Monday, September 26, 2011

Fire in the Head - Fire in the Heart: Drinking for Inspiration


Dan O’Halloran wrote in his essay Fire in the Head: A Tradition of Ritualized Drinking: “While our modern culture descends from our Celto- Germanic forbearers, and this European backdrop pervades our present, neither folklorists, historians, nor anthropologists have systematically combed through the available historical and archaeological records to truly understand the phenomenon of Indo-European "drinking."

Sterling Publishing Company made a compilation of Irish Inspirations: Toasts, Wit & Blessings, wherein, many traditional sayings compiled from four different materials appears…

“Drunkenness and anger speak truth.”

“The inebriated heart will not lie.”

A truthful, honest heart is one that feels the most intensely. It moves us into action whether by drunkenness, or by anger – the inebriated heart is one that is relaxed and open to truth. No matter where you live, this old adage has been spoken many times: “the truth hurts”. But, the truth can heal, as well.

In a speech by an Irish member of the European Parliament named Nuala Ahern, this phrase appears:

“It is in bringing the rage of what hurts you personally into the world

that you have the power to bring néart, this active spirituality, out into the world.”

The word “néart” has no English translation. It is a type of sacred, life-force energy of might – a power that seems to connect all movements within, and around the universe. To lose one’s néart is to be powerless in the world, victimized and unmotivated. The only way to regain one’s néart is to embrace rage and to channel it into a positive motivation for reconnecting with the primal powers of the universal life force.

neart / nèirt (m): energy / force / might / strength [Freelang Dictionary; Scottish Gaelic translation].

As we’ve learned from Druidic ritual accounts, the mysteries lay in the “between” states: “thresholds” neither in, nor out of one single place or time. The most significant thresholds for the Celtic human experience lay on the verges of spiritual / ritual occurrences. Where soul met deity, the spark of creativity could flourish – if properly nurtured by one’s néart.

H.R. Ellis Davidson writes in Myths and Symbols in Pagan Europe [1998], “There are references in early Irish literature to the inexhaustible cauldron of mead in the Other World. [p.45]” In most ritual Celtic feasts, the mead vat [cauldron] was just one of several set up for guests. She then adds, “The mead was often referred to in early poetry, representing as it did the gift of poetic inspiration and skill in words…[p.176]”

According to Alistair Moffat in his book, Before Scotland [2005], he refers to “a Celtic fondness for strong drink and drunkenness, but for warriors it was used to induce what contemporary Irish sources called the rage-fit, a battle frenzy which could produce acts of superhuman courage. Men became what the Vikings later called berserkers.”

I refer back to O’Halloran, here: “The word beer, also of Celto-Germanic ancestry… is frequently referred to in Celtic songs as the "bolsterer of courage" and "fortifier of man". [The Celtic Song "Canu y Cwrwf" is the "Tale of Ale"].” His reference: Matthews, J. A Celtic Reader, Aquarian Press, London:1992

Strong drink, therefore, begets two states common to layman Celts. The first is inspirational poetry that stems from the threshold one stands upon when getting drunk – a “fire in the head”.

The second, is the spark of néart one needs in order to channel his powerful life force into the battle fray – a “fire in the heart”. Warriors fought for what they believed to be true. Their truths could have been their perceived right to lands, property or even holding strong against an invading force.

It is not coincidental that large cauldrons of beer and mead were present at ritual feasts. Without néart warriors wouldn’t go bravely into battle, nor compete for the finest cut of meat at banquet. Without inspiration, poets would not compose their lays. Without the socially accepted practice of drinking for “inspiration”, Celtic poetry would not be as beautiful and distinctive as it is; nor Celtic warriors as fierce, admirable and worthy of mention as they were.

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