The Wild Goose is a long forgotten symbol of Celtic Christianity. The Wild Goose is a term used to describe the Holy Spirit. I know it’s wild, no pun intended, to think of the Holy Spirit as a Goose. In the Christian Bible, the Holy Spirit is described as a dove. Why would the Celtic Christians decide to name this aspect of God something as weird as The Wild Goose?
I had the awesome privilege to Skype with one of the readers of this blog: Grace. She lives in Ireland and gave me a full perspective on Irish Christianity so that I could better understand The Wild Goose. The next few paragraphs will cover some topics and information that Grace helped me understand as well as research I had done to fact check some of the information that she told me.
The Celts love to describe the divine as symbols of nature. You can see this in both Celtic Paganism and in Celtic Christianity. The Celts have deep roots in mystical experience, which falls in line with their ideologies of nature. The term seems to predate the Catholic and Protestant debate in Ireland. There’s a possibility that it has roots in Celtic Paganism. For this reason, Christians have stopped using the term. There are few that still hold onto the tradition of The Wild Goose, but it’s an almost lost tradition. As Grace said, Catholics seem to be the only ones who hold onto this tradition, and even then it’s held by a small number of monks.
For the sake of understanding this mystery, I’d like for everyone to put themselves in the shoes of a Celt in the 1400’s. This predates significant scientific discovery, so anything unexplainable seems to reflect a higher power. The people would be magic minded. As their tradition puts emphasis on nature, it seems interesting that a goose would represent something as the Holy Spirit. The interesting thing is that geese and the Holy Spirit have a lot in common: they come and go wherever they please. Imagine a time before science – a time where people didn’t know that birds migrate. The awe and wonder of this mysterious bird could have given birth to the mystery of The Wild Goose.
Grace told me that the Celtic tradition of nature runs deeper than this. She told me “Celts see God within nature. When they aren’t experiencing God, they go into nature.” This seems to be a reflection of Colossians 3:11 which says “Christ is all and Christ is in all”. The Celts realize that God is in everything. Everything is divine. Grace made a very good point following this statement. She said, “everyone knows that when you spend time in nature, there is a sacredness within that whether people think it’s God or not.” I can agree with that. Even at times where I didn’t believe in God, there was a wonder and meaningfulness that seemed to be in nature. Whether a person believes in God, whether a person is an atheist, whether a person is simply spiritual, and whether a person thrives from science alone, there seems to be something greater than ourselves when we go into nature.
There’s a question still lingering: why would The Wild Goose become a lost symbol? Grace’s input suggested that the industrial revolution changed everything. Once humanity became machine driven and science-centered, they didn’t need a God anymore. They didn’t need tradition when they had progressed. Ironically, Ireland still has cultural traditions, but this mystery seemed to die with enlightenment and machinery. The Wild Goose seemed to die by machines, pollution, and smog.
There was one last bit that Grace described to me. It was her personal critique to the falling away that her culture has done. She said, “The only way to live life is to embrace mystery. You can’t live life as black and white, but rather embrace the mystery that is all.” Life is much greater than a dualistic way of thinking, and the Irish seem to realize this. There’s a full embrace of non-dualistic thinking.
There’s Irish heritage in America as well. I come from Irish descent. The interesting correlation that I see is that the mystical Celtic Christianity seems to go hand in hand with Pentecostalism. Pentecostalism has its roots in African spirituality, which looks a lot like Celtic Spirituality. Both forms of spirituality have this tribal instinct towards nature. As the Irish settled in the Appalachian Mountains, Pentecostalism began to take root across America. It seemed like a perfect fit with their correlating mysticism.
I had the opportunity to talk with one of my friends who is both a Pentecostal minister and an attendant of Lee University in their seminary program. He told me that Celtic Christianity predates the Roman Catholics. They were a part of the original church at the time of the Apostles. Galatians was written for them. He stated that Galatians was written for the Gauls. I had never heard of this before, but after asking for him to give a wider perspective, all of this connected the dots. I had someone correct me on this idea. The Celts and the Gauls did settle Galatia, which would be modern-day Turkey, but it had nothing to do with the Celtic Christians. That paints an even greater picture to the mysticism of the Celts. In Turkey, Sufi Islam is one of the influential religious movements that impact its people. Sufism is Islamic mysticism. While that could be a completely different topic in the future, it seems to correlate with the general mysticism that embodies the Celts as they try to seek the divine.
As St. Patrick’s Day weekend closes, we can reflect on this and learn from it. We are all connected and The Wild Goose comes and goes and connects us all. As God is all in all, so are we. We are intertwined and connected. As The Wild Goose comes and goes in our life and God works as God pleases, let’s be open to the whispers of God in nature. Let’s move forward and not be distracted as The Wild Goose calls us back to the divine.