THE LAST CELTIC SHAMAN
Trade Paperback, ISBN 089281869-7
357 pages, $16.95
Previously published in Bloomsbury Review
Jim Harrison said, in our poetry our motives are utterly similar to those who made cave paintings or petroglyphs. This connection to our primal past comes to life in Taliesin: The Last Celtic Shaman, a study of myth, prophesy, poetry, ancient wisdom, and shamanic practices. John Matthews, the author of numerous books on Celts, defines shamanism as something which took place all over the ancient world, and that shamans were the interpreters of the gods, the doctors and inner guides of their people. They were not exactly a magician, not exactly a visionary, healer, or a poet but often someone who performed all these functions.
It is the intensity of his experience that makes him unique. His ability to extend his consciousness beyond that of the ordinary human being, and to control his movement through inner, as well as outer, space is without parallel.
Thus the shaman s
attempt to take on the characteristics of another creature the strength of a
bear or keen-sight of a hawk and leave the normal range of human consciousness
to enter a more balanced, less complicated world, sometimes through dreams,
drumming, trance, or hallucinogens. Such
knowledge has been largely lost or distorted through the lens of Christianity,
particularly the gloss added to the few surviving materials from centuries of
monks copying old manuscripts. What
Matthews does is trim away the gloss, seeking the heart of the words spoken by
Taliesen (pronounced Tal-ee-ESS in), a 6th Century poet in a time
when invading Saxons had pushed the Celts into
I have been in many shapes
before I assumed a constant form.
* * *
I have been a blue salmon.
I have been a dog;
I have been a stag;
I have been a roebuck on the mountain . . .
A hen received me . . .
I rested nine nights
In her womb a child . . .
I have been dead, I have been alive . . .
I am Taliesin.
There is something
raw and essential here, something lost in modernity. The poet Gary Snyder said most of us don t
know where our water comes from. Nor do
most of us know our roots. What s
apparent from Matthews work is how closely connected the Celts were to earth
and sky, as were ancient people all over the world. Of particular significance to the Celts were
the sacred groves of trees, documented as early as Tacitus in