ANAM CARA or SOUL LOVE
In the Celtic tradition, there is a beautiful understanding of love and friendship. One of the fascinating ideas here is the idea of soul love; the old Gaelic term for this is anam cara.
Anam is the Gaelic word for soul and cara is the word for friend. So anam cara in the Celtic world was the soul friend. In the early Celtic Church, a person who acted as a teacher, companion or spiritual guide was called an anam cara. Anam Cara was originally someone to whom you confessed, revealing the hidden intimacies of your life. With the anam cara you could share your innermost self, your mind and your heart. This friendship was an act of recognition and belonging. When you had an anam cara your friendship cut across all convention, morality and category. You were joined in an ancient and eternal way with the “friend of your soul”. The Celtic understanding did not set limitations of space or time on the soul. There is no cage for the soul. The soul is a divine light that flows into you and into your Other. This art of belonging awakened and fostered a deep and special companionship. In his Conferences, John Cassian says this bond between friends is indissoluble: “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.”
In everyone’s life, there is great need for an anam cara, a soul friend. In this love, you are understood as you are without mask or pretension. The superficial and functional lies and half-truths of acquaintance fall away. You can be as you really are. Love allows understanding to dawn, and understanding is precious. Where you are understood, you are at home. Understanding nourishes belonging. When you feel really understood, you feel free to release your self into the trust and shelter of the other person’s soul. This recognition is described in the beautiful line from Pablo Neruda: “You are like nobody since I love you.” This art of love discloses the special and sacred identity of the other person. Love is the only light that can truly read the secret signature of the other person’s individuality and soul. Love alone is literate in the world of origin; it can decipher identity and destiny.
It is precisely in awakening and exploring this rich and opaque inner landscape that the anam cara experience illuminates the mystery and kindness of the divine. The anam cara is god’s gift. Friendship is the nature of God.
– JOHN O’ DONOHUE