The Eve of Yule

Newgrange, 2005 (photo by Carl McColman)

Tonight will be longest night of the year. The exact solstice moment occurs at 1:08 AM Saturday morning, Atlanta time. So happy winter solstice, everyone!

This means that at Newgrange in Ireland, probably starting yesterday and running through Monday, the annual solstice event is occurring, meaning that for just a few minutes each morning — weather permitting — the sun will shine directly into the heart of this megalithic tomb. Even though it is about 5,000 years old, this ancient structure is perfectly aligned so that the winter solstice sunrise briefly shines directly into its heart, casting light into chambers that the rest of the year would lie in serene darkness.

We know so little about what our ancestors believed. Clearly, to build a tomb like Newgrange (which easily took several generations to complete) with such a precise astronomical alignment speaks not only to a profound reverence for the dead, but also a deep knowledge of the environment — and, we may presume, some sort of conviction about immortality. The form those beliefs may have taken, of course, has been lost in the mists of time. All that is left is a massive structure, which after millennia stands as a silent testimony to an ancient wisdom long lost.

It begs the question: what other forms of knowledge or wisdom have been lost to us? And what will take to regain such insight?

Good questions for us as we reflect on the longest night of the year, and the anticipated return of the sun.

N.B. My apologies to readers from the southern hemisphere — hope you have a joyful summer solstice!

Pentecost and Ecstasy
What Has Not Yet Been Revealed
Sanctity and Struggle, or, Why Saints Have Chaotic Inner Lives (Hint: It's Because We All Do)
Mysticism and the Divine Feminine: An Interview with Mirabai Starr
About Carl McColman

Author of Befriending Silence, The Big Book of Christian Mysticism, Answering the Contemplative Call, and other books. Retreat leader. Speaker. Professed Lay Cistercian.

  • john skinner

    I have just been to our medical centre and left a handful of books for the children’s corner. I went in to see the nurse and on my return a substantially built farmer’s wife (I am guessing) was reading to her two boys, Will and Harry. They had been restless as I waited: now there heads were bent into the pages of Emily and the Werewolf, by Herbie Brennan which we published in the 90s.
    Herbie spoke magically about New Grange and witnessing the sun shafting right through the ancient sacred building.
    So were our Irish forebears mystics too?
    We seem to be getting to you Carl…

  • http://dreamstudies Ryan

    Ah – to be of the lucky few who gets to see the light glance into the tomb and shine on the triple spiral petroglyph. happy solstice!

  • Lisa

    I hope all of you by now have viewed the “sun shafting right through the ancient sacred building,” Newgrange at
    Happy New Year!