Casting weather spells at Emain Macha

They say that St. Swithin’s Day (15th July on this side of the pond) is the one that dictates the course of the weather for a given summer. That’s still 5 days away, and already this year’s summer seems a distant memory of sunshine in late March, when we in our innocence assumed that a long, balmy season lay ahead. So now I listen carefully when Grainne, our pagan Celtic guide at Emain Macha (Navan Fort) outside Armagh warns that the weather God (Lugh) needed to be appeased. I had travelled back in time with Rachel Wooley. It only took 10 minutes by car from the AMMA centre to Navan Fort, but by the time we arrived in Grainne and Fionn’s round-house, we were 1900 years older and learning the harsh lessons of a poor summer season. The crab apple trees had failed to produce fruit (in my Dublin garden too), the wode plant was failing (how would the cloths be died this year?) and the air in the round-house felt chilly and damp, despite the wealth of goat skins and furs at our feet and the brightly simulated hearth at the house’s centre. Fionn mentions the possibility of human sacrifice – a wicker-man was being prepared for the very purpose – but told us that the sacrificial victim, who would be chosen for their high status within the clann, would regard it as an honour because their sacrifice would turn around the fortunes of the community. Grainne asks us to say a prayer to Lugh when we ascend the summit of Navan Fort – a sacred place of Goddess and full of tribal memories of cattle raids and warriors. We duly oblige, among the nettles and orchids and 360 degrees views, and are rewarded by a break in cloud, the fleeting glimpse of sun.

Pagan beliefs are not all that different to Christian beliefs, or humanist ones for that matter. We all crave the warmth of the sun’s rays, and the sense of security of seasons following their usual course. We are all bothered by omens of a sort, seek answers in symbols.