If you follow me on Instagram, then you know that I spent last weekend in Ireland. And, because of that trip, I was away from my computer, blogging, and all other things technical (except photography-related things, of course!) so that I could focus on being with my love + our amazing friend who we were visiting. But, much more on that when I do my big Ireland travel post.
For now, I want to just talk about one special part of a very special trip.
Since I was away from all things technical, I didn’t do my weekly Lenten post on my Uppsala cathedral visit last week. In fact, I didn’t even visit the cathedral last week… but that was due to taking my boss out to lunch on Wednesday.
I did go to the cathedral today, however, so I am back on track. And I suppose I could talk about my visit today, but I really want to do something else. And, since this is my blog and my series, that’s what I’m gonna do. Hehe.
I really neeeeeed to tell you about an experience I had in Ireland. One that I can’t stop thinking about. And, for my little meditation time this morning, I read something that fit just perfectly with this experience over the weekend, and since it’s mystical cathedral day, a day I focus on spiritual things, I decided that the universe was nudging me to use this post to tell the story from this weekend.
Here’s what I read this morning:
“Universal symbols lie within ourselves… when you are given a dogma telling precisely what kind of meaning you shall experience in a symbol, explaining the kind of effect it should have upon you, then you are in trouble. The real function [of a church] is simply to preserve and present symbols and to perform rites, letting believers experience the message for themselves in whatever way they can.” – Joseph Campbell
And here’s what happened in Ireland that’s connected to that quote:
One day, Lina, our friend, her adorable son, and I headed about 30 minutes from her Irish countryside homestead to a magical, mystical, ancient place. Honestly, it was not a place that I had heard about before. But, as soon as I understood where we were going, I was freaking excited.
In eastern Ireland the countryside area is known as the Ancient East. I’ll bet you can guess why. Yes, there is one incredible, ancient, magical piece of history after another scattered throughout the fields, hills, and plains. On this one particular day, we were headed to one of them.
Newgrange is a 5000 year old archeological and mystical wonder. Older than Stonehenge, and filled with meaning + majesty. It is truly an awe-inspiring wonder. But, more than that, for me, it has now become a place of deep sacred mystery.
Built in the neolithic age (n-e-o-lithic, my friends. like 3000 BC. before the wheel was invented!) – and still standing there, it was a place for burial rites and ceremonies. Sacred ground that these early people used for the bones + ashes of their dead. A burial mound, which has a passage + a chamber inside.
I won’t go into the story of how it was built in detail, but know this. It’s just stone. And more stone. With grass on top. And it’s still standing. It is known as an archeaological wonder, with the roof still holding up the mound after 5000 years. And, as I said, built only with stacked stone into a domed roof. Did I mention that this was 5000 years ago?!
I actually thought that that was amazing enough, but then I realized that we were going to GO INSIDE. Like walk into this ancient tomb area. I had no idea that we’d get to creep inside and actually feel the ancient vibes. Oh, yeah. I feel those kinds of vibes. For real, y’all.
Our friend + the little one stayed back at the visitor’s center, while Lina and I took a guide bus up to Newgrange. There were about 30 of us there, who met our guide, and walked over to the front of the tomb/mound. It was here that the guide, Carmen, got my soul fluttering even more as she gave us facts + history + info about this incredible place.
But, it was her comments about the symbols, the neolithic art, that was all over this place that really make my heart skip a beat. She admitted that there are many various ideas and thoughts and theories as to what the symbols mean, what they stand for, what the ancient celtic ancestors were trying to communicate. She said, of course, that no one really knows and then…. then she implored us to discover our own meanings behind the symbols. To look at the them and let them speak to us.
I felt in my spirit, right then and there, that this was the truth. That whatever I saw and read and understood was exactly what the universe, the anceint celts, the gods, the divine, the whatever meant for me to hear and see and feel. In other words, the truth already lies in my soul.
Then, guide took in half of the group inside. Of course, my group was to wait outside, or walk around and explore the mound. So, Lina + I did just that. I found some of those symbols hidden on the back side of the mound. And I touched them. I freaking touched them. I breathed deep. I listened. And I didn’t feel the need to define or know anything. I just let it be.
10 minutes later and we were told that it was time. I was already on a spiritual high, so the idea of going inside made me feel like I was flying. Carmen warned us beforehand that if we are claustrophobic, to hang towards the back if we needed to “escape” quickly. She gave us instructions to not take photos inside (damn it!), but I knew that this was for the best for me. For, it would be impossible to capture what this moment would be like. OK. So, I snuck a photo anyway, as I was cramming my body between the rocks in the passageway. It’s not a great photo, but I just had to have something.
The entrance was small and dark. Like entering a cave. We were told to take our bags off and hold them, there would not be space for us to squeeze through with a bag hanging down. So, we started. It wasn’t very far in to the middle, but it was so exciting. Stone after stone surrounded me as I pushed, ducked, and crept in through this very, very narrow space. And suddenly, I emerged into this circular center, with a tall dome ceiling. Still all stone. With carvings and neolithic art and 18th century graffiti all around me. And three little alcoves off of the center room… where they laid the bones + ashes of the dead. I could hardly breathe from the amazingness of simply being able to stand there.
It was incredible. Breathtaking. I was in a space from 5000 years ago. Where people celebrated life and honored death. I had no words, I just held onto Lina’s arm, moved by the mystery and beauty and history.
Now, here’s the crazy amazing magic. Above the tiny entrance where we came in is a little opening they call the “lightbox.” The ancient people added this space for what we don’t know. But, I am certain that it has to be a spiritual celebration.
On the four days at the winter solstice (december 21), for only four days, when the sun rises, it shines in through that lightbox, then all the way down the little narrow entrance path, and into the circular dome-center. It illuminates everything, bathing the entire passageway + chamber in golden light for only 17 minutes, and then it is gone as the sun continues to rise in the morning, leaving the space totally dark for the rest of the year.
For 17 minutes for 4 days. The winter solstice sunrise glows inside. Every other moment it is pitch black dark. I truly have no words for this magical, mystical planning of these ancient people. But, I do know that I was standing on holy ground.
the top rectangular box is the lightbox, where the winter solstice sunrise shines directly in.
I have had the privilege of standing on quite a few different historical, holy ground spots in the world. Athens, Greece. The oracle at Delphi. Notre Dame. To name a few. And I have the opportunity to visit the holy ground of Uppsala’s grand, historical cathedral anytime I want. After this trip to Ireland, and after letting our guides’ words sink in about discovering our own truths and letting the symbols speak to us in our own way, and reading Joseph Campbell’s words, I thought about all of that a lot today when I was in the cathedral.
What is holy ground to me can most definitely be those well-known sacred places around the world. But, anywhere can be holy ground to be as well. In fact, anywhere + everywhere is holy ground I believe. There is magic under a lit up cross that stands over a lake in North Carolina. There is mystery + history at the base of a coastal NC lighthouse. There are mystical vibes on streets where I have lived, churches I have visited, parks I have walked through, schools I have attended, buildings I have passed, and so on.
Every single place is holy. Every single one of us is sacred. The mystery and divine are not high above us or locked away tight in some special place. It is all found in everyday life. All around us.
Newgrange, the burial mound, may be a great amazing thing to us now, but to those who crafted it and used it, it was part of their daily life, everyday rituals. It became sacred because it meant something to them. And, therefore, wherever we are, I believe, wherever we go, the magical, mystical divine that lives within us makes it all sacred. Every rock. Every tree. Every bird. Every human.
It’s all holy ground.