Day Two (Continued)
Following a rather delicious soup stop, we headed off for some light refreshment in the form of Symbol Stones. These mysterious artefacts of the Picts, with their admixture of Christian and Pagan symbolism, remain largely unexplained due to a lack of written records. The Gael provide the only evidence of who the Picts were, and that appears to be more legend than fact.
The Brandsbutt Stone, having been found in pieces making up part of a boundary wall, is not in its original location. It may not have travelled far, however, as traces of a stone circle, long gone, remain hidden a few yards away, under the well-manicured grass.
The stone is unusual in that it contains an Ogham inscription. Translating offers no insight, and it may just be 6th-century vandalism…
The main symbol, the so-called “V-rod and crescent”, is accompanied by a “Z-rod and serpent”. Interpretation of the symbols is currently futile, but the contemplation of them, in relation to the landscape in which they sit and the astronomical theme of the weekend, bears interesting fruit.
Lesson 14: Thirteen heads are better than one.
Lesson 15: The mystery of the Serpent endures.
Lesson 16: Make the most of the sunshine.
The route from the Brandsbutt Stone to our next stop allowed a “drive past” view of an intriguing aspect of the stone circles in the region – there are SO many of them, often in such close proximity to each other, that the “social” purpose proposed seems spurious. We only had time to stop and view from afar: little more than 2km separates the Inveramsay circle (a ruined circle comprising the recumbent the uprights, one remaining standing in the circle, and an intriguing outlier). The next day we would visit one with a partner less than 800m distant, which raises the question: were these separate communities, or did the community “move” the circle as it’s initial location no longer served its primary purpose?
Lesson 17: Question everything!
Pulling up at the Maiden Stone car park was always going to be “interesting” with such a large group. Any additional tourists would have ensured a blockage of the narrow road. What I never, in a million years, expected was:
Lesson 18: The local cycling club can cause an unexpected traffic jam where you least expect one.
Described as one of the most magnificent Pictish stones ever carved, the Maiden Stone stands over 3m high. Although the West face, originally a ring cross, is badly worn, the other faces remain clear. It was the eastern face (pictured) we had come to see.
The “beastie”, of all the “beasties”, is possibly the most detailed of the form. It is, however, the “mirror and comb” motif, from which the stone may have obtained its name, that proved the most interesting. One of the group shared an experience they had during a previous visit to Easter Aquhorthies, which shed considerable light on the motif. Literally.
Lesson 19: Our reaction to the stories, and experiences, of others, informs and expands our own stories and experiences; and might provide the clues we are missing towards our own deeper understanding of the relation between things.
Lesson 20: When offered the option to view another Pictish Symbol Stone, or revisit a stone circle site that the elements had driven you from the day before, the stone circle wins.
As it turned out, it was a great choice for two reasons: the proposed Symbol Stones had already been wrapped for preservation through the coming winter months, and a stone circle in the sun is a much more enjoyable experience… and it also saved my bacon on the “prepared material” front.
Lesson 21: Always have a backup plan in case of poor weather.
Revisiting Easter Aquhorthies in more clement weather allowed the site to be experienced in its wider context within the landscape. Without the mist and driving rain of the previous day, the view of the hillfort at Mither Tap, raised some 1000 years after the stone circle, was magnificent. The location of the hill, the most prominent across the entire area, means that the equinox sunset, when viewed from Easter Aquhorthies, dips behind the mountain.
After a, frankly stirring, explanatory of the movement of the sun through its celestial meanderings there was time to discuss the wobbly moon, her relationship to the same movement, and how lazy sun takes a year to do what she manages to complete in a month…
Lesson 22: Telling a group of complete strangers, who happen upon proceedings without any context, that you are in the middle of a ritual requiring a sacrificial victim, makes a group of complete strangers make their excuses and leave…
Lesson 23: A chant, in the right place, cannot escape the protection of the circle; but reverberates strongly within.
Lesson 24: The female voice “fits” (this place at least), in a way that the male voice cannot hope to achieve.
There is one, rather special, stone within the circle; whilst all others are of local granite, a rather impressive piece of red jasper stands at the location marking the midwinter sunrise. She also indicates one of the more interesting points of entry / exit into the sacred space within / beyond the circle. As we were leaving, she didn’t fail to impress.
Lesson 25: Parking space may be limited
a: When your car is stuck in a ditch, the locals will want to take a photograph of your predicament.
b: When your car is stuck in a ditch, only a REAL Land Rover will do!
Day Two (Completions)
I grew up taking the Milky Way for granted. On any clear night, barring the days either side of the full moon, it was there; a great arc of gossamer-light running from the southern horizon, bending eastwards as it traversed overhead to the north. It wasn’t until I moved to the city that its absence to most of the world’s population became apparent. Any level of light pollution so effectively obscures our own galaxy from view, that there must be people out there who have never actually seen it.
Only a small band of
fool hardy individuals headed up to the circle under cover of darkness. The occasional cloud scurried above their heads, but it remained dry. Arriving at the site and turning off the torches, it took no more than a few minutes for eyes to adjust: visiting a stone circle at night reveals an entirely unsuspected level of information. I’m not entirely sure why I’d never thought of doing it before…
Lesson 26: The passing of the Milky Way over a stone circle may be significant; particularly to Moon worshipping peoples, as it is most clearly viewed on moonless nights.
Lesson 27: Maybe a moon themed weekend would be best arranged on a weekend when the moon can be seen.
Lesson 28: Starlight is surprisingly bright in hallowed places. (Imagine how bright the moonlit circle when carpeted in Milky quartz).
Lesson 29: The lights of homestead fires can be observed over such large distances on clear nights, that these sites may have operated in more ways than we currently allow them.
Lesson 30: Time is fluid. What may appear little more than half an hour in “circle time”, can hold you till gone midnight in real time…
Part Three of the Solstice of the Moon series.
This series of posts outlines personal “discoveries” during a walking weekend organised by The Silent Eye (A Modern Mystery School).