Symbols, Rituals and the Power of Gatherings

Hello Good people who still read this blog in spite of a mixture of good and bad vibes.

I just wanted to wish you a Happy Summer Solstice.
I wish I was at Stonehenge where they allow quiet orderly celebrations from this evening through to tomorrow morning but I don’t drive and it would have meant going in the afternoon and trying to keep warm all night without a tent. I’ll leave those kind of enterprises to those a bit younger with better health.

I’m not expert on Megalithic monuments but I know what I like and of course Stonehenge is a focal point for the Solstice. Speaking of megalithic sites it was on my first visit to Avebury that I first encountered “new age travellers” although that’s not what they called themselves at the time and I ended up on probably my first ever wild weekend being chased across the country by police but that’s another story. I’ll write about that some other time. I don’t want to go on about the police again. I just want to put them peacefully to one side for the day.

I guess for me the solstice and megalithic sites are precious because they had in the past brought me to meeting many wonderful creative people and a reconnection with the past and of a time when people were more connected to the earth, to the planets and the sun, to timespans and when symbols and rituals came together to generate a special kind of power and magic. My imagination is kindled by such things and the countryside landscapes in which you can find these special ancient places where no one knows exactly what went on. The Stonehenge festival was probably the most amazing event I have been to in my life, a meeting point for many people and many different kinds of energy.

I like to come across such special places by accident and to be struck by their magic and beauty without any forewarning. One such time was when I was in Dublin on a short visit in 1997. It was a very strange time. Princess Diana had died and people were crying and lighting candles even in the churches of Dublin, I kept seeing London (and my local park!) on the TV with people in tears and I felt far from home. I’d gone to Dublin to play some songs busking and at acoustic clubs where some didn’t much like the British and yet they all dedicated their songs to Diana. It was an unusual time when strangers in cities bonded together over Diana even in Ireland where the British Royal family is not well-liked. Urban estrangement and politics were put aside for this spontaneous unity in emotion. I know a lot of people, especially friends who don’t like open displays of emotion and disliked Diana because she was part of the establishment who cannot understand those events and couldn’t share any common ground with those who grieved but if that’s you reader, you still have to admit it was kind of special in bringing people together all over the world even if you were not part of it.

I needed to get out of the city for a while to collect my thoughts and see some countryside. I heard there was a coach trip to a place called Newgrange. I knew very little about it beforehand. We went on a long expedition visiting an ancient ruined monastery is a desolate landscape, then over the river Boyne and stories from the tour guide of how the British starved the Irish and of course the Battle of the Boyne. After a long journey over streams and wetlands we reached this giant white round building with a grassy hilltop for a roof , it was not restored then as in the photo beneath, it was still in ruins with a bit of fencing round it. It had only recently been open to public and only if they went on the coach tour or made a special arrangement to be there. If you are Irish or into megalithic monuments you will know the place well but it was just a name to me.

Around the building were giant stones engraved with beautiful spirals and other shapes which looked like they could have been designed now as ornamental features. It is one of three similar sites in the area but this is the biggest and was the only one open to the public at the time.

The monument is at least 5000 years old. It is what they call a burial passageway.

The chamber inside is very small you can’t fit more than a few people and there is little daylight shining in. The stones in the chamber hold eachother up in some kind of strange suspension come jigsaw puzzle arrangement. I seem to remember the guide saying that every stone inside is completely different each adorned with spirals and geometric inscriptions. The symbols seem to go all the way around the stones not just on the parts seen. This really was a special event , everyone on our tour was silent and stood solemnly to soak up the atmosphere and wonderment of it all. But there was more .
There is a hole above the entrance to the chamber and at dawn on the winter solstice and the days around then, the sun shines in onto the floor of the inner chamber. On the winter solstice itself the sun shines in for 17 minutes only.

Part one of a three part TV programme of the Winter Solstice in someone’s living room!

Plenty more footage on youtube

Maybe their own Princess was buried there or someone of equal importance to them and maybe they wanted them to live again. At that time in all churches in Dublin people were lighting candles to pay their respects to Diana , to say a prayer and maybe to send a little hope and light to another world, to keep her alive somehow.
At the time there seemed a strange parallel at Newgrange everyone in the small coach party was solemn and subdued trying to take in the the sheer scale of the place , the boldly carved symbols, the atmosphere and beauty of this monument and its location. Maybe those who built the chamber wanted the dead to live again or to be sent on to another world, into the light. Maybe that’s why they designed it so that the sun would shine in at the bleakest darkest time of the year as a ray of hope that leads us back to summer. There’s a whole philosophy behind these symbols and monuments.

I remember the eclipse the summer before the new millenium. I was on Hampstead Heath on a hill with a gathering of poets, friends and musicians and there was a strange feeling and unity of people then. People were amazed at the sun’s partial disappearance and strangers shared their makeshift observing equipment, I seem to remember pieces of paper with pinholes being passed around and special glasses. The eclipse was able to bring even Londoners together temporarily and experience something special bigger than themselves and their own problems and gripes.

So I write not representing anyone but myself, although I call this blog hippie counterculture, it’s only loosely so . It’s really just a person, born to rant.

We are living in very difficult times with much insecurity on many levels so let us enjoy the solstice if we see the sun at all tomorrow ! I hope that more wondrous natural events can bring us strangers all together spontaneously with reverence instead of so many difficulties creating factions and strife.

Love and Peace


P.S. Maybe I should have written about Stonehenge, I just felt like doing something different.

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