15
Nov
09

Friends of Grampian Stones Spring Equinox 1999 newsletter ‘X’-2

Spring Newsletter 1999 – Vernal Equinox Volume X number 2 (vol.X no 1 was Samhain 98 q.v.)

Picts, Kings, Saints, Chronicles

Pictish carved stone in Inverurie 'Castleyards' old kirkyard

Crescent and V-rod, sun-disk and serpent carved Pictish stone

A pictish one-day conference arranged in honour of Dr Marjorie O. Anderson on the occasion of her 90th birthday was held in the Quad lower college hall at the University of St Andrews on February 13th 1999. A collaboration by the School of History, Early Medieval Research Group, Scottish Studies Institute and Committee for Dark-Age Studies, its focus and its speakers ensured its success. It was fully booked. While Dr Anderson was unable to hear presentations because of illness, she would have marvelled at the excitement and energy generated in both lecture hall and lunchroom by speakers and delegates all pressing to share new developments in this emergent discipline. Drs Simon Taylor and Dauvit Broun unveiled new discoveries in placename survival and the St Andrews foundation legend (versions A and B); Profs. Richard Sharpe and Máire Herbert gave both insular and Irish slants on the political structure of Dál Riata; Isabel Henderson unveiled her theory on specific sculpture schools of the Picts; while both Prof. David Dumville and Dr David Howlett, of Universities of Cambridge and Oxford respectively, kept delegates on tenterhooks with their expositions on the Chronicle of Kings of Alba and on the sacred numerology of its 12thC verse equivalent, the anonymous De Situ Albanie.  Prof. Archie Duncan pulled the audience into the present millennium with his fine elucidation of the Melrose and Holyrood Pictish Chronicles, followed by an immaculate summation and tribute to Mrs Anderson by Prof.Geoffrey Barrow of the University of Edinburgh. He concluded, along with the authors of ‘1066 and All That’ that [the conference, sources and] chronicles were ‘a damn good thing.’  He (along with us) awaits somewhat impatiently the publication of ‘all these riches’.  Members who would like to be advised either of further conferences or publications produced by Dr Barbara Crawford’s Committee for Dark-Age Studies or of details of membership in Dr Simon Taylor’s Scottish Placename Society can write to St Andrews Scottish Studies Institute, University of St Andrews, Fife KY16 9AL. Details of Scottish Placename Society’s webpage are given here.                                             ©1999MCY

FOGS Membership feedback. . .

WHITECROSS Equinox

ABERDEEN member Dr Theodore Allan remarks on  the Hill of Whitecross one mile south of Chapel of Garioch at NJ 717 225, visible from the recumbent circle of Balquhain but not from Easter Aquhorthies. His interest is apt at this time of year, as it is a marker hill for sunset on the Feast Day of  Bride (Candlemas, and incidentally at its opposite season, Martinmas). However its derivation as the Hill of the White Cross or Crossing may stem from its sacred point of the moon’s crossing or setting – as seen from Balquhain – at the end of summer, the pagan White season, and the point where the full moon sets once in 19 years at its minor standstill. This should be a hill to watch in the summer of 2014 at the next standstill! The physical crossing of the hill must also have had significance to Bronze Age and Pictish descendants, as anyone who has walked the Netherton of Balquhain road can testify.  Leaving behind in the east the Bronze Age burial cairn on Dilly Hill, NJ 751 224, and walking due west, not only does the outline of the Hill of Whitecross draw the eye but for a mile and a half the traveller’s visiion is filled with the sacred shape of the Mother mountain Bennachie. At Burnside of Balquhain, NJ 730 225, where the road turns sharply north, the walker can clearly see how the old road used to rise directly west to Whitecross, itself topped by a cairn. An added delight for placename enthusiasts is the name of this miniscule valley created by the burn which springs on Whitecross’ lower slopes, flows past Burnside and Mains of Balquhain, turning to join the Urie at Drimmies (which Pictophiles will know has its own symbol stone:  it is the Strathnaterick, valley of the serpent of ancient wisdom. This lonely stretch of road, now mostly used by farm traffic, is an inspiration to walk on a spring evening. Thanks to Dr Allan for his observations.

BLUE MOON

TWO OF our regulars communicate on the phenomenon of this year’s blue moons, first in January and now in March; Griselda Macgregor in Inverurie and Trevor Alcott in Crimond are both interested in lunar activity, although from slightly different angles: Ms Macgregor requests the reason for the use of the term ‘Blue Moon’, i.e. for two full moons in the month, while Mr. Alcott likes to extrapolate grander figures of moons in the Metonic cycle.  We might cover both in a limited way.  First, we find  no-one in any context outside Scotland, and perhaps even outside the  bounds of Aberdeenshire, using the term ‘blue moon’ to mean two full moons in the month [in 1999, January 2: 0250; 31:1607, accompanied by a visible penumbal lunar eclipse at 1619; March 2: 0659; 31: 2249 – all times GMT]. The fact that February this year had no full moon at all is purely a figment of modern man’s calculations, as our forefathers when they spoke of the moon, meant the month, and vice versa.  The arbitrary nature of the ‘phenomenon’ can  be seen, particulary in the second March date, to occur only from Europe west, and not for instance, in Australia, where the second full moon falls within April. While not answering the question, we open the door to any contributions from members who have NE knowledge of folkloric or traditional useage.

LUNAR STANDSTILLS

We have touched on standstill moons before, as the time once every  18.61 years that the moon is seen at its most erratic in the night sky, behaving as if with a ‘wobble’. We receive several calls a year requesting more detail for stone-watchers with astronomical leanings – the latest from a member in Edinburgh who prefers anonymity.

Trevor Alcott puts it simply:

‘Correction for our latitude (57ºN approx) is, according to Reed’s Nautical Almanac, seven minutes. The rule is, when declination is north, subtract from moonrise time and add to moonset time. Reverse applies if declination is south. Our biggest problem is one with which mariners do not have to cope, i.e. the height and distance of the horizon relative to the observer, but I promise, you don’t want to know!  The easiest way is to observe a few full moons, note the times, and correct from the nautical times for that particular observation point.’ 

Sensible man.  So, for those early birds preparing for their next maximum and minimum moonset and moonrise, when the moon’s motion relative to other months  is distinctly wobbly,  may we suggest marking your diary now: 

Next major standstill at the full moon nearest to winter solstice occurs in 2005, when the full moon will rise in midwinter at the most northerly point it ever rises.

Next minor standstill, or full moon nearest to summer solstice, happens in 2014.

If we are spared, we may try for a gathering for wobble watchers at a stone circle to compare notes.
©MCY 1999-2009

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