Honoring the Light – Celtic Tradition – Part IV

Physicist Fritjof Capra draws implications for our human decision-making and the maintaining of sustainable human communities. Solar Energy in its many forms—sunlight for solar heating and photovoltaic electricity, wind and hydropower, biomass, and so on—is a unique kind of energy that is renewable, economically efficient, and environmentally benign. When our corporations and governments disregard solar energy they endanger the well-being of the planet and of generations of humans and more-than-humans to come.

Statue of Lugh, the Celtic God of Light. Photo originally posted to Flickr by Liam Moloney.

The Celtic tradition also celebrates light. John O’Donohue tells us that the most venerated among the ancient gods was Lugh, the god of light and giftedness, “The Shining One.”

O’Donohue teaches that “the Celtic mind adored the light.”  He believes that “we  desperately need a new and gentle light where the soul can shelter and reveal its ancient belonging….Ultimately, light is the mother of life. Where there is no light, there can be no life. If the angle of the sun were to turn away from the earth, all human, animal and vegetative life, as we know it, would disappear. Ice would freeze the earth again. Light is the secret presence of the divine. It keeps life awake.”

In the ancient “The Deer’s Cry” poem the poet attributes his arising in the morning to the

A herd of deer at sunrise. Photo by Diana Parkhouse on Unsplash

Strength of heaven,
Light of sun,
Radiance of moon,
Splendor of fire.

O’Donohue believes that

…light is the mother of life. The sun brings light or color. It causes grasses, crops, leaves, and flowers to grow. The sun brings forth the erotic charge of the curved earth; it awakens her wild sensuousness.

A Gaelic poem venerates the sun as the eye and face of God.

Grazing the sun. Photo originally to Unsplash by Photo by Steve Halama on Unsplash

The eye of the great God,
The eye of the God of glory.
The eye of the king of hosts,
The eye of the king of the living.
Pouring upon us
at each time and season,
Pouring upon us
gently and generously
Glory to thee
Thou glorious sun.
Glory to thee, thou sun
Face of the God of life.

Wisely O’Donohue insists on the intimate and constant relation between darkness and light. “We need a light that has retained its kinship with the darkness,” he warns. Nature’s cycles, the night that yields to sunrise, our own birth cycles, all these rhythms are rhythms from dark to light, winter to spring, womb to light of day.

Light does not stand by its own; it stands in relation to the dark.

Fishing boat on water while sun sets behind the hills. Photo originally posted to Flickr by Greg Clarke.

Among the Celts, says O’Donohue, the sense of “enlightenment” was also employed—light became a metaphor for our mind work.

In the Celtic tradition, thought has often been compared to light. In its luminosity, the intellect was deemed to be the place of the divine within us.

Adapted from Matthew Fox, One River, Many Wells: Wisdom Springing from Global Faiths, pp. 56f.

Banner Image: Rising sun over the San Francisco Bridge and bay. Photo originally posted to Flickr by Mark Gunn.

Queries for Contemplation

Ireland of course is located very far north where winter days are very short.  It is understandable that a special veneration for the light and the sun permeates the Celtic consciousness.  Today this awareness constitutes great wisdom. 

What follows from the teaching that “in its luminosity the intellect is the place of the divine within us?”  Does today’s education bring this truth home?  Or does it interfere with it?  Does today’s education elicit the divine within us?  Does it enlighten?

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.

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