The following pages are courtesy of the Paddynet
The Mythological Cycle is a collective term for those stories in ancient myths that describe the activities of the 'Otherworld' characters who are reputed to have landed in Ireland in pre-historic times.
According to the Lebor Gab?la, the Book of Invasions, a medieval monastic manuscript, among these invaders was a divine race known as the Tuatha D? Danann, who came to Ireland in obscure clouds, landing on a mountain in the west! From the same account we learn that these gods were capable of causing an eclipse which lasted for three days, and that they brought with them the Lia F?il or Stone of Destiny which cried out when touched by the rightful king, along with other magical gifts.
After their defeat by the Gaelic people, led by the Sons of Mil, the Lebor Gab?la gives no further details of the Tuatha except to say that an agreement was reached between them that the Gaelic people would live on the upper half of the ground and that the Tuatha would live in the ancient burrows and cairns underground. Hence the Fairy Forts and Hills, otherwise known as the S?dhe.
The Paps of Anu
Tuatha D? Danann means 'the people of the goddess Danu'. Danu was the ancestral mother of the Irish Celts, but probably existed in an earlier form on the island as Anu, the Universal Mother . The Tuatha, as they are more commonly called, are described as a fair-skinned people, skilled in crafts and magical arts. Scholars now believe that when the Celts arrived in Ireland much later, bringing their own mythical and religious ideas with them, they subsumed the belief systems of the Tuatha within their own. The many megalithic monuments that dotted the landscape would have been so impressive that they probably associated such phenomena and accompanying ritual with their own mystical pantheistic deities. So it may be that the megalithic tombs of Ireland retained their mystical and mythological import into Christian times; and even up until the nineteenth century most Irish regarded these monuments as gateways to the 'Otherworld'. The tales in the Mythological Cycle tell of a time when people appeared to have little fear of death, for their teaching held that the soul did not die, but passed into another place: the 'Otherworld' known variously as T?r inna mBeo (Land of the Living) and T?r na n?g (Land of Youth). This is described as a blissful place where flowers are always in bloom, men and women always beautiful, food and drink plentiful, and youth and health assured. This is the Golden Orchard of European Myth. Heaven even! The megalithic site at Brugh na B?inne known as Newgrange, is most associated in mythology with the god Aonghus, a son of the father of the gods of the Tuatha: the Dagda. Aonghus was called Mac ?g , Son of the Young. This Irish Eros was an eternally youthful exponent of love and beauty. Like his father, he had a harp, but it was of gold, not oak, as the Dagda's was; and so sweet was its music that no one could hear and not follow it. His kisses became doves which hovered invisibly over the young men and maidens of Erin, whispering thoughts of love in their ears. The legends of Aonghus's birth, and of his eventual resting place, are both entwined with Newgrange.
The Birth of Aonghus
The story goes that the first inhabitants of Brugh na B?inne were the goddess B?inn and her 'husband' Nuada Nechtan, otherwise known as Elcmar, 'the envious one'. The Dagda, father of the gods, lusted after B?inn. So he sent Elcmar on a journey which would take a night and a day, that he and B?inn could spend the night together. The Dagda then put a spell on the sun, causing it to stand still, stretching one day and night to nine months during which time the Dagda lay with B?inn, and she bore him a son, Aonghus, whom she called Mac ?g because 'young is the son who is conceived at the start of the day, and born between that and evening'. When Elcmar returned, believing that only a day and night had passed, he remained ignorant of events, as the Dagda had taken Aonghus to the rath of Midhir where he was trained to be a champion hurler. However, some years later, during a quarrel with another player, Aonghus learnt of his true parentage. At that time the Dagda was distributing the S?dhe among the gods, and Aonghus decided to go to the Dagda to seek his rightful heritage. The Dagda told him that there was nowhere left for him, but that he should go to Brugh na B?inne at Samhain and demand possession of the Brugh from Elcmar for a day and a night. This he did, but when the time was up, Aonghus refused to leave the Brugh,
claiming that he had been promised 'day and night', of which eternity is composed. Elcmar then called on the Dagda to give his judgement over the situation; and the Dagda ruled that 'it is indeed in day and night that all time is spent'. So, through a play on words Aonghus gained possession of the Brugh for all time.
The Vision of AonghusAonghus held splendid court at Newgrange. But one night he was visited in a dream by a beautiful maiden, who vanished when he put out his arms to embrace her. All the next day Aonghus took no food. Upon the following night, the fair apparition came again, and played and sang to him.
That following day he also fasted. So things went on like that for a year, while Aonghus pined and wasted for love. p Eventually the physicians of the Tuatha prevailed upon him to act, his mother B?inn was sent for, and she persuaded the Dagda, his father, to send to all the lesser deities of Ireland, charging them to search for her. After a year she was found by Aonghus's brother, Bodbh the Red, who brought him to see her.
Her name was Caer Ibormeith, meaning Yew Berry; and when Aonghus saw her, she was standing by a lake surrounded by thrice fifty maidens linked together by a silver chain. But when Aonghus asked her father for her hand in marriage he revealed that there was nothing he could do, as his daughter was a swan-maiden; and every year as soon as summer was over, she went with her companions to a lake called Lough Dragan, 'The Mouth of Sloes', and there all of them became swans.
On the advice of the Dagda, Aonghus went to the shore of the lake and waited in patience until Samhain, the day of the magical change, and called to her. Caer appeared along with thrice fifty swans, herself a swan surpassing all the rest in beauty and whiteness, and promised to be his bride, if he too would become a swan. He agreed , and with a word she changed him into a swan. Together they flew three times around the lake, and took off side by side for Brugh na B?inne where they put the dwellers of that place to sleep for three days and three nights with the magic of their singing. At Aonghus's palace they retook the human form, and have lived happily there ever since.
mythologyIt is at the feast of Samhain, that the image of the 'Otherworld' predominates in the mythological record. The ancient Irish year was divided into two: a winter half beginning at the Festival of Samhain (which most likely also marked the start of the New Year), and a summer half beginning at the Festival of Bealtaine. The early Irish attributed many of the great mythic events to the times of year marked by these feasts. Samhain, now given as November 1st, was held to be charged with the supernatural energy of the spirit world. Bealtaine, now given as May 1st, was held to represent new beginnings in the material world. However, at the time when these seasonal festivals were first celebrated, they were almost certainly linked to the lunar cycle of Full and New Moons.
At this time, as at all of the four key festivals of the early Irish calendar, great fires would be lit at vantage points, as the centre of communal ritual and feasting.
Samhain is the first day of winter. It is the end of one pastoral year and the commencement of the next. It is the time when the hopes and plans of mortals focus below the earth and around the hearth, paralleling the germination of the seeds and plants, or the hibernation and byring of the beasts. It is the time when the night becomes longer than the day. During this festival, summer becomes winter, day becomes night, life becomes death; and the barriers between the natural and the supernatural are temporarily removed. It was at Samhain then, that the gateways to the 'Otherworld' or the 's?dh' were opened and divine beings, the spirits of the dead, and indeed mortals could move freely between one world and the next. S?dhe are the special dwelling places of the 'otherworld' people and have also been called Fairy Hills, such as Brugh na B?inne, best known for the Newgrange site.
There are several legends recounting the ownership of the Brugh, all of which involve similar ambiguity and complexity concerning day and night and the passage of time. It would seem then, that the myths relating to Newgrange dramatise a basic idea, which is interesting when one considers the solar alignment and the possible pre-historic usage of Newgrange as a megalithic calendar.
The great assemblies of the five Irish provinces at Tara took place at Samhain, the festival being marked by horse races, fairs, markets, pastoral assembly rites, political discussions and ritual mourning for the passage of summer. Many of the more curious and supernatural events in Irish mythology are associated with Samhain, including two of the legends associated with Newgrange and Aonghus.
In more recent times Irish folk memory led to such practices at Hallow Eve as leaving pairs of chestnuts by an open fire as auguries for betrothed couples. If they stayed together on being heated then harmony would prevail. If they scattered apart there would be strife in the union.
A good fire was always left burning that night for the fairies.
People avoided taking shortcuts across beaches, fields or cliffs for fear the fairies would lead them astray. A candle knocked over on Hallow Eve night was an ill omen. If a girl sat before a mirror at midnight eating an apple she would see her future husband in the mirror.
Gateways:"Like all main festivals, Samhain is a gateway, a transition from one season to another. In Celtic mythology, at the heart of every gateway is a paradox. The threshold is literally between two worlds but is, in itself, in neither and in both at the same time.
Samhain is the gateway to the winter. We still tend to regard the coming of winter with a mixture of anticipation and trepidation. As the Green One dies and is returned to the earth, the Goddess, now the dark crone, mourns Him and all seems to die. But the bringer of death is by definition the bringer of life.
And there is a wilderness, a release in Samhain which is of great and intense beauty. It is a time to let go of all unwanted baggage, attitudes etc. as the trees let go of the years leaves. Indeed if the trees did not lose their leaves they would be a hindrance to growth.
The old tales tell how the gates of the world stand open at this time. Journeys to the "other world", either metaphorically or otherwise, may well be transformative. It is for this reason that Samhain can be seen as a time when the past and future are available to the present. It is a time to see ourselves as part of the web of past and future, a link in the great chai of being. We are not isolated in time.
But change is not always easy. Transformations may be painful. Gateways have guardians. The stereotyped Halloween images of the Demon or the Hag are shadowed, half forgotten, muddled memories of these Guardians.
The Horned one, hunter and hunted, compassionate watcher of the furred and feathered ones, when we meet Him before the gate, may seem a fearful trickster.
The Hag, "the Washer at the Ford" may remind us that change is inevitable, that if we remain static we cannot grow. But when the gate is passed and the challenge met, we can look back and see then from the other side, revealed as the laughter in the fresh forest and the Green Goddess of growth. That is the challenge. That is Samhain."
'Gateways' was written by Chris Thompson for Tuar Ceatha. Issue 5.
The illumination of the passage and chamber at Newgrange
http://www.knowth.com/winter-solstice.htm by winter solstice sunrises is
world famous. Less well known is the illumination of the passage and chamber
at Dowth http://www.knowth.com/dowth-sunsets.htm by winter sunsets.
Dowth http://www.knowth.com/dowth.htm is one of the 3 principle mounds of
the Boyne Valley, Anne-Marie Moroney has been observing winter sunsets at
Dowth since 1997. From the beginning of October to the end of February the
sun sends its rays from the south-west into the chamber. As the sun appears
progressively lower in the sky towards the winter solstice, the beam travels
first over the sill stone, then enters the chamber and finally shines
directly onto the stones at the back of the chamber.
Dowth Sunsets http://www.knowth.com/dowth-sunsets.htm
Newgrange Sunrises http://www.knowth.com/winter-solstice.htm
Fourknocks http://www.knowth.com/fourknocks-mdier.htm - wonderful
article by Martin Dire exploring the less obvious reasons why structures
like the Fourknocks were sited where they were. Martin explores
Archaeological Considerations, Astronomical Considerations, Engineering,
Geomantic Aspects, Yin and Yang, Psychodelia and Sacred Geometry.
When I walked a labyrinth http://www.labyrinthsociety.org during the
summer I felt a similar sacred energy to that of ancient places, the
pattern of a labyrinth has a similar feel to the spirals on the entrance
stone at Newgrange. I have constructed a labyrinth
http://www.knowth.com/labyrinth.htm in my back garden (a short drive
from Fourknocks http://www.knowth.com/fourknocks-directions.htm ), if
you are in the area and would like to walk the labyrinth, email me at
If you live in the Meath area, the local branch of An Taisce (
http://www.antaisce.org the National Trust For Ireland) are running a
Christmas Lunch Party at Rossnaree House
http://www.knowth.com/rossnaree.htm on Saturday 4th December at 1pm. For
tickets send a cheque for 35 Euro per person made out to "Meath an
Taisce" to Meath an Taisce c/o Diana Allen, 34 Churchlands ,Slane, Co.
Meath. Remember to include your name and address and please book before
18th of November.
||design|| ęDavid Spurgeon ||David Spurgeon's page||
||design|| (C)David Spurgeon ||David Spurgeon's page||
All pages updated on August 16th 1996