Have you ever seen a picture of someone you've never met, but felt like you somehow know them?
Have you heard music from a distant culture and felt the pang of homesickness, but you've never been to that part of the world?
That feeling of homesickness for a person or a place you've never met or been to is called hiraeth. It's a concept that no one has found a true explanation for. In fact, hiraeth is actually a word coming from the Welsh and has no direct English equivalent. Many languages have no word for it.
Imagine you're curled up on your sofa with a mug of hot chocolate warming your hands. You hear the sound of snowflakes hitting your window, so you look up and see the frost-laden branches shimmering in the light. It's beautiful.
Then you look at your phone and see a picture of a mountain range in the summer. Something about the image makes you freeze. Suddenly, your stomach pangs, and your throat constricts slightly, as if you want to break down and cry. It's a feeling very close to homesickness, and it aches. But, you've never lived in the mountains. So, why the random homesick feeling?
This feeling is hiraeth.
Hiraeth is a longing for a home you can never return to, or you've never known.
It can also happen with people, though it is often believed that if someone feels hiraeth toward another person, they might have been lovers in a past life. They recognize the soul of the other person and are immediately drawn back "home" to the one they love, yearning for that connection again.
For me, I feel it when I hear Celtic music, or see art/pictures from the Celtic age. I remember when I was about 14, and my family was moving. My mom let me paint my room whatever color I wanted. As I was working on the making the ceiling a dark blue, I played Celtic music I had already collected over the past couple years.
My mom came into the room to see my progress, and she laughed as she asked, "Why do you love Irish music so much? Where did this come from?"
My initial thought was, because it feels like home. But I couldn't very well say that out loud! So I told her, "I don't now. It makes me happy, and I want to visit Ireland and Scotland some day."
She shrugged and admitted she was just happy she didn't have to deal with rock music or rap.
Celtic music and scenery doesn't always bring on positive hiraeth, but it is hiraeth all the same, and I love the connection I feel to it.
Many believe hiraeth is the emotional proof of past lives. Our souls have attached to some memory in a certain lifetime and we recognize it in this life.
Others will say it's simply a trick of the mind, and possibly a sign of some emotional disorder, like anxiety.
When you experience it yourself, you'll have room to decide. It's like nothing you've ever felt before, and it doesn't feel like anything of this world. It's not a natural feeling, and can be uncomfortable at times, but it's something that has opened millions to curiosity over the ages.