Caitlin Matthews,
The Celtic Spirit:
Daily Meditations for the Turning Year

(HarperSanFrancisco, 1999)

I come from a mixed-religious background, and I was not raised in any particular faith. I was exposed to a variety of religions, however, and I was taught to respect the beliefs of others. Although I finally found a spiritual home with the Friends (Quakers), I do not consider myself a Christian; consequently, I have been a spiritual sojourner most of my life.

This is probably why I find meditation guides so appealing. I like books of daily readings which help my focus to narrow onto one or two concepts and give me something to think about, and suggest some practical application of the concept(s). The Celtic Spirit by Caitlin Matthews is just such a book.

Matthews divides the 365 readings (there is none for February 29) into the seasons marked by the festivals of Samhain, Imbolc, Beltane and Lughnasa. Each meditation begins with a quote from some source of Celtic mythology or scholarship, or writing inspired by Celtic influences which reflects the theme for the day. The short meditation follows, exploring the theme more carefully. Finally, an "invitation" or instruction of some kind concludes the reading. This could be a question on which to meditate further, a visualization exercise, or even an activity.

The meditation for March 5, for example, suggests that you check the direction of the wind against your prevailing mood each day and to record the results, also noting the weather at the time. August 9 asks you to commune with the moon and to note any mood changes with the phases. The overall result is to open and extend one's awareness, whether or not one notes a correlation.

The meditations themselves make their points cogently and elegantly. Matthews draws on a wealth of Celtic mythology, lore and poetry for the seeds of her pieces which explore themes such as "A Cheerful Household," "Commonsense Spirituality," "Entering the Charmed Circle" and "Respect and Reciprocity." The specific nature of the meditation allows the reader to focus on one spiritual concept at a time, and the "invitations" extend and personalize the exercise. Matthews also indexes the meditations by theme in the back, allowing the reader to choose a reading that might fit a specific circumstance or question. An introduction with recommendations on how to use the book and a bibliography of sources round out the book nicely.

Matthews is a proponent of "Celtic shamanism" and while she never directly claims that her spiritual path is linked straight to that of the ancient Celts, those giving the introductory material a cursory glance may draw that conclusion -- which has no basis in historical accuracy. Still, one can appreciate the roots from which the "Celtic path" has been drawn. Furthermore, Matthews acknowledges that not everyone who reads the book will be following her path, and she stresses that the readings bear universal messages.

If you're looking for a meditation manual which will give you clear, straightfoward direction and challenge you to stretch yourself spiritually, then The Celtic Spirit might just be the book for you.

[ by Donna Scanlon ]

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