Friday, July 30, 2004

mounds abound

The most spectacular thing I've seen in Ireland so far may not be the last couple of days when the sun shone all day but a moving visit to the ancient site of Newgrange. Along the placid River Boyne in the fertile Boyne Valley is a stretch of ancient sites dating as far back as 5,000 years ago. The largest of these neolithic passage graves are Dowth, Knowth, and Newgrange. To give you a perspective of how old these structures are, they say that Newgrange had already been finished and in use for 500 years before they started building pyramids in Egypt and it had been standing for a thousand years before they started work on Stonehenge in England. As the blue shuttle bus drives up the hill you begin to see a big big mound with a white wall of rocks ringing the front end of the structure. There is a sense of a massive presence nearby and you are inexplicably drawn to it. At the mouth of the entrance lies the huge Threshold Stone which is carved with spiral and diamond shapes. The spirals are the most striking and the pattern is repeated many times inside the chambers of the mound. Above the entrance is another huge stone slab which is the roof box which divides the entrance into a top and bottom half. This is important because it is through the top half where the sun beam enters the passage way on December 21, the shortest day of the year and works its way up the narrow passage way all the way to the farthest inner chamber and lingers for a few minutes on the back wall and then withdraws. The guide says that it is an awesome sight to witness because the darkness of the tomb is slowly pierced by sunlight until the whole room seems to glow for those precious minutes and then it gets dark again. I would think that those ancient priests brought in the remains of the dead through the bottom half of the entrance during other times of the year and waited until that day in winter when the Sun God would come in and take the spirits of the dead with it and exit through the top entrance. It must have been a glorious sight during a glorious day. Standing in the total darkness in the center of the tomb I actually felt a sense of well-being approaching a joyous calm. I found it more powerful than the experiences of going into the dark Kivas of the Anasazi of Chaco Canyon in New Mexico or going into the temple of the Oracle of Delphi in Greece. As we walked away from Newgrange I felt the giddyness fading but I'm sure this resonance will last a lifetime.