Jamie + Ireland: Tales from Oweynagat Cave

Oweynagat Cave is one of the archeological sites at Rathcroghan – check out my earlier blog about the rest of the day at this magical place – Rathcroghan, Queen Maeve, and the Cattle Raid of Cooley.

Our tour guide, Mike, explained a number of mythological tales about the site. It’s considered to be where Samhain (Halloween) originated! It’s known as the gate to hell, as the cave of the cats, and as the home of the Mórrígan. 

Some parts of Rathcroghan are on private property, and there are active farms all around the sites. There was a friendly dog greeting our group as we approached the cave. He enjoyed all of the belly rubs while we listened to Mike’s tales. And we lovingly named him, “the Guardian Dog to the Gates of Hell.”

Tour guide, Mike McCarthy
The Guardian Dog to Gates of Hell

Oweynagat cave is made of two parts, a man made underground passage, and a natural limestone rift. I’ve been to caves in India and Iceland, but nothing quite like this! It looked like a modest little hole in the ground, at the corner of a field. I could not believe a dozen people were going to fit down there! You enter through a very low, narrow entrance marked with stones. This method of stacking stones without mortar was common in the Early Medieval period. 

Entrance to Oweynagat cave 2022

Mike handed out flashlights and prepared us for going into the cave. It was a tight squeeze through the entryway, scooting on your butt, or on hands and knees a bit. Be prepared to encounter a good deal of mud! Under the entryway, the passage to the right collapsed some time ago. But if you go to the left, you enter a cavern large enough to stand up and move around.

Video clip from inside the cave 2022

We turned off the flashlights and stood in silence for a moment. The air and the energy were deep, dark, and cold. But in a way, it felt like a healing or a rebirth as we climbed back out into the daylight. After Mike’s thorough and knowledgeable tour, he took his leave, and we had ourselves a little grounding ceremony in the field before leaving the site.

Grounding and mud

Oweynagat and Fráoch, son of Maeve

There is an ogham inscription on one of the back of one of the entrance stones; I didn’t get a good look until I was on my way out. Ogham, known as the ‘Celtic Tree Alphabet,’ dates back centuries and has several theories about its origins. Ogham can be dated back to the 4th-8th centuries AD and is based on the Latin alphabet. It says, “VRAICCI MAQI MEDVVI,” and is translated as, “[the stone] of Fráoch, son of Medb.” 

Ogham inscription in the cave 2022

If the Medb here refers to Queen Maeve, who we learned about earlier (revisit the last blog), then it is the earliest written reference to her in Ireland. Fráoch could be the literary figure, Fráoch mac Fidag Foltrude who played a large part in the Cattle Raid of Cooley.

In the initial part of the tale, he is severely wounded by a device of Alill and Maeve. To atone for their actions, they make him a bath of fresh bacon and beef. While he’s enjoying his meaty bath, some otherworldly women claim him, and take him away into Oweynagat. When he returned, he was completely healed.

Ireland’s Gate to Hell and the birthplace of Samhain (Halloween)

The concept of Oweynagat as a cave to hell is a common theme in tales throughout time. It’s also considered the birthplace of Samhain (Halloween)! Samhain marks the end of the harvest season and the coming of Winter. On this day, the portal to the otherworld lies open! Read more on my blog: Secrets of Samhain.

Oweynagat cave is an entrance to the otherworld, not to be confused with the underworld. Death is not required to access the otherworld. It is a parallel dimension, said to be the dwelling place of the Tuatha Dé Danann, the semi-divine beings of Ireland who were defeated by the Milesians. 

On the feast of Samhain, Connacht warrior Nera witnessed an otherworldly army emerge from Oweynagat, and destroy Maeve’s palace at Rathcroghan. Having found the entrance, he went into the otherworld himself. He is allowed to stay, and even takes a wife. But he has a vision of destruction that will happen on the following Samhain, and he returns to warn Maeve and Alill. He returns through the cave at the Winter festival of Samhain, but he brings with him the fruits of Summer from the otherworld: wild garlic, primrose, and golden fern. This is proof of where he had been. 

The Cave of the Cats

Yet another tale about Oweynagat cave originates from the tale of Bricriu’s Feast, from as early as the 8th century. The Táin, Bricriu Nemhthenga (of the wicked tongue), is similar to the Norse God Loki. He is a troublemaker. He throws a great feast and requires all the warriors of Ulster to attend. He convinces three of the great champions to claim the best piece of meat at the feast. Mayhem ensues as they compete to prove who is worthiest. 

As a test, three wild cats are released from the cave and the warriors are forced to endure a night at the cave, in their presence. Only one champion returned victorious. 

Photo by Akin Cakiner on Unsplash

Mórrígan’s Dwelling Place

Oweynagat is the dwelling place of the Mórrígan, the Great Queen, or Phantom Queen. She is a shapeshifter, most commonly associated with the hooded crow. She sometimes appears as the “Washer at the Ford, washing the blood stained garments and weapons of warriors, and prophesying their deaths. She does not usually partake in battle herself, but she’s known for invoking it with her magic and her presence. 

Photo by Sergio Ibannez on Unsplash

Mórrígan plays a role in the Cattle Raid of Cooley. She approaches Cú Chulainn, who was the chosen warrior fighting for the Ulster side (see previous blog). She appears to him as a beautiful young maiden, but he rejects her, saying he has no time for love. She furiously vanishes. Later, she attacks him three times while he is in combat at the ford. Once as a black eel, once as gray wolf, and finally as a white, hornless, red-eared heifer. She vows to be there at his death. 

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). Plan a visit to Rathcroghan, or check out their virtual tour here.

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


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

October 25-31, 2018: Knight of Cups

The Knight of Cups rides on a white horse. He brings you a peace offering. His winged helmet represents the wings of Mercury, he is a spiritual person. The fish on his tunic mean he has a wild imagination. He helps you reach new levels of your subconscious. This card is very romantic, idealistic and noble.

The knight will serve you well this week, as Mercury has a significant position. On the 29th, Mercury is conjunct Jupiter in Scorpio, giving you a broader outlook on life. Like the knight, you will be optimistic. Journal your ideas or risk forgetting them!

On the 31st we celebrate Halloween and there is an abundance of supernatural energy. This is also known as All Hallows Eve. It’s the Pagan festival of Samhain which means, seed for Spring. It’s time to prepare the gardens for winter and plant bulbs for next year.

This Halloween, detail oriented Mercury is on the move into expressive Sagittarius and your optimism continues to increase. Venus in retrograde enters Libra, which has a way of opening up our minds and making us more tolerant of new ideas. Indulge in stories and tall tales by watching movies, reading a good book or seeing a performance.