Immrama! The Art of Journeying: even Scientists go on a Journey.
It is an ideal subject to contemplate and convey in writing to share within this Obod seminar series, that also carries the same name implying a sacred Journey. Specifically at this time of the year when the veil which represent the divide between this life and the spirit world is said to be at it’s thinnest, where journeying becomes more accessible.
It is in itself, also is a journey within the minds of the contributors and readers who are undertaken, or are still travelling along their own Immrama. The ancient word spoken by civilisations past still resonant in today’s languages. Those tales of yore spoken over open fires, now recorded within the confines of the written text, resonate with the energies of the journeys taken by their authors. These ancient fables such as the Voyage of Mael Duin’s Boat and Etal Ambuel present different meanings when told with a different emphasis on the meaning of the voyage and of flight. Were these stories a chronicle of the participants experience, or a metaphor to explain the parallels between this world and the next?
They take the listener or reader to worlds created within ones own minds eye, these being a journey of the individual spirit incorporating shaped lands within another dimension of space within time.
“Dreams that last for ever, within the wink of an eye”
The retelling of these, and other stories around the samhain fire, has a specific importance at this time of year, with the vegetation within the northern hemisphere is withering, their seeds having returned to the soil to await another circular seasonal round; so it is with the cycle of life for all of us, with the rebirth of human life becomes possible.
This has been deduced through such observation over the millennium by our ancestors combining what they perceive around them and associating these observations to themselves.
Through time, ideas of rebirth, and reincarnation whether it be in a physical body or not, takes hold within the sociology of a culture; held as a norm by the society in which it concerns. For the Celts, the recorded remarks by Caesar has left us with a record which informs one that they did not fear death in battle; or even paying off a past debt in the next life becomes an accepted possibility.
In today’s world, depending on the type of method utilised when journeying it allows the individual to uncover and make fresh and new inspiring discoveries. Such insights can revolutionise the understanding of an individual, together with opening up of a complete new perspective on perceiving the world, in which one resides.
There are many journeys that you the readers have taken, and I expect some would have chosen a pursuit along the path of academia and science.
These types of immrama can also become liberating in regards to understanding the natural world. Each one relies on natural philosophy, although the scientific approach is dealing with theoretical models and concepts, held within academic terminology using precise worlds which limit their meaning, and interpretation when conveying a particular idea. Unlike pagan traditions which uses words of ambiguity allowing each listener or reader to divine their own interpretation. Nonetheless, in both cases individual and cultural knowledge becomes expanded. Yet scholarly knowledge is far-reaching, this type of journeying can affect policies of government institutions filtering down, to everyone within its society.
Moreover, both undertake these immrama, yet finds it challenging to meet each others line of enquiry. Although its recognised each one, can come to the same conclusion when utilising different methods to obtain them. Even when scholarly research borders on the others terrain, its often received with an outspoken uproar, such as the recent papers of ‘Death and Telepathy’, presented at the Fellow Society 2006 Scientific Conference.
In spite of the two journeying types which holds conflicting views of each other, they really do come together in a roundabout way, although the methods used are very different to say the least.
For academia the journey is held in hypothetical concepts creating abstract models, inclusive of those where statistics producing trends, predicting outcomes based on outward perceived facts and evidence. Interestingly, this has been recognised within academia to such an extent that pagan or esoteric journeyers or immrama’s have become classified and labelled as a ‘Bricolage or do it yourself, the improviser’ (Tilley 1994).
Although such journeys exercise the muscles within the brain to create a cognitive mental journey, this is the same undertaking experienced by Pagans on an individual journey.
In turn the ad hoc method is concerned with developing the perceptions of the perceived world, much like those found in academia. But at the same time, it too develops the inner spark of ones being. Allowing the freedom to experience and enhance ones own personal knowledge by undertaking an immrama into the other worlds.
These are not so concretely defined within the written tradition, when compared with the writings within academia. Even though each one utilises the same perceived environment, of the surrounding world with its numerous aspects defined within Nature. The difference could be in the fact where one incorporates an inner world of personal experience, and the other focuses on shared “captured” facts and figures, although both utilises cognitive abilities in differing forms of methodology.
Yet, both are really in harmony with each other (if only a little deaf to each others tune). Specifically where one can explain the theoretical concepts of the immrama, combined with how it functions and unfolds within a community.
So is the science community, based upon facts and figures converging along the paths of immrama?
I would like to take this opportunity to approach one of these theoretical scholarly models. The representation presented here deals with defining perceived outside space. However one has to travel backwards in linear time to the period of our Mesolithic and Neolithic ancestors. Specifically with the early beginnings of monument construction where evidence becomes available to archaeologists. To understand there constructions within cognitive terms; the following model has been academically proposed.
To construct cognitive space the view of the outside world has to be taken as being a different from of perception, to those perceived individually from our own human form. One has our own individual space within our human form, but there too is an outside world beyond this. Although “nature” is a convenient categorising label, nonetheless it’s outside of oneself. Scholars have described this area as ‘perceptual space’, very different from the previous space described within (Tilley 1990). Indeed if one accepts Levi-Straus through an interpretative anthropology approach, he describes both nature and the human being, as being separate parts. Within these two types of created space conceptual models can be mentally formed or even drawn/inscribed on stone or paper. This then becomes referred to as ‘architectural space’. Yet to arrive at this, one has to described, categorise and label the space which lies outside. This first creates two spaces which have become separated from each other. There has to be a form of link created, bringing the two together, often described as a “bridge”. Yet to enable this to occur what is perceived as the outside can take on a sense of sacredness on the opposite side of the created abstract bridge. However there is no confrontation present, when landscape and its environment of nature in the other space is held culturally within a certain sacredness. Additional cultural taboos might be added to create or prevent its cultural alteration of perceived space (Davrill 1991, Levi-Strauss 1991). As a result this allows the analysis of how the primary ‘nature; and ‘human’ interaction between these categories develop and become altered across time (Bradley 2000, Tilley 1994, 1990).
From these academic theoretical concepts of space applied to landscape and nature; an intellectual understanding of human activities and cultural interactions can be rationalised within societies.
Wow, I think the academics and scientists are almost getting the point.
Strangely enough, archaeological evidence, supports this theorem
During the early Neolithic when monuments appear within the landscape, they divided space into its separate parts through out the Celtic countries. These create and define a different space, which is separate, yet held within the perceived space of nature.
These are all quite different spaces, to those of the inner spark residing or held within a human body. Jointly the perceived spaces become interlinked to everyday life and ritual time via the bridge linking the two together.
Although abstract models in themselves, they too can also be personally experienced (Thomas 2001). Without a doubt New Grange in the Boyne Valley is a fine example of perceived and constructed space defining separate cognitive worlds. Additionally there too is a connection to mythology in written stories, inclusive of further astronomical associated phenomena. Overall spaces create paths and movement through monuments across the abstract divide linking these accessible spatial worlds together in circler harmony. Very similar to those previously discussed of celebrating the seasonal round. These conceptual models or schema can be either individually formed or culturally past on within a particular society perception of viewing the world, outside and inside simultaneously.
Returning to the written stories of Mael Duin’s travels, with his sea fairing warriors colleagues, on a joint adventure of discovery. The story could be viewed as an imaginative tale concerning island hopping for entertainment around the shamiun fire. Likewise if one combines the ‘do it yourself an improviser’ approach with scholarship understanding, a very different image emerges, where one is now travelling through the “spaces”. These jointly bridge the divide linking different perceived worlds together as indicated by those islands. All of which become culturally interconnected. The story transfers the listener into ritual time, removing actual time, within a specific altered cognitive landscape.
The same will apply to Etal Ambuel and the story concerning the transformation to a swam for half of the year. Etain the wife of Mider also falls within this category of immrama, although she becomes a fly (on the wall). The subsequent flight moves the reader to experience another direction/dimension or on another spiralling level. Yet all the time, one is utilising specific cultural perception defined within academic definitions of dividing perceived space, into its different cultural categorises.
The oral written stories/myths can be approached from various differing angles. They can be dissected to find their independent working parts; identify relationships between the natural phenomena and the individual. Even items within nature as swans are used as metaphors combined with ambiguities. There is the approach that investigates similarities held within various Celtic countries while attempting to locate its earliest origins.
On the other hand one is either listening or reading privately about the spiritual adventures of its past regional heroes. Traversing cultural sacred landscape held outside in those created spaces, while sharing their own immrama or sacred journey with the reader. The story might be a little over embellished, perhaps by the story teller to fit the mood of the audiences. Yet the journey concerns the spiritual experiences of one human being. It too becomes a guide and an available cognitive map if one is traversing a similar immrama or sacred journey.
Alternatively at this time of year, if journeying is not your scene, then there are stories about the cailleach, to raise the hairs on the back of your neck around the seasonal celebration fire. Or even, the more gentle pursuits of apple bobbing, although its another disguise to practically enter the underworld in search of knowledge, shush! Additionally divining for the outcome of the coming seasonal cycle ahead may also be fitting.
There we have it, journeys within and journeys without!
(A paper written specifically for a past 2006 Samhiun publication, promoting Avalon; Centre for Druidic Studies, which sadly is now being dissolved.)
i Ceaser, Gaelic Wars,
ii See web links Bibliography
Davill, T., 1991, 'The Historical Environment, Historical Landscape and space-time-action models in Landscape archaeology', in Peter J. Ucko and Robert Layton (eds.), Landscape and Anthropology of Landscape: Shaping your Landscape, London, Routledge
Bradley, R., 2000, Archaeology of Natural Places, London: Routledge
Hayden, B., 2003, Shaman, Sources and Saints, Smthsonian Books
Levi-Strauss, C., 1971, 'The deduction of the Crane' in Pierre Marana and Elli Köngas Maranda (Eds), Structural Analysis of oral Tradition, Philadelphia 1971
Tilley, C., 1999, Metaphor and Material Culture, Oxford; Blackwell
Tilley, C., 1994, The Phenomenology of landscape places paths and monuments, Oxford, Berg
Thomas 2001, 'Archaeologies of Place and Landscape,' in Ian Hodder (ed), Archaeology Theory today, Routledge
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