Winter is here. We, in the northern hemisphere, feel her enfold us. She is the Ice Queen. Cloaked in black frost, exhaling snowflakes in a great rush of crystal, she ushers us inside and bids us remember who we are. We, humans, are vulnerable to her whims; cannot control her, though, in our technological frenzy we arrogantly believe we can–right up until she pulls the plug.
Today we begin winter here on the Pacific coast. This is the shortest day and the longest night of the year. This morning, the sun did not rise until 8:05 am, and too soon will set at 4:16pm, leaving us with a mere 8 hours and 11 minutes of daylight.
But like the yin and yang, this darkling queen brings more to us than inclement weather. She brings the promise of lighter days. For solstice is a turning point. The climactic dark night ends with the birth of a new dawn, and from this time forward, days grow longer.
Winter Solstice is a Festival of Light, which many of us celebrate by decking our halls with lights and greenery, connecting with our spiritual selves through meditation, or gathering outside at sacred sites.
In the Valley of the Kings at Brú na Bóinne in Ancient Ireland, our Neolithic ancestors also celebrated the new dawn of Winter Solstice.
Brú na Bóinne translates to something like abode or palace of the river Boyne. It is the mythical home of the god, Dagda, his wife, Boann, and their son Oengus, the love god. They are of the faerie tribes, the Tuatha de Danaan. The stone walls are engraved with symbols we now consider Celtic, though this tomb was built well before the arrival of the Celts to Ireland.
Five thousand years ago, these ancient indigenous tribes built passage tombs from rock. One has been excavated and restored. Built with keen intelligence and divine insight, this stone temple, consists of a roof-box above a portal and leads down a nineteen-metre passageway into a cruciform chamber. It is capped with a corbel roof that seems to defy gravity. As the sun rises on Winter Solstice, its beams enter the roof-box, creep down the passageway, and finally illuminate the chamber.
Her builders were Neolithic farmers who understood the cycle of birth and death. And so, the tomb is much like the womb of the mother earth. For seventeen minutes on Winter Solstice, an elemental union occurs as the beaming light of the sun enters and impregnates the Earth. Gestation follows over the darkling winter months, and if all is well, new life bursts forth again in spring.This is the sacred dance of death and rebirth.
The Boyne Valley really is spectacular. I stood inside the stone chamber, while the guide simulated the experience. It’s one for your bucket list. But, if you can’t travel there, you can still read about Newgrange in detail and tour the tomb via virtual reality via Voices From the Dawn.