Celtic Winter Solstice
Surprisinsgly, the Solstices were not as important to the ancient Irish as the major fire festivals or 'quarter days'; Lughnasadh (August 1); Beltane (May Day, May 1); Imbolc (February 1- Bridgit); and Samhain (November 1, Halloween), The Winter Solstice falls between two of these major fire festivals, Samhain (sow-an) or Halloween and Imbolc (Feb. 1)
Of the Solstices and Equinoxes, the Winter Solstice was the most important to the ancient Irish, since it marked the rebirth of the sun after the shortest day. What makes it clear just how important the Winter Solstice was is a prehistoric monument in Ireland called Newgrange located just about an hour north of Dublin, the capital city. This 5000 year old tomb pre-dates the pyramids at Giza and Stonehenge! (Read more about Newgrange here)
Click here to hear "A Winter Story" available as an MP3 download here (Track 1) or on the CD/DVD "Winter a Meditation" here.
While it seems best to leave the origins of Newgrange to the historians, there is no doubt that the ancient Irish considered this day important. It also marked "The Shortest Day" or "The Darkest Midnight" and was cause for celebration, since - once the shortest day has passed, it meant the journey toward Spring could begin.
Once a year, on the Winter Solstice, the tomb at Newgrange, which remains in darkness all year, fills with sunlight to reveal the beautiful Celtic spiral artwork on the stones. While it seems best to leave its origins to the historians, there is no doubt that the ancient Irish considered this day important. It also marked "The Shortest Day" or "The Darkest Midnight" and was cause for celebration, since - once the shortest day has passed, it meant the journey toward Spring could begin.
During these seasonal feasts, the veil between the worlds was thought to be lifted, the obstacles removed, the laws of space suspended, and communion with one's ancestors became a distinct possibility. They celebrated freedom from addiction to the purely visible, in the age-old premise of a life beyond this one, in which our ancestors are no further away than the next world. And that world itself being rather close by. These boundaries marked the new season, and allowed for movement between the worlds as lines along which the supernatural were thought to break through to the surface of existence.
(Photo: detail of spirials on stones at Newgrange, County Lough, Ireland)