‘A playground for myth and mystery’: Autumnal Equinox marked at Columcille Megalith Park
- Columcille Megalith Park on Saturday morning hosted a sunrise observance for the Autumnal Equinox
- The equinox marks the transition from summer to fall
- The park includes dozens of stone settings strategically placed throughout more than 20 acres
UPPER MOUNT BETHEL TWP., Pa. — Visitors driving through the pitch black, tree-lined roads towards Columcille Megalith Park can feel like they’re separated from the rest of the world, said Ryan E. Sullivan.
He was right.
“One of the things that Bill, one of the co-founders of the park, taught me is that one of the things that marks sacred space is that sense of being out of time, out of the normal flow of events,” said Sullivan, the park’s director for communications and events. “That's part of what marks that sacred space.”
Just shy of a dozen people on Saturday morning made the trek to the park, 2155 Fox Gap Road, during the earliest parts of the morning, the night sky was still dark as rain started to fall. They gathered with their umbrellas at the park’s Signal Hill, eyes trained to the east, to watch the sunrise on the Autumnal Equinox, the day when both of Earth’s hemispheres get an equal amount of sunlight, to mark the transition from summer to fall.
For almost 30 years, visitors have been gathering at the park on the equinox for a ceremony that doesn’t have a set script but can include songs, poems, and sharing in the community.
“We gather and share in that community — just the joy of being with each other,” Sullivan said.
‘A playground for myth and mystery’
Nestled in the woods in the valley of Blue Mountain, the park includes dozens of stone settings strategically placed throughout more than 20 acres. It’s the brainchild of William “Bill” H. Cohea Jr., a minister and human rights activist.
Cohea, who died in 2018 at the age of 91, created the private, nonprofit park in the late 1970s after visiting the island of Iona off the southwestern coast of Scotland.
In the decades since, “Bill and many volunteers raised the St. Columba Chapel and St. Oran Bell Tower and set more than 80 arrangements of megaliths, including the Circle of Stones, the dolmen Thor's Gate, the Glen of the Guardians, the Chamber and the 30-foot menhir named Manannan,” according to Cohea’s obituary.
The park is a place for contemplation, Sullivan said, both spiritual and temporal.
“It is a place to watch the interplay of the natural world, whether we're talking about the food webs or the weather or the geology — whatever the particular hook might be that draws someone in,” he said. “And then there is something less definable, ephemeral, if you will. For me, that shows up as a sense of spirituality, a sense of connection with the world around me with the people around me, and I know others have reported the same."
“Bill always used to call the park ‘a playground for myth and mystery,’ and I have found that to be a pretty apt descriptor.”
Some visitors to the park are somber, but “children laughing and enjoying exploring in the sun is, to me, one of the park's most sacred duties,” he said.
"When one can stop for a moment, and take a breath and recapture that sense of wonder is a truly marvelous thing and, in many ways, the mission of the park to provide that space."Ryan E. Sullivan, the park’s director for communications and events
“It's a place of wonder, it's a place where, so many of us, as we move into adult[hood] — at least I've experienced in adulthood — the world around you seems to want to smash that sense of wonder out of you where just the pace of earning a living and bills and familial obligations and so forth,” he said. “And so when one can stop for a moment, and take a breath and recapture that sense of wonder is a truly marvelous thing and, in many ways, the mission of the park to provide that space.”
The park is open daily from dawn until dusk. While there isn’t a fee to enter, visitors are encouraged to give a small donation to help with the park’s upkeep. Events, like the sunrise observance on the Autumnal Equinox, are held throughout the year.
“As long as the park has been around, there has been cognizance of our ancestors’ apparent knowledge of these solar events, and the celebration of these days,” Sullivan said.
‘Savor the last warmth of summer’
Leading Saturday morning’s ceremony was Remy Kayal, of Bethlehem, who has been a member of the park since 2009. While he’s participated in events for more than a decade, it was his third time leading the observance.
Due to the rain from Ophelia, a tropical system expected to bring drenching rains to the Valley this weekend, the bonfire constructed on Signal Hill was left unlit. But visitors gathered near it, wearing raincoats and carrying umbrellas to stay dry.
“The days are going to get shorter,” Kayal said. “Savor what life we have. Savor the last warmth of summer as fall is now here, today.”
Kayal asked visitors to introduce themselves and share a summer achievement, or what they’re focusing on as the seasons change from summer to fall. One spoke of a job change, another remembered a family member who died.
After everyone spoke, Kayal led the group in a meditation, directing them to keep their eyes trained to the east just before 7 a.m. for the sunrise. Kicking off his shoes, he stood barefoot in the mossy grass, asking visitors to close their eyes and feel connected to the ground beneath them.
The sky turned from inky black to deep blue, then finally began to lighten, the sun obscured by clouds and fog. As the meditation ended, with several shouting “Happy equinox,” the rain changed from a drizzle to heavy, constant drops as if in response.