This St. Patrick’s Day Claim your Anam Cara – Ancient Celtic Secrets of Friendship

Mar 3, 2010 by

This St. Patrick’s Day Claim your Anam Cara – Ancient Celtic Secrets of Friendship

John O’Donohue did much in his short life to popularize and demystify the history and lore of Celtic tradition and spirituality. His gifted authorship captures me in its reflection of his own inspired living.

Anam Cara TreesO’Donohue’s focus was on Celtic wisdom’s teaching that within each of us is a world of possibilities and that we must take responsibility for our own choices and our own destiny. He thereby sheds a light on the sacred views of the Celts, thus illuminating the familiarity and similarity in their traditions to the time-honored beliefs woven throughout the rich blankets of so many other world cultures.

Perhaps John’s best-known work is Anam Cara: A Book of Celtic Wisdom.”Anam” the Gaelic word for “soul”, “cara” the Gaelic for “friend”. Therefore “anam cara” literally means “soul friend”. In Celtic tradition, this is the treasured recognition of love within friendship, the concept that souls connect and bond across time and space, through life and beyond into death.

Historically, your anam cara is a person to whom you look as the person to share, confess and reveal the hidden intimacies in your life. With your anam cara you can express your mind, your heart, the very core of your innermost self. Your friendship with your anam cara is not just a friendship, but also an act of belonging, a place of recognition. Therefore, the most powerful gift you can bring to your friendship with your anam cara is your attention and awareness. It is your responsibility to be completely present with your anam cara.

John points out, it is not unusual for many people to have an anam cara of whom they are not even aware.  In other words, their anam cara may be one who offers them a space of light and peace, but they do not have this person often present in their lives. This lack of awareness “cloaks” the friend and sometimes it is only through the loss of the friend’s presence and the feelings of “distance and absence” this causes that the true awareness of the anam cara is revealed. Perhaps we know this tradition by a different term: “Absence makes the heart grow fonder.”

Photo Credit: HBT

You see, in Celtic tradition, as John notes, “The stranger does not come accidentally; he brings a particular gift and illumination.” And this is why it is said “that the “anam-cara” perspective is sublime” for “it permits us to enter this unity of ancient belonging.”

Discussing the Celtic spiritual thinking that believes the soul radiates all about the physical body, this energetic experience is often referred to as the “aura”, O’Donohue explains therefore when you connect with another person, when you become completely open and trusting with that individual, your two souls begin to exchange energy. Or, explained another way, your auras flow together. When a strong bond of this type develops, they say you have found your “Anam Cara” or soul friend.

John O’Donohue explains: “The Celtic tradition recognized that an anam-cara friendship was graced with affection. Friendship awakens affection. The heart learns a new art of feeling. In Celtic tradition, the anam cara was not merely a metaphor or ideal. A soul-bond existed as a recognized and admired social construct. It altered the meaning of identity and perception. When your affection is kindled, the world of your intellect takes on a new tenderness and compassion. You look, see and understand differently. Initially, this can be disruptive and awkward, but it gradually refines your sensibility and transforms your way of being in the world.”

Most important is the understanding that your anam cara accepts you as you truly are, cradling you in beauty, knowing you as light. The Celts believed the development of your anam cara friendship assists you in awakening your awareness of your best and truest self and helps you experience a greater joy in being with others than you know before it’s arrival.

The Celts also believed that this unique and special fellowship, when you lovingly and willingly open your life to another, brings with it a new dawn. You have a sense of belonging you’ve never known before, a deep sense of special companionship and all your needs for barriers, walls and shields tumble and collapse. That person has permission to walk, with love and care, into the deepest places in your spirit, your quiet and special places within, and the sacred ground of you, which you choose to share with them.

It takes tremendous courage to allow someone so close. However, when a friendship is of truth, of light and knows itself as a great gift it will remain open and trusting. O’Donohue quotes John Cassian who wrote in his Conferences “This, I say, is what is broken by no chances, what no interval of time or space can sever or destroy, and what even death itself cannot part”.

John O’Donohue’s makes the point that in everyone’s life, there is a great need for an anam cara. For in this love you are understood, existing in the love of your anam cara without mask or pretension. The half-truths, functional lies and superficialities fall away. You can be as you really are. This bond between friends is indestructible. For love allows understanding to dawn, and this understanding is precious for where you are understood, you are ever at home. So, when you are bestowed with the allegiance of your “Anam Cara”, it is believed, you have arrived at the most sacred of places, your true HOME.

Photo, Two Trees by Svedak @ Flickr


  1. Thank you, Lisa!! I appreciate the wisdom you have added to this piece with your profound sharings. Thank you, again. b 🙂

  2. Lisa Blanton

    Brooke, your description of “anam cara” is exquisitely real to me — the soul friend “who offers a space of light and peace,” but who may be physically absent from your life; who “accepts you as you truly are, cradling you in beauty, knowing you as light.. assists you in awakening your awareness of your best and truest self… [in whose] “love you are understood, existing… without mask or pretension… ever at home.” I must read this book!

    John Denver, a “soul-brother” of mine, wrote:
    “There’s a longing deep within the wandering soul. It’s like the half that understands it once was whole; like the two who only dream of being one; like the moon whose only light is in the sun.”
    (“Wandering Soul”, unreleased song by John Denver)

    Michael Jackson understood too, profoundly and tragically :
    “It’s hard to tell them what I feel for you. They haven’t ever met you, and no one has your picture. So how can they ever understand your mystery? Let’s give them a clue: Two birds sit in a tree. One eats cherries, while the other looks on. Two birds fly through the air. One’s song drops like crystal from the sky while the other keeps silent. Two birds wheel in the sun. One catches the light on its silver feathers, while the other spreads wings of invisibility.
    It’s easy to guess which bird I am, but they’ll ever find you. Unless…
    Unless they already know a love that never interferes, that watches from beyond, that breathes free in the invisible air. Sweet bird, my soul, your silence is so precious. How long will it be before the world hears your song in mine? — Oh, that is a day I hunger for!”
    –MJJ (“Two Birds” from his book “Dancing the Dream”, published 1992)