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, India

Goddesses, Mothers, Gods, and Kings of Winter Solstice

The winter solstice translates to, “the sun stands still;” it is the longest night of the year. From this point forward, the light returns as days grow longer into Spring. Learning about ancient beliefs and archetypes makes me feel more connected to the season, and it can help us understand where some of our long-standing traditions come from. Did you ever wonder why we kiss under the mistletoe or why there are twelve days of Christmas? The answers are in our ties to ancient Roman, Greek, Celtic, and Norse mythology.

Setting the stage – Yule and the Winter Solstice

Yule descends from the Old English word geól and may refer to Christmas Day or Christmas tide. It is also connected to the Norse word jól, a heathen fast lasting twelve days, while Odin and his ghostly hunters swept through the dark forest. Since the mid-1800s, the word is widely used as an informal term for all Christmas festivities meaning joy or jolly.

The Romans recognized Dies Natalis Solis Invicti, the Birthday of the Unconquerable Sun, the Solar God Mithras. In the 4th century, the Church, in an attempt to promote Christianity, substituted the birth of the sun with the birth of the son. Some believe this to be the reason that we celebrate the birth of Jesus in December, even though he was more likely born in the Spring.

Goddesses, Mothers, Kings, and Gods of Winter Solstice

The solstice is a very maternal time of year, referred to as “The Mother Night” in some cultures. Women are often credited with the birth and death of the sun, the changing of the seasons, and the balance of life itself. Men are shown as heroes, battling adversity or ensuring that proper cycles continue, so life can be sustained. They sometimes represent the sun itself.

Celtic Goddess Cailleach

Cailleach translates to “the veiled one.” She is the crone, the old one, the Queen of Winter. She is part of the triple goddess symbol of the child, the maiden and the crone. The maiden, Brighid, rules from Beltane in the Spring, until Samhain in the Fall, but Cailleach rules the Winter months.

There was a tradition in Ireland and Scotland, where farmers competed to bring in their crops. The first farmer to harvest his fields would create a corn dolly to represent Cailleach, and he would toss it into the unharvested field of another farmer. As each farmer finished, the dolly would be found and passed along, until the last farmer to finish the harvest would have to look after Cailleach for the Winter. The dolly would be burned on Beltane to release the Crone and welcome the Maiden. It was a heated competition, no one wanted to get stuck with the Crone in their home for the Winter.

Greek Goddess Demeter

Demeter is the goddess of agriculture, fertility, and sacred law. She presides over the cycle of life and death. She is a mother goddess. Her daughter, Persephone, is abducted by Hades and tricked into staying in the underworld with him for six months out of the year. Demeter’s grief causes the earth to die for those months until Persephone returns in the Spring. She controls the balance of the harvest, which was the source of life for people at the time.

Norse Goddess Frigg and God Beltur

Frigg is the Norse Goddess of Winter. It is believed that on the longest night of the year, she labored the birth of the sun into the world. This was called “The Mother Night.” Frigg is Odin’s wife, also associated with marriage and fertility. Friday is named after Frigg. She gave birth to two sons, Beltur, and his blind twin Holdr.

Frigg asked all of nature not to harm her sons, but in her haste, she forgot about mistletoe. Loki, a trickster God, fooled Holdr into shooting Baldur with a spear made from mistletoe. He was later brought back to life, and Frigg was so delighted that she declared mistletoe as a symbol of love and vowed to kiss anyone beneath it. It is poisonous though, so don’t let anyone eat it!

The Oak King and the Holly King

In Celtic tradition, the day of the Winter solstice is the day when the Oak King wins the battle against the Holly King. It is the battle of light and dark, of life and death, of Winter and Summer. And cycle that must continue for life to endure. The Oak King will win and the nights will grow shorter until the Summer Solstice when the Holly Kings wins his battle and brings us back to Winter. People would burn fires through the night and sing at dawn to midwife the birth of the sun and celebrate the victory of the Oak King.

Greek God Apollo

In the 10th century BCE, the Roman Emperor Augustus installed Apollo as the reigning version of the solar god. Games and festivities were held in his honor around the winter solstice. He was later superseded by the Persian deity Mithras. Mithras’ birthday just so happened to be December 25th, but scholars seem to agree that there is no connection to Christianity and the cult of Mithras.

Saturnalia and a personal reflection

Another connection to winter gods is the Roman festival Saturnalia, in honor of the agricultural god Saturn, from December 17-23. It was a time of feasting, gift-giving, offering sacrifices, and a special dinner where masters served their slaves.

In late December and early January of this year, I was at the Temple of Shani Shingnapur in Maharashtra, India. The entire village is dedicated to the Hindu God of Saturn. They go to temple and make offerings every day. No one in the village locks the doors on their homes because they trust that they are protected and no one will do each other harm.

The village was humble, and the people were so friendly. I had the best cup of chai of the entire trip and I picked up an ornament there, which I was excited to place on my Yule altar this season. The extra excitement is over the rare conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn today (12/21/20201) as I write this on the Winter solstice. Check out my astrologer friend, Carter’s blog about this! Learn more about the Christmas Star.

My year started and ended with Saturn, the sun, incredible magic, new experiences, and new friends. I am filled with gratitude.

I hope this brief introduction to some archetypes associated with this time of year inspires you to learn more! If you feel drawn to any of these characters, I encourage you to research them and honor them with your yule decorations. This is a good time to clean and organize, to reflect and learn lessons from the past year, and to envision your new future. As the sun is reborn, you can start fresh too. Blessed be!

If you like learning about folklore and magic, sign up for my newsletter for more blogs and workshops!

Sources

Books

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

Pesznecker, Susan. Yule: Rituals, Recipes & Lore for the Winter Solstice. Llewellyn Publications, 2015. 

Websites

https://www.britannica.com

https://www.learnreligions.com

Astrology and Tarot

January 17 – 23, 2019: Nine of Wands

Buckle up, it’s going to be a bumpy ride this week, with a lunar eclipse in Leo on Monday. The nine of wands is about having the courage and the resilience to cross the finish line. The man in the card stands on a stage, and he has set a very clear boundary behind him. He has one last wand to set in the ground, but it looks like he has taken a few hits already. He’s trying to muster up the strength to finish the job. The number nine represents the last challenge you must face before you reach your goal. The line of wands behind him represents setting clear boundaries for your self, and for others.

The nine of wands was the perfect card for me this week because I begin a new job next week. This week is all about tying up projects and ending the chapter on my previous position. I’m just saying, I know how this guy feels!

On Sunday, the sun enters Aquarius. Aquarius is logical, but somewhat detached. This energy will help you see things as they truly are. It will help you find solutions for the greater good of others. You’ll be more apt to stay above the emotional frays of the situation, and other people might perceive that as distance or detachment.

On Monday, we have the big lunar eclipse in Leo! This could affect us for a few days, its much stronger than a typical full moon. This will bring about some unexpected events, uncertainty about the future, feeling rushed or anxious. This is going to be your final challenge before you hit your mark, just like the nine of wands. Hang in there.

This January moon is also known as the “cold moon” and the “rowan moon.” The rowan tree is associated with some amazing mythological stories, with its leaves shaped like eagle feathers and berries like drops of blood. It is considered to be the tree from which the first woman was made, according to Norse mythology.  (read more here)

In the celtic tree calendar, this moon is associated with Brighid, the celtic goddess of hearth and home. This is a good time to clear out your baggage, possibly by decluttering your home a bit. It’s also a great time of year to perform initiations. Personally, I’m partial to some serious home cooking right now!

During this eclipse, losing sight of the moon represents the clearing away of things that are no longer serving us. Pay more attention to your home and family, be in the present moment. Stock up on fresh ingredients, and make some wholesome comfot food. Prepare to endure this last test of endurance because you’re about to hit your mark! Finish this chapter on a high note!

Here are some articles that I consulted. You can read more about these topics:

Lunar Eclipse (Astrology King)

2019 Horoscopes (Cafe Astrology)

Rowan (treesforlife.org)

The Sun in Aquarius (starslikeyou.com)