Celtic Devotional: Daily Prayers and Blessings, by Caitlín Matthews
Caitlín Matthews has captured the spirit and cadence of early Celtic writing in this collection of daily devotionals, which will interest anyone seeking inspiration or structure on a spiritual path informed by Celtic mysticism.
Although her reputation as a Celtic scholar and shaman precedes her, I have to admit that this book – first published 17 years ago – is the first of hers that I have read. It is clearly the product of years of study and devotional practice; Matthews’ own inspired offering to the tradition. It may disappoint readers on a quest for “authentic” Celtic spirituality, but its seamless blend of traditional blessings and original prayers and meditations is a perfect reflection of modern druid practice, taking inspiration from the past and working it into a form that answers the needs of the present. Matthews’ prose chimes with the echoes of a tradition encompassing the Carmina Gadelica and early Irish Christian writing, and I often found myself wishing for a bibliography or list of recommended reading so that readers, too, could access the sources of her inspiration, as well as enjoying its results.
The devotionals are divided into four seasons: Samhain (“Winter Stillness”), Imbolc (“Spring Awakening”), Beltane (“Summer Flowering”) and Lughnasadh (“Autumn Harvest”), with a fifth section of prayers and blessings for special occasions. Daily morning and evening practice form the mainstay of this book, patterned over the course of the week and suited to the season. The rhythmic repetition of this weekly pattern of devotion through the seasons is well-complimented by the unique focus of each morning’s solar question, taken from the calendar date, and each evening’s lunar meditation, taken from the moon cycle.
Some of the more specific prayers are, for me, a little too prescriptive – I found it jarring to be led in prayer for, say, endangered animals, when the day’s events had left me thinking about homelessness. Yet this part of Matthews’ suggested evening devotional was probably the most valuable to my own tentative, self-forged path – a welcome corrective to the sometimes-solipsistic tendencies of books geared towards solitary pagan practice, where self-development is frequently the focus. Until now, the moral and ethical aspects of my path have been expressed primarily through actions and dialogue; integrating them into my spiritual reflection, too, feels profoundly grounding.
In its way, Celtic Devotional is a subtle “how to” for those of us who feel the need for more spiritual practice in our lives but have not quite found the way to go about it. Having followed these devotionals for two months since Samhain, I can already feel the benefit. Oddly enough, my favourite parts of the book, in this regard, are the ones which feel jarring or wrong. Right at the beginning, you are urged to “make this book your own in your own ways, in your own words, drawing upon the inspiration of your heart and the needs of your soul.” The parts which feel wrong spur the reader to find more authentic, personal expressions of devotion, supported by the larger framework which Matthews provides; over time, the finer details can be adapted and woven into a coherent, personal whole. This book, as well as being the culmination of many years’ practice on the part of the author, might also be the starting point for hundreds of personal devotionals, each as authentic and unique as the readers themselves.