A Celtic Book of Dying

A Review
Frank A. Mills

March 1, 2023
A Celtic Book of Dying Cover

The Path of Love in the Time of Transition

Phyllida Anam-Áir

A Celtic Book of Dying: The Path of Love in the Time of Transition, Phyllida Anam-Áire, Findhorn Press (Rochester, VT), 2022, 204 pages including glossary, appendix, and index. ISBN: 978164112984

When I was a pastor and had to deal with bereavement or minister to those on their death bed, I always struggled with what to say, what to do. And the liturgy and actions of both the funeral service and committal left me cold. Frankly, I failed the dying, the dead and those mourning.

One of the beliefs of Celtic Christianity that attracted me is the Celtic understanding of the soul. Among those beliefs concerning the soul was the belief in the transmigration of the soul as it moved from the realm of this-world to the realm of the other-world. For the Celts, whether in myth or Christianity there is a rhythm of life, a pilgrimage of coming and going. Within this rhythm from life to death, each movement was celebrated. Both celebration and ritual, and all the more so, with the migration of the soul.

I was intrigued when I first saw this book by Phyllida Anam-Áire, A Celtic Book of Dying: The Path of Love in the Time of Transition, especially when I noted that she had trained with Elizabeth Küber Ross and has worked with the sick and dying.

The book is esoteric. The author claims to have been given the “Teachings from the Cauldron of Death and Dying” by the goddess Brigit. (She took on “Anam-Áire “ – “soul-carer” – after her vision). Nevertheless, putting aside the esoteric element, the book does offer us much to consider when it comes to ministering to the dying and mourning. The author digs into the rhythm of life from the Celtic perspective and expands the old Celtic custom of “watching with the dying and traveling with dead.” This is a tradition that speaks in in holy-whole way to being fully with the dying and mourning the dead. One reviewer called the author’s words a “revival” of the Celtic tradition, and considering that we have lost the old way of watching with the dying and traveling with the dead in our Western Christian tradition, to reclaim this tradition is in indeed a revival of an old way. And this is exactly what Phyllida Anam-Áire seeks.

Where I think we have failed in our Western dealing with dying is that we have failed to open our hearts to dying. Beginning my eighth decade. I know this to be a struggle. I have so much yet that I want to do. In spite of that I must accept the fact that I am in the process of dying and one day will die. Can I open my heart to that fact? Or can my loved ones open their heart to that fact? Can we embrace our coming death with an open heart? With this question as a state fact, “Opening our Heart to Death, the author begins her thinking on watching with the dying and traveling with the dead.

As Phyllida Anam-Áire explores the path of love in the time of transition, from the opening of our heart to the potential of death to migration of the soul, she opens up the Celtic understanding of death and dying, and the accompanying ritual and celebration. No matter where you fall along the lines of Phyllida Anam-Áire’s esoteric experiences and thinking, this book offers much to those of us who are dying (and we all are) and to those who care for the dying, as well as to those who officiate the committal. I wish, perhaps, that there was a less esoteric book written about the Celtic idea of dying, but A Celtic Book of Dying is what we have, and I heartedly recommend that you read it before you have to deal with death.

A Celtic Book of dying is divided into six sections, preceded by the author’s own story. The first section deals with dying in the Celtic tradition. The second is more personal, making us think about our own dying process and death. Before we can help others through the dying process, we must learn to embrace our own dying. After that, we can help others deal with their own death and that of their loved one. Part three and four offer helpful advice to that end. I particularly like the rituals suggested in part three. Rituals such as, the blessing of the body, or the burial of wedding rings. Part five reminds us that birth and death are all part of the natural process. Something the Celtic people vividly understood. Part six is “Stories from the Heart of Death.” The first story is moving, it is about a daughter birthing her mother into a new life, as the mother lays dying. The story reminds us that death is nothing less than a new birth, an incarnation if you will, into a new spiritual flesh.

Throughout A Celtic Book of Dying there are suggestions of things that we might do – rituals – that aid in both the process of dying and the mourning of the dead.

A Celtic Book of Dying is in reality about each us. We are dying, and it would behoove us to learn how to embrace our coming death with an open heart of love. Death, after all, as A Celtic Book of Dying so aptly demonstrates, is nothing more than a new adventure, a joyful one, and all part of the ebb and flow, the coming and going of our essential being.

Phyllida Anam-Áire is a former Irish nun, a writer and therapist who works exclusively with the sick and dying. She trained with Elizabeth Küber Ross. Here other work is The Last Ecstasy of Life (Findhorn Press). She lives in Edinburgh, Scotland.

© Frank A. Mills, 1997-2024

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