By Connie Duffy
People gathered at the Baltony Stone Circle, Raphoe from shortly before dawn this morning to watch the sun rise at this spot and celebrate the start of the summer solstice, as they have done for thousands of years.
For many this is a sacred place in which to celebrate the earth’s fertility at the high point of the year. Some feel the need to turn to occasions like this as they feel cut off from the spirituality of the natural world and it gives them an opportunity to explore their spirituality far more freely than in conventional churches. They say they are united by a sensitivity to the earth’s basic elements and its transforming cycle of birth and death.
It may not have been the biggest gathering in Donegal as hundreds were expected at the county’s other ancient site, An Grianan just outside Burt, but this location proved to be just as significant today.
For thousands of years the landscape around Raphoe has been an important centre of ritual practice, a place of worship to where pre Christian ancestors came to pay homage to their spiritual rulers - the Sun and the Moon.
Reputedly older than Stonehenge, this stone circle comprises of 64 standing stones but it is thought that there may have been originally 80 stones. One of the stones which is about two metres in height stands to the southeast of the circle. It probably had some function related to the pagan ceremonies held in the circle.
European midsummer-related holidays and celebrations are pre-Christian in origin and to the onlookers this Saturday it appeared so.
The ceremony in the middle of the Stone Circle involved up to ten people, some in costume and included an offering bowl, a simple shrine ritual, incense, fire, meditations, singing, chanting, the burning of various woods and several circuits of the stones to the beat of various drums as if to purifythe area.
According to one participant: “For thousands of years human culture has lived more or less intimate communion with the unseen worlds. Over the centuries of European culture, these ties have been weakened until out modern materialism is endangering the very air and water that sustains out life. We work to reconnect with the powers of land, sea and sky, honouring the spirit that is in them as well as their physical realities,” he said.
The ceremonies were also enjoyed by a group of scouts and their leaders from nearby Raphoe. They carried their banners across the field to the ancient site and enjoyed the occasion by watching and exploring the site.
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