Winter solstice. It’s the shortest day of the year here in the northern hemisphere. And it marks the beginning of winter which is so often dreaded here in the north. But, on the bright side, the days now grow longer. Yay! I hate short days.
Winter solstice always reminds me of a very special place in Ireland. A place of ancient, pagan rituals. A place that captured my imagination and my ancient spirit. A place called Newgrange.
Newgrange is one of those magical, mystical sites. It’s not as touristed as Stonehenge or the Great Pyramids of Giza in Egypt. In fact, many people who travel to Ireland don’t visit this ancient site which I think is unfortunate. They focus on the Cliffs of Moher, the Blarney Stone, the Guinness Storehouse and the Ring of Kerry. But, for me, this is where ancient Ireland comes alive, so I always recommend it. It’s that memorable.
Located in the Brú na Bóinne, or Boyne River Valley, Newgrange is one of 3 ancient passage tombs, Knowth and Dowth being the other 2. Newgrange is really more of an ancient temple having astrological, spiritual, religious and ceremonial importance. And, it’s the most visited.
The first time I visited this area, I didn’t really know what to expect. I went to the visitor center, bought my ticket for Newgrange (you can also visit Knowth), and got on the bus. Once out to the site of Newgrange, I’m pretty sure my mouth dropped as I looked up the hill – round structure, white stones gleaming in the sunlight with it’s grass covered “roof”. I joined the tour as we walked up the hillside close to the entrance. As my guide painted a picture of the ancient people who lived here 5000 years ago, I tried to imagine their lives. It’s not always easy as we are so accustomed to our modern-day comforts. But, in so many ways these ancient people were much more advanced and knew so much more about living in harmony with nature than we do today. And that became evident as we entered into the temple mound.
I entered the doorway with it’s window box cut out above. The small group traveled down the narrow passage way that ended in a small round room. Our guide told of the stone that laid above us, stone on top of stone, forming a cone, narrowing as it got higher. She spoke of theories about the room’s usage. There was never any evidence of bones so it was not a burial tomb. There was no evidence of every day life. So, the scientists surmised that it was used for ceremonies and spiritual reasons with one very important ritual. This is the one that takes place on the shortest day of the year – Winter Solstice. And so, she turned out the lights that were inside the temple and recreated sunrise on Winter Solstice morning. I watched in awe as the light began to fill the chamber, coming in through the window box above the doorway. The light slowly crept into the chamber until the entire area inside was bathed in “sunlight”. Jaw – dropped – to – floor! I thought of those ancient people who had built this (and without all our modern-day machinery). How they had figured out where the sun was on this particular morning. How they were so much more at one with nature than we are today.
When my parents accompanied me to Ireland a year later, guess where I took them? Yup, to Newgrange. I wanted them to see this site that I thought was one of coolest things I had ever seen. Aedín, my Irish friend, went with us as she hadn’t been there in many years. To this day, it’s one of my favorite places in Ireland. I feel the spirit of these pre-Celtic people – see their intelligence, their wisdom, their love and respect of nature.
So, as you bitch about how short the days are – the lack of daylight as you head to work and head back home in the evenings – think about this. Think about these ancient people who figured all this shit out. I mean, how cool is this??!! Think about spending some time in nature this Winter Solstice and this Christmas season. It’s a time of giving, of love. Give back to nature – be kind to nature – love nature.