The Gwersu, from the Bardician to Druid paths, are talking about the relationship between shamanism and Druidry. Often we can read about “Upper World”, “Inner World” and “Middle World”. Is so clear that non-Ordinary Reality in present and important in the neo druidic vision. Because my personal practice in a druidry is strongly correlated to shamanism, I wanted to better understand the trait d’union betweenthese two paths.
One of the few certainty we have on “shamans” is related to the term. The term originates from the Evenki word “šamán, or “wise man,” or “to emit sounds”.
Who is practically the shaman?
Mircea Eliade, in the second half of the twentieth century, wrote the famous text Shamanism and the Techniques of Estasy. For him the Shaman is a man that can and knows how to make the “journey”. In an altered state of consciousness, the shaman moves into a dream-time in which he can control his actions and be the master of his own will. This definition, however, was subsequently amended. In fact, for example, it would seem to exclude sorcerers, medicine-men, healers, and other magical figures that are related to practices that we would now call “shamanic” but do not fall within the definition above. A new definition was done by Mihaly Hoppàl who considers the shaman, “as well as a man who has the techniques of ecstasy, a spokesman for the traditions of his group, a kind of eternal memory of the clan, and hence a character from important social value”. If Eliade’s definition is perhaps too restrictive, the latter may seem too fluid. Alexander McDonald defines shamans as “the world’s interpreters“, while for Joan Townsend is “…a man who has the capacity to directly talk to the Spirits and to have control of him in altered states of conscience…”. John Matthews, in his Taliesin, Shamanism and the Bardic Mysteries in Britain and Ireland states, write “… the Shamans were the interpreters of their peoples’ gods, doctors, and guides; they kept the memories (orally) of each family of their Tribe, important if a marriage between relatives could easily happen in small communities – and they were the archives of the life of the tribe itself … “.
Today, even on the basis of the many neo-science, it seems correct to give a more “dilated” definition of shaman, identifying with that term the one who has a relationship with the world of the Spirits, and exercises a strict control over the altered states of consciousness.
They just look like the functions of the Druidry or at least the neo-Druidry.
Caitlin and John Matthews, members of the OBOD from 1989 to 1992, was been the pioneers of the application of shamanic techniques to Druidry. Subsequently, Tom Cowan, described and used the same techniques in his texts, Shamanism: a spiritual practice for daily life and of Fire in the Head. If neo-druidism and shamanism are closely linked, can we associate Druidism and Shamanism? Some of these answers are found in the Gwersu, “clues” about this often hidden bond.
The Celts, during their migration to the West, certainly came into contact with proto-uralic populations by absorbing the magical-religious shrines of the shaman.
In many historical documents it describes how Ovati had the ability to enter into trance and travel to the world of Ancestors. Individuals with channeling skills can also find them in Welsh tales with the name of awenyddion, or possessed. John Matthews in Taliesin: The Last Celtic Shaman, describes trance-estatic rituals for enlightenment through the use of true mantras such as “Dichetal do chennaib” (pronounced “Diketal de Kenna”).
This sort of altered state of consciousness was also known as Imbas forosnai, or the “gift of veggence”. It was a sort of sensory deprivation technique, to enter into trance and to receive answers or prophecies. Danu Forest in his text Shaman pathways and Robert Wallis in Shamans / Neo-Shamans: Ecstasies, Alternative Archeologies and Contemporary describes in detail this ritual.
The druid that had to enter into trance, remained in the darkness under a bull skin for nine days or until he had the vision. Mircea Eliade calls this “bull dream” or Tarbfeis ceremony.
According to some scholars, the druid was forced to eat only bull meat and drink its blood, thus promoting a kind of hypervitaminosis from vitamin A, which in turn favored vomiting, diarrhea and therefore a kind of physical alteration that favored the “vision”. Traces of this ceremony are found in archeology and folklore. The story of Calderone of Cerdiwen and of Taliesin’s birth, through the Anean fluid mystic prepared by the goddess in person to give wisdom to his son Afagddu, would refer to ancient techniques of opening the “perceptive door” through hallucinogenic and psychotropic substances, Remember by me the use of Amanita Muscaria which were used by shamans. Even the concept concealed behind Awen, or imbas in Irish, divine inspiration, is typically shamanic. In fact the energy that pervades things, which gives the ability to be able to converse and take shape as an animal,
Another element that is shared by druids and shamans is the report with the power animals and the possibility of changing “skin”. The figure that most of all can be evocative, in this case, is Kernunnos, the god-lord of animals depicted with a deer horn on his head. His most famous representation is the one on Gundestrup’s cauldron. For many scholars, the figure represented on the cauldron would represent not a god but a shaman.
More others Celtic divinities are depicted as anthropomorphs with taurine characters, such as the head of the Taranis god-bull found in Lezoux, France, and dated to the sec. B.C. They are images that emphasize the bond between the animal Spirits and the man who, by merging with them, becomes druid and shaman.
The ability of druids to become animals and / or to interact with them is widespread. In the Talielsin saga, Gwyrhyr know the language of animals as well as its many transformations and transmutation experiences. Animal mutations are also found in the stories of Oisin. He not only transform himselves into animal but spend a long period of time under this aspect, bringing to the real world, once the experience of transformation has ended, all the knowledge gained in this state of reality does not Ordinary.
The connection with the sacred animal, which then will eventually change from the Spirit Guide to the totem element characterizing the clan, is strongly spread throughout the Celtic culture. The same tribe name expresses the link with the natural world and with the animal that becomes the symbol of the sacred.
Another important element is universal tree or AXIS MUNDI: The Cosmic Axis, the central pillar around which the Universe is organized. Over time it has acquired many names: Cosmic Tree, World Axis, Reversed Tree, Tree of Life, Tree of Knowledge, Alchemical Tree, Mystic Tree, Tree of Freedom and many more.
In Celtic-Druid traditions, the universal tree is always present. In northern tradition we find the Yggdrasill, the axis of the world, but also an eight-legged horse whose climbing gives Odin the power of Knowledge. Merlin itself reaches the power of Knowledge, of the Vision, of Metamorphosis and of the Language only after climbing the sacred Pine of Barenton: the cosmic tree. Its branches protrude radiantly toward the sky, and its roots sink into the dark earth, where the waters of the spring flow. Among the Saxons the “universally columna” almost sustinens omnia is called Irminsul, while in Mesopotamia the tree of life was known by the name of Kiskadu, while among the Jacuti the primordial tree axis is Yjyk-Mar. In northern Asia, the cosmic tree is a birch called Udeshi Burkjan, or “the Guardian of the Door,” while in China the tree of the “nine Heavens” is called Quian.
In the Gwersu it is often called Craeb, the sacred pole supporting the circular homes of Druids. A different transposition is the magic wand. Richard Gordon, an american neo-druid, write: “The wand as used in many modern day esoteric practices is in fact a symbolic drum stick, directing beating our concentrated willed intent against the energetic surface of creational reality”. Used as finger extension, it is also a symbol and representation of the Axis Mundi. As far as it has been said i am really that, as Patricia Monaghan also write in The Encyclopedia of Celtic Mythology and Folklore, Druid is a shaman synonymous in the function of the one who becomes an intermediary with the magical world, the one who manages the driudheachd, or magic art.