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
Today is Mid winters day or the Winter Solstice.
History and cultural significance
The solstice itself may have been a special moment of the annual cycle of the year even during neolithic times. Astronomical events, which during ancient times controlled the mating of animals, sowing of crops and metering of winter reserves between harvests, show how various cultural mythologies and traditions have arisen. This is attested by physical remains in the layouts of late Neolithic and Bronze Age archaeological sites, such as Stonehenge in Britain and Newgrange in Ireland. The primary axes of both of these monuments seem to have been carefully aligned on a sight-line pointing to the winter solstice sunrise (Newgrange) and the winter solstice sunset (Stonehenge). Significant in respect of Stonehenge is the fact that the Great Trilithon was erected outwards from the centre of the monument, i.e., its smooth flat face was turned towards the midwinter Sun.
The winter solstice may have been immensely important because communities were not certain of living through the winter, and had to be prepared during the previous nine months. Starvation was common during the first months of the winter, January to April (northern hemisphere) or July to October (southern hemisphere), also known as “the famine months”. In temperate climates, the midwinter festival was the last feast celebration, before deep winter began. Most cattle were slaughtered so they would not have to be fed during the winter, so it was almost the only time of year when a supply of fresh meat was available. The majority of wine and beer made during the year was finally fermented and ready for drinking at this time. The concentration of the observances were not always on the day commencing at midnight or at dawn, but the beginning of the pre-Romanized day, which falls on the previous eve.
Since the event is seen as the reversal of the Sun’s ebbing presence in the sky, concepts of the birth or rebirth of sun gods have been common and, in cultures using winter solstice based cyclic calendars, the year as reborn has been celebrated with regard to life-death-rebirth deities or new beginnings such as Hogmanay’s redding, a New Year cleaning tradition. Also reversal is yet another usual theme as in Saturnalia’s slave and master reversals.
CAILLEACH BHEUR : The Celtic Goddess of winter
CAILLEACH BHEUR : Scottish, Irish, Manx, Great Goddess in her Destroyer aspect; called “Veiled One”. Another name is Scota, from which Scotland comes. In parts of Britain she is the Goddess of Winter. She was an ancient Goddess of the pre-Celtic peoples of Ireland. She controlled the seasons and the weather; and was the goddess of earth and sky, moon and sun.
Saturn (Roman): Every December, the Romans threw a week-long celebration of debauchery and fun, called Saturnalia in honor of their agricultural god, Saturn. Roles were reversed, and slaves became the masters, at least temporarily. This is where the tradition of the Lord of Misrule originated
Alcyone (Greek): Alcyone is the Kingfisher goddess. She nests every winter for two weeks, and while she does, the wild seas become calm and peaceful.
Ameratasu (Japan): In feudal Japan, worshipers celebrated the return of Ameratasu, the sun goddess, who slept in a cold, remote cave. When the other gods woke her with a loud celebration, she looked out of the cave and saw an image of herself in a mirror. The other gods convinced her to emerge from her seclusion and return sunlight to the universe.
Baldur (Norse): Baldur is associated with the legend of the mistletoe. His mother, Frigga, honored Baldur and asked all of nature to promise not to harm him. Unfortunately, in her haste, Frigga overlooked the mistletoe plant, so Loki – the resident trickster – took advantage of the opportunity and fooled Baldur’s blind twin, Hodr, into killing him with a spear made of mistletoe. Baldur was later restored to life.
Bona Dea (Roman): This fertility goddess was worshiped in a secret temple on the Aventine hill in Rome, and only women were permitted to attend her rites. Her annual festival was held early in December.
Demeter (Greek): Through her daughter, Persephone, Demeter is linked strongly to the changing of the seasons and is often connected to the image of the Dark Mother in winter. When Persephone was abducted by Hades, Demeter’s grief caused the earth to die for six months, until her daughter’s return.
Dionysus (Greek): A festival called Brumalia was held every December in honor of Dionysus and his fermented grape wine. The event proved so popular that the Romans adopted it as well in their celebrations of Bacchus.
Holly King (British/Celtic): The Holly King is a figure found in British tales and folklore. He is similar to the Green Man, the archetype of the forest. In modern Pagan religion, the Holly King battles the Oak King for supremacy throughout the year. At the winter solstice, the Holly King is defeated.
Horus (Egyptian): Horus was one of the solar deities of the ancient Egyptians. He rose and set every day, and is often associated with Nut, the sky god. Horus later became connected with another sun god, Ra.
La Befana (Italian): This character from Italian folklore is similar to St. Nicholas, in that she flies around delivering candy to well-behaved children in early January. She is depicted as an old woman on a broomstick, wearing a black shawl.
Lord of Misrule (British): The custom of appointing a Lord of Misrule to preside over winter holiday festivities actually has its roots in antiquity, during the Roman week of Saturnalia.
Mithras (Roman): Mithras was celebrated as part of a mystery religion in ancient Rome. He was a god of the sun, who was born around the time of the winter solstice and then experienced a resurrection around the spring equinox.
Odin (Norse): In some legends, Odin bestowed gifts at Yuletide upon his people, riding a magical flying horse across the sky. This legend may have combined with that of St. Nicholas to create the modern Santa Claus.
Evergreens and holly (genus Ilex) are traditionally used to decorate during the holidays. Although many simply enjoy the plants for their fragrance and holiday colors, the meaning of these plants goes deeper for others, including pagans. Historically, pagans had — and still have — specific beliefs about the power and symbolism of both evergreens and holly, and some still use the plants as decor in accordance with those beliefs.
Evergreen — Always Green
Evergreens are loosely defined as plants that retain their foliage and remain green year-round. Usually, the term refers to coniferous trees — trees that have needles or needle-like foliage, but it can refer to any plant that stays green all winter long, including holly. Today, evergreens are valued for their practical uses — as windbreaks, hedges and for use as Christmas trees. Pagans used them for more spiritual reasons.
Pagan Meaning of Evergreen
In some countries, it was believed that evergreens would keep evil out of the home — evil spirits and ghosts, and evil in the form of illnesses. For this reason, evergreen boughs were often cut down and hung over doorways and inside the home. Pagans also believed that the green branches represented everlasting life. Druids used evergreen branches to decorate their temples for this very reason, according to History.com. The green of the branches helped people to get through the long winter by having hope in the warmth and food that would come in the spring.
Holly — Pretty and Prickly
vary widely in leaf shape and appearance. Although there are over 400 species (Ilex opaca is the scientific name of American holly), the most popular for use during the holidays are those that produce bright red berries, which historically were seen by pagans as masculine plants even though it is the female plants that produce the fruit. Holly plants are generally hardy in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 5 through 9, although this can vary by species. Most popular hollies are hardy in USDA zones 7 through 9.
Pagan Meaning of Holly
Holly has a more specific meaning for pagans. Historically, pagans believed that like evergreens, holly wards off evil spirits. They also believed that holly increased fertility. In addition to bringing in holly boughs to decorate the home and increase fertility, holly was also often planted outdoors around the house to keep out evil spirits.
The end of November and you would think that all the wildlife has vanished from the landscape , however you only need to take an early morning walk to realize that there are lots of wild creatures still around.
This morning on a walk through the hills near Kilmoganny, county Kilkenny, I was accompanied by this little Robin who hopped from tree to tree in front of me 🙂
Here is a little folklore about the Robin from an Irish point of view …….
If the soul and symbol of the old sun and the Oak King was the Wren, the Robin represented the new sun. The wren was said to hide in the Ivy, the Robin in the Holly. The Pagan Neolithic Festival of the birth of the new sun, symbolized by the Robin, was at the Winter Solstice (21st December). The Robin (the new sun) killed his father the Wren (the old sun) and that is how he got his red breast, ie, from the blood of his father. A Robin coming into a house was supposed to be a sign that someone was going to die there in the near future. Despite this association with death, the Robin was praised for being the only bird capable of singing all the notes of the musical scale. And furthermore, the Robin can sing for half an hour without repeating the melody, unlike the other birds.
Irish Standing stones : Carrigeen,
Carrigeen standing stone is among the best located stones in Ireland. It stands in a superb location at the top of the picturesque Nire valley from where there is magnificent panoramic views of the surrounding mountainous region. On the day this image was taken it was -2 degrees and the mountains had a thick covering of mist.
The stone stands some height, an impressive 2.5 meters and tapering to a sharp point. It stands solidly upright and is oriented in a WNW-ESE direction.
An interesting observation here, was when looking westwards, that the jagged crest of the stone seemed to align somewhat with the distant profile of the mountain ridge to the west. (see photo below). This may be just coincidental or was it of significance and could this jagged profile of the stone have survived through thousands of years?
Apart from this speculation, Carrigeen standing stone and its surroundings is a ‘must see’.