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Illumination the Gateway, Wisdom the Destination

November 30th, 2017

Zion National Park, USA. Photo by Bob Fuhro

In the Order of Bards, Ovates & Druids, we suggest three aims for the modern-day Druid: love, wisdom and creativity. I would like to focus here on wisdom, but let’s look briefly at the other two aims. The aim of love is of course the great aim of all spiritual paths, based on the experience of universal love that flows through us when we have a mystical experience. In such a moment of union and awakening, we experience the reality that love lies at the heart of existence.
The second aim, of creativity, is a goal that seems quite particular to Druidry. It emerges out of the importance of the Bardic tradition to Druid practice. The idea that Awen or Imbas can flow through us from the cauldron of the Goddess, and that this can manifest in myriad creative expressions, lies at the heart of the Druid view of life.
Let’s look now at the third goal: wisdom. There are two wonderful stories, from the Irish and Welsh traditions that speak about the search for wisdom. In the Irish story, wisdom is depicted as a salmon – the salmon of wisdom, which is being sought by an old man Finnegas, who is aided by young Fionn McCumhaill. The old man warns the young boy that if the salmon is caught and cooked, it must be he that eats it. A splash of salmon juice falls on Fionn McCumhaill ‘s thumb as he cooks it and it is the young man who is illumined, not the old man. In the Welsh version it is three splashes from a cauldron which land on the young man Gwion Bach’s thumb, and the same thing happens, he gains enlightenment.
In both stories, illumination occurs in an instant, and it’s an interesting question to ask why we don’t stress illumination, or the gaining of enlightenment as an aim, but instead talk about wisdom as our goal. Perhaps one reason is because Illumination can be seen as the Gateway, Wisdom the Destination. Illumination results in the soul gaining wisdom, so why focus on the means when you can focus on the end?
Another reason lies in the change in our relationship to time that occurs when we stress one or other of these goals. If I suggest you should seek illumination, I am setting a goal for you that exists in the future – a moment in time that you must seek to reach. If I suggest you should seek wisdom, you know that you already possess some wisdom – of the body, heart, soul and mind – and you therefore need to simply allow this wisdom to grow and mature. It’s somehow closer to you.
I wrote about this a while back: ‘If we have spiritual ambitions and hold enlightenment as our goal, we believe we will find fulfilment in the future when the moment of enlightenment occurs. But imagine for a moment our goal is not enlightenment but wisdom. As soon as we entertain that notion, something changes. The soul, it seems to me, breathes a sigh of relief – it doesn’t have to wait. It is not currently inadequate or insufficiently evolved or awake. Wisdom grows slowly like an oak tree, and one’s aim becomes not striving to get somewhere, or waiting for illumination to occur, but instead a work in progress – a fostering of qualities that we already possess to a greater or lesser degree. Instead of seeking the bolt of lightning that hasn’t yet come, we find ourselves thinking in terms we associate with gardening: wisdom grows in us, it’s something we cultivate, nurture and harvest.’
If you’d like to read more of that article, you can find it here.

One Response to “Illumination the Gateway, Wisdom the Destination”

  1. Very well put. Thank you for this.
    I have noticed in myself that as my wisdom matures, grows, increases, those brief moments of enlightenment increase also, like a positive feedback loop. So beautiful.

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