In my prior post about Samhain, I mentioned Tlachtga, where it is believed that the ancient Druids lit bonfires as part of the rites of Samhain and the beginning of Winter.
Tlachtga (pronounced “clackda”), also known as the Hill of Ward, is an ancient hill located near Athboy, County Meath in Ireland. The earthworks at Tlachtga are nearly five hundred feet across, and are most impressive when seen from the air.
Four concentric circles of mounded earth – at least two thousand years old – alternate with deep ditches, surrounding a central mound at the top of hill. None of the rings are complete, and the site has not been restored…which perhaps only adds to its primal energy. The hill stands 390 feet high, offering an impressive view of the Meath countryside – including the Hill of Tara, Loughcrew (also known as The Hill of the Witch), and the Dublin Mountains.
The site takes its name from Tlachtga, an ancient fertility Goddess whose cult was centered on the hill. A later myth speaks of her as being a Witch and the daughter of a powerful Druid known as Mug Ruith (although earlier legends claim that he was actually a Sun God and Tlachtga was his consort, rather than his progeny). Tlachtga and Mug Ruith traveled to Italy, where they met a powerful wizard named Simon Magnus. Simon’s three sons raped Tlachtga, and she died at the Hill while giving birth to three sons of her own – whose names are said to have been Doirb, Cumma, and Muach. These three sons grew up to become the archdruids of the irish counties of Munster, Leinster, and Connaught.
There are many different symbols one can take from the story of Tlachtga. First of all, the number three was a very significant in Irish mythology, and continues to be of great importance to many who follow a Pagan Path. Consider that the triskele (the triple spiral) is a popular symbol of Ireland, and carvings of it are found on the walls and stones of one of its best known ancient sites – Newgrange. The number three is said to have several meanings – including past, present, and future; or the world of the living, the world of the dead, and the spirit world in-between. For women, the number three has a strong female presence, since it represents the triple aspect of the Goddess…maiden, mother, and crone.
The death of Tlachtga while giving birth to her sons is suggestive of the whole concept of birth, death, and rebirth…an important theme at Samhain. Not only is this a time for honoring the spirits of the dead, but also of recognizing the transformation which occurs at this time of year, as we shift from Summer into Winter, and from a dying old year into the newborn year that – in accordance with the Celtic/Pagan calendar – begins at this time.
But to return to the fires…
Tlachtga was the center of Celtic religious worship over two thousand years ago. The Goddess of the same name is believed to have been buried on the hill, and a temple erected in her honor with a sacred fire pit…from which the Samhain fires were lit. It was from this sacred flame that the druids set forth to light the fires all over Ireland.
Today the ancient fires burn once again, resurrected through the efforts of local historian Joe Conlon with the support and assistance of well-known Pagan teachers Janet Farrar and Gavin Bone. On Samhain night – October 31st – a crowd of approximately 200 people come together at a park in Athboy and with torches lit make their way to the Hill of Ward to witness and participate in a modern-day reenactment of the old ceremonies. The story of Tlachtga is told, and the bonfire lit.
Whether it be standing in front of the flames at Tlachtga, the flames of a roaring fire in our own fireplaces, or the flames of the candles lit on our altar, together we can rekindle the sacred flame and pass on the fire of new fertility gifted by the spirit of the Goddess. With the dying flame of the Samhain fire we are reminded of the death of Tlachtga, and of the wisdom and knowledge she carried. Yet we can also rejoice in the continuation of such wisdom in the birth of her three sons, and passing of the flame to a new generation.
By continuing the rituals and ceremonies of the ancient mysteries, we can be assured that the powers of darkness will be overcome, and the powers of light and life shall prevail.