I entered the miraculous, marvellous, sacred world of Celtic spirituality through the back door. And I haven’t retreated since.
I was never a regular churchgoer. Although I was baptized in an Anglican Church, where my mother and her sister went as children and where my mother and father were married, I didn’t attend church regularly growing up. Sometimes I accompanied friends to their churches, but nothing ever stuck. My parents were not churchgoers. My mother didn’t return to the Anglican fold until my brother, sister and I left home.
I once dated a Catholic woman who was drawn to Eastern religions, which proved unsatisfactory to me. I tend to agree with the great Swiss psychologist Carl Jung’s warning about adopting religions outside of the culture in which you are born and raised. For a couple of years, I enjoyed going to a non-denominational church that takes place through closed-circuit video in movie theatres across Southwestern Ontario. I found the teachings — for they were not called sermons — to be engaging and relevant to our complicated lives.
My first wife and I were married in a Presbyterian Church, but we never attended services together. My second wife and I were married in a United Church. We attended the United Church for a few years, when our two sons were young. I was confirmed there. However, a scandal involving our charismatic minister, who was an inspired preacher, not only sent him packing, it ended my church-going. His replacements couldn’t preach to save a soul.
My partner, Lois, attends an Anglican Church, sings in the choir and serves. She has even sat on parish council. She takes her spirituality seriously. She finds deep solace in, and takes great comfort from, her faith.
I frequently attend services and take Communion. I most enjoy Evensong, embraced in the church’s warm, rich, oak interior, bathed in the illumination of the soft light of stained glass, as winter dusk quietly approaches. The hymns and anthems speak to me in a profound way.
Although I have never felt spiritually fulfilled in an institutional church for more than short periods — and am no stranger to sin in the ordinary sense of the notion — I have always been drawn to the spiritual life.
I have read many literary, theological and liturgical books spanning a spectrum of religions and spiritual traditions. I also have read deeply into the writings of Jung, which influenced the graduate thesis I wrote 40 decades ago on the Canadian writer Robertson Davies.
But my most deeply satisfying spiritual explorations have taken me into the arcane Celtic world, which I first entered more than a quarter century ago through traditional music. Listening led to reading about a spiritual tradition which, ironically, is rooted in an oral tradition.
My readings were enhanced by a couple of trips to Scotland, the land of my paternal ancestors, and a trip to Ireland. I have also completed university and college level courses in Celtic spirituality and attended retreats. I remain steeped in Celtic music and enjoy the Water of Life (uisge beatha in Gaelic), otherwise known as malt whisky. I believe the world of nature is Holy, its flora and fauna sacred. Fly angling and canoeing bring me in direct and immediate contact with Creation.
Armed with a deep affection for Celtic spirituality, I lectured annually at the Fergus Scottish Festival for 12 years. Over the last couple of decades, I gave a couple of talks at McDougall Cottage in Cambridge, and lectured for two years at the shortly lived Elora Celtic Festival.
When I lectured, I ended by offering those in attendance copies of a bibliography of books and videos I compiled over the years. It constitutes my own Celtic library, collected haphazardly as I have found books on my travels and in secondhand bookstores. In customary Celtic fashion, sometimes the books found me.
In addition to books examining various aspects of Celtic spirituality, others are histories of the Celtic world or books sympathetic to a Celtic Way of viewing the world, past and present. One internationally recognized Celtic scholar is especially interesting because of his connection to Southwestern Ontario. Philip Newell, a Church of Scotland minister who served as warden of Iona Abbey, was born and raised in Hamilton.
My library is neither comprehensive nor complete. Nonetheless, it is what I possess, what I have read and what I would like to pass along to fellow pilgrims navigating the tempestuous waters of life. As the English visionary poet William Blake exclaims in The Marriage of Heaven and Hell: Every Thing that Lives is Holy.
Adam, David. The Cry of the Deer: Meditations on the Hymn of St. Patrick
(Ridgefield, CT, 1987)
Boers, Arthur Paul. The Way is Made by Walking: A Pilgrimage Along the Camino de Santiago (Downers Grove, 2007)
Bradley, Ian. Celtic Christian Communities: Live the Tradition (Kelowna, B.C., 2000)
*Cahill, Thomas. How the Irish Saved Civilization: The Untold Story of
Ireland’s Heroic Role from the Fall of Rome to the Rise of Medieval Europe
(New York, 1995)
*Carmichael, Alexander (ed). Carmina Gadelica: Hymns and Incantations Collected in the Highlands and Island of in the Last Century. (Edinburgh, 1992)
Chadwick, Nora. The Celts (London, 1971)
Chardin, Pierre Teilhard de. The Future of Man (New York, Harper)
*Cunliffe, Barry. The Ancient Celts (Oxford, 1997)
Davies, John. The Celts (London, 2000)
Delaney, Frank. Legends of the Celts (New York, 1991)
*De Waal, Esther. Every Earthly Blessing : Rediscovering the Celtic Tradition (Harrisburg, 1999). Reprint of Celtic Light: A Tradition Rediscovered (London, 1997). Originally published as A World Made Whole: Rediscovering the Celtic Tradition. (1991)
*____________. The Celtic Way of Prayer: The Recovery of the Religious Imagination (New York, 1997)
*____________. The Celtic Vision: Prayers and Blessings from the Outer Hebrides (Petersham, Mass., 1988)”
_____________. A Life-Giving Way: A Commentary on the Rule of St. Benedict (Collegeville, 1995)
Duncan, Anthony. The Elements of Celtic Christianity (Shaftesbury, 1992)
*Ellis, Peter Berresford. The Druids (Grand Rapids, 1995)
*____________. A Brief History of The Celts (London, 2003)
Gill, Elaine and Everett, David (eds) Celtic Verse: An Inspirational Anthology of Poems, Prose, Prayers and Words of Wisdom (London, 1998)
Heaney, Marie. Over Nine Waves: A Book of Irish Legends (London, 1994)
Hildegard of Bingen. Selected Writings (London, Penguin Books)
Hunter, George G. The Celtic Way Evangelism (Nashville, 2010)
*James, Simon. Exploring the World of the Celts (London, 1993)
*Kondratiev, Alexei. The Apple Branch: A Path to Celtic Ritual (New York, 2003)
Lynch, Michael. Scotland: A New History (London, 1991)
Maclean, Fitzroy. Highlanders: A History of the Scottish Clans (New York, 1995)
Mackie, J.D. A History of Scotland (London, 1964)
*MacKillop, James. Oxford Dictionary of Celtic Mythology (Oxford, 1998)
Matthews, Caitlin. The Elements of the Celtic Tradition (Shaftesbury, 1989)
Matthews, John. Drinking from the Sacred Well: Personal Voyages of Discovery with the Celtic Saints (New York, 1998)
McPherson, Anne. Walking to the Saints: A Little Pilgrimage in France (Ottawa, 2000)
Miller, Calvin. The Path of Celtic Prayer: An Ancient Way to Everyday Joy (Downers Grove, 2007)
Moore, Lance. Outdoors with God: Devotional Thoughts on the Great Outdoors (Wheaton, 2003)
Moore, Thomas. Care of the Soul: A Guide for Cultivating Depth and Sacredness in Everyday Life (New York, 1992)
____________. Soul Mates: Honoring the Mysteries of Love and Relationship
(New York, 1994)
____________. The Enchantment of Everyday Life (New York, 1996)
____________. The Soul of Sex: Cultivating Life as an Act of Love (New York, 1998)
____________. Original Self: Living With Paradox and Originality (New York, 2000)
____________. The Soul’s Religion: Cultivating a Profoundly Spiritual Way of Life (New York, 2002)
____________. Dark Nights of the Soul: A Guide to Finding Your Waythrough Life’s Ordeals (New York, 2004)
Geoffrey Moorehouse. Sun Dancing: A Vision of Medieval Ireland (Orlando, 1997)
*Newell, J. Philip. Listening for the Heartbeat of God: A Celtic Spirituality (New York, 1997)
*___________. The Book of Creation: An Introduction to Celtic Spirituality (New York, 1999)
*___________. One Foot in Eden: A Celtic View of the Stages of Life (New York, 1999)
*___________. Echo of the Soul: The Sacredness of the Human Body (Norwich, Norfolk, 2000)
____________. Shakespeare and the Human Mystery (New York, 2003)
* ___________. Christ of the Celts: A Healing of Creation (San Francisco, 2008)
____________. A New Harmony: The Spirit, the Earth and the Human Soul (San Francisco, 2011)
*O’Donohue, John. Anam Cara: A Book of Celtic Wisdom (New York, 1997)
___________. Eternal Echoes: Exploring Our Yearning to Belong (New York, 1999)
___________. Four Elements: Reflections on Nature (New York, 2010)
O Murchu, Diarmund. Reclaiming Spirituality (New York, 1998)
*O’Driscoll, Robert (ed) The Celtic Consciousness (New York, 1982)
* Pemberton, Cintra. Soulfaring: Celtic Pilgrimage Then and Now (Harrisburg, 1999)
Pennick, Nigel. The Sacred World of the Celts: An Illustrated Guide to Celtic Spirituality and Mythology (Rochester, 1997)
__________. Celtic Sacred Landscapes (New York, 2000)
Prebble. The Lion in the North: One Thousand Years of Scotland’s History (London, 1971)
*Rabey, Steve. In the House of Memory: Ancient Celtic Wisdom for Everyday Life (New York, 1998)
Robertson, R. Macdonald. Selected Highland Folktales (Devon, 1961)
*Robinson, Martin. Rediscovering the Celts: The True Witness from Western Shores (London, 2000)
Ross, Stewart. Ancient Scotland (Argyll, 1991)
Schama, Simon. A History of Britain: At the Edge of the World? 3000 BC-AD 1603 (London, 2000)
____________. A History of Britain: The British Wars, 1603-1776 (London, 2001)
____________. A History of Britain: The Fate of Empire, 1776-2000 (London, 2002)
Scherman, Katherine. The Flowering of Ireland: Saints, Scholars & Kings (New York, 1981)
*Sellner, Edward. Wisdom of the Celtic Saints (Notre Dame, In, 1993)
Toulson, Shirley. The Celtic Year (Shaftesbury, 1993)
Van de Weyer, Robert. Celtic Prayers: A Book of Celtic Devotion, Daily
Prayers and Blessings (Nashville, 1997)
____________. Celtic Fire: An Anthology of Celtic Christian Literature (London, 1993)
Westwood, Jennifer and Sophia Kingshill. The Lore of Scotland: A Guide to Scottish Legends (London, 2009)
Wilde, Lyn Webster, Celtic Inspirations: Essential Meditations and Texts (London, 2011)
Zaczek, Iain. Chronicles of the Celts (New York, 1996)
The Celts: Rich Traditions and Ancient Myths (BBC, 1986)
Island Soldiers: The History of the Celtic Saints (Newbridge Communications,1997)
A History of Scotland (BBC, 2010)
How The Celts Saved Britain (BBC, 2010)
Alarik, Scott. Deep Community: Adventures in the Modern Folk Underground (Boston, 2003)
Clancy, Liam. The Mountain of the Women: Memoirs of an Irish Troubadour (New York, 2002)
Czulinski, Winnie. Drone On! The High History of Celtic Music (Toronto, 2004)
Glatt. The Chieftains: The Authorized Biography (New York, 1997)
Mathieson, Kenny. Celtic Music (San Francisco, 2001)
Melhuish, Martin. Celtic Tides: Traditional Music in a New Age (Kingston, 1998)
Sawyers, June Skinner. Celtic Music: A Complete Guide (Cambridge, 2001)
* Indicates reading material especially useful as an introduction to the study of Celtic culture and spirituality