Ich am of Irlande
And of the holy londe of Irlande
Good sir, pray ich ye
For of saintee charite
Come and dance wyt me
To this day one can still see her, that seductive Druidic fairy maid, calling wistfully to the Christian monks from out of the grassy green glen of ancient Ireland. The Irish poet, William Butler Yeats expresses this seduction, temptation, in even more passionate words at a later date as the fairy maiden, symbol of this ancient, earth based magikal religion, calls him forth:
to kiss her lips and take her hands;
And walk among the long dappled grass,
And pluck till time and times are done
The silver apples of the moon,
The golden apples of the sun.”
This fairy maiden is at once a spirit and nature herself. In the misty, green, "betwixt and between" of Ireland’s lakes, the ocean and lush landscapes, there is no difference between the two.
To the Celtic mind heaven and earth are interdependent and wondrously interactive. The worlds of spirit and matter enjoy a sacred intimacy. This is the way it had been in pagan times, and even the new religion of Christianity did not change Celtic thinking on the matter.
This was the world that young Patrick inhabited as a he sat all alone night after night in the Irish countryside tending his sheep. Born in Briton of Roman parents, at age fifteen he was sold into slavery to a Celtic master, but was a free spirit in his mind. With no one around to talk to but the sheep, he spoke to God--a God that told him in visions that he must escape Ireland and learn more of Him.
Fifteen years later, when the Celtic speaking, newly ordained Bishop of the early Christian Church came back to Ireland to tell folks of his newfound God, he did it with a deep seeded love for nature and appreciation for the earth-based religion that he was about to modify forever. He did not discard the Celtic Spirit as he brought in his new faith, he built on it.
For legend has it that it was none other than St. Patrick who created the Celtic Cross. The story goes like this:
"While engaged in the baptism of the royal prince Aengus, son of the King of Munster, the saint, leaning on his crosier, pierced with its sharp point the prince's foot. Aengus bore the pain unmoved. When St. Patrick, at the close of the ceremony, saw the blood flow, and asked Aengus why he had been silent, he replied, with genuine heroism, that he thought it might be part of the ceremony, a penalty for the joyous blessings of the Faith that were imparted. The saint admired his heroism, and, taking the chieftain's circular shield, inscribed on it a cross with the same point of the crozier, and promised that that shield would be the signal of countless spiritual and temporal triumphs.
And so, we have the first appearance of the Celtic Cross.
The circle of the Celtic King’s shield is the sun and represents wholeness, timelessness, the round contours of the Earth, the feminine, the Druidic world of the cyclic Web of Life.
The cross is masculine, directional, finite, and human. It is the Four Directions, the Four Corners of the Earth, the times of year, up and down, left and right, beginning and end. Where the four points of the cross meet with the circle significant points in time are noted on a repeated time cycle: sunrise, mid-day, sunset, and midnight; the Spring Equinox, the Summer Solstice, the Fall Equinox, the Winter Solstice or the Four traditional Celtic seasonal festivals of Samhain November 1); Imbloc (February 1) Beltane (May 1), Lugnasadh (August 1). The cross also points to the two trajectories of human life–the daily and life path and the spiritual path reaching after the stars. Its’ horizontal axis is the earthly world and the vertical axis is the heavenly world. Where the two come together at the center of the circle is the union of Heaven and Earth.
So, the Celtic Cross depicts the marriage of two worlds. The ancient Pagan and the Christian. Heaven and Earth. Natural and Supernatural.
This is a potent union of ecology and holiness that is felt in Ireland and the Celtic mind even today. It is a deep understanding that spirit and nature are one and to live in harmony with this union is the means for achieving holiness.
Celtic scholar Christopher Bamford explains that the Celtic interpretation of the divine Savior’s mission was to be “all in all,” and reconcile humanity and nature in God. He says, “Christianity and the act of Christ was never an end in itself, but a divine means to achieve that state of harmony for which creation was intended and which always was in Ireland.”
It is mankind’s duty therefore to become aware of and live within this network of divine power and natural phenomenon and to care for both.
This is a message for our times.