Conversation with Australian historian
Dr. Gary Lewis
1999 (Canberra, Australia)
Gary Lewis: Your life’s agenda is being fulfilled by revelations coming from many points of view. In the booklet accompanying your second CD, ‘For Love’s Caress -- a Celtic journey’, you tell us “ancient travelers navigated by the stars.” and you see that as a metaphor for your own experience.
On the cover of your first CD, ‘Dancer’, you are looking heaven-wards and on ‘Caress’ you are, in fact, with the stars, set in the Milky Way with the Southern Cross, and looking directly out at us. Australia’s Southern Cross constellation appears to be one of the guiding constellations, along with memories of your Irish childhood, which inform your present reality.
You state that your journey is one of personal unfolding, “with my companion musicians and our audience”. Ancient Celtic culture is employed by you because, “it is the only historic cultural precedent I have found in my hunt for philosophical treasure, thus far, that promotes the concept of ‘personal sovereignty’ as central to a successful life’s journey.” You say, that this way of life has little to do with where one dwells, because in the sense of the inner life, we are travelers in the imagination as well as on the physical plane, “and our thoughts and feelings are our landing places”. You want to connect with people of like mind, …these companions are like stars which help you to navigate through your life.
Maireid Sullivan: I call it my sense of ‘indigenous’ memory.
G.L. Is this ‘indigenous memory’ one of the magnetic fields which attract you, or a reflection of the light that guides you?
M.S. I love concepts like that. I love concepts that come out of the ancient wisdom archetypes as much as I love the concepts that come out of the most up-to-date research. For example, the ancient concepts of yearning, journeying, infinity, eternity, heaven, magic, angels, spirits, fairies, luminous beings, enchantment, vision, divine, sacred and then the modern concepts, quantum consciousness, a Quark, the speed of light, tachyonic sound, morphic resonance, electromagnetic fields. I find contemplating the old and the new concepts equally challenging and very exciting. I love words that aim to define the thinking processes of the most serious and profound human minds from any time. I love the effort to capture subtle perceptions in words, be it by poets or saints, scientists or philosophers. So, I don’t mind whether you say it’s a guiding star or magnetic pull. Either way we are talking about experiencing the phenomenon of ‘special attraction’.
G.L. Can you tell us how this has shaped your sense of your own life’s mission, your philosophy?
M.S. I really enjoy exploring the concept of a personal ‘mission’. If I ask myself, in my quietest moment, “what am I here for, what is my life purpose?” then I am articulating a ‘mission statement’.
There are so many issues that call for us to make commitments at various times in life; concern for the environment, care of children, and many community responsibilities. It is very important to find interests that draw upon the source of joy and enthusiasm, to sustain us through struggles we will surely encounter along the way. Laughter and playfulness are very important to me, so anything I do must allow for plenty of spontaneity.
When I ‘step back’ far enough from the challenges of life I visualize the vast universe before me. I call it ‘infinite intelligence’, …or ‘God’. As soon as I begin thinking about what ‘God’ means to me, I am transported into a familiar bliss and joy and I’m filled with love and delight. I am lifted into realms of feeling that are so healthy, and so complete and satisfying in that moment that I just want to sing! My true ‘mission’ is to bring this source of joy and delight into every aspect of my creativity -- every moment. I want to meet people who can stand there with me and share their own appreciation of ‘infinite intelligence’, of ‘God’, their joy and, ultimately, their ‘love’.
G.L. What techniques do you use in detecting similar aspirations in other people?
M.S.I had a spectacular ‘epiphany’ in my early twenties. I woke up one morning at around four in the morning with a poem going over and over in my mind. The voice was very strong and clear and more mature sounding than my usual thinking. The words were,
“ To come together in every experience,
to know the power and the glow of atonement -- at onement.
That is our goal.
To be united in the center of our being in love”.
Those words became my muse and I let them draw me into contemplation of ‘love’ and ‘oneness’. The meaning of those words came from a deep intuition that I wanted to reach as part of my normal waking life. I decided the best way to give freedom to my intuition would be to ‘go away’, to travel, to let my intuition lead me on my ‘vision quest’, where I could live more spontaneously.
I took off with my daughter, Brigette, and began an incredible adventure, which led me to meet people whose brilliance, and creativity and courage inspired me to new heights of joy. I went through many experiences, which released me from my natural shyness and helped me to find expression for my natural delight in life.
The first stage of those travels took to the northern part of New South Wales, Australia, amongst an extraordinary counter-cultural community, near the ocean and at the foot of Mount Warning, surrounded by rainforest, grazing lands and aboriginal sacred rock monuments.
After almost two years there I continued on, taking a year to travel in Asia to pursue my interest in Oriental history and philosophy. I lived mostly in Thailand, attended meditation practices in a Buddhist monastery, and paid my way by teaching English, to children of a branch of the Thai Royal family. I went on to Europe and Ireland, where I spent a year learning about world affairs as a political researcher with an international political research firm, Martin Haley & Assoc.. I then returned to Australia because it was time for my daughter to attend school.
G.L. Why do you think you choose a musical career?
M.S. Almost everyone who is asked that question answers that the music chose them, and I would say the same thing.
G.L. Can you describe the phenomenon of being chosen?
M.S. I have a sense of being chosen to sing, in that I feel I am in a meeting place halfway between the song and the listener.
G.L. Tell us about your first adventures in performance.
M.S. There was no break in my singing from my early childhood, in the family community in Ireland. When my family moved to the United States, I sang in the school choir, as well as solo, for various community events. While in college in San Francisco, I was a member of The Kilgary Trio, performing traditional music for various Irish events in the Bay area. But my professional’ career “happened” in Australia. I was twenty years old when I traveled to Australia with my father on a month long holiday. When we arrived in Melbourne, I met wonderful people right away and I put off leaving. I had to go to the Immigration Department to extend my tourist visa and when I was walking back, I saw a sign over a door, which said, ”Outpost Inn - Folk and Jazz Music”. I walked in through the big heavy oak door and peeped around the corner. There, at a table, sat three people who turned to me and invited me in.
The Outpost Inn was organized by several teachers, including two ex-Catholic priests, university students, writers, musicians, and other ‘artistic’ idealists. It was a very ‘heady’ environment all around. It was great! There was a meditation room in the basement where anyone could go for silent contemplation. I still hold several of those people dear to my heart, though I am out of touch with most of them at the moment. A few of us started a household together. One of us called it the ‘commune’ as a joke, but that name stuck. It was a big Victorian terrace house in North Melbourne, with a huge shop space at the front. It became one of the major venues for music and dance performances.
Melbourne was a great city then, as it is now. Theatre was going through a major revival and there were a few important music venues that featured extremely vibrant jazz, contemporary and folk music. The city was alive with great creativity, and I thrived.
I started singing a few songs, casually, at the Outpost Inn, because I felt so comfortable there. I soon began performing at all the surrounding ‘appropriate’ venues. It developed very naturally. I think I was the only woman singing the old traditional songs, unaccompanied, at that time. I did have a good size repertoire of songs that people liked to hear. I also sang with other musicians.
The beauty of unaccompanied singing is that I can simply sing the songs as they come to mind. The songs surprise me by filtering to the fore of my memory, inspired by the audience, when I haven’t planned a set. Then I sing them with more delight because I remember them suddenly. It’s very similar to the surprise and delight one would experience on meeting an old friend unexpectedly. That makes for inspired singing.
G.L. What was informing you in decisions about your repertoire? What were you choosing and why? Were there any linkages, any unifying principles in the collection?
back to top
M.S. Before moving to Melbourne, I collected traditional songs that I could sing by myself, most of the time. But I also sang songs written by contemporary musicians and friends. I look for the poetry and the melody, as well as the rhythm in the song. I prefer the ‘slow airs’ and ballads. I like finding the ‘groove’ that the song sits best in, be it accompanied or unaccompanied. There is always a groove that makes me feel the listeners are ‘in’ the song. But I also love the variety of rhythms and feels that a group of musicians can create.
When I find a new song I want to learn, I get so excited about it that I sing it constantly, non-stop day and night, testing it out in different sound environments and shaping the way that I want to sing it. That is good for both the voice and the spirit., or should I say for the physical well being, because I believe that a good singing experience actually helps change the Ph balance in the body. I invariable feel much more relaxed after a long concert. I have seen my facial expression change within a half-hour of constant singing. Something happens to the body chemistry and there is a glow that occurs. Singing is a very healthy activity.
G.L. What sort of feedback were you getting from people? How were you being inspired by people?
M.S. The inspiration flows from the quality of the stillness and the silence experienced while singing. I love the suspended, vibrant concentration that happens when I sing, especially with the slow airs.
G.L. Could you tell a little more about the formation of you music preceeding the Melbourne days?
M.S. I sang unaccompanied from my earliest childhood. It is so unfettered, so simple and such a completely fulfilling experience.
G.L. Can you remember some of the circumstances in which you learned these songs?
M.S. Well, my mother taught me the songs when I was very young, from around five or six years old. I would sing them for the extended family and friends in our community, in West Cork. I started collecting for myself during my adolescence in San Francisco.
G.L. Was there a Christian upbringing and a renunciation of Christianity?
M.S. Yes, in a way, there was. But it was not so cut and dry. My early upbringing had significant features, which supported my spiritual journey. My mother was a very devout woman who came from a wonderfully devout and fine family. There is a community holy well, Lady’s Well, at the foot of a hill on her family’s farm. Many neighboring families had their own statues there, set over the water, with a kneeling rail surrounding the shrine. We’d go there with our mother and pick bluebells and daisies and such, on the way, for the altar.
My brother, John, was very proud of the altar he had made ‘for God’ in the house. We tended to ‘his’ alter with flowers and candles. He was our little ‘priest’, for awhile. My home life in Ireland holds very tender memories of deep devotion and kindness. My mother, her mother, and her aunt, who lived with us, were responsible for passing on those sensibilities to us. We all lived on my mother’s family farm, which was set high on a hill with a three hundred sixty-degree view. It is a beautiful place.
I learned the spiritual life more by osmosis in my younger years. I had a full inner life when we first moved to the U.S., to an infinitely more secular society. Even though I later made a serious effort to seek out religious community, structured religious life was not fulfilling for me. But I found a vast array of literature that helped me greatly -- Kahlil Gibran, Alan Watts, Elizabeth Barrett-Browning and W.B. Yeats -- when I first arrived in San Francisco. I learnt that we use a small part of our brains for processing information and that our unconscious brain power can be directed toward personal fulfillment and enlightenment.
G.L. To what extent was popular culture, in San Francisco, shaping your experience?
M.S. Looking back, I believe I was very ‘precious’ about popular culture. If it was popular and mainstream, I shunned it. The Beatles for example, and Bob Dylan, were among the biggest icons when we arrived in San Francisco, and I just didn’t get excited about them. But then, that’s not so surprising since I had just arrived from rural Ireland. I had never experienced urban life before, except for the occasional huge adventure of a trip to Cork City. By my mid-teens I got into the swing of the lifestyle. I went with friends to a lot of the big rock concerts: Jimi Hendrix, The Doors, Janet Joplin, Ravi Shankar, Leonard Cohen, Jefferson Airplane, the list goes on. San Francisco was the place to be in those days. The lifestyle was vibrant. I loved dancing and the whole spectacle of the performances, but something kept me from appreciating the ‘poetry’ or the ‘meaning’ in those artist’s social agendas. I’m sure that had something to do with the fact that I was very shy and preferred serious conversation with one friend at a time. I spent a lot of time sharing books and talking about the mysteries of life. I feel I lived a double life then.
G.L. In these complex adolescent years, how did San Francisco seem to you?
M.S. San Francisco had a very strong Irish community. I think it still does. We lived within the Irish community almost exclusively. My father was a very social person. From age thirteen, my parents took me to the Irish dances for a couple of years. My father was a great dancer and he liked to dance with me because I could ‘fly’ around the room with him. I loved that too. There were Irish showbands playing songs that had a strong nostalgic twist to them. My father was also a wonderful tenor, of the John McCormac style. He sang the slow, beautifully melodic old ‘parlor songs’. Being such a social person, he always had men over to the house and they would engage in heated discussion about social and political issues of the day. My father was a passionate socialist and a ‘devout’ atheist. His favorite saying was ”The Church is the next best business to the Post Office.” He was very informed about both the union movement and corporate empires. He was a very engaging conversationalist. His men friends were also. They were all very passionate about issues of solidarity and egalitarianism.
He was a master horseman. In his prime, in Ireland and Canada, he trained horses for jumping. He was also a very highly skilled marksman. I have seen my father shoot a deer while riding his horse at a gallop.
G.L. There is a long journey ahead of you that would bring you up to say, the stage of your first recording on ‘Dancer’, a couple of decades almost, to the arrival of your current distinctive musical style. Could you speak to that for a few minutes?
M.S. Many years ago, I discovered a love for unusual poetry and melodies, mostly written by my friends or by well-known contemporary writers. There were several difficult factors to meld together in the collection I gathered. That convergence is continuing to grow with my own writing.
There was a space of several years break from regular performance before I came back to my singing full-time in 1992 and to my first recording in 1994. ‘Dancer’ is the result of having survived one of my greatest personal ‘dark nights of the soul’ experiences.
While living in Australia with my daughter, Brigette, I took on the job of step-mother, for ten years, to three children who had special health problems. Since I couldn’t travel anymore, I ‘fell into’ a career as a marketing consultant in the mainstream performing arts establishment. I worked for The Victoria State Opera, The Melbourne International Festival of the Arts, The Australian Ballet, and many other arts, educational and environmental organizations. But I was never comfortable with the ’professional’ identity I began to develop in doing that work. I started that ‘career’ as a series of community initiatives focused around arts programming and it grew out of proportion to my own expectations. But the work did build courage because I learned, over several years, that I could over-ride my own shyness when I focused on promoting someone else’s strength to communicate concisely other people’s artistic or educational endeavors. Understanding the strengths of the many artists I have represented has given me a very eclectic experience that has formed the basis of my confidence as an adult.
There were personal factors, culminating in a very unhappy divorce, and consequently, no longer needing to support a family, that helped me to bring that entire phase of my journey to an end. While going through the divorce and other dramas, my hair fell out in clumps. I had to apply everything I knew to survive unbelievable emotional pain. I prayed, meditated, and constantly read positive affirmations to keep my thoughts and feelings focused. To cut a long story short, I will be eternally thankful for the support of my mother and several friends, and, uniquely, a wonderful Melbourne based musician and friend, Chris Stellar, who persuaded me that I had original songs in me and that I should begin to write songs. I didn’t truly believe him, but he was so insistent that I sat down one evening with pen and paper before me and wrote my own first poem/song -- melody and all. That was just before midnight on New Year’s Eve 1991 and the song is ‘Dreaming the Dreaming’. “Recall what you knew when you were nursed in the sea of beginning. …Dreaming the dreaming, wake to the dreaming of old…” It was written intentionally with the Aboriginal concept of ‘Dreaming’. I felt drawn to look through the prism of the ancient culture of aboriginal Australians.
From then on, my prayers became poems. I began to write prolifically to reach deeper roots of thought and feeling and to remember my inner source of freedom and joy, and it worked.
G.L. So, you were beginning to delve into the unconscious. The aboriginal Dreamtime was a link you needed in order to begin the process of searching for your own spiritual and indigenous roots?
M.S. Absolutely! To me, the aboriginal people of Australia give living proof of the profound and sacred wisdom attained in ancient civilizations.
G.L. The linkages are very much alive, whereas for many of us, whatever our origin, as you say in so many ways, that consciousness has gone into hiding. We may be able to retrieve it. We may be able to rediscover it.
M.S. That is my view. There is a depth in the Australian aboriginal way of thinking that is hard, if not impossible, for us to comprehend but we know it is authentic. There are aboriginal people alive today who still carry a view of reality and human potential inherited from their most ancient ancestry, from forty thousand years ago. It is a view that is huge. Whenever I have experienced the faintest glimmer of insight into this, I have seen that their view is much more powerful than the hybrid definitions of infinity that we have inherited and enclosed ourselves in. Our theologies don’t come near its scope of power. Although, we are addressing it in Quantum physics research which is helping us to think in new ways and open up our imaginations.
G.L. So there is a sense in which the Australian aborigines have been mentors of yours.
M.S. They are a source of strength, as informants of the past.
G.L. Lyrically, this came to you at midnight on New Year’s eve. You delved into the unconscious for the first time to draw perception out in words, and, lo and behold, there is a reconnecting with your source. The dynamics are underway. Where was the next landmark? Was it the incubation of ‘Dancer’?
back to top
M.S. I began the process of launching my music project. When ‘Dancer’ was released, after two years of concert performance, it received such wonderful reviews from everyone. In fact, one of the things that really amused and thrilled me is that it was reviewed by the Melbourne Herald’s classical reviewer the same day that the first Three Tenors’ CD was reviewed. He gave them three stars and he gave ‘Dancer’ three and a half stars!
I was at home at that time, with a visiting friend, and as I was standing with my back to the fire, I remember saying to her, ”I feel like I am surrounded by laughing …angels.” I had to search for the word ‘angels’ because it wasn’t a word I used normally. The expanded feeling that came to me was similar to the pantheon of compassionate archetypes I felt surrounded by in my adolescence. Those feelings were a great source of encouragement. The success of that whole creative effort, culminating in the making of ‘Dancer’, restored me to my joy and delight.
G.L. I remember, at the time, your telling me that there were some difficulties being experienced within the band, in terms of their commitment to the journey as ‘fellow travelers’.
M.S. Yes, there were conflicting interests. Everyone in the band had a good time with the project, overall. They were well looked after at rehearsals and paid well for performances, since our concerts always sold out. Even though I dearly love each member of the group, there was something lacking in the relationship, or musical compatibility of the members of the group, which I couldn’t resolve, as the group leader. There were external influences pulling at our solidarity, too.
From this, I learned that the creative journey ahead for me requires that the experience should also be fulfilling for each person I work with. Through that whole effort to restore my own musical and emotional life, I understood that we may meet our fellow travelers in ways that seem coincidental. I believe that underpinning every relationship is the potential for significant personal fulfillment and it’s all about making that conscious. Intuition told me that I was not where I wanted to be yet. So, my engines were fired up and I asked myself, “now where do I go”?
I decided to take a break from the group and go to the United States for three months to find international distribution for my music. At that time, I had two sisters married to Americans and living in Los Angeles, so that’s where I went. That was a practical move too, because there was no way that I could make a living solely as a musician in Australia, with my style of music, since I will only play in concert, or in intimate environments, where people are undistractedly able to listen to the music.
G.L. You had developed a trust in fate and trust in chance to lead you on the right course.
M.S. Yes. I do believe I have a life purpose, a service that I can give to the world, but I don’t want to fix it in any one definition. I want to keep building on my interpretation with new experiences. So, I act as if I have the highest imaginable purpose to serve and grow, in trust that I will bring it to fuller consciousness as I go along. I strive to keep it simple and to keep doubt at bay.
G.L. I think there is a place for doubt, but only to give contract to the light. When occasionally dark shadows enter your view, the shadow of doubt can help you to understand how brilliantly your light is shining. Anything more than that can become gloom.
M.S. Self-doubt can subject us to fear and turmoil. There is so much going on in the modern world that one can too easily become distracted. Again, that is the attraction of aboriginal reality, that sense of the deep well of human consciousness.
The Irish poet, John Montague’s ‘The Slow Dance’ was the inspiration for my song ‘Rapture’. John Montague describes a primordial human, a man, dancing on the quaking clay of the earth, surrounded by antlered trees, amidst the thundering and lightening elements of fire. The culmination of the poem is, “No one was meant to watch, least of all himself”. When I read those words, I immediately knew that the culmination of evolution would be that everyone is meant to watch, most of all ourselves.
G.L. What happened when you arrived in California?
M.S. My ‘trust in fate’ unveiled great rewards for me as soon as I landed on those shores. There have been so many adventures that I could write a book about it all. I have crossed this vast country many times, performed in all kinds of venues, and met many wonderful people. While I have had to surmount difficulties, I have achieved important relationships on many levels of mutual respect, inspiration, support, and love, in both my musical and my personal life. I feel blessed. I basically follow the view that if I am happy in this moment then I shouldn’t want to change anything at all in my past because every detail of my past led me to this moment.
G.L. Moving right along, what kinds of venues do you prefer and how do you prepare for performance?
M.S. I love the sense of occasion that a concert presents. The performer is central to it, so it’s a big responsibility. A good sound system or a good natural acoustic really is very important. It is a wonderful thing to sing in a room where both you and the audience can hear perfectly. If I have the band playing with me, I want a good sound system with good fold-back monitors so that I can hear myself over the instruments. I adore the big sound of a festival stage, with the sound booming out over acres of space. That can be a very powerful experience. A good sound helps me hear the subtle nuances of my voice; I don’t want to just fly across the notes. So much of it is a matter of perception. I like to prepare by giving thanks for the opportunity to be there.
G.L. Is there an instance when, try as you may, an audience has not warmed to what you are doing?
M .S. Never! The songs themselves don’t allow that. Tenacity is the word, you know. If I am singing a song and I feel the listeners are not engaged, I don’t give up. I make a bigger effort to go more deeply into the meaning of the song, because I know that the song itself will spring to life and draw the listeners to it. The groove is everything to me. Even a rubato song has a rhythm that helps the song come alive in a unique way.
G.L. What are some of your other interests beside music?
M.S. I am an insatiable reader of history. But it’s all the one interest, really: it’s just to decipher the depth and meaning of everything that I see. For example, Ben and I went to the Norton Simon Museum recently, to see a retrospective exhibition, and we found that they had also just installed an incredible collection of Buddhist statuary ranging from the first century BC to the eleventh century AD. When we saw the expressions on the faces of those statues, we saw the message from those enlightened Buddhas, of long ago. The expression of sublime bliss on the face says it all. If you emulate that expression, the thought seems tofollow. We can retrace the depths of human history.
back to top
G.L. So, in fact, music is an out growth of this all-encompassing interest.
M.S. It is the medium.
G.L. Why don’t we focus now on Celtic music and ask why it’s become so popular. What is the genre all about in your view? Is Celtic music a reflection of a broader interest in Celtic culture and, if so, why should it be happening now?
M.S. There are many streams to it, and that is what I find so fascinating. Until the last ten or twenty years, formal study had become very narrowly focused but now inter-disciplinary training at university level encourages people to become eclectic in their interests, for the love of learning. Now many streams of interest are being studied by a wider, more educated public.
In Celtic studies there are the historical, archeological and anthropological streams, the political and economic streams, the philosophical, theological and occult streams, and then the artistic streams -- music, dance, theatre, literature, the visual arts and crafts. These are all very active. Right now, each of these ‘streams’ is peaking, in terms of drawing popular interest.
There is lively discussion going on in archeological circles about the various interpretations that can be applied to old and new discoveries, alike. There is a circle of Linguistic scholars who have a very strong case to present in defining the roots of Celtic heritage through the Celtic languages. Then the philosophical, theological and occult schools of thought are also finding a tremendous amount of rejuvenation where the popular goddess movements, the Wiccan and Druidic circles, and proponents of Celtic Christianity are taking a new approach to the old melding of Christian and pre-Christian philosophy. Psychologists and psychoanalysts are also offering amazing interpretations from the rich source of archetypes in ancient Celtic mythology and lore.
We shouldn’t forget the independent adventurers, scholars and researchers, historians, philosophers, scientists and spiritual seekers, who may have explored and correlated Occidental and Oriental thinking, and who have discovered a whole new source of inspiration and information in the roots of Celtic culture.
Of course, as the saying goes, we must “sort the wheat from the chaf”. On the negative side, it should be no surprise that the Celtic genre is being used as a marketing tool by many business interests whose unprecedented exploitations have both contributed to the promotion and to the distortion of the genre on many levels. There are some very fanciful interpretations being applied to the genre. But we need to remember that this is alongside brilliant analysis and creativity coming from the highest level of scholarship and art. We see all of this reflected in the explosion of books and recordings available now.
Needless to say, there is much re-writing of history going on from all points of view. We are all editing reality - as we should be! People in all of these legitimate streams of interest are editing their own histories, too. There is so much information to assimilate now that it is almost a game. But, a game with serious implications - the best kind.
G.L What is the genre all about in your view?
M.S. Celtic culture has always been about the flourishing of individual freedom. It has been a hidden and suppressed culture for so long because, for complex historical reasons, the ideals of individual freedom, free speech, and access to learning, etc., have not been available to the general public until relatively recent times. The genre offers so many exciting and imaginative ‘ways’ that are equally engaging and stimulating and promoting of individual expression.
G.L. What is your own way?
M.S. I like to think, “I am protecting my joy”. I’ve always looked for ways to sustain and maintain high energy, joy and bliss in my life, and I have found valuable precedents in ancient Celtic philosophy, all the more delighting because it is my own heritage, my ancestry. Music, dance and writing are my ‘ways’ for expression of my inspiration.
G.L. How and why does it illicit bliss in you?
M.S. I have a very high degree of enthusiasm and respect for people who are seriously involved in researching, practicing and promoting culture. A sense of continual learning creates stepping stones to my personal ‘comfort zone’. When I feel that my life’s work and my relationships are fulfilling I become very thankful and that leads me straight into great joy and bliss.
G.L. You have described, in your writings, the essence of the Celtic genre as discovery, passion, and poetry. All of those aspects are exemplified in great abundance in your work. Is that a fair summation of how you see the tradition of Celtic culture as you give expression to it?
M.S. Discovery, passion, and poetry: What else is there, really? Good company, good music, poetry and conversation and a good ‘drop’ of whatever you like to go with it -- its ‘the craic’, as the Irish say. The discovery inspires the passion and its expression in words and music. It’s all about the creativity of the individual in any given moment, and the capacity to consciously create and share an experience of ‘the good life’.
back to top
G.L. Is recent prosperity in Ireland accompanied by a revival of interest in and understanding of ancient Celtic culture?
M.S. True to their tradition, the Irish hold the arts and learning in high esteem, and Bardic poetry has a following amongst those who speak Gaelic. But many people in Ireland can not claim to be of Celtic heritage. Many other ethnicities have been assimilated by Irish society, over hundreds of years. The traditions were nearly lost when the people who really knew the old high culture were forced to leave Ireland from as far back as the thirteenth century. Especially large numbers had ‘escaped’ by the end of the eighteenth century and into the nineteenth century. Millions died in the late1840’s famine and the millions who were evacuated had lost touch with their heritage by that time. A new mythology of ‘Irishness’ and modified forms of the traditions were created within a completely new socio-political structure.
Coming to terms with the tragic nature of recent history has caused people to overlook the amazing cultural enlightenment and unique civilization achieved by ancient Celtic people. For example, how many people know that long before the European establishment of the Roman Catholic Church and it’s concept of ‘original sin’, the Celts embraced Christ Consciousness because their ancient ‘pagan’ philosophy predisposed them to understanding what Christ Consciousness meant as the pinnacle of thinking and being. ‘Enlightened’ Celts understood that Christ Consciousness was about the evolution of consciousness. Since their own wisdom upheld enlightenment through personal sovereignty, “the kingdom is within”, they naturally comprehended how Jesus manifested Christ Consciousness and taught that every individual could achieve enlightenment or Christ Consciousness. Their interpretation and practice of Jesus Christ’s teachings evolved into Celtic Christianity and led to Ireland becoming known as the ”Isle of Saints and Scholars”. This is significant history that deserves to be taken seriously. There’s the saying, “Maybe if we listen to history, it won’t need to keep repeating itself!”
G.L. Could you explain the origin of the notion of ‘personal sovereignty’?
M.S. I was living in Australia when I set out to seriously study ancient Celtic heritage, back in 1991. Before that time I had spent years studying the development of Chinese history and philosophy. I was hugely surprised to discover that there was so much that I didn’t know about the ancient Celts. I knew some Celtic history but I certainly hadn’t accessed the depth of information that I have since gleaned deeper understanding from.
‘Personal sovereignty’ is a concept that can be traced way back in very ancient Celtic history. It has similarities to ancient Yogic theories. Consciousness ‘in the body’ is a vast field of exploration with an amazing pedigree. In ancient Europe, as in India, knowledge through ‘body consciousness’ had realized a great height of wisdom. Today’s science tells us that ninety nine point nine percent of every cell in the body is empty space and that every thought affects the chemistry of the whole body. Every thought has a chemical attached to it.
Rupert Sheldrake’s theory is that memory and other information is stored within the microtubules of every cell. These are alive, self-organizing and causal information systems called holodynes. We can learn to access them and transform them. Holodynes exist within a quantum field dynamic that creates a ‘morphogenic’ effect, which resists change. To transform these fields, we need to understand ‘field shifting’. The ancient Celts called it ‘shapeshifting’.
I use traditional Irish dancing as my metaphor to show how we can comprehend this greater dimension of insight. This is an exercise for the imagination. While it would help to know how to dance the simplest form of jig and to have the music playing because the dance music helps to make the body light, it doesn’t really matter if that isn’t possible. The dance can be imagined. Prepare as you would to dance a simple Jig. Imagine yourself standing very straight and still and let your body feel very light. Imagine your body becoming weightless. Imagine bouncing up and landing back down on the toe, just lightly enough to spring back up again. Focus on the point where you body feels weightless, just where you imagine yourself springing up and then down. Continue to focus your imagination on making yourself as weightless as possible, until you experience a fresh, heightened awareness of your body. The focus is the key. You will become aware of the field of energy around and through your body. Imagine being held up from the Medulla Oblongata, at the base of the brain, the first entry of the nervous system into the embryo.
When there is an opportunity to actually dance to the music with someone else, it is really great if both people have done the imagination exercise first. Then, when you move toward the other person in the dance, you will feel their energy touching yours long before you come close to each other. It is a thrilling sensation, to be so sensitive and aware of your body that you actually perceive your energy moving into another person’s energy field before you even come close to them.
The ancient Celts promoted that kind of self-knowledge, beginning with consciousness through the body. They believed, “we are all embryonic gods and goddesses.” We can achieve god-hood in our lifetime, that is our true purpose, and when we do, “we have a filial duty to assist our kith and kin”. It’s all about the individual’s capacity, no matter which gender, to interpret and develop their own unique sovereign realm of reality.
back to top
The Irish concept of ‘Anam Chara’ (anam cara) describes the way that we can meet another as a ‘soul friend’. Anam means ‘name’ or ‘soul’ and chara means ‘friend’ The concept of ‘Anam Chara’ means that we can become ‘soul friends’ by respectful interaction. We can work at refining that communication and melding our being with another in a non-threatening and beautiful way.
G.L. Which came first, your interest in Celtic culture or the concept of Personal Sovereignty?
M.S. I saw the concept in my first readings from ancient Celtic history. It was the concept that drew me to pursue further study. This concept says so much because it brings two opposite concepts together - ‘personal’ and ‘sovereignty’. It’s simply referring to ‘my own realm’, where I have complete control and autonomy, where I have the final word about defining or interpreting my reality because only I live in it, and it contains the whole universe, as far as I’m concerned. While no other human being can see reality the way that I see it, and that is the fact, the truth, the really important realization is that it takes profound respect to know anyone in a significant way. We reach out to another and we realize that we are here at the threshold of another being’s reality, and there is the vast unknown.
G.L. We are alone in life as in death, only love transcends the solitude. What are the relevant messages for today, from Celtic history?
M.S. Love is made profound by knowledge. I really like the Celtic tradition of emphasizing subtlety over obviousness. The hidden is more important than the revealed in that it has greater prospects for interpretation -- hidden possibilities.
G.L. A subject we can think about but never know fully.
M.S. It draws you deeply in, whereas the obvious doesn’t require you to use your imagination.
G.L It's interesting that looking through your lyrics I see references to tides, anchors, rocks, boats; one is about movement and the other is secured. In your song, Danu’s Land, (For Love’s caress CD) there is the Celtic mother goddess making a call to heed her ancient song and come out of hiding. Is that a fair understanding of that?
M.S. Yes. That was one of my first poem-prayers.
G.L. In what sense then does this appeal to the feminine principles or reaction against patriarchal religion, ie. Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, etc. or is it not?
M.S. It tell us to ignore all of that old politics. It tells us we can come out of hiding and not have to pay any attention to superficialities of politics anymore. It suggests that we can set our imagination free and we can become emissaries of peace.
G.L Like your realization about dying without needing to hold on to a belief system for security?
M.S. Yes, because abundance is everywhere. All needs are fulfilled once you uncover your true inner access to ‘self’, your ‘personal sovereignty’, “the kingdom within”, “one-ness”, “wholeness”.
G.L. You see this relationship between thought and material matter; ‘thought’ is the ‘Dancer’ and ‘matter’ is the anchor in your song, ‘Dancer’.
M.S. The wonderful thing about thought and feeling is that they always permeate the density of matter.
G.L. Would that have anything to do with the vibrations that dancers feel when they are expressing their ‘personal sovereignty’ as they move toward each other in a dance?
M.S. Oh! Yes!
G.L. Tell me about the meaning of your song ’I Am a Rock’.
M.S. The rock symbolizes the hardest element of matter. It was inspired by a meditation where I focused on becoming still like a rock, every time I thought a thought, and I had to throw it out because rocks don’t think. I kept on throwing out all those thoughts that ‘rocks wouldn’t have’ and I came to a perfect stillness. And there I found “oneness” again. “Now that I have found you, I will never let your go.”
G.L. The meaning of the title song on your CD ‘For Love’s Caress” seems obvious. “We are daughters of history, mothers of a new world that’s dawning, and this great old world can be made new in the name of love’s caress.”
M.S. The roles of mother and the grand-mother are universally understood models of nurturing and justice. Mothers don’t compete with their children. They give themselves to their children. Mothering is the best approach to healing on all levels. We have seen enough war and holocaust and genocide to know that it takes a special effort for us to evolve human consciousness. I believe we should remember the mother’s way when we try to bring peace and healing to this planet and the lives of everyone we come into contact with, even in small ways; through positive thought projection, dedication, generosity and most ardent love. I want to find people who are dedicated to this effort because they are the ones who approach relationship with the best energy and consciousness. They make the sparks fly for me. They are the ones who know how to laugh and sing and dance for joy -- like children.
back to top