Thursday, November 19, 2009

Day 7: Newgrange Passage Womb

No, it's not a typo. I meant to spell 'womb'. Yes, officially it is referred to as Newgrange Passage Tomb, but personally, between you and me, I think the officials got it wrong. Let me explain.

A couple of weeks before Nathan and I left for Ireland, I had a strange yet comforting dream. In the dream, I visited the home of two sisters. Now, these may or may not have been physical sisters, but they were sisters in something, of that I'm sure. I struck up a casual conversation with one of them and as she spoke a strange feeling began to overcome me, then I heard a deep, resonating female voice come through her and say to me, "Do you want to be reborn?" The instant I heard that otherworldly voice, I slipped into a kind of trance-like state within the dream and the woman began to whisper knowledge into me from some outside source. When I awoke, I was perplexed but unafraid. The voice tremored with an indescribable vibration, but it was oddly soothing, like the sound I imagine a mother's voice would make as it travels through the womb to soothe her unborn child.

Fast forward a few weeks and Nathan and I are facing our last full day in Ireland. With heavy hearts we packed up and drove out from Kinnitty to county Meath for a stop at the one site I refused to sacrifice: Newgrange. For those of you who are unfamiliar with it, Newgrange is Ireland's most renowned passage tomb, though it is not the largest, the oldest, nor the most decorated. Passage tombs can be found everywhere in Ireland, or nearly so, but the Boyne River Valley in county Meath has an unusually high number, the majority of which have yet to be excavated. Newgrange perches atop a hill like any other, it's gleaming quartz face beckoning from the distance, pulling and drawing you in as do the many spirals carved over the entrance stone, a massive megalith laid on it's side just blocking the door so that one could not enter in without scrambling over its surface and considering the message chiseled there.

If you're missing the significance here, allow me to put it into perspective for you. Newgrange predates England's Stonehenge by a thousand years. It was gallantly crowning that same hilltop where it can now be seen at least 500 years before the first pyramid was constructed in Egypt's Giza. While its appearance may seem crude, its architects expertly designed the structure to align perfectly with the dawning winter solstice sun, so that once a year, on the morning of the sun's rebirth, a single shaft of glimmering light enters the tomb through a special gate just above the door, travels down the dark canal, and pierces the back chamber, setting much of the interior aglow, the patterns of spirals and geometric shapes dancing suddenly in the new dawn.

Like millions of others who've gawked at the immense skill and precision it would take to build and align the various elements that go into the magic of this structure, you may ask "why"? And the answer is, they don't know. Cremated human remains found at the site have led to the title 'passage tomb', but I think that the experts are jumping the gun. Crouching like an ape to crawl through the narrow, winding passage that leads deceptively upwards, I emerged into what I can only describe as a rock-lined hive of a room. Every stone was perfectly poised one atop the other so as to dome overhead for the last five millennia without the aid of mortar or any fixing medium. Three tiny chambers, large enough for maybe two people to stand in at a time, are set off this central cavity. Each one grounded with large, preset stone slabs. In one, the slab had been scrupulously hand shaped into a large bowl. I stared at that bowl and thought how tender and cradling was its form, how that intention could not have been lost on its maker. As the light snaked inward during a reenactment of solstice morn, I felt as if I were watching a divine coupling take place. Newgrange didn't seem to me a place of death at all; rather it seemed very much a place of gestation.

When the tour was finished we filed quietly out the way we'd come in, practically on our hands and knees. Just before I reached the door, the glaring light already causing me to squint and blink, the words of my dream came funneling down that dark corridor after me, smacking me in my solar plexus with a guttural revelation, "Do you want to be reborn?" I hit the sun-drenched world outside the door in an instant and felt as if I was just entering it for the first time. The energy of that place still clinging to me, I knew all at once that I had been reborn.

There isn't room or time enough to write about the myriad of other synchronicities surrounding my mystical experience at Newgrange. Suffice to say, it was the perfect way to end a perfect jouney. I said in my first blog that for me this was not a vacation but a pilgrimage. Pilgrimages are taken to leave behind the fetters of modern life and reconnect to a deeper understanding that lingers in the lonely and forgotten places of our planet. They are a voluntary walk into the grave, so that one can emerge anew to a world that is full of hope, possibility and life. My seven days in Ireland peaked in the instant the words of my dream returned to me. If I am to greet the world as a newborn babe, there is nowhere else I'd rather do it. If I am to see the world with fresh, unblinking eyes, there is no landscape I'd rather look upon. Ireland began as a dream for me, a longing, a prayer. But she has ended a mother to me, as surely as she is mother to those who roam her hills and bear her blood. I believe now it was her voice calling to me from some unknown place in my dream, beckoning me to her distant shores and verdant mountaintops, her many rivers and many secrets. If Newgrange is anything at all to Ireland, it is her womb, a place to cradle and nurture the possibility of new life. I entered it as a tomb perhaps, but I walked away from what I would more readily describe as a birth than a death.

We left Newgrange that afternoon and headed for Dublin to catch our morning return flight home. I'd been a little down prior to that about our adventure coming to an end, but Newgrange exhilarated me in a way I didn't think possible. Instead of feeling as if I were at the end of something, I was alive with a new beginning. The grass was a little greener, my step a little lighter, the sun a little brighter than it had been before. Ireland wasn't a dream fulfilled after all, it was seed planted.

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