The Oran Mor is an ancient oral tradition found in some Celtic areas which at the present has not been widely written about. It resides like a deep pool of wisdom and meaning yet to be explored. Basically, Oran Mor means Great Song, and it is used in some places as one of the old names for God or Divine Spirit or Creator. The underlying idea is that Creation is a Great Song sung into existence by the Divine Spirit who is also that Great Song. I suppose it is similar to the idea that you can’t separate the “dancer from the dance.” You can’t separate the singer from the song.
This notion of the Creator and Creation as One is found in other Celtic traditions. You can find it in the writings of the Irish spiritual teacher John Scotus Erigena who put it this way, “Everything that is, is He.” You can even detect it in the Irish language where duile (elements) and dulra (nature) contain the same root word as Duileamh, a concept that is not easily translated into English with a single word. Clearly Duileamh refers to some “Being” who is either the “Elements” or the “Source of the Elements” or “in the Elements.” The phrase “God of the Elements,” a phrase popular in many Celtic Christian prayers, comes somewhat close, but that English phrase would be translated into Irish as Dia na Duile. So we are back to the mystery.
But back to the Oran Mor. Although this phrase is uniquely Gaelic and deserves to be explored from and within other Gaelic and Celtic traditions, the general concept itself appears in other cultures around the world. We find it in many origin tales where Creation is sung into existence, where Creation is made up of vibrations or some kind of energy similar to music or the human voice. Frank MacEowen describes a personal experience he had of the Oran Mor in Scotland in The Celtic Way of Seeing. He concludes, “I … felt the music of the universe in everything, including every one of my cells. It was, to use a different expression, an instance of connecting with the ‘music of the spheres,’ of God, the Tao, the Great Mother’s lullaby: it was the Great Song.”
Another description of the Oran Mor that I came across recently in Heron Dance (a small journal of artwork , inspirational writing, and interviews worth checking out at www.herondance.org) is a quote from Aldo Leopold, an early conservationist who wrote A Sand County Almanac which is one of the seminal works in the literature of conservation and ecological thinking. The quote is from that work.
The sound of waters is audible to every ear, but there is other music in these hills, by no means audible to all. To hear even a few notes of it you must first live here for a long time, and you must know the speech of hills and rivers. Then on a still night, when the campfire is low and the Pleiades have climbed over rimrocks, sit quietly and listen for a wolf to howl, and think hard of everything you have seen and tried to understand. Then you may hear it—a vast pulsing harmony—its score inscribed on a thousand hills, its notes the lives and deaths of plants and animals, its rhythms spanning the seconds and the centuries.
Winter has its own music. A music of silence and emptiness, when the snow sits quietly on the hillsides at night, and the temperature drops without a sound into some realm of coldness that only the cold-blooded can endure. If you were there, the creek and its icy banks would play some soft duet for you. But you are not. You hear only the sound of blankets rubbing your cheek, as one ear listens to the cushioned folds of the pillow tucked beneath your neck. The lone wolf or dog somewhere in the dark howls its discontent with something or other. The always quiet first light at dawn brightens the sky and maybe—with all critters hoping—will bring the sun itself into the visible world for a cloudless morning when the color blue shouts across the heavens with a great voice. One of the cats begins its morning song for food. And so your own song starts with your feet pattering on the cold floor. A new fire in the stove crackles and spits, logs shift with a thudding note. The coffee percolates, a groaning sound. Sunlight appears bringing Jack Frost’s artwork on the window pane to life, and then to a dance that drips into its own death. The rhododendron leaves uncurl joyfully. And another winter day begins.
It’s winter. The Oran Mor sings its winter song. It is in both the cold and silent world outside and in the warm stirrings of your hearth. It is in your cells, heart, blood. It sings in everything you see and hear. Watch. Listen. Join in. You can’t separate the singer from the song.