• Eimear Stassin

A Celtic Winter Solstice Slowing Down

Updated: Mar 13, 2020

Newgrange, Bru na Boinne, Meath, Ireland

There's something about the quality of the light; the crispness of sound and the smells of the woods at this time of year in the Northern Hemisphere. I feel this "somethingness" in the air that seems to take on a mystery of expectation or anticipation as we enter into the shortest day of the year.

The Winter Solstice.

The turning point...

When the Winter sun seemingly stands still in the sky. Taking a ~ p a u s e ~ in salute to this time of deep darkness.

My mind turns to Newgrange, the ancient stone monument, as I enter the woods beside our house this morning. I cross over the bridge over a little river and into the woods.

Bru Na Boinne is the Irish name for Newgrange. It means "the bend in the river Boyne". A UNESCO World Heritage Site in Ireland, the Celts believed that the river Boyne separated this world from the Otherworld. The Archeological monuments in this area around the Boyne were built on the Otherworld side of the river. I find this beautifully fascinating.

It's described as a passage tomb. A place where the rising winter solstice sun shines it's light along the narrow passageway and into the inner chamber that has remained intact and dry for over 5,000 years. The sun reaches this inner chamber for only a few days of the year over the winter solstice.

It's both ancient and strong.

Indigenous and wise.

Endlessly mysterious.

Perched on an elevated position overlooking the Boyne Valley.

I wrote this piece a number of years ago after vising Newgrange with my children. It feels as relevant today.

Following the guide we weave our way around the giant stone on it's side. The entrance to the monument. Adorned with the iconic Celtic spirals. The tri-spirals. Chiselled meticulously into the rock. Timeless. Telling a tale of those times living with and in Nature. An ancient graffiti.

We step inside. Small steps. It's very narrow. My children standing. I bend slightly. Rocks all around. Big. Smooth. Cool. Earthy smell.

It's cold in the passage. Surprisingly cold. A cool stillness that's been here for a long time. And it's dry. Very dry. An earthy dryness.

As I lower my head away from the big overhead stones, the passage ceiling, we are all silent. Enraptured by this sacred place. A few small steps more and we slowly emerge into more spaciousness. A room. An opening. Round. High. Stoney grandness.

I raise my head.


Straightening to a stand.

I feel tall and strong surrounded by my children.

Inside the chamber.

As much a womb as it is a tomb representing the full cycle of life and death as a grand gesture to all of nature and the cosmos.

I take a breath and the silence takes my breath away. I'm inhaling ancient air of an unscripted time where my imagination runs wild. With images of Gods and Goddesses holding sticks of fire walking and chanting around the outside perimeter in ritual and ceremony to Mother Earth, The Mother and the mystery of childbirth. The structure itself is like a pregnant belly where I imagine people of the time lying outside on her stargazing or admiring the sweeping views over the valley. Dreaming for a visionary perspective. Welcoming abundance, prosperity, life and death, the cycles of life.

I feel the absolute awe of this place and the presence of the people who built this and for whom this was built. I touch the stone to my left. It's cold. Very cold. Holding the secrets of time. For us, with all our seeming higher intelligence, to muse over.

That silence again flows through me. Like a spirited pause and for a moment, time stands still.

This passage that we have just walked. It's like a rite of passage that many have walked over the 5,000 years to hibernate in her darkness and wait for the solstice sunlight to rise and creep in slowly to her inner chamber touching the triple spiral symbolism for a few tantalising minutes, before retreating and going into darkness again for another year.

It's thought that those who had died were brought into the inner chamber. Their cremated ashes laid out on the smooth stones. Laid out for the light to penetrate the darkness and carry the spirit of the deceased away into the question; into the secret; into the mystery.

I believe it also represents birth - of ideas, creativity, visioning, dreaming and maybe even childbirth. When the sun shines his rays on the darkness, this sparks creativity and newness.

The monument, with its powerful alignment with the rising winter solstice sun, for me spotlights the polarities that we live by.

The yin and the yang.

The feminine and the masculine.

The light and the darkness.

The seen and the unseen.

The known and the unknown.

The hidden and the revealed.

Births, death and rebirth.

Beginnings, endings, cycles.

Today's Winter Solstice, representing the shortest day of the year in the Northern Hemisphere holds a message for us all. When the sun stands still, we're to pause and turn inwards.

So take a moment to honour today and these days by slowing down and pausing, even if it's just for a moment between in breath and out breath. In honour our ancestors who have gone before us. In honour of Her, Mother Nature, The Mother who is calling us to return to nature and our innate natures in whatever ways we can.

Light a candle, journal, welcome it all and walk with these polarities. They're all a part of who we are in this cycle of life. Notice what emerges for you.

"Fall back home into the rhythm of your being through stillness, solitude and silence." - John O'Donohue

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Thank for being here.


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