What, or where, is the Irish Otherworld? How do we, as contemporary seekers, authentically connect? Lora O’Brien guides you there…
The Quest for Authentic Understanding
When you delve into books on Irish mythology and spirituality, you often find yourself awash in a sea of ‘Celtic’ generalisations. This is so common it’s painful, and the misinformation about Irish culture and heritage specifically is part of what our native teachers at the Irish Pagan School fight so hard against.
Most of these modern Pagan publications offer a diluted, sometimes distorted, view of the Irish Otherworld and its Powers. You may feel like you’re searching for a single genuine artefact in a market of knock-offs.
Because, unfortunately, you have been.
What is the Irish Otherworld?
In Irish tradition, the term for the Otherworld is An Saol Eile. This translates as the ‘other life’, which may give you some insight to begin with, about how we have always viewed this place.
The Otherworld has a plethora of different regions and landscapes, and is inhabited by entities which I loosely refer to as the Powers. These can be gods, goddesses, ancestral spirits, Sidhe or the Fairies, and many other significant figures in Irish folklore and mythology.
Despite popular categorisations, these Powers aren’t archetypes or metaphors, but distinct autonomous beings deserving unique forms of engagement. They are also part and parcel of our genuine Irish heritage, and thus should not – can not – be engaged with authentically, without understanding and connecting to genuine Irish mythology, history, and culture.
An intriguing aspect of the Irish Otherworld is its relationship with our own world. They’re not separate, but rather two sides of a coin, intermingling at specific times and places.
Physical built heritage landmarks like ring forts, dolmens or stones circles, and passage tombs, can act as natural gateways. As can mountain tops, tall and ancient trees, deep caves, bogs and islands, the sea coast that encircles our land… these are all themselves liminal boundaries ‘between the worlds’ of earth, and sky, and water or sea. Thus, passage between this world and the Otherworld becomes slightly more accessible there. And not just at these places, but at certain times.
Be it Samhain or Bealtaine, or at the cusp of dawn and dusk, these are thresholds where ‘the veil between the worlds is thin’. I know, I cringe at that phrase too, and it’s not really rooted very deeply in the Irish tradition, if we’re honest. However, most will understand what it means pretty easily.
These are times and places of transition which can all play a little fast and loose with what we affectionately refer to as ‘reality’.
Preparing for Your Journey to the Irish Otherworld
Before you think of interacting with the Powers of the Irish Otherworld, which many refer to as ‘Journeying’ between the worlds, it’s essential to ground yourself in authentic sources. And I don’t just mean the resources we have created through the Irish Pagan School, but if you do want to start there… Here is All Our Free Stuff!
Study texts that draw from primary historical documents, especially those that deal with the Immrama, but more importantly the Eachtraí stories. Visit sacred sites if you can, in Ireland or in your own locality if you can’t get here. Get to know the characteristics and stories and places of these Powers.
Knowledge will serve as your compass.
Practical Exercise: Simple Meditation at Dawn or Dusk
Find a quiet place in nature, or create a sacred space indoors, preferably close to a window. Take deep breaths and centre yourself. Imagine a doorway, bathed in the light of dawn or dusk.
As you step through, visualise yourself entering the Irish Otherworld. Note what you can see, hear, taste, touch and smaell. After a short time, turn around and step back through the same doorway.
Do some deep breathing, and eat or drink something to ground yourself after. Keep a journal to note down your experiences and reflections. This will help deepen your authentic connection.
There is a lot more to be learned about Otherworld Journeys of course, the above exercise is just a very simple starting point. Repetition, and developing through practice, are key… but keeping a record of your work is essential.
What You’ve Been Seeking
There’s an old Irish saying, “what’s rare is wonderful”, and finding a genuine source on the Irish Otherworld has felt like that for many of us.
That’s why I decided to create the resource I wished existed, drawing from both academic research and lived experience. Like all my books, it’s the one I needed, that nobody else had gotten around to writing.
All of my most up to date research, and experience, with the Irish Otherworld, is available in ‘The Fairy Faith in Ireland: History, Tradition, and Modern Pagan Practice’ (Eel & Otter Press, 2021).
(This is a sponsored link, I get a few cents if you buy!)
However good they are though, your personal connection with the Irish Otherworld won’t just come from books or secondary accounts.
Instead, it emerges from a synthesis of scholarly study, personal intuition, and, most importantly, experience and real interaction with these Powers. Learn how to access it and interact safely for yourself.
The path to the Otherworld is as much an inward journey as an outward exploration. The Irish Otherworld isn’t just a concept; it’s a living, breathing part of our Irish heritage, offering enriching experiences for those willing to venture authentically.