Ireland

Jamie + Ireland: Queen Maeve’s Cairn and Carrowmore Tombs

Queen Maeve’s Cairn

So far my stay in Ireland has been blanketed in mist, gorgeous views obstructed (Cliffs of Moher), and my frustration was at peak by the time I reached Queen Maeve’s grave. It sits at the top of Knocknarea, a 1,000 foot high hill in the county of Sligo. The hill is believed to contain a Neolithic passage tomb built in 3,000 BC. 

Queen Maeve's Cairn, Ireland

I sprinted to the top of the hill, shouting out loud to the sheep and the cows, “Ireland, why are you hiding? Reveal yourself!” I only stopped to laugh and catch my breath. There were other visitors on the path, and I walked a few loops around the cairn at the top. 

Queen Maeve's Cairn, Ireland

A cairn is a heap of stones piled as a memorial or a landmark. Queen Maeve’s Cairn is 180 feet wide and 33 feet tall. The rest of the group made their way to the top, each of us lost in the fog and exploring our own paths until we wandered to the same place. We found a good flat rock to sit on for a moment and created an impromptu ritual together. It’s very bad luck to take a rock from a cairn, but it’s good luck to carry one up and add it to the pile!

We all walked down from the hill together, singing pagan songs. 

We all come from the goddess, and to her we shall return

Like a drop of rain, flowing to the ocean

Two of the women showed us a precious spring they had discovered. As we splashed our hands and sang, the fog started to lift! We had a clear view of the beauty that surrounded us. Like a snow globe settling down after a rough shake. Finally I could see a bit clearer!

The walk from Queen Maeve's Cairn, Ireland

Carrowmore Megalithic Cemetery

Our next adventure was a tour of Carrowmore Megalithic Cemetery. We picnicked by a small food truck serving tea and coffee. The Carrowmore passage tombs were built during the Neolithic era, approximately 3,000 BC. There are thirty surviving tombs, making the site the heart of an ancient ritual landscape.

The tour of Carrowmore was through grassy fields and I kicked off my shoes for most of it. Knocknarea and Queen Maeve’s Cairn loomed in the distance to the west. It was exciting to see how far we had climbed that morning! Our guide pointed out all of the major landscapes around the area. The sky was crystal clear.

The view of Knocknarea from Carrowmore in Sligo Ireland

We were led into the chamber of Listoghil, which is lined with stones, and I was tiptoeing through in my bare feet tenderly. The chamber held a tomb or what looked similar to an altar table. There was evidence of bones found below the structure. Most of the burials at Carrowmore were cremated human remains, but it was clear that burning the dead involved a complex sequence of treatments, including excarnation and reburial. Flesh was separated from bone like the separation of the soul from the body. The bones were often laid to rest in a common ancestral grave after the process was complete and the soul had crossed over. 

Exhibit at Carrowmore in Sligo, Ireland

These types of megalithic monuments, known as passage graves, are associated with the goddess Cailleach, who is the builder of chambered cairns. The tombs remained a major focal point on the landscape long after they were originally built. They were repurposed by the people of the Bronze Age and Iron Age.

After a day of exploring, we had dinner at a gastropub in Sligo and then we visited W.B. Yeats’ grave, where Benbulben rises in the background.

William Butler Yeats and Benbulben

Considered one of the greatest poets of the 21st century, Yeats belonged to the Prostestant, Anglo-Irish minority that controlled the economic, political, and cultural life of Ireland at the end of the 17th century. He was born on June 13th, 1865. Although he lived in London in his childhood years, he staunchly identified as Irish. His poems and plays feature Irish legends and heroes. His poetry was published for the first time in the Dublin University Review in 1885, and around this time his interest in occultism began. 

For 32 years he was an active member of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, a secret society devoted to the study and practice of the occult, metaphysics, and paranormal activities. He and his wife practiced hundreds of hours of automatic writing. From their notes, they formulated theories and identified patterns about life and history. 

Yeats was president of the Irish National Theatre Society, and also involved in the management of the abbey Theatre Company. He was also a world-renowned artist of impressive stature, having received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1923. He passed away on January 28th, 1939. Learn more about Yeats here.

Y.B. Yeats' grave in St. Columbia's Churchyard, Ireland

On his grave reads the lines:

Cast a cold Eye

On Life, on Death

Horsemen pass by!

This is the last stanza of his work, “Under the Benbulben,” and means not to take life too seriously! It suggests that when this was written in his later years, Yeats knew where he was going to be buried. He wasn’t worried about life and death, but about the legacy he was leaving behind in Ireland. Benbulben mountain is visible from the cemetery at St. Columbia’s Churchyard.

Benbulben, Sligo, Ireland

Also known as “Table Mountain,” Benbulben looms over the road from Sligo to Donegal like a mythological beast. It’s part of the Dartry Mountains, is made of limestone and shale, formed at a time when glaciers covered the earth. Fairies are through to be visible here!

Sources:

Heritage Ireland

Fr. Michael O’Flanagan History & Heritage Centre

Sligo Walks

The Poetry Foundation

Ireland

Jamie + Ireland: Rathcroghan, Queen Maeve, and the Cattle Raid of Cooley

Located in county Roscommon, Rathcroghan is part of a complex of 240 archaeological sites from the Neolithic period (4,000BC) through to the late Medieval period (1600AD). It is remembered as one of the great ceremonial gathering places in Ireland. These ceremonies took place at key points during the year, the changing of the seasons. It was time for judgements to be passed, for kings to be inaugurated, for feasts and festivities.

Rothcroghan aerial view Ireland

History of Rathcroghan in Ireland

The landscape lies on an elevated limestone plateau, resulting in clear and fertile land. Early farming communities settled here. They held close links with their ancestors and built these monuments to develop a stronger relationship with the land. At a time when societies were moving away from nomadic life, and towards farming and ritual monument construction, Rathcrogan was a place of great importance. 

In the late Medieval period, it is recorded as one of the main burial places in Ireland. There are 28 identifiable burial sites still visible on the land today. The mounds are built to be visible from a far distance. Ruling classes treated their dead with great care. They placed the remains of their ancestors in these locations as a sign of power and authority over the region.

historic rathcroghen in ireland

On the tour, we climbed to the top of Rathcrogen Mound, believed to be a site where royal kings were inaugurated. It was where they would have bled cattle or performed rituals for a good harvest.

It was a powerful place, and after listening to our knowledgeable and enthusiastic tour guide, Mike share some amazing facts, we all took a moment to lie in the grass and absorb the energy. I was very emotional. A sense of sadness and beauty lay deep under the surface. My paternal ancestors immigrated from the county of Roscommon, and while I have no proof (yet) that they were connected to this place, but it felt significant.

Jamie in the meadow

Queen Maeve and the Cattle Raid of Cooley

In early tales, Rathcroghan was the home of the Connacht, the ruling dynasty in the territory from the fifth century, and included the palace of the infamous Iron Age Warrior Queen, Maeve (Medb). It is a main site in the Ulster Cycle of Tales, particularly the national epic, Táin Bó Cúailnge, the Cattle Raid of Cooley. 

tain trail, ireland

Maeve embodies all aspects from royal and sacred to mythological and divine. Her name stems from the same origins as the word “mead,” an alcoholic honey drink. Her name can be translated into “she who intoxicates.” Her father was the high king of Ireland, and she was one of his six daughters.

Queen Maeve mural at Rathcroghan

She was known for having many husbands and partners. Her first husband was Conchobar mac Nessa, and she left him against his will. After the failure of that marriage, her father bestowed her the title of Queen, and the authority to bestow kingship.

Her next three husbands were all kings of Connacht. One of these was Alill, and one night after making love, they got into a heated argument over who was wealthier. The next day they laid out all of their riches and found that they were completely even, except for one thing. Alill had a great white horned bull that was very unique.

Finnbennach, the Connacht bull

Not to be outdone, Maeve sends her messenger to find an equal or greater bull in Ireland, and he locates a great brown bull that is enormous in size. It belongs to Daire mac Fiachna in the province of Ulster, the territory of Cuailnge. She sends her messengers to offer Daire some land, a grand chariot, and a night with her, in exchange for his great brown bull. He is so excited by the offer, he throws her messengers a feast. 

But then they start boasting about how the offer was just a formality. Their queen is so powerful, she would have just taken the bull by force. Word gets back to Daire, and he refuses the offer and sends them packing. So naturally Queen Maeve raids Ulster, and a heated battle ensues.

They come to a deadlock at the ford, and in an effort to bring things to an end, Maeve and the man agree to send one warrior each to fight. Daire and the county of Ulster send their greatest champion, Cú Chulainn, who posses a magic spear and is not affected by the curse that disables the other warriors of Ulster. Maeve sends Ferdiad, who is Cú Chulainn’s best friend, and he needs a bit of convincing to fight.

During the battle, Maeve breaks the terms of her deal and attempts to attack from behind. Cú Chulainn defeats Ferdiad, and the tides start to turn against Maeve. She has her secret agents smuggle the bull out and deliver it to her home in Connacht. 

The bull is put in the pasture with Alill’s great white bull, and they fight for a day and a night, ultimately killing one another. There are many more layers to this story! I hope this inspires you to learn more about Rathcroghan and Queen Maeve, one of the most legendary figures in Irish mythology. 

I grabbed a copy of Rathcroghan The Guidebook, co authored by my tour guide; all of the proceeds support the visitors center (you can order one online here). If you ever plan to visit Rathcroghan, have some lunch at the Tain Cafe and check out the gift shop. I also highly recommend walking on the mounds barefoot and laying in the grass (no ticks in Ireland). Be sure to take the tour! Ask to go inside of Owenganat Cave, which will be the subject of the next blog!

Source: Curley, Daniel, and Mike McCarthy. Rathcroghan: The Guidebook. Tulsk Action Group CLG, 2018. 

Holidays

What is Imbolc? Goddesses, History, and How to Celebrate

Imbolc is an ancient Pagan holiday based on Celtic traditions; it marks the halfway point between winter solstice and the spring equinox in Neolithic Ireland and Scotland. This is the time of year when we start to emerge from the darkness of winter in preparation for the Spring. 

In today’s modern world, we are far removed from the hardships of Winter, compared to our ancestors who lived thousands of years ago. At this point in the year, people have been hunkered down inside for months, living off root vegetables, salted meat, and what little they could fish or hunt. Their sheep, who naturally tend to breed in Autumn, are ready to give birth right around Imbolc. The ewe’s milk flows for the first time all Winter, and fresh milk and cheese were the first signs that Spring is about to arrive. Imbolc was a time to celebrate the coming of brighter days, surviving the harsh Winter, and planning for the year’s sowing season.

Being mindful of the natural energies, the ebbs and flows of the year, can help us stay connected to the elements, the season and the earth. Ancient Pagans followed the Wheel of the Year, eight Sabbats consisting of four solstice festivals, and four fire festivals.

All about Brighid (Brigid)

On Imbolc, ancestors in Ireland and Scotland particularly, honored the Goddess Brighid. Brighid can take on any appearance she wants, young or old, human or snake. She is a Triple Celtic Goddess, the embodiment of the child, the maiden and the crone. She is the Goddess of the Eternal Flame, the trinity also represents three types of fire: hearth fire, forge fire, and the fire to create and transform. She is also known as the Goddess of the Sacred Well, protecting healing waters. Brighid was the patron of poets, healers, and magicians.   

Brighid (Brigid) Imbolc

Imbolc Correspondence for the Modern Witch

Foods associated with Imbolc are milk, butter, yogurt, and cheese (and nondairy alternatives will do just fine). This is the time to savor creamy soups, spring onions, leeks, potatoes, and Irish Soda Bread. Oils associated with Imbolc are spruce and fir, cinnamon, rosemary, patchouli, jasmine, and vanilla. Colors are white, light blue, and light pink. 

Imbolc is sometimes referred to as Candlemas, and a common practice is to make and bless candles. You can make corn dollies or Brighid’s Cross out of any kind of grass or hay you have available. 

Ceromancy, or candlewax divination, is a great way to connect with the magic of the season. Imagine a goal you are working towards, a seed you wish to plant. Really meditate on this goal, and develop a question with a yes or no answer. Use a paper plate and draw a line down the middle. Label on side yes, the other no. Light a small spell candle or tealight. Journal about your vision or meditate more (while supervising the candle). When it has burned all the way down, observe which side of the plate collected the most wax. That is your answer!

Imbolc Spell Kit

4 Ways to learn more about Imbolc

  1. Listen to my Imbolc playlist on Spotify, with seasonal songs and podcasts
  2. Check out my Imbolc board on Pinterest for more ideas
  3. Order an Imbolc Spell Kit from my Etsy Shop (pictured above)
  4. Join me for a magic workshop:

Learn more about Brighid, the Roman Goddess Juno, and the Egyptian Goddess Renenutet. Pull tarot cards, receive reiki, and relax during a guided meditation that will help you plant your own fire seed of intention. 

  • In Person workshop at Saltitude Sunday 1/31 1:00-3:00 pm (learn more)
  • Virtual workshop on Zoom Monday 2/1 5:30-7:00 pm (learn more)

Sources

Neal, Carl F. Imbolc: Rituals, Recipes & Lore for Brigid’s Day. Llewellyn, 2016. 

Moura, Ann. Grimoire for the Green Witch: a Complete Book of Shadows. Llewellyn Worldwide, Ltd, 2018.

Holidays

Secrets of Samhain and Shadow Work

This time of year, with Samhain, All Hallows Eve, and Dia de los Muertos, the veil between the worlds of the living and of the dead is at its thinnest. It’s a good time to release what is no longer serving us and protect the blessings that we want to hold onto. A simple protection spell is to write what you are grateful for on a piece of paper, place the paper in a jar and fill it with salt and herbs, like nettle for protection, and dill for a bit of good luck. You can seal the jar with black candle wax while whispering your intention into the smoke.

Samhain is the very end of the year in the Celtic Pagan tradition. It’s a time to reflect on how you have changed, to harvest and stow away for the future, and to release the old. Ancestors come to visit, and you can work on helping them heal from hardships they endured to move the family forward in this world. It is believed that the traumas of our anestors impact us today.

You can preserve your favorite summer treats and stock up your pantry. You can also have a releasing ceremony to release yourself from attachment to something that is no longer for you. You can clean and purify a space in your home that isn’t serving you. For a cleansing spell, boil herbs like clary sage, bay leaf, lemon balm and/or lavender. Let the water cool a bit, and then use it to mop your floors. Hum or sing a little chant while you do so!

Because Smahin is all about reflecting, moving forward and evolving, it is the ideal time of year to work with your shadow side. This is called shadow work, and it is about becoming well acquainted with your dark side. It’s about uncovering every part of you that has ever been silenced, shoved down, or rejected. It’s the parts of you that you sweep away to the corner of your mind, hoping they don’t turn back up again, at least not for awhile. It’s the you under the mask. It’s the expectations that you are obedient to. It might be hurt, scared, anxious or held hostage. Acknowledging the shadow self can be a rich source of emotion and self discovery, leading to deep healing. 

For me, this is an important time of year to soak up the sun and spend time in nature before the winter blues start to set in. I tend to get small bouts of seasonal depression when my world turns gray. It’s usually as Fall gives way to Winter and the clocks turn back. Then I adapt for a while and it creeps back in around March when I can’t bare the gray ground any longer. By getting to know the way my shadow side works, I’ve found ways to balance the blues. This is a very light-handed example. Shadow work is very personal and can run very deep.

This year, Samhain falls on a full blue moon, on a Saturday, the same day we turn the clocks back. Whether you have big plans or you’re staying in for the weekend, it’s going to be dense with energy, and emotions will be running high. It’s important to stay grounded and protect your energy. You can ground your energy by walking barefoot on the earth, mindfully sipping a hot beverage, or spending time in the sunshine. You can protect your energy by making sure you get enough sleep and water, meditating, taking a bubble bath (with some epsom salts), or getting a reiki treatment.

At dusk on November 1st, the veil will draw closed again.

Astrology and Tarot

January 31 – February 6, 2019: Four of Swords

Sundown this Friday, February 1st, marks the start of Imbolc, a Sabbat knowns as Brigid’s Day that lasts through February 2nd. This is precisely the halfway point between the winter solstice and the spring equinox. The harsh, cold winter is starting to give way. The sun sets just a bit later every day.

This is the time to welcome the Celtic Fire Goddess Brigid with a festival to honor the maiden. Imbolc festivals always involve fire ceremonies, and lots of candles.

The maiden is key in Pagan tradition. The triple goddess symbol shows the phases of the moon and also represents phases of life: the child, the maiden and the crone. Imbolc means “ewe’s milk” and also “in the belly of the mother.” At this time of year, the seeds for Spring are sitting in the womb of mother earth, waiting to pop up through the icy ground. This is a time for rebirth, renewal and preparation for the future.

I’m new to learning about Paganism, I was raised Roman Catholic. I am always fascinated by the ways that Christianity uses Pagan traditions. In the church, February 1st is St. Brigit’s Day and February 2nd is Candlemas, when the candles are blessed for ceremonies throughout the year. The Feast of the Virgin Mary is also this time of year; Mary was a maiden, a mother. Pagan tradition involves making Brigid’s Cross out of wheat stalks, which are similar to the crosses made from palms on Palm Sunday, coming up a little bit later in the Spring for Christians.

Today, there are lots of ways you can honor Brigid. You can have a bonfire or light a candle in each room of the house. Sweeping and clearing the dust from the home is customary. Out with the old and in with the new. Cleaning of anysort is a good way to celebrate, even cleansing the body by taking a nice herbal bath.

Decorate your altar or your mantel with signs of early spring like tulips, daffodils, feathers, or anything green and fresh. Of course food is very important, as with any holiday. You can make a nice meal with seasonal items like root vegetables, seeds, hearty starches. Dairy products are also associated with Imboc (I mentioned the “ewe’s milk” earlier). Yogurt, custard, creamy soups or sauces. I personally like dairy, so I plan to make a vegan “cheesy” cauliflower potato soup (here’s the recipe) and maybe some fresh baked bread or warm cinnamon rolls.

I pulled a tarot card, looking for some advice on the week ahead, and up came the Four of Swords. Here, we have a knight resting on an altar, over a sword. When I see this card, I always think of the idiom, “just sleep on it.” Reflect, rejuvenate yourself, rest as much as possible this week. You have a lot to do, and the sword below the knight suggests there is one particular point or situation, where turning off your brain will be beneficial. The three swords above the knight, pointing down means that other things can wait. Hang up your weapons, put down your shield, and take care of yourself. The knight’s hands are in prayer, which means meditate, pray, whatever you want to call it – just clear your mind. This is great for Imbolc weekend!

As you start the work week on Monday, there is a new moon in Aquarius. New moons are a good time to manifest what you want. I just started a new job, so I’ll be performing my own manifestation ritual to focus on letting go of the old version of myself and expanding into my highest potential during this moon phase. You can make moon water for spells and rituals by placing a bowl of salt water outside or by a window where moonlight will reach the bowl. Then, you might have to defrost the water depending on where you live, but it can be used in sprays, baths, gardens, etc. Anywhere you want to spread some magic.

The new moon in Aquarius might have you feeling a little bit lonely. I think that some alone time to recharge your batteries will be needed over the weekend, but don’t carry that reclusivity with you through the week. Brainstorm with people, ask for input, collaborate on problems, reach out to people in your social circle. Open yourself to new experiences. It will be good to think outside of the box this week. Stir the pot, so to speak.

Here are some excellent articles that I read for this blog: