Essential Celt: Everything You Wanted To Know About Tenalach


When I was a child, my friends and I would play all day in Gwydir Forest, near Yr Wyddfa in north Wales. On many occasions the games we would play would centre on camouflaging ourselves with leaves, bracken and twigs, smothering mud on our faces, and having a great time. I admit I was a messy, ‘don’t care if I get dirty and smelly’ kind of child. Not for us the worries of ticks or Lyme’s disease. As an adult, now I’m aware of the ‘distance’ I now have between those carefree days and my thoughts today. Connected then, separated today?

‘Play is the highest form of research.’  Albert Einstein

ten-boyuntitledAs a child I’d wander around one of the forest’s lakes. My favourite was Bod Mawr. I fell in once, and once thoroughly wet, it took all the efforts of my parents to pull me out. I was having a great time and really didn’t want to get out. Today, I can be so ‘adult’ about these things that I stand back from the deep water’s edge when I visit. Connected then, separated today?

As a small boy I would lay on my back and look up at the night-sky at twilight in Capel Curig (population: 200 then, 250 today), and if friends were with me, we would reach out our hands, as if to touch the stars. We didn’t succeed in doing that – but we would have a great laugh about it. Today, I know that the nearest star outside our solar system in a massive four light-years way. Connected then, separated today?

There is a great word that would have been known to early Celts, Druids and Christians. It’s tenalach. It is a word, said to be  used in the hills and mountains in the west of Ireland.

Tenalach points to a relationship one has with the land, and, air, and water. It  is a deep connection that allows one to literally hear the earth sing…’

I love words, and especially that one, as it sums up that boyhood feeling I had of nature-connectedness.

And now?

In my research I looked online, and there are many websites that aim to rekindle in us ten-feet-untitledadults that earth-connectedness that many have ‘lost’, by encouraging:

– making contact with the earth: go barefoot in the snow or garden, touch a tree etc

– play in the dirt or sand, make mud pies, create a herb garden

– buy some houseplants, put a rock or crystal on your desk/table. They make great   paper-weights

– wake up to nature. Okay, not so easy if you live in the city, but an hour in the local park may work wonders.

– ‘kiss the earth’ with your feet. A great Thich Nhat Hahn quote to remind us to slow down, and take our time as we walk about town.

And, then….?

And, then I realised that those ‘concrete’ ideas to re-engage with nature took us only so far. In one sense, we’ve never lost tenalach, that nature-connectedness.  We just think we have!

Whether or not I camouflage myself in leaves and bracken, I am still part of the natural cycle of the earth. I can’t escape it. It also occurred to met that for hand-fastings I usually wear dochau pen (the ancient Celtic, Druid-style head wreath of ivy or oak leaves etc), and who doesn’t like flowers or wear a button-hole flower occasionally? Maybe, the love of mud, soul, bracken, flowers it still there in all of us.

Whether or not I swim in the local lake, Bod Mawr, or fall in, which one of us doesn’t like to go for a paddle whenever we see a stretch of water? And, did you know we’re about 66% water, anyway? There’s no escaping it.

ten-scopeAnd, now I’m all grown up (though some might dispute that) and with grandchildren (-I know you’re going to say, ‘You’re too young to have grandchildren’. Oh you weren’t?), and with grandchildren they love to look through my 14 inch telescope (standing about 6ft high). Oh yes, I confess to being an amateur astronomer. All the way from the time when I would lay on my back as a child and look up at the stars, and from when my dad bought me my first, albeit, very small telescope… but it was a wonderful ‘scope it was to me, as a child).

When my grandchildren look up at the night sky, I ‘mischievously’ ask them: ‘Where does space begin?’, and I get a different answer every time. And then I tell them: ‘It’s behind you! And beside you! And above and below you….infact, it’s inside [emphasise that word or cue ‘wobbly voice’!] you! Infact, you’re an  astronaut, flying through space.’ And we all start laughing. But, it’s true. You, too, are an astronaut, flying through the universe on the Earth. We’re all in space.

Not really disconnected. Not really separated. We just think we are, and so are walking on the shady side of the street, when we could walk on the sunny side.

Tenalach, then,  is a great word for all of us, I believe. It has to do with relating to the land, and, air, and water. It is a deep connection that allows one to literally hear the earth sing…’, but whether or not it causes a physical action (causing us to paddle, wear flowers in our hair etc), it starts with a thought!

If we think we’re disconnected, we are! If we think we’re connected, then, perhaps, we’ve already taken the first step to  realising that we are one with nature.

So, we don’t have to paddle in water to prove it, but it may help and it is fun!

But, it does have spiritual consequences! For us as latter-day Celts, Christians, Druids etc it’s not just about doing. It’s about being. And once we accept the latter, everything changes.

‘The creation of something new is not accomplished by the intellect, but by the play instinct.’ Carl Jung


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