Posts Tagged ‘equinox

03
Dec
09

Friends of Grampian Stones 2003 winter solstice news vol.XV #1

FOGS MIDWinter Newsletter’ December 2003/ January 2004: Volume XV-1

Sine umbra nihil

Well-wishing for a new year is what we do in the Northeast when the calendar points to January. It was always so. Or was it?

In Gregorian, we count this 2004. It is already 5764 Jewish time. In a month (February 2004) it will be the Chinese year of the Monkey; on February 22 Islam moves into 1425. For Sikhs, new year (536) comes just before vernal equinox when Hindus (2061) and Persians (1383) celebrate, just as we used to before the Julian calendar adjusted new year from March to January.

Ethiopia still runs on the Julian calendar, which served most of the western world until 1752 or thereabouts, depending on one’s allegiance. Russia was slow to make the change, but that is no surprise to the Clavie Crew of Burghead (Moray) or to the fireball-swingers of Stonehaven, Kincardineshire. They still run on Julian time.

burning clave on flaming fire altar in Burghead's Pictish fortress

Burning clavie atop flaming 'Doorie' (fire altar) at Burghead; running on Julian calendar time

In Burghead, lighting the eternal fire and carrying it round the town reenacts the celebration of the return of new light after the longest night – the dark of our title, without which we have ‘nothing’. To the Clavie King and torch-bearers of Burghead, this is Aul’ ’Eel, pre-Christian Yule or winter solstice. Yule becomes interchangeable with Christmas south of the border but Scotland has held to its pagan festival of Hogmanay, itself a testimony to and turning point in that Roman calendar.

On Hogmanay night Steenhivers have a street party to end all street parties. Whereas Burghead (annually January 11) only spills combustible materials over the shoulders of Clavie-bearers, Stonehaven delights in spinning fire in clumps into the unwary crowd.

When Scotland changed calendars in 1752, there was much misunderstanding in the country districts – the loss of 11 days seen as having robbed them of important events. At that time, clavie-burning and local celebrations to mark the return of the light after midwinter were commonplace in all the northern and northeastern ports. Now only two remain holding to tradition from an earlier time, Burghead most precisely still counting its lost 11 days.

Fire for the clavie is ritually kindled from a peat ember – no match is used. Clavie king and crew dispense flaming brands from burning tar-barrel as tokens of abundance to important burghers, publican included! They circle the town sunwise and the final free-for-all happens after the clavie has been fixed to its fire-altar, the doorie, on a rib of the old Pictish ramparted stronghold, and left to die. Julian indeed.

Yggdrasil:the world tree

Every culture, beginning with the Polynesians, had its ‘world tree’, a great being of life and knowledge which connected through its forever-turning axis the heavens, earth and the nether realms.

It is to Norse myth that we owe a debt for transmitting the name Yggdrasil: an ash, at whose three roots were sacred fountains ‘of wondrous virtue’, and in whose branches sit an eagle (international symbol of visionary power), a squirrel (symbolic of activity and preparedness), and four stags (innocence and return to wilderness).

In our original state of grace the world and the heavens, time and space, were one, held in hologram by this great turning spindle, but then chaos intervened.

In Scandinavia, this great gyroscope or ‘mill’ was thrown into the deep, now forever grinding sand and stones, creating whirlpools and hurricanes. Greek Kronos/Chronos the Titan, child of heaven and earth – Ouranos and Gaia – after emasculating his father and throwing the great pole into the sea, became father of the gods. Romans separated the two into Saturn and Time, but the original dual concept was intentional.

It was left to subsequent generations who believed their ancestors to have been gods, to try to make sense of a universe spinning progressively out of kilter, a fact seen in the Greek ‘royal science’ of astronomy in the steady precession of the equinoxes: a cosmic mill forever churning stars which no longer return to their ‘right time’. The tree had been uprooted by giants and only heroes with like powers might replicate the act.

In Finland and India, it is called a mill from Sampo, Sanskrit skambha, in England it is an oak or mythic Excalibur extracted only by a ‘true’ prince.

In Northeast Scotland until at least 1945, sacred wells were still complemented by the presence of an ash, though uprooting it appears not to be part of the legend until the coming of bulldozers in modern development. That aside, if the discovery of ‘Seahenge’ in 2003 off the East Anglian coast connects us to our ancestors at all, it is through the ritual of a massive oak, carefully-placed upside-down, huge roots exposed to the heavens, within a sacred precinct of guardian tree-stumps at a place where earth and ocean meet.

Might we not be seeing some vestige of that ancient rite conceived by man to right his Universe and return it to that golden age (Virgil’s Saturnia regna) before the fall, when time was eternal and heaven-and-earth were one?
©MCY2004-2009

Winter Wonders

Several years occur when midwinter full moon does not completely tie in with solstitial sunset: 2003 was one of those years*. Full moonrise nevertheless was an impressive sight at two recumbent stone circles on either side of the Garioch plain: at Easter Aquhorthies (NJ733 208) and the Barra RSC (older country name for Bourtie, NJ801 249) where FOGS stalwarts braved the winter’s first storm to witness a lunar prelude to the darkest days. On December 8th, nearly two weeks before the shortest day, the full moon rose, regular as a cosmic clock, at the moment of sunset over the whitened slope of Crocker hill (compare our solar eclipse point in June n/l XIV-2). It is the same point for each circle, as both appear to be aligned on this double axis of solstitial summer sun and winter moon.
*at 2009 archive transcribing; full moon rose at same point on December 2nd

While the sunset is obscured at Aquhorthies by the lie of the land, it has full view of rising moon. In contrast at Barra, sunset is fully visible over Mount Keen (at latitude 57ºN this is 223º), but moonrise takes another five minutes to materialize on the Crocker (at 43º or NNE).

There may be another link between the two RSCs which time forgot. From the Easter Aquhorthies recumbent an alignment towards Barra and moonrise leads the eye directly over the huge red-jasper sentinel at the modern ‘entrance’. It is not a large leap in imagination to connect its fiery red with a dyiing sun.

What has not previously been noted is the presence of pink quartz in a NNE vector-like scatter in the two fields leading from the Barra circle upslope to the ‘moonrise’ rock (the ‘Bellman’, also sunrise rock in our previously noted summer newsletter) at 600 ft/185m, Barra has substantial quantities of white quartz stones ringing it radially in all other directions, but the NNE scatter is decidedly more pink: a synchronicity perhaps unnoticed by many of us, but not without apparent significance to the circle-builders.

©2003-2009 MCYoungblood

Sacred Journey
Lawrence Main, peripatetic extraordinaire, is making a sacred journey throughout Britain. He plans to spend three nights on Bennachie in Aberdeenshire as part of his communion with the earth, thanking the Mither for her part in holding a vision of what this ancient stronghold and Pictish kingdom meant to its people. We do not publish his dates, for privacy, but wish him well on his pilgrimage.

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29
Nov
09

Friends of Grampian Stones Lammas newsletter 2003 Vol. XVI #3

FOGS Lammas newsletter XIV-3 August 2003

Ups and Downs
COUNTING on the state to care for our monuments has never been the FOGS way. In the northeast we like to check matters for ourselves and have always be quick to relay information to government when an ancient site appeared under threat. We are all aware of the lack of interest shown by Historic Scotland for ‘unscheduled’ sites – a situation where the local on-the-ground network triumphs in adversity, and we continue to maintain our stance for full protection for all monuments. It is unacceptable, however, to find ‘scheduled’ monuments not being adequately conserved, simply for lack of staffing or funding.

Such is the case at the recumbent stone circle of Balgorkar or Castle Fraser NJ 715 125 where one megalith, knocked over during close ploughing, has remained fallen and damaged for over a year.

One remedy suggested by FOGS as long ago as 1989 and taken to the level of ratification in a preliminary paper by government but then shelved, is to compensate farmers for leaving a ‘set-aside’ buffer zone around a stone circle unploughed.

This not only avoids accidents such as at Castle Fraser, but allows visitor access and something close to the ‘feel’ of the original.

As we know, FOGS helped create such a ‘feel’ at Kirkton of Bourtie RSC (NJ801 249) last September with a bale circle surrounding the stones. Our offer to compensate the farmer privately to keep the resulting precinct unploughed – up to the equivalent of government ‘set-aside’ – was turned down, not because of the money, but because no other farmer was doing it! The bale circle lasted until July, but close ploughing has again prevailed, making the circle look even more derelict than before. This is an HS matter.

Thankfully many farmers leave a respectful distance around stones, but there are glaring exceptions. Is it not time for our politicians – if they profess to look after our heritage – to put their(our) money where it does most good? Every NE farmer owning or renting a field with a ‘scheduled’ antiquity would cost the state approximately £200 per site at a generous estimate. Some (single monoliths or avenues) would rate less.

Bureaucracy is welll-placed to administer such a payment (combination of HS scheduling and agricultural set-aside systems), but close ploughing continues. Fourteen years is a long time for FOGS to remain silent. It seems it may be time for us to flex our stoney muscles once more.
©2003-2009MCY

2003 AGM at Balquhain

Balquhain recumbent stone circle and quartz outlier

Balquhain recumbent stone circle and quartz outlier

BALQUHAIN in the Garioch is one of those miraculous recumbent stone circles which has been left in best care: that of the landowner – continuity assured, passing father to son in the Strachan family for three generations. Although a scheduled monument on the Historic Scotland list, its survival intact is notable: no interpretative signboards or erroneous road signs costing a fortune; no twee carparks; just a simple farm track and field boundary access with a magnificent treasure at the end of it.

The horizon is blocked only on the North by Gallow Hill; other Garioch stone circles are clearly visible and, for those who like spectacular celestial events to mark their AGM, there is the Bennachie equinox sunset roll-down as a bonus.

This is your invitation to attend FOGS 2003 annual meeting at 2p.m. Sunday September 21st at Balquhain, NJ 735 241. From A96 1m N of Inverurie take Chapel of Garioch turnoff (W) for 1 mile, passing Echo Vale; turn N (right) at Mains of Balquhain farm with its 13thC keep, follow farm track, and park at cottar houses. Access to Balquhain RSC is by field march & will be FOGS AGM signposted. The stone circle has been carefully wide-ploughed by the Strachans, although, as mentioned in our solstice news, they receive no compensation for doing this. Its main megaliths are cupmarked and, unique in the Garioch, a full-size all-quartz outlier seems to have equinoctial possibilities! All but one of its perimeter stones are in original positions. We are hoping for a good turnout, to foster our usual multi-discipline expertise in art, dowsing, astronomical alignment, geology and engineering – not to mention history, ritual and conjecture!

The MARS Effect
WITH Mars much in focus at present, at its perihelion on August 30thm 2003, three days after its closest approach to Earth in nearly 60,000 years, it is gratifying to FOGS to find even local news stations giving the red planet a mention over the usual run of social unrest. After all, the last time we humans saw it so near and clear, we were emergent Neanderthals and it was 57,538 B.C. Or was it? Actually, Mars came close enough for a flurry of telescopes to appear in London on 23 August 1924 and on 18 August 1845. On both occasions the orb was within a similar distance from earth of 56 million km (34,646,000 miles). However it won’t come so close again until 28 August 2287.

Bourtie cross saved for public view

Eighth century Pictish cross slab built into farm steading at Bourtie in the Garioch

Bourtie steading 8thC Pictish cross

A BIG THANK YOU to all FOGS and friends who wrote, emailed, telephoned government departments or approached their local politician in support of conserving the 8thC Pictish cross-inscribed stone in a Bourtie steading. Because of the overwhelming response, it has been decided not only to keep the stone in situ but to reserve a small area of ground where a path will allow visitor access. Sometimes a little stone is worth a big amount of effort.
…but what about the others?

AS LONG AGO as 1990, FOGS questioned the stance of government (serving the public) in their acquiring portable antiquities but not providing adequate access to such acquisitions. A decade ago public access was not such a hot potato as it is now and, perhaps unnoticed, certain Pictish carved stones disappeared from view in the landscape.

Notable are the ‘Rhynie Man’ (in local government HQ Aberdeen), the Tillytarmont carved stones (in storage) and the Dyce Pictish and early-Christian stones. Historically local government has made little distinction between ‘rescue’ of a stone and where it was ultimately kept; the mere act of rescue seeming to outweigh the public access consideration. ‘Rhynie Man’ was ‘rescued’ and his former farmer owner compensated within ‘treasure trove’ legislation, but he remains on view only within office hours – inconvenient if you are a weekend visitor. Tillytarmont goose stone and its companions may only be viewed by permission – FOGS were once allowed a rare glimpse. The Dyce stones still languish in Edinburgh – rather a detour for an international visitor who has made the long trek to St Fergus chapel, Dyce, only to find a plaque in their stead. A Pictish landscape we may live in, but fewer Pictish stones are being seen in their context. And the public is not always as specialist as FOGS or as patient in its demands.

Ninth century Pictish Maiden Stone on slopes of Bennachie

NInth century Pictish carved Maiden Stone on the slopes of Bennachie

A recent local government idea by some tunnel-visioned bureaucrat was to remove the Maiden Stone from its Bennachie slope to stand sentinel in an interpretive visitor centre. Local opinion was outrage; so the plan was dropped.

Whether we agree or disagree with rescue per se, Pictish stones are a kind of grid or network by which we may measure our past and they belong to us all. Public opinion is presently swinging to full transparency and non-élitism; are the public servants listening?

FRIENDS OF GRAMPIAN STONES ARCHIVES ARE HERE DISPLAYED COURTESY OF CLEOPASBE11 and WORDPRESS
They consist of a random but chronological mix of newsletters of the Charitable Society which existed to promote the welfare and conservation of Neolithic, Bronze Age, Iron Age and Pictish stones and monuments in Northeast Scotland from 1988 until it was dissolved in 2008. Further information is still available on its website

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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archives from Friends of Grampian Stones webpage

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