W. B. Yeats believed that it was only with Greek and Roman culture that humans became all-important.

Book of Kells, Folio 292r, Beginning of the Gospel of John. “In the beginning was the Word.” Wikimedia.

Until then, other questions occupied the human soul:
One was less interested in man…than in divine revelations, in changes among the heavens and the gods, which can hardly be expressed at all, and only by myth, by symbol, by enigma. One was always losing oneself in the unknown and rushing to the limits of the world. Imagination was all in all.”

Celtic poet and theologian John O’Donahue defines soul as “the place where the imagination lives.” What does the imagination do? It is at home between worlds, it is at home at the edge.

Celtic vessel from 3rd to 1st century BC, with human shape handles, found during construction archaeology on Csepel Island in Budapest, Hungary. Photo by Erlend Bjørtvedt. Wikimedia.

Imagination, said O’Donahue, is “the creative force in the individual. It always negotiates different thresholds and releases possibilities of recognition and creativity that the linear, controlling, external mind will never even glimpse. The imagination works on the threshold that runs between light and dark, visible and invisible, quest and question, possibility and fact. The imagination is the great friend of possibility. Where the imagination is awake and alive, fact never hardens or closes but remains open, inviting you to new thresholds of possibility and creativity.”

M. C. Richards, another Celtic artist and scholar, who is potter, poet, painter and philosopher, in her classic work Centering tells us of the intimate relationship between throwing a pot on the wheel and meditation. Pottery can teach us the discipline of freedom, including the freedom to play. “We must be able to have fun, we must feel enjoyment, and sometimes long imprisonment has made us numb and sluggish….We become brighter, more energy flows through us, our limbs rise, our spirit comes alive in our tissues.”

Freeform vessel by M.C. Richards. Private collection.

In art, we learn to let go. “We redeem our energies not by wrestling with them and managing them, for we have not the wisdom nor the strength to do that, but by letting the light to shine upon them.” We also let things be themselves—including unpleasant things. “The discipline comes in when we have to pay attention to what we don’t like, aren’t interested in, don’t understand, mistrust,…when we have to read the poetry of our enemies—within or without.”

In art, we wed body and spirit so thoroughly that redemption comes in a bodily way. “It is in our bodies that redemption takes place. It is the physicality of the crafts that pleases me: I learn through my hands and eyes and my skin what I could never learn through my brain.”

Adapted from: Matthew Fox, One River, Many Wells: Wisdom Springing From Global Faiths, pp. 236f.
Banner image: Image of the horned Celtic deity Cernunnos, associated with wild stags, horned serpents, dogs, bulls, and rats, whose form he was said to take on. Detail from the Gundestrop Cauldron, 150 B.C. to 100 B.C. Photo by Kern8, Wikimedia.

Queries for Contemplation

What are the implications of defining the soul as the place where imagination lives?  Do you have soul?  Do our cultural institutions from education to religion to politics and economics?  How bring it back if it has been lost or denigrated?

Recommended Reading

Matthew Fox calls on all the world traditions for their wisdom and their inspiration in a work that is far more than a list of theological position papers but a new way to pray—to meditate in a global spiritual context on the wisdom all our traditions share. Fox chooses 18 themes that are foundational to any spirituality and demonstrates how all the world spiritual traditions offer wisdom about each.

In A Way to God, Fox explores Merton’s pioneering work in interfaith, his essential teachings on mixing contemplation and action, and how the vision of Meister Eckhart profoundly influenced Merton in what Fox calls his Creation Spirituality journey.

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6 thoughts on “The Via Creativa Among the Celts”

  1. Avatar

    I knew a man who is now deceased who took up the art of oil painting in the early years of his marriage because he had talent for it. After he took up the art of oil painting he began repeatedly hearing his own voice call himself an “asshole.” Foe example, he could be walking down the street and this could happen. He went to the doctor and was diagnosed as having schizophrenia and put on medication for the rest of his life which was about fifty-five more years. He did not have schizophrenia. The mental and emotional freedom that practicing the art was giving him was releasing his spirit from prison. This was the kundalini energy rising within him and getting him to start examining his conscience and starting him on his true spiritual journey. I am happy that the medical profession is getting wake up calls.

    1. Gail Ransom

      Dear Gary,
      Thank you for sharing this story. So often our artists are maligned because they are tapping into something much deeper than the status quo. Entering the truth of our being takes some courage, but brings such joy. THere is a difference between the Kundalini energy flowing between opposites and the passive life-skimming we moderns call “sane”. Living full lives as the artists we are takes courage. I am glad your friend persisted, and taught us this lesson.
      Gail Sofia Ransom
      For the Daily Meditation Team

  2. Avatar

    I so appreciate Mathew’s book on Creativity & these past posts re: Creativity & it’s connection to the Divine in us. Mathew, John O’Donahue, have the gift of words we early on nature communicators, musicians, artists, could not express in words, but relied on our empathic connection to nature, people, playing musical instruments, drawing what was being received from the Divine frequency. I AM grateful to be involved in Mathew’s monthly web group meetings, living in the SF Bay Area to hear him speak publically, & grateful to know others who ‘know’ deep down what i have felt all my life about our true essence & connection as One.

    1. Gail Ransom

      Dear Sunni,
      Thank you for sharing your wisdom on this. I think of the interplay between-mind and body as evolving towards simultaneity and clarity. What artists originally have done instinctively is now being expressed intellectually….so that we can behave instinctively again. I believe we are living towards the time when the flow between the two is joyous and unencumbered.
      Gail Sofia Ransom
      For the Daily Meditation Team

  3. Avatar

    Thank you for these posts on the via Creativa. The soul is a place where the creative dwells and what’s interesting is that our institutions seem to always want to define and capture the creative which is a problematic response since in my experience the creative seems to be a verb….Always moving changing inspiring and adapting to new circumstances. It’s really the eternal longing for itself?

    1. Gail Ransom

      Dear Joan
      Thank you for your insights on the elusive nature of creativity. It cannot be captured Once it is captured – and perhaps manufactured in bulk, it becomes a product. Your comment inspires me to remember that creating is its own joy, whether the outcome is pleasing to others or not.
      Gail Sofia Ransom
      For the Daily Meditation Team

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