Ventures into Deep Imagination: Celtic mythology, nature’s year, and the quest for soul

Ventures into Deep Imagination: Celtic mythology, nature’s year, and the quest for soul

Welcome to my weekly blog on Ventures into Deep Imagination. Until the end of October 2024, this will include extracts from my current writing project and practices written for this blog. The content will also be available on X (formerly Twitter) and Facebook. This is what it’s about:

Ventures into Deep Imagination is a spiritual journey through the Celtic year. Drawing upon myths, legends, folklore, and facts about the Celts – although the line between legend and what we know is misty – the journey invites you to follow a path of deepening into your life through the interpretive lens of depth psychology. Perspectives from the wider fields and disciplines within psychology, such as transpersonal psychology and psychotherapy, also provide openings for reflection, as does the literature on nature spirituality pathways.

From Introduction to ‘Ventures…’.
Image: The Tuatha Dé Danann as depicted in John Duncan’s Riders of the Sidhe (1911). The Tuatha Dé Danann, (Gaelic: ‘People of the Goddess Danu’), in Celtic mythology, a race inhabiting Ireland before the arrival of the Milesians (the ancestors of the modern Irish). The Sidhe is the Irish Otherworld domain of the Tuatha.

Week 1: Deepening into Darkness at Samhain

This first week of Ventures begins on the Sunday night when British Summer Time Ends and roughly coincides with the Celtic festival of Samhain:

Samhain is the most ancient Celtic festival (31 October to 2 November). It marks the beginning of the dark half of the year, the lunar cycle, the start of winter, which transitions to light at Beltane (1 May) in an unending cycle from dark to light. It also celebrates the beginning of the lunar half of the year in its feminine aspect until Imbolc (1 to 2 February), when the lunar cycle begins to take on a more masculine expression as new growth begins to stir. The lunar feminine, then, is a gateway to descent, to introspection, to bodily-felt immersion into our inner life including dreams and the deep imagination. Between now and midwinter (21 to 22 December) darkness embraces the land.

This is analogous to the necessary darkness of our inner journey. It is a qualitative darkness which we might associate with gestation where all growth begins, not necessarily a negative darkness.

As Carl Jung wrote, the path to awakening is by way of watery darkness, via the depths, rather than by way of light. This is because a path of light often by-passes the insights that darkness brings; a path of light is not necessarily grounded in the earth; it grows wings instead of feet.

There is wisdom in darkness where the first signs of growth take place which cannot be gained in other ways. This inner journey is to step away from our daylight perspective in surrender to a more bodily-felt-intuitive knowledge of the deep imagination.

Energetically, Samhain also marks the transition from the element water to earth, which suggests hibernation and introspection as winter begins. This is a time for going in, for descending those subterranean layers within us towards the truth at the centre of our being, from which to live our life. With this comes letting go of ways that no longer fit us.

With various transitions at this time of year, we might think of this as venturing into the edgelands; a period of liminality. That is, the space between things. Neither water nor earth, but in-between. One foot is leaving the light half of the year while the other is venturing into the dark. With so many reminders of letting go and arriving, perhaps, more so than the other festivals on the turning wheel of the year, Samhain invites us to journey deeper into the wisdom of life’s mystery.

At this turning-point in the year the solemn yew with its red berries (arils) stands as a monument of time-passing; of longevity and the afterlife; of continuity in remembrance of those lives that have gone before and the many more lost to memory; of connection to our ancestors who may also in some way presence themselves to us.

 It is also thought that the ancient yew is a mythological Tree of Life or Cosmic Tree, reminiscent of the Yggdrasil of Norse tradition, rooting deep into the Otherworld; although whether or not the Celts also adopted this view is vague. Of course, other than the fleshy aril which contains a toxic seed, the rest of the tree is poisonous including its shadow under which nothing grows.

Yet there is gold in the dimming season, too. The goldcrest who loves to forage for insects in the yew is a symbolic reminder of the joyful blessings arising from darkness. But her gifts take patience to discern. Flitting from bough to frond, it is difficult to notice her petiteness except for the distinctive crest from the corner of our eye. She has a message for us. We listen with our innermost self. It is a gentle nudge to remember more of who we are.

Dreams are also one of the gifts of darkness. Aengus or Oengus Óg, the Celtic god of love, who we meet at Beltane (1 May) certainly remembers his promise to wait for the goddess of dreams, Caer Ibomeith, whose name means ‘yew berry’, at the lakeside, or we might say at the edgeland, at Samhain. Prior to this Aengus often met with her in dreams. When they meet at the waterside this shape-shifting couple fly off together in the form of a pair of swans. This tale is symbolic of fidelity to the soul-path we are on with its fondness for introspection.

From: Ventures into Deep Imagination


As winter begins, start a Reflective Journal to record your thoughts arising from this blog and practices, including your dreams. On one page record your dream in the present-tense as if you are dreaming this now, while on the opposite page note your associations with the parts of the dream especially those which hold the greatest energy for you (positive or negative). Try to feel the dream rather than to only think it. When you have completed these steps ask yourself what the dream means.

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