"To you alone it
is given to know the truth about the gods and
deities of the sky.....The innermost groves of far-off forests are
abodes. And it is you who say that the shades of the dead
seek not the silent land of Erebus and the pale halls of
rather, you tell us that the same spirit has a body again elsewhere,
and that death, if what you sing is true,
is but the mid-point of long life."
Lucan Pharsalia c.60AD
Lucan, in the above quotation, is addressing Druids
generally, but it is an appropriate quotation to open our study of the Ovate Grade, for it was the Ovates who, to the greatest
degree, were responsible for understanding the mysteries of death and rebirth, for transcending time - for divining the future,
for conversing with the Ancestors - travelling beyond the grave to bring augury and counsel to those still living on earth.
the Bards were shamans in Michael Harner's understanding of the term because they opened doors with the power of the Word,
then the Ovates deserve the term shaman even more so - for they open the doors of Time.
A general categorisation of
the three different grades accords the arts to the bards, the skills of prophecy and divination to the Ovates and philosophical,
teaching, counselling and judicial tasks to the Druid.
The Ovate as master or mistress of prophecy and divination needed,
and still needs today, a reorientation in relation to Time. To travel within time - to read the Akashic Records as some would
term it, requires a conception of its nature and dynamics that is radically different to post-Enlightenment thinking, and
more akin to the understanding now being offered by the New Physics.
The belief in the cyclicity of life, as we shall
see in the next chapter, was fundamental. In common with the Hindus, the Buddhists and the Christians before the Council of
Trent in .................. the Druids believed in reincarnation. Of this item of Druid belief there is no doubt, for it is
confirmed many times in the classsical sources. Caesar, in De Bello Gallico says "The cardinal doctrine which they seek to
teach is that souls do not die, but after death pass from one to another; and this belief, as the fear of death is thereby
cast aside, they hold to be the greatest invective to valour."
Diodorus quotes Posidonius when he says that the Druids
held that "the souls of men are immortal, and that after a definite number of years they live a second life when the soul
passes to another body."
Now we can understand how the Ovates were able to conceive of time-travel. The Realm of the
Ancestors was not the realm of people dead-and-gone - it was the repository of tribal wisdom - the realm in which the Ancestors
lived whilst awaiting reincarnation and to which the Ovate could turn for guidance and inspiration on behalf of the tribe.
does this tell us of the Ovate work?
Firstly that the realm of the Ancestors does exist, and that it can provide succour
and guidance. Secondly that a realm exists in which time is transcended, or fundamentally changed. It is to these realms that
the shaman travels, to bring back guidance from Past Souls and insights into the future. It is the Ovates particular connection
with the Other World, with death, which makes him the officiant in the rite of Samhuinn - the feast for the departed on 31st
October. But it is only in the naive imagination that this concern with death is viewed as morbid, for in reality the Ovate
is concerned with new life, with regeneration. She knows that to be born she has to die - whether that means in the literal
sense or in the figurative sense which all psychotherapists understand as the essential pre-requisite to change and healthy
development of the psyche.
In working with the processes of death and regeneration, the Ovates particular study is
- fittingly - tree-lore, herbalism and healing. The plant world is a great teacher of the laws of death and rebirth, of sacrifice
and transmutation, and the tree is the supreme teacher of the mysteries of time, with its roots for the most part invisible
in the past and the subconscious, and its fruit and leaves likewise mostly hidden from us in the heights of the superconscious
- holding the potential of the future in the seeds that will in due time fall. The art of healing concerns the application
of natural law to the human body and psyche. If the heart, mind or body is out of tune with nature we suffer. The application
of natural remedies - with plants, with the four elements, with solar, lunar and stellar power are studied by the Ovate. Knowing
that it is only through death to one state that we achieve a wider life, the Ovate is in this sense also a psychotherapist.
The Ovate learns and teaches that it is only by letting go, rather than holding on, that we truly find what we have been seeking.