After our gifts of Grace and healing from the past couple of weeks, we are faced now with the Three of Swords. Since we so recently received it, you can read my more traditional interpretation here. But today, in part because less than ten minutes after pulling this card I received shocking news of a friend’s death, I am prompted to share this instead.
Grief is an inevitable part of living on this Earth. But beyond its inevitability, our Celtic ancestors understood that sorrow is necessary. They understood that it is connected intimately with our joy.
But unlike many other philosophies and viewpoints, they did not consider that we simply swing between the dualities of joy and sorrow. Their wisdom tradition offers a third, equally necessary component: the solace of dreaming and peacefulness.
Thus, they believed that joy, sorrow, and quietness are intertwined. You cannot have one without the other two being nearby. This, in their view, was the way of the fully realized human spirit, and the orderliness of life itself: in order to be in balance and have wisdom, we must equally embrace our experiences with grief, happiness, and the surrender to peace.
This is echoed by the Three Noble Strains of Irish and Celtic music. (Parts of the following are based on information from Terri Windling’s The Enchanted Harp, from a recent workshop on the Sidhe, led by shamanic teacher Tom Cowan, and from the Irish lore website, Triskelle.)
The Dagda, or The Good God, is a Father God figure of the Faery Race, the Tuatha de Danaan. He is the master of magic, bountifulness, as well as a skilled artisan and invincible warrior. He is the son of Danu, the Great Mother Goddess, after whom the Tuatha de Danaan are named. He is also the father of Brighid and Aengus Mac Oc.
In addition to the Cauldron of Bounty, one of the Four Treasures of Ireland brought by the Tuatha de Danaan, His gifts are His battle club and harp.
With His harp, The Dagda oversees the proper ordering of the seasons. The seasonal changes were obviously essential for the farming of the land, and survival. His harp is known by two names: Daurdabla, translated as Oak Of Two Woods, and Coir Cethair Chuir, Four Angled Music.
Three Noble Strains of Ireland
Boand was the consort of The Dagda. As She gave birth to the Dagda’s three sons, His harp played along to ease Her labor. The harp groaned with the intensity of the pain as Her first child emerged, and so She named Her eldest son Goltrai, the crying music.
The music made a merry sound as Boand’s second son was born, and so She named this child Gentrai, the laughing music.
At last, the final infant emerged to music that was soft and sweet. She called the child Suantri, the sleeping (or healing) music.
These three strains of music are still essential to the Celtic musical repertoire. Every traditional harper is expected to be able to bring audiences to tears, to merriment, and to a lulling, healing drowsiness. This is demonstrated in the Scots-English ballad about King Orfeo (a harper in the oldest songs, a fiddler in later variants). He played three strains of music before the King of the Faery Underworld: the notes of joy, the notes of pain, and the enchanted Faery Reel.
As Celtic shamanic expert Tom Cowan has noted, we live in a matrix of sorrow, joy and peace. Everything in the sunlit lands of humanity contains its opposite. But instead of being pulled apart by duality and the conflict of either joy or sorrow, the place of healing and transcendence is the third road, the place of peace.
Our world is out of balance when we condemn, numb out, or deny Goltrai, the sorrow. Without it, there can be no joy. And when we spend all our time and treasure seeking only joy and happiness, sorrow brings real suffering to our spirits, and peace will elude us completely.
We must learn to stop fearing, conquering or hiding from our heartbreaks. Instead, we can embrace those sorrows, for they will direct us to where our joy will come again. Peace is the surrender, and the trusting that this, too, is good.
In what ways are we being invited this week to understand our sorrow? Let us discover together what is good and what is beautiful, even in the deepest mourning.
In memory of B.T.
In love may he return again.