A Magical Last Day in Ireland
Can you imagine looking up at dusk and seeing your sacred sites at the top of the hill glowing after the sun had set? What a powerful way of marking the presence of the divine in all you do. That’s how the ancient site of Loughcrew looked around 6000 BCE.
I had a magical last day in Ireland!
All I can say is wow!!
I spent most of the day visiting Loughcrew, and discovered an ancient sacred landscape that still holds a lot of power today. According to my guide, Loughcrew is the oldest megalithic sacred landscape in Ireland. It’s even older than Newgrange, which many of you will have heard of. My in-depth tour of this site brought many aha’s and was itself a sacred experience.
Loughcrew consists of five ancient cairns as well as a number of single stones. The Gaelic word cairn means “mound of stone.” These particular cairns were more than mounds — they were ancient cruciform passage structures (not tombs, as you will read if you start googling them). Together, these cairns were used to celebrate the entire wheel of the year.
Two of the cairns celebrated the cross-quarter holidays. One orients toward Imbolc (the beginning of Spring/February) and Samhain (the beginning of Winter/November). Samhain is the origin of today’s Halloween celebrations. Another cairn orients toward Beltane (the beginning of Summer/May — think May Day) and Lughnasadh (the beginning of Autumn/August).
The other three cairns orient toward the waxing and waning of the sunlight and length of days during the year (equinoxes and solstices). All five cairns were built in such a way that the sun enters through the passageway and illumines the interior, which was filled with beautifully carved stones.
The eight festivals associated with these days were all fire festivals, as well as festivals focused on the (sun)light.
My guide talked about how at each season, the people would bring the first fruits and place them in the side chambers. Then, on the actual day, the sun would bless the offerings when it illuminated all three chambers.
Rings of fire and light creating community and connection
At the center of the top of the hill at Loughcrew is a huge cairn with the remains of an ancient fire pit on top. We had a clear day, and you could literally see the mountains on the north, east, south, and west coasts of Ireland.
From that place any fire could be seen all over Ireland. If the people on the next hills lit the fires when they saw this one being lit, there would be a ring of fire and light throughout the entire island of Ireland at each of the eight holidays. It was a powerful way to communicate and also to celebrate together.
This cairn at the peak of the hill is orients to the Equinox. The sun comes in and illumines the passageway for several days before and after each one (March and September). On the actual date itself, it also illuminates the two side chambers. What’s more: in ancient times, these cairns were covered with quartz, which meant that they glowed at night.
This was a sacred landscape. In addition to the cairns for each of these special dates marking the wheel of the solar year, there are also still stones in place marking various full moons (and possibly new moons).
For a farming people (the early Irish came from Anatolia and ancient Scythia), having a reliable way to mark the seasons, as well as a unified way to celebrate them would have been vitally important.
I have traveled to Maes Howe in Scotland and Newgrange in Ireland, both of which are winter solstice sacred sites. In the past, historians have mis-named all of these as rock tombs. As I’ve learned from the local people, and people who have studied these for years, they were not tombs at all (although they may have been used for burying people in later times). Rather, they were used for ritual and worship purposes.
For example, milk or yogurt or cheese would be brought at Imbolc (the birthing season for humans and lambs alike). At Lughnasadh (the beginning of Autumn, and the first harvest festival of the year), they would bring barley and the first wheat.
But that’s not all.
While the cairns celebrate the solar year, there are also various single stones that celebrate the lunar year. My guide called one of these stones the “grandmother” stone.
Here is a picture of it. As you can see, it is pointed toward a dip in the hills and has a specific full moon orientation. It had a very strong power in a place that already felt really powerful. I can see why it’s called the grandmother stone.
I am continually amazed at the technology these very ancient peoples had. They created structures that still stand if they haven’t been messed with by later generations. More than that, almost 8000 years later, they still “work,” in the sense that the astronomical alignments were so precise that the sun continues to come in to them on the exact astronomical day of these important holidays.
I am also amazed at how well these structures served the ancient farming peoples who lived so close to the land. There are remains of such cairns all over Ireland, many of which haven’t been excavated. They were always placed strategically. For example, when the fire was lit at Loughcrew there would be a sacred site on the next hills within eye range. The people at those sites would then light their fires, and so on throughout the land. This served to unify people in their sacred and worship experiences.
There is so much more to talk about this experience. I will share more of what I learned at each of the cross-quarter holidays. I will also talk about the energy lines (kind of like meridians) which indicated the placement of these sacred landscapes. A hint: there are webs of energy lines connecting sacred landscapes like these all over the world.
Reclaiming Our Ancient Roots
And another hint: I met an actor/filmmaker/director who is researching these for a movie. Our conversation was hugely enlightening and bears out what I’ve been observing and studying for the past 20+ years myself. I will share more in a future blog. What’s coming is really exciting for all of us as we reclaim our ancient roots, and learn from the wisdom of these ancient peoples.
In the meantime, such landscapes help us to remember how important the land is for us as well. In this time of climate change, coming back to our roots is really important. We need to recover our reverence for the earth, as well as how we are provided for by the very way the seasons are structured.
Finding grounding and places of renewal in this time of great upheaval, change, and volatility is crucial. All of us need more connection across communities and space. We can learn much from the ways in which the ancients celebrated and connected — ways that were not top-down and divisive — but rather, ways that brought people together.