Anam Cara

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Anam Cara is a phrase that refers to the Celtic concept of the "soul friend" in religion and spirituality. The phrase is an anglicization of the Irish word anamchara, anam meaning "soul" and cara meaning "friend". The term was popularized by Irish author John O'Donohue in his 1997 book Anam Ċara: A Book of Celtic Wisdom about Celtic spirituality. In the Celtic tradition "soul friends" are considered an essential and integral part of spiritual development.[1] The Martyrology of Óengus recounts an incident where Brigid of Kildare counseled a young cleric that "...anyone without a soul friend is like a body without a head."[2] A similar concept is found in the Welsh periglour.[3]

The Anam Cara involves a friendship that psychotherapist William P. Ryan describes as "compassionate presence".[4] According to O'Donohue, the word anamchara originates in Irish monasticism, where it was applied to a monk's teacher, companion, or spiritual guide.[5] However, Edward C. Sellner traces its origin to the early Desert Fathers and Desert Mothers: "This capacity for friendship and ability to read other people's hearts became the basis of the desert elders' effectiveness as spiritual guides."[3] Their teachings were preserved and passed on by the Christian monk John Cassian, who explained that the soul friend could be clerical or lay, male or female.[3]

Use as translation of "soulmate"[edit]

The anglicized form anam cara, usually as part of the phrase mo anam cara (intended to mean "my soulmate"), is often wrongly used as the legitimate Irish translation of the English word "soulmate" (in the romantic sense), which does not have a direct equivalent in Irish. The use of the anglicized form renders the phrase completely meaningless, and because anamchara carries no romantic connotations whatsoever, correct translations include grá mo chroí ("love of my heart") and mo ghrá geal ("my shining love"), among many others in that vein. The phrase is nevertheless often found in tattoos and on jewelry and the like, even when produced in Ireland.[6]


  1. ^ "Anam Cara Ministry", Iona College
  2. ^ Stokes, Whitley, The Martytology of Oengus, London, Harrison and Sons, 1905, p. 65
  3. ^ a b c Sellner, Edward C., "Soul Friendship in Early Celtic Monasticism", Aisling Magazine, Issue 17, Samhain, 1995
  4. ^ Ryan, William P., Working from the Heart, New York, Jason Aronson, 2011, ISBN 9780765707987, p. 160
  5. ^ "Anam Cara Event", Christ Church Cathedral (Episcopal), Houston, Texas. March 6, 2017
  6. ^ Nickel, Audrey (29 January 2018). "The Great Soulmate Debate". The Geeky Gaeilgeoir. Retrieved 14 January 2019.

External links[edit]

Colman Readings 13th May (pg 1238) links Romans and Celtic differences to confession and Anam Cara ‘anamchara’