Interview with Frank MacEowen: Moving Beyond Labels

If you’ve been reading here a good long while, you remember my review of The Mist-Filled Path, a book by Frank MacEowen that struck my life with great force a year and a half ago. Frank’s message came to me at just the right time, and I found that it resolved a lot of issues with the direction of my spiritual path, as well as laying down rich soil for growth. Perhaps the most profound gift the book gave me was a deepening of my sense of comfort and rightness in the label ‘druid’, which I had adopted as my own just a few months before, and the path circumscribed by that term.

tolkientarotiiBut people are not labels, as Frank makes very clear by his own example. His path has wound among Zen Buddhism, shamanic studies, Celtic spirituality, and Jungian psychology, with a dash of poetry thrown in. He has undergone the ‘shaman sickness’, participated in the Lakota Sun Dance, and slept alone in burial mounds in Scotland, listening to the song of the world.

Frank’s latest book, The Celtic Way of Seeing: Meditations on the Irish Spirit Wheel, is vastly different from The Mist-Filled Path. The latter is a journeyman’s chronicle, a spiritual travelogue; but The Celtic Way of Seeing is a great map of the soul. Frank looks at the ancient divisions of Ireland, and the connections between that sacred physical space and the sacred spiritual space within us. It’s a book that packs a lot of punch, especially for those of us inclined to think in terms of maps and landscapes. I’ll be writing a full review soon.

In the meantime, I’m absolutely ecstatic to present this interview with Frank, in which he very graciously opens himself up with characteristic insight and honesty on all kinds of topics. I asked Frank five questions, and I’m going to present four of them here; the fifth I’ll save for the review of The Celtic Way of Seeing, since it will make more sense in that context. And now I’m going to scurry out of the way and let you jump right into the interview!

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DJ: I’m very interested to see in your author’s notes that you are pursuing a study of Zen Buddhism, since that was the worldview under which I was raised myself. I’ve seen in many places the hypothesis that there was a deep connection between the ancient druids and ancient Vedic mysticism. I wonder how you yourself integrate these worldviews — do you find that they are complementary? Do they inform each other, support each other? Or do you find yourself trying to strike a balance, and work through contradictions?

FM: Actually, an interesting aspect of my journey is that Buddhism (Zen, Vajrayana and Pure Land ideas) has been the longest standing tradition that I have practiced, explored and studied—long before I was awakened to the existence of the spirituality of my Irish, Scottish and Welsh ancestors, and before I was guided to delve into studies with indigenous shamans and medicine people cross-culturally. Within Buddhism I find a very sophisticated and highly effective path for working with one’s own mind and emotional states (the sources of either our growth and refinement, or our addictions and downfall). So, Buddhism has always been part of my practice.

I think it is pretty clear that there are some definite ties between the Indic and Celtic tradition streams farther back. Indeed, Sanskrit and the Celtic languages are part of the same language tree. Language shapes but also expresses consciousness. Though I am not fluent in any of the Indian or Celtic languages, I have heard the notion that there are certain root words in Sanskrit that have the same meaning when analyzing some of the Celtic languages. I find that fascinating and believe it points toward a more ancient time when the people we think of as the Celts (and even some of the Germanic tribes) had their origin in the Aryan areas of northern India.

The other questions you pose are a bit more difficult for me to answer. There is the personal level to the questions and there is the more general stance of trying to answer the questions from a scholarly view. I feel less equipped to answer from a scholarly view. I am aware of the same hypotheses of Druidic and Vedic links. Given the linguistic ties, it doesn’t seem far-fetched to me to consider possible other linkages between the traditions.

As far as religions go though, I think one of the things we have to do is make the painful admission that the Hindu and Buddhist traditions are unbroken traditions, with various lineage transmissions coming down to the present day from a long succession of teachers, while the druidic traditions were — for the purposes of our discussion here — completely and utterly destroyed. Anyone who portrays or perceives an unbroken druidic tradition is, frankly, deluding themselves or others. This is not to say that there aren’t remnant strands of the ancient druidic traditions that have survived. This is also not to say that other remnant strands cannot be reclaimed. But, given this dynamic difference I think it presents a great difficulty in terms of making an attempt to make a thorough comparison between Buddhism and Druidism. I tend to agree with Celtic writer Jean Markale in his book The Druids, where he states (and I am paraphrasing here) that the druid tradition as a whole is no more; it was destroyed, but that the druidic archetype and a druidic spirituality can never be destroyed because of its very nature. Given that, it seems to me that we have a long way to go before we have something truly solid, say, “druidic mind training,” to make as a comparison to, say, the mind-training exercises found in Tibetan Buddhism.

The areas where I do sense and feel a complimentary nature between Buddhism and Druidism occur on the level of consciousness. One of the key areas of each tradition that I KNOW exists in the case of Buddhism and that I INTUIT as existing within ancient Druidism is this notion of perceiving the oneness of all things — the interconnectivity of all things, the inter-dimensional weave of dwellers within a given reality — and the perception of visible and invisible realities. We cannot really know for sure, but I do sense that — once upon a time — Druidism had a very profound tradition of training the mind, much as we might associate with Buddhist practice. On these levels, I experience a flow of awareness within myself where it isn’t Buddhist practice or Druidic practice — it is just practice.

Personally, I feel a very strong affinity with India, Tibet, Thailand, and Japan and the way parts of these cultures have been able to maintain a spiritual component within the secular turnings of life. I sense the ancient expressions of certain Celtic cultures manifested something quite similar.

At the close of day, I would have to say that I consider myself a Buddhist who simply has a heightened awareness of certain things that are connected to my deep-ancestors who probably practiced aspects of Druidism and elements of ancient pre-Roman Celtic Christianity. However, as a real mutt, with bloodlines flowing just as much through places like Spain, Morocco, and Finland, I have realized that who I am is informed by so much more than just one cultural group, one spiritual system, or one way of perceiving reality. Nonetheless, I can often close my eyes and sense what one friend refers to as “the one druid” (the notion that there is a kind of energetic reservoir containing the druidic archetype from which the call to the druidic path springs).

DJ: This next question requires a little bit of setup. In my original review of the The Mist-Filled Path, I recount a dream in which I was a member of a tribe in ancient America, and I was in love with the wife of the chief. The chief’s wife was killed in war; but she was brought back to life through my love and the love of the chief, together. When I meditated to try to find the meaning of the dream, the chief appeared, saying again and again, “Hold her in your heart.” The meaning remained a mystery for about a month, but then I realized (and a friend of mine who’s skilled in dream interpretation agreed) that the chief’s wife represented the culture and traditions of the First Nations peoples; and her death and rebirth indicated that the love of the First Nations peoples alone was not enough, and the love of people outside the culture was not enough; both but loves together could revitalize these traditions and keep them from dying out. Could you say a little about whether you agree with that, and the health of these traditions today, and maybe indicate some things that I and my readers can do to help?

FM: Wow. Powerful dream. I can feel the emotional punch to it. I wouldn’t be so presumptuous as to interpret your dream for you, but I can say that I believe your conclusions ring very true. I think for there to be a true, successful and sustainable renaissance of the indigenous traditions it is going to require something WITHIN the cultures and something from OUTSIDE the cultures. The piece from within is a rekindling of self-esteem about one’s history, one’s ancestors, and one’s tribal identity against the backdrop of the wider cultural tapestry. From the outside, at the very least, I think there has to be a cessation of harm by the dominant culture. By that I mean an interruption of those forces or variables that contribute to a crippling of indigenous communities, either in the predatory encroachment of energy companies who pit people against one another within tribal communities, or other, more subtle and insidious ways that continually convey a message to indigenous people that they are a dead-and-gone thing of the past.

One of the things I think we can all do is to STOP the unconscious practice of speaking about indigenous people in the past tense. Everywhere from TIME Magazine to National Geographic to the internet, I have noticed that the tendency of people when speaking about Native Americans is to talk about them in the past tense. “The Cherokee were… a proud people,” “the Lakota practiced the Sun Dance…” etc. etc. When a people continually hear of themselves referred to in the past tense, they (especially their children) begin to perceive of themselves as non-living entities, a powerful point made in Jerry Mander’s book Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television. It seems minor, but again language shapes perception, and perception shapes language. Change our language and we change reality.

Many of the indigenous people of North America are living in a profoundly crippled and disenfranchised state. Some of the cultures are stronger than others. Some of them — such as the Mississippi Band of the Choctaw — have found ways to become quite financially well-off as a community, which has enabled them to send kids to college and to financially enrich their people. But, by and large, most First Nations communities are hurting, and I think you are right — it is going to require work from within their cultures, and a valued, measured support from the outside. You know, so much of the ancient indigenous Irish and Celtic traditions have been completely lost due to imperialism and occupation. With the First Nations of North and South America there is still a window of opportunity for their to be an active retaining of these things before it’s too late. But, it requires valuing these things, and that is the ultimate stance or orientation that people within and without of the cultures will have to adopt.

Oddly enough, I think a lot of white people are drawn to Native American spirituality and “take on” certain aspects of indigenous tradition, thinking that this is a way of showing support, whereas many native people feel that their land has been taken, their tribal cohesion has been splintered, and now white people (whom they call “wannabes”) are taking the last shred of culture that they have — their own spirituality. Perhaps that is another thing people in Western culture can do: look at whether one is authentically working with their traditions in an authorized and sanctioned way, or is one co-opting (stealing) traditions. It’s a tough question but one that has to be asked.

DJ: What projects do you have planned for the future?

FM: At present I don’t see myself writing any more non-fiction, nor delving into anything specifically Celtic for a writing project. I see my three books for New World Library as my attempt to give a gift of homage to one line of my ancestry, and I think the three books are a real balanced set that — hopefully — addresses a number of components of value and interest to a wide range of people who are investigating their connections to the Celtic energies. In effect, I feel like I have said what I need to say about these things. A writer’s life and process always keeps moving forward. Though readers often think an author is still chewing on much of the material from one of their published works, in reality the existence of the book itself often is a sign that the author’s journey is complete with that topic and is in migration toward other areas of focus.

If I were going to tackle something on a non-fiction level, it would probably be an exploration of archetypes, the divine feminine, C.G. Jung, and the phenomenon of both waking and sleeping dreams, against a backdrop of Shambhala and Buddhist ideas. Certainly in such a weave I would feel compelled to provide room for the Celtic voice to speak, but that’s just a rough estimation.

I have been contemplating turning my writing hand toward the domain of fiction. I have a number of ideas, dealing with both ancient and futuristic themes, but I am finding that fiction writing is truly a whole other animal. Where my non-fiction, spiritual writing already had the benefit of syncing up with a domain of personal and collective experience (a pre-existing and evolving world), writing fiction feels like a much slower process whereby I sort of have to wait for “the world to be populated,” meaning the world of the story. So, I’m having to be patient, allowing the world to sprout and the characters within that world to grow in depth.

DJ: Where is your spiritual growth focused right now?

FM: Moving beyond labels. Just-sitting. Exploring rhythm. Dreaming. Gaining insight into the healing power of tantric experiences. Learning to pay even more attention to inner prompts and outer Synchronicities. Attempting to practice a sense of mastery in relation to the mind, especially stepping back to be a witness to habitual patterns and dismantling the scaffolding of unhelpful perceptions. I am very much at peace on my path and have reached a place of dynamic appreciation of the simple things. I don’t limit myself to the sources of wisdom I study. It might be a night walking in the wind. It might be a video on Ken Wilber’s Integral Naked website or MySpace page. It might be listening to someone who is in the process of dying. The whole world around us is a teacher. Mainly, these days, I am quiet and try to listen more closely.

At the same time, I am saddened and disturbed by the current state of the world, and to see such human rights abuses go unaddressed, such as in Darfur or in Burma.
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Comments

  1. Jeff, thanks for introducing me to Mr. MacEowen and his brand of spirituality. I found the information about the similarities in the Celtic language and Sanskrit to be fancinating.

  2. Re: “the tendency of people when speaking about Native Americans is to talk about them in the past tense. ”

    In many parts of the USA, people often speak only in the past tense
    about us Jewish people, too — “The Jews had a holiday called Chanukah” or whatever (often uttered with the same vocal intonations that one uses in telling the deeds of mythical/fairy-tale characters or other symbolic/fictional people). In my first year of college, two of my roommates spoke about Jewish observances/celebrations ONLY in the past tense (even when discussing things that they witnessed while speaking of those things), and they considered me “pedantic” and “cruel” and
    “unnatural” for even asking why anyone would speak of living people in a manner that English-speakers usually employ for speaking of long-dead people[s] or fairy-tale figures. They could never explain (or never cared to explain) why they did this, let alone explain why they considered it wrong of me to wonder why they did this.

    Yours for better letters, Kate Gladstone

  3. Kathryn Preston says:

    I just read the “The Mist Filled Path” during the current major crossroads in my life, and it is spurning me to Radical Change. This book is a reflection of my own soul. It is so illuminating to know that things I have been doing intuitively with no guidance, like Hillwalking, come from my family’s heritage. As I lost my family as a child, thank you for sharing your wisdom. I am most grateful for the “guidance.”
    Kathryn Preston

  4. I have Frank’s books and loved reading them all.

    Sloop is not my real surname, so I had a DNA test done on my male side and found out my ancient ancestors came from Wales.
    I alwasy thought we were Celtic on my dads side, I always enjoyed Celtic music, going to Highland Games, buying books on Celtic History and culture.
    When I listen to certain Celtic music, it brings tears to my eyes and I can fill the ancient Celtic ancestors tell me thankyou for rembering us.
    I fill them surround me with love and watching over me.
    I believe some of my ancient Welsh ancestors were Druids, I fill it in my heart and soul.

  5. Lily Duffin says:

    Before my first visit to Ireland, my whole adult life I felt homesick for a place that I didn’t call home. Upon my arrival, for the first time in my life I felt a sense of peace and a connection to the land itself. Celtic music makes me cry, it always has, but I have a better understanding. My mother was born in Ireland. As I walked the old roads of the Aran Islands I felt so complete and my heart broke from the energy I felt at Kilmainham gaol. I grew up listening to the stories of the Easter Rising and understanding that with my lineage comes a great connection to the land and nature and Frank MacEowens books have greatly helped me understand how to balance what is innate in me. My journey will continue for the rest of my time here, as it has in my lifetimes past. But to find an author whose words resonated in my heart and soul was such a gift. Walking in the Burren and feeling the energy that abounded was an awakening. Ireland is more than Pubs for those that are of Celtic heart, soul and Spirit.

  6. Kelly O'Brien says:

    I have all three of Frank’s books, I was at a time of turmoil in my life, when I came across “The Mist-filled Path”. I had been dating an Native American man, his father was the medicine man in their tribe. Although, I did not, at the time, understand why I had the pull for the Native American spirituality. It wasn’t until after that relationship ended, that I started searching for some answers. I felt some connection to the tribe, however, the son of the medicine man, my “other half”, did not believe I could understand what his heritage meant to him. He laughed at me, told me I was too white to understand their culture. But…. because of this issue, I was bound and determined to find some answers, and I did with the help of Frank’s book. I was exiled, seeking wisdom, and didn’t even know it. Like Lilly Duffin, in the last post…I cried, because every page hit my soul. The music makes me cry, my favorite is Van Morrison and the Cheiftans, it’s so heartfelt. It was an awakening to life and our connections to this world through many different cultures. He was writing exactly what I was feeling at this time in my life. I believe there is a higher power, but to put a name on it, I can’t! As it is everywhere, in everything, and goes unnoticed, until you are truly aware of your surroundings. My life changed forever, because of his words in a book. I am comfortable with my life now, at times when I feel lost or alone, I still pull this out and read. Then I end up looking for more books from Frank MacEowen. I’m saddened that he won’t be delving into writing more on his Celtic roots, but, I don’t know how he could of topped the three books he’s done on the Celtic way of life. These books should be sold as sets, as they are very insightful and leave you wanting more. I just wanted to take time to say thank you, to my favorite author in the world. His words, changed my life’s path, enriched my children’s hearts and lead me to a peaceful mind.

  7. I frankly was drawn to MacEowen’s book The Mist-Filled Path after being rejected when I spent more than $2,000 to attend a “spiritual” workshop with persons who label themselves as seekers of the light. It was such an unsettling experience that I wondered if I fit in anywhere, spiritually speaking. These things happened within a couple of years after my husband, my immediate family members and my best friend had all individually died. The younger generation wasn’t exactly embracing me either. So in a short period of time, I found myself friendless, a widow, an orphan and an exile, a wanderer, and a wonderer…

    So when I found a book that was addressed to exiles and wanderers, I thought, that sounds like me! In just the first few pages, I decided to follow MacEowen’s instructions and set my root in healing, speaking the words mentally before going to sleep one night while picturing myself as standing and facing each of the four directions. I never imagined it would actually change anything — that it would actually “work” so soon!

    Within 48 hours, maybe the next night, I suffered an extremely painful gallbladder attack! In the second 48 hours, I tripped on a water hose I knew was there on the sidewalk in front of my house, cutting my face in three places!

    As MacEowen says in his book, once you set your root, whatever comes into your life next is “for” that purpose. In my case, it would have been “for my healing.” As I prepared for and underwent laparascopic surgery to remove my gallbladder, and as I lay upon my bed allowing my facial cuts to heal, and as I was being examined for a female problem that popped up next, involving the real possibility of cancer, I pondered how “all this” could possibly be “for my healing”!!!

    Now that all these things have healed and I do not have cancer, I am again undergoing a new round of tests and traumatic experiences (for me, anyway). I find I have to continually work with my own attitude towards these medical events as being FOR my healing, FOR my good. I have to seek to see these things with eyes that look beyond the temporary physical unpleasantness.

    Within these six short months, I see many changed in myself. At one point, I went too far in exploring other religions and was grabbed up by my collar and set straight by an unseen hand. This led to me quickly finding my church home right in the city where I live. I also have adopted the daily practice of gratitude — even involving unpleasant medical tests and colonoscopies! They are FOR my good and not for evil! (Keep saying that…)

    As I look back to that expensive (to me) spiritual workshop I attended, I can see that I had a spiritual experience in that setting that could only be described as “priceless.” There may have been all these negative factors around me, but when one “priceless” spiritual event sets you on a new path, that’s “priceless” — without regard for its cost.

    I also have experienced other supernormal events, which I know grow up from my efforts that began with the night when I set my root in healing!

    I have found comfort in this path from the most unsuspecting people! I will share only one…

    As I waited to register for my surgery at the hospital, I happened to get the girl with the black straggly hair, who was dressed in black gothic leather apparel, with black nail polish, a piercing or two, etc. But I could not get over her hair! Had she gone to a salon and it had one time been “fixed”, and now was falling down all over, or what? I had to bite my tongue to keep from saying something like, “Wouldn’t a simple haircut look better than that?!!” As I kept my silence, I had to chuckle at how much I sounded like my now deceased mother! When we got to the question of next of kin, I explained that I had no next of kin at the moment and why. She then told me that this is nothing to worry about, that it was only asked by the hospital if there were someone they needed to notify in the case of one’s death, that she herself had encountered many patients in the same situation, and went on to tell me about one of those people! I felt so grateful for her understanding, her reassurance and her kindness. AND I learned a valuable lesson, which I continue to ponder to this day, “one’s hair doesn’t matter when one’s heart is right.” She has forever changed my life! I found myself thinking of her while reading MacEowen’s descriptions of the three people who changed his life when he walked city streets at night, attempting to hear God’s heart beating in the city!

    But even more surprising to me was that upon finding a friendly man who wanted to befriend me, after what I figure was about 2 1/2 years of solitude, I had to tell him I wasn’t ready for that. I could not get peace until I did tell him. Because what I thought I wanted would interfere with taking myself further into this journey…

    I attempted to email MacEowen last night, and my email failed to deliver. So I searched his name and found that there seems to be a “backlash” of sorts against this man and his writings that I was totally unaware of. I hope other people will not be disturbed by this. Even Jesus had his detracters…

    For me, I am very grateful I found this book AND the Mist-Filled Path…

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