Pagan Paths

Historically based study and exploration of Celtic religion, mythology, folklore, and shamanism.

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Fo chen * Croeso * Fåilte *

Welcome to The Three Cauldrons, where we will explore the historical background, authentic indigenous sources, and modern application of ancient wisdom associated with the Celtic-speaking peoples. The name was chosen because of its multi-faceted symbolism, reflected in an early Irish wisdom text that scholars refer to as ‘The Cauldron of Poesy.’ In actual fact, the text is untitled, and although it occurs in a fairly late manuscript, the language of the text shows that its origins are quite early. What are the three cauldrons, and what is it that they represent?

The cauldrons are described in a text associated with the training of the Irish poet-seers, who were known as the filid (pronounced FILL-idh, the ‘dh’ is the ‘th’ sound in ‘other’; singular form fili, ‘FILL-ih’). Their name comes from a root word meaning to see; the same root occurs in the English word ‘surveillance’ (middle syllable). This learned group came into being in the sixth century, and were trained in Ireland until the early 1600’s and in Scotland until around 1750. They are believed to have preserved some of the knowledge and functions of the druids; more about these fascinating people later…

The text discusses three cauldrons or vessels of learning that exist in every person. The position of the cauldron indicates one’s spiritual progress – right side up for the early stages (waiting to be filled), turned on its side for the middle stages (in progress), and upside down for advanced stages (emptying out knowledge for the benefit of others). The names of the three cauldrons are: Coire Goiriath (‘The Cauldron of Warming’), Coire Erma (‘The Cauldron of Motion’) and Coire Sois (‘The Cauldron of Great Knowledge’).

The text is a wonderful example of the native wisdom of the Celts, which exists in various sources and manifestations, although not always readily available for modern practitioners. As a result, all manner of non-Celtic beliefs and practices are ascribed to the Celts, and this modern eclectic cornucopia is enthusiastically promoted in books, websites and learning programs. It is harder to find any ‘real’ information about Celtic traditions than it is to find these modern projections, fantasies and mistaken ideas. Diversity is sacred, but so is tradition; we do not have the right to make up information and ascribe it to the Celts any more than any other indigenous culture. The key words here are ‘Respect,’ ‘Honour’ and ‘Truth,’ and these will underscore our journey together.

I also chose the Three Cauldrons theme because of the widespread visibility of the cauldron as a sacred symbol in the archaeology, the native literature, and the folklore. Interestingly enough, cauldrons appear to have three different forms or roles: Cauldrons of Nourishment or Abundance; Cauldrons of Healing and Transformation; and Cauldrons of Wisdom and Inspiration. These themes are found throughout the tradition, and the image of the sacred vessel (the inspiration for the Grail) being filled by the wisdom of the Gods, the traditions of the Ancestors, and the blessings of the land, is a powerful one.

Each month we will have the opportunity to explore a different aspect of this amazing, deep, complex, primal, sophisticated, confusing, wonderful, enormous, and fascinating cultural and religious complex. Empty your vessel of ego and preconceptions, and let the words and symbols of the ancestors speak. They are waiting to be heard.

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Born on the eve of Lugnasad, your guide and ban-fili is a published author, teacher, and Celtic singer and musician. She trained in Celtic Studies through Harvard University, and has taught Celtic mythology and folklore at the university level. Her research in Celtic myth and religion has been presented at the University of Edinburgh, University College Cork, and the Ford Foundation Lectures.

She has served as Faculty at the Celtic Institute of North America and the Omega Institute, and her books include 'Celtic Myth and Religion: A Study of Traditional Belief' (McFarland), 'The Divine Feminine in Ancient Europe' (McFarland), and 'Queen of the Night' (Weiser).

Currently she is Director of the Eolas ar Senchas research project, with grants from the Canada Council for the Arts and the Scottish Clans Association of Canada to research ancient Celtic music and ritual. Her previous group, The Moors, has cult status in the pagan world. She leads workshops and distance training programs, with new books, CD's and research on the way.


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