Mounds were sacred sites in numerous ancient cultures, particularly those located in the British Isles, and it is believed that it is from these religious traditions that the medieval beliefs of fairy mounds stemmed. Mythologically, Knowth has a long-standing role in pre-Christian traditions. Irish folklore tells the tale of Oengus (or Aengus), the son of the Dagda and thus one of the Tuatha de Danann, who requested the area of Brú na Bóinne (thus Newgrange, Dowth and Knowth) as his personal abode.
Legend states at he fell in love with a mortal princess named Caer Ibormeith (cursed in the form of a swan yearly) in his dreams, and ventured away from Brú na Bóinne to find her. After successfully locating her amongst numerous swans, Oengus and Caer lived the rest of their days happily married within Brú na Bóinne.
A painting of a Victorian era description of Áengus mac Óg, depicted here with swan wings. ( )
Knowth’s Art and Archaeology
Archaeological evidence reveals that the megalithic tombs very likely were locations of religious rituals; yet whether those rituals involved burial alone or other practices is still up for debate. Little evidence has been found to suggest habitation in or around the mound in the Neolithic period; yet the discoveries of votive offerings both within and outside the megalithic structure indicate the likelihood of visitors to the site for religious reasons. Archaeologists have postulated that due to the construction of the passages within the mound—and similar structures seen at Tara, for example—there was likely an astronomical reason behind the methods used and the erection of the megalithic structures. The procession of ritual activities in, around, and/or through Knowth likely had a relationship between the east-west movement of the sun and the corresponding gods.
Artistically, Knowth contains a vast amount of megalithic artwork, ranging from the “typical” ancient Celtic symbols of spirals and lozenges (diamond or rhombus shapes), both usually believed to represent the cycle of the sun or seasons. Once more, due to these pre-Christian geometric patterns—ones that have been frequently uncovered in pagan Celtic spaces—a correlation between the movement of the sun and the use of the mound seems likely. The ogham writing of the early Irish people also abounds on the megaliths, though these writings are from about two thousand years after the geometric shapes were likely carved. Not only do these inscriptions reveal the site was returned to and once again valued, but it was between the period of spirals and lozenges and the ogham writings (the Neolithic period and early Iron Age, respectively) that Knowth went through its most significant transformation.
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