The Celtic races of ancient Europe nurtured an abiding belief in life after death. A number of scholars hold that the Celtic peoples could accept death with no trepidation because of the Druids, who taught that death was only a phase in a long and continuous journey, and that the soul, would rid itself of accumulated, inherited impurities, until it finally achieved the goal of perfection.

As with all ancient cultures, many symbolic elements are to be found in the Celtic artwork which has survived. In this highly personal piece I have combined a number of those symbols in an effort to illustrate that “passing on” is just as the phrase suggests, a transition from one stage of life to another, and constitutes just one part of a continually changing scene of many differing chapters.

Situated in the Vale of Avalon, Somerset, Glastonbury Tor rises strikingly from the surrounding plain. It has long been thought of as a place with mystical qualities and is often seen as a portal between the world of the living and the Otherworld.

In legend, the raven is deeply linked to the Crone Goddess Babdh (a name which means ‘Crow’ or ‘Raven’) and also to the Morrighan; the red-haired triple goddess combining the energies of life and death, sexuality and conflict in one all-powerful incarnation. The Morrighan, as the goddess of battle, is said to have collected the life-forces of slain warriors and delivered them to the Tree of Life, there to begin the next stage of their journey.

All trees were sacred to the Celts as symbols of longevity and rebirth. Legend has it, that buried in the roots of the Tree of Life is a chalice, protected by serpents. The chalice contains the life-forces of all things in the earthworld. In Spring the contents of the chalice are absorbed by the roots and travel through the tree to be released by the new buds. Birds collect the essences and distribute them across the countryside. In the Autumn the process is reversed and the life forces are returned to the chalice, ready for another Spring.

The spiral is the natural form of growth. It has become a symbol of eternal life. The whorls so predominant in Celtic carvings and paintings represent the continuous creation and dissolution of the world; the passages between spirals symbolise the divisions between life, death and rebirth. At the center of the spiral is complete balance where all three become as one.

Dolmens, consisting of two or more upright stones topped with a heavy horizontal capstone, were the burial places of the dead. Originally covered by a mound of earth, dolmen sites were considered sources of energy, where this world and the otherworld met.

Standing stones occur singly or in alignments. They were monuments to mark boundaries and burial places, and came to be regarded as memorials of famous legendary events. They were focal points for clan gatherings and festival celebrations, and their shadows were measured to plot the path of the seasons.

Water has been regarded as a sacred commodity since time immemorial. The Celts appeared fascinated by rivers, lakes, bogs, springs and the sea. Water could be beneficial as a life-giver, healer and a means of travel, but it also could be destructive. Water itself was seen as essential to life and fertility and, as the life fluid of Mother Earth, it had a direct alliance with her powers.