The Seeker of Knowledge

Inkwork (7)

 

In the very centre of the Ring the Seeker of Knowledge stands, arms still raised, but hears no answer, only the eternal song of wind and sea. Twilight, the time of the gloaming, falls, and with it, the night mist rises.

I stand in the shadows, listening, watching, being.
Hearing the world turning.
Seeing the light leaving the heavens
Even as the mists rise from sea and land.

As the world turns, the creatures of the day
settle, slumber and are still.
Now the creatures of the night are awakening,
Their power rising, soon to stalk and to hunt.

For it is the moment of transition,
Yin to yang, light to dark,
One power to another,
And I stand, and feel the world turning.

(Extract from The Seer (of Stenness))

The Mystery of Maeshowe

Maeshowe is another one of the Neolithic wonders on Orkney. A vast chambered tomb it stands on an ancient trackway that connects it to the stunningly well-preserved village of Skara Brae, as well as passing near the Standing Stones of Stenness and the Ring of Brodgar.

Various calculations by archaeologists estimate it needed up to 100,000 man-hours to build and complete. Maeshowe is generally described as a tomb, but if so, why does it have a door that can only be closed from the inside? A pivoting stone door blocks off the entrance, but can only be closed from the inside?

Once more the poem The Seer provides a (mythical) answer.

Inkwork (4)
Maeshowe appears as a grassy mound rising from a flat plain near the southeast end of the Loch of Harray. On the Winter Solstice, the sun rises between the Hills of Hoy to shine directly down the passageway.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The First of the Great Stone Circles

 

Inkwork (3)
Stonehenge the best known of all the Great Stone Circles. But a thousand years before its construction its parent was being built at Stenness in the Orkneys.

Stonehenge, Avebury, The Ring of Brodgar, Callanish and hundreds of lesser stone circles are to be found in the British Isles and elsewhere. But which was the first and from where did the knowledge that went into their building originate? Dating information indicates that the very first, the Mother and Father of all the Great Circles of Stone, was the Stone Circle of Stenness, to be found on the Isle of Orkney.

Which in turn gives rise to a great mystery.  From where came the knowledge to build the first Stone Ring at Stenness? And to place the alignments with the Solstices?

The Poem the Seer (of Stenness) gives one explanation, albeit mythical. The poem is available here

An ancient trackway.

An ancient trackway, old before the original Church of St Tegwyn was built, straddles the up ground. Once pagan and later Christians would have walked this route. No more, the people have moved, and all that remains is a glorious view and a strong sense of the numinous.

P1030344

Is it possible to fall into the sky?
I was afraid I might.
Here, as I stood by St. Tegwyns,IMG_3140
It felt easily done

The sky so immense
The hill on which I stood
So dominating, small for sure
But dwarfing Aron Dwyryd

And mighty Snowdon?
Snow-capped it might be,
Yet so distant, so far away
So dwarfed by that mighty sky.

P1030353

Everywhere I looked, sky.
A cloud here and there in that vast bowl
Of blue light, but the tug,

The ever-present upward tug,
strained at gravity,
and I feared I might fall in.

 

 

 

 

 

 

510 years ago a tradition was born

It begins at 4.00 am when a flute band plays outside the houses of two of the main participants in the Selkirk Common Riding, a tradition that dates back to the Battle of Floden in 1508. Of the 80 men who left Selkirk to fight for the cause of James IV of Scotland, only one, Fletcher, returned.

 

P1020484
Selkirk Standard Bearer setting off on the Common Riding of 2018, accompanied by 300 other riders

But he came back bearing a captured English banner, and that is at the heart of the event.  Some 300 riders parade through the town, and most importantly the Standard Bearer and his attendants are at the heart of the event.

The pride of the community in their annual event is tangible, and if that isn’t enough to touch the heart of an onlooker, the sound of the bands will succeed, especially from the bagpipes of the Pipe Band.

The Law on Bees

Bee_SwarmIn our modern world it’s hard to believe that that 30 pages of law could address the issue of how to deal with swarms of bees.  Yet according to Alistair Moffat in his book The Sea Kingdoms, both Irish and Welsh law had much to say on the subject.  Honey was a valuable commodity, the only sweetener available before the advent of sugar, and those pesky bees had a habit of moving.  And so Celtic lawmakers had the challenge of trying to regulate the management and ownership of bees.  As we worry about the demise of the bee population of today, perhaps our lawmakers might find some inspiration in their Celtic predecessors.

An ideal community? At least now.

We recently spent a week in the island of Skye, an island off the coast of Scotland, although technically no more an island, thanks to a majestic bridge that connects it to the mainland. The owner of the cottage that we had rented told us that Skye was a crime-free community, where people left their front doors unlocked and the ignition keys in their cars.  As an added bonus, it rarely snows on Skye, thanks to the close proximity of the Gulf Stream, which also makes it also generally frost-free.

Interestingly, only half of the people who live on Skye were born there, the rest being ‘newcomers”, yet the ancient language of Gaelic still flourishes. There appear to be no tensions within the community, such a huge difference between so many other places in this world.

But it wasn’t always like that.

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_8fe1

The picture shows the remains of Trumpan Church located on the Vaternish peninsula. A plaque tells the story of a particularly brutal massacre, when the Clan MacDonald of Uist travelled to Trumpan in eight boats and under cover of a thick mist, barred the doors of the church, set fire to the thatched roof and burnt alive all the MacLeods who had come to worship there, with only a young girl able to escape.

She managed to get out of the one narrow window in the church, and sounded the alarm. This led to instant retribution by Clan MacLeod who killed all the invaders, before they had time to flee the island. This skirmish is known as the Battle of the Spoiling Dyke, named after the Dyke in which all the bodies were buried.

But Clan MacDonald themselves were only repaying in kind a massacre that Clan MacLeod had visited on them when in the winter of 1577, a band of MacLeods, intent on causing trouble, landed on the island of Eigg. The Clan members took refuge in a large cave, but one that had a narrow entrance. The tight opening of the cave made it hard to find but was also to be the clan’s downfall as the same constricted cave mouth stopped anyone from escaping.

The MacLeods were able to cover the cave mouth with straw and set it alight, suffocating all inside. History says that 395 members of Clan MacDonalds died that day.

And perhaps the lesson to be drawn from Skye? Times do change, sometimes for the better.

 

 

Magic or Medicine?

Writing “The Wisdom of Rhiannon” was a test of my beliefs. I was trained as a physicist which fashioned me to see the physical world in which we live in a certain way. So I was challenged in trying to determine what “powers” did the Druids have; any, or was it trickery, or a good knowledge of the natural world, for example, in predicting eclipses?  What was the nature of ancient knowledge?  Certainly there is evidence of quite remarkable medical knowledge, for example, trepanation, a delicate surgical technique for making a hole in someone’s skull, with evidence that the technique dates back as far as 6500 BC, with plenty of people recovering from the operation.

And this was my difficulty.  How did ancient peoples “know” what to do, let alone the Druids?  Where did their knowledge come from?  And what was the extent of it?  My scientific training taught me that observation, experimentation, theory, and more experimentation were the only ways to classify and understand the world.  But then there are people like Rupert Sheldrake, a scientist, who talks about morphic resonance, fields which reverberate and exchange information within a universal life force.

Could the Druids, amongst others, “know” when to trepan, could they “know” which herbs to collect, how to prepare medicines from them, see into the future, could they perform “magic”?  But at that time I decided this was a step too far for my rational mind, so the Druids in my book are broadly simply clever people who are well read and educated.

And I think I was wrong!

If I had read Elizabeth Lloyd Mayer’s book, Extraordinary knowing: Science, Skepticism, and the Inexplicable, I would have changed my mind, just as she was forced to change hers, moving from a hard scientific paradigm to a much more open minded view.  In a book full of challenging examples to the rational of conventional science, there was one example I really liked.  The very successful brain surgeon who waited by the head of the patients he was scheduled to operate on until he “saw” a white light; it might take minutes, or hours, but when he saw the light, he knew his operation would be successful.  His difficulty was, how to teach the technique to medical students and other surgeons, so he didn’t, because he would have been laughed at, ridiculed, after all, everyone knows that medical science doesn’t work like that!

Or can it?

A 2000 year old coin

coinsIt sits on a shelf, in a little pillbox.  I rarely look at it, yet somehow I am always aware of its presence.  Not in a good or a bad way, but as though gravity is slightly heavier near to it.  Tonight I took it out of its box and viewed it again.  Compared to a modern coin, it’s tiny, light and not well finished.

Yet what holds me is that 2,000 years ago, someone minted this coin, someone carried this coin with them, perhaps it changed hands many times, and I guess someone lost this coin, who knows,  and somehow, it found its way to my shelf.  In geographical terms, a short journey from Norfolk to Yorkshire, in terms of time, a journey that few artefacts survive.

Certainly, the kingdom of the Catuvellauni, whose coinage it was, has long disappeared in the sea of history, and of those who live in its lands today, there will be few who will have heard of this long lost kingdom.  Yet a coin survives to tell a tale and to speak of people who lived, loved, fought wars, and vanished, although no doubt the children of their children’s children still live, love and walk in the footsteps of their ancestors.

And the coin?  Does history, or time, imbue it with a power, a presence, or is it my imagination?

 

Strange star flashing in the heavens

Currently, Scholz’s star is a small, dim red dwarf in the constellation of Monoceros, about 20 light-years away, and now moving away from us. However, about 70,000 years ago, it just grazed the outer reaches of the solar system as it wandered by, accompanied by its brown dwarf companion.

At the closest point in its flyby of the solar system, Scholz’s star would have been a 10th magnitude star – about 50 times fainter than can normally be seen with the naked eye at night. But because it is magnetically active, such stars can “flare” and briefly become thousands of times brighter. So it is possible that Scholz’s star may have been visible to the naked eye by our ancestors 70,000 years ago for minutes or hours at a time during these flaring events.

What would our ancestors have made of this stranger in the heavens? What would we have made of it a thousand years ago if it were passing by us then and not 70,000 years previously?

scholtzstar
An artist’s concept of Scholz’s star with its brown-dwarf companion in the foreground during their flyby of the solar system 70,000 years ago. The sun would appear as a bright star from the pair (left background). Credit: Michael Osadciw/University of Rochester