Written by Helen Benigni

Carvings below by Eadhmonn Ua Cuinn

The balain or ballaun (baa-lawn) is known as the Druid's Egg. Druids carried small balains made of stone with them. An ellipse is a two-dimensional balain. The Bluestones at Stonehenge form one half of an ellipse from an aerial view. The stone engraving at Knowth that charts a lunar cycle is a balain. The Kerbstone at Knowth is a balain, and the decorated stone in front of the reconstructed entrance to Newgrange passage tomb is a balain. The Kerbstone and the Newgrange stones are clearly divided in half. Like the Bluestones at Stonehenge, they emphasize the fact that half of the balain is important. Perhaps, the Bluestone's arrangement signifies the human half to an equation that is half human and half eternal. Like the Janus head of the Celts, the mortal and immortal are represented as two halves that form one image, a Celtic belief that this Earthworld and the Otherworld are eternally linked. Therefore, Stonehenge may link us to the celestial Otherworld represented in the stars, the moon, and the sun which it so accurately charts.

         The balain represents a cosmic egg of thought, a Druid's thought. Unlike our modern languages that use alphabets consisting of separate letters arranged on the page to communicate concepts, the Druid's egg uses the ellipse to communicate concepts. A balain is a concept in symbolic form where none of the separate symbols have as much meaning as the whole egg and its arrangement of symbols. The balain is based on spatial understanding in the development of concepts whereas the alphabet depends on the linear development of concepts. In the balain, perception is no longer time locked. Communication is direct in the sense that it transcends time. More importantly, the symbols convey an artistic sense of balance and aesthetics, something the Roman alphabet left behind. The idea that words, not just the concepts they communicate, can involve art was lost in the transference to writing.

        One balain, the stone engraving found at Knowth may be translated as such. The balain represents the lunar cycle exactly as it is charted on the Druid calendar discovered at Coligny, France in the area of the ancient Celtic tribe of the Sequani. The months or "moonths" of 29 days are arranged in an ellipse, which begins at the center of the stone and moves to the left presenting each day in the lunar cycle. The first symbol is the first day of the new moon and so on. After the sixth symbol, which is a first quarter moon shape or half a balain, the lunar cycle is connected to a wave in the center of the ellipse. This wave is a graphical depiction of the 62-month span of the Sequani Calendar. It charts the equinoxes at the crest of the wave over a five-year period. The sixth day of the lunar cycle is connected to it because the sixth day of the lunar cycle or the first quarter moon is the day the Sequani Calendar begins each month. Each month is marked on the Calendar by a star of primary magnitude visible on the Eastern Horizon shortly after sunset. The Calendar measures time by night, thus the demarcation of the star at sunset.

        The waxing of the moon is represented by egg shapes or concentric circles and the full moon, in its three-day phase, uses double lines to accent that phase. The waning moons are represented by half-balains and return to the beginning of the cycle at day 29. The last three, those representing the new moon, are appropriately covered as the moon is not visible to the earth at this time. They are covered by a spiral design found on many Neolithic monuments. This spiral represents the Druid's spiral or what the Native Americans call "the whirling pattern." The Druid's spiral represents the continuity and movement of life. In the Sequani Calendar, the Holy Nights of the Druid's calendar are celebrated in the new moon of the month. Imbolc, Beltain, Lugnasad, and Samhhuin are celebrated on the full moon as the people's holidays or Oenachs, and the Holy Nights for these holidays are marked as the Holy Nights of the new moon.

        The concepts represented by the Knowth balain are presented simultaneously as the lunar cycle, the five-year cycle, and the Druid's spiral. A sense of lunar and human cycles are represented as one, and the relationship between them is also seen as one. Each year near the time of the Vernal Equinox, the Druids celebrated the Oenach of the full moon and the Holy Night of the new moon. Perhaps, as we approach this sacred time of renewal and rebirth, the Druid's egg may be revived as a symbol of the fertility of the spring and of time eternal. The crest of the wave on the Knowth stone marks the Vernal Equinox as an important time to the Celts as does the passage tomb of Knowth itself. At the crest of the wave of time on the Knowth balain, the balain becomes both a keeper of time and a symbol of the renewal of life in its most precious form: the egg.

Helen Benigni

© Vernal Equinox 2003

Carvings by Eadhmonn Ua Cuinn


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