Life After Life
Every spiritual path has it's own belief in what happens once you pass on from this world. One thing all of these beliefs have in common is that the soul leaves the body and moves on into some type of divine spiritual realm or through a divine realm into a new incarnation.
The concepts of life after death are clearly laid out in many cultures and religions through books. Such as the Egyptian or Tibetan Books of the Dead, the Torah, The Holy Bible and so on. The Celtics however, did not have books in the same fashion, but rather a rich and colorful oral tradition. These stories were kept alive by poets, story-tellers and druids who recited traditional lore within a collection of verses or legends.
The Celtic Immrama
One such collection was called the Immrama (meaning 'mystical voyages'). It is from these stories we can learn about the views and beliefs of the early Celts.
The Otherworld is a mirror of the living world where ones after life experiences are influenced by their actions in this life. The Otherworld exists on a physical level familiar to our own, often on islands or remote and distant lands. One such Otherworld island is the Isle of Black and White, where those things that are white turn to black and black turns to white. To some this perspective is an example of karma or the Law Of Accountability. "What you put out, you will get back" or "As above, so below", if not in life, then in the afterlife.
These islands most often lay to the west, toward the vastness of the Atlantic Ocean. One such place was the Isle of Arran, an Irish paradise. Situated in the Firth of Forth, also called the Firth of Clyde. Arran is an island paradise which was later associated with Arthurian legends as Avalon, or the Isle of Apples. Arran is regarded as the most desirable place to be for your Otherworld afterlife.
The drowned land of Atlantis is an other Otherworld isle. Known as the Isle of the Blessed, where voyagers sailed but never returned. A land of beauty and divinity where the truly blessed are sent to live out their afterlife.
Tír na nÓg ("Land of the Young") or Tír na hÓige ("Land of Youth") is another island in the Otherworld. It is the realm of everlasting youth, beauty, health, abundance and joy. And is inhabitanted by the Tuath Dé, who were the gods of pre-Christian Ireland. In the Immrama tales, various Irish mythical heroes visit Tír na nÓg after a voyage or an invitation from one of its residents. They reach it by entering ancient burial mounds or caves, or by going under water or across the sea.
The Celtic Otherworld
One of the most common views of the Celtic Otherworld is held in the land of Annwfn. A paradise island also associated with King Arthur through the Welsh poem Preiddeu Annwfn which gives the best description of the island. The poem is a tale told by Taliesin who was a member of an expedition into the land of the Otherworld, presumably to search for the Holy Grail.
Through Taliesin's poem, we're told Annwfn is divided into three regions that could be associated with Hades, the Greek Otherworld equivalent. The first region lies within a glass fort known as Caer Wydyr and also referred to as Nennius. Caer Wydyr is not a waste land, but it is a gloomy and dark land. The expedition party tried to engage the fortress guard into conversation, but he remained silent and almost oblivious of their presents. Many believe the hidden meaning suggests this is the land of the silent dead, or the lost ones. The most undesirable places to reside after death.
The next realm is that of Caer Feddwidd, the Fort of Carousal. Also known as Caer Rigor or Caer Siddi, this realm is ruled by Arianrhod, the Goddess of time, space and energy. In this land, a mystical fountain of wine flows through the region. Drinking from the fountain, one finds eternal health and youth to live out their after life days.
The third realm is associated through Arthurian legend as Avalon. The most divine of the three regions. Presumably only the most spiritual of people or those who have sacrificed a great deal for the benefit of others can enter this land. But one needs to remember this poem comes from a time where pagan and Christian beliefs were greatly intermingled.
An alternative view of the Arthurian Avalon, is the land of Arran which has more of a pagan tale to it's existence. The most significant icon in this land is the Cauldron of Plenty, which most scholars now agree was the inspiration for the Holy Grail.
The Cauldron of Plenty was also called the Undry. It provided an endless supply of food which was often given to the needy and it had the power to restore the dead to life. Either to the same existence or to a new one. The cauldron could also heal the wounds or illnesses of the dying, preventing them from dying at all.
The Otherworld is definitely the Celtic land of the dead, but there are many legends and stories that suggest the dead are not limited to this land. This suggests that the realm is a transitory land, where souls can become trapped in the land of the silent dead through their own karmic deeds, they can reside if they chose in the land of Caer Feddwidd, or they can transition back to the land of the living through the magikal powers of the Undry.
Celtic Rebirth vs Reincarnation
It is important to note that the Celts did not believe in reincarnation, but rather in rebirth. One might also view rebirth as rejuvenation through Undry cauldron. The Celts literally believed in immortality, either through living out ones after life in the Otherworld or being restored to life through the magikal Cauldron of Plenty. This is not the same thing as reincarnation.
Further, the Celts also believed any earthly human could be reborn to the status of a God or Goddess. Either through deed or divine intervention, even magikal manipulation. Again, this is not the same thing as reincarnation.
Many neo-pagans who believe in the alternative view of reincarnation, believe in the spiritual realm of Summerland rather than an Otherworld.

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