Oweynegat (Uaimh na gCait in Irish, also known as the Cave of Cats) is one of Ireland’s less known sacred sites, associated with Queen Medb and the Mórrígan. It’s also considered to be the birthplace of Samhain (now widely known as Halloween).
The cave is part of a complex of 50 archaeological monuments that make up the ancient pre-Christian mult-period site of Cruachán (Rathcroghan) which was once the royal center of Connacht.
The cave features in a particularly weird and wonderful myth called Echtrae Nerai (‘The Adventure/Vision of Nera’) which takes place during the festival of Samhain. This is one of the reasons that the cave is associated with this sacred festival, and it’s sometimes even referred to as “the birthplace of Samhain.”
There are also some equally vivid folktales concerning the cave. Gary Dempsey, an archaeologist, and guide for the Rathcroghan complex, shares that the cave was located on his grandparents’ farm. He shares:
“One local folktale my aunt told, which has not been published, involved the night she was born. As a young girl she was told how she was born on a stormy night, when she arrived into this world, ungodly sounds were heard coming from the cave, howls and screams of cats. My great-grandmother took the baby in the dead of night to the local priest to be baptized.
My father also told me, that the cave went much deeper than it does today, and when the ESB was installed they used dynamite to blow a hole for the electricity pole. Collapsing the cave, and blowing the front porch off their home. Legend says the cave connects to the caves of Kesh on the Roscommon and Sligo borders, and it is often repeated that a local woman discovered this when a calf dragged her through the cave all the way to Sligo.”
During my recent visit to Ireland, I had the honor of visiting this sacred site and had a particularly vivid experience with The Mórrígan, who has powerful connections to this cave and the season of Samhain.
The cave is hidden away, difficult to find, at the edge of a field on farmland in Co. Roscommon that tunnels beneath a narrow roadway. The entrance is very small, marked only by the lintel stone and a hawthorn tree growing above it. Though the cave seems unremarkable from above, below ground is a different story.
Crawling on my hands and knees, I passed through the entrance, and into the underworld—what is sometimes known as “the hell mouth of Ireland”. Cool, damp air caressed my skin as I emerged into the entrance chamber, at the threshold of light and darkness. I turned around and looked back at the lintel stone, shining my flashlight upon the Ogham carvings which read “Fraech son of Mebd”.
– Ogham carvings. Image by Gary Dempsey –
Turning away from the entrance and the stream of light from outside, I faced the tunnel leading deeper into this subterranean world—the beginning of the natural cave. I slid into the tunnel, darkness wrapping around me like a shroud, going deeper, deeper.
The dry stone walls of the souterrain soon gave way to limestone walls which opened into a long rift chamber. It was eerily quiet except for the drip, drip, drip of water on stone and the air was cool on my skin.
I looked up, mesmerized by the ridges and grooves that reached far above my head, recessing into a dark crack beyond the reach of my flashlight. I felt myself standing deep inside the birth canal of the earth, held within the primordial darkness of the feminine.
I continued onwards, mud squelching beneath my feet. The flashlight sputtered…and went out. I knew that the batteries were fine—it was the pulsating energy of this place that had put out the light.
I surrendered to the mystery, the void. There wasn’t a speck of light to be seen. I closed my eyes and opened them, and the darkness was the same. The quality of silence was so powerful, it was almost deafening.
Then, I felt her. Her cold breath on my skin. Her veil of darkness, shadows sweeping into my mind.
Phantom Queen. War goddess. Washer at the ford. She who emerges from Oweynegat on Samhain Eve. She who is the gatekeeper of life, death and rebirth. She who initiates, who sees into the unseen.
I saw her in my mind’s eye as the crow, picking clean old cave bones, and I was filled with an ancient knowing that I would not leave this cave the same as when I entered it.
I, too, will be picked clean.
My mind began to reel. What if the cave caves in? What if I’m trapped in this hell hole? Traces of fear clawed at my awareness.
I took a deep breath, and thought to myself with a smile: She is testing me.
I remembered that she is a goddess of fear—not fear itself, I realized, but a mirror of what we fear. She reveals our fears and tests us, initiates us through that reflection.
I felt her hand on my shoulder and heard her cracked voice in my ear.
What are you truly afraid of? she seemed to say.
Time began to move differently as I contemplated her question. The darkness seemed to stretch before me infinitely as I journeyed deep within…reckoning with hidden facets of self, trenched in unspoken fears.
After a time, I realized that it’s often the truth that I’m most afraid of. Hard, uncompromising truths that challenge my felt-sense of reality, safety, and comfort.
Then, a whisper on my lips, “An Mórrígan, help me to face the truth.”
The Mórrígan seemed to smile wryly, approvingly.
I took a deep breath, and felt her presence poke at my back.
Go, she seemed to say, direct and unyielding. Your time here is finished.
The flashlight came back on and I walked back through the mud, through the birth canal, and found my way to the entrance once more.
Pushing out into the light of day, the sun bright in my eyes, I was filled with a sense of having been somewhere other, somewhere beyond the edges of the known world.
– The way out –
My experience in Oweynagat has given me a deeper respect for the realms of darkness and mystery. In our Western culture, we are so often taught to fear the dark. To fear the unknown. But it is from the dark that we are born. It is from the darkness beneath the earth that seeds are germinated and grow. I believe that it’s from the dark, rich soils that we, too, must take root and grow.
The Mórrígan will be one of our guides at my upcoming Samhain Ceremony on November 1st (details below).
The Mórrígan’s name is thought to mean “Great Queen” or “Phantom Queen”.
She is a war goddess. A shapeshifter and great initiator, who sees into the unseen.
Goddess of prophecy, goddess of magic, holding the archetypal energy of the Dark Goddess.
She embodies the deep mysteries of the unknown and she calls us into a relationship with the birth, death, rebirth cycle that regenerates and gives life.
She invites us to work with shadow aspects of self—and combined with the energies of Samhain, she can support us to unearth our feminine magic in the primordial darkness.
I’m so excited to share more wisdom about the Mórrígan at my upcoming Samhain Ceremony.
Here’s everything you need to know about this offering…
A Journey with the Ancestors & the Dark Goddess to Unearth your Feminine Magic
Live online ceremony: November 1st
1:30pm Pacific, 4:30pm Eastern, 8:30pm Ireland & the U.K.
*Recording available for those who can’t attend live*
Samhain is a liminal time in the Wheel of the Year, inviting you to journey beyond the veils of mystery to retrieve powerful soul wisdom & magic for your life.
When you join this ceremonial experience, you’ll get access to a 2-hour live online ceremony on November 1st, a PDF ritual guidebook and Samhain playlist. If you can’t attend the live call, you’ll receive a video recording via email to watch in your own divine timing.
If you’re someone who longs to…
🌙 Celebrate Samhain in sisterhood & ceremony
🌙 Reclaim your Inner Witch, Wise Woman, Enchantress
🌙 Connect with the Ancestors & the Dark Goddess to unearth your feminine magic…
Sacred & wild blessings,