When you visit someone at home, the door into the house…is rich with the textures of presence from all the welcomes and valedictions that have occurred on that threshold,” wrote this Celtic scholar and mystic who burned brightly then died at the age of 52.
The doorway is a liminal place—where we are suspended between two worlds. Coming into presence, we slowly shed our self-consciousness, sharing our thoughts and passions with beloved friends, for a moment exposing the vulnerable core of the human heart. Then there is the moment of leave-taking, when we re-enter our own solitude. Yet we carry the conversation and storytelling with us, as a kind of blessing. And we treasure this memory formed by the cadence of human speech. The recollection of shared warmth.
“In everyone’s inner solitude,” O’Donohue says in Anam Cara, a book of Celtic wisdom, “there is that bright and warm hearth.”
There is a way to tame these negative imaginings, he says, and come home to the comforts of the hearth. To explain this process he invokes the poet Rainer Maria Rilke and the philosopher Friedrich Nietzche.
For Rilke, difficulty is one of the greatest friends of the soul. And our lives are greatly enriched if we embrace it with hospitality. “The negative is one of the closest friends of your destiny,” O’Donohue writes. “It contains essential energies…that you can’t find elsewhere.”
At the hearth, people would exchange stories and perhaps tell one or two about Chuchulainn, one the great mythic heroes of Ireland, who had seven fingers on each hand, seven toes on each foot, and seven pupils in each eye. O’Donohue goes on to describe the lure of candlelight, another source of ancient magic.