Posts Tagged ‘Excalibur

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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