I‘m not a fan of Halloween: it’s too commercial, too fake, too big. Samhain seems much simpler and more real to me. And whilst I’m not a pagan, (I’m not any religion, actually, just in case you were wondering, but were too polite to ask ☺) the old festivals seem to me to fit perfectly into the cycle of seasons and the passing of the year. And also with the ebb and flow of my blood, or the beating of my heart, or my body clock, whatever you want to call that natural instinctual internal part of oneself. You may try and suppress it, but it’s always still there.
If you feel the same, here are some places in Ireland that are associated with Samhain which you might like to visit: Tlachtga, the Mound of Hostages at Tara; Magh Slecht, and Oweynagat. I have visited the first three, and will be going to Oweynagat next Sunday, so I will let you know how that goes next week.
The site at The Hill of Ward is named after Tlachtga, deriving from the old Irish tlacht, meaning ‘earth’ and gae, meaning ‘spear’. This could imply a mother earth type deity, but it has also been surmised that the spear could represent lightning being hurled at the earth. She could possibly have been an ancient fertility Goddess local to the hill. Like so many of Ireland’s women of mythology, Tlachtga was a tragic heroine, who suffered and endured, and died for her suffering.
It consists of the remains of a quadrivallate ring fort, which means it has four banks with a diameter of roughly 140m, and ditches between them. This is highly unusual, signifying a site of great importance. Recent archaeological work is discovering a large complex of other monuments in the area, almost erased from the landscape, but still visible using technology such as LIDAR.
From Tlachtga, other famous ancient sites can be seen, such as Tara (19kms), Loughcrew, Slane (23kms) and Teltown (12kms). You can read more about the site, and Tlachtga’s story HERE.
THE MOUND OF HOSTAGES
The Mound of Hostages was constructed over a burial chamber which dates to 3000BC. It stands fifteen metres wide, and three metres high, and the passage extends to four metres long. Excavation was begun in 1952 and completed in 1959.
It is estimated that between 300-500 burials took place there, most of them cremated and their ashes and grave goods placed beneath the passage floor. Burials were also found within the structure of the mound itself, including the body of a teenage boy who was accompanied by some very high status items including a magnificent bead necklace, a bronze knife, and a bronze awl (a pointed tool for making holes in leather).
But the most interesting thing about the mound is that it is aligned so that its passage admits the rays of the rising sun at Imbolc, in spring, and Samhain. What could the significance of this be? Perhaps, if Samhain was thought of as a liminal time, when the veil between the mortal world and the Otherworld was at its thinnest, and the dead walked the Earth to visit their families, the rising sun on the morning of Samhain might awaken them and invite them out. Just my rambling thoughts… 😊
You can read more about Tara HERE.
Magh Slecht (pronounced Moy Shlokht), which means ‘Plain of Prostrations’. Overlooked by the scenic Cuilcagh Mountain and distant rounded shoulders of Sliabh an Iarainn, this panoramic vista of gentle rolling countryside is packed with an unusually dense concentration of megalithic monuments, including cairns, stone rows and circles, standing stones, fort enclosures and burial sites.
The Killycluggin Circle and Stone share a dark and mysterious past, according to Irish mythology, for they have been identified as the site of pagan human sacrifice and the worship of the Sun-God, Crom Cruach. The ancient texts of the Metrical Dindshenchas claim that the people of Ireland worshipped the God by offering up their firstborn child in return for a plentiful harvest in the coming year. The children were killed by smashing their heads on the stone idol representing Crom Cruach, and sprinkling their blood around the base. This stone idol has been identified as the Killycluggin Stone.
The story goes that one Samhain, the High King Tigernmas and all his retinue, amounting to three quarters of the men of Ireland, went from Tara to Magh Slecht to worship. There, St Patrick came upon them as they knelt around the idol with their noses and foreheads pressed to the ground in devotion. They never rose to their feet, for as they prostrated themselves thus, they were, according to Christian observers, slain by their very own God.
You can read more about Magh Slecht HERE.
Oweynagat, or Uaimh na nGat in Irish, means ‘Cave of Cats’. It is located within the Rathcroghan complex, which is a major ancient royal site associated with the infamous Queen Medb.
A souterian leads into the mouth of the cave, which continues deep into the earth as a very narrow fissure… Gulp! And I’m going there next Sunday, and feeling nervous already. Some legends say that Medb was born in there, so I better dig up some courage from somewhere, or she’s not going to think much of me!
Interestingly, the lintel of the souterain is carved with Ogham symbols which are said to be translated as ‘Fraech, son of Medb’. I always thought he was her son-in-law, but maybe in those days, it amounted to much the same thing. Medb would have been around in the third century AD, and the earliest Ogham insciptions don’t date until much later, around the fifth-sixth centuries, so maybe this inscription is some kind of Medieval joke! I’m looking forward to seeing it, anyway.
I hope to bring you some pictures next week, as well as some of the really fascinating myths and legends associated with it too.
UPDATE: I’ve been and I’ve seen, and I don’t mind telling you it was a mind-blowing and nerve-wracking experience! Read more about it HERE.
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