Wednesday, 21 December 2011


I got up this morning at around 8.15am and thought, "Ooooo, it's still dark." I put it down to the fact that the clouds were low and thick - as per usual now - and thus the sun wasn't able to brighten things up too much. It took a while to realise that it also perhaps had something to do with the fact that it's coming up to the shortest day of the year - tomorrow, officially...

So a happy solstice to those of you who celebrate! I will be making some offerings to mark the occasionbut my main focus of celebrations at this time of year will be on Hogmanay as usual - as yet we have no plans for Hogmanay, so it will probably be spent at home all quiet and boring. I'll be glad to see the back of this year, and fervently hoping that the new year ushers in a definite improvement on 2011.  

If the weather in Ireland is anything like here then the solstice sun at Newgrange won't be illuminating much of anything (yup); the official gathering at Newgrange took place today, but there's a video you can watch from 2007 that shows what should happen quite nicely (although you might want to forward along a bit):

Newgrange might be the most famous solstice alignment, but there are others as well, including the chambered tomb known as Maes Howe on the mainland of Orkney. The light of the solstice sunset is captured there (when it shines!), and there are also cameras set there to capture and broadcast it. Neither of these tombs are Celtic, of course, but both remain as significant features in the landscape even today.

In the twelfth century the tomb was opened by some of the Norse settlers, and they made their mark by leaving a load of runes to commemorate their visit (33 inscriptions in all). Some of the graffiti attempts to make verse, and one such verse is thought to have (possibly) been made by Thorhall Asgrimsson, who is mentioned in the Orkneyinga Saga. The verse is rough, and reads:

The man who is
most skilled in runes
west of the ocean
cut these runes
with the axe
once owned by Gauk
son of Trandil
in the south country.
(Translation from: The Triumph Tree: Scotland's Earliest Poetry AD 550-1350, edited by T.O. Clancy)

Which is not particularly relevant to the solstice, but there you go...

I will finish off with a seasonal poem translated by Kuno Meyer, one that's particularly relevant considering the recent hurricanes we've been having in these parts:

Dubaib rathib rogemrid
robarta tonn turgabar
íar tóib betha blái.
Brónaig eoín cach íathmaige
acht fiaich fola forderge
fri fúaim gemrid gairg.
In the dark season of the deep winter
heavy seas are lifted up
along the side of the world's region.
Sorrowful are the birds of every meadow-field,
except the ravens of dark-red blood,
at the uproar of the fierce winter-time.

I shall dedicate that to the Cailleach and the storm hags who've been unleashing their fury over the past few weeks.