Recently in Ireland, by the happenstance of last minute changes to our tour, we found ourselves in the small town of Athboy. A local councilman heard of our crew of Morrigan devotees and witches and offered to take us to a hill two kilometers away. It wasn’t going to fit into our schedule, but something struck me and I kept insisting we should go. I felt it was ambassadorial somehow and I had brought gifts to share with people like him. We did manage to fit it in before another outing and a Meath councilman took our pagan crew to the Hill of Ward or Tlachtga, where little did I know, Samhain rites traditionally began each year.
As we crossed the threshold, the councilman informed us the 3000 year old grave of a infant was recently discovered. One cannot help feeling a tinge of sadness at the point of new life coming to death. The closeness of birth and death was made so real at the threshold because of the baby’s grave. At the close of summer when we observe Samhain we experience that death and birth mystically in our rituals. Tlachtga is named for a druidess that died there in childbirth and is said to be buried there with her stillborn triplets. It is mythologically fitting that the sacred site of Samhain is named after her.
Samhain is one of the four great fire festivals and it is known as the Witch’s New Year among pagans. Traditional Witches customs around Samhain descend from the ancient festivals in structure and style. The image of women dancing and animals processing around a bonfire traces back to this hill. All Irish fires were smothered that night. The isle was in absolute darkness but for celestial bodies. Then a fire is lit on Tlachtga. It can be seen at Hill of Tara, and then a fire can be lit there too. Soon lights across the island from hill to hill appear in every major province. The dying and birthing of the light at the end of Summer.
These ancient people experienced this fire and I believe they associated the hill it sprung from with the triplets of death, in between and birth. For possibly thousands of years bonfires were lit on Tlachtga. Likewise the locals in Athboy have revived the tradition. We were doubly blessed that the councilman referred us to a local historian Joe Conlon who came on very short notice to speak to us after dinner. He shocked us by telling us right away that he is a druid and began showing us the rites his group holds on the hill every year. The magic they conjure there on those nights is awe inspiring.