Last updated on May 17, 2019
As a Druid, we learn to trust the Imbas. But what does this mean?
Listening to the earth is at the heart of being a Druid. And when we say “listening to the earth”, this doesn’t mean speaking a language known only to plants and animals. Instead, this refers to a connection to the greater “earth” – the universe in which we, and everything in it on every plane, coexist in an interconnected state of consciousness and energy. Where everything and everyone affects everything and everyone else, so maintaining balance and harmony is everyone’s responsibility.
Global stewardship in the cosmic sense.
This is big stuff!
While a large concept, if you can wrap your head around it, you’re on your way to tapping into the universal consciousness or listening to the earth. And, more importantly, trusting the truth found there.
Language evolves, so the common meaning of words used to describe this concept has changed. When our modern minds hear terms like inspiration and poetic, we hear “inspiration related to artistic endeavours”. Even the term art doesn’t mean the same thing to us as it did to ancient Druids. For us, art commonly refers to products of creativity.
In the context of the Imbas…
- art refers to a superior skill or pursuit of a discipline we can only learn by study, practice and observation.
- poetry is truth, shorthand for the ancient concept of the 4 elements in balance. The 4 forces must exist in a state of balance to maintain the harmony of the cosmos, and that interconnected energy or universal consciousness is the “poetry”, the sacred truth of the universe (See my expanded explanation of these elements for a more in-depth look).
- inspiration means an intake into the mind or an arousal of the mind. An awakening, in the more theological sense, by special influence of an elevated, omniscient energy on the mind.
At its most basic, what the Imbas schools us in is the state we should aspire to. It’s akin to meditating on Brahman in Hinduism, that single binding unity in all that exists in the universe, or walking the path of enlightenment as similarly described in Buddhism. We can never be wholly proficient in it. Instead, we should follow the path in pursuit of that enlightenment or universal truth our whole lives. As Druids, we walk the path of knowledge while we trust the Imbas.
It’s the journey, not the destination, dude.
What we know historically about the Imbas… not a lot
We know the Old Irish word Imbas means “inspiration”. In Early Ireland, it was a specific reference to the sacred poetic inspiration possessed by the fili (prophetic poets or seers who foretold the future in the form of verse). As a traditional expression of spiritual truth in divination, references to poetry don’t necessarily refer to the output of creativity. The words could also be artistic and beautiful, but the beauty arose from the truth contained in them. The meaning here is more about a method of soothsayers and less about prose while at the same time one in the same.
Let’s remember, the mind was thought to be the receptacle of the soul. Words formed there surrounded by that sacred self would, by association, also be sacred, elevated and weighted with spirit. So during divination, laying in the Streambed of Inspiration, opening up to the universal consciousness, the Imbas was receiving metaphysical truth or “inspiration”.
In legend, Druids used the ritual of imbas forosnai or “great knowledge which illuminates” to find the answer to a question. This most often occurred in the form of poetry or a composition in which the final lines were the answer. In other stories, we see imbas forosnai used with a found relic (a skull, for instance) to find the manner of its death and who it belonged to. In this context, it was more a divination tool for a limited, specific purpose.
A common thread in stories involving the Imbas is employing a manner of ritual. Being scarred by the Salmon of Wisdom or touching the thumb to a tooth or chewing raw dog or cat meat before sleeping on a bull hide are all noted in myth as ritual components.
Is anything we know about the Imbas real?
Did ancient Druids perform these rituals with all these exact steps? We can’t know for certain, because Druids didn’t write down their practices. These legends existed as part of an oral tradition until subsequent generations finally recorded them. As happens with oral tradition, stories change over time in the retelling and evolve to include concepts from younger generations. The original intention or meaning may be wholly lost to us.
If we compare these mythological descriptions against other shamanic or oracle trance practices, it’s a good bet some of it was true. Historically, and even into today, people who adopt trance practices do so with the same or similar mythologically described purposes. They’re in complete control despite how it may look. And they use the trance state to move their consciousness into nonphysical reality or to connect with another plane.
The same holds true for the divination component. We know modern soothsayers continue to use tools like runes, tarot cards, scrying mirrors, crystal balls or pendulums. And to use their tools, still employ some manner of ritual to clear the mind or open the consciousness up to become a conduit for prediction under divine or spiritual inspiration.
The art of poetic inspiration for modern Druids
As with everything in Druid legend, the several thousand year disconnect from our ancient predecessors who used this practice leaves us with a lot of room for interpretation.
Once again, the wonderful thing about modern Druidry is we have the latitude to use ancient concepts in ways that make sense for us now and as individuals. It has to be relevant or it’s worthless to us. I doubt any of us will run out to chew some dog meat or sleep on a bull hide to do some divination. Instead, we shouldn’t get caught up in the details and focus on the intended spirit of this practice.
At its simplest, Imbas is the goal of our meditative arts. Concentration and practice on reaching the interconnected energy of the cosmos is where we should set our sights.
But in our charge to global stewardship, we want to reach higher. Or, perhaps, wider. To touch the universal consciousness during pursuit of the Imbas gives us a conduit for general insight, divination, and in the “this is big stuff” area, even creating actual, concrete cosmic change.
Poetic inspiration while in this meditative state aligns us with higher metaphysical concepts. It’s the way we dip into the Streambed of Inspiration. Universal consciousness washes over and through us and we connect with truth and wisdom from ages past, present and future. We know it’s only in trusting the Imbas as it comes to us, in free-flowing truth between everything in the cosmos, that we do our part to maintain harmony.
We become plugged into it without personal bias or rationalisations and are open to it – the Imbas, the truth, simply is. And when we’re able to connect with it? Even tiny glimpses are so large, it takes a long time to unpack.
Personal Imbas practice
I can’t give you instructions for the right or wrong way to approach learning to trust the Imbas, because we all connect differently, but I can share from my perspective.
For me, it’s in this space, within my pursuit of Imbas, that I align with all the planes. And I’m not perfect at it by any means. It’s difficult to hold that depth of continuous connection with regular life getting in the way. Maybe I’ll be strong enough with 50 more years of practice. It’s about the growth gained in the struggle that’s important, anyway. At this point, I’m aware it’s always there and I feel that constant connection wax and wane in intensity as my attention goes in and out of focus.
In that space, to me, time and distance have no limitations. I’m everywhere at once and with everyone – past, present and future. Truth is there, and I mean the big truths. Not the simple question and answer kind you can get from divining through other means. These are massive universal truths that make the hair stand up on your arms when you tune-in. They rise up from within with a force that can knock you off balance. Pinging your soul with a congruent tone that confirms they’re already part of you, but you didn’t know were there until you pay conscious attention. They wake you up in ways that change the way you understand how the cosmos works.
I think we already know these truths. But when our attention is cut-off from the collective consciousness, we forget we know them. And become lost. And being lost makes us unbalanced. I think there’s a lot of unbalanced people on this rock who could greatly benefit from plugging themselves into the rest of us.
We could fix them all.
How it hits me
While pursuing the Imbas, I find it’s more about reestablishing and holding connection to the source of truth. There’s lots of “Riiight, I already knew that” moments. They’re often impossible for me to articulate and it’ll take me several more lifetimes to unpack them. I hope I remember to take them forward with me. Or remember enough to dip into The Streambed of Inspiration to snag my own revelations, so I can save myself time in rediscovery next lifetime. 😉
My friend, **Moin, and I have a connection from lifetimes past, so have a stratospheric comfort level. What I consider a “priest”, he’s a philosopher with a lifelong interest in Eastern Spirituality, deals in truths, while at the same time is analytical, scientific and has the heart of a warrior. I love how congruent we are and consider him a brother. He insists I summoned him to Toronto to connect with me. What can I say? We had something to do, but I didn’t know who he was yet – my questions pinged the universal consciousness and he showed up. 😂
Not a Druid and though our backgrounds differ, we both understand and tap into the same Imbas, that poetic inspiration. Truth is truly universal. Away from other people where we can both drop the protective insulation, invariably, within a five or ten minute conversation we pull down some massive truth that makes the hair stand up on both our arms. Like, every time. That’s validation to me. Because I know it’s not hitting only me in that way. And that it’s not just a Druid thing.
Truth belongs to everyone.
What I do with it
Most often I just tune-in and let it wash through me. It makes me feel normal and balanced. I feel everyone and everything in that consciousness, all that energy. Trusting the Imbas, I know very concretely we’re all part of a unified whole. I know a universal truth that that energy is always there, that it never dissipates and simply moves around. To connect centres me, I feel at peace and I’m never lonely.
Sometimes, I search for the answer to big questions. While I think of the question, I turn my attention out into that interconnection and “listen to the earth”. I don’t always get the answer. If it’s not time for me to know, I can feel the answer, but don’t become aware of the detail. Other times? The answer surfaces out of myself, as opposed to coming to me from an external source. As I’m a part of the universal consciousness, no one needs to give me those answers, because I already possess all the answers there are to know. I’m just not consciously aware of them all at the same time.
Other times, I choose to focus on the negative energy that creates unbalance in the cosmos. It stands out as disharmonious to me within the soup of our interconnection. In that charge to global stewardship which I take very seriously, in any regular day I work to turn negative energy into positive energy. Taking it one step farther during my meditative practice, I harness my hyper-awareness to a purpose. It becomes my means of healing and restoring balance and harmony on a much larger scale. Trusting the Imbas here, I know it’s the right thing to do.
You’ll find your own way to the Imbas, but I think the biggest take-away here is learning to listen and trust it. Once you practice the ability to be open to universal consciousness, some big stuff awaits you! Read up on it further through other sources, study other people’s experiences, but remember to let your gut guide you. In the same way we approach all modern Druid practices, if something feels right, strikes a chord, then it’s correct for you. At the end of the day, it really doesn’t matter the path we take to get there, what we gain while on that path of knowledge is our reward.
**My friend, Moin Subhani, recently opened his therapy practice and is taking on clients. If you live in Toronto, Canada and are looking for therapeutic support services, please check out Moin’s website. If universal consciousness led you to this article? You may find him a good fit to your worldview. 😁