About 30 miles northwest of Dublin is the Hill of Tara, the seat of the ancient high kings of Ireland. On top of the Hill is the Lia Fáil, the Stone of Destiny – it cries out when touched by the true king.
I’ve been to the Hill of Tara three times now. Three times I’ve put my hand on the Lia Fáil. Three times the Lia Fáil has been silent. It is very clear that I am not the true king of Ireland.
A little over a hundred yards from the Lia Fáil is the Mound of the Hostages, a small passage tomb about 5000 years old. It’s said that if you go deep enough into the mound, you’ll come out at Oweynagat – the Cave of the Cats and the home of the Morrigan. That’s at Rathcroghan, about 80 miles to the west. Apparently distance is as wonky as time when you’re in the Otherworld.
Alas, the Mound of the Hostages is kept locked, and no keys are available. We didn’t get a chance to test the theory for ourselves. Which, if you know anything about going into fairy mounds, is probably just as well…
There are some more modern structures at the Hill of Tara. There is Saint Patrick’s Church, built in 1823 on the site of another church first commissioned around 1190. The church includes a cemetery, and there’s a statue of Saint Patrick outside. When I first visited Tara in 2014, a raven was sitting on the shoulder of the statue.
Tara is also home to more ravens than I’ve ever seen in one place. They nest in the trees around the cemetery, and when we were there two weeks ago they were busy – and they were loud.
Ravens doing raven things
Those of you who are regular readers know I tend to be rather critical of people who try to interpret every wild animal sighting as a personal message for themselves. Most of us live in cities and suburbs. We don’t see wild animals very often, so we don’t recognize ordinary animal behavior when we see it. We also tend to be very human-centric and me-centric – if an animal does something unusual, we assume it must be a “message” for us. We make our interactions with other creatures all about us and forget that they are beings of innate sovereignty and autonomy just as we are.
We often do that with other humans too, but that’s another rant for another time.
So I want to be very clear: these were ravens doing raven things for raven reasons. They were busy picking up sticks – and some pretty big sticks at that – and carrying them back to their nests. I’m no expert on bird behavior, but I imagine many of the nests had been damaged in what was the worst snowstorm to hit Ireland in over 30 years, only a week prior.
The ravens were busy and the ravens were loud, for reasons that are purely naturalistic and ordinary, and if you choose to stop there I completely respect your decision.
But I’m not going to stop there.
Hearing the Gods in a place of powerIn this one place we have the seat of ancient high kings, a portal to the Otherworld, and one of the Four Hallows of the Tuatha De Danann. It may not be as visually impressive as massive stone structures like Newgrange or Stonehenge, but for those who pay attention, the Hill of Tara is a place of great power.
I try to pay attention.
In 2014, seeing a raven using the statue of Saint Patrick as a perch said everything I needed to hear. In 2016, I had a brief experience of the Morrigan that I asked to be ended early. I treasure my first-hand experiences of the Gods, but I had obligations to our touring group that I needed to tend to. And, as She likes to remind me, I can talk to Her in Texas just as well as I can talk to Her in Ireland (though there’s something special about doing it in Ireland – that may or may not be a future blog post).
In 2018, the Hill of Tara was our first spiritual stop after spending two days doing cultural and historical stuff in Dublin. I was enjoying myself, but that morning was time for a shift from cultural and historical to religious and spiritual. The vacation was on pause and the pilgrimage was beginning.
There’s nothing to shift your focus like an ancient Pagan site shrouded in mists, with a chorus of ravens providing the background music.
So I listened.
And I heard.
Learning from the ravens
The first thing I heard – both audibly and not – were the ravens. There were dozens (perhaps hundreds?) of active ravens in the area, and they were loud. But beyond their audible sounds were voices saying “we’re working – why aren’t you?”
That wasn’t a criticism of our travels and it certainly wasn’t some corvid expression of the Protestant work ethic. It was a simple statement of fact: the storm we were warned about for years is here and we are nowhere near its end. I suspect I will not see its end in this lifetime. Surviving the storm requires work: preparations, maintenance of shelters, and rescue operations for those caught out in it. It requires clearing the battlefield of carnage and preparing the land for new growth.
And I intend to do far more than survive.
After I heard the ravens, I heard the Great Queen Herself. She reminded me that my place is in Texas, not in Ireland. As with the ravens, that’s not a criticism of our travels, just a reminder that what’s most important is what we do day in and day out where we live.
Enjoy this place and be inspired by it. Then go home and build what needs to be built there.
Getting back to work
As I write this post – two weeks after our visit to Tara – I can’t help thinking of all the things I put on hold to go on vacation: my paying job, house maintenance, blogging, book writing, some formal devotions I need to write, even my morning walks (we walked a lot on this trip, but that’s not the same thing). Our vacation and pilgrimage was wonderful and to a certain extent, necessary. But now it’s time to get back to work.
I went back to my paying job on Thursday. This is my third blog post. I need a break for an hour or so, then it’s time to pick up some other sacred work I left sitting. I find great meaning in my Pagan work, and I’m honored to be called to do it.
But I will never, ever forget the beauty and power of the chorus of ravens at the Hill of Tara.