Monday, December 24, 2007

Newgrange Winter Solstice 2007: Webcast

Live, from this World Heritage site built over 5,000 years ago-- and hundreds earlier than Stonehenge-- part of the Brú na Bóinne complex of standing stones and passage tombs at Knowth and Dowth that mark the sun's rise and fall precisely. I found this hour-long watch at a chilly (about 1 degree Centigrade) morning at 9. This dawn patrol reminded me how short the winter's day can be in Ireland. I thought last night about how long last midsummer's light stretched at Biofan as I hiked to its misty-sloped summit. On the video, watch around 47:48 as the sun forms a lovely star-shape distorted by the lens of the camera: a seasonal gift for the whole world incarnated, thanks to the Net.

This is the fortieth year since Professor Michael J. O'Kelly discovered the alignment; he had first to wait two years for good weather to confirm his hunch. As Professor John Patrick remarked-- after emerging from the chamber where he and (out of 28,000 lottery applicants) 50 guests (with a few government cronies) witnessed the sun's first light penetrate the roof-box to let the ray pierce 17 minutes into the slot across the carved stone floors-- this is one of the only experiences we can share with what the awed video presenters called "our Stone Age ancestors" so long ago. It combines sexual symbolism with potent energy. It keeps us humble and happy.

This celebration of warmth in the womb, stone turned molten, light amidst darkness moved me. I watched on a tiny corner of my laptop. Still, I sensed the wonder. The crowds outside cheered as the gold filled the sky. Children romped and elders hushed. The quartzite walls glowed with what in Irish we call grian-cloch, "sun-stone."

This sharp image is from last year, courtesy of the 22.12.06 Irish Independent. Posted on a site essential for preservation of another monument: Save Tara.

P.S. Verbal detour. Perhaps there's a reason why I was born the week of mid-summer, a couple of days after the feast of the mother goddess. Oddly, Celts did not observe a major holiday then, as their main four seasonal feasts fall about five weeks after those solar markers which Christians appropriate from Roman Saturnalia for Christmas and pagan solsticial bonfires for St. John's Day. Sukkot for autumnal and Passover/ Easter for vernal equinox show how ancient these traditions had been when Hebrews chose these times for their pilgrimages. I found that only two out twenty-four in my Advanced Comp class knew why Christ's mass was moved to this time of year by Pope Julius in 350, confident enough to plant baby Jesus as the Son of God where Mithras the God of the Sun once reigned.

I associated voluptuous, venerable Ishtar/ Esther/ Astarte with the harbinger of Easter, but it seems that the Son-Sun accidental homophone may be closer to the truth of those who hail the Resurrection. Eostre suggests Eastern, as in where we turn to see the sunrise! Eos, Aurora, Austria! Proto-IE root *aew-s: to 'illuminate, especially of daybreak,' according to Wikipedia. Back to PIE *Hausos, goddess of dawn. "As a love goddess, she was also called *Wenos 'lust.'" Venus: morning star. *wen=PIE 'to desire.' So, we long looked to the sun, it seems, and women, so to love them both. As I delight in what T.A. Shippey's book on Tolkien labels as "asterisk reality" among philologists. (See today's separate entry on this phrase.)

P.P.S. At the estimable Julian Cope's also monumental Head Heritage/ Modern Antiquarian, I found more etymological insight, from "Rune."(N.B.: It's countered in the thread's next reply, however; Anthony Murphy & Richard Moore's new book "Island of the Setting Son: In Search of Ireland's Ancient Astronomers" on pp. 302-3 n. 11 admits debate but appears to favor the monastic "grange" as its place name. They acknowledge the "hallowed and enduring denotation" of the nearby hill over which beckons rosy-fingered "ruadh" dawn garbled as "Roughgrange" townland on p. 140.) Newgrange (which name comes from the Irish "An Uamh Greine", meaning "The Cave of of the Sun") "Lios na Grainsi" ("Stones of the Sun) The word "Grange" is an English rendering of the Irish word "Grian", which means "Sun".

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