The Word among the Celts

The Word

The Word among the Celts

The spiritual development of the Celtic folk soul – Part 12

(Back to part 11)

The main means of communication is the word, but in the past it had an extra dimension. The utterance of the word, speech, was given to man by the planetary deities. The power of the word was experienced in all respects as something divine. It was, in fact, a human imitation of the spiritual tones of the creative word.

The ancient bards were well acquainted with the expression of vowels and consonants under the influence of breath. And they focused on the magic of the word that could bring healing to the sick, among other things. The bards also used magical words, mantras, which were pronounced as a prayer or thanks.

Special deities were worshiped as creators of language, word and song.

The Germans honored the deity Odin as the initiator of the spoken word (for this he had to undergo an initiation). In this way Odin became the ruler of the power of speech and he learned the magic spells and chants. Therefore, the language of poets is attributed to Odin in the later sagas.

In some Norwegian churches one can still admire the head of Odin with his outflowing breath shaped by the word.




 Odin with an outflowing breath in the church in Hurum, Norway








Odin with his magical power flowing from the mouth


The Celts had their deity Ogimos whom they worshiped as the god of the word and there was also Lug, the sun deity as creator of the arts, the word and music.

When Lug played a joyful song, the birds began to sing as if it were early in the morning and flowers opened their petals. However, when he played the music of suffering, the gods bowed their heads sorrowfully and there was an atmosphere of sorrow and mourning.

It must be borne in mind that the state of consciousness of the Celtic bards in the past was thus completely different from the present consciousness of modern man. In this materialistic age, consciousness is not nearly as sensitive as when people still had a certain clairvoyance.

Yet in our time, man can also go through a development that gives back to the voice its magical power.

Normally the spoken word is only a crystallized soul activity. By uttering it, the truth that lives in the soul is, as it were, a little weakened, crystallized into speech, or rather a little ‘killed’; it takes shape and thereby loses the inner strength it still possessed as a state of mind. Rudolf Steiner describes the process of the spoken word as follows.

When one goes the path of self-realization and thereby strives for “truth speaking”, one has at the same time the feeling that this truth living in the soul becomes weaker as it is spoken. And this in turn produces a feeling of powerlessness, which can become so great that one gets the impression that one is telling untruths.

We only find the right relationship when we let ourselves be completely guided by the Christ in our being.

Not I but the Christ in me [2]

is the way to find the truth. Then words are no longer only gestures of the throat, as Steiner describes in a lecture, but they are charged with the creative power that comes from Christ and can have a healing effect on humanity.

Then the word can actually become ‘alive’. In this connection resound the mighty opening words of John’s Gospel:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was made flesh. [3]


Of course, with the ancient Celts the word also expressed a narrative. By means of the word the priest or bard addressed the people and as he spoke he conjured up images from the past or sang about the exploits.

The highest of the bards was called an ollam; he could tell 350 histories, while a lower placed one only knew seven!

The bards were not only poets and storytellers, but many of them also made music. Music portrays a deeper layer of our soul, the inner life that approaches our feelings and thoughts. We can compare music with light, it brings warmth and expresses love.

In ancient times, love was still limited and did not go beyond the kinship of family and race. It was unnatural to love someone who was beyond these limits. Only an initiate was able to love the world. After all, he had severed ties with his family and race. By his initiation he had conquered all lower forms of love, including self-love.

It is said that Orpheus was the first to take music from the heavens and that is why he is called the son of Apollo. Music brings warmth, it is like the light and expresses love.

That is why it is said of the Greek Orpheus, who is sometimes called the first bard, that all of nature, thus all plants and animals, bowed before him, to the music that sprang from his lyre. They bowed before him because through his music they felt themselves encompassed by the light of the ‘harmony of the spheres,’ the inaudible beauty of the cosmos. Music is therefore also light and that is why Orpheus brought his music as a message of healing in the dark regions of the earth.


The effect of music can be compared to the building and strengthening of the thinking organ. Thought and music are thus related and in step with the light. The light in its turn is wisdom, the pure, celestial wisdom of the celestial spheres. The Bards understood how the music comes from the Eternal Feminine, from the Virgin Sophia (Wisdom), where knowledge is undefiled and pure, and where the abode of ‘Love’ is.

Human speech, human singing and human music come from the regions of the light!

Jesus spoke to his disciples in the extraordinary writing of the Pistis Sophia [1]:

Do you seek the mysteries? There is no mystery which is more excellent than these mysteries on which ye question, in that it will lead your souls into the Light of lights… Nothing more excellent is there, therefore, than these mysteries on which ye question, save only the mystery of the seven Voices and their nine-and forty powers and their ciphers.’


The ability to ‘imagine’ the qualities and meaning of speech is a higher gift than mere speech, and it is magnified still more when combined with love. Then the music acquires a spiritual power, it is active from soul to soul and it expresses the spiritual structure of the body.

The bard’s harp, as a symbol of love, was able to transmit the heavenly wisdom from age to age.

The path of the bards to the ‘Virgin of Light’, the Sophia, had three stages:


The journey through the world of the elements

Through the planets

Through the fixed stars


One of the most famous bards is the great poet Taliesin and he spoke:


I was born three times.

I know how to think.

It’s sad that people don’t go looking

to all the knowledge of the world

that is gathered in my breast,

’cause I know everything that’s been

and all that will be after this.


The poet Taliesin comes to the fore in one of the following chapters.


(To be continued in part 13)


[1] Pistis Sophia, Chapter 143

[2] 1 Corinthians 15:9-11

[3] John 1:1

[4] Jakob Streit, Sonne und Kreuz [Sun and Cross], Freies Geistesleben, Stuttgart 1977

[5] Caitlín Matthews, The Elements of Celtic Tradition, Element Books1989

[6] Eleanor C. Merry, The Flaming Door – The Mission of the Celtic Folk-Soul, Knowledge Books, East Grinstead 1936

[7] Erika Dühnfort,  Irische Sagen und Legenden – Von Helden, Heiligen, Elfen und Druiden [Irish Sagas and Legends – Of Heroes, Saints, Elves and Druids], Anaconda Verlag, 2012

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Date: March 22, 2022
Author: Benita Kleiberg (Netherlands)
Photo: Jesse de Backer on Unsplash CC0

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