Anam Cara

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Anam Cara or anamchara is an old Gaelic term for "soul friend"; anam meaning "soul" and cara meaning "friend". The term was popularized by Irish author John O'Donohue in his 1997 book Anam Ċara 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]

It involves a friendship that psychotherapist William P. Ryan describes as "compassionate presence".[4] According to O'Donohue, the Irish term anam cara (lit. "soul-friend") 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]


  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

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