Midweek Reflection – Carmina Gadelica

Carmina Gadelica
(A comprehensive collection of poems, prayers, hymns and songs in the Celtic oral tradition)

Portrait of Alexander Carmichael (1832 – 1912)
by William Skeoch Cumming,
Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Alexander Carmichael was a Scottish taxman, interested in Gaelic folklore and concerned that much is being lost of this tradition. In the 19th century his travels through the Highlands of Scotland and the Scottish Isles brough him in contact with the rich repertoire of Gaelic prayers, poems, rituals and songs of the people. It was a record of an oral Christian tradition that had been passed down over generations.

What Carmichael found was a lived spirituality rooted in the importance ancestral stories and the wisdom they contained these were linked to the rhythms of nature, by the land, sea and the seasons. The scope of their prayers was wide, catching the everyday events.

Six volumes were published, a single volume version ran to over 700 pages. This was a labour of love and commitment that spanned over fifty years. Alexander Carmichael is criticized today for some of the methods he used and for the way stories were re-written.
It is perhaps best to see Carmichael’s work as a literary work and not as a literal account of Gaelic folklore. It should also be recognised that his life long work has brought insights that may have been lost without his passion.

Below are two prayers that come from Carmina Gadelica – Carmichael’s material gathered from Crofters in Nast/Naast, Gairloch)

Bless to me, O God,
Each thing mine eye sees;
Bless to me, O God,
Each sound mine ear hears;
Bless to me, O God,
Each odour that goes to my nostrils
Bless to me, O God,
Each taste that goes to my lips;
Each note that goes to my song,
Each ray that guides my way,
Each thing that I pursue.
Each lure that tempts my will,
The zeal that seeks my living soul.
The Three that seek my heart,
The zeal that seeks my living soul,
The Three that seek my heart.
(Crofter – Catherine Maclean)

Peace between neighbours,
Peace between kindred.
Peace between lovers,
In love of the King of life.

Peace between person and person,
Peace between wife and husband,
Peace between woman and children,
The peace of Christ above all peace.

Bless, O Christ, my face,
Let my face bless every thing;
Bless, O Christ, mine eye,
Let mine eye bless all its sees.
(Crofter Mary MacLeod)

These prayers, along with others, would often be intoned in the Crofters cottage with the fragrance of a pit fire filling the small space, the smoke of the fire rising like incense as the the words spoken in Gaelic. The words, the format and the setting so different from the organise and regulated Church with its, rubrics, its order and constraints. Celtic was prayer rooted in life’s experience, woven into that experience along with the influence of their ancestors who had prayed in a similar style. The ancestors had lived and taught their children and community a way of prayer. It is amazing that the Celtic way of prayer survived for centuries or perhaps not the Highlands and Isles were place that did not give up valued traditions easily.

While there may be a romantic edge to the picture of the past, we must not forget their lives were hard and meagre. Nothing came easy but within this hard life there were communities who lived in faith and built a shared life that should be respected and honoured.

+ In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Creator God,
you made the goodness of the land,
the riches of the sea
and the rhythm of the seasons;
as we thank you for the harvest,
may we cherish and respect
this planet and its peoples,
through Jesus Christ our Lord.
(Common Worship Collect for Harvest Festival)

The Word of the Lord
(Verses from the readings from those set for Harvest Festival)

Psalm 126 (5-7)

Restore again our fortunes, O Lord, • as the river beds of the desert.
Those who sow in tears • shall reap with songs of joy.
Those who go out weeping, bearing the seed, • will come back with shouts of joy, bearing their sheaves with them.


Matthew 6.25-29 Do Not Worry

‘Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these.


Prayers from Carmina Gadelica

O God, who broughtst me from the rest of last night
Unto the joyous light of this Thy day,
He Thou bringing me from the new light of this Thy day
Unto the guiding light of eternity.
Oh ! from the new light of this
Thy day Unto the guiding light of eternity

God guide me with Thy wisdom,
God chastise me with Thy justice,
God help me with Thy mercy,
God protect me with Thy strength.
God fill me with Thy fulness,
God shield me with Thy shade,
God fill me with Thy grace, For the sake of Thine Anointed Son,
Jesu Christ of the seed of David, . . .
Who died for me.

Thou, my soul’s Healer,
Keep me at even,
Keep me at morning,
Keep me at noon,
On rough course faring,
Help and safeguard
My means this night.
I am tired, astray, and stumbling,
Shield Thou me from snare and sin.

The Lords Prayer

Bless Thou, O God, the dwelling,
And each who rests herein this night;
Bless Thou, O God, my dear ones
In every place wherein they sleep ;
In the night that is to-night,
And every single night ;
In the day that is to-day,
And every single day.

+ In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

My own blessing be with you.
The blessing of God be with you.
The blessing of Spirit be with you
And with your children.
With you and with your children.

My own blessing be with you.
The blessing of God be with you,
The blessing of saints be with you
And the peace of the life eternal,
Unto the peace of the life eternal.

You may wish the finish this time of reflective prayer sitting silently and enjoying a peaceful moment or two. You may also think about listening to some music that has touched you or a favourite hymn or song. Enjoy these moments! God bless!

Derek Akker