When I look into a pool of water, especially one that eddies in a larger flow from some hidden source and eventually drifts on to an unknown destination, I sometimes think I see strange beings floating, diving, surfacing there. Some of the strange beings I recognize from other streams and springs, rivers and ponds. I have stared into a lot of water. I have sat at the edge of water, waiting for inspiration and wisdom, as have other poets, hermits, mystics, and seekers drawn to the betwixting places where land, water, and sky meet. So I peer into the depths and there I am—one of the strange beings who are both there and not there. I see clouds that are simultaneously above my head and floating far deeper in the dark current than my reflection. I consider where I am, and contemplate my life as an exile. I am a hill-walker, a river-seeker, a way-finder looking for places where I feel native. And I have found some. I am blessed with hills, rivers, and ways that nurture my sense of belonging.
Sometimes the right book will do this too. Jason Kirkey’s The Salmon in the Spring: The Ecology of Celtic Spirituality is as indispensable as a woodland stream. In it Kirkey explores his need to know his mind and his soul in the context of land and stories. He understands the troubled perspective and longing of a modern man exiled from the mythic and ecological traditions that nurtured his ancestors. In The Salmon in the Spring he relates his fascinating search to reconnect with these traditions in ways that are authentic and relevant to the spiritual and environmental needs of today. It is a search that ends and doesn’t end. As he says about druidry, “To be a druid is to be an active work-in-progress,” for in every age the archetypal druid seeks embodiment. He asks, “What does the druid spirit want to become (today)?” As Kirkey points out, druidry is ever-shifting and reshaping. Whatever it is we don’t know about the “original” druids who lived a couple thousand years ago, and it’s a lot, we can be certain they were men and women responding to that same archetypal yearning to come into existence. And so today if we listen to the stories and the places of the Celtic people, and find ways to participate in them, we can be contemporary manifestations of the Celtic and druidic spirit that nurtured our ancestors’ sense of belonging, and gave them a place to be and be from.
Jason is a poet. I’ve treasured his inspiring books of poetry in which he extols the wildness and beauty of land and psyche: themes that are woven throughout The Salmon in the Spring. In fact, the eco-psychology that informs his retelling of Celtic tales and concepts is what makes this book so remarkable and valuable. As I read it, I sense that the Celtic spirit—that has been expressed in so many ways over so many centuries and in so many countries—has been waiting for Jason to come along to weave the important myths, places, and understandings of that spirit into the ecological and spiritual perspectives for our day. And in the nick of time. Our psychological and spiritual health is dependent on our relationship with the environment. Yet in today’s world we are drawn farther and farther from the natural environment into a virtual environment that deadens our natural senses and their ability to receive the wisdom from the Pool of Jason’s title, where the nuts of wisdom fall and the salmon of wisdom feed, continually recharging the Waters of Life on which we as a species depend.
Readers familiar with Celtic traditions such as the Wheel of Sovereignty, the Four Airts, the Three Cauldrons of the Soul, the many-layered, linguistic heritage of Dana-the Great Mother, the mythic markings on the Wheel of the Year and its festivals, the Cailleach, the Oran Mor, the concept of Truth, the Fomorian and Danann conflicts, and many other elements of Celtic lore will find them re-examined in a bold new light. Kirkey invites us to develop what he calls “silver branch perception,” a way of being in the world that moves us into a place where we can re-imagine ourselves as a species. This poetic-mystical perception transcends the one-eyed Fomorian way of seeing only the physical world, and encourages us to look beyond even the two-eyed, double-reality vision of the Dananns that sees both this physical world and the luminous Otherworld as two distinct realms. The silver branch perception is that truly enlightened ability to recognize the oneness of all worlds, to transcend the dualism that may satisfy the mind but of which the soul is ignorant. As Jason says, “It (soul) brings us to the place where the mountain and myself are one because we are expressions of the same wildness, the same phenomenal universe rising from divine ground.”
The Salmon in the Spring is enriched with Kirkey’s personal encounters from his travels in Ireland, from his experiences at Naropa Institute in Boulder, Colorado, from his study and practice of various spiritualities, and from those nights of ecstasy and deep despair when, as he relates about one of them, he tried doing sit-ups to shake himself out of it, which didn’t work, then ended up staring out the kitchen window until “something so much greater than myself” knocked him on the floor, and finally the music of the Great Song, disguised as the March wind, lulled him to sleep. “To my surprise I awoke still feeling new, as if I had just been born into the world again. It was spring outside, and inside it was spring too.”
We must return to the wild in nature and ourselves, to those winds that can knock us on the floor. The Salmon in the Spring is a vital trail-map for doing that by a writer who knows what he is talking about and how to make what he talks about sing. Going into the woods, as Jason notes, is the same as going into a folktale or going into the elements of the Celtic spiritual tradition—all are places of wildness, beauty, and self-discovery. “Don’t be surprised,” he warns, “if you hear the bushes singing; if you hear behind you, quiet footsteps or the sweetest of songs. The folktales are stalking you and the silver branch is singing.”
This book is like its namesake. It is a salmon in the spring. Or perhaps it is the Salmon of Wisdom that the old druid Finnegas hoped to catch from the River Boyne. For seven years he waited, yearning to see it and catch it. Then finally, finally he did! The Salmon in the Spring is that salmon. Don’t miss it, don’t watch it swim past. Catch it!
The Salmon in the Spring may be ordered from www.jasonkirkey.com or through other online book dealers.