A Solstice Story

Yes, Virginia, There is a Newgrange

by Theresa C. Dintino

stories slider image

Learn more about Newgrange Temple in Ireland at this link.

virginia-woolf

Virginia Woolf
London, 1941

Because we forgot how to console ourselves, because we forgot our connection to the Earth, to the sky, to the smallest cell within us, the most encompassing black hole surrounding us—because of this, we know despair.
     Once, we walked to Newgrange.  Once we knew, the snow crunching for miles beneath our feet, we knew how important it is to remember —to remind ourselves, to experience rebirth and so, believe again.
     I laughed when I wrote this.  I, who had only just decided to walk into the river.  I who was so cold, so cold—so alone—that to me, the water felt warm.

Newgrange PicturesCounty Meath, Ireland  2400 B.C.E.

It is cold and there is nothing to do.  Imagine!  Nothing to do?  We have stored all our food, stacked all our wood, set ourselves up for the darkness.  All there is now is to wait for the snow to become so deep, we cannot think of moving about.  The days are becoming shorter and shorter.  “The sun is leaving us,” I say.
“To Newgrange,” you say, speaking with light in your eyes of our place of pilgrimage at each solstice of winter. The place we all hope to journey to, hope to complete our work in time to take days to walk to, to be reborn within Her womb, to be reborn through the darkness into the light.  Each solstice of winter those in the village who are healthy and willing journey to Newgrange.
“I went every year with my mother,” I say.  “My mother.”
“Your mother,” you smile.
I love you so.
The work in our newly-formed home has gone so well. We are quite pleased with ourselves.  You say I have big feet.
“Big feet are good,” I say.
“Yes. We will travel quickly.”
“Have you ever seen it?” I ask.
“No. Always a day late.”
“So with me,” I say. “We’ll leave early for plenty of time.”
“We’ll travel alone, you and I, not to be held back by the group,” you suggest.
“But the group—the group is safer,” I respond.
“No.  No.  Don’t want to miss the solstice again,” you insist.
I close the door to our shelter, box it in tightly with twigs and branches.  When we return it will be difficult to find, at first, the snow—the winter—concealing it.  But inside will be dry; ready for the time within.
The snow arcs and crests in hills around us.  The wind has blown it smooth.  The sun reflects off its vast, shiny surface.  Tinkling.  Glimmering.  Shimmering.  In our darkest season, so much brightness, so much whiteness, surrounds us.
Snow so thick; in some places the paths blown over, the snow’s drifts covering footprints.  Our feet sink deep to the knee for long distances, our legs lifting, lifting—heavy hurting—only to meet our own knee-deep prints again—only to realize we have circled back and around.

virginia-woolfLondon, 1941

     The war, this most awful Second World War, was raging.  I was raging. I know, I was about to fall apart.  I knew I needed to let myself fall apart—the layer upon layer of affectation.  In order to rebuild myself, I needed to let the glued-together pieces finally expand; burst open.  The anger.  I needed to go beneath the anger; under.  There was something down there, black and shining.  I had only begun to glimpse it.  But I could not bear the look on your faces.  Your worry.  Your disappointment.  I could not take one more pill.
You see, I wanted to feel it.  I wanted to know it, as difficult as it would have been, exhausting. To experience it was the solution—the key to it all.
While the biggest part of me was being pulled in, like a magnet, I fought to keep myself from dropping deeper and deeper for you.  The resistance was killing me.  All my being was grabbing and grappling.  My mind was losing ground.  I was losing ground.  Then, I realized, there is another way to get at it—to free this thing, black and shining—rotating—at my core.

Newgrange PicturesCounty Meath, 2400 B.C.E

“Hurry.  Hurry.”
You rush me. I have never been a fast walker.  It was always I who held my mother back. I want to keep up.  I move.  I push forward.  I keep thinking, Big feet. Big feet.
You are big.  Your footsteps twice as long as mine.  I point that out to you.  “Look,” I say, “I must move my feet two times as much as you.  Only to keep up, I must do double the work.  Please, slow down.  I am growing tired.”

virginia-woolfLondon, 1941

“Why are you writing such things?” you, Leonard, asked.
The sight of my own anger on the page—how it chilled me. I asked myself: How could anyone react to the things I was seeing, reading about, hearing about with anything but anger?  I know.  I know.  Ultimately, it makes no difference to my feelings whether or not they are ladylike.  I cannot help but feel it.  How is it that you do not feel it?
You told me, with your eyes and looks and sideways glances, you said to me, “Everyone already has enough to worry about. Pull yourself together, Virginia.”  But it is not the self that will not pull together. It is the selves; it is these that seem to want to split and scatter.  Of course, I could not tell you that.

Newgrange PicturesCounty Meath, 2400 B.C.E.

My mother went slow for me.  I was always looking around—feeling everything.  After a few days, she would drop her frustration—tell the group to go on ahead of us.  A resigned sigh, with the words, “Should have left earlier.  We’ll miss it again.”  Then—hands on hips, looking forward—watching our group of people trudge, in a straight line ahead of us, “The solstice will come whether we’re there or not.  If only to see it.”
I stood myself beside her, looking where she looked, toward the hills of frozen white earth, curving.  I listened to the leafless trees around us.  I could hear them reaching, breathing—in spite of the cold—swaying. I listened to their tall, exposed bodies creaking—loud popping—as though expanding, ready to burst open, break apart—yet they do not.  They remain whole.
The sun was dipping orange behind one of those hills, spreading itself in pinks and yellows upon the snow.
“I see it,” I said.  “I see the solstice, Mother.  It is always around us; in the light that flickers off the snow in pinks and yellows, in the sun, though distant, ever present.  I see it, Mother. I see the solstice.  It is within us.”
“Yes,” she answered.  “Because you see, you walk slowly.  Perhaps next year, I shall come alone.”
She never did.  We continued to go, every year, together.  She stopped pushing and, I think, even stopped wishing.  The journey.
The journey became the thing.
But you, your will is so strong and I, for some reason, I cannot fight you. I can feel how it is killing me—this rushing, this doing things only for the joy of having them done.  I am missing out on what feeds me.  The shadows on the morning ice, the clouds, drifting slowly by, the particular smoke of an early fire.  I look at the piles of wood and think, I don’t remember stacking them.  I only remember how late we worked—how fast.  I do not remember the precise feel of the actual stacking: the feel of the wood beneath my axe, the sound of the blade on living wood, the smell of freshly-cut tree spirit, released, released, released by the force of the axe.
The feeling of you loving me, I remember—the pride in your eyes when we accomplish, the excitement in your voice at the thought of doing more.  It is the love—the you loving me—that I am feeling now.  It is this which I am savoring.

virginia-woolfLondon, 1941

In the book I wrote, “Life for both sexes—and I looked at them, shouldering their way along the pavement—is arduous, difficult, a perpetual struggle.  It calls for gigantic courage and strength. More than anything, perhaps, creatures of illusions as we are, it calls for confidence in oneself.  Without self-confidence we are babes in the cradle.  And how can we generate this imponderable quality?  By thinking that other people are inferior to oneself . . .Women have served all these centuries as looking glasses possessing the magic and delicious power of reflecting the figure of a man at twice its natural size.”1
You scoffed when you read this, but it was the scoff of recognition.  Recognition, I know now, is not enough.  Even in recognition will some—most—close their eyes to others; the inflated image in the looking glass too important to let go of.

Newgrange PicturesCounty Meath, 2400 B.C.E

Still, my mother and I were happy when we arrived.  When, from a distance, we could finally see the circle of stones, we would smile, the joy stretching between our cold, separate bodies, walk faster. The shared vision of light flickering off the domed, quartz surface, unified us—bringing the rhythm of our feet into unison.
Arriving, we would circle around it slowly, observe the carvings and deep incisions on the large stones of the outer wall, lay our hands upon them, our fingers fondling the thick grooves of moving spirals and spinning wheels; within Her sacred triangle, planting our own prayer of hope for the sun’s return.
Mother peered longingly between the two boulders pushed together in front of and closing the entrance—the ones that only a few days earlier had opened to receive solstice.
“I’m sorry, Mother.”
“No. No.  It’s all right,” she said.  “I’ve grown to like it this way.  The mystery.  Come,” her hand extended out toward mine, “we circle back now, to home.”
We both know, my feet are not big.  You push me even so.
I see you, I see you betting on me, calculating with your head.  Your head saying, She can take more.  I may push her further.
I am already dying and I know it.  It is this—the spark of fire before death—that you see in me and mistake for strength.
I do not correct you.

virginia-woolfLondon, 1941

“Let me add a dream, for it may refer to the incident of the looking-glass.  I dreamt that I was looking in a glass when a horrible face—the face of an animal—suddenly showed over my shoulder.  I cannot be sure if this was a dream, or if it happened. Was I looking in the glass one day when something in the background moved, and seemed to me alive?  I cannot be sure.  But I have always remembered the other face in the glass, whether it was a dream or a fact, and that it frightened me.”2
And now, I feel almost certain—its seems more than evidently clear—that it is this, this precise fear—the fear of the animal in the looking glass—it is this which is generating all the hate, the destruction; it is this which is tearing our world apart—scattering our selves.

Newgrange PicturesCounty Meath, 2400 B.C.E.

“What have I done?” you say, when it is already too late.  “What, oh what?”  Your scream echoes off the cold around us.
You carry me the rest of the way.  I understand it then, watching you force your tired body to carry all that extra weight; it is yourself you have been loving in me—your own weak self you are pushing.  It has nothing to do with me.  I could have been anyone.
You get me to Newgrange on time for the solstice.  What my mother never saw—what she gave up because she could see me—you let me see.
I am scared until we get there.  Frightened.  I never liked the darkness and being so close to it.
You walk quickly toward the opening, right past the entryway.
“Slow down.  Slow down,” I say, pointing to that beautifully carved stone which stands in front of, almost in the way of, the entrance. The rock my mother and I prayed over every year. You take me back.  You hold me before its face full of smiling, triple spirals.  I breathe in the wide, arcing wings of creation expanding on the surface before me.  Even now, I can feel your impatience.  After all, we have come for the inner chamber.  We are not there yet.
“Perhaps the solstice, seeing the solstice, will make you better,” you say.
“I have seen the solstice,” I say.  “It is always around us.  This is only a symbol.  It is not magic.  Symbols are for people like you, to remind you of what you forgot.”
You look at me.  I think, for a moment, you almost see me.

virginia-woolfLondon, 1941

Will the women of the future know different?  Will they finally dig down and claim that thing, black and shining—their essence, their essential power? Will they recognize the other face in the mirror as their own?  It will be difficult to dig out from under all those centuries of rage.

 

Newgrange PicturesWe move down the tunnel together.  You burrow me through except for the places where I have to crawl.  The last of my energy is spent slithering myself between two tight, squeezing, walls of stone, crawling back in.  The chamber is as I remember it, my fingers had memorized it in the grooves engraved on the stone out front every year—three round, bulging, interconnected rooms—the triple spiral—regenerating.  We had felt it every year, my mother and I, the spirals traced longingly by our fingers creating the deep movement of spirals within. It is there, out front—it has always been there—displayed for all to see.
The solstice is near.  The light of the lamps is extinguished.  We sit in the darkness, with the others, waiting.

virginia-woolfLondon, 1941

I know.  I am not deluding myself.  I know there will come a time when I will have to do this work, the work I am turning my back on this time.  I will return, someday, to do it.  Here’s hoping for an easier place.

 

 

galactic goldThe light comes into the chamber—with startling brightness, the solstice floods the interior around us, with a whiteness—exposing a stone room covered with engravings we could not, in the darkness, perceive.
You grab my arm.  You can see it.  The pain is overwhelming you.
“It’s all right now,” I say.  “I can see, darkness only the other side of light.  Light only possible because of darkness.  Nothing separate.  Look at the ceiling above us.  See the circles, separate but one?  I will go but I will not be gone.  The two that you see, but two parts of that same one.”
You look at me.  I am you.  I will go now. You hear me.  You hear me say it with your eyes.
The spirals above take me in.  I feel myself swirling, whirling,  whooshing, swooshing—weight leaves me.  I am light.  I am darkness.  I am, always . . .

©Theresa C. Dintino

*Notes on the setting

The Neolithic site at Newgrange in County Meath, Ireland, built around 3350 B.C.E., is a temple dedicated to the sun of winter, more specifically the sun of the mid winter solstice.  Because one must pass through a long, narrow tunnel to reach the inner chamber, Newgrange has been called a passage tomb.
The site is built into a mound whose rounded façade was once covered almost entirely with white quartz and could be seen for miles. Many of the green gritstones that were used to border the base of the mound were engraved with spirals, triple spirals, concentric circles and the many variations of the triangle.
The tunnel, burrowing through the mound is lined with large stone slabs and leads to a cross shaped, triple chambered interior.  Encompassing the site was once a large stone circle which served to hedge it off from the vast stretches of land that surround it, indicating sacred space.  The most astounding feature of Newgrange, however, is perceived only once per annual cycle.
Above the entryway lintel is a small square window, through which at the exact moment of midwinter sunrise, light passes. The yellow rays of energy stretch though the narrow tunnel and illuminate the dark, inner chamber, exposing a magnificent corbelled ceiling and stones bearing etchings mirroring the ones on the exterior.
The winter solstice is the time when the sun’s light is least present, yet it is also the time that it begins to make its slow return.  Early people understood and honored this phenomenon.

Sources:

Gimbutas, Marija, The Civilization of the Goddess, HarperCollins, New York, 1991.
Streep, Peg, Sanctuaries of the Goddess, Little, Brown & Co, Boston, 1994.
Heinberg, Richard, Celebrate the Solstice, Quest Books, Wheaton, IL  1993.

  1. Virginia Woolf, A Room of One’s Own(New York:  Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich, 1957) p.35
  2. Virginia Woolf, Moments of Being(San Diego:  Harcourt, Brace & Co, 1989) p.69.