Category Archives: Celtic Spirituality

Arise, Saints of Scotland

Arise, Saints of Scotland,
in strath and glen,
kirk, croft, and manse,
and where the rivers meet.

Arise, as the stag watches
at dusk’s end,
fixed by a distant bell.
As shadows fall, wind shudders
the silent thistle, and
Andrew’s flag drifts.

Arise, Fillan, Kentigerna,
Thaney and Mungo,
Ninian, Triudana,
Comgan and Oda.
Nature’s tired weal, 
the dank pine grove,
wolf and ox, magpie and puffin, 
the whale in the dark sea, wait.

Sorche Berry ©2019
Artwork by Sorche Berry ©2019

St Anne’s Reel

Saint Anne’s Reel is usually attributed to the great Quebecois fiddler Joseph Allard, the master who taught Jean Carignan.


Here is a very nice rendition of it:…mbedded#!


St. Anne, the mother of Jesus, is not mentioned in the biblical canon at all, but first appears in 2nd century apocryphal literature. The French were the first people of western Europe to venerate her, around the 13th Century.  In the 17th Century, the French brought their unique devotion to St. Anne with them to the New World.  In 1658, a chapel was built about thirty miles northeast of Quebec City along the St. Lawrence River, called St. Anne-de Beaupre.  Over the centuries, the site grew into one of the most popular Catholic shrines in the world.  In 1922, a huge basilica was built on the site of the original chapel, which still stands today.  Joseph Allard, the composer of St. Anne’s Reel, was from Chateauquay, Quebec, not far from the shrine.


Being of Shetland descent, I rather prefer the legend that the seed idea for this reel came from the reel players of the Shetland Islands, as it is also known as the Shetland Reel in some circles. But that’s just me…



The Celt’s Spiritual Journey — God as Traveling Companion

The God of Celtic Christianity is not a distant, rarefied icon, but gets His feet muddy and clothes wet along the same journey. He appears in the Celtic prayers as the understanding traveling companion, sharer of joys and hardships, the other side of a conversation between friends.  He is an intimate and confidante, close to and rather like the speaker, but a stronger, braver version, the one of the partnership who will step in, armed and defiant, to protect the speaker in an awkward moment.  There are those moments when the two are not side by side and the companion is less present, such as when the elements upon which the speaker is dependant for crops or travel are uncooperative, but they are rare.  There is also another beautiful sense in which the speaker or traveler is accompanied at all times by, not just one, but by the three companions of the Trinity–safety in numbers for the weary traveler!–

God be with thee in every pass,

Jesus be with thee on every hill,

Spirit be with thee on every stream,

Headland and ridge and lawn.

And again:

Be thine the compassing of the God of life,

Be thine the compassing of the Christ of love,

Be thine the compassing of the Spirit of Grace,

To befriend thee and to aid thee,

Thou beloved one of my heart.

God appears in every prayer as the Creator and “Lord of the Elements”: the Celtic way of prayer is never far from a sense of connectedness with the earth and a mutual nurturing that goes on between the earth and the traveler.  The intense physicality of the Celtic understanding of the Incarnation is essential to our appreciation of the importance of the body to the Celtic mind.  The Celtic Christian celebrates every cell of the physical being: the body is to be protected and cherished as a reflection of the Holy Trinity, and it is the piece of us that reflects the fully incarnated Christ. This feature of Celtic Christian theology serves to undo the Augustinian and Cartesian separation of body and spirit that was done to the utter detriment of body. Body regains its importance here as the beloved vessel of the Incarnation: “space, a sacred space, in which God dwells.”

The journey here is never into the detached self, possibly a concern of the seasoned contemplative; it is always, to the Celtic sensibility, aimed at relationship within the corporate whole–the village, the monastery, the Body of Christ. The question that gains the ascendance here is whether the Celtic Christian is growing in his ability to give and receive love in those relationships.


The Celt’s Spiritual Journey — Peregrinatio

The spiritual journey of the Celt, as Esther de Waal reminds us, is captured in the term “peregrinatio” meaning search, quest, adventure. The Latin holds further riches: this journey is not linear, a complication suggested by the repeated sound at the start of the word–we are likely to cover the same ground more than once, whether by chance or by design–it is a wandering, in which the goal is uncertain and it is also, perhaps, an exile.  We are experiencing a leaving-behind, likely more than once, where footing that had once seemed firm has become unstable, and we must keep moving for our spiritual survival.

“Peregrinatio” is a state of being in which, however, the uncertainty of the goal does not presuppose the failure of the task: the journey IS the task and the Celt will find his God with him in many different forms and in many different places as he travels if he should but choose to notice.  The odd thing about the term is that we are almost more motivated by the things that have happened to us, by those things that have moved us on, than we are by the quest for God: the Celt finds God already present, in every detail, every action, in every piece of time, but the ground is crumbling behind him at every footfall–the only way is forward, and it may be hard to find a place to rest.

Of course, for the contemplative, the journey is an interior one. The journey is not so much a quest for God as a journey to our place of resurrection, to the new heaven and new earth of the true self.  For the Centering Prayer version of the contemplative, this is entirely in keeping with the true self that Thomas Keating urges us to seek in Christian meditation; the true self is what remains when the distractions of ego and indoctrination are let go–the Christ self, God’s image within is free to emerge. The Celt is much more accepting and forgiving of what is, I think. God’s image is there for the finding in every small detail–He is the God of small things.  We can purge and refine if we want to, but the Celt finds God in the imperfections. Far more important to the Celt than the perfected spirit is the propensity to love.  Refinement has its place as a tool to find “the stillness at the center” but to love and engage is far and away more preferable to living in rarefied detachment.