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!

Chicago’s Coldest Day

 

This is our sunrise on Wednesday, January 30th. (Photo by Barry Butler, who actually went out a braved the cold to get this shot!  Thanks Barry!)

Today is, by historical records, the coldest day in 148 years of Chicago weather reports.  Temps are at -21 degrees Fahrenheit. And that is without the wind chill factor, which brings it down to about -50.

C-c-cold does not really describe it. Frigid? Cutting? Benumbed? Hyperborean? Arctic? Siberian?

This is how we earned our nick-name “Chiberia”.

This mural is actually made out of snow!

In Chicago we have a great sense of humor. You would too, if you were stuck in -50  degree temps.  Ice and snow might harden us, but they soften us too. What else can you do but laugh?

This tweet sums it up — by Chicagoan David Taylor II™

Everybody else be like: “Snowmaggedon! Snowpocalypse! IT’S THE END OF THE WORLD!!!!”

Chicago be like: “I might be a few minutes late to work.”    

 

We have been called a bloodthirsty city. They even dubbed us “murder capitol of the world.”  But despite our bad rap, there is plenty of beauty in Chicago. If you can stand the blizzards.

Lake Michigan, with its ice and steam, is an eerie wonder. This video by weatherman Tom Skilling is almost surreal.

 

The good thing about the cold is it keeps people inside. No murders will be committed this week.  There is a certain peacefulness to be found in sub zero temps. A silence and a solitude. Schools close. Many businesses close. People have no choice but to gather around the hearth and home. It is in these times we take clues from our ancestors and go into survival mode.

Good thing we’ve evolved out of loincloths!

When it is unbearably cold, neighbors check on other neighbors. We bring each other food. We dig each other out the snow banks.  If someone goes on a grocery run, we offer to pick up stuff for everyone.

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We get the chance to slow down and consider the importance of community, the importance of friendship, the importance of life.

Murder capitol of the world? Bah!

Just be careful when making tea in the tundra…

 

In the meantime, I’ll be dreaming of summer. (This is us too!)

            Photo by Sven Brogan.

 

 

December (a sonnet)

 

Snow Witch Perfume Oil Body Fragrance Roll On Bottle Winter Berry Pine Scent #LandofAahs

We welcome in the season’s dazzling whites

Snow falls like polished pearls upon the land,

When days are short and oh so long the nights

Jack Frost gives warnings with his icy hand.

White faeries dance upon the frozen pond

Their ballerina footsteps soft as lace

The Snow Queen with her mirror now makes a bond

a lonely wish that binds the human race.

The world, now shrouded in December’s mist

With sun no hope, its rays like shards of snow.

But in the velvet blackness we are kissed

by silver guidance from the moon’s bright glow.

 

Draw in the energy of this night, and send it up to the Moon that shines so bright. Embrace the magic of the season and in everything you do, let love be the reason.

On this December’s night begin your sleep

Of  dreams fulfilling all desires deep.

Frost, Snow, Sicle and Red by oberdarts62  ... ( white )... XL Picture !!

 

Lucia and Lussi: Celebrating the Darkness and the Light

 

Lucia 1

Today, December 13, marks the well known festival of Saint Lucia. But it is also a celebration for her lesser known counterpart, the witch Lussi. This is a magical time of delicious darkness as we wait for the Winter Solstice. Fairies, elves and all sorts of supernatural beings are said to be out and about on their Wild Hunt.

The Christian feast day of Saint Lucia is celebrated with songs, a procession, and a young girl being selected to play the role of Lucia. This girl wears a white robe with a red sash, and a crown of lingonberry greens with seven candles.

(A strategic balancing act! No fires reported so far.)

SantaLucia

Originating in Sweden, these processions are now conducted in Finland, Denmark and Norway. (And sometimes the US and Canada.)  In these cold and bleak nights before the Solstice, the vibrant figure of Lucia wearing a wreath of candles is a great reminder that the sun will soon be returning.

The chosen Lucia is at the center of a procession of girls, all clothed in white robes with red sashes as symbols of purity. They sing hymns and carry special cakes  (called lussekatter.)  However, the fairies and elves are also out on their Wild Hunt    (called Oskoreia.)  Traditions holds that if during the procession the girls hear the sound of the Wild Hunt behind them, they should toss one of the cakes over their shoulder to appease the elves.

lucia 5

Who was the real Santa Lucia? Ironically, she did not start out as a Swede. She was originally Sicilian. The story goes that Lucia was helping Christians hiding in the catacombs by bringing them food and water while they dodged persecution from the evil ruling empire. Lucia, always a resourceful girl, put candles on her head to light her way and was thus able to hold more food in her hands.

Lucia was martyred for her Christian activities in 304 CE.  Legend has it they attempted to burn her on a pyre, but she remained alive. A Roman soldier then tried to kill her by slicing her throat. No luck. Stubborn Lucia did not die until she was given the Christian sacrament of Extreme Unction.

She became a very popular saint, and by the 6th century her feast day was honored in Anglo-Saxon England. Gradually she was acknowledged in Northern Europe, although the first Lucia candle processions were not recorded until the 19th century.

However, as with many legends, there is another, darker side to the story! Enter the witch Lussi.

lussi 3

Who is Lussi?  A Nordic sorceress, close in parallel to the Germanic goddess Holle or Perchta.  Not much is known about her, but she is said to be a powerful figure. She is the initiator of the Oskoreia and rides through the air with  Odin and their followers – a troupe of wandering elves, fairies, nymphs and the like. They are called the Lussiferda, a band of trouble-making nuisances, out on a Wild Hunt intended to cause chaos and frighten humans.

wild hunt

December 13 is called Lussinatta or Lussi Night, a time to honor and fear her.

If you happen to see Lussi and her elven group, beware!  Any human who encounters the Wild Hunt might be abducted to the Underworld. It is also believed that people’s spirits can be pulled away during their sleep to join the cavalcade.  (So be very conscious of your dreams tonight. You might want to skip sleep altogether… More on that later.)

During the long nights between Lussinatta and Yule, trolls, daemons and the spirits of the dead are thought to be swirling about outside, enjoying the darkness. They are particularly active on Lussi Night.  Naughty children are advised to hide away.  According  to some traditions, Lussi herself can come down through the chimney and abduct children who have been bad.

 

Lussi 2

(Seems to me Lussi might be in kahoots with Krampus and Old Saint Nick…)

But adults should beware too.  Lussi is particularly sensitive to all those dull and time consuming chores that must be done before Yule. You know — gathering wood for the fire, stocking the larder, salting the meat and making jam…  If you (lazy human!) have not completed your winter tasks, you just may be abducted, along with your nasty children!

Some people do not want to take that chance, even in their dreams!

In a tradition called Lussevaka, folks would stay awake all through the long Lussi Night in order to guard themselves and their households against abductions.  However, in the 21st century, Lussevaka has apparently taken on a different form.  It’s called partying till the break of dawn!

If you don’t make it through the entire night, it still might be fun to stay up extra late tonight, light a few candles and be on watch for Lussi and her band of fairies.

Whether you choose the reverent road of singing hymns for Saint Lucia, or the decadent road of partying all night in hopes of seeing the Wild Hunt, have a jolly and elegant season as we wait for the return of the sun.

yule

 

 

 

 

Happy Imbolc

 

february-flowers

Although they are still mired in winter snow, the flowers long to speak out. As Imbolc dawns, they tilt their heads forward, eager to spread their scent across the land.  The goddess Brigid blesses all and leads us to the purity of spring.  As winter slowly breaks, Brigid will be reunited with her lover the Sun King.

Imbolc

‘Lara’s Theme’ from the movie ‘Dr. Zhivago’ seems to me the perfect song for Imbolc. Lovers Yuri and Lara are separated in the frigid winter of the Russian revolution. Much like Brigid and the Sun King, they wait for a time they will be reunited. Yuri, who is a poet as well as a doctor, writes this letter to Lara:

“Somewhere. my love, there will be songs to sing. Although the snow covers the hope of spring. Someday, we’ll meet again my love. Someday, whenever the spring breaks through. You’ll come to me, out of the long ago. Warm as the wind, soft as the kiss of snow.”

Based on the 1957 novel by  Boris Pasternak,  ‘Dr. Zhivago’ was made into a movie in 1965. It starred Omar Sharif and Julie Christie. If you have not yet seen this gem, I highly recommend it! It is the very embodiment of love, longing and political servitude.  (Not to mention waiting for the spring thaw!)

zhivago

The song is performed here by Andre Rieu. Hope you like it!  Have a magical Imbolc.

 

 

 

In The Bleak Midwinter

 

winter-pd

Today for your listening entertainment, I give you ‘In the Bleak Midwinter’ performed by the fabulous Mediaeval Baebes.  Lyrics for this song were taken from a 19th century poem by Christina Rossetti. Music is by Gustav Holst.

Here in the Midwestern U.S.A. we remain buried in snow and ice, so this song is particularly appropriate for me!  Hope you are warm and safe wherever you are.