Jan 12, 2011

An Interview With Mara Freeman - Celtic Spirit Journeys Announces Wales Tour!

Mara Freeman is from Britain and has been a leading teacher of Celtic spirituality for over twenty years. She is an initiate of the Western Mystery Tradition, an Archdruidess of the Irish Druid Clan of Dana and Honored Bard with the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids. AmeriCymru spoke to Mara about her life, work and the forthcoming Celtic Spirit Journey Tour of Wales.

AmeriCymru: You have been a leading teacher of Celtic spirituality for more than twenty years. How did you first become involved? 

Mara Freeman: I was obsessed by Celtic music, myth and folk-lore from a very early age. I sang and wrote songs and plays and in the Celtic vein, long before the Celtic culture revival of the 1970s. When I was old enough to stick out a thumb, I hitch-hiked to Ireland, Scotland and Wales as often as I could, spending many days walking the land and talking to people, listening to their stories and their music.

When I moved to California in 1979, I fetched up in a pristine oak forest on a mountain near the sea, living very close to nature. After a while, though, I started longing for the sights and sounds of Britain and Ireland so I went back for a few months and travelled around ancient sites and sacred places with my then-husband, who was a photographer. When I got back to the States, I created a multi-image show of songs, music , poetry, images and live performance called “Between the Earth and Sky,” about the journey as an initiation into Earth Mysteries. Then we travelled around the Western United States putting on the show wherever we could in the communities we visited. I found that, of course, I had to do a bit of talking about a subject that a lot of people were very curious about and which was little known at that time (the mid 80s) so I began giving talks and doing quite a bit of storytelling, and leading simple community rituals on these occasions. One thing led to another, and soon I was giving my first workshops in Celtic spirituality. Around this time I was also writing essays on Celtic sacred ways for Parabola, the journal of myth and traditions, lecturing first at local universities and then nationally, and eventually this all led to being asked to write a book for Harper Collins.

AmeriCymru:  Your book, Kindling the Celtic Spirit has been hailed as the best modern introduction to Celtic spirituality and sacred traditions. Care to tell us a little more about it?

Mara: Well I guess you might call it a compendium of myth, story, and traditional teachings that celebrate the beauty and power of the Celtic earth-based wisdom tradition. Each chapter corresponds to a month of the sacred Celtic year and includes traditional poems, blessings, greetings, toasts, ancient lore, and guided meditations to inspire readers to reconnect with the rhythms of the natural world, and view the sacred as an integral part of every day as our Celtic ancestors did.

I wanted it to be a usable handbook for people to connect with a way of perceiving the Earth as a living, interconnected web of life in which all living beings – plants, animals, and all the many bio-systems – are recognized for their inherent value and not just “resources” for the human race to plunder. Our ancestors from the Celtic countries kept this world-view alive for many centuries despite their cultures being dominated by a hierarchical church system. Until recently, much of this native wisdom remained hidden and unknown to most people in the modern world, and seekers sought for spiritual nourishment in foreign paths – Native American or Tibetan, for instance – which do not necessarily serve the Western spirit, and so Kindling the Celtic Spirit presents a way for many people to reconnect with their own ancestral sacred traditions. Although the book has been out for ten years now, I still get emails and letters from people, mostly Americans, saying that reading it was like “coming home”, so I guess it does what I set out to do.

AmeriCymru:  Celtic Spirit Journeys offers tours of Wales and you have one coming up this year in June. What form do these tours take and where might readers go to find more information?

Mara: Yes indeed! I moved back to Britain in 2007 and chose to settle in West Wales which has been my spiritual home since I first crossed the Severn Bridge now over 40 years ago and wended my way to the magical west – the Preseli Hills and the rocky coastal cliffs of Pembrokeshire and Ceredigion. The tour is a ten-day journey called Enchanted Wales: Land of Myth and Magic and takes us in a circle from Cardiff to the southwest coast and up to Snowdonia, over to Anglesey and through the Berwyn Mountains before heading down through the Brecon Beacons back to Cardiff. Basically we spend half the time in the south and half in the north. I don’t think I will ever get over how much variety there is in such a small country as Cymru, from snow-capped mountains, misty islands, green hills, beautiful rivers, deep lakes, quiet country lanes and towns that still retain their medieval character. The focus of the tour is on the ancient sacred places from the Neolithic era onwards, so we will be visiting stone circles and dolmens, Celtic hill-forts and settlements, holy wells and medieval churches and abbeys, to name but a few of our destinations. One of the really exciting things about Cymru is the way in which the landscape is so rich in myth and legend, still alive with the stories of the Mabinogi, Myrddin/Merlin and King Arthur in an almost palpable way. Owain Glyndwr and Prince Llewellyn lie buried in the land but their spirits roam the hills because the people keep them alive in their hearts.

I gave this tour last year for the first time and everyone had a fantastic time. One of the interesting things was the way in which Wales inspired so much creativity in our guests. One woman wrote a marvellous poem which encapsulates her experience and may give Americymru members a sense of the deep magical experience Wales affords. (link to Enchanted Wales in Feathers, the poem below.) Another has posted her photo-journal on a website with some marvellous images. (link to http://susa-morgan-black.net/zenphoto/best-of-wales/)

This year’s tour is from June 6th to 16th and we still have a few places left if any Americymru members are interested. You can learn more about the tour at http://celticspiritjourneys.com/mystical-wales.html.

AmeriCymru:  What kind of experience does Celtic Spirit Journeys seek to provide for its patrons?

Mara: The emphasis is on Pilgrimage as a path to the sacred, so we only ever take small groups (up to 12 at the most) and we visit each of the sites as a way to enter into a communion with the spirits of the land, approximating as near as possible the way the ancestors would have approached them, with simple ceremony and offerings. I talk about the history, and tell the local legends and stories of the places, and make sure everyone has plenty of time for reflection and just being present to the Spirit of Place. Many people report profound and transformative experiences on our journeys. We always include some well-known local presenters and entertainers along the way, for instance harpist Delyth Evans, who last summer delighted us with music in the drawing-room of Warpool Court Hotel, St Davids, overlooking the sea, and Earth Mysteries author Robin Heath, who led us on a terrific adventure over the Preselis to give us a first-hand demonstration of his theories in his new book, Bluestone Magic. (Link to Robin: http://www.skyandlandscape.com/) I should probably add that we also have a lot of fun and great food, and stay in beautiful locations, too!

AmeriCymru:  You are also the founder of the Avalon Mystery School. Can you tell us more about its program and mission?

Mara: I founded the Avalon Mystery School after many years of working with the magical current that has its source in the deep river of native Celtic and British spiritual tradition. The work encompasses the wisdom of British and Welsh goddesses, particularly Morgen le Fay and the Nine Sisters, the Mysteries of Myrddin, the Faery Realm and the Sacred Land, the teachings of the Druids and the Quest for the Holy Grail. We offer a comprehensive training program in the sacred magical arts that can be taken at a distance.

The First Grade offers a thorough introduction to the Mysteries of Britain and teaches the groundwork of the magical arts especially how to connect with the faery race, ancestors and goddesses. In the Second Grade, students expand and extend their knowledge and techniques of the magical arts into the Green World (Nature), learning how to open up to and interact with trees, plants, animals and the elemental kingdom. In the Third Grade, serious study and participation in advanced aspects of the Western Magical Tradition including the stellar and angelic realms, teaches the student how to reach higher states of consciousness and to mediate wisdom and healing into the world through working closely with inner contacts.

I believe that now, more than ever, is the time for us to learn how to bring the wisdom, power and beauty of Avalon back into our fragmented world. The Avalonian path is nothing less than the conscious realization of the self as connected with all beings, visible and invisible, on the great Tree of Life, and ultimately with the Divine Source. You can find out more by visiting the Avalon Mystery School website at www.avalonmysteryschool.net

AmeriCymru:  We learn from your bio that you are a practitioner of the ancient Celtic healing art of Anamcara . What is Anamcara and how does it work?

Mara: Anamcara is an old Irish word meaning "soul friend." I use my clairvoyant ability to tune in deeply to the psyche of the person seeking understanding about the nature of their life at the deepest level. My 30 years training as an astrologer and 20 years as a fully-licensed psychotherapist also come into play. I look at the "big picture" of the soul's journey, not only in this lifetime but from past lives too. I also connect with the spirit guides who support us throughout this journey for the growth and evolution of the soul, or essential Self. I give many readings over the phone to people in all parts of the world. You can learn more at http://www.chalicecentre.net/anamcara.htm.

AmeriCymru:  What's next for Mara Freeman?

Mara: At the moment I am finishing writing a book on the mythos of the Holy Grail, from its origins in early Welsh and Irish literature to the later Arthurian cycle and down into modern times. I am trying to get it done this winter, before the garden calls – We grow most of our own food here in our valley and with the short growing season, it can get quite full on! I also have another book about the Mabinogi in the landscape in the works, and I’m looking forward to Springtime when I can get out and have a good excuse to go walking in the wilds again.

AmeriCymru:  Any final message for the readers and members of AmeriCymru?

Mara: The message is: Remember! . . . And I will let Waldo Williams, whose memorial stands tall on the Preseli hills at Mynachlog-ddu, tell you why. Don’t have the original Welsh version, I’m afraid, but here it is in English translation by Vernon Jones, erstwhile schoolmaster of Nevern School:

Cofio by Waldo Williams


Once small minute before the sun goes to its horizon,
One tender minute before the evening comes to its end,
To remember the forgotten things
lost now in the dust of bygone times,
Like the foam of a wave that breaks on a lonely beach,
Like the song of the wind where there is no ear to hear,
I know they are calling to us in vain,
The old forgotten things of mankind.
The deeds and art of early generations,
Tiny dwelling places and large halls,
The fine legends shattered for centuries,
The gods that no one’s heard of now.
And the little words of disappeared languages,
Lively in the mouths of men they were,

And pretty to the ear in the prattle of tiny children,
But no one’s tongue may summon them again.
O countless generations of the earth,
With their divine dream and fragile divinity,
Does there not stay but silence to the heart,
That once knew joy and sorrow?
Often at nightfall when I’m alone,
There comes a longing to know you, every one,
Does something still hold in the memory and heart,
The old forgotten things of the family of man?


Enchanted Wales in Feathers (Wales, July 2010) by Alison Sinclair

The feathers tell the winged story.
Birds wheeling, hovering, diving, swooping, hopping,
singing, twittering, hooting, and cawing,
For each sacred site a winged guardian:
Wren shoots out from within the Tinkinswood dolman,
A ray of light from a dark ancestral past;
Doves and swallows fly among the ribs of the Tintern abbey skeleton,
Messengers of hope in the decay of age;
Gulls cry above St. Non’s holy well,
A sweet reminder of life's salty waters;
A downy hawk feather hidden by the Druid’s cave to cradle a sleeping seer,
While a Merlin soars over a seashore shell-like vault
Hidden dolman of the waves-
For the sea mother loves her children, and brings them all back under
When life grows too long above;
Crows guard the fort of Dinas Bran, a place to see the truth and speak it,
While the ravens rise up in the wind over Angelsey Island, last refuge of the druids;
Sky larks hover ecstatic over Mitchell’s Fold stone circle,
In, out and through the grey clouds, where a mandorla frames the sun.
The mythic eagle of Snowdonia, sun glinting off his wings,
We see him not but find him in the Mabinogi tales.
Feathers bring the stories home,
Dropped in a miraculous moment
Discovered in a instant
Of flight, wind and sight.
We learn the language of the birds and don our feathered capes
That we may whisper through their plumes once more,
And preen and stroke, to feel the filaments of their wind-borne dreams.

Interview by Ceri Shaw Email

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