgotton…

and to the future generations—to whom the diffi cult tasks will fall.

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We need a spirituality that emerges out of a reality deeper than ourselves, a spiritu-

ality that is as deep as the Earth process itself, a spirituality born out of the solar

system and even out of the heavens beyond the solar system. For it is in the stars

that the primordial elements take shape in both their physical and psychic aspects.

Out of these elements the solar system and Earth took shape, and out of Earth,


There is a triviality in any spiritual discipline that does not experience itself as

supported by the spiritual as well as the physical dynamics of the entire cosmic-

Earth process. Ultimately, a spirituality is a mode of being in which not only the

divine and the human commune with each other, but through which we discover

ourselves in the universe and the universe discovers itself in us.

—Thomas Berry

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by Frank MacEowen . . . ix

Introduction . . . 1Part One: The Ecology of Perception

1. Place and Story . . . 152. Wild Earth, Wild Mind . . . 35

3. The Fomorian Eye . . . 534. Tuatha Dé Danann Vision . . . 75

5. Dreamtime Circle . . . 976. The Birdreign . . . 119

Part Two: The Well and the Branch7. The Soul's Horizon . . . 139

8. Borderlands . . . 1619. Connla's Well . . . 179

10. Ecos and Psyche . . . 20511. Empty Mountains . . . 221

Coda: The Man Who Had No Story . . . 243

Glossary of Terms . . . 251Notes . . . 261

Bibliography . . . 273Resources . . . 279

Acknowledgements . . . 281About the Author . . . 283

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FOREWORDby Frank MacEowen


On the cover of this book is a gorgeous image: Luminous bands of sun-

light cascade down through the mist and settle on a pristine forest of ever-

greens and deciduous trees. A streambed of shining water trickles over dark stones,

mirroring clouds and the light of day on its surface. It is easy to imagine a solitary

deer entering the scene, lapping up her morning refreshment at the river’s edge; or

a beaver gnawing down another sapling to add to the home he builds for his family

in the face of impending winter.

There is something primal and comforting about the photograph. The land-

scape invites us into a contemplative state, one that mirrors the slow rhythm of the

forest and the sky-mirroring “art” of the stream. The image of the forest speaks

of a softer way of being as well as the unseen integrity inherently woven within the

harmonious bonds of relationship that shape the ecosystem.

The harmonious bond of which I speak is the original language of the planet.

A few knowledge-bearing wisdom-keepers in the human family still remember this

language. All of the other species on the planet are fl uent, for it is encoded within

them, and their days and nights are aligned with it. Whether wise two-legged, four-

legged, or the fi nned and winged ones, this ancient language is a sacred language

that shapes their songs, their stories, and their patterns of seasonal activity and

movement. It is a language that most of us have forgotten. We must re-learn this

language, and guide our lives by it, or it will be our peril.

A stark juxtaposition to the beautiful image that graces the cover of this book

is the cover of the September 2009 issue of National Geographic. The photo-

graphs and paintings in the article entitled “Before New York” say it all. In the

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article, ecologists turn back the clock by four centuries to reveal how Manhat-

tan Island would have appeared before industrial development. The comparison is


In one set of plates we have the image of ponds, beaver, elk, miles and miles

of untouched forest, with one image of a Lenape village set up according to an

undoubtedly minimum impact ethic. These retrospective paintings are juxtaposed

with photographs of the actual human footprint today. Needless to say, the vast

majority of the natural world is gone, replaced with concrete, unnatural lighting,

and tributaries of sludge and waste rather than streams of pure water.

In contrast to the songs and stories of those who live according to the original

language, our current story is one of disconnection from our naturalness. With

no regard to the immediate or eventual backlash to our own bodies, our neigh-

bors downstream, that of future generations, or the indigenous cultures around

the planet (who tend “technologies of the sacred” for remembering the original

language), the technocratic industrial complex continues its steady march forward.

Fueled by greed, chemicals, an addiction to petroleum, an obsession with con-

sumption, and a false myth that the natural “resources” of our planet are an un-

ending supply chain, we of the “First World” (unless you live completely “off -the-

grid”) are perpetrators, recipients, and devotees to a toxic reality—albeit for many

people unconsciously. In fact, the forces at work count on the masses remaining

unconscious and driven more by compulsion than contemplation.

This toxic reality, which is undoubtedly mandated, propagated and legislated

by people sitting on both sides of the aisle (and both sides of the Atlantic and

Pacifi c), is oriented to one thing and one thing only: the generation of wealth

through an economic engine that is fully-aware-yet-dismissive of the ecological

impact of its system. The end result: we are slowly but surely killing ourselves, and

the Earth.

Yet, there is also good news, evidenced by seemingly small things but which

will ultimately shape a future culture aligned to the original language. I think of

those people who make an attempt at living a life that bears less and less of a car-

bon footprint, or those communities where people have the bravery to engage in

an honest conversation about how we can slowly change our culture from one of

addiction to awareness.

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The good news is also evidenced by the calling you feel inside your own chest—

a calling for a diff erent way of being spiritual, a desire to explore your connection to

the natural world, a need for peace and a way to befriend your own mind. Perhaps

this calling ultimately led you to pick up the book in your hands. You won’t be


There have been many books published exploring the vast domain of Celtic

spirituality, some of my own books among them. When I fi rst started my jour-

ney of trying to make sense of the ‘spiritual tug’ I felt from my Irish, Scottish

and Welsh ancestors, I had come from years within an explicitly indigenous and

shamanic context. Naturally, I saw everything through a shamanic fi lter, including

what I perceived to be Celtic culture and spirituality.

In time, because of other experiences, this profoundly limiting fi lter dropped

away, changing my perception of everything I’d ever written or experienced. What

I was left with was a much more vast and contemplative way of relating to life and

the essential power of spiritual inquiry. It is a way of being that transcends all

labels, and it is a spiritual landscape that author and poet Jason Kirkey has been

moving through for years. From his own deep-dreaming journey into the realms of

nature and spirit he has brought forth certain healing nectars of insight for each

and every one of us.

In these pages you will fi nd a sophisticated understanding of cosmology and

spirituality, a Jungian understanding of the transformative power of archetypes and

story, a near-mystical and poetic way of perceiving the natural world, a shamanic

and contemplative comprehension of the nature of the soul, light touches of in-

sight from the Shambhala and Buddhist traditions, with an ever-present current of

inspiration bubbling up from the deep strata of Celtic consciousness.

In The Salmon in the Spring: The Ecology of Celtic Spirituality, each of us is issued an

important and sacred invitation. It is an invitation to reclaim the awe and won-

derment we felt as children playing in the dew of the morn. It is an invitation to

interface with and bask in the numinosity of place and the luminosity of story for

the purpose of healing.

This book is also an invitation to face, front and center, once and for all, the

stark truth that the ecological crisis is not a crisis of the Earth at all, but rather a

human self-esteem problem—one that ultimately stems from a tragic state of for-

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getfulness. As the late, great postmodern philosopher Alan Watts once said, “You

did not come into this world. You came out of it, like a wave out of the ocean. You

are not a stranger here.” If the human species truly believed this it would com-

pletely transform our world. It would translate into who we are and how we are.

As a lived-experience, if each of us truly perceived and comprehended this

sacred reality, it would slowly replace the toxic reality we see today. We would come

to a point of dynamic awareness that we are empowered shapers of reality and that

how we conduct ourselves as citizens and consumers, how we relate to other people

(and other nations), and how we carry on a relationship with the life-giving Earth

is, ultimately, what we hand the generations yet unborn.

The Salmon in the Spring: The Ecology of Celtic Spirituality is a thirst-quenching contri-

bution in the parched desert of these challenging times. It is one way of receiving

the tools for remembering the ways of perception that lead us back to ecological

and spiritual integrity. It is a way of remembering the original language of the


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The historical mission of our times is to reinvent thehuman—at the species level, with critical refl ection,

within the community of life-systems, in a time-developmentalcontext, by means of story and shared dream experience.

—Thomas Berry


About 13.7 billion years ago a threshold was opened between darkness and

light. In one moment there was nothing of form and in the next, something.

The universe “banged” into being, and I like to imagine that if it was capable of

producing sound, it would have been followed by the same sigh a lover might make

post-climax. Ever since that fi rst creative act, things have been both strange and

wonderful. You are a result of this sudden emergence of existence—so is this living,

phenomenal, thinking, spiritual world as well. That we exist is a miraculous thing.

One of the billions of planets which formed after the Big Bang was Earth.

Earth is diff erent than the other planets in the Solar System, for it alone produces

complex and sustaining life. What is more, out of the abundance of life on Earth

emerged our curious human species—a species with self-refl ective awareness, who

plays music and writes poetry. Although we appear to ourselves unique, we are

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one of many members of an Earth community. We are newcomers here, just born

and unlearned in how to live properly on this planet. That, in brief, is the cause of

the current ecological crisis. We of the modern industrial world have not yet fully

grown and matured as a species.

We stand at an epochal threshold: the theoretical termination of the 65 mil-

lion year Cenozoic era marked by a mass extinction of species, during a period of

time in which the diversity of species is greater than it ever has been in the history

of the planet. We are fundamentally altering the biosphere in ways which could

make it impossible for complex forms of life to continue to exist, facing the loss of

up to fi fty percent of Earth's biodiversity—human life included. It is a crisis which

could take as long as 50 million years to recover from.

Although we have caused the current ecological crisis through our pollution,

soil erosion, greenhouse gas emissions, and the consequent extinction of other

forms of life—it does not mean that we are intrinsically unfi t for the Earth com-

munity. It does mean we have some maturation to do, both as individuals and as

species, so that we might become integrated with the rest of organic and non-

organic life-processes. Because we are humans this means that the ecological crisis

is also, by necessity, a socio-political crisis, a psychological crisis, and a spiritual


Our crisis is one of ecology and psychology—and it is this knowledge which

motivates me to write, to tell stories, and to craft poetry. This is my form of ac-

tivism and disobedience against industrial culture. Any creative act can become

activism and the roots of social change can come from anywhere as long as they are

grounded in an interior revolution of consciousness. We must fi nd not only a new

way of thinking but a new way of being.While writing this book I found myself dealing with the balance of what at

times seem to be opposites. The absolute balanced and integrated with the rela-

tive, the Earth with Spirit, the universal with the cultural. When I recount that the

universe came into being about 13.7 billion years ago, I do so because I am writing

this book and Celtic myth, upon the back of that event, as though it were a parch-

ment. For this book to be written, atoms had to form—then join into molecules,

and into stars, planets, oceans, microbes, plants, fi sh, reptiles, and animals (humans

included). That is the long pedigree to which the written page is owed and I believe

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it will take nothing less than a total integration into that living cosmos for humans

to remain a viable species.

In other words, we need to cultivate an awareness of the whole, to hear the whole

story, and in order to truthfully tell that story I fi nd I that must also recount the

personal genesis of this book: my story, because I too am a part of that whole.

When I was twelve years old, during what I remember to be a somewhat balmy

November, my cousins and their family came to visit. During a conversation on the

topic of God and religion my cousin pointed outside to the trees lining the fence,

explaining why he had begun to study what he called the “old ways” of pagan


“Nature does not require our belief; it is right here for us to experience.”

That was the essence of the statement. Short, sweet, and simple. I wonder if

he knew the depth and importance of what he had said. The statement struck me

and stayed with me. It was not a statement of atheism but rather a yearning to not

only believe in a divine ground, but to experience it directly though the senses and the

body—through nature. This moment and this utterance decided the direction of

my life. It marked a new found awareness through which I discovered the interplay

of nature, story, and ancestry in the Irish druidic tradition. In many ways this state-

ment remains the seed thought of this book.

Druidism is often said to be the original religion of the Celtic peoples.

This is not entirely true, though it is a serviceable enough defi nition of the

word, fi t for casual use in a modern context. In truth there never was such a thing

as druidism, though no doubt the druids were the intellectual caste of the Celtic

people and shared in their religion. So speaking of the religion of the Celtic people

as druidism, the religion of the druids, is not entirely wrong either.

The druids were community leaders who played a wide variety of roles: his-

torians, doctors, philosophers, poets, storytellers, law makers, genealogists, seers,

priests, and shamans (though the application of that term remains contentious

among many scholars). Comparisons have often been drawn between druids and

the Brahmins of India in terms of their social signifi cance and vocation.

Regrettably we know very little of the ancient druids because theirs was an

oral tradition, passed on through spoken word, myth, and poetry. By the time the

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taboo of writing down the old stories and poems was lifted, most Celtic people had

converted to Christianity. Much was forgotten, or at least not written down; what

little written was either intentionally distorted by the sensibilities of the priests or

poorly translated through the lens of their new worldview.

Although the druids no longer had a place in society, much of the pagan

Celtic religious tradition was absorbed into local vernacular traditions, often mix-

ing comfortably—or at the very least, bloodlessly—with Christianity. The Celtic

people still survive today on the fringes of Northern Europe where they struggle

to keep their native languages alive. The Celtic mode of imagination is still native

to some, despite its change in form from the pagan to the Christian. Even today

the more Earth-centered expressions of Celtic spirituality are being resuscitated, all

around the world, often under the name of Druidry or Druidism.

The Celtic, whether we name it druidic or not, is still alive, at home in Celtic

countries such as Ireland and Wales, and abroad amongst the diaspora, hungry to

return to their cultural roots. It should be no wonder that in these confusing and

somewhat dark times, upon an Earth in crisis, that Celtic spirituality has become

so popular. It presents many people of European descent a way to recontact the

vital depths of nature and soul in a way enlivened by the myths and stories of their

ancestors. It is my hope that this book will be an inspiration and a guide to those

walking an Irish Celtic path—but also to those who are not, but who may still fi nd

in these stories and wisps of cultural wisdom, a map and compass along their own


The vision of this book began as a broad and deep survey of the Irish druidic

tradition in ancient and modern times, a multifaceted approach in which I hoped to

include voices from native Ireland as well as from those in exile around the world.

A friend once asked me, hoping to explore his ancestral heritage, what the single

best introductory book was: one which would give him an overview of the tradition

without the New Age trappings which seem so common in the popular literature.

No such book exists I told him. My recommendation was several books, all with a

diff erent scope. “Well,” he asked, “why aren’t you writing one?” Eventually I decid-

ed I would try. My vision was something which was historical and anthropological

yet practical and contemplative. It was a worthy idea but my plans changed when

the book decided to draft me.

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Shortly after my third trip to Ireland I experienced an inner ecological crisis.

I had, prior to this, been involved with the Druidic community and identifi ed as

a practitioner of Irish Earth-based spirituality and shamanism. But that identity

had suddenly become like a fence, hemming me in to a mode of being in the world

which ultimately was much too small to live in. The problem was not with the tra-

dition itself but with my attachment to it, an attachment which had caused me to

root my perceptions of myself into the culture and spiritual tradition.

Tradition can be double edged. It can provide a map for us, guiding us along

routes that others have taken, and give us heart in diffi cult times. It can also con-

dition us to experience reality in a very narrow range, fogging over the freshness

of the world with a dullness of expectations and belief. When I was suddenly

uninspired by my work and spirituality I became devastated. Something which had

been a part of me for nearly ten years suddenly slipped away and I was left feeling

naked in a dark night of the soul, lost on the sea without even the reference point

of stars or moon.

During this time of confl ict I gained an increased sympathy for Buddhism and

the practice of sitting meditation. Whereas before my spiritual path was one of de-

scent to soul and the creation of a healthy and soulful identity rooted in the Earth,

my practice now shifted to one of ascent and disidentifi cation with the ego. During

a “practice day” at Naropa University (a day during which classes are suspended for

the sake of contemplative practice) I was taking part in Reginald Ray’s “meditating

with the body” work. Something happened. It was as though the world had come

alive. Really, it was my perceptions which came alive.

That night I could not sleep as I struggled to fi nd a reference point for what

was taking place. Everything I touched within my mind dissolved at the moment

of contact. I studied the light from a building behind my apartment, which in that

moment, seemed to me to be a work of art despite its ordinariness. This “peak

experience” taught me a lot, and so when I did come back down to my ordinary

mind I had learned a lot about myself, about reality, about being a human being in

this world. It taught me this both through the joy and the pain which I experienced

during that time.

Soon afterwards I moved from Boulder, Colorado back to my home state of

Massachusetts. It was an altogether diff erent world. I found myself in a job which

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left me unsatisfi ed and creatively drained. One day I took my fi rst shamanic journey

after nearly a year of diligent meditation practice. I felt as though I was being called

now to integrate what I had learned in both the soulful descent and nondual ascent

oriented practices. I was recontacting the soul from a meditative angle.

One night I found myself, again, unable to sleep. The night wore on forever and

sleep refused to come until I made a silent vow. The next day, fi guring I had enough

savings to last me a while, I quit my job and began to write this book.

The book you now hold in your hands is the product of these experiences. It

is not about Celtic spirituality at all; not really. As the subtitle suggests it is a book

about ecology—about the spirituality, philosophy, and psychology of the Earth

and our relationship to her. It is a book about wild nature, and about the soul, and

about cleansing our perceptions to experience the world freshly and directly. It is

about fi nding an experience of divine ground, of the nondual, and perhaps even

enlightenment without forgetting or abandoning the Earth. It is about the world

we live in, about what is wrong with it and what is right with it, and how we can

come to live in it more entirely, more sustainably in our thoughts and in our actions.

It looks at all of these things through the landscape and mythology of Ireland,

through an ecology where Earth and Spirit meet.

We tend to think of ecology as an empirical science. Without negating that

discipline I would also like to adopt a wider meaning of the word. It is a rich

and beautiful word and deserves to be applied to deeper contexts, disciplines, and

philosophies. I use “ecology” here to mean the entirety of a thing’s personal and

transpersonal relationships and enfoldment in the wild Earth; its integration with

an ecosystem, with the phenomenon of place, which is both an interior and exterior

phenomenon. By transpersonal I mean that even from those levels of consciousness

in which the boundaries of the self have been transcended that there remains an

ecological framework to our lives. This will become clear as the book progresses.

The ecology of Celtic spirituality, using the above defi nition, is a map of an in-

dividual and cultural consciousness embedded in, but also transcending, the Earth.

The Celtic tradition is not the object of this book; it is a lens through which I have

looked at ecology and psychology, at our relationship to Earth and soul. I thought,

at fi rst, to title the book Druid Psychology, as it contains a psychological map which is

fi rmly embedded in the Irish mythos. In the end I settled on ecology because, like

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the mind itself, psychology is emergent from ecology, and so I chose the wider fi eld

in which to situate this project.

As you read this book, keep that focus in mind. You are reading a book about

our relationship with the Earth and how we might transform it and thus ourselves,

not a book about practicing an “authentic Celtic spirituality.” My interpretations

and my conclusions, I believe, are in the spirit of the tradition, of the Irish and

Celtic dreamtime, but they are not the tradition itself.

Our unique position in time calls for a unique response. We are being called

to an initiation into the living cosmos. Despite romantic notions of going “back

to nature,” with the exception perhaps of some indigenous populations, past and

present, we as a species have never actually been psychically integrated into the bio-

sphere. As evolution both diff erentiates from the old order and then integrates into

a new order, our time on this planet has been one of diff erentiation from the Earth.

It has turned now to psychological dissociation. We have before us an imperative

to integrate before we destroy ourselves, and with us, much of the biodiversity of

the planet.

This is why I have chosen not to write a book on Celtic spirituality directly. I

contend that the tradition itself, in fact all traditions, must go through a process of

re-imagination—of integration into the new story of the 21st century. The New

Cosmology, as Brian Swimme calls it, is a larger story than our traditional world-

views can accommodate. It is the story of our evolving cosmos and the new eco-

logical awareness which is emerging at this time. In his autobiography, philosopher

John Moriarty spoke of reading Darwin for the fi rst time and how his traditional

Christian worldview ran against it like the Titanic against an iceberg. Similarly, we

are lately coming into startling new realizations about the universe in which we live;

an organismic universe which seems to be creating itself on a trajectory of complex

creativity and ever deepening communion.

Faced with the danger and groundlessness of our times we must resist the

temptation to turn backwards to the very worldviews which brought us to the cur-

rent moment. We must also not forget the cultural-specifi c indigenous wisdom of

the Earth by which ancient people lived and knew their connection to the cosmos.

It is worth asking ourselves whether or not the old story can live within the new

story. If it cannot, should we continue to live the old story at all?

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Fortunately, I believe the old stories can be preserved in ways which enhance

the human presence in the cosmos even while dissolving and transforming those

things which bind us to our destructive course. I believe, in the instance of this

book, that the Celtic way can be integrated into the New Cosmology and provide a

fi rm cultural ground and way of communion with the living universe. Our culture,

whether we are from Europe, Africa, Asia, Turtle Island, or Australia, can guide us,

if we are willing to be visionary within it, into an ecologically re-imagined human


To be a second, third, fourth, and so on, generation North American, is

to be in an altogether strange position. In some sense it is to be without a cul-

ture of place and story—to be without a soul-nourishing dreamtime. Those of us

descended from Europeans are often looked at quizzically as we show up in places

like Ireland, saying “I’m Irish, too.” Sometimes our romance for the old countries

gets chuckles and rolled eyes; sometimes it is given sympathy and understanding.

The ones who understand, I think, are the ones who know how important it is to

have a place to come from; a place where our minds are refl ected in the landscape

and the landscape defi nes the territory of the mind.

Somewhere in us all blood and psyche mix. I sometimes see my mind in New

England forests and in the Rocky Mountains—places where I have lived and land-

scapes which I have met in mutual communion and reciprocity. I see my mind in

these places, but sometimes my mind sees in Irish hills, in cairn-topped mountains,

and a little valley of lakes and ruins in Wicklow, Ireland. When I’m there, the mist

calls to my blood and I respond in kind. I can hardly help it. I do not know if I

can claim to be Irish in anything but the romance of heritage, but I do know my

mind in that place and in its stories more deeply than I could ever know my mind

without it.

But I am in America, trying to be native to America without being Native

American. I think this must be noted because it means that whatever my goal and

method in this book, it is born from some tension of exile and nativity. I am, above

all, native to the Earth. I see the Earth only though my own eyes; eyes which are

American born but see through the lens of stories from across the ocean. What I

write here is my experience; my love letter home to the cosmos, to the Earth, to

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Ireland, and to America whose original inhabitants named Turtle Island. Writing it

has been a process of map making through terrain which I have walked. My hope

is that others in need of a map will fi nd it and be somewhat guided, somewhat

assured the dangers inherent of any journey are surpassable—whether that person

is Irish or not, American or not; we are all people of the Earth and of this living


I have not made my journey alone. I have already written at length on my

relationship to the Irish spiritual tradition. You will also fi nd in this book that I

draw heavily on Buddhism and the Shambhala warriorship teachings of Chögyam

Trungpa where appropriate and relevant—this is simply another lens, and not an

attempt to “Easternize” Celtic culture (though W.B. Yeats did once say that before

the Battle of the Boyne, Ireland belonged to Asia…).

Additionally the work of Irish philosopher and writer John Moriarty has given

shape, story, and language to many of my ideas. His bold readings and retellings of

the tales have opened doors within the tradition (and leading out of the tradition)

which have transformed me in ways I cannot even begin to count.

Finally, the Great Work articulated by Thomas Berry and his book of the same

name gave me one of the initial “hazelnuts of wisdom” contained in the book,

which I have used as an epigraph to this introduction. Berry was a true elder and

his call for the reinvention of humans is the nutrient rich soil from which my book

has grown.

You will fi nd, peppered throughout the book, practices aimed at bringing the

intellectual content of the text into experiential reality. These practices are designed

to turn this book from a philosophical treatise into a practical guide, adding a com-

pass to the map. Take nothing here as truth, but test it to your own experience.

In Ireland, the rivers fi nd their source in the Otherworld; specifi cally in an Oth-

erworld well or spring which, bubbling up from the earth, is surrounded by trees

of wisdom. Five streams, said to be the fi ve senses, fl ow from the spring. Salmon

swim in that spring and eat the hazelnuts which fall, occasionally, into the water.

To eat a salmon from this water is to receive poetic inspiration and to drink from

the water itself, in ecological interpretation, is to enter into a way of being that is

consonant with the underlying patterns of the cosmos, expressed as Fírinne or Truth

in Irish. The title of this book is taken from this image. It is a mythopoetic way of

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10 The Salmon in the Spring

speaking to the wisdom of the senses and of a process of coming-into-being that

is participatory with the unfolding of the universe. The salmon in the spring is

the soul in the cosmos. Because in so many ways, as you will fi nd, this book is an

upstream journey to just such a spring of wisdom, I wish you all the blessings of

those salmon.

— Jason Kirkey

San Francisco

Lughnasadh 2009

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HPart One



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PLACE AND STORYThe Landscape of Identity

HEach place is its own place, forever (eventually) wild.

—Gary Snyder

There is no single, unique reading to a story,but rather many enfolded and interpenetrating levels,

none of which need to be thought of as more fundamentalthan any other. Understanding comes from a direct experience

of the dance between these levels of meaning. —F. David Peat

We need stories to live. Not just any stories, but STORIES—ones of

mythic proportions which attempt to not only explain our existence to

ourselves, but in their telling and their hearing enact on us an initiation into the

greater cosmic community. These are the stories, which like the pomegranate seeds

fed to Persephone, bond us to the psychic Underworld of our genetic and in-

stinctual human inheritance. Such stories are capable of integrating us spiritually,

ecologically, culturally, and psychologically into the world.

Stories tell us who we are. Since the emergence of consciousness stories have

orientated us to the proper order of things in the world. In this sense mythology is

a bridge between culture and nature. Stories, at this level, are about the creation and

sustainability of viable cosmologies. The Greek word kosmos means ‘order.’ Cosmol-

ogy is thus the prescribed proper or natural order of things. Myths tell us how to

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16 The Salmon in the Spring

be in right cosmological relationship with nature. Stories are the synchronization

of nature and culture into functional integrity.

When we lose myth we gain cultural anarchy. We might see myth as the encod-

ing of natural order or law for which we could also use words like the Sanskrit

Dharma, Chinese Dao, Navajo Horzo, or the Irish Fírinne to describe. The loss of

myth is equivalent to straying from “the Way,” from the ecological and spiritual

imperative of wildness. This is not to say that all cultures who have an active rela-

tionship to their mythology will be ecologically and spiritually integrated. To my

knowledge no culture, indigenous or industrial, has ever achieved this completely, if

it is even possible; most cultures occupy shades of gray. Equally, however, no soci-

ety can achieve ecospiritual integration without a relationship to myth and story.

Oral place-centered stories, whether mythic or not, engage us sensually in our

immediate surroundings. In indigenous oral cultures, many of the stories told are

place-specifi c, detailing how to properly survive in a particular bioregion. To walk

through lands as diverse as North America, Ireland, and Australia is to encounter

specifi c places such as a mountain, a bend in a river, or a grove of trees, which are

storied: places which the native inhabitants have had reciprocal relationships with,

places which are ensouled and converse with them. As David Abram writes:

To live in a storied world is to know that intelligence is not an exclusively

human faculty located somewhere inside our skulls, but is rather a power

of the animate earth itself, in which we humans, along with the hawks and

the thrumming frogs, all participate. It is to know, further, that each land,

each watershed, each community of plants and animals and soils, has its

particular style of intelligence, its unique mind or imagination evident in

the particular patterns that play out there, in the living stories that unfold

in that valley, and that are told and retold by the people of that place. Each

ecology has its own psyche, and the local people bind their imaginations to

the psyche of the place by letting the land dream its tales through them.1

Stories tell us about our soul or the soul of a place. Bill Plotkin marvelously

describes soul as our “ultimate place in the world.”2 In the archetypal sense stories

are descent oriented—toward the soul, the wild Earth, and the unconscious—and

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17Place and Story

initiatory: the process whereby we come into contact and embodiment of our soul.

To tell or enact a myth is to initiate its listeners, tellers, and participants into the

cosmos, and into the deepest strata of the self. A storied existence is one rooted in

the mysteries of soul and nature.

To live is to live as an ever-evolving story. But just as we need these stories, we

also at times need those stories to dissolve or become transparent. That is to say

that we must, at a certain point in our development, transcend our own stories and

places. To transcend our stories into a direct experience of the living cosmos is not

to simply come to inhabit a larger story but, as Moriarty has said, “to go beyond

that in us which is subject to evolution.”4 To transcend them, to go beyond evolu-

tion, does not mean to stop evolving. We do not need to forget our stories, to cease

telling or living them. Rather we need to take part in a dynamic process whereby

they are both transcended and included, a foundational process in evolution as

described by transpersonal theorist Ken Wilber.

Although there are plenty of stories, as mentioned previously, which tell us

how to physically live on the land, there are also stories which tell us how to psy-

chically or spiritually inhabit the land. These are the stories which can both help

or hinder us in developing into initiated adults, depending on whether or not we

are in touch with what Buddhist teacher and scholar Reginald Ray calls the “living

reality” to which they are pointing. Ray writes:

In indigenous initiation, the adolescent is shown that the conventional

view he or she has learned and come to take for granted is ultimately not

real. The purpose of indigenous initiation ceremonies is, then, just this:

to bring young people into their own contact with this living reality; only

then do they understand the point and purpose of their spiritual tradi-

tions and the truth behind the cultural façade. Only then can they them-

selves fi nd nourishment and sustenance from the living cosmos and thus

become creative and mature adults in their society.3

Our stories are not the living cosmos, but stand as representatives for it un-

til we can contact this reality ourselves. Once transcended, however, the stories

do not go anywhere. We do not lose our relationship to them but the relation-

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18 The Salmon in the Spring

ship itself changes. Like the old Zen saying, they are only the fi nger pointing to

the moon. We must experience the moon itself, and to do that, we need to be

fl uid enough to let our stories drop away. The foundation of orally told and en-

acted stories must exist for this transcendence to take place in a healthy context.

That story may be healthy and life-enhancing or it may be unhealthy and life-

degrading. Our identity is intimately tied to the stories we tell about ourselves and

the world, both consciously and unconsciously. The process of diff erentiating and

transcending our stories takes us through the very same process with our sense of

identity, with the ego. To experience the world freshly and directly we must also be

able to experience ourselves in the same way. Otherwise we merely project ourselves

out onto the world as though a canvas—we see only our stories rather than having

a direct and true encounter with living reality.

Largely, we have suff ered the loss of our stories, which is to say we have be-

come dissociated—or pathologically diff erentiated—from them. We have “fallen

out of our stories,” to use the visceral turn of phrase used by the late Irish phi-

losopher John Moriarty to describe the process whereby the stories—whether reli-

gious, mythic, or scientifi c—which once provided us with meaning and the ability

to make sense to the world, can no longer support us. Coming to a crescendo in

the Enlightenment period of human culture, scientifi c reason was advocated above

mythological wisdom.5

The old stories could not stand under the pressure of reason, could not be

verifi ed to scientifi c or historical truth, and so were relegated to quaint and naïve

tales spun by our less-knowing ancestors to explain what they could not under-

stand. Having dissociated from and repressed these stories, it is high time that we

once again include them in our lives and cosmologies. Read without the lens of

literalism mythology has the benefi t of enriching the scientifi c story of the universe

rather than negating it.

The 21st century is an amazing and often frightening time to be alive. We

face problems which perhaps no other generation before could even imagine. The

wholesale destruction of the biosphere on a planetary level may potentially lead to

a mass extinction of both human and non-human life, reducing life on this planet

by as much as fi fty percent. Fortunately this is a worst-case scenario and with it

comes the possibility for growth, evolution, and the re-integration of humans into

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19Place and Story

the ecos from which we emerged. This is the current story we are living. Insomuch

as ritual is the enactment of mythology, we may regard these times as a ritual of

initiation into the living cosmos. Through the reclamation of the old Celtic stories

we can participate in this ecological initiation.


During the Iron Age most of Continental Europe was considered Celtic.

Today, Ireland, Wales, the Isle of Man, Scotland, Cornwall, and Brittany

(and, to some, Galicia in the Northwest of Spain) are all considered modern Celtic

nations. The label of Celtic, however, is a vague one and in modern scholarship

somewhat inadequate. Nonetheless, the label Celtic remains fi rmly embedded in

the popular imagination as a way of expressing the native cultures of these nations

and is relevant from linguistic and mythological perspectives.

The druids were intellectuals, philosophers, poets, doctors, and magicians

among the Celtic peoples. Many speculate that they played a shamanic role, a the-

ory which is well supported by evidence but often refuted by scholars, conservative

and hesitant in the application of an Evenki term from Mongolia. French scholar

Jean Markale describes them as the “conscience of the social organization,” point-

ing out that once the Celtic frameworks of society vanished the druids naturally

went with it.6 Many of them are thought to have joined the Christian priesthood,

accounting for a unique Celtic Christian tradition in Ireland, and went on to scribe

many of the stories and myths which have survived into the present. Other druids

may have regrouped as the fi lidh, an elite caste of poets which carried on many of

the druidic traditions after the coming of Christianity. After several invasions and

occupations both the institutions of the druids and the fi lidh—who unlike the

druids survived into the Renaissance—were dismantled and much of the ancient

tradition was lost.

Despite the loss of the native Celtic religious traditions there are today three

broad lineages which can be classifi ed as participating in the Celtic spiritual imagi-

nation. To be clear, these are generalizations of which there are many expressions,

most falling somewhere in the gray area. These lineages are Reconstructionism,

Druidry, and the native folk traditions which still survive on the fringe of society.

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20 The Salmon in the Spring

The Reconstructionist approach is the most recent innovation and also per-

haps the most conservative in general. It is a historical method of reconstructing

the tradition based on literary and physical evidence left behind in order to re-

create the ancient Celtic religions in a way fi t for the modern world. Although it is

primarily classifi ed as a methodology there is often a strong sense of polytheistic

religion surrounding it. Many Reconstructionists are fi erce defenders of culture

and stress the learning of language and history as part of a participatory relation-

ship with the living Celtic communities. In this way, conservative or liberal, they

very much hold the energy of homeostasis and ensure the continued integrity of

the culture—a crucial role in the wider community.

In contrast to the historical-religious approach of the Reconstructionists are

the modern Druids, practitioners of Druidry. Historically it is possible to trace

the roots of this movement to the 18th century English revival, which had more in

common with Freemasonry than with any ancient Celtic religion. The approach

today has been infl uenced by the environmentalism of the 60’s and is altogether

more wild and pagan than the Romantic gentry of England intended. Druidry is

an ever shifting thing; to some a religion, to some a philosophy, to some a spiritual

path. Although it includes historical inspirations from the ancient Celts, it is more

focused on the present and exhibits more freedom in its innovations. Some groups

have stayed quite true to the English Revivalist stream whereas others have taken

on more animistic trends. Due to this innovating nature this group exemplifi es

tendencies of emergence and evolution, the desire to keep the tradition growing

and to incorporate into it the modern context in which it occurs. This role, like

the maintaining of homeostasis, is crucial and ensures the continued ability of the

tradition to respond to new challenges.

Finally, the native folk traditions are the actual living traditions which still

survive today, mostly notably in the places which retain their native languages. This

includes the often unique brand of Christianity practiced by Celtic people, as well

as older animistic remnants such as leaving off erings to the faery people at faery

trees, important traditions of storytelling, and ancient rituals now thinly Chris-

tianized, such as circumambulations around holy wells on certain auspicious days.

These are all testament to the survival of certain beliefs and practices within the

native Irish. Within the native folk traditions, people seem to be less concerned

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21Place and Story

with the identity of Celtic-ness, a problem which appears to spring up most no-

ticeably in the deracinated, uprooted, and exiled. Unlike the historical research and

spiritually innovative approaches of the fi rst two categories, the native folk tradi-

tions are far more organic and natural in the way they evolve and are expressed.

In writing this book my methodology has been to embrace the best of all three

of these lineages; the historical and cultural inclusion of the Reconstructionists,

the freedom and innovation of modern Druids, and the organic connection with

the land and myth found in the native Celtic people.

I see this work as being an expression of what I call the druidic archetype. The

word druid is the fi nger pointing to the moon. The moon, in this case, is the arche-

type. If we are to accept transpersonal modes of reality then we must consider the

way in which form arises from the formless. That is, we must consider that druid-

ism (the form) arose as a response to a particular archetype (the formless) based on

the culture and ecology of those responding. Based on this understanding ancient druidism is not the template of what druidism ultimately is. It is just one time-based example

of how a group of people responded to this archetype. This allows us to respond to

the very same archetype in a completely unique way, without becoming caricatures

of our ancestors. The authenticity of our modern response is not based on how

well it can conform to the past but on how fully it can integrate and embody the

archetype itself.

Consider this quote by Fabrice Midal, speaking of the unique way Buddhist

teacher Chögyam Trungpa brought the dharma to the West:

The word tradition must be understood here in the precise sense of being

associated with the source of the teachings. It thus has nothing to do with

the desire to maintain the past for the past’s sake…Thus, an authentic

relationship with Tradition is a matter of purity of heart and not of be-

ing a conservative. It is inseparable from the freedom to return, beyond all

conventions, to the source.7

The archetype, as suggested by the literal meaning of the word, is a “primor-

dial image” (from the Greek arkhe, beginning; and typos form or impression). More

specifi cally it refers to a primordial image of consciousness which is universal in

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22 The Salmon in the Spring

nature, arising from psyche, or soul, itself. C.G. Jung spoke of archetypes as being

inherent to humans, and being culturally based. Cultural historian and scholar of

ecopsychology, Theodore Roszak, has since returned the archetype to its ecological

roots with the idea of an ‘ecological unconscious.’ In this sense, the archetype is not

solely situated in a cultural fi eld but actually penetrates to deeper strata and emerges

from the biosphere itself.

If the archetype is culturally universal, let alone ecological, then what makes

it druidic, or for that matter, Celtic? The druidic archetype refers as much to the

response as it does to the archetype itself. One could speak similarly of a Hopi

archetype, and perhaps refer to the same thing. It is an archetype because of its

universal and primordial nature in consciousness—which embraces the biological,

physical, and cosmic as much as it does the human, who is not and never has been

separate from these things—and it is druidic because of the specifi c cultural and

ecological way in which it is embodied. In this sense, to be a druid, to be an ac-

tive, work-in-progress embodiment of that archetype is to participate in the stories and places of the Celtic people. One can authentically respond to and embody this

archetype without being Celtic or a druid, but one is Celtic or druidic by way of

cultural and ecological participation in the stories and landscapes of the Celts.

Words have power, and without these specifi c cultural-landscape components the

power implied in the word druid is misplaced and perhaps even misappropriated.

Because druidism can trace no unbroken line of transmission into modern

times, it is free to shape and be shaped again by the needs of the time. It is free to

be re-imagined, to be returned to its own source in the Otherworld Well, and to

emerge again, relevant to our time and need, for anyone moved and compelled to

drink from its cup. This freedom to innovate must also be tempered by the inclu-

sion and integration of the past. In this way we can participate both temporally and

eternally with the tradition.

In this sense, might it be better to talk instead, or additionally, of a druidic

teleotype? Rather than simply being the ecopsychological root of druidism at the base

of nature and consciousness, it also has direction toward the fulfi llment of general

aims. Druidism is an archetype striving toward fulfi llment of a wholeness ever tran-

scending itself, forever shifting and changing as it grows. It is ever becoming, and

as long as we locate the defi ning characteristics of the tradition in the past, we run

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23Place and Story

the risk of inhibiting its further growth and evolution. What does the druid spirit

want to become?

In the introduction to his book Dreamtime, John Moriarty asks a question, orig-

inally posed by the poet Hölderlin in his poem Bread and Wine, and later taken up

philosophically by Heidegger: “What use are poets in times of need?” Poetry is at

the core of druidism, and so Moriaty’s answer is also the answer to “What use are

druids in times of need?”

He says, “poets must be healers—healers who, healed themselves, heal us cul-

turally, heal us, or help heal us, in the visions and myths and rituals by which we

live, and to do this eff ectively they must in some sense be…temporary ones, not

eternal ones, of the Dream.”8 And so we return to the source of druidism, nature

itself and the stories which are the living Dream of Ireland. What I write here in

this book is, I hope, a temporary constellation of the druidic archetype—it is not

the tradition itself. No expression can claim such a right, whether it is fi ve thousand

years old or fi fty years old. This temporary constellation of the Irish Dream is a

gateway to examining our relationship with Earth and Spirit, and as such is posited

here as healing work for the 21st century.


To be an exile is to be uprooted from both native place and story, and

thus from one’s own mind as well. I call this the mytho-ecology of exile.

Because the Celtic people once covered most of Europe, most people of European

roots can trace their line back to the Celts, which perhaps explains its current main-

stream popularity amongst spiritual seekers. At a loss for an authentic tradition of

being indigenous to a place, we have the tendency to trace our ancestry back until

we fi nd who we are and where we come from.

There is nothing wrong with this inherently, but it also does not mean that in-

stances of cultural misappropriation are forgivable when they are an appropriation

of Celtic culture or any other culture in our background. Cultural appropriation or

misappropriation describes a situation in which a person from a dominant culture

has taken on other cultural forms of which they are not a part, especially when

used in public contexts. An example is an American publicly practicing “Native

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24 The Salmon in the Spring

American” spirituality, perhaps off ering Lakota sweat lodges without permission

from the culture, and charging fees for the ceremony.9

What often needs to be stated is that the Celtic people are an indigenous

people, and just because they are European does not mean that their exploitation

is made acceptable by common genes. Culture does not equal genetics and ancestry

does not equal inheritance, spiritual, or cultural ownership. We must take care to

give back in some way to the living culture, and to honor its traditions appropriately.

Misunderstood as the culture so often is, this popularity need not be seen in such a

cynical light but as testament to the veracity of the culture and its ability to adapt

and stay relevant.

This will no doubt raise concerns in many about who is Celtic and who has

the right to these traditions and stories. It must be desperately communicated that

the Celtic people do not exist in past-tense, as they are often spoken of in New Age

literature. Beginning with the Roman conquest of the Gallic people, Celtic culture

has been pushed further and further to the edge of the Western world.

Some modern scholars deny that much of the insular Celtic people should ac-

tually be considered Celtic at all. It has been noted that in Ireland there is very little

archeological evidence which suggests any wide scale presence of Celtic culture.

For a time it was thought in Ireland that a mass invasion of migration brought the

culture to the island, but there is no archeological evidence for this, and tellingly

the genetic makeup of continental Europeans (who most certainly are direct de-

scendents of the people classically considered Celtic) diff ers from that of the Irish.

Yet it is undeniable that linguistically and mythologically the Irish and other insular

Celtic groups retain cultural and cosmological markers of the Celtic people.

What this means is that we should not take the idea of Celtic identity as a

simple matter. It is far more complex; being not a matter of genetics or archeology,

but of language, and thus more importantly, shared stories. One does not necessarily

need to be fl uent in Irish to practice druidic or Irish spirituality.

Language is hotly debated. There are good reasons to learn a Celtic language.

A language encodes a worldview through the network of associations woven by the

words and the way that they are used. It is telling for example that the word dán (a

word we will become more familiar with later in this book) means things such as

art, gift, and destiny. Even more telling are the webs of related words—whether

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25Place and Story

related etymologically or by poetic “word-play”—such as Tuatha Dé Danann (a

mythological people often associated with the goddess Dana or Danu, but thought

by some scholars to refer to the word dán), dánacht (audacity or boldness), bradán

(salmon), and the term Áes dána which refers to both the Tuatha Dé Danann and

to poets and druids in general.10 There is an abundance of meaning here not avail-

able to those who have never made a study of the language.

Inclusion should be based on language, but shared participation and com-

mitment to the cultural dreamtime through stories and landscape. This is pre-lin-

guistic; stories exist in eternity, before they are told. Certainly there are personal

benefi ts to studying the language, but what should really be stressed here are the

cultural benefi ts. The culture, as a whole, is largely kept alive and thriving by the

language. The language is the culture’s beating heart; to learn the language is an act

of reciprocity, contributing to the overall health of the organism. Much like the

workings of the circulatory system in a body, each part of the body both receives

and returns the nourishment of blood in a fully functioning system. It is an act of

respect and of service.

The next area of concern is landscape. Many readers of this book may not be

living in a “Celtic nation” such as Ireland. How do you justify participation in an

oral place-based cultural spirituality while living abroad? This question is particu-

larly tricky because many of those living abroad have Celtic roots but live in places

like the United States, Canada, and Australia and feel a visceral connection with

their ancestors and homelands. In these instances the relationship to place and land

is a bit diff erent. Here we are dealing with the psychology of exile and the process

whereby one becomes native to a place.

To be native to a place means that our minds our rooted there, derive their

nourishment from the familiarity of the landscape and from the stories that are

woven into it. Mind is deeply involved with the land. Nature writer Barry Lopez

refers to the inner landscape as “a kind of projection within a person of a part

of the exterior landscape,” claiming that the interior landscape of the mind has a

similar set of relationships as can be found in the external world.

The shape and character of these relationships in a person’s thinking, I be-

lieve, are deeply infl uenced by where on the earth one goes, what one touch-

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26 The Salmon in the Spring

es, the patterns one observes in nature—the intricate history of one’s life in

the land, even a life in the city, where wind, the chirp of birds, the line of a

falling leaf, are known. These thoughts are arranged, further, according to

the thread of one’s moral, intellectual, and spiritual development. The in-

terior landscape responds to the character and subtlety of an exterior land-

scape; the shape of the individual mind is aff ected by land as it is by genes.11

To be Celtic in a non-Celtic place essentially means to have two places. We are

exiled from one place and participating in another. Although the body can only

participate in one place, the mind can give itself to many. This means the expres-

sions of Celtic spirituality will be as diverse as the places in which they are found.

In an interview with the Paris Review, Gary Snyder states that “having a place means

that you know what a place means.”12 To know what a place means is to know both

what it means in a storied sense of myth, character, and presence, but also in an

ecological sense; to know the seasons, the fl ora and fauna, and the geography. In

the same interview Gary Snyder says that, “anyone is, metaphorically speaking, a

Native American who is ‘born again on Turtle Island.’ Anyone who chooses, con-

sciously and deliberately, to live on this continent this North American continent,

with a full spirit for the future, and for how to live on it right…[is a Native Ameri-

can].”13 One has the opportunity, wherever they call home, to become a native of

that place.

So what about a native American (in Snyder’s metaphorical sense of the term)

practicing a Celtic spirituality, Irish or otherwise? There must be a conscious and

deliberate eff ort to know the meaning of that place as well, to know the meaning of

Ireland, for example. This can be done in many ways: through pilgrimage, through

study of the place-based mythologies, local folklore, geography, geology, ecology,

etc. One cannot become a native without living there, coming to know the place

intimately, but one can sustain a relationship, a sort of exiled love aff air, which

provides a cultural, ancestral (if the practitioner has ancestral roots there), and

cosmological meaning and knowing that maybe is not, or cannot, be provided by

the place where a person lives. It is as if, for the diaspora, becoming native means to

bridge the ancestral home and the new home within the individual. A reconciliation

of place must occur.

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27Place and Story

To further bring this point home I would like to share my personal experi-

ence with this process. I share this both for the sake of transparency, to allow the

reader to understand where I am in my own process, and to illuminate what has

been discussed by way of narrative. I am an American by birth, English speaking,

and raised in the Boston area of Massachusetts. Because of the insular nature of

most American culture, I was raised knowing only the English language. I became

involved with Celtic spirituality at the age of twelve.

After moving from Massachusetts to Colorado to attend college at Naropa

University I began taking my study and practice much more seriously. In 2004

I made my fi rst pilgrimage to Ireland with a group led by Celtic and shamanic

teacher Frank MacEowen. It was a homecoming in many ways, initiating me into

an experiential relationship with the land, the spirits and presence which occupy it,

and the interweaving of modern and ancient culture that so often takes place there.

After returning I decided to learn the language. I have made a study of it, though

I am far from fl uent, and continue the diffi cult task of learning. I see this as my

reciprocal responsibility, though I also endeavor to give back to the culture through

teaching and storytelling.

I traveled to Ireland again in 2006 and 2007. In 2006 I lived for four months

on the Dingle peninsula, studying language, music, archeology, and folklore at the

Díseart Institute of Education and Celtic Culture. I spent a majority of the time

in the hills, rather than the pubs. When I traveled to Ireland in 2004 there was a

marked cognitive dissonance between the place and my own consciousness. When

I returned two years later that cognitive dissonance began to evaporate as I did

the work of integrating my native consciousness with my ancestral and mythic


Where once I often felt pangs of longing and “homesickness” for Ireland, I

now am content in those American places which I have come to know as home.

People often ask me if I will ever move to Ireland. I tell them that perhaps when

I have grown old I will retire there, but that for now my task is on this land and

that I will continue to take pilgrimage at times to reinvigorate my relationship with

Ireland. The tension of this dynamic has become a central part of my identity, and

has profoundly infl uenced my path.

Likewise, we are all “works-in-progress,” and though I advocate for the learn-

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28 The Salmon in the Spring

ing of one or more Celtic language and for direct experience with Celtic landscapes,

our practice is enriched and brought more alive by them, not contingent upon

them. Like the well known Irish trait of hospitality, this spiritual tradition is open

to anyone who would warm their hands by its hearth.


When the Tuatha Dé Danann came to Ireland some say it was on the

clouds themselves, landing on a mountain in the Northwest of Ireland

on Bealtaine, the fi rst day of summer. Others say they came on great ships, which

they burned upon coming to shore. Whatever the case they soon made Ireland

their home and ruled, as was the custom of everyone who came there, from the

Hill of Tara. The name Tuatha Dé Danann is often translated to “the People of

the Goddess Danu.” Danu is a mysterious fi gure. There are no stories connected to

her, though they call her the mother of the gods. There are only mountains named

for her; two breast-shaped mountains with cairns of stones for nipples. If Danu is

their mother, surely the Tuatha Dé are the children of the land.

They were not alone in Ireland. They shared the land with the Fomorians, a

darker race of beings who wanted to rule the land, not be ruled by it. The Tuatha

Dé had an uneasy alliance with the Fomorians and when the king, Nuada, lost his

arm in the fi rst battle of Maigh Tuireadh (when they won the land from its previous

inhabitants, the Fir Bolg), he was replaced by a half-blood Fomorian named Bres.

No king in Ireland could rule with a blemish—the severed arm here a blemish

or wound on the wholeness of his psyche—or the land would go barren. He had

no choice but to abdicate. And so Bres, whose name means beautiful, and who was

half Tuatha Dé and half Fomorian became the new king. It seemed a wise idea and

could perhaps unite the two people.

Soon though Bres became a much greater blemish, both to the land and the

Tuatha Dé. Every day the Dagda, chief of the gods, would build and dig trenches

for Bres; Ogma, the Eloquent One, was reduced to carrying fi rewood. No one who

visited the hall at Tara was ever given ale or shown the generosity required of a king.

The land grew barren. The cows stopped giving milk and nothing green would

grow. One day the great poet Cairpre, who by law deserved the highest honors,

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29Place and Story

visited the hall. He was given nothing but stale bread to eat, not a drop to drink,

and was lodged in the poorest conditions. So Cairpre, using his best judgment,

composed a poem which caused Bres to break out in hideous blemishes.

Meanwhile, Dian Cécht, the physician of the Tuatha Dé had crafted Nuada

a new arm and hand of silver. However, his son Miach, did not like the artifi cial

hand though it moved like one of fl esh. He went to Nuada, saying “joint to join,

sinew to sinew” and the arm grew whole once again, fl esh and blood as it should be.

Dian Cécht grew jealous and murdered Miach but where he was buried 365 healing

herbs grew from the ground.*

With Bres now disqualifi ed from kingship and Nuada’s arm fl esh and blood

once more he was allowed to resume his role as king. This is how the Second Battle of Maigh Tuireadh came about. Bres, humiliated, went back to his people and roused

them to war.

Now with war brewing a man could be seen walking across the fi elds toward

the great hall at Tara. Not just any man was this, but Lúgh Lamhfada. He came

because the Fomorian people made war with the Tuatha Dé Danann. It was a war

between dark and light. A war between two people experiencing the world in two

opposing ways. The Tuatha Dé, content to live with nature, ruled only though the

sovereignty of the land. The Fomorians, not so content, who were possessed with

Súil Milldagach, the destructive eye which eradicated anything it looked upon, were

intent on ravaging the land.

Lúgh approached the doorkeeper at the great hall who was instructed not to let

* This scene of the story raises many questions about the nature of wholeness and its

relationship both to what is natural and what is artifi cial. It is evident in the story that

Miach found the artifi cial arm inadequate. We might say that the silver arm is what Edward

Goldsmith calls a heterotelic development and, “though it may, partly at least, satisfy the

requirements of the individual, does not satisfy those of the larger system of which it is

part…and thereby reduces its stability and integrity” (471). The arm did not fulfi ll the

requirements of the larger social system's need for wholeness. We might see this, in light

of current technology and our ever increasing compulsion to be “wired in,” as a reminder

that what is Whole is Real and what is Real obeys and enhances the natural laws of the

system in which it participates. This is true whether we are speaking about an arm, a king,

or a psyche.

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30 The Salmon in the Spring

any man pass the gates who did not possess an art; not only an art, but one which

was not already possessed by someone within the hall. The doorkeeper told this to

Lúgh who replied, “Question me doorkeeper, I am a warrior.” But there was a war-

rior at Tara already. “Question me doorkeeper, I am a smith,” but there was already

a smith. “Question me doorkeeper,” said Lúgh again, “I am a poet,” and again the

doorkeeper replied that there was a poet at Tara already. Lúgh continued, deter-

mined to get in. He was a harpist, a historian, a sorcerer, a builder, a champion, a

cupbearer, and a physician. But Tara had someone skilled in each art. Finally Lúgh

said, “Go and ask your king if he has someone skilled in all of those arts and if he

has then I shall leave.” So the doorkeeper went, and the king sent for Lúgh and placed

him in the seat of the sage, for Lúgh was truly a sage of every art, a samhildánach.Soon began the battle between the Tuatha Dé and the Fomorians. The king, re-

garding Lúgh as precious, had him locked up because he feared what might happen if

he were to fall in battle. But Lúgh could hear that battle raging on outside at Maigh

Tuireadh. The Fomorians had let loose their own champion, Balor of the Piercing

Eye—in whom Súil Milldagach was concentrated—and he met the king on the

fi eld. Lúgh, hearing the fury of their encounter, broke free of his prison, taking a

chariot and racing to battle. He was too late though. Nuada had already been slain.

As Lúgh arrived he jumped from his chariot to face Balor. Now, Balor had just

one poisonous eye for which he was named. So afraid of this eye were the Fomorians

that they placed nine lids over it, each lid attached to a chain with a hook. Anything

which the eye looked upon was consumed and destroyed. Balor spoke: “Lift the lids

of my eye so that I might see the whelp who confronts me.” The lid was lifted off

Balor’s eye. As the eye was opened Lúgh casts his stone toward it, sending it out of

the back of Balor’s head, and destroying the entire Fomorian army it looked upon.

Defeated, Bres fl ed but the Tuatha Dé caught up with him and his remaining

people. He begged for mercy. “What will you give for our mercy?” the Tuatha Dé

asked. “I will tell you the secret of getting milk from your cows and crops from

your land in every season.” Knowing the importance of the pattern of things, they

did not accept this deal. “Tell us in which season to sow our seeds, in which season

to harvest, and how to tend to the land, and we will show you mercy.” So Bres told

them what they wanted to know—how to live appropriately in Ireland—and in

return he was allowed to live.

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31Place and Story

The SECOND BATTLE OF MAIGH TUIREADH is often considered to be the pri-

mary cosmological story of the Irish people. For that reason it is also the

primary myth of this book. The battle taking place in the story is also the battle

of an individual’s struggle with their ego. It is the battle of the ecological crisis. As

ecopsychology claims, these two matters are intricately linked. It all comes down to

this: Lúgh standing ready with a stone in his sling, and the lids slowly being lifted

off Balor’s piercing eye. It was a battle, as John Moriarty has it, “between a people

intent on shaping nature to suit them and a people who, surrendering to it, would

let nature shape them to suit it.”14

Myths are layered like dreams. On one level we could say that the Second Battle of Maigh Tuireadh is the heroic struggle between culture and nature, between the dark

and fecund Fomorian spirits of nature and the luminous Tuatha Dé Danann cul-

ture of humans. Most certainly it is a story about how to live appropriately. To a

modern practitioner this characterization of wild nature as the antagonist who is

essentially out of balance may seem counter intuitive. Consider the story as a sea-

sonal one. To the agrarian Irish, when winter came it was as though nature become

unruly and destructive. The story, from one angle, is about the balance between the

ordered human community and the more chaotic spirits of nature.

In the story we witness a struggle for balance that mirrors our internal struggle

with our own spiritual and psychological growth and development but also the

diffi cult task of integrating ourselves with the land. The antagonism in the story is

justifi ed because through it all things are maintained in the proper order, despite at

times both factions experiencing set backs. It is this push and pull of things which

characterizes the dance of relative reality.

Today it has, by necessity of our changing psychology and society, taken on an

additional meaning. If we drop the baggage of the old interpretation—which is no

less valid alongside a new interpretation—we can see something slightly diff erent.

Two tribes: one tribe, the Tuatha Dé Danann are concerned with observing the

proper order of the cosmos; the other, the Fomorians, break it at nearly every turn

in the story and choose to shape things to their own end. Balor’s Eye is no longer a

necessary death, seasonal or psychological, but an all-consuming poison that blights

the biosphere. Our industrial culture is the Fomorian eye of Súil Milldagach. Today,

as always, it is an inner battle between two ways of seeing and being in the world,

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32 The Salmon in the Spring

a statement of ecological, psychological, and spiritual importance. If we consider

our own psychology as containing both Tuatha Dé and Fomorian, we can now say

that the balance has been disturbed. Balor’s eye is unleashed within us on the Earth.

Súil Milldagach, in psychological terms, is the fi xated neurosis of the ego. In

spiritual terms it is that which covers the soul. The ego itself is not the enemy, but

a lens through which soul might shine through. Because the Fomorians are actually

spoken of as spirits of the Earth, Súil Milldagach is what happens when we step

out of balance and relationship with nature. In Súil Milldagach the Earth becomes

our shadow and constellates unconsciously within the ego.

We are standing at a moment which recapitulates this same mythic motif of

this story. Our culture has become a Fomorian Súil Milldagach. An examination

of our tendencies toward environmental destruction in favor of, and as a means to

human wealth and “progress” make this clearer than ever. Having become like Balor

our viability as a species, and moral responsibility to the rest of the Earth com-

munity, demands our realignment with soul and wild nature. Sometimes this means

throwing a sling stone into that poisonous eye, so that it turns in and sees itself. We

can then begin to integrate that Fomorian wildness in a more healthy way.

This integration is a transformation of confusion into wisdom, and is at the

heart of Lúgh’s arrival at Tara. In many ways this book and the other stories told

herein are an elaboration and peeling away of the motifs inherent in his arrival. He

approaches the doorkeeper and is told “no one enters Tara who does not possess

an art.” He then goes on to tell the doorkeeper that he is a master of all the arts. If

we consider that Tara is at the symbolic center of Ireland, and thus the center of a

mandala then this takes on a new philosophical importance. This mandala will be

explored in-depth in later chapters, but here it is enough for us to know that the

mandala is a representation of psychic wholeness and enlightenment. Thus, no one

enters a state of wholeness who does not possess an art. No one fi nds enlighten-

ment who does not possess an art. Philosophically this is what it means to enter

Tara. To not only possess an art but to become an embodiment of it is integral to

the transformation of confusion into wisdom. It is integral to battling Súil Millda-

gach and realizing the inherent wholeness that exists between humans and nature.

This myth is an invitation into the ritual enactment of an initiatory story,

an invitation to participate in the battle of Maigh Tuireadh, the inner and outer

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33Place and Story

“battle” between the Fomorians and Tuatha Dé Danann. To align with soul and

nature is to become Tuatha Dé Danann, Áes Dána, a gifted one and to bring out

and embody that gift in service to the entire Earth community. It is the founda-

tion for the naissance of an engaged druidic way of taking part in the 21st century

transformational task of what Thomas Berry calls “The Great Work,” the work of

re-inventing the human being.

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Jason Kirkey grew up in the North Atlantic watershed of Massachusetts.

At the age of twelve he began his long apprenticeship to the Earth and soul.

He obtained his Bachelor's degree in Contemplative Psychology and Environmen-

tal Studies from Naropa University and is currently working toward his Master’s

in Philosophy, Cosmology, and Consciousness at California Institute of Integral

Studies. In 2006 Jason founded Hiraeth Press, a small-scale publishing company

focusing on poetry and ecological wisdom. He runs Dinnseanchas, an organization

committed to teaching people how to fi nd their place in the Earth community

through poetry, meditation, traditional Irish stories, and ecological mysticism. Visit

him on the web at

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