Interview with John Matthews

In this great interview, Steve Nobel and John Matthews talk about how John got interested in the Celtic era and Shamanism. They discuss the Celts, their shamanic traditions and relationship to the world. Lastly John analyses the imagery of 3 cards picked by Steve: The Lady of the Sacred Earth; The Son, and The Lord of the Underworld.
This audio podcast is complemented by images of the cards, excerpts from the book, allowing you a glimpse inside, and to analyse the cards alongside John Matthews.

About the Celtic Shaman’s Pack:
Enter the magical realm of the shaman and develop your latent shamanic skills. The Celtic Shaman’s Pack offers direct access to the inner cosmos of the Celts, enabling you to make contact with the powerful archetypes to be found there.This pack constitutes your ‘shaman’s pouch’ – your very own collection of items imbued with magical or mystical significance, offering a bridge between the world of the everyday and the world of unseen reality that is a part of every shaman’s training.
The cards represent key aspects of the Celtic universe, providing you with a set of shamanic journey co-ordinates. By working with the images on a daily basis, for divination and discovery, you will learn to journey on the visionary path and gain a heightened understanding of yourself, as well as insight into your true life direction.

  • The definitive shamanic deck now re-issued in a brand new updated edition
  • Ideal for beginners and more experienced students alike
  • Shamanism is increasingly popular, as people seek connections between the natural and spirit worlds
  • Bestselling author has been a practising shaman for over twenty years

Download to listen on the go:


► Illustrated Book and Cards
ISBN: 9781859063934

Use the ISBN number to order from all good Book Shops!

Prefer to read? See the Transcript below!

Steve Nobel: So, hello, and welcome. My name’s Steve Nobel, and today I’m speaking with John Matthews on the Celtic Shaman’s Pack. Now, John has been a full time writer since 1980 and has produced over 100 books on myth, fairy, the Arthurian legends and grail studies, as well as short stories, a volume on poetry and several successful children’s books. He lives in Oxford with his wife and writer Caitlín and also a white cat named Willow, and his website is There will be a link going out with this podcast.

Now, the Celtic Shaman’s Pack offers a direct connection to the inner cosmos of the Celts, enabling you to make contact with many of the powerful archetypes to be found there. So, John, welcome to you.

John Matthews: Hello Steve.

Steve Nobel: How on earth did you get interested in this whole … I know you’ve been doing it a long time, the Celtic era, Arthurian legends, shamanism?

John Matthews: I think all of those things go back to my childhood. Well, perhaps not the shamanism so much, but certainly Celtic and Arthurian. I mean, I read a collection of stories about King Arthur when I was about, I don’t know, eight or nine and literally fell in love with them, and as I grew up I began reading more and more and then I started writing about it, and that led inevitably to the Celtic, because the Celtic is such a large part of the Arthurian stories, so I started working on the Celtic, and for a long time this was back in the time when Carlos Castaneda  was the big news, and people would often say to either Caitlín or myself is there a Celtic shamanic tradition, and we would usually say there’s no evidence for it, but we began to realise after a while working on all this material that there was in fact a very strong strong shamanic tradition within the Celtic world. It simply wasn’t being noticed. So we started to research. We began to look at the poetry of the 6th century welsh bard Taliesin, and we found within that poetry a whole tradition that had almost been forgotten in which he was describing shamanic experiences, so I wrote a book about this, Taliesin: The Last Celtic Shaman and while I was writing I began to realise that I wanted to teach it as well, and so we began to explore that and started teaching out foundation courses of walkers between worlds and that’s really what we’ve been doing ever since. We both teach it, we’ve both developed it hugely and we have four or five courses a year now.

Steve Nobel: Wonderful. Now, as you mentioned Carlos Castaneda, I think his time and beyond shamanisms had a kind of renaissance of interest. Why do you think this is?

John Matthews: I think it’s popular today because it gives you a different view on the world, because it gives you a chance to look at if you like the inside aspect of life. Not just the inner in that magical sense, but also the hidden aspects of just living and being in this world.

Steve Nobel: Did the Celts have a very different worldview from our own. I mean, here I am in the modern world, in London looking out on a very different landscape, you know, there’s the internet, there’s a very busy city. Of course, it was very different in the Celts time. What about spirituality as well. They must have had a very different spiritual worldview than our own.

John Matthews: I think so. I mean, you have to remember that the Celts first and foremost were a warrior race. There’s a great emphasis on the strengths of individuals, their skills in battle and riding and everything else that went on at that time, but they also had a very deep and powerful association with the land itself, ore of the earth, every aspect of it, every hill, every valley, every river, every tree had a story and they were all connected to gods or spirits. There’s a wonderful collection of stories that you can still get hold of called the Dinhenikers [inaudible 00:04:09], which are from Ireland and these are actually a huge collection of stories about the land and stories that took place there, so you can look at a hill or a stream and you have a story about it, and I think that is very strong evidence to how important these things were for them.

Steve Nobel: So I guess that means that they treated the land very differently. We don’t seem to respect the earth very much. I know there’s a renaissance of eco interest in the green world, but do you think that, is there any evidence that they really looked after the world?

John Matthews: I think that they were, they felt it was so spiritual that they left it alone rather than attacking as we always do today. Now, we’re all about taking everything there is to get from it and leaving it exhausted. I think they knew about looking after the place and understanding how in their relationship to it, as in both hunting and farming they were much more aware of the needs of a particular place than we are now.

Steve Nobel:     You run shamanic courses John. Now, the shamans have often been described as a walker between the worlds. What does this actually mean?

John Matthews:  In order to be a shaman or to practise shamanism you have to believe that there is an invisible world around you and I think that walkers between the worlds is simply a way of saying that we move from this world to that world and then from that world back to this, and that other world is the world of spirit. It’s a world where everything is sacred, where everything is magical and holy, and you go there and you encounter the beings that dwell in that place, and you work with them and you form a team and that’s how it works basically. It’s both very simple and very complex.

Steve Nobel:     Well, I guess in modern times if you want to connect with the spirit world we might go to a workshop or see a medium. In the Victorian times it was séances. How did they do it it the Celtic times?

John Matthews: Well, nothing like that at all. I mean, mediumship is really about looking for something that may or may not be there and if you’re lucky you find it. It’s shooting in the dark. Apologies to mediums out there. I’m not being harsh on you, but with shamanism you have techniques. The most important one is use of the drum. We all use drums in our practise and you drum to a certain rhythm and people basically lie down and go into a kind of of very light trance, nothing dangerous or manipulative in any way. You simply go out of this ordinary every day consciousness into a sort of super consciousness, where you’re aware of the other space and the other beings that are there and get advice from them, help from them, guidance from them, and most of all important, healing from them. It’s much more natural if you like.

Steve Nobel:  One of the things that really impresses me about shamanism is this very strong interest in ancestors, which the deck also covers. They’re also part of the spirit world aren’t they?

John Matthews: Very much so, yes. I mean, we all feel very strongly that most of the knowledge that we have that comes from this, of course you can study shamanic traditions and you can study Celtic traditions and you can see parallels, but when it comes down to actually doing it is another matter entirely, and I think it’s that subtle interplay between the past and the present, between the other world and this world, and especially between us now and the ancestors. Now, ancestors in this context doesn’t necessarily mean your uncle or your aunt or your grandfather. It means primal ancestors. It means the proto ancestors of the whole human race, so you’re going down to something very deep and very ancient when you communicate with them and they are the holders of the wisdom and the knowledge and that’s why you work with them and seek their advice because they know more than we do.

Steve Nobel:     I don’t know if you know the guy Bert Hellinger who does the family constellation, but he worked with the Zulu tribe in Africa and he talked … He was told by them that all illness is an ancestral problem. Is this a typical shamanic view?

John Matthews: It is quite largely understood to be true, yes. I mean, if you have a broken leg you don’t go and see the shaman. You go and see a doctor. If you have a serious illness you go and see a doctor. We’re not there to stand in stead of normal medication, but there are the kind of problems, the very subtle kind of things where people have suffered from something for a very long time. They’ve been to the doctor, they’ve had no diagnosis, they don’t know what’s wrong, and they’re life may be in a mess and one of the things that we do look for is what my wife calls the ancestral bequest, which is problems that happen maybe 15 generations ago but were never dealt, and they’ve just gone on being passed down the family line from father to son, from mother to daughter, whatever, and then you have to kind of get into that. You have to find a way to heal and get past all that and sort out the problems that were still there.

Steve Nobel:  Wonderful, wonderful. Now, looking at the deck specifically I’ve picked three cards John and the first one is the lady of the sacred earth, and this is a beautiful Celtic horse with these red sacred markings on the horse, standing on a hill with a rising sun, looks like a moon overhead and various other stars, and one foot seems to be touching a fire. What can you say about this card?

John Matthews:Well, you may notice that also on the card there’s a very abstract looking head coming in on one side. That is in fact based on the white horse of Uffington, which is one of the extraordinary chalk hill figures dating from a very early period and referring to the sacredness of the horse itself.

In this context we wanted to tie that in with a particular Celtic being known as Rhiannon who is herself a kind of horse goddess and so we wanted to tie all that idea of Rhiannon as the one who looks after the world of the earth in particular and our relationship to it, and it goes through all of the times, both the day and the night, which is why we’ve got sun and moon, and it’s also a card of vision, so the horse that’s striking the hillside is in fact bringing that flame, that flame being the flame of vision.

Steve Nobel:     It’s a beautiful card. I love the colours of it.

John Matthews:                 Well, Chesca Potter who did the work on this was very, very talented and she really understood the vision I think very deeply.

Steve Nobel:     Well, the second card I have John is The Son, and this is again a card with a blue background and there’s looks like a figure of warrior. There’s a male head. It looks like a youth. There’s a looks like a reindeer and another perhaps reindeer above, spirals, and at the bottom I’m not sure if that’s they’re greyhounds, those kind of Celtic knot type forms of greyhounds. What about this card?

John Matthews:                 Well, the main emphasis of this card is a Celtic deity known as Mabon which simply means Son. Mabon, Son of Modron. Son, son of mother in other words, and he represents all of that youthful energy of the warrior of course, the energy of the hunter, and much more the kind of innocence of youth, finding his feet in the world for the first time. So it’s a very powerful card for the young men.

Steve Nobel:     Love this card, and the third one, final one, which I’ve seen this image before a few places I think, the Lord of the Underworld, and this is looks like a shaman wearing a kind of reindeer hat with horns, blowing a horn, riding a white horse with two white hounds running beside him.


John Matthews:                 Actually this is Annwn who in Celtic, particularly Welsh tradition is the lord of the underworld. He’s the one who is responsible for spirits who live in the underworld. He’s also known as the lord of the beasts, and this card actually depicts him riding out from the other world with his white hounds who all have red ears by the way, sometimes said to have been dipped in blood, and they’re basically riding out in search of spirits, or the spirits of those who have passed over and who need to be helped into the other world, so he’s both a very fearsome character and one that’s very powerful and very helpful at times, so when you’re sorting out problems that are particularly difficult he’s a great ally to have at your back.

Steve Nobel:     So this deck really draws on a lot of ancient archetypal energies. The question is are these energies still available to us in the modern world?

John Matthews:    Very much so, yes. I mean, that’s the whole object of the Celtic tradition and of the shamanic tradition is that it enables you to encounter these beings. The whole idea of the deck, it’s not like a tarot exactly. It’s more designed to be used as kind of gateways. The images themselves are gateways to help you to communicate and become in touch with these archetypal being and the archetypal forces behind them.

Steve Nobel:     Right. Could they be used from meditation? Meditating on an image at a time?

The Celtic Shaman's Pack page excerpt

John Matthews:                 Yes, that’s one of the things that we very much hoped people would do and I know that a lot of the people that use them will in fact put them up, sometimes even in a frame. I know someone who keeps three or four of these cards on the mantel piece all the time, looks at them every day and then changes them for another four, and so you become very familiar with them in that, but in a more formal if you put a card up and you look at it for a long time until the image is really in your mind then you close your eyes and you start to meditate, and very often then you make the communication with this being.

Steve Nobel:     So John, look, thank you so much for sharing this information with me. I know you’ve written a lot. You’ve done loads of tarot decks, and this one is one that really are beautiful. The images are absolutely fantastic, so all the best and I hope to catch up with you for tea one day.

John Matthews:                 Okay, thank you. You’re welcome.


► Illustrated Book and Cards
ISBN: 9781859063934

Use the ISBN number to order from all good Book Shops!


Want more interviews? See more here!