(This Rivercurrent article will appear as the Foreword to Frank MacEowen’s new book, The Celtic Way of Seeing: Meditations on the Irish Spirit Wheel, published in March, 2007 from New World Library. See www.newworldlibrary.com.)
It’s really about the sun. And the moon and stars. This constant rising and setting, the slipping of day into night and back again. The turning of tides, and time, and seasons. The ambiguous line we call the horizon plays a crucial role in helping us know who we are, where we are, and where we are going. The sun, moon, stars, and planets rise in the east, cross the sky, and disappear in the west in their endless circuit of eternal renewal. Something in that progression is supremely satisfying to the human soul. Something says to us that we too are part of this great rising, crossing, and setting. And return.
The horizon might be as old as the soul itself — or even older– and as enduring. And like the soul it always lures us further into our own lives, and into the great mystery of Life Itself. The horizon is an edge, a spirit edge. It does and does not exist. Or more accurately, it does not exist in ordinary reality for we can never reach it or touch it or stand there. Horizons keep moving away, challenging us to go further. The line where sea and sky or hill and cloud meet is in some sense imaginary, yet we can see it. It does not exist, and yet it is so real that we cannot live without it. It is part of the landscape that we must know — and also imagine — if we are to live to our fullest potential.
Both the soul and the horizon are imaginal, that is, they are made up of images, constant presences that surround us, embrace us, move through us. We know they are there, those images, but often we are not aware of them. Or seeing them, we fail to grasp their importance in shaping our lives.
If we are here for “Soul-making,” as John Keats tells us, then we must bring the images of our souls to life, bring them up over the soul’s own horizon into view. In doing so we build up that wisdom for which the soul longs. Like stars waiting with their new light to rise up over the eastern hill, our life experiences wait to be noticed, examined, reflected upon, and made conscious. Thus our experiences turn into wisdom. We fill the cauldrons of our souls with wisdom of the infinite — infinite because it comes from beyond the horizon.
Life and soul unfold within the horizon. We are always standing in the center of our lives, and in the great center of Life Itself. As the earth spreads out from us in all directions, our souls naturally unfold and expand to meet it. As the horizon keeps hurrying off beyond our journeys to it, our souls naturally explore and search further into the mystery of the world. The retreating horizon can fill us with awe.
We suffer without the horizon. Is solitary confinement in prison the worst conceivable punishment partly because it robs a person of that necessary horizon? Does working in a windowless room do the very antithesis of what it is intended to do, namely, protect the worker from distractions? Living without a horizon is one of the greatest distractions. It cramps the imagination; it stifles the soul’s need for wildness, for adventure, or simply for breathing free.
Indigenous people live consciously with the horizon. Along that great rim of the world they discover places of spirit and power. They acknowledge the four directions that square the circle. For them these are places where human life can find both the material and spiritual sustenance it requires.
The circle with a cross drawn through it is one of the oldest symbols found around the world in paleolithic rock art. It is a universal symbol of something sacred. There is something very satisfying about this image for the circle is an unbroken line, without real sides or angles, each point on its circumference equidistant from the center. It seems perfect. And into the this circle of perfection there are four equal pathways from the top and bottom, and from the two sides. These four entries into the circle meet at the exact center. If we lay this image on the earth we recognize the horizon and the four directions that encompass us. We can see that this sacred symbol can stand for the sacred space in which we live, or hope to live. Indigenous people consciously make the places where they live sacred, with prayers, blessings, virtues, meanings, and dreams that bring those four cardinal points of power alive for them.
If you love gazing out to the horizon, you will love this book. It will make the four directions come alive for you. In it, Frank MacEowen retells one of the most intriguing stories of ancient Ireland, a story in which we discover how the early Irish people viewed the horizon and the spirit places along its rim. Then he calls us to go out there with him, onto those placeless places along that rim and discover the mysterious way in which that old Irish horizon encompasses our entire lives. Here you will find courage, wisdom, music, gift-giving, laughter, work, persistence, conflict, love, and longing. You’ll find your whole life here. And you will discover the Celtic way of seeing your life, as you stand in the center of it, look outward and onward, and wonder.