The Three Illuminations

Copyright by Searles O'Dubhain

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Oft times in the past, I have noticed some questions requesting the meanings of certain Celtic terms. I have endeavored to explain three of these terms here to the best of my ability. There isn't a lot of easily available information on any of these ancient techniques/terms (so what else is new?). A lot of what I'm posting here is my *interpretation* based on my own studies and my own experiences. A more thorough and scholarly investigation needs to be done toconclusively "nail down" each technique. It is my hope, that someone will be inspired to do such a study and subsequently post their findings here as well. The terms in question are: Tenm Laida, Dichetal Do Chennaib and Imbas Forosna

The Three Illuminations

"Who is this poet, wrapped in a splendid robe Who shows himself before he has chanted his poetry?" .... Ferchertne

Tenm Laida, Dichetal Do Chennaibh and Imbas Forosnai are the "Three Illuminations" of the Filidh. These three techniques were used to achieve "Illumination", which is called "Imbas" in Irish and "Awen" in Welsh. These are the three techniques of poetic inspiration and divination that a Druid or a Fili could be expected to know after passing through the eighth year of study in a Druidic/Poetic school. They are the height of what I call "passive Draíocht". It is my belief that the more active forms of Draíocht were reserved for the final four years of a Druid/Fili's schooling.

Dichetal Do Chennaib

Dichetal Do Chennaibh (Illumination by Song) is an altered state that is achieved by chanting or singing a repetitive pattern (usually calling on the gods in some form). This could possibly also have included drumming and dancing as alternative means of achieving the proper altered state. Such activities are now known to synchronize the body and mind to an external rhythm, allowing one to cast off the chains of normal perception. The practitioner of this art must first float at peace within the rhythm of the song (dance, beat, mantra, etc.). The state of inner quietness and focus that was to be achieved by such chanting may well be considered to be an "altered state". In such a state, communion with the ancestors and the gods could and did occur more readily, allowing prophecies and insights to be made. Sometimes the space for such an illumination might have been marked off using rods of the appropriate woods (yew/hazel) which might themselves have been marked with Ogham inscriptions.

Tenm Laida

Tenm Laida or Teinm Laegda (Cracking open the Nuts of Wisdom) is a state achieved by relaxation and clearing the mind in a Ritual environment. It usually involved using some sort of Magical implement such as a knife, a sword or a staff. Sometimes the Druid had to actually touch the subject (if alive, usually upon the head) or directly handle an item to discover what secret knowledge was contained within it. This information could be almost anything: events from a person's past life, a detailed history of who and what had happened to an object or even how and why the subject was bespelled or enchanted. The examples that I've seen seem to suggest to me that a spontaneous flow of information and/or poetic verse might accompany the first contact that occurred between the seer and the object. This verse would then be interpreted based upon the vast storehouse of Druidic knowledge that had been accumulated through many years of study, experiment, observation and experience. It is this interpreting of the extemporaneous recital of verse that involves the act of "cracking open the nuts of wisdom". This suggests that the divination contained many levels of meaning (frequently the poetic compositions also contained many levels of knowledge and encrypted meaning).

Imbas Forosna

Imbas Forosnai (Illumination of Tradition or Sudden Illumination in my own experience) was a form of altered state used by seers and Fili to create and/or see visions. The seers would totally isolate themselves from all sensory inputs, sounds, lights and feelings. This could be enhanced by being closed up within a very dark room or laying under a covering of hides (though it could also be done in a mundane situation, even on a battlefield). The Seer would pronounce incantations over his/her hands, placing then crosswise upon the face and eyes. While lying or standing within isolation (sometimes in the company of their hand gods and/or idols/Ogham rods), they would attempt to float and relax, going into a more receptive state. When the proper state was achieved, a signal would be given for the hides to be removed or for the door to be opened. The sudden, instantaneous transition from Darkness to Light would provide a momentum to the meditation experience and would trigger spontaneous visions or poetic utterance. In such an "in-between time and place" prophecies could be made more easily. A heightened awareness of the secret knowledge of the surrounding space might also be made available to the seer. It is in the rush of perceptions and altered lighting conditions, that a kind of prophetic magnetism was generated (this is like gases rushing into a vacuum or a balancing out of the charges within a chemical mixture of isotopes). The key to the technique seems to have been in the sudden changes of external/internal stimuli. Sometimes, Imbas Forosnai was practiced by chewing the flesh of a dog, a cat, a pig or a bull while meditating with the palms upon the eyes. In this practice, it is similar to the actions of the Tarbh Feis (though that ritual involved actual prophetic dreaming vs. the meditative state/change of Imbas Forosnai).

Outlawed by Padraig

It is said that during the days of the early Celtic Church, Padraig outlawed the techniques of Imbas Forosna and Tenm Laida because they used pagan idols and Magical symbols. Dichetal Do Chenaib was allowed to continue because it was thought to be based more upon knowledge acquired from the study of poetry and scientific information and did not utilize idols or invocations to the pagan gods.

Tenm Laida and Imbas Forosnai Revisited

I'd like to add some additional information to the statements I've already made about Imbas Forosna in this presentation. Please recall, that I previously stated that during a ritual of Imbas Forosna, the ancient Fili would chew the flesh of a dog, a cat, a red pig or a bull while seeking "illumination". That is not strictly how it is defined in Cormac's Glossary (which is found within The Yellow Book of Lecan). In that work, it is stated that the poet chews the flesh first, then places it upon the flagstone behind the door as an offering to his spirits. If he does not receive immediate illumination, then he pronounces incantations upon his palms, calls his spirits again and places his hands crosswise upon his face. It is at this point that he seeks inspiration within sleep (or trance). He is watched to make certain that he is not disturbed. Answers can come in minutes or hours. Illumination is sought until the answers are received. Now, that is what Cormac, a ninth or tenth century Christian monk, had to say about the process for achieving Imbas Forosna. Much of what I had posted in my original message was contained in a lecture by Eugene O'Curry entitled, "Druids and Druidism in Ancient Ireland". To quote Dr. O'Curry, "The Poet chews a bit of raw red flesh of a pig, a dog or a cat, and then retires with it to his bed, behind the door, where he pronounces an oration upon it, and offers it to his idol gods." The room was then guarded, (... paraphrasing now ...), and the poet continued his incantations, (even sleeping with his idols), for days if necessary. He would then come forth and reveal the knowledge of his "illumination". What else do Druids have to say about Imbas Forosna and what else do we know about the processes behind the rituals ourselves? Tenm Laida and Imbas Forosna are really just two differenent forms of the same kind of activity (one achieves illumination from the outside-in and the other from the inside-out ... in this both O'Curry and the "Senchus Mor" seem to support my opinion BTW).

Spirit, Divination and Animal Lifeforce

Imbas Forsona contains another form of "chewing" which is accomplished following the sacrifice of a dog, a cat, a red pig or a bull. One thing should be immediately apparent to us, (especially since we've already discussed the Tarbh Feis), there is a definate connection between spirit, divination and animal lifeforce in this Magical procedure as well. If the conscious mind is not senstive enough to perceive the communications of the Otherworld, (while consciously performing incantations in this world), then it must be quieted. This is done by going into an altered state of consciousness to increase the mind's sensitivity to Otherworldly communications. This altered state is itself a form of ritualized dreaming or trance. An Ollamh, (or even an Anrun), might achieve such a state easily while in any environment, however distracting, (such as Fedelm, the Fili, who prophesied doom, while standing in her war chariot, to Maeve and her army gathered upon the plains of Cruachan Ai..... "I see it crimson, I see it red." No isolation chamber for that warrior woman!) Achieving such an altered state normally requires a secluded, safe and quiet location for us lesser mortals. We cannot instantly achieve the desired Otherworldly connection with the ease of a Finn or the drama of a Fedelm. We must free ourselves absolutely from outside interruptions, totally securing and isolating our "security zone" from external threats and fears to achieve this type of connection (... this also goes for most of the other Druids as well, if we are to believe Cormac ... it seems they required peace and quiet as well). One of the best ways of constructing such an isolated environment is to be completely deprived of sensory inputs. We do this in today's world by using sensory deprivation tanks, hypnosis or deep meditation. In the ancient world, this was done by going into caves or darkened rooms; away from humankind and the cares of the mundane world. The need for such sensory deprivation is obvious: the mind/spirit/soul needs to connect to the Otherworld and not to this one. If we are constantly processing external information, how can we hope to receive (or ask for) esoteric information? (This is one reason why telescopes are located away from major population centers....there is simply far too much "background" illumination/noise around the cities). It is within such isolation, away from distracting sensory stimuli, that we can expect our greatest opportunity to achieve inner quietness. It is within this inner quietness that we can hear the mind of our familiar spirits and gods. It is from out of the utter darkness of the inner mind that actual illumination comes. The key or trigger of Imbas Forosna is the darkness into which the light is manifested. My previous example made use of the transition between the utter darkness and the light outside. All that is truly necessary is the light that comes from one's own spirit guides and Otherworldly familiars.

How do I know this?

How do I know this? Did I read it in a book? Is it some dead art from yesteryear? Did someone tell me? Yes and No! Both and either! This is no conjecture or wild speculation on my part. I know this is the way of Imbas Forosna because this is how it actually happens for me. In Imbas Forosna, Light comes to the darkness. In Tenm Laida, silence comes within the rythms of the chant (complete synchronization). In these altered states we receive both illumination and knowledge.

Totemic and Symbolic

The use of the animal's flesh to perform Imbas Forosna is purely totemic and symbolic. It is as unnecessary to the actual illumination as are the incantations and the isolation (or the use of the hands upon the face/eyes). If one has achieved the proper contact with the spirits of the Otherworld, all else is merely "window dressing". The offerings, the animal sacrifice, the palms on the eyes, the dream state, are all props that are used to "trigger" a connection between the seer and his spirits. That is the long and the short of it. The "blood Magick" and the totemic connection to the Otherworldly aspects of the sacrificed animal all provide energy for the seer to use (or not to use, even to avoid if desired). They are not absolutely necessary to the process. All that is really required is the triad of the seer, his spirits and the "sudden illumination" itself. Try it and see for yourself. Don't take my word for it.

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