Mo Anam Cara - The Meaning and History of Soul Friend

In 1997, Irish writer, poet and former Catholic priest John O’Donohue burst onto the international literary scene with his first published work, Anam Cara. The book quickly became an international best seller and brought the Gaelic phrase ‘Mo Anam Cara’ into popular culture.

 

 Many people believe that the phrase is translated ‘my soul mate’ but it’s more accurately translated as ‘my soul friend’ as anam is the Gaelic word for soul and cara the Gaelic word for friend. O’Donohue attributes the term to the ancient Irish monks, who used anam cara to refer to a monk’s spiritual guide, teacher and companion. Other scholars believe the term is older than that and may actually go back to the Desert Fathers and Mothers and whose teachings were preserved and transmitted by the Christian monk, Saint John Cassian and whose works are celebrated by both Western and Eastern Christianity.

 

The early Celtic church was completely independent from Rome and thrived in Ireland, Wales, Scotland, Northern England, Brittany, Cornwall, and the Isle of Man from the 5th through the 12th centuries. And although eventually the concept of ‘soul friend’ came to be associated with Roman Catholic priests, these early Celtic Christians opened the role to both women and men, lay and clergy.

 

Today, the words ‘anam cara’ evoke more than someone who is a spiritual guide. In O’Donohue’s words the term has come to mean a deep and special friendship, one that cannot be broken or wounded or limited by distance, as these two individuals have been united at the level of the soul. Your anam cara is someone to whom you can reveal yourself as you truly are, without any pretense. And as O’Donohue emphasizes, this soul level love is “anything but sentimental...it is the most real and creative form of human presence.”

 

And soul friends may or may not be our husbands, wives or lovers but may simply be a friend of the same or opposite sex to whom we feel a deep, profound and lifelong connection. But being someone’s anam cara is more than ‘simply’ being someone’s friend. As Maria Popova, who in 2015 explored the concept of the anam cara in her marvelously erudite blog Brainpickings had this to say on what it takes to submit oneself to this role:

 

“But being an anam cara requires of a purposeful presence — it asks that we show up with absolute integrity of intention. That interior intentionality, O’Donohue suggests, is what sets the true anam cara apart from the acquaintance or the casual friend — a distinction all the more important today, in a culture where we throw the word “friend” around all too hastily, designating little more than perfunctory affiliation. But this faculty of showing up must be an active presence rather than a mere abstraction — the person who declares herself a friend but shirks when the other’s soul most needs seeing is not an anam cara.”

 

There is no better way to honor your anam cara than with this unique Celtic sterling silver and 18k gold pendant showcases that Irish phrase in the ancient Ogham script, crafted in Dublin, Ireland by true artisans. The front of the pendant showcases the Mo Anam Cara symbol in 18K gold script with the words ‘Mo Anam Cara’ inscribed on the back. Or you might prefer this beautiful sterling silver Ogham bangle, with the Gaeilc text Anam Cara as well as the Ogham script for the same term.

 

And if you are fortunate enough to be marrying your anam cara, there is no better gift for him than this stunning florentine finished men's gold Mo Anam Cara wedding band. Or for her, this gorgeous women’s Mo Anam Cara silver wedding band in an oxidized finish.

 

I’ll leave you with this poem from John O’Donohue:

 

May you be blessed with good friends.

May you learn to be a good friend to yourself.

May you be able to journey to that place in your soul where there is great love,

warmth, feeling, and forgiveness.

May this change you.

May it transfigure that which is negative, distant, or cold in you.

May you be brought into the real passion, kinship. and affinity of belonging.

May you treasure your friends.

May you be good to them and may you be there for them;

May they bring you all the blessings, challenges, truth,

and light that you need for your journey.

May you never be isolated.

May you always be in the gentle nest of belonging with your anam cara.

 

John O'Donohue

A Friendship Blessing, Anam Cara: A Book of Celtic Wisdom.