Shedding Light On A Winter Solstice

newgrange_ireland

Newgrange, Winter Solstice

There is something very special about today’s date. In the northern hemisphere December 21st is celebrated as the Winter Solstice, and although I am far from this event here in the southern hemisphere, I still feel drawn to celebrate its ancient meaning.

Nowhere is it celebrated more beautifully in my mind than at Newgrange in the Boyne Valley, a prehistoric Irish monument of Brú na Bóinne (The Palace or Mansion of the Boyne). The monument is associated with the Tuatha Dé Danaan, the People of the Goddess Danu, a race of super-natural beings who according to tradition ruled Ireland before the coming of the Celts and afterwards retreated into the fairy mounds and forts. The Irish name for Newgrange is Sí in Bhrú, the Fairy Mound of the Brú.

Newgrange 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 an 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.  This lovely poem by Mary Mills captures the event:

Winter Solstice at Newgrange

Dark retreats before
the calculated caress
of sun’s brightness.

Winter’s hand pulls back
from a small ancient chamber;
light intensifies.

For a few minutes,
brilliance scatters kisses
before light recedes.

The night must return,
and we can draw light into
dark times if we try.

Inevitably this leads me to reflect on the dark times in our own lives and how in the words of author, Thomas Moore, “every human life is made up of the light and the dark, the happy and the sad, the vital and the deadening. How you think about this rhythm of moods makes all the difference. ” Moore sees our dark times as a time to stand back from life, and to “incubate” the soul, to open up to “new and mysterious possibilities”. It was something our ancient Celtic ancestors understood in designing this beautiful lightshow that has been taking place at the same time and date for over 5,000 years. In doing so they have captured for all time the light of hope that can still shine brilliantly in our darkest hours.