A Review by Joseph McCaleb of
Horses and the Mystical Path : The Celtic Way of Expanding the Human Soul
Authors: Adele von Rust McCormick, Marlena Deborah McCormick, & Thomas E. McCormick
Magic is, and perhaps has always been, sprinkled around the spirited nature of horses. Recently there’s been an explosion of books concerning healings, whisperings, and metaphysical interactions with our equine relations. Horses and the Mystical Path : The Celtic Way of Expanding the Human Soul is distinguished through the McCormicks’ insistence upon grounding experience that is at the edge of belief into living tradition, inclusive spirituality, and time-honored psychology. After reading their books and spending a week at their ranch, my longing for making the next step on the path has been more than met.
I’d been deeply moved by my experiences with horses, particularly riding dressage and being taught in the classical manner, but I felt rather inarticulate about it and thus limited in being able to go much further in deepening these experiences with horses and broadening their applications into other parts of my life. I sampled the extensive field of literature related to horses, read closely the ones that seemed nearest to my interests, and in doing so found the McCormicks’ work in the center of my target. While I enjoy comfort food, I wanted something more gritty than the chicken-soup variety, something with the numinous edge that would take me further than personal story, something that built upon dressage technique, something that furthered the knowing of the soul dimension in experiences with horses. And this is just what Horses and the Mystical Path offers. The “wisdom pilgrimage” is often a lonely path, oft’ beset with doubt; the McCormicks provide much-needed companionship.
Their book contains many lessons; and more significantly, it gives help for a person in finding the one that fits. The most important teaching, from or through the McCormicks to me, right now, is to stop trying too hard. Horses and the Mystical Path is infused with the ancestors’ voices; and, even more, it incarnates the Celtic way which also incorporates a Christian and a Sufi spirituality. For not only are these sources cited (for example, Pelagius, Eriugena, Ibn’ Arabi, and Meister Eckhart), they are also present in the stories that the McCormicks tell of their work with horses and humans.
This blending of spirit and practice can be illustrated with two of many cases. The Celtic tradition indicated in their subtitle is apparent early and throughout the book: “The horse becomes not only a soothing friend but a provocative adversary—what Celtic shamans call an anam cara, or “soul friend,” in Gaelic.” (p. 6) This principle is richly illustrated in their practice through the story of Carlin who gets very frightened when her arrogance pushes her horse to run off with her. When riding the same horse later, Carlin had an episode which she called “‘the most awesome experience of my life!’” (p. 101) The McCormicks conclude: “Carlin had been pushed into the eternal zone beyond our human control. And in that dramatic moment of confrontation, she had surrendered to both the horse and the Divine.” (p. 102) In addition to the mare, the McCormicks had also played the part of the anam cara by insisting that Carlin stay with the same horse even after the frightening experience and in spite of her demand to ride a different horse.
A second case of the merging of the “word” with the body is demonstrated in the teaching of contemplative prayer which constantly complements the McCormicks’ work with horses and people. They quote Thomas Merton, “Meditation has no point and no reality unless it is firmly rooted in life.” (p. 86) One powerful illustration of their application of this teaching concerns their part in the mare Alicia’s recovery from abusive treatment. Led by Adele, one of them sat with the agitated horse for hours every day for about six weeks, spending much of that time in meditative prayer. (p. 47) They walked the talk. From this experience and from this horse, the McCormicks received communion in a texture woven in the book and too elaborate to trace here.
Disciplined hard work and applied classical training in horsemanship as well as in psychology and in religion are essential, but they’re not enough for the next step on the path. To work too hard alone is to block one’s access to the power from mystical teachers. Why go alone when such companions are waiting? And, too, why not ride on in union with these spirit beings!