Author: Oleg Cherne
Our regular readers already know that in the past, most drinks were cult objects, but within a cult they also performed practical functions rather than solely symbolic or religious. Various drinks were crucial parts of the system designed to help a person grow and develop spiritually.
It is noteworthy that all great peoples of the past were characterized by their own paradigms of self-development, which played a more important role than philosophy or religion. Therefore, an individual associated themselves with a certain culture based on their involvement in an accepted system of codes and principles. For example, a Celt was more a state of mind than an ethnicity.
In the history of humankind, Celts were one of the first peoples to recognize and manifest the importance of personal development and create a clear set of rites and processes to experience exaltation. In this article I will be focusing on the key role that various drinks and beverages played in their culture.
Celts explored and researched the ways in which drinks can change humans and how we perceive the world. But before we get down to a description, let’s first take a look at their culture and try to understand the Celtic worldview and typical course of spiritual education.
First, it would be wise to compare them to other cultures that existed in the same period and mark some similarities and differences. For instance, their belief in reincarnation puts them in the same row as certain other peoples our talented readers will have no problem recalling. However, as concerns an article about drinks, I would like to focus on one peculiarity in particular: reaching immortality was the top stage in the Celtic system of spiritual growth. Some other peoples, such as the Maya, Tibetans, Indians, Inca, and Ancestral Puebloans, also proclaimed the possibility of immortality. In other words, the Celts were not alone in the world in this respect, but what makes them unique is the role drinks played in this process.
Each of the above-mentioned cultures belives in a special place, an Astral City of sorts, where people arrive after they finally become immortal. The most well-known Astral Cities are Shambala in Tibet, and the Himalayas for Indians, but there are also many more of them scattered across the globe. For Celts, this was the legendary island of Avalon (Emain Ablach, which in Irish means the «Island of Apples»).
Avalon: pinnacle of the Celtic world
Celts believed that Avalon was the final destination when a person finally achieved immortality. It was connected to our world in a special loci of energy also known as sidhe. These are real object that anyone can visit. In fact, «sidhe» means a «mound» or «hill», one of many strewn throughout the territories once populated by Celts.
The most famous and worshiped sidhes are Glastonbury and Tor. Stonehenge, perhaps one of the most well-known objects of Celtic culture, is also connected to Avalon. However, immortality here was not the goal—the real purpose was to experience a special spiritual state, and this experience could be facilitated and enhanced with various elixirs and beverages.
If you wish to learn more about the Celtic view of immortality, you can easily find and read one of the many comprehensive works on this subject. But as for this article, I would only like to note that the process of finding immortality has to do more with energy and our brain. A person can become immortal by learning how to channel energy through the body and mind.
Examples of successful attempts to master this technique are described in the numerous works of Tao (Chinese) and Indian cultures. Luckily, these traditions offer us systematic and detailed instruction on how to reach immortality, while Abrahamic religions — Christianity, Islam, and Judaism — deny or mystify them.
Celts were among the first to accept this path as possible, and study the role liquids and drinks play in it. According to Celts, the first person to ever become immortal was Mannanan mac Lir, who lived on the Isle of Man in the Irish Sea. Legends say that this man protected our world from the energies that would prevent people from becoming immortal.
Mannanan mac Lir was the herald of Avalon on our plane and a mediator between our worlds. Over time, Avalon became the focal point around which the entirety of Celtic culture was formed. It was the pillar that attracted Celtic tribes from different corners of the world.
A person who practices Celtic culture and an ethnic Celt are two different things. It is only logical that Celtic unions were composed of tribes of various origins that had to adapt to one another in order to live in peace. A Celt is a person who dedicated their entire life to spiritual search and self-improvement. Celts also had numerous interactions with other peoples, such as Iberians, which resulted in the appearance of mixed tribes, for example, Celtiberians. Wherever they were, Celts were thirsty for knowledge, and they never missed an opportunity to learn something knew.
Cauldron, goblet, chalice…
Celtic drinking culture and the beverages it’s given us — ale, cider, wine, beer, whiskey — are concentrated around the concept of the Cauldron of Life, a place where energy brews to make a special nectar, a most powerful essence, a combination of the elements of air, water, and fire. Later, air was substituted by wood, indicating the sacred role of trees in the Celtic worldview.
Earth gave people the power to make a drink filled with concentrated healing and invigorating energy, but the process of fermentation could take place only in a number of selected places where energy levels peaked, the so-called sidhe hills, as well as certain caves, springs, and forests, which Celts turned into places of worship. This explain why only certain locations were considered consecrated—they were carefully chosen for the powerful energy they emanate into our world.
Many ancient structures served to channel and improve the quality of this energy. Architects of the past constructed them according to their function and the specifics of each location. For instance, some megaliths were designed specifically to collect the energy of the Sun on solstice days. Those people who were «transformers» and «generators» of power were experts in processes connected with energy.
In Celtic mythology, the Isle of Man was the homeland for the first energy laboratory of beverages — a winery or distillery established and controlled by Mannanan mac Lir. Under Christianity, the image of the Cauldron of Creation and Life transformed and merged with the concept of the Holy Grail. Celts practically had to invent fermentation in order to brew the much sought-after elixir that could help them in their spiritual search and assist in surviving in changing global norms. The vibrations of the Earth changed their frequency, and people had to switch to different types of food and drinks, but not everyone had the capacity to digest and absorb this new food: coarse, rough and less sophisticated. So they had to create sacred drinks that would allow them to eat without compromising their spiritual quest.
Now since we’ve brought up the topic of divine Celtic drinks, I think this is a good time to take a brief detour into Celtic mythology. As legend has it, twelve godlike immortal beings lived in Avalon, but they needed the last one, the Perfect Entity that would combine together all their best qualities. Our world turned out to be just the right place to create such an entity through processing and fermentation.
Thus, Mannanan mac Lir was born and he created his famous lab on the Isle of Man to serve one single purpose—to assist the twelve gods in forming the ultimate Divine Being. But there was just one problem: when the twelve deities found themselves on this plane, it turned out they couldn’t eat our coarse food. Manannan thus began to brew alchemical potions for them to nurture their bodies.
When the very energy of the Earth changed, the divine being were once again put in a difficult position, and Mannanan mac Lir searched again to invent the Knowledge of Two Cups — distillation and fermentation. These two processes marked the start of the professional production of spirits. They allowed to create the divine drink of the «transformation wine,» or «milk.» Later, this intertwined with the Legend of the Three Cows (mostly with Bo-Ruadh), and the Green Knight (a character from Arthurian poems).
Art of fermentation
The symbol and embodiment of fermentation was the goddess Eithne (who also encompasses many other female images, from god Lugh’s mother to the mother of Saint Columban, the missioner who brought Christianity to the Celts). Fermentation was the primary occupation of Manannan mac Lir and the other characters of Celtic epics after him, such as Finn mac Cumail and Cuhullin.
In these legends, the first wine was made from the milk of the cow Bu-Ruadh (again, note the image of a sacred cow, which we also encounter in many other cultures). Bu-Ruadh ate only special grass growing in places of high power and energy (mostly around legendary Tara).
In the myth, there were three cows: red, black, and white. The white one produced the essence of the sky, the black one of earth, and the red one symbolized human deeds. The three cows represented the three conditions necessery to brew the divine nectar. The first one referred to how it was made, the second one with what, and the third one—where, in other words the three basic laws of wine cultivation and production.
Of course, this article would not be complete without at least mentioning the special relation between Celts and water. Water was the substance of power needed to establish a connection with Avalon. A certain lack of water encouraged Celts to enhance and intensify its qualities to produce ale, beer, cider, whiskey and wine (which was produced mostly in the territories of modern Germany, France, and Italy, areas with a favorable climate and soil).
The history of the Holy Cauldron is then revived in the 14th century as the Quest for the Holy Grail. Now, the Green Knight comes in place of Mannanan.
Medieval scholars likewise emphasize the culture of wine consumption and its role in achieving a state of divine exaltation. Time passes and people learn to make drinks of higher quality, but at the same time this means their consumption demands increased discipline and awareness. Also, there were a lot less lies in times when Mannanan lived, and now we must learn how to resist them in order to maintain a high culture of ecstatic experiences and drinking.
Celtic drinks concentrated energy until its level was enough to put you on the same wavelength with the kingdom of Avalon. We can thus conclude that one of the most efficient drinks in this respect was apple cider, since as we mentioned above, Avalon was the Isle of Apples.
The consumption of various drinks helped the Celts enter into a state of ecstasy associated in the public consciousness with three concepts: war, wine, and love. These three states helped the Celts tune in to divine frequencies and become temporarily immortal, the most vital ritualistic function of ancient Celtic drinks.