Hot, hot, hot.

kinks

The Kinks lazing on a sunny afternoon……in the summertime

Today is summer Solstice and in Ireland we are “sweltering” in a heatwave.  A heatwave in Ireland is like a warm spring day in somewhere like Madrid, Kansas City or Cincinnati.  In other words, it’s not really that hot.  26 degrees Celsius or 79 degrees F is a heatwave here.

Something else that is hot is the lyrics of Ray Davies, one of my favourite songwriters who set the tone for the Kinks.  It is Ray’s birthday today, so here is one of his song lyrics.  What made Davies such a good writer was his mix of relevant social commentary with cutting wit and downright great tunes.  Ray, you’ve really got me.

Muswell Hillbillies is about the impact of slum clearance from city centres, a process of moving people from dangerous and unhealthy housing in vibrant communities out to safe accommodation in soulless housing estates in the 1950,s and 1960’s in the UK and Ireland.  Communities were ripped apart and families were left floundering trying to come to terms with a new paradigm for living.

 

Muswell Hillbillies : by Ray Davies

Well I said goodbye to Rosie Rooke this morning
I’m gonna miss her bloodshot alcoholic eyes
She wore her Sunday hat so she’d impress me
I’m gonna carry her memory ’til the day I die.

They’ll move me up to Muswell Hill tomorrow
Photographs and souvenirs are all I’ve got
They’re gonna try and make me change my way of living
But they’ll never make me something that I’m not.

Cos I’m a Muswell Hillbilly boy
but my heart lies in old West Virginia
Never seen New Orleans, Oklahoma, Tennessee
Still I dream of the Black Hills that I ain’t never seen.

They’re putting us in little boxes
No character just uniformity
They’re trying to build a computerised community
But they’ll never make a zombie out of me.

They’ll try and make me study elocution
Because they say my accent isn’t right
They can clear the slums as part of their solution
But they’re never gonna kill my cockney pride.

Cos I’m a Muswell Hillbilly boy
But my heart lies in Old West Virginia
Though my hills are not green
I have seen them in my dreams
Take me back to those Black Hills
That I have never seen.

Solstice Vs Shortest Day

Druids

Today, Dec 21st, is the shortest day of the year.  Many believe this makes it the Winter Solstice, but the one is not always the other.

The Solstice is when the Sun rises in its lowest position in the year.  This does not always fall on the Shortest Day.  In 2015 the Solstice occurs at dawn on the 22nd.  That is the morning you want to be in Newgrange or Stonehenge or one of the other great megalithic clocks.

It is funny to read about the 50 people who were disappointed at Newgrange when the clouds obscured the sunrise.  They won the annual lottery to attend the event on the 21st.  Did they realise they were there on the wrong day?

 

A Leaf From The Tree of Songs; by Adam Christianson

When harpers once in wooden hall
A shining chord would strike
Their songs like arrows pierced the soul
Of great and low alike

Aglow by hearth and candleflame
From burning branch ot ember
The mist of all their music sang
As if to ask in wonder

Is there a moment quite as keen
Or memory as bright
As light and fire and music sweet
To warm the winter’s night?

St John’s Eve

Bonfire

Last night was St John’s Eve.  In rural areas of Ireland it is  bonfire night.

This is a classic case of a pagan festival that the catholic church tried to muscle into the Christian sphere by shoehorning a Saint into the mix.  It is remarkable in that it celebrates the birth of St John the Baptist.  Most Saints and Martyrs are commemorated on the day of their death.

St John’s day replaces a Celtic Summer Solstice festival which honoured the Goddess Áine.  She was a goddess of light, fertility and kingship.  The concepts of fertility and kingship were inexorably linked in the Celtic pantheon.  The Lammas Kings (also known as Corn Kings) were “married” to the land (and celebrated at Lughnasa).  They lived the high life as long as the land produced.  But they typically reigned for only seven years.

In some traditions the king was sacrificed for the continued fertility of the land.  In other traditions young clansmen could compete for the opportunity to challenge the corn king in single combat to the death.

It is easy to see how this ancient tradition of Kings tying their lives to the fate of the people could be molded and replaced with the central mystery of Christianity, a saviour who dies on our behalf.

The festival of Áine was marked by bonfires lit on the solstice, the shortest night of the year.  The Christian festival shifted out three days.  Who knows why? Maybe to separate the Christian and Pagan traditions?  To identify those holding on to the old ways, so they could be targeted for conversion?

In the Pagan Lammas tradition the Solstice might have represented the last celebration of the existing Corn King, before he faced sacrifice or replacement.  Indeed the bonfire tradition may have originated from the sacrifice of the Corn King.  There are many details of Celtic religions lost to us because they were not documented, and they were expunged by Christian proselytisers.

If you go to the cities in Ireland nobody will know that this is bonfire night, especially in Dublin.  But rural people live close to the land.  They retain old traditions, especially those linked to the fertility of the land.  Always good to have a backup deity on standby 🙂

So if you want to celebrate with a bonfire on St John’s Night go to the most rural areas of Ireland.  Go west!

Bonfire 2

Solstice Survived

newgrange-2004b

We survived another Winter Solstice, dodged another bullet. The sun has arrested its long descent into darkness and is waxing again even as we speak.

Here in Tipperary the morning was clear, the skies were clear and the Solstice Dawn was a thing to behold. Sadly for the thousands who gathered in Newgrange there was a misty start to the morning in County Meath and they were not treated to the full spectacle of the dawn shining down the passage of the burial mound.

Newgrange is a neolithic monument, built around 3,200 BC and predating both the Pyramids and Stonehenge. It is a testament to our early ancestors that they could, and did, track the heavens so faithfully. Newgrange is all the more impressive given that Ireland is such a young country. The first humans only arrived after 8,000 BC. We had no Neanderthals here, no Paleolithic people and only a smattering of Mesolithic settlements.

Farming was key to the success of the Neolithic peoples. They brought a “farm kit” with them; wheat, oats, barley, sheep, goats and cattle. Knowing when to plant was crucial to their existence. Hence the focus on megalithic clocks such as the one at Newgrange.

The Times Are Nightfall; by Gerard Manley Hopkins

The times are nightfall, look, their light grows less;
The times are winter, watch, a world undone:
They waste, they wither worse; they as they run
Or bring more or more blazon man’s distress.
And I not help. Nor word now of success:
All is from wreck, here, there, to rescue one—
Work which to see scarce so much as begun
Makes welcome death, does dear forgetfulness.

Or what is else? There is your world within.
There rid the dragons, root out there the sin.
Your will is law in that small commonweal…