Skip to main content
Center for Action and Contemplation

Finding the Sacred Everywhere

Monday, July 6, 2015

Native and Celtic Spirituality

Finding the Sacred Everywhere
Monday, July 6, 2015

Unfortunately, many of the popular images and ideas about Native and Celtic spirituality are romanticized opinion. Since there are few written primary sources, there is no way to prove or disprove many claims. For all their weaknesses, “religions of the book” have a documented, verifiable tradition. Much of the lore now circulating seems to be based on modern projections—what we wish and imagine Celtic and Native spirituality to be—rather than founded on original sources or solid research.

The Celts did create the richly illuminated Book of Kells (which includes the four Gospels) around 800 AD, but there were few other texts and few people could read in Britain and Ireland during the Middle Ages. “The Deer’s Cry” or “St. Patrick’s Breastplate” attributed to Saint Patrick was most likely written in the 8th century by someone who was influenced by the 5th century missionary. Most Native American tribes depend on oral teaching and story-telling rather than written language. For example, Chief Seattle’s famous speech, given in 1854, no longer exists in its original form. The most popular version circulating today was actually written for a film in 1972.

Yet this very lack of codification allows the oral traditions easier access to the non-dual mind. Huston Smith writes that orality guards against the loss of “the capacity to sense the sacred through nonverbal channels. Because writing can grapple with meanings explicitly, sacred texts tend to gravitate to positions of such eminence as to be considered the preeminent if not exclusive channel of revelation. This eclipses other means of divine disclosure. Oral traditions do not fall into this trap. The invisibility of their texts, which is to say their myths, leaves their eyes free to scan for other sacred portents, virgin nature and sacred art being the prime examples.” [1] That really makes sense to me, even though I also know it is open to abuse, just as the three “religions of the book” have always been open to abuse in the hands of immature people.

One of the non-dual gifts of Celtic and Native traditions is their openness to inspiration and wisdom from nature, beauty, and signs and symbols that speak deeply to the unconscious. Because they are not tied to one sacred text, they are free to discover and honor the sacred everywhere. Timothy Joyce writes: “To wish to learn from the Celtic Christian is to wish to sense the passionate presence of God in all of life. It is to find God in the ordinary events of life, love, eating, working, playing. . . . It is also to perceive that time and place do not separate us from what we ordinarily do not see and sense. The ancient Celts believed that the other world was always close to us and became apparent in the ‘thin times’ and ‘thin places’ in which the veil that usually obscured them was lifted.” [2]  They undoubtedly had much easier access to the spiritual world, but again with the caveat that they were even more likely to fall into the “Pre-Trans Fallacy” that I talked about before, which is what unfortunately allowed us to call them “superstitious” or even more unkindly “tree worshipers.”

Gateway to Silence:
One world, all sacred


[1] Huston Smith, The World’s Religions: Our Great Wisdom Traditions (Harper Collins: 1986), 370.

[2] Timothy J. Joyce, Celtic Christianity: A Sacred Tradition, a Vision of Hope (Orbis Books: 1998), 154.

Photograph (detail) by imma
Navigate by Date

This year’s theme

A candle being lit

Radical Resilience

We live in a world on fire. This year the Daily Meditations will explore contemplation as a way to build Radical Resilience so we can stand in solidarity with the world without burning up or burning out. The path ahead may be challenging, but we can walk it together.

The archives

Explore the Daily Meditations

Explore past meditations and annual themes by browsing the Daily Meditations archive. Explore by topic or use the search bar to find wisdom from specific teachers.

Join our email community

Sign-up to receive the Daily Meditations, featuring reflections on the wisdom and practices of the Christian contemplative tradition.

Hidden Fields

Find out about upcoming courses, registration dates, and new online courses.
Our theme this year is Radical Resilience. How do we tend our inner flame so we can stand in solidarity with the world without burning up or out? Meditations are emailed every day of the week, including the Weekly Summary on Saturday. Each week builds on previous topics, but you can join at any time.
In a world of fault lines and fractures, how do we expand our sense of self to include love, healing, and forgiveness—not just for ourselves or those like us, but for all? This monthly email features wisdom and stories from the emerging Christian contemplative movement. Join spiritual seekers from around the world and discover your place in the Great Story Line connecting us all in the One Great Life. Conspirare. Breathe with us.