Today marks the Winter Solstice , nowhere here in Ireland will this moment be marks more than at Newgrange the perfect locations to gain a little understanding as to how our European ancestors both recorded and celebrated the movement of the sun and the objects of universe they lived in.
Today is the shortest day of the year, the day when at Newgrange the rising sun can be seen to travel all the way into the passage tomb at the center of the monument.
Newgrange – Winter Solstice
Sunrise at NewgrangeNewgrange is best known for the illumination of its passage and chamber by the Winter Solstice sun. Above the entrance to the passage of the mound there is a opening called a roof-box. On mornings around the winter solstice a beam of light penetrates the roof-box and travels up the 19 metre passage and into the chamber. As the sun rises higher, the beam widens so that the whole chamber is dramatically illuminated.
Access to the chamber on the Solstice mornings is decided by a lottery that takes place at the end of September each year. All are welcome to gather outside the entrance to the Newgrange mound on each of the mornings from December 18th to December 23rd inclusive, sunrise is at 8.58am. Access via the Brú na Bóinne Visitor Centre or directly to the actual Newgrange monument.
The images posted here were taken this time last year at New-grange ……
Newgrange a Gallery
Ardgroom Stone Circle, County Cork, Ireland
The Ardgroomon stone circle is located on the Beautiful Beara Peninsula, county cork. It has to be one of the most magical of all the Irish stone circle, it also has the best of locations and views, sitting about the Atlantic ocean. There is something so exciting and mysterious about visiting a stone circle. The Ardgroomon circle is located in an area were there is an abundance of these historic sites, as well as wedge tombs, ring forts, boulder burials and fulachta fiadhs.
As well as being used for the Solar Spring and summer Equinox’s along with the Summer and Winter Solstice, many of these stone circles would also log the Movement of the Moon, Planets and Stars as during the year they changed their positions along the horizon. The standing stones in a stone circle would have in combination with a feature on local hill sides, have been lined up with astronomical objects(Sun, moon, planets and Stars). This would have given an almost daily measurement for months of the year.
The reason that ancient peoples needed to log the movement of the heavens was mainly for practical reasons such as farming, they needed to know when to sow seeds, bring cattle down from the mountains and bring in the crops, also they needed to know how long their store of food had to last before the new growing season started, no imports in those days.
This week we will all experience the Winter Solstice, the moment that the amount of available Sun light has reached its lowest amount each day. From the 21st of December on the amount of day-light will start to slowly increase again, you could say that this moment marks the tree new year in the solar calendar !
The solstice may have been a special moment of the annual cycle for some cultures even during neolithic times. Astronomical events were often used to guide activities such as the mating of animals, the sowing of crops and the monitoring of winter reserves of food. Many cultural mythologies and traditions are derived from this. This is attested by physical remains in the layouts of late Neolithic and Bronze Age archaeological sites, such as Stonehenge in England and Newgrange in Ireland.
I want to mark this week by sharing some of the great Pagan monuments and sites I have visited both in the UK and here in Ireland, To the Pagan people of the past this week was a very special one, it marked the moment of new birth. It is for moments like these that Pagan people assembled their standing stones and stone circles.
Today I have posted and image of (Castlerigg stone circle,Keswick in Cumbria, North West England), this stone circle is one of the best preserved in Europe and located just north of the lake district, you can seen many of Cumbria’s great mountains in the background.
This stone circle would not only have been used to record the moments of the Winter Solstice but likely all the the events both in the (Sun’s the Moon’s and the stars) calendar of movements.
Here are some great facts about the Castlerigg stone circle :
The stones are of a local metamorphic slate, set in a flattened circle, measuring 32.6 m (107 ft) at its widest and 29.5 m (97 ft) at its narrowest. The heaviest stone has been estimated to weigh around 16 tons and the tallest stone measures approximately 2.3m high. There is a 3.3m wide gap in its northern edge, which may have been an entrance. Within the circle, abutting its eastern quadrant, is a roughly rectangular setting of a further 10 stones. The circle was probably constructed around 3200 BC (Late Neolithic/Early Bronze-Age), making it one of the earliest stone circles in Britain and possibly in Europe. It is important to archaeoastronomers who have noted that the sunrise during the Autumn equinox appears over the top of Threlkeld Knott, a hill 3.5 km to the east. Some stones in the circle have been aligned with the midwinter sunrise and various lunar positions.
There is a tradition that it is impossible to count the number of stones within Castlerigg; every attempt will result in a different answer. This tradition, however, may not be far from the truth. Due to erosion of the soil around the stones, caused by the large number of visitors to the monument, several smaller stones have ‘appeared’ next to some of the larger stones. Because these stones are so small, they are likely to have been packing stones used to support the larger stones when the circle was constructed and would originally have been buried. Differences in opinion as to the exact number of stones within Castlerigg are usually down to whether the observer counts these small packing stones, or not; some count 38 and others, 42. The ‘official’ number of stones, as represented on the National Trust information board at the monument, is 40.
In the early 20th century, a single outlying stone was erected by a farmer approximately 90m to the south west of Castlerigg. This stone has many linear ‘scars’ along its side from being repeatedly struck by a plough, suggesting that it was once buried below the surface and also why the farmer dug it up. It is not possible to say whether this stone was originally part of the circle, or just a naturally deposited boulder.
F: Géranium Herbe à Robert
Geranium robertianum grows spontaneous and abundantly in many gardens. Some people keep wondering about its edibility, since there is not much to be found about it in books on edible wild plants. Its less than appealing taste seems to be at least partly responsible for its absence in culinary creations. In survival situations, where one would need to live on what’s available, this plant could be a real asset, since it is rich in essential nutrients such as calcium, iron, magnesium, potassium, vitamins A, C, etc. It is also rich in the element germanium, which has antioxidant activity, helps to strengthen the immune system and is essential to providing energy and oxygen to the cells.
Poulnabrone Dolmen and Portal Tomb is one of the most Dramatic megalithic sites in Ireland, it has superb sculptured form and is easily access from the road.
During the summer months it must be one of the most visited dolmens in the country. The day I visited and took these pictures it was overcast and grey, so there was less visitors than I can imagine at other times. When the site was excavated in 1986 they found some human remains some 16 adults and children plus some of their artifacts, together they dated the tomb to around 3600 B C.
The entrance some 2 meters high faces north, The capstone is tilted at the usual angle for a Doland of this type, it measures about 3 1/2 metres long and some 2 metres wide.
The name Poulnabrone means ‘ the hole of the sorrows’ There are many other interesting sites near poulnabrone including the Wedge tomb at Gleninsheen and Baur South and the Stone Fort at Caherconnell.
Situated on Karst limestone, in a field east of the Ballyvaughan – Corrofin Road the Poulnabrone Dolmen is one of Irelands more accessable megalithic structures.
Often one sees sap coming out of an old tree, usually where it is healing up, but usually these “bleeding” areas heal up quite quickly. Recently I came across a most remarkable yew tree when I visited the ancient village of Nevern in Pembrokeshire. It has a 6th century church (St Brynach’s Church) and in the churchyard there are a number of ancient yew trees (Taxus baccata). One of these yews near to the gate is called the “Bleeding Yew” which is about 700 years old and here are some photos I took of it. It has a blood-red sap running out of it which has the consistency of blood – though it dries pink rather than brown. I dipped my finger in it and there wasn’t any distinctive smell or stain, but as people say that most parts of the yew tree are poisonous, I didn’t taste it.
There are many myths about why the Nevern yew tree bleeds: some say that as Jesus was crucified on a cross it is bleeding in sympathy and thoers say that it is reflective of the tree of Life in the Garden of Eden. But that wouldn’t explain why this yew tree in particular is bleeding. One myth says that a monk was hanged on this tree for a crime of which he was innocent and the tree is protesting his innocence. Some say, more politically, that it won’t stop bleeding until there is a Welsh Prince installed at Nevern or even that it will bleed until world peace is achieved.
The church at Nevern is well worth a visit for the bleeding yew, but also because the church has some stone carvings which are over a thousand years old, such as the “Braided Cross Stone” (pictured here) which, like the bleeding yew, has been ascribed many meanings with two cords apparently being woven together to make the cross. There is an even older carving, the Maglocunus stone, which throws light on the version of ancient Celtic once used in these parts of Wales, called Ogham. This stone wasn’t preserved for itself standing vertically but was incorporated horizontally into the church as a windowsill.
In those early moment as I awake
Visions of warm and gentle golden seas
a cool morning breeze.
Fading images of a island I do not know
Draining images of islands on which I want mind to stand.
An island that constantly haunts my dreams
particularly when reality falls apart at the seams.
An island in the spinning – turning sun.
An Island I long to understand
yet in the morning how far away its realty seems.
Can we only grasp life in our dreams
it slips through our fingers at the light of dawn.
you fade away and now are gone.
I walk along this beach
hot melted glass and cool flowing gasses meet.
Come tonight when I watch the setting of the sun
and wonder if on my Island of dreams, again a clear vision will come?
Today’s post is about as far away from wild Landscapes and attractive views as you could wish for 🙂 , I can fully understand if this post is not for everyone but I hope at least you find it an interesting reflection of social beliefs and traditions from our some what dark European past ….
Earlier this month (May 2017) while visiting the great English seaside town of Whitby, with it great Museum, I came across an item that I had never heard of or seen before. Sitting in a glass cabinet in the beliefs and local traditions area was the very old and grey hand, from a long dead man, a man who would have lived locally in the town but at some point in his life come across the misfortune of being found guilty of a crime for which he would have been hanged.
The hand was described as “The hand of Glory” and in the early 19th century it would have been very much a price possession as it was believed that it offered great power, when using it according to old European beliefs along with a candle made of the fat from a malefactor who died on the gallows, lighted, and placed (as if in a candlestick) in the Hand of Glory, which comes from the same man as the fat in the candle, it then would render motionless all persons to whom it was presented.
The second of the Ingoldsby Legends (a collection of myths, legends, ghost stories and poetry written supposedly by Thomas Ingoldsby of Tappington Manor), “The Hand of Glory, or, The Nurse’s Story”, describes the making and use of a Hand of Glory. The first lines are:
Now open, lock!
To the Dead Man’s knock!
Fly, bolt, and bar, and band!
Nor move, nor swerve,
Joint, muscle, or nerve,
At the spell of the Dead Man’s hand!
Sleep, all who sleep! — Wake, all who wake!
But be as the dead for the Dead Man’s sake!
Like many people, I fine absolutely fascinating these old and somewhat dark traditions, here is a full description of this ones history and its reported uses ….
The Hand of Glory – History of the term
Etymologist Walter Skeat reports that, while folklore has long attributed mystical powers to a dead man’s hand, the specific phrase “Hand of Glory” is in fact a folk etymology: it derives from the French main de gloire, a corruption of mandragore, which is to say mandrake.Skeat writes, “The identification of the hand of glory with the mandrake is clinched by the statement in Cockayne’s Leechdoms, i. 245, that the mandrake “shineth by night altogether like a lamp”. Cockayne in turn is quoting Pseudo-Apuleius, in a translation of a Saxon manuscript of his Herbarium.
According to old European beliefs, a candle made of the fat from a malefactor who died on the gallows, lighted, and placed (as if in a candlestick) in the Hand of Glory, which comes from the same man as the fat in the candle, this would render motionless all persons to whom it was presented. The method for holding the candle is sketched in Petit Albert. The candle could be put out only with milk. In another version, the hair of the dead man is used as a wick, and the candle would give light only to the holder. The Hand of Glory also purportedly had the power to unlock any door it came across. The method of making a Hand of Glory is described in Petit Albert, and in the Compendium Maleficarum.
The 1722 Petit Albert describes in detail how to make a Hand of Glory, as cited from him by Grillot De Givry:
Take the right or left hand of a felon who is hanging from a gibbet beside a highway; wrap it in part of a funeral pall and so wrapped squeeze it well. Then put it into an earthenware vessel with zimat, nitre, salt and long peppers, the whole well powdered. Leave it in this vessel for a fortnight, then take it out and expose it to full sunlight during the dog-days until it becomes quite dry. If the sun is not strong enough put it in an oven with fern and vervain. Next make a kind of candle from the fat of a gibbeted felon, virgin wax, sesame, and ponie, and use the Hand of Glory as a candlestick to hold this candle when lighted, and then those in every place into which you go with this baneful instrument shall remain motionless
De Givry points out the difficulties with the meaning of the words zimat and ponie, saying it is likely “ponie” means horse-dung. De Givry is expressly using the 1722 edition, where the phrase is, according to John Livingston Lowes “du Sisame et de la Ponie” and de Givry notes that the meaning of “ponie” as “horse dung” is entirely unknown “to us”, but that in local Lower Normandy dialect, it has that meaning. His reason for regarding this interpretation as “more than probable” is that horse-dung is “very combustible, when dry”.
In the French 1752 edition (called Nouvelle Édition, corrigée & augmentée., i.e., “New Edition, corrected and augmented”), however, this reads as “..du sisame de Laponie..”, that is, in Francis Grose’s translation from 1787, “sisame of Lapland”, or Lapland sesame. This interpretation can be found many places on the Internet, and even in books published at university presses. Two books, one by Cora Daniels, another by Montague Summers, perpetuate the Lapland sesame myth, while being uncertain whether zimat should mean verdigris or the Arabian sulphate of iron.
The Petit Albert also provides a way to shield a house from the effects of the Hand of Glory:
The Hand of Glory would become ineffective, and thieves would not be able to utilize it, if you were to rub the threshold or other parts of the house by which they may enter with an unguent composed of the gall of a black cat, the fat of a white hen, and the blood of the screech-owl; this substance must be compounded during the dog-days
The hand of glory on display at Whitby Museum
An actual Hand of Glory is kept at the Whitby Museum in North Yorkshire, England, together with a text published in a book from 1823. In this manuscript text, the way to make the Hand of Glory is as follows:
It must be cut from the body of a criminal on the gibbet; pickled in salt, and the urine of man, woman, dog, horse and mare; smoked with herbs and hay for a month; hung on an oak tree for three nights running, then laid at a crossroads, then hung on a church door for one night while the maker keeps watch in the porch-“and if it be that no fear hath driven you forth from the porch…then the hand be true won, and it be yours”
“God spreads the heavens above us like great wings
And gives a little round of deeds and days,
And then come the wrecked angels and set snares,
And bait them with light hopes and heavy dreams,
Until the heart is puffed with pride and goes
Half shuddering and half joyous from God’s peace;
And it was some wrecked angel, blind with tears,
Who flattered Edane’s heart with merry words.
Come, faeries, take me out of this dull house!
Let me have all the freedom I have lost;
Work when I will and idle when I will!
Faeries, come take me out of this dull world,
For I would ride with you upon the wind,
Run on the top of the dishevelled tide,
And dance upon the mountains like a flame.
I would take the world
And break it into pieces in my hands
To see you smile watching it crumble away.
Once a fly dancing in a beam of the sun,
Or the light wind blowing out of the dawn,
Could fill your heart with dreams none other knew,
But now the indissoluble sacrament
Has mixed your heart that was most proud and cold
With my warm heart for ever; the sun and moon
Must fade and heaven be rolled up like a scroll
But your white spirit still walk by my spirit.
When winter sleep is abroad my hair grows thin,
My feet unsteady. When the leaves awaken
My mother carries me in her golden arms;
I’ll soon put on my womanhood and marry
The spirits of wood and water, but who can tell
When I was born for the first time?
The wind blows out of the gates of the day,
The wind blows over the lonely of heart,
And the lonely of heart is withered away;
While the faeries dance in a place apart,
Shaking their milk-white feet in a ring,
Tossing their milk-white arms in the air;
For they hear the wind laugh and murmur and sing
Of a land where even the old are fair,
And even the wise are merry of tongue;
But I heard a reed of Coolaney say–
When the wind has laughed and murmured and sung,
The lonely of heart is withered away.”
― W.B. Yeats, The Land of Heart’s Desire