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The Celtic Practice of Dercad

Added: Thursday, August 21st 2014 at 1:35am by ceilede
Related Tags: practice, meditation, celtic

“Many questing young people and stressed older people nowadays seek relaxation through meditation. They look for it in Hindu, Buddhist and other Eastern religions. They are often surprised to learn that there is such a way within the Christian tradition, a way that is known as contemplation.”
Ray Simpson , Exploring Celtic Spirituality


Meditation is a state of extreme relaxation and concentration, in which the body is generally at rest and the mind quiet. Contemplation is a long or thoughtful observation. You might do that gazing at a candle flame. Gnosis, by definition, is knowledge or insight into the infinite, the Divine.  It is direct experiential and intuitive knowledge obtained by direct inner experience, such as contemplation or meditation.

Meditation and contemplation are both internal ways to gain an epiphany, a light-bulb moment, the sudden realization or comprehension of something greater than yourself. There are also external epiphanies which are known as theophanies. These are manifestations of the Divine to the human. Theophanies were celebrated in the spring in both Greece and Britain when the sun returned and the days grew longer. Other examples of these are the Burning Bush found by Moses in the desert, the birth of Jesus, when Arjuna asks Krishna to reveal his true nature, when a bodhisattva, such as Avalokiteśvara, incarnates as the Dalai Lama.

Either one can act as a trigger for change in a significant life-altering event of some kind which tends to radically – and permanently – shift our perception of life. Our journey begins, then, as a search for meaning. And this is a universal phenomenon referred to in every spiritual tradition in the world. The time between the loss of one's bearings and gaining new ones has been referred to as the dark night of the soul. It may not be an easy place in which to find oneself. But the end comes in a moment of brilliant revelation, as Dostoevsky wrote, “I have seen the truth. It is not as though I had invented it with my mind. I have seen it, SEEN IT, and the living image of it has filled my soul forever... If in one day, one hour everything could bearranged at once, the chief thing is to love."

Different religious traditions have taken different routes in pursuit of the Divine. In Hassidic Judaism, it is self-denial. In Hinduism, it is non-identification with the world. In Buddhism, it is the liberation from the cycle of karma. It is the practice of seeing the Light, or "that of God", in everyone in Quakerism. It is the process of union with the nondual nature, in Tibetan Buddhism.

Union with God is known as Fana in Sufism – Islamic mysticism, Theosis or Divinization in Eastern Christianity and Catholicism, Satori in Mayahana Buddhism, Moksha in Jainism (teaches the immortality and transmigration of the soul and denies the existence of a perfect or supreme being), Samadhi in Hinduism, and Mukti in Sikhism (which combines elements of Hinduism and Islam and rejecting caste distinctions, idolatry, and asceticism, believing in a cycle of reincarnation from which we can free ourselves by living righteous lives as active members of society.

I want to go back to nondualism for a minute. Nondualism is the idea that things appear distinct while not being separate. To the Nondualist, reality is ultimately neither physical nor mental. Instead, it is a state or realization that cannot be expressed in words. It is known as  "Spirit", "The Dao", "God", "Shunyata" (Emptiness), "The One", "The Self" "Brahman", "The Absolute".

There are different methods used and different names for the destination. But they all have something in common. The mystical journey to gnosis leads everyone, regardless the tradition, to one place.

The Celtic tradition has exuberance for the physical world and a love of celebration. It is also reflective and includes “dercad” (dyarr-koo) - a meditation practice to achieve “sitchain” (shee'con) or inner peace. This practice is found in the Brehon laws which are believed to be at least 3000 years old, being codified by Laighaire, High King of Ireland. By law, physicians were supposed to be skilled in examinations, healing incantations and prayers, surgery, pharmacopoeia, as well as other methods of healing. They also utilized a more holistic approach to healing and had their patients meditate.

 The state of “sitchain”, too, is an in-between place because when you are in that state, you are neither in either this physical reality nor in the Otherworld. You are both at the same time. Meditation is the most powerful practice you can use to facilitate your own inner awakening.

Mysticism is the pursuit of communion with or awareness of the Divine through direct experience intuition, instinct or insight. Mysticism centers on a practice or practices intended to nurture those experiences or awareness. It can be either dualistic or non-dualistic.

The energy one experiences as the result of a consistent contemplative practice is the fundamental energy that flows at the heart of all things. It is called “neart” (hyart) which is defined as a force, energy, power and superabundance. There is Navajo saying, “In the skin at the tips of our fingers we see the train of wind”. It refers to the "wind, breath" felt on the fingertips and on the top of the head, at the time of one's Spiritual Birth or Union with the Divine. In Celtic tradition, it is called the Ruach (breath, wind, or spirit) or “She who breathes upon the waters”.  It is the energy of non-duality that holds everything together in a flow of power and prosperity. With this belief, Celtic spirituality affirms that the world is a place of immense spiritual wealth.


User Comments

After a year and a day (it took longer) I was gifted with a velvet bag and in it was a piece of all black glass...I stare into it no more and keep the velvet bag closed with a knot. Contemplation, Thank you for this post.

What did you see that you did not like?

Concentration into a total black void, I think the most frightening thing you encounter is actually that side/part of yourself. Crossing the veil the void in this reality I question WHY? Chronically I'm confident I'll spend more time there then here however my fear is that when I return I will not remember a lesson and have to start all over yet again. That's not such a bad thing right?

Ancient wisdom teaches about undertaking journeys taken symbolically by sea (Imramma) to return to the womb of the mother and be reborn or mystically transformed. The function of the Imramm was to teach the art of dying. But there is something else they teach us – the art of living. How? Because the stages we experience in the grief process are the same stages we experience when we are in the midst of a major life challenge.


That challenge, in dualistic thinking, is sometimes characterized as a titanic battle between two opposing forces. And this is simply not true. In non-dualistic thinking, present in Celtic wisdom, you don’t give one up for the other because you share in the divine life. The term non-duality is used to denote affinity, or unity, rather than duality or separateness or multiplicity. And that means that all of you shares in that life - not just a part of you. The path to unity is through self-acceptance, not self-denial.


The non-dualistic mind moves from belief to authentic inner experience. This inner experience is what allows your innate wisdom to come forward and be free to be truly present.  Non-dualistic thinking is what allows us to hold creative tensions, to be present to the mystery of our lives, and to to truly practice what all the religions teach – love, peace, patience, kindness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. In non-dualistic thinking, reality is neither physical nor mental. It is a transcendent state of awareness.


In Celtic wisdom, the raven is symbolic of wisdom and prophecy because it travels betwee the worlds. Hence the Scottish proverb, "Tha gliocas an ceann an fhitich or Fice ceann na fhitich", meaning "There is wisdom in a raven's head."

That passage through the veil is preceded by what has been called "the Dark Night of the Soul". That passage is the path to wisdom. We have been marked, more recently, by the idea that the Void is Emptiness - which causes fear. But ancient wisdom holds that the Void is just the opposite - it holds all possibility, everything.

One of the triads says, "Three strong things in the world: a lord, a fool, and the Void."

“The journey shows you that, from this inner dedication, you can reconstruct your own values and action. You develop from your own self-compassion a great compassion for others. You are no longer caught in the false game of judgment, comparison and assumption.

John O'Donohue wrote of this: "More naked now than ever, you begin to feel truly alive. You begin to trust the music of your own soul; you have inherited treasure that no one will ever be able to take from you. At the deepest level, this adventure of growth is, in fact, a transfigurative conversation with your own death. And when the time comes for you to leave, the view from your own death bed will show a life of growth that gladdens the heart and takes away all fear.” (John O’Donohue, The Question Holds the Lantern )

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