Post by on Aug 26, 2006 9:21:03 GMT -5
Keeping the Hearth (from 'The Mist-Filled Path' by Frank MacEowen)
It was in winter that the islanders gathered round the hearth fire to listen to stories. Harvest was gathered in. The ears that had listened only to necessary farming and fishing words all the year of toil and ripening were ready for more ancient images and rhythms. A tongue here and there was touched to enchantment by starlight and peat flame ~ George Mackay Brown, Winter Tales
The heart is the heart of the Celtic home. There is a very old tradition of burning turf, or dried earth, for warmth and cooking in the hearth. The hearth also serves as a gathering place for community, family and friends, a fact that may hint at a link between two Gaelic words: teallach (hearth) and teallagh (family).
The heart is a place where stories are told before the start of a day and at the day’s conclusion. From the sound of the fiddle to the giggles of boiling teakettle splattering on stones to a fresh loaf of homemade bread being pulled from the fire: the hearth is a hub of activity in the Celtic world, ancient and modern.
In the Celtic tradition, the hearth is the heart of the family, both biological and spiritual. Traditionally, the hearth is a site where the Celtic family gathers for both physical nourishment (for cooking and eating) and for spiritual nourishment (storytelling, spiritual reading, prayer and healing). It is widely understood in the Celtic world that the hearth is a sacred place. It is a practical, yet spiritual, epicenter of Celtic culture. Heaven and earth are enjoined in this single place within the home. Nourishment of the body and nourishment of the soul become interconnected; a spiritual cosmos is born and sustained.
In Celtic spiritual practices, the hearth may be an actual hearth or fireplace in the home, spoken of by some as an altair teallach (hearth altar or hearth shrine), or it may be a traveling bundle of sacred objects connected to the hearth that are used to create the hearth away from home. In Celtic traditions it is a sacred role to maintain the hearth of the home. This holy role as been generally reserved for women. I (the author) feel that it is through reclaiming the sacredness of the hearth in our homes and honoring once again the role of the hearth keeper that the sacred standing of women can be restored in our culture. Likewise, it is in the practical and spiritual usage of the hearth that we restore a place of holiness within our homes and families.
To work with the hearth in the Celtic way of being is to invite very ancient energies, sacred energies, back into our homes and into the rhythms of our lives. An ancient spirit of nourishment begins to dwell at the hearth when it is invited in and worked with daily. It is, to use Tom Cowan’s term, a ‘sheltering spirit.’ In the maternal side of the family, the sheltering spirit of the hearth and hearth altars that we work with is Brighid. We feel her and know her as one of the many sheltering spirits of the human soul and the soul of the land.
This perception of the hearth and the heath keeper is a most ancient and holy one. It isn’t ‘playing house’ but an empowered role often centered in the home. In any case, many hearth keepers today are living ambassadors of a fire they associate with Brighid’s hearth, making them soothers of the heart and keepers of the earth.