Poet and Thinker John O’Donohue on the Lovely Historic Celtic Notion of Soul-Pal – The Marginalian

Aristotle laid out the philosophical basis of friendship because the artwork of holding up a mirror to one another’s souls. Two millennia later, Emerson contemplated its two pillars of fact and tenderness. One other century later, C.S. Lewis wrote: “Friendship is pointless, like philosophy, like artwork, just like the universe itself… It has no survival worth; fairly it’s a kind of issues which give worth to survival.”

However nowhere do the wonder, thriller, and soul-sustenance of friendship come extra vibrantly alive than within the 1997 masterwork Anam Cara: A Guide of Celtic Knowledge (public library) by the late, nice Irish poet and thinker John O’Donohue (January 1, 1956–January 4, 2008), titled after the Gaelic for “soul-friend” — a wonderful idea that elegantly encapsulates what Aristotle and Emerson and Lewis articulated in lots of extra phrases.


O’Donohue examines the essence and origin of the time period:

Within the Celtic custom, there’s a stunning understanding of affection and friendship. One of many fascinating concepts right here is the thought of soul-love; the previous Gaelic time period for that is anam cara. Anam is the Gaelic phrase for soul and cara is the phrase for good friend. So anam cara within the Celtic world was the “soul good friend.” Within the early Celtic church, an individual who acted as a trainer, companion, or non secular information was referred to as an anam cara. It initially referred to somebody to whom you confessed, revealing the hidden intimacies of your life. With the anam cara you could possibly share your inner-most self, your thoughts and your coronary heart. This friendship was an act of recognition and belonging. While you had an anam cara, your friendship lower throughout all conference, morality, and class. You had been joined in an historical and everlasting approach with the “good friend of your soul.” The Celtic understanding didn’t set limitations of house or time on the soul. There is no such thing as a cage for the soul. The soul is a divine mild that flows into you and into your Different. This artwork of belonging woke up and fostered a deep and particular companionship.

Illustration by Maurice Sendak from Let’s Be Enemies by Janice Might Udry

The sort of friendship one finds in an anam cara, O’Donohue argues, is a really particular type of love — not the sort that leads us to pit the platonic in opposition to the romantic however one thing a lot bigger and extra transcendent:

On this love, you’re understood as you’re with out masks or pretension. The superficial and purposeful lies and half-truths of social acquaintance fall away, you may be as you actually are. Love permits understanding to daybreak, and understanding is valuable. The place you’re understood, you’re at residence. Understanding nourishes belonging. While you actually really feel understood, you be at liberty to launch your self into the belief and shelter of the opposite individual’s soul… This artwork of affection discloses the particular and sacred identification of the opposite individual. Love is the one mild that may actually learn the key signature of the opposite individual’s individuality and soul. Love alone is literate on the earth of origin; it could actually decipher identification and future.

However being an anam cara requires of a purposeful presence — it asks that we present up with absolute integrity of intention. That inside intentionality, O’Donohue suggests, is what units the true anam cara aside from the acquaintance or the informal good friend — a distinction all of the extra necessary as we speak, in a tradition the place we throw the phrase “good friend” round all too rapidly, designating little greater than perfunctory affiliation. However this school of displaying up have to be an energetic presence fairly than a mere abstraction — the one who declares herself a good friend however shirks when the opposite’s soul most wants seeing isn’t an anam cara.

O’Donohue writes:

The guts learns a brand new artwork of feeling. Such friendship is neither cerebral nor summary. In Celtic custom, the anam cara was not merely a metaphor or ideally suited. It was a soul-bond that existed as a acknowledged and admired social assemble. It altered the that means of identification and notion. When your affection is kindled, the world of your mind takes on a brand new tenderness and compassion… You look and see and perceive otherwise. Initially, this may be disruptive and awkward, nevertheless it steadily refines your sensibility and transforms your approach of being on the earth. Most fundamentalism, greed, violence, and oppression may be traced again to the separation of thought and affection.

The anam cara perspective is elegant as a result of it permits us to enter this unity of historical belonging.

O’Donohue borrows Aristotle’s notion of friendship and stretches it to a extra expansive understanding:

A good friend is a cherished one who awakens your life so as to free the wild prospects inside you.


The one you’re keen on, your anam cara, your soul good friend, is the truest mirror to replicate your soul. The honesty and readability of true friendship additionally brings out the actual contour of your spirit.

Anam Cara is a soul-stretching learn in its entirety, exploring such immutable human issues as love, work, ageing, and loss of life via the timeless lens of historical Celtic knowledge. Complement it with poet and thinker David Whyte on the true that means of friendship, love, and heartbreak, then deal with your self to O’Donohue’s magnificent On Being dialog with Krista Tippett — one of many final interviews he gave earlier than his sudden and tragic loss of life.

When you notice how very important to your entire spirit — and being and character and thoughts and well being — friendship really is, you’ll take time for it… [But] for thus many people … we now have to be in hassle earlier than we keep in mind what’s important… It’s one of many lonelinesses of people that you simply maintain on desperately to issues that make you depressing and … you solely notice what you may have once you’re nearly about to lose it.

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