Winter Solstice: The Mystery of Newgrange

Imagine an ancient monument, built 1000 years before the Egyptian Pyramids and a few hundred years before Stonehenge, by prehistoric peoples who had not yet invented paper or measuring tools.

Imagine further, that this monument was engineered with such precision that the light of the sun can only enter its inner chamber on one specific day of the year — that is, the Winter Solstice.

Strange but true. This is the phenomenon of Newgrange.

Happy Winter Solstice!

Today, December 21, marks the longest night and also the return of the Sun in the Northern Hemisphere. Apparently, our ancestors knew the patterns of the sun very well, and had them in mind when they built this fantastic structure.

A Site for Sore Eyes

Newgrange is a Neolithic tomb, located in Bru na Boinne, County Meath, Ireland. It consists of a large mound, built of alternating layers of earth and stones. Grass grows on top of it. Some historians have suggested it resembles a womb. The mound measures 76 meters (249 feet) across and 12 meters (39 feet) high. It covers 4,500 square meters (1.1 acres) of ground. Within the mound is a chambered passage, that stretches for 19 meters (60 feet), about a third of the way into the center. At the end of the passage are three small chambers and a larger central chamber with an arched roof.

It is huge! To get some perspective, take a look at this photo, with tourists.

The stones used for its construction were not just any old stones. Rather, they came from places far off, and it seems a great deal of thought and effort went into the choice of them. Some boulders were brought from the Wicklow Mountains — approximately 70 miles (113.9 km) south of the site. Others were brought from the Slieve Croob Mountains — 67 miles (107 km) to the north. Still others were brought from the Mourne Mountains, 59 miles (94 km) away. Whoever built the monument would have needed to locate and choose the specific rocks, then move them from the far off mountains, most likely via the Irish Sea, and then transport them inland to Bru na Boinne. Not an easy task.

And these boulders were not lightweight!

According to Professor Michael J. O’Kelly, who began excavation of Newgrange in 1962, “there are 97 kerb stones, none weighing less than a ton, and some weighing considerably more”. The whole of Newgrange contains “about 200,000 tons of stone” total. Gigantic boulders were placed at the entranceways and at the curbs. Interestingly, they were carved and decorated with spirals and various art, which are interpreted as ancient Druidic symbols.

The House of the Rising Sun

The innermost burial chamber of Newgrange was engineered so that no light can reach it, except on Winter Solstice. On that day alone, a single sunbeam penetrates the passageway thru a special “roof box”, constructed specifically for this event. It was Professor O’Kelly who discovered this in 1967.

Back in the 1960’s, the phenomenon of the Winter Solstice at Newgrange was not widely known. In fact, it had been reduced to gossip by some of the locals.

During the early excavation, these locals would tell Professor O’Kelly of a tradition, that the rising sun, at some “unspecified time”, would light up the triple spiral stone in the end recess of the chamber. No one had actually witnessed this, but it continued to be a strong legend, and one that greatly interested the Professor. In 1967 he decided to find out for himself if it was true.

The Professor reasoned that, due to a southeast orientation of the sun at Winter Solstice, and the positioning of the sun in relation to a special “roof portal” in the monument, the “unspecified time” of light just might be on this day.

Some minutes before sunrise on the 21st of December, 1967, Professor O’Kelly stood alone in the darkness of the chamber at Newgrange, wondering what would happen. To his amazement, minute by minute, the chamber grew steadily brighter and a beam of sunlight began to enter the passage. O’ Kelly wrote of this beam “lighting up everything as it came until the whole chamber – side recesses, floor and roof six meters above the floor – were all clearly illuminated”.

Needless to say, the Professor was in awe. According to ancient legends, Dagda, the sun god, had actually built the tomb.

Upon witnessing the beautiful passing of the sunbeams, O’Kelly began to wonder if this was true. He stood rigid and transfixed. Professor O’Kelly continued his excavation and observations. At Winter Solstice, 1969, he wrote:

“Between the bright sky and the long glittering silver ribbon of the Boyne the land looks black and featureless. Great flocks of starlings are flying across the sky from their night time roosts to their day time feeding places. The effect is very dramatic as the direct light of the sun brightens and casts a glow of light all over the chamber. I can even see parts of the roof and a reflected light shines right back in to the back of the end chamber.”

History and Mystery

The whole phenomenon is really amazing, when you consider the circumstances. As I stated before, Newgrange was built in 3200 BCE. It predates the Pyramids of Giza and Stonehenge. They were not writing on paper, they were not planning things architecturally. As far as we know, they had no telescopes of space rockets. If you look at the size and precision of the monument, you will see that even today, with U-haul trucks and modern tools, it would be hard to build! Plus they would need to have a sophisticated understanding of the earth’s movement, which, even today, is difficult for NASA!

So this begs the question: Who built Newgrange?

I don’t believe for one minute that ordinary humans built this thing, not to mention rubes running around in loincloths who had no way to measure the galaxy. (Doesn’t it seem seriously IMPOSSIBLE?)

So who?

Were they some sort of alien race? Were they gods, goddesses, or the faeries? Were they super-humans? (Even the Bible speaks of giants, and men who lived to be hundreds of years old.) And if so, what happened to our human race? Was it somehow diminished?

Well, the history of Newgrange has always remained strong within Irish mythology. The place is steeped in magic and legend. The Tuatha de Danaan (tribe of the goddess Dana), were said to have built it. This ancient faerie race had supernatural powers, and we assume they’d have little trouble moving 200,000 tons of stone down from mountains.

Newgrange is believed to be a burial site, and indeed, human bones have been discovered within it. But it was not an ordinary mausoleum. It is thought to be the tomb of the chieftains and Irish kings, the great Dagda Mor, his son Oengus of the Brugh, and the great god Lugh of the long arm, father of the hero Cuchulain. One myth claims that Cuchulainn was conceived at Newgrange, when Lugh astro-traveled and “visited” the maiden Dechtine in a dream while she slept there.

(The god Lugh was quite a character. It would not surprise me if he had a hand in the construction. He was very powerful and popular. For more about Lugh, read https://witchlike.wordpress.com/category/lugh/)

Newgrange was imbued with magical properties. It was said the site could produce endless quantities of food and drink, especially ale and pork. One legend states that two pigs would come forth from the chambers, one living and the other already dressed, cooked, and ready to be eaten.

Suppression and Repression

You might be wondering, as I did, why it took so long to excavate this monument. The thing was built some 5200 years ago, yet they waited until the 20th century to explore it.

It seems the site was forgotten and nearly abandoned through suppression, repression, and prejudice. Irish language, literature and mythology were nearly lost under English rule. The Norman Invasion of 1169 CE brought the English to Ireland, and their control over the people became increasingly oppressive. The great mound of Newgrange, along with other ancient monuments, stone circles, myths, legends and Irish culture in general, were neglected. The people of Ireland suffered greatly, and in fact, did not begin to liberate themselves until the 20th century, with the rise of the Irish Republic.

However, in 1699, a Welsh scholar by the name of Edward Lhwyd was making a tour of Ireland. He heard of the tomb and became interested. Other scholars followed. Throughout the 18th century the site was visited by a number of explorers who speculated about its origin and purposes. In 1882 the monument was taken under care of the government of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland through the Ancient Monuments Protection Act and conservation efforts were initiated.

Professor O’Kelly’s work began in 1962 and lasted until 1973. In 1993, Newgrange was designated a “World Heritage Site” by UNESCO. Before Covid, people could visit Newgrange through the Bru na Boinne Visitor’s Center. It attracted approximately 200,000 tourists each year. Because so many folks wanted to see the Solstice sunrise, a lottery was held. Each year they had thousands of applicants.

Fortunately (for us, anyway) because Covid prevented anyone from attending Winter Solstice this year, the stewards decided to give the world a live stream! If you are curious about the miracle of Newgrange, watch below. And if you have any ideas about who built Newgrange, let me know in the comments!

Life on Mars (or some place similar)

 

pleiadians

Do you believe in Extra-Terrestrials? The probability is in their favor. After all, when we consider that planet earth, in relationship to the Universe, is akin to one grain of sand on a vast beach, it seems impossible that we humans could be the only intelligent life form. But today I have good news:

It’s official! (Or sort of official.)  Life in another galaxy most probably does exist.  But don’t take my word for it. Check out the latest discoveries by NASA.

As of yesterday, May 11, 2016,  NASA scientists have verified the existence of 1,284 new exoplanets that were discovered by the Kepler telescope.

What is an ‘exoplanet’, you ask?  Apparently it is a planet that orbits around its own sun and stars outside of our solar system.  NASA, using the Kepler telescope, has now discovered 1, 284 of them!

This research began in around 2009 and since then Kepler has identified some 4000 potential planets. The problem, however, was that scientists always needed to do more research to discover whether or not these were actually planets.  Until now, those potential planets had been verified by ground-based measurements (which were slow and less effective) in order to ensure that what the telescope saw was actually a planet and not  an ‘impostor.’ An ‘impostor’ could be another object, such as a small star.  So the research was tricky, and  manually verifying these planets took a really long time.

Now, a new method  has been created by one Dr. Timothy Morton, a Princeton research scholar.

Morton’s method is based on previous techniques. However, Morton’s computation is fully automated —  therefore the team only spends a few minutes on each planetary candidate.  According to Dr. Morton’s research, the probability of the 1,284 planets being ‘real’ is greater than 99 percent.

Imagine it! Twelve hundred new planets are out there, all in a completely different solar system!  But the news gets even better.

In this group of validated planets, NASA reports that nearly 550 could be “rocky planets like Earth.”   Of those 550 planets, 9 of them orbit in the habitable zone of their own sun. The distance between those planets and their suns would allow each planet a surface temperature to host liquid water.

Nine planets. In another galaxy.  WITH WATER.  Water is, as we know, the main source of life!

living water

Ironic, isn’t it? Just when we lose David Bowie, NASA makes a startling discovery that would have pleased  Ziggy Stardust and his Spiders from Mars very much.

It gets better.  NASA further states that astronomers also now know of 21 additional exoplanets that are less than twice the size of Earth, and also may have some of the conditions for life, the same as Earth!

Remember, you heard it here first. 🙂

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Watch more here:

 

And just for fun:

 

 

 

Yuletide

Here Comes The Sun!  Wishing You a Blessed Yule.

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The winter solstice of 2015 will occur in the United States on December 21 at 11:48 pm, Eastern Time. This is a cause for celebration!  It means the return of light, longer days, more sunshine, and relief for those who suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder.  Plus, you get to enjoy all the lovely, fantastic light displays which I hope are gracing your neighborhood and your home!

What exactly is the winter solstice?  It marks the longest night, and the shortest day of the year.  In scientific terms this means the earth is now angled at the farthest point away from the sun. (To clarify, I am speaking of the northern hemisphere. The southern hemisphere now celebrates the summer solstice, exactly the opposite.  All the Aussies down under have been enjoying summer as we in the north have been shriveling away. Now we switch!)  The northern hemisphere will gradually move closer and closer towards the sun as the year goes on.

In Pagan terms, the winter solstice is called Feast of Yule, and is part of the calendar of eight that divides the wheel of the year.  This is, in effect, the Pagan New Year.  Yule was a big deal among our ancestors. They worshipped the sun.  Of course they did!  What else can give such enormous sustenance of life?  When the sun began gradually disappearing in the autumn, our ancestors panicked.  The sun was their livelihood and surely they would die without it.   However, careful observation taught them; the sun started its decline with the summer solstice in June, and by mid December it was at its weakest.  Ancient Pagans learned to trust and rely on its return.   Some archeologists  believe that structures like Stonehenge were built as temples and designed to catch specific angles of sun light.

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The original name of Yule was ‘Juul’, so-named by the pre-Christian Scandinavians.  The Scandinavians, as you can imagine, had many reasons to celebrate the return of the sun, living in 24 hour winter darkness as they did.   The Scandinavian winter solstice was celebrated by lighting great bonfires, which symbolized the sun and called for its return.  There was a custom of cutting a huge log from the forest which was brought to the hearth to honor the Norse god Thor. The Juul or Yule log was then burned for 12 days.  In medieval times Christians began celebrating the 12 days of Christmas, which is really a remnant of this Norse custom. (More on that later.)

In  Celtic tradition, it is believed that the Oak King or the Green Man is reborn to  replace the Holly King as ruler of the forest.

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The Oak King and the Holly King are thought to be dual aspects of the Horned God, each aspect ruling for ½ of the year. The young Oak King, as new ruler, will warm the earth as the days grow longer.   Astrologically, December 21st marks the beginning of the month of Capricorn, the Goat, also a representation of the Horned God.  ‘Saturnalia’ was another ancient Pagan festival celebrated at this time. The sign of Capricorn is ruled by the planet Saturn.

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In Greek mythology, the Horned God can be represented as Dionysius, Pan and Robin Goodfellow. (Or anyone who happens to have hoofs!)  And yes, in case you are noticing a pattern here — horns, hoofs — the goat was given a bad reputation.   Completely undeserved!

The ancient Celts also celebrated Yule by lighting bonfires. Apples and other fruits were made into ‘wassail’, a hot punch seasoned with cloves. The tradition of ‘wassailing’ meant going from house to house and singing songs for the neighbors.  Your pay was then a refill of punch.  This eventually morphed into the tradition of Christmas caroling.

The Celts decorated their homes with evergreen, holly, ivy and mistletoe. Evergreen, which never died, was a symbol of immortality.  Holly, ivy and mistletoe were symbols of fertility.  In the 19th century, Victorians began the tradition of kissing under the mistletoe.

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This, of course,  is ironic, because the Victorians were known for their chastity.  Just goes to show you – everything is the opposite of what it appears to be 🙂

Yule, like many other Pagan holidays, was assimilated into Christian culture.  It is interesting how this happened.  In case you don’t know I will explain it: Sometime around the 4th century, Emperor Constantine, who basically ruled the world, decided to convert the Roman Empire (which was then all of Europe and the U.K.)  to Christianity.  The Christian Church decided to conveniently place the birth of Christ on December 25th, a few days after the beginning of Yule.  That way, they did not upset the apple cart too much.  People were already celebrating.

I have heard many modern-day bible scholars insist that NO WAY  was Jesus born in December!  They apparently have scientific methods of calculating this.  I have been told that proof is the fact that shepherds were out and about on the night of Christ’s birth, and shepherds cannot be out and about in December.  Way too cold.   However, December 25th was the day Constantine chose, and so it was.  After all, he was the Emperor!  Who could argue?

I should note –  Pagans celebrated the return/ rebirth of the SUN – whereas the Christians began celebrating the birth of the SON  (Jesus Christ, son of god.)  See what they did there?  Clever.  English and many Germanic languages have this similarity.

Medieval and Renaissance Europeans also celebrated the twelve days of Christmas.  This was an exchange of gifts which began on December  26th and ended on January 6th (which was also called Twelfth Night. Yes, yes! Shakespeare wrote a play called Twelfth Night, but that is another topic for another blog!)   Thus, the original Pagan custom of burning the Yule log for twelve days became the Christian custom of the twelve days of Christmas.

Sometime in the 18th century, they published a song about the Twelve Days of Christmas, something involving a partridge in a pair tree, etc…  You may have heard it.

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The 6th of January, or Twelfth Night, became known as the Feast of Three Kings. It was believed that it was on this day the Magi  first arrived to visit the Christ child.  (Which, some bible scholars argue, was actually impossible, because Jesus was not born in December.)

Other celebrations occurring at this time of year include Hanukkah and Kwanzaa.   In Judaic tradition, Hanukkah commemorates the re-dedication of the Temple.  It is also a festival of light, which involves daily lighting the eight candle Menorah.  Kwanzaa is a pan-African festival which celebrates family and community. During Kwanzaa’s seven day duration, the seven candle ‘kinara’ is lit.  Iranians celebrate the ancient Yalda, or  Shab-e Chelleh (‘night of forty’ the ‘longest and darkest night of the year’.)  Families gather together to eat traditional foods, stay up past midnight and read poetry.

No matter which holiday you celebrate, the return of the sun is a sacred time of year.

What can you do to celebrate Yule in modern times?  If you do not have a fireplace for a Yule log, try burning some  incense. Pine or cedar would be great.   Use scented candles, colored red and green.  Cinnamon will make your home smell delicious! Give gifts of apples and oranges, which symbolize the sun.  Hang sprigs of mistletoe and holly berry, boughs of evergreen or a wreath, which represents the circle of life.  If you cannot get to Stonehenge, create your own stone circle. Use colorful stones; green aventurine for prosperity, red carnelian for health, and quartz crystals to magnify your power and desires!

Meditate with music.    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fbltFs7G8UQ

If you are really ambitious, try your hand at a traditional wassail punch.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eWuI6LK0tss

Whatever you do,  enjoy this winter season, and Blessed Be!

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