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

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.

Personal Quips

A Witch’s Guide to Social Distancing

I’ve been shying away from posting about the pandemic that is rippling across the globe. I wanted to stay positive, and felt the last thing we need is more reminders of the current state of affairs. But as the weeks pass, I’ve come to realize that my daily rituals and witchy beliefs have helped me so much and I wanted to share my experience with all of you.

“Good morning star shine, the Earth says hello”

Morning ritual makes me feel like a human even if I’m not leaving the house all day. I meditate and hit my yoga mat every morning, first thing. Sometimes I free style and find what feels good. I also highly recommend this Down Dog app, which a friend turned me on to. It is being offered for free right now! Also, Yoga with Adriene on youtube is my jam. Don’t take your home yoga practice too seriously, just have fun with it.

After yoga, I always shower, and put on real pants! Well, at least clean pants. I always make a point to brush my teeth right after I finish breakfast. I open all of the curtains to let as much light in as possible. I try to get outside a little bit every day. I have three dogs and I live in a neighborhood with plenty of sidewalks for lunch time strolls and after dinner walks. I know that we all have different routines and preferences. Personally, nothing works better for me than movement, nature and healthy habits.

Spells and smells

Filling your space with nice smells can be surprisingly uplifting. I have some frankincense oil in my diffuser this morning. Sometimes I’ll pick a citrus scent or a floral scent. Nothing like that at home? You can simmer a small pot of water with cinnamon, rosemary, lemons, anything you have on hand to make the house smell good. This is also a good offering for your mediation or spells. A simple spell I like to do is write an intention on a piece of paper and burn it in a candle.

Speaking of making the house smell good, I’ve been doing so much baking! Check out these biscuits and cinnamon rolls. I made a sauce from some strawberries stuck in the back of my freezer and put that on the biscuits for some strawberry shortcake. What are you cooking up at home? I like getting creative with the odds and ends in my cabinets.

Staying connected

My pets have been a great comfort to me. As much as I enjoy conversations with my dogs and my cat, I also try to stay in touch with humans. I also have been putting myself out there online. I took a yoga class through zoom with Healing Within RI.

Other lifesavers have been: books, poetry, movies, coloring and crafting!

I’ve had some zoom chats with my friends, and I try to call and text friends and family throughout the day. Its not always easy for me to point the camera at myself, but this has been a great opportunity to work on that. I’ve been giving tarot readings over the phone way more than usual. I’m working on creating more video content, like this fun “pick a number” reading!

How are you coping with our current situation? Let me know! Connect on Facebook or shoot me an email. A 30 minute phone reading with me is not only great entertainment, but it can reveal some clues and give some insight on how to make the most of your time at home.