To fully experience the Celtic spirit, one must embrace not only the essence of a pilgrim, but also the land the pilgrim walks upon.
Places such as Galway's Brigit's Garden are sacred keepers of beloved earthly traditions. A calendar year in the form of gardens lovingly corralled by their keepers, the Garden plays host to a variety of cultural concepts represented not only by the flora, but also by the structures erected to display the four key festivals of the Celtic year.
Artists encompassing the life of each season in elaborate displays of metal and stone work weave concept into accessible reality. Every season has its place among the Garden walls, and care has been given to each item within the enclosures.
Jenny, our guide, brings life back to the old stories with soft-spoken yet unbridled enthusiasm. Her reenactment of Brigit's Cloak is worth a mention--as is her connection to the land and its sustainability in spirit and physicality alike; which in itself is a very Celtic concept. There is also an aspect of a pilgrim in Jenny, as she is from the South of England--but willing to journey not only into another world, so to speak but also in terms of living and opening up both heart & nature center to others. Children especially can benefit from such an enriching experience that is a nurturing place celebrating their history: the cultural revival and sense of kinship with the land is alive and well in places such as Brigit's Garden.
It's easy to see how everything ties in to a quest for spiritual fulfilment here: it's children of all ages that wander through those doors, looking for some connection to their literal and figurative roots. Jenny does well to cultivate the interest of others and respectfully demonstrate how best to get in touch with one's ancient traditions and relationship with the rugged and intoxicating landscape.
Another example of connecting spiritually to the world of Ireland can be found in the windswept landscape of Connemara--one of tumultuous hills and enormous mountains, furious streams boiling with bright white passion and thrashing fish. Everything seems to be rising to fight the very sky itself; all while spreading ever further across marsh and moor as if to say: I am here. This is my place of dwelling.
To drive down the roads leading into the valleys and heart-chambers of this land is not unlike feeling born again--there is a freedom in the escape of culture and the release of civilization, rushing past fields dyeing bronze under a shockingly-clear blue sky. Wild horses roam the waving grasses; sheep cross the roads with the tough-guy attitude of "go on, hit me, I dare ya".
Everything has to do with nature coming back to meet mankind, and mankind's acceptance and adjustment to nature's preferences being one that is both lovingly and grudgingly given--lovingly for how the land prospers and flourishes in its climate; grudgingly in that man's desire for control can often isolate him from nature.
A garden, more oft than not, is one place for humans to find their balance with the natural world again. Whatever one chooses to believe in, gardens have existed since the first of us put down our weapons and said, "hey, we can probably use this" as agriculture began. As technology and society progressed, more and more of the world was eaten away by towns and pollution and distraction and walls. The touch of nature was slowly brushed away until it was viewed almost as a separate entity; and not something we ourselves came from. We have forgotten, in a way, what it means to lead a self-sustaining life. There is, in the Western World especially, a great emptiness that cannot be filled--a tiredness and a need to look for something to keep going. To not stop and rest as our ancestors would've, when the year slowed down and the hours turned darker and deeper.
I myself have always joked that this time of year is one of hibernation. Jenny happened to mention in passing that those who came before us DID view it as such, to some degree--that ten hours of rest was not uncommon, and that people didn't take the downtime for granted. Their determination and focus in the fields yielded profit in the form of time they could bank on later, if the harvest was kind and the weather forgiving. In modernity, it's easier to avoid that and keep going--yet I cannot help but wonder if this attributes to things such as seasonal depression. When nature rests, man should rest, for man is a part of nature. It has to do with following a cycle and falling back into a rhythm in one's own life that coalesces with that of nature's own.
In the approaching months of dark and quiet, do try to set some time aside for yourselves to meditate on yourselves. Become introspective. It can be hard to look into the abyssal cavern of the human spirit; especially one's own--it's hard enough to look in the mirror sometimes, much less address problems you cannot see, but know you might have. There's a reason this time of year comes with ghosts, goblins, and monsters we stir up in the night that somehow don't exist come morning: we've come to view the darkness and stillness as something of a negative entity. That we must constantly fill our lives with noise and color and light to be fully alive.
The truth is, things aren't meant to go all the time. There is a necessity in reflection, a need for the dusk and softness so that new life can be coaxed out of the shadows. Lay back by a dying fire and appreciate the simple things. Your harvest can be a holiday table if you so desire. Your hours of rest taken on your much-needed holidays. You may need to come out here to fully experience what it is to be fully present. To be tuned in to what someone is saying without checking your phone or wondering when this'll be over so you can move on to the next Task at Hand.
There is something magic and old in the country here that encourages respite. That rekindles passion. That keeps faith afloat. That allows what's been cut away to grow again.
The human soul is a garden in desperate need of specific nourishment, and that, I firmly believe, is a nutrient one can find here: in the rich turn of peaty earth and the fruits of the hazelnut tree.