Anam Cara: A Book of Celtic Wisdom

Anam Cara: A Book of Celtic Wisdom

by John O'Donohue


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Discover the Celtic Circle of Belonging

John O'Donohue, poet, philosopher, and scholar, guides you through the spiritual landscape of the Irish imagination. In Anam Cara, Gaelic for "soul friend," the ancient teachings, stories, and blessings of Celtic wisdom provide such profound insights on the universal themes of friendship, solitude, love, and death as:

  • Light is generous
  • The human heart is never completely born
  • Love as ancient recognition
  • The body is the angel of the soul
  • Solitude is luminous
  • Beauty likes neglected places
  • The passionate heart never ages
  • To benatural is to be holy
  • Silence is the sister of the divine
  • Death as an invitation to freedom

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780060929435
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 10/21/1998
Series: Harper Perennial
Pages: 256
Sales rank: 36,069
Product dimensions: 5.31(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.58(d)

About the Author

John O'Donohue was awarded a Ph.D. in philosophical theology from the University of Tübingen in 1990. He is the author of several works, including a book on the philosophy of Hegel, Person als Vermittlung; two collections of poetry, Echoes of Memory and Conamara Blues; and two international bestsellers, Anam Cara and Eternal Echoes. He lectures and holds workshops in Europe and America, and is currently researching a book on the philosophical mysticism of Meister Eckhart. He lives in Ireland.

Read an Excerpt

The Mystery of Friendship

Light Is Generous

If you have ever had occasion to be out early in the morning before the dawn breaks, you will have noticed that the darkest time of night is immediately before dawn. The darkness deepens and becomes more anonymous. If you had never been to the world and never known what a day was, you couldn't possibly imagine how the darkness breaks, how the mystery and color of a new day arrive. Light is incredibly generous, but also gentle. When you attend to the way the dawn comes, you learn how light can coax the dark. The first fingers of light appear on the horizon, and ever so deftly and gradually, they pull the mantle of darkness away from the world. Quietly before you is the mystery of a new dawn, the new day. Emerson said, "No one suspects the days to be Gods." It is one of the tragedies of modern culture that we have lost touch with these primal thresholds of nature. The urbanization of modern life has succeeded in exiling us from this fecund kinship with our mother earth. Fashioned from the earth, we are souls in clay form. We need to remain in rhythm with our inner clay voice and longing. Yet this voice is no longer audible in the modern world. We are not even aware of our loss, consequently, the pain of our spiritual exile is more intense in being largely unintelligible.
The world rests in the night. Trees, mountains, fields, and faces are released from the prison of shape and the burden of exposure. Each thing creeps back into its own nature within the shelter of the dark. Darkness is the ancient womb. Nighttime is womb-time. Our souls come out to play. The darkness absolves everything; the strugglefor identity and impression falls away. We rest in the night. The dawn is a refreshing time, a time of possibility and promise. All the elements of nature--stones, fields, rivers, and animals--are suddenly there anew in the fresh dawn light. Just as darkness brings rest and release, so the dawn brings awakening and renewal. In our mediocrity and distraction, we forget that we are privileged to live in a wondrous universe. Each day, the dawn unveils the mystery of this universe. Dawn is the ultimate surprise; it awakens us to the immense "thereness" of nature. The wonderful subtle color of the universe arises to clothe everything. This is captured in a phrase from William Blake: "Colours are the wounds of light." Colors bring out the depth of secret presence at the heart of nature.

The Celtic Circle of Belonging
All through Celtic poetry you find the color, power, and intensity of nature. How beautifully it recognizes the wind, the flowers, the breaking of the waves on the land. Celtic spirituality hallows the moon and adores the life force of the sun. Many of the ancient Celtic gods were close to the sources of fertility and belonging. Since the Celts were a nature people, the world of nature was both a presence and a companion. Nature nourished them; it was here that they felt their deepest belonging and affinity. Celtic nature poetry is suffused with this warmth, wonder, and belonging. One of the oldest Celtic prayers is a prayer called "St. Patrick's Breastplate"; its deeper name is "The Deer's Cry." There is no separation between subjectivity and the elements. Indeed, it is the very elemental forces that inform and elevate subjectivity:

I arise today
through the strength of heaven, light of sun,
Radiance of moon,
Splendor of fire,
Speed of lightning,
Swiftness of wind,
Depth of sea,
Stability of earth,
Firmness of rock.
(trans. Kuno Meyer)

The Celtic world is full of immediacy and belonging. The Celtic mind adored the light. This is one of the reasons why Celtic spirituality is emerging as a new constellation in our times. We are lonely and lost in our hungry transparency. We desperately need a new and gentle light where the soul can shelter and reveal its ancient belonging. We need a light that has retained its kinship with the darkness. For we are sons and daughters of the darkness and of the light.
We are always on a journey from darkness into light. At first, we are children of the darkness. Your body and your face were formed first in the kind darkness of your mother's womb. Your birth was a first journey from darkness into light. All your life, your mind lives within the darkness of your body. Every thought that you have is a flint moment, a spark of light from your inner darkness. The miracle of thought is its presence in the night side of your soul; the brilliance of thought is born in darkness. Each day is a journey. We come out of the night into the day. All creativity awakens at this primal threshold where light and darkness test and bless each other. You only discover balance in your life when you learn to trust the flow of this ancient rhythm. The year also is a journey with the same rhythm. The Celtic people had a deep sense of the circular nature of our journey. We come out of the darkness of winter into the possibility and effervescence of springtime.
Ultimately, light is the mother of life. Where there is no light, there can be no life. If the angle of the sun were to turn away from the earth, all human, animal, and vegetative life, as we know it, would disappear. Ice would freeze the earth again. Light is the secret presence of the divine. It keeps life awake. Light is a nurturing presence, which calls forth warmth and color in nature. The soul awakens and lives in light. It helps us to glimpse the sacred depths within us. Once human beings began to search for a meaning to life, light became one of the most powerful metaphors to express the eternity and depth of life. In the Western tradition, and indeed in the Celtic tradition, thought has often been compared to light. In its luminosity, the intellect was deemed to be the place of the divine within us.

Reading Group Guide

Plot Summary
With the publication of Anam Cara, John O'Donohue introduced the world to the inspiring ancient wisdom of Celtic mysticism, a world that brings us closer to the magical and unobtrusive realm of our own divinity -- where the soul and the eternal are one. O'Donohue guides readers through the enlivening and lyrical spiritual landscape of the Irish imagination, offering a treasure trove of Celtic insights, stories, and teachings on the universal themes of friendship, solitude, love, and death.

The Celts had a refined and passionate sense of the divine. The Celtic imagination articulates an inner friendship that embraces nature, divinity, the underworld, and the human world as one. The Celts never separated the visible from the invisible, time from eternity, or the human from the divine. Surviving to this day, the Celtic reverence for the soul in all things is a vibrant spiritual heritage unique in the Western world, one that is capturing the imagination of people throughout the world as they rediscover the wisdom of the past and their own Celtic roots. Exploring such themes as the mystery of friendship, the spirituality of the senses, the brightness within solitude, work as the poetics of growth, aging as the art of inner harvesting, and death as eternal homecoming, this book will envelop your heart with Celtic benediction.

Questions for Discussion

  • Why is Celtic Spirituality achieving such a resonance in our world today? How can it contribute to our way of living now? What is the Celtic Circle of belonging? What kind of friendship is the Anam Cara? What is the difference between acquaintance and friendship? What does true friendship bringus?

  • How have the senses been treated in the Western Tradition? Why has there been such a separation of body and soul in Western Spirituality? What new dimension would the unity of soul and senses bring to a life? In your own life, which of the senses are dominate and which are inevitably always neglected?

  • Why do we fear solitude? Must true individuality always be solitary? What are the fruits of solitude? How does the closeness of the eternal alter our view of spirituality? How can familiarity be alienation?

  • What difference could an awakened imagination make to your work? What are the forces that paralyze us and prevent us from changing? Why is the need for expression so intense and necessary in the human person? What forms of deep expression do you feel would better manifest who you really are?

  • How do you view time? What kinds of time do you inhabit (chronological, stressed, rhythmic, and eternal)? Which season of the heart are you living in now? Do you practice the "religion of rush'? Why and how does passion keep us young? Why is the wisdom and prescience of the Elders so neglected in contemporary society? How would you like to grow old? What is meant by "second innocence'?

  • Describe fully what understanding of death you have worked out for yourself. How do fear and death relate in your life? Has postmodern culture lost all sense of ritual in relation to dying and bereavement? Could death be birth in another guise? What is your concept of Eternal Life?

  • Customer Reviews

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    Anam Cara 4.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 38 reviews.
    Guest More than 1 year ago
    Anam Cara has been a constant companion of mine and a spiritual treasury since I discovered it 4 years ago. I cherish this book and it's author, John O'Donohue and so will you. My life has been blessed with the wisdom I have taken in from this masterpiece. If you are on a spiritual journey of your own or if you have a hunger for the spiritual & devine, you will treasure this book. John O'Donohue takes you on that spiritual journey, touching your heart and nourishing your soul by linking the human with the devine. You won't be able to put this book down.
    literatissima More than 1 year ago
    Anam Cara means "soul friend" in Gaelic. This book of Celtic wisdom explores life, friendship, love, relationships, work and death from a very soulful perspective. I particularly enjoyed the application of various Celtic sayings and poems throughout. The Universal message of the book is essential for everyone, regardless of cultural background. I would highly recommend this book to those that seek, those that enjoy reading about spirituality and those who have an interest in ancient Celtic wisdom.
    stefID More than 1 year ago
    I was required to read this for my class and it turned out to be the most beautiful book I have ever read. Its eloquence touched my soul. O'Donahue gives the reader a true spiritual perspective on life in all its aspects. I feel grandly fortunate to have been given the gift to read this. I highly recommend it to those seeking answers to spiritual questions.
    denfrog More than 1 year ago
    This was a wonderful little book that caught my eye as I was purchasing a self help book for myself. This book was much more helpful to me than the book that I went to buy. My own interest in Celtic history and culture were also enriched by the ideas that the author explored. The wisdom that I found in the book has been very useful to me in my journey through a difficult time. I would recommend this book to anyone interested in those mysteries of the Irish spirit. The poems and quotes used were particularly appropriate to the ponts the author illustrated. I will keep this book on my bookshelf next to my collection of Yeats poetry.
    Guest More than 1 year ago
    This book takes me to a beginning of my coming to life where the most natural of beauty in the thoughts, feelings, senses, and the good conscious of the world seem to remain. Through this book, I returned to the essence of Love and of Being I once knew some place, somewhere, before the moment of my birth. Through the Anam Cara, I am reached back to the time of my birth and despite who I have become, reconnect to the smell, touch, vision and sounds of the truth of devine Love, Life and Death. I am whole again. The Anam Cara, combines philosophy with poetry and Celtic mantra that might serve as a cleasing to the most evil of hearts, and a source of inspiration for Love, Friendship, Trust and Hope within the self and human relationship throughout the world and beyond. Great lessons from one person's view on Celtic beliefs, expressions, poetry, philosophy, imagination, prayers, rhythms, wisdom, spirituality, vibrations, vision, family, friendship, and Love. Recommended reading on a quarterly basis. I found myself on a train sharing it with a woman sitting next to me....I had to let someone else read what I had in that moment, 3 years ago. I haven't stopped sharing it. Don't you stop. Sincere thanks to John O'Donohue!
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    What a lovely book. I have given it to numerous people. You must have a soul open to love and beauty to really appreciate this book. John O'Donohue provides beautiful images that connect on a soul level.
    Guest More than 1 year ago
    This book has so much truth and wisdom - it needs to be read again and again. I just love this book!
    Guest More than 1 year ago
    And many many truths. I purchased this book while touring the British Isles, and was inspired by it to research more by the same author. Common sense, but with a spiritual reach to it, this book will open many 'ah'ha's' to your own spiritual journey. ENJOY as much as I did.
    mckait on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
    This is a book that touched me deeply. To put it very simply, it is a book about friendship. That "soul friend" that each of us long for and yet so few of us are fortunate to claim. This is a story of humanity and yearning. It is a story of love and loss and spirituality. O'Donohue writes in a poetic and compassionate way about life.
    irishkitsune on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
    This is a truly insightful book. The title translates as "soul friend," and Donohue talks in-depth about ancient Celtic wisdom and spirituality. If you have interest in any spirituality at all, not just shamanism, I really recommend this book.
    lunaverse on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
    (From my review on Amazon in 1998.)Each sentence is a ponderable morsel.Anam Cara: A Book of Celtic Wisdom is truly a work of art. Over the past three years, I have been working on discovering myself through self-help books, 12-step programs, religious study, and personal introspection. This book summed up everything I have learned (the hard way) during this time, and presented it in a beautiful package that was invigorating and thought-provoking to read. It was a pure joy. I began reading it in January, and have only just finished it last night, because each sentance was a ponderable morsel. Sometimes I would read a phrase five times over in order to fully grasp and apply it's meaning to my life. This is not a 70 mph trip through the McDonald's drive-thru, this is a seven course meal in Vienna, and every bite demands that you hold it in your mouth to savor it.Anam Cara is one of the best non-fiction books I have ever read. I plan to read it again in a year or so, because I know I will get new things out of it. I am already loaning it to a friend, and have a couple of others in mind I'd like to loan it to. I can't keep this from the ones I love.
    Maggie_Foote on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
    I rarely read spiritual books, but I'm glad I read this one. O'Donohue writes lyrical prose, telling us to have compassion, to find our soul friends, to sink into the bliss of solitude, and to find our way to the other side. This from a man who has done scholarly work on Hagel. I recommend this book to anyone seeking peace and calm in the turbulence of life.
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