Celtic Wisdom

John O’ Donohue’s Anam Cara: A Book of Celtic Wisdom draws on poetry, Hegelian philosophy, and the mysticism of 13th century mystic Meister Eckhart. O’ Donohue was a successful Irish author, theologian, and philosopher. He popularized this book that was first published in 1997 on Celtic spirituality. In 2000, O’ Donohue left the priesthood in Ireland and found a receptive audience for his work in the United States. At the age of 52, he died in his sleep while holidaying near Avignon, France.

Motifs of this work showed where he was raised in the area of Connemara, Ireland. He spelled out the concepts of the soul. One’s body was viewed to be within the soul. This attachment meant that the soul was bound in a circular way that consisted of three dimensions of the heavens above, the landscape on the middle realm, and the underworld within the depths of the earth.

O’ Donohue examined the importance of the senses – the benefits of sight, the reality of hearing, and the presence of touch. He explained the reasons for the seasons – spring, summer, autumn, winter. For example, when is the best time to start a career? When should people harvest the fruits that were sowed? Why is autumn so significant in their lives? And how should people sustain themselves during the gloomiest days of the winter months?

An overall theme presented in this work is knowing oneself. The author illustrated how this was essential if people were to live successfully. He stressed that understanding begins when they cultivate their mind, body, and soul. O’ Donohue saw this as the only way by which individuals could begin to be of help to others. Other discussions centered around the importance of time and space.

Anam Cara is the Gaelic word for “soul-friend” that resonated throughout O’ Donohue’s writings. It’s a self-help manual for people who are seeking new ways of exploring their spiritual life. With his pronunciations there are some scriptural citations, and other Christian practices reminiscent of O’ Donohue’s experiences as a former Catholic priest with a doctorate in political philosophy.          

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