When Claire and I were cruising on a barge along the Shannon-Erne waterway and Upper Lough Erne. I did find myself filming many pairs of swans. As a child I was always told they were so special and that feeling has stayed with me.
As a child, it was my family's Sunday afternoon "duty" to feed the swans somewhere either on a lake, river or canal. With this engraved during my childhood it is still my first instinctive reaction, when I see swans, that they are angels or spiritual stewards of nature before my adult logic grounds me and reminds me that they are birds.
I was inspired to write this article after reading a news blog from stone pages announcing that documentary film maker Roel Oostra was in Ireland for a couple of days filming the Boyne Valley passage tombs of Newgrange, Knowth, Dowth and Fourknocks. His film is tentatively called "As Above, So Below". This got my attention because when I guide visitors around the Carrowkeel I try to include some of the ancient wisdoms of geomancy and cosmology, especially "the precession of the equinoxes" which I believe is the foundation for the purpose of cairn building but is better known as the foundation to today's suspected psychology astrology and divination based astrology.
Roel's documentary will cover ancient sites around the world including Avebury, Stonehenge and sites in Egypt, Sri Lanka, Japan and South America to identify that their building was not just connected to the sun but also to the moon, solar system and entire universe.
During his Boyne visit Roel interviewed Anthony Murphy and Richard Moore who have become renowned world touring lecturers of their "Cygnus Enigma" theory that they have explored during the last eight years. They were first inspired by the annual migration of whooper swans who spend the summer in Iceland and then many arrive in the fields around Newgrange during winter year after year. They combined the mystery of the swans choosing Newgrange with the ancient mythology of swans and the constellation of Cygnus.
Whenever I hear or read something about the Boyne valley passage cairns I immediately look at our own local and more ancient Carrowkeel passage cairns to compare, usually with a harmless sense of rivalry. For one, I carry a pride that though our cairns are smaller and the stone engravings are long gone we can boast more spectacular scenery and much more freedom for personal meditation and discovery. So, I had to discover how the excellent Murphy and Moore's work related to our back yard.
The whooper swans, along with the white fronted geese from Greenland, first land in Donegal, especially around Lough Swilly, around September. From there they disperse all around Ireland during October. Intriguingly, we saw white fronted geese land at Belturbet on the river Erne, during our barge cruise, and they certainly made their arrival known. Some whooper swans do land and stay around the reed beds in Lough Arrow below Carrowkeel. They remain resident through winter around the River Unshin estuary.
Murphy and Moore linked the whooper swans migration to their local legend of the romance of Aengus, the son of Daghda and Boann, and Caer the woman of his dreams. Aengus discovered that Caer was a woman in the dream "otherworld" but a swan on a mountain lake in Tipperary in this world. When Aengus found Caer he also became a swan to be with her and they flew back together to live in the Boyne valley.
There are endless ancient Irish legends of people becoming swans or vice versa. The Children of Lir is perhaps the most told and we have local Bréifne legends of Brighid being daughter of both Daghda and Lir living as a swan in Lough Arrow or Lough Key returning on land as a woman to look for her lost brother Manan who returned with her to join her as a swan in Lough Arrow, Lough Key or the nearest lough to where the story is told. That would be an interesting one for Lough na Sool where I saw two swans just days before its rare disappearance down the hole of the eye during 2006.
Swan mythology largely comes to us through texts scribed by early Christian monks who's only reference was the oral stories of the druid following Celts. More ancient than the mythology, as with all ancient stories, is the ancient symbolism that blossomed to breed these colourful tales. The crucifix, though a seemingly obvious and simple symbol is not only the symbol of Christ but also the arrangement of most of the passage structures in the cairns. The constellation of Cygnus (the swan) has its brightest stars seemingly forming the pattern of a cross with the brightest stars positioned like the nails of Christ on the cross. In fact some early crucifixion images of Christ on the cross show him as a nailed swan with a human head. I'm sure this now automatically casts thoughts on angel imagery that you are aware of.
Deneb is the head of the cross and Alberio is the feet, as seen by the naked eye but astronomers reverse this order to depict the swan flying downwards. I've not found out what the fairly bright cross wing stars are called but a star at the centre of the cross is called Sadr. Also of interest to me is that between Sadr and Alberio, could we say belly button level using Christ's imagery, is Cygnus X1 the very first black hole to be discovered and still the largest circumference black hole known.
Considering Cygnus as being an upside down swan with beak pointing down is quite symbolic because aligned with the crucifix in a cairn the beak is the same as the cairn entrance. Murphy and Moore noticed that at winter solstice not only did a line of sunlight enter Newgrange but also there was a straight line between the sun, Fourknocks cairn and the Newgrange entrance. Armed with a wonderful software program called Skyglobe, that can re-enact star charts for any given date, they played around with 3000 BC, about the time that Newgrange was constructed. They found that their sun - Fourknocks - Newgrange alignment extended to the star Deneb in Cygnus.
Some incredible mathematics comes out of this too. On a basic surveying level this would mean that standing on Fourknocks with some marking instrument on Newgrange when the sun sets at the point of Deneb it is winter solstice. Going deeper into the understanding of the "precession of the equinoxes", which I'll enlarge in another blog but for now take it as a cycle lasting 26,000 years, a remarkable situation occurred around 3000 BC. Through the entire "precession of the equinoxes" Deneb remains visible from the northern hemisphere all year round on any clear night. Around 3000 - 2500 BC is the only time during the current 26,000 year cycle when Deneb not only grazed the horizon, as seen from Ireland, but was also due north.
I mentioned earlier that when I hear a story about the Boyne passage cairns it motivates a sense of rivalry in me where I try to trace similar and hopefully more profound evidence related to our local Carrowkeel cairns. In this instance its worth making reference to our wonderful Loughcrew cairns between the two, a bit older than the Boyne cairns and a bit younger than our Carrowkeel cairns.
Cairn T, a crucifix chambered cairn on Loughcrew is famous for both its 16 slabs of wonderful ancient art, some of the best in the world, and its equinox sunrises that light up much of this artwork. Around 3200 BC the the star cluster Pleiades, the bull's nose of the Taurus constellation, rose in the east at the point of sunrise at the spring equinox. When a bright star, or group of stars, rise just before or with a sunrise this is known as a "heliacal" rising because the sun can provide a light ring around the rising star or stars. This is clearly depicted by the ancient carved images on the cairn's back stone that light up during sunrise. This coincides with the mythical Age of Taurus and the bull symbolism of the time. It is also another example of the ancient's understanding of the "precession of the equinoxes"
So now to our local Carrowkeel and especially to Cairn G and its famous "light box". The entrance is dominated by two slabs that form a slit and an entrance slab with a narrow slit cut in it that seems like a flattened yin-yang symbol but to me always looked like a bird wing. The best known phenomena is a summer solstice sunset beaming through the slit between the two slabs, bouncing off of the mica backstone, back out through the slit in the entrance slab, and off into the sky into infinity, or is it to a point on Cygnus? Martin Byrne, once a local guide now living beside the Creevykeel court tomb, claimed that the most northerly moon set every 19.6 years was just as significant as a light thrower.
To get closer to more understanding I went to the work of Andrew Collins, the author of the "Cygnus Mystery"
He starts his journey at the oldest known sacred temple remains, Göbekli Tepe in south-east Turkey near the modern city of Saniurfa. Göbekli Tepe has been dated to 9,500 BC and built by people from what is called the pre-pottery neolithic age, a transitional time between hunter gatherers and more settled agricultural communities emerging on the banks of the Euphrates river as the ice age was receding. This temple included stone rows heading north with evidence of carvings of a bird on a stone pole. This symbolism was adopted into the faith of the Persian Mandeans from who today's Shiites of Iraq are descended from. Cygnus was regarded by pre-Islamic arabs as a white bird that carried souls to heaven, then during Islamic years vultures became regarded as soul carrying birds, hence why the dead were eventually left to the vultures. Towards the west, in Greece and what is now eastern Europe Cygnus the soul carrier became associated with swans and in later Christian western Europe as white doves.
The positioning of Cygnus in the skies tells us a lot about the creation of ancient mythology. It is seemingly at the head and certainly top centre of the Milky Way, that the ancients called a river of stars that is the pathway of the dead. It has also been symbolized as a tree of life sometimes with a serpent wrapped around it and a bird on the top. At the ancient university of Cos in Greece where cosmology and geomancy was taught in addition to medicine there was a teaching that the before life came to earth 12 signs of the zodiac were once 10 signs. When the tree of life came, once the sign of Libra, it separated the signs of Virgo and Scorpio, the virgin and the serpent. Its interesting that the Libra sign evolved into scales which resembles the early Christian T cross image depicting the tree of life with 5 or 7 apples.
On some ancient images the bird on the tree or the post with the curled snake had a door, a guarded door to heaven that would only be opened by those who wish to be judged. This immediately makes me wonder if the ancients were aware of the black hole within Cygnus. Another point to note is that at the time of Gobekli Tepe being built, around the age of Cancer, Deneb, top of Cygnus would have been the pole star with the Milky Way seemingly rising. Our pole star today, Polaris, is nowhere near the head of the Milky Way due to the position we are now in within the Great Year, the "precession of the equinoxes"
A more recent monument of significance is Avebury in England where some cosmologists have aligned the axis to the winter solstice setting of Deneb. Even one of the standing stones on this axis has a swan's head engraving, as shown by writer John Wakefield in his Secrets Of Ancient Wiltshire revealed. A top selling book, "Stonehenge Decoded" by Gerald Hawkins who links Avebury to Stonehenge apparently left out Cygnus references due to his personal believe that ancients could not be bothered with distant stars.
Around Avebury there's also been many findings to indicate that Brighid was revered as a swan on totem poles surrounded by a serpent. Some believe that this Avebury symbolism of Brighid gave Britain its original Brighidia, Brigantia, Britannia name. Another interesting point is that the water filled meadows of nearby Silbury Hill are well populated with migrant whooper swans every winter. Also arriving there in winter are breeshey swans, and Bree is the Manx word for Brighid. They also arrive on Lough Garadice in Co. Leitrim, heart of Brighid legends, but that's another story. Some people of Co. Leitrim still burn rowan twigs on the eve of Imbolc. If the morning ashes show the image of webbed feet this shows that Brighid passed by and the house is blessed for the year.
There are two green cairns at Carrowkeel, one to the south east and one to the south west that seem to connect to samhain and imbolc, Are these markers for the arrival and departure of the swans? Some say that the departing swans take the souls of the dead with them, but I prefer to jump to the stork legends as the bringers of new born. Beltaine, in May was the fertility festival so that conceived babies would be born at Imbolc, the start of spring rather than in the winter.
Here's another thought. Most whooper swans make their move from Donegal and the Scottish Hebrides to many parts of Ireland and Britain during night of the full moon before Samhain, Nov 5th. When they do they make quite a cackle in the sky. Some said that they are bringing back the dead. Some said they are witches on broomsticks.
Yet another thought, every summer in July the northern hemisphere is blessed with "shooting stars" called Alpha Cygnids. Origins? Cygnus!
Though this a long article it only skims the surface of wisdom of Cygnus. Andrew Collins has perhaps written the most profound presentation including some intriguing new science such as from an American scientific think tank, at the end of 2005, called the Meinel Institute of Las Vegas, founded by former consultants to the NASA-linked JPL (Jet Propulsion Laboratory). They announced that it now believed that cosmic rays from a galactic binary system producing relativistic jets was responsible for a rapid acceleration in animal and human evolution around 40,000 years ago. They concluded they came from Cygnus.
|Please read more from Andrew Collins|
Also please contact me for vacations and guided tours of Carrowkeel & Brighid's Bréifne
A Cygnus Today
Finally I cannot resist adding this dedication to my partner Claire Roche, a singer harpist who reminds me of ancient Egyptian cosmology teachings of a bird called the "Great Cackler" a cosmic goose who manifested the universe by giving a honk then laid a sun egg from which the creator emerged and built the universe.
Now Claire's "honk" is very beautiful song that does lay a sun egg, she's Leo, that opens and embraces all around. Without knowing this legend, Claire's son calls her the "cosmic goose" and before every performance Claire says "I must fluff up my feathers". Next and below Cygnus is the constellation Lyra. The earliest harps were called "lyres" that were played at the "gates of heaven". The bards during the druid and early Christian ages would not perform without wearing a coat or cloak of swan or goose feathers.
...... so it all connects today to the destiny of my beautiful honking harping feather fluffing partner.