Archive for the ‘Newgrange’ Category

Third and Fourth Days of Samhain: Spirals and Soundings


Many years ago now, I participated in an online discussion group that included members of multiple faiths. It wasn’t always a comfortable space, nor did it need to be. We were there for engagement, but not necessarily ease. I recall a sharp criticism of Pagan perspectives on cycles and circles: that a circle is ultimately a cage, a trap, with no escape, and that only a faith that provided an out could offer anything like freedom.

It’s a distinctive view of salvation, or liberation, particularly as a faith rather than a practice. The discussion at the time was also particularly focused on one version of the Goddess as a kind of stand-in for all Pagan belief — a limited perspective the critic brought with him. That is, the (or a) Goddess as immanent, a part of the world, suffering along with mortals, influenced by human actions and wounded by human deeds stemming from ignorance. How, asked the critic, could such a figure ever meet our human hunger for transcendence?

It’s an interesting idea to unpack and explore, rather than simply reacting to. Most traditions have a round of observances, festivals, holidays, and don’t seem to feel bound or constrained by them. I haven’t found Druid practices any different. It’s the combination of the familiar and the new that keeps ritual observances fresh. For that reason, though the circle is a powerful symbol, and a kind of default shape for in-person Druid and other Pagan ritual, the underlying sense I perceive, and another widespread Pagan image, is the spiral. The circle is its two-dimensional version. Energetic movement or potential for movement curls in the spiral, a coil or spring or serpent power. It’s the source of rebirth, regeneration, that ritual glimpses and evokes and embodies. “True voyage is return” indeed, as long as we realize that “everything She touches changes”.

Newgrange entrance. Photo courtesy Spud Murphy/Wikipedia

As a meditation object, a “Samhain mandala”, the spiral is potent. Drawing it, tracing or painting it on the body, can work as well for Beltane, for the energies spiraling into summer that are manifesting in whorls and curls of plant tendrils, of the burgeoning natural world, of seashells and spiral galaxies, of the long spiral of death and rebirth. Enter the underworld at Samhain and re-emerge at Beltane every year, practicing the pattern we live, of dying and being reborn. The festivals mirror and echo off each other across the calendar, across the hemispheres. What have I been born from? asks my Beltane self. What am I building right now as I near Samhain that will emerge in the early summer?

Samhain for me is a well. Maybe a well that opens onto the Otherworld, if I choose to dive in. Or sometimes a sea, endless, restless, caressing or lashing our mortal shores. I attempt to sound it, to measure its depth or outlines, to communicate by way of the thin line of attention or ritual or meditation, a line disappearing into the depths toward that which needs to speak with me. I don’t need to worry about missing it: what I do not heed consciously will work its way to the surface regardless.

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If there’s one thing I know about the ancestors, it’s that they will be heard. Death has not so enfeebled them that they can only speak one time each year, or only with my attention and respect. Rather, my attention and respect are gifts I can offer, so that ancestral patterns, goals, wisdom can emerge within my circle of intention: I can meet in a circle with my ancestors, as with a spiritual council, and know what is afoot, and whether it aligns with what I am doing now. Not all their long-term projects deserve my assent or participation.

And I also bring assets to the council: present understandings, a body and set of experiences derived from being alive now, with links to the future and my own capacities as ancestor-in-training. For this reason, a mirror is one of my Samhain sacred tools: the face of my ancestors is also mine. I reflect a part of what they accomplished, what survives in this world, what may rest in the earth as a potential for them to manifest, should they return to bodies within this particular ancestral line.

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111 Hertz — Our Ancient Song of Healing and Attunement

[Updated 31 August 2021]

Looking for a practice flexible enough for anyone to try at your upcoming Solstice event, Winter or Summer? Feeling the need to ground and center? Looking for guidance and access to your own inner wisdom?


The famous spiral stone entrance to Newgrange, Meath, Ireland/ image Wikipedia

The single most useful spiritual practice I’ve tried (and stuck with over four plus decades) is singing, chanting, whispering, etc. a sound known in many cultures. On this blog I’ve sometimes called it the “Cauldron Sound”, because it’s the central or middle sound of the awen. It’s long been known to the Sufis as hu, and religions of the inner sound current like Eckankar also give it a prominent place [link to a short description] in their practice and teachings. (Scroll to the bottom of the page and you can download a version to your phone.)

Knowledge of this sound, and more particularly of a specific pitch — 111 hertz — existed thousands of years ago, as evidenced by neolithic structures all across Europe that are tuned quite precisely to it, from Ireland to Malta and beyond.

Below is a Youtube video recorded on the Autumn Equinox in Cairn T [link to many detailed pics and descriptions of things shown only briefly in the video below], a neolithic monument from circa 3500 BCE, located in County Meath, Ireland.

A 1996 joint project with Cambridge and Princeton Universities measured the acoustic properties of numerous stone age chambers like Cairn T. [Update: original link disappeared; you can read more about similar projects here and here and here.] The article notes that

… the results fell within a very narrow band of acoustic wavelengths, between 95 Hertz and 120 Hertz, with the main proliferation between 110 Hertz and 112 Hertz. The average resonant frequency of the acoustically tested chambers was found to be 111 Hertz. Once this frequency is emitted in the chamber, the effect is to immerse the listener in sound, in this instance the sole frequency of 111 Hertz is amplified by the architecture, as it filters out other frequencies, creating an acoustic standing wave … 111 Hertz is lower male baritone in the human vocal range and can be comfortably hummed, sung or spoken.

(If the pitch is still a little too low for your voice, take it up an octave.) The benefits of immersing oneself in this sound are numerous:

This audible frequency … directly stimulates the right-hand prefrontal cortex of the brain, a problem area for autism and other emotional and development disorders such as anxiety and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. This specific frequency is also associated with endorphin release, a potential non-addictive panacea for pain relief.

It has been observed that within a few minutes of exposure to 111Hertz, Alpha state trance is induced in the listener, as neuronal activity moves within the brain from the left hand frontal lobe to the right. At that point the language centers are ‘quietened’ along with increased Theta wave activity normally associated with sleep and cell regeneration, produced solely in the right hand prefrontal cortex. The overall effect is a subtle, altered state of consciousness, with the potential to train the brain to stimulate longer-term neuronal activity in the right hand hemisphere of the brain.

As a prescription for what so many of us are experiencing today, this looks spot on. Another article, this time from 2019, “Embracing the Benefits of 111 Hertz Frequency“, adduces MRI data indicating the frequency enhances “intuition, creativity, holistic processing” — all things we need and rely on to navigate the challenges of contemporary life.

111 Hertz, as noted above, is pitched to the human voice. It also approximates within about an octave the pitch of the average didgeridoo [link to David Hudson’s excellent 9:14 demo and teaching] | Jeremy Donovan’s shorter 1:40 demonstration, another cultural source of this ancient wisdom about sound.

I invite anyone who explores these sound techniques to post a brief comment about your experiences!

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Gifts of Solstice, Part 1

[Updated 1 July 2020]

[Part 1 | 2 | 3 ]

If we change just one of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s words (“longest”) in The Great Gatsby, he has Daisy Buchanan, that quintessential summer person, exclaim, “Do you always watch for the shortest day of the year and then miss it? I always watch for the shortest day of the year and then miss it”. (Those of you in the southern hemisphere can take your Gatsby solstice straight up, summery, and un-revised.)

Because the “Great Eight” festivals of the calendar are worth remembering, let’s not “miss it”, but watch and celebrate the shortest day.

A day the whole planet shapes is one of the gifts of solstice.

Older festivals, and revived ones, acknowledge the otherworldly aspect of the season. The central European tradition of Krampus as the alter ego and companion of St. Nicholas balances the season with a parade of gruesome and frightening figures.

Likewise, the Welsh custom of wassailing with Mari Lwyd, the “Grey Mare”, is equal parts festive and otherworldly. Here’s one of the traditional Welsh songs, “Mari Lwyd”, by Carreg Lafar:

The first lines announce the wassailers:

Here we come
Dear friends
To ask permission to sing …

And here’s a very impromptu and lively short clip of outdoor singers and answering singers indoors:

We can say that such human responses to the seasonal change are another gift of the solstice.

The third gift is the monuments that cultures and civilizations have built worldwide to mark and commemorate the seasons — especially the solstices and equinoxes. Standing stone complexes like Stonehenge, menhirs, passage tombs like Newgrange, earthworks like Serpent Mound, and so on all celebrate and commemorate a planetary event many have long recognized as significant.

Here’s a 2013 video of the creation and lighting of a labyrinth made from 2500 tea-lights at the Holy Cross Church in Frankfurt am Main, Germany:

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Listening to Inwardness–3: Labyrinth

[Part One | Part TwoPart Three | Part Four]

Beneath the snow, the holly — 
behind the clouds, the sun …


Where the verse is going, I have no idea. I’m still listening for the rest of it.

I like how the tiny red holly berries in this photo from yesterday morning are barely visible under the light dusting of snow, but also how once you see one or two, you start to see lots of them. Living as I do in New England and enjoying our glorious winters, I’ll still readily admit to a special fondness for things that stay green all year …

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In Part One of this series, I observed:

If one mythic image for the Summer Solstice is Stonehenge on Salisbury plain — “in the eye of the sun” — a corresponding image for Winter Solstice is the passage tomb of Newgrange, deep in the earth.


440 BCE coin from Knossos — Wikipedia image

For most of us, a solstice visit to Newgrange in Ireland isn’t in the works this season, but a ready and powerful alternative — one native to the whole planet, really — is the labyrinth.

Working with the labyrinth can parallel the inwardness that places like Newgrange invite us to experience.

[The Wikipedia entry at the link in the previous sentence deals with the double meaning and usage of the word. The Cretan labyrinth associated with the minotaur — the deadly monster at the center — is actually a maze, intended to bewilder those who enter and cause them to lose their way at the very least, if not get eaten. “Amazed” is originally confused. But as the entry goes on to note, many even early representations of that most famous of labyrinths were unicursal — not really mazes at all. Instead, like the coin image to the left, they have a single course or path — one way in, and one out. You can’t get lost.

It’s as if the deeper symbol overtook the old story of Theseus, Ariadne and the monster, or ignored it. The labyrinth is not a trap, then, but becomes an image of return, rebirth, a “there and back again” experience that a certain Hobbit would recognize immediately.]

It’s this labyrinth, the classic “seven-path” version, that I want to explore here*, in part for the value of the number seven and its associations.

Walking the labyrinth has been demonstrated to have beneficial effects. Much of the evidence is admittedly anecdotal and needs further study. But the one thing that is clear from the experience of many people is that as a meditative experience, walking a labyrinth can induce a profound state of centeredness and re-equilibration. Much like the parallel and balanced movements of tai-chi, movement through the labyrinth consists of alternating directions, whether moving out from within, or in from the outside.

3-2-1-Seq-crpIf we number the pathways in order from outside to the center, we get a diagram like this. Whether the labyrinth opens right or left, the sequence of pathways is the same: 3214765. (In addition to forming a pleasing musical sequence if the notes are matched up 1C 2D, etc., on the C-scale, many other associations are possible. Chakras … Tarot cards … I leave this to you as a series of meditations to explore.)

The steps to draw a labyrinth are simple, once you learn the “seed” or starting design for the figure.


The picture above is taken from Mid-Atlantic Geomancy, where you can also find the seeds to draw three-, eleven- and fifteen-path labyrinths. (Once you learn one, you’ll see how the others follow organically.) I also wanted to include a picture with the name Jeff Saward (link to pic and brief bio), because he has done so much valuable work on labyrinths over the decades.

Here’s a Youtube video suitable for kids on how to draw a seven-path labyrinth. It incidentally also illustrates how even drawing the figure can have a meditative quality:

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*In recent decades, in case you happened not to notice, there’s been a revival of interest in labyrinths. New Age authors have seized on the labyrinth as a form of “spiritual technology”. Churches as well as parks, and growth-and-retreat centers, offer labyrinth walks and meditations. You can find permanent ones made from wood, green hedges, stone, sea-shells, and other more unusual substances, as well as portable ones made of tea-lights, or painted on canvas that can be unrolled for use, and then rolled back up and stored or carried to a new location. The World-wide Labyrinth Locator can help you find some of the more permanent ones in your region.

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