A Weekend of Wonder: Celtic Shamanism

art by Mara Brendt Friedman

The weekend of April 28-29, 2012, I took an excursion into Celtic shamanism with Tom Cowan, sponsored by Animal Spirit Network, that was literally life-changing.  Being new to shamanism (even having done the reading and taken an online intro to shamanic journeying), I was a little unsure of what I’d experience.  I discovered that the synergy of Celtic lore and Native American shamanic practices, shared with other seekers, was wondrous, joyous, and almost overwhelming in its power!

Tom did a marvelous job of leading us through a truly sacred series of discussions, journeys, dances and ceremonies to bring Celtic shamanism to life in our minds, spirits, and bodies.  His depth of knowledge and love of story and poetry (each direction had its own story and poem, every one an exquisite gem of word art), along with his deep shamanic wisdom and engaging teaching style, created the perfect atmosphere for us to find our way into the heart of Celtic spirituality.

Tom was especially gifted at “holding space,” creating a safe energetic pathway for us to travel into spiritual realms and have profound, uplifting experiences with the Celtic spirit beings who are the powers behind the Five Directions of the Celtic “spirit wheel.” His deep preparation and humble heart filled us all with respect and yet made us comfortable in sharing our own personal insights from the stories, poetry, and journeys he shared over the course of the weekend.

AHA moments:

  • The Irish “spirit wheel” is much like the Native American medicine wheel–5 directions including the center, serving as a spiritual pathway and practice.


    click to enlarge and learn more about the 5 Directions

  • My “home” direction was South, the place of music, poetry, dance, storytelling, and all kinds of ART. There I learned about the Oran Mor–The Great Song–of the Universe, and I could, for a few mystical moments, both HEAR and SEE it, and sense my own song within it.
  • Sovereignty (Center) is about self-rule, standing in your own power AND understanding how to yield it when that is best.  It’s like a Celtic version of Kwanzaa’s Kujichagulia.  Spirit Truth is Truth in every language!
  • There are people–RIGHT AROUND ME–who appreciate and UNDERSTAND my recent mystical experiences.

WOW experiences:

  • Helping a fellow student make a deeply personal breakthrough to honor her own shamanic gifts and experiences.
  • Receiving a spiritual healing  (a thawing out from old “frozen” ways and beliefs) from fiery Brigid in the East.Fiery Brighid(Before the journey, Tom casually mentioned that this healing could take the form of dismemberment–a real deer-in-the-headlights moment for a novice journeyer….and it WAS a dismemberment, in a most tender and gentle form.) I experienced one more dismemberment before the weekend was over–dispersed among the stars and reassembled. It was an even lovelier moment.
  • Journeying into the West with the Cailleach cailleach1 (mostly in her Crane form) irish craneto watch the river of my life flow in peace, beauty, love and abundance to the eternal sea, and hear words from her of such deep compassion and comfort that I was brought to tears.
  • Dancing the spirit of Boann  Boann Goddess of the River Boyne plus the spirits of Salmon and Sycamore in ceremonies honoring each one.  This started something new for me–I’m dancing  almost daily now as a way to meditate and manifest Spirit into Earth reality!

Personal breakthrough:

  • Shamanism is a powerful, beautiful spiritual path that I am meant to claim and practice for healing myself and others.

I had a lot of fears about shamanism–it seemed so alien, so primitive, almost violent with its tools of animal bone and hide, and its focus on earth deities who routinely dismember, disembowel, or otherwise destroy the seeker in order to rebuild him/her purified.  But I was given a very personal gift of tender, overflowing LOVE in my own gentle rebuilding, from spirits who are now like family to me.  And I emerged renewed and filled with wonder that still echoes in my heart.

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