The Three Cauldrons: Celtic Myth and Spiritual Wisdom

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

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Síthearan NicLeòid

Síthearan NicLeòid

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.

The retrieval and revival of indigenous ceremonial traditions is a growing concern in this increasingly disconnected world, and one that has great promise for the restoration of methods of sustainable living, sound ecological practices and the preservation of ancient knowledge. Sound recordings of elders are being made around the world, as well as video recordings (where possible and appropriate) of aspects of traditional ritual. For some tribes, preservation and the training of the younger generation are key. For other native cultures, these efforts hinge around the retrieval of fragmentary and partially forgotten evidence. This is the situation with native Celtic ritual practices, some of which have died out, and others which survive in traditional Celtic-language speaking communities and which are not advertised or generally made public.

Every book, group and spiritual teacher who professes to practice 'ancient Celtic or Druidic ritual' has a completely different system on offer, which in and of itself is a red flag. The vast majority of these are based on modern occult and Neo-Pagan traditions, Neo-Shamanism of a non-Celtic provenance, and various New Age ideas, with a smattering of Celtic words or symbols. The reason for this is totally understandable: without living elders to pass along an intact tradition, or detailed written evidence that preserves such a system (provided by and approved by living descendants of native tradition bearers), there is enormous confusion and controversy over what Celtic ritual is or should be like.

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Recent Comments - Show all comments
  • Alan O ' Domhnaill
    Alan O ' Domhnaill says #
    Language is in a continual state of evolvement. Possibly our way of expressing and understanding too. Should ritual not also be ev
  • Alison Leigh Lilly
    Alison Leigh Lilly says #
    Thanks for this article -- a good, informative run-down of some basic commonalities in ritual from different ancient Celtic cultur
  • Síthearan NicLeòid
    Síthearan NicLeòid says #
    Hi Alison - Thank you for your very insightful and thoughtful message! Yes, I can clarify.... Since what I am personally trying t
  • Greybeard
    Greybeard says #
    Thank you for this article and knowledge.
  • Síthearan NicLeòid
    Síthearan NicLeòid says #
    You are very welcome, Greybeard! May it serve and inspire!

In previous blogs, we've explored some of the basic aspects of Celtic cosmology - the existence of a sacred Otherworld (or worlds), probably conceived of as being connected with the Upper World and Lower World (as in many shamanic or traditional cultures). The inhabitants of those worlds - the Gods and Goddesses - known in Ireland as the Aes Síde or Tuatha Dé Danann - embodied a wide range of powers and attributes, depending upon location, era, and many other temporal and cultural factors.

What do we know, if anything, about how the ancient Celts constructed or performed ritual? This is quite a hot topic, of course - many will say 'We don't know anything at all, and to try and make any sort of theory or assumption is folly or wishful thinking." This attitude can be found both in academic circles and amongst practitioners, oddly enough, and in some cases this negative (and unfounded) stance can be used to either assert power over others, or serve as an obstacle to tackling complicated issues (academic or otherwise).

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Recent comment in this post - Show all comments
  • Alan O ' Domhnaill
    Alan O ' Domhnaill says #
    I always thought climbing up the Paps of Anu , stripping bare, covering myself with mud and howling at the moon would do it. Now

In last month's blog, we learned about Celtic deities from the Iron Age in various parts of the European mainland. This month we will look at what can be known - or surmised - about gods and goddesses in Ireland, including how their names were pronounced and their primary powers or attributes. Like the Continental deities, the Irish deities may have more than one name, and are often multi-aspected. We should not expect them to conform to Greco-Roman archetypes or to match up with modern Neo-Pagan ideas about deities and the year wheel. The Irish gods are 'their own thing,' and should be approached and interpreted on their own terms.

There are a remarkable number of books and websites out there which profess to contain the names and attributes of the Irish gods, which for some reason are almost all wildly inaccurate. I'm not entirely sure why this should be, except that the study of Celtic Paganism and Deities is a relatively more recent field of serious study, especially when compared with the study of Greco-Roman and Egyptian deities. Not all of the Irish sources have been well translated, or compiled into one place (or are in sources that can be readily found). Suffice it to say, that one should stick to the following books when learning about the Irish gods and goddesses - for background information, and also for reading and interpreting the myths themselves. Always better to read a good translation of an Irish tale or legend that contains references to an Irish deity, than to take someone else's word for it (especially when they cannot tell you where that information comes from).

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The elaborately carved entrance stone and roof lintel at Newgrange are powerful symbols of humankind's ability to mark, measure and sanctify time - such as the upcoming Winter Solstice. These evocative images, however, pre-date the Celts by thousands of years, and like the dolmens and stone circles which many associate with 'Celts' or 'druids,' these do not form part of Celtic native culture. There are some Celtic legends which have become attached to some of these sites, which were built by people many centuries before, with undoubtedly different intentions in mind!

However, there are some ancient stones which can 'speak' to us in this day and age about the beliefs and practices of the early Celtic peoples. These are not 'native' stones either in a sense, but they do contain interesting and somewhat 'coded' information about the ancient Celts. I'm referring to stone inscriptions created during the Romano-Celtic period in many parts of Europe, including the Continent and Britain.

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     In previous posts, we discussed places within the earthly realms which were seen as portals to the Celtic Otherworld. We have also begun an initial discussion of the names and attributes of the inhabitants of the Otherworld. In this post we will explore the nature and appearance of the Otherworld realms, as they are described in early Irish literature.

     We have some inkling of how the Continental Celts may have viewed the Otherworld in terms of where the souls of the dead were believed to travel. The graves of noble or important people were richly outfitted with clothes and jewelry, food and drink, tools and weapons, and even chariots - either for passage into the next life or for use therein. Classical reports state that the Celts appeared to have believed in the immortality of the soul, that our spirits inhabit another body after this one. 

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In previous posts, we explored the cosmology of the Celts and the concept of Sacred Reciprocity. In traditional cultures, it is understood that human beings live in relationship with many other beings - plants, animals, birds, fish, insects, and features of the natural landscape. In addition, what appears to the modern mindset as 'empty space' is in fact often filled with other beings more difficult to see or identify. This is the realm of the gods and spirits, who may inhabit cosmic realms like the sky, ocean and underworld, or whose domain may be part of the world they share with us.

In western materialist culture, acknowledging, perceiving or discussing this traditional perception of reality is grounds for being labeled delusional or even insane. However, as modern physics is beginning to understand (and catch up with ancient wisdom), there is a great deal going on in the 'empty spaces' around us. Indeed, in some scientific models, what we perceive in our world can only be explained scientifically and mathematically if there are a number of other planes of existence. I have to admit I often picture a group of indigenous shamans sitting around the fire and having a jolly laugh as they watch the struggles of scientists to finally figure out what they have known for millennia!

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Last New Moon, we explored the spirit-filled world of the polytheistic Celtic-speaking tribes. Of course, this is the same spirit-filled world we inhabit today, whether we currently live in one of the modern Celtic nations or are the far-flung biological or spiritual descendants of the ancient Celts, living in many other countries around the world. The call of these ancient traditions runs deep, as attested by the more than 22,000 people who viewed The Three Cauldrons blog last month!

Think about it... all of those people, on some level, are your tribe. In the wake of the industrial revolution and the information age, we enjoy many conveniences, but also suffer tremendously from a lack of connection. We hunger for community, tribe, elders, and connection with nature and spirit. This hunger for connection boils down to one word: Relationship. Why else are we on the internet looking for like-minded souls? Seeking peers, friends and colleagues, looking for common ground, support and inspiration, we reach out into the etheric web, and are sometimes rewarded with connection.

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