Thursday, October 26, 2006

Samhain Flame Of Tlachtga

Hill Of Ward

I have often visited Tara Hill, Co. Meath, for Celtic Festival celebrations with an eye watching the fires lighting up at the Hill Of Ward, and meaning to visit there "next time" or at least find out more.

"Hill Of Ward" is a name from the 17th century from a landowner called Ward. Druids prefer to know this hill as "Hill Of Tlachtga" or simply Tlachtga.

The legends of "goddess" Tlachtga are as varied as with Brighid due to her different times of incarnation. The earliest Tlachtga was a druidess type goddess that arrived with the Firbolgs, then as a firbolg druidess somehow close or related to Tailtiu, then vaguely incarnated as a Firbolg goddess at the time of the arrival of the Milesians then with her strongest time of legends at the time of high king, Cormac McAirt in the early 3rd century AD. Her legend is the same in every incarnation.

She was the daughter of a chief druid Mug Ruith who frequently travelled to the east to develop his druid wisdom and Tlachtga travelled with him to develop her druid skills. Mug Ruith, meaning both "slave or devotee of the wheel" was a general term given to a druid but there are also legends of Mug Ruith of Munster causing Cormac McAirt to be blinded in one eye during battle and forcing him to step down as high king.

Death of Tlachtga, birth of three sons

Tlachtga's life always ended by being raped by three men at Imbolc and then dying after giving birth to three babies at Samhain. In the firbolg legends these three children became rulers of what is now known as Munster, Leinster and Connaught while Ulster was the region from where the rapists came from. In the Celtic Cormac McAirt era her rapists were the sons of Jerusalem based druid Simon Magnus on a visit with her father to Jerusalem. Some early Christians revered Simon as being a son of God or even God on earth as a human but all Christians later regarded him as the first heretic. Again, Tlachtga's life ended at Samhain as she gave birth to Doirb, Cumma and Muach .

No matter what the true legend of Tlachtga is, a name meaning "Earth Spear", what is now named on maps as "The Hill Of Ward" has been regarded by druids for 100s of years as the "Temple Of Tlachtga" where the old fires of the Celtic Year are ritually smothered out and a new pure flame is lit for the year ahead.

When the Samhain Flame was first lit

Its origin as the source of the Samhain Fire of Ireland also has its range of legends but I favour Lugh, the Tuatha De Dannan hero of Moytura and high king around 1450 BC as being the originator. As well as being king he was a top sportsperson and druid too. His foundation of Tailtiu as a Lughnasa sports event venue is well known so I can equally imagine him founding locations for Imbolc, Beltaine and Samhain ceremonies as well. The Samhain location must surely have been, and remained, the "Hill Of Tlachtga.

If you visit this hill today you can barely make out the rath rings that once were. These were largely destroyed at the time of Ward in the 16th century. There were four very high raths that led to the site of the "flame". Where the new pure flame of Samhain came from is speculative.

We can look at the name of Tlachtga, earth spear, which was also once a term used for lightning. Ancient people easy source of fire was from trees set on fire by lightning. More profound is considering a ritual that has lasted at least 2000 years, and I suspect 3500 years to the time of Lugh when the volcano of Lambay, in the Irish Sea, north of Dublin, was active.

Origin of the flame

It is said that fire was collected at Lambay, from the volcano lava, and brought by boat up the River Boyne, then along the Yellow River that flows close to the "Hill Of Tlachtga". The flame was then carried up the hill to become the new pure flame at Samhain. The druids present, from the clans and communities around Ireland, would then take the flame back to their people to provide for their fires for the year. One of these druids would be the high druid of the high king who would take the flame back to the king holding court, talks, treaties and celebration at Tara Hill. From Cormac McArt's time this flame would have lit the Banqueting Hall to end the celebration and start the new year.

So it may well be that the character Mug Ruith was the symbol of all high druids and Tlachtga was a symbol of the Samhain flame. Her death at the birth of a trinity of sons at Samhain truly fits into the spirit of Samhain.

As Tlachtga, aka Ward Hill, is spiritually much more important than Tara Hill I will be making a stop there in future for visitors to my day tours and vacation packages that I pick up from Dublin Airport. This is especially important for people on my Goddess, Brighid and Tuatha De Dannan tours.

Alignments to Bréifne

As always, I cannot focus on a Co. Meath sacred site without reflecting on Bréifne, where I focus my tours. Not only do I have friendly rivalry with the tour guides of Meath but also usually unearth remarkable connections to Bréifne. This is perhaps one of the most remarkable.

If you draw a line on a map between Lambay and Hill Of Ward, it cuts right through the south of the Hill Of Tara.

Continue that line across Ireland and it passes through many interesting sites, but I find the most remarkable is the alignment to where I live below the Ceis Corran mountain, probably aligned with Morrigan's cairn above and Keash Caves below. This is also where Cormac McAirt was born as well as the Tuatha De Dannan incarnation of Brighid. On the clearest of days Lambay Island can be seen from Morrigan's cairn, the only place it can be seen in Co. Sligo, west of Ireland.

As I was drawing the line I was expecting it to intersect with Lugh's Seat, a cairn above the site of the second battle of Moytura that is said to have been fought over Samhain. At one end is a line of volcanic pillars known as the "Pillars Of Samhain". "Lugh's Seat" is where Lugh threw his spear at the approaching Balor and knocked out his evil eye. Thinking of Tlachtga, earth spear, it makes me now wonder if Lugh's legendary spear is of the same symbolism carried by Tlachtga and a symbol of the Samhain flame.

Now the date of Samhain is a real boggler.
,,,,, and I'm going to leave that one for another Samhain season blog.

Meanwhile, I must recommend you look out for an out of print book by John Gilroy called Tlachtga: Celtic Fire Festival.

To visit Tlachtga do consider one of my day tours or packages that can include a visit to Tara and Tiachtga when I either collect you or return you to Dublin.

5 comments:

  1. interesting stuff..where did you hear about the flame coming from lambay to tlachta?

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  2. Flame coming from Lambay is one story I have heard from some storytellers, maybe the connection to flint creating fire along with Lambay's sacredness. However, since writing this post the most common story I hear is of the flame coming from Carnbane West on Slieve na Caileach Bearra (Loughcrew) along the Yellow River from its source.

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  3. on this page: http://www.celticways.com/blog/2009/10/celtic-dreamtime-samhain-2009.html

    there is a link labeled "Kindling The Celtic Spirit" but it leads to this page about Tlachtga instead. Where should it lead?

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