Monday, May 24, 2021

Triple alignments in Southwest Scotland

Clava Cairns
Clava Cairns

Recently I’ve been wandering around the hills in my local area, with an old OS map in my hands, looking for ancient cairns. It’s good fun trying to locate these solitary monuments. Many are hidden amongst the pine plantations around the Ae forest and surrounding environs. It’s all part of my hunger to explore the idea of the sacred landscape.

I’ve noticed a few instances of triple alignments in my wanderings of late. 

First, a place that has long puzzled me, and for which I can find little reference, lies on the exposed flank of Kirkmichael Fell, near Parkgate. There is evidence of a settlement and, above the remains, there are three smaller sized rings (which are themselves roughly the same size to each other). I’m not sure of their age and can find little archaeological information, which leads me to think the area just hasn’t been examined in detail. The Canmore website entry has aerial shots that reveal the extra rings clearly. I’m surprised that I find no references there of them. The rings aren’t easily visible from the settlement itself. The size and number leads me to conclude that they are significant.

Aerial View of Kirkmichael Fell, revealing the extra rings to the left of the larger settlement

A few miles North West of this location, on Gawin moor, there are a series of three cairns. Again they do not form a straight line, but are similarly skewed as the above example. They are aligned SSW-NNE.

Gawin Moor
Top Cairn of the Gawin Moor Alignment

Gawin Moor Cairn 3
This is the 'excavated' bottom Cairn of the Gawin Moor sequence.

The third example are the Dyke Row stones, near Moffat and several miles to the North east of Kirkmichael Fell. These three standing stones are graded in height, with the smallest to the north.  They also fall into a SSW-NNE alignment. 

Plan of the Dyke Stones

Here I’d also leap out of the area to another site I’ve recently visited: the Clava Cairns. These 4000 year old cairns sit atop a natural terrace, above the River Nairn. The three main cairns form a skewed set of three. Again the alignment is slightly skewed, and two are closer with a third set slightly further apart (the same phenomena occurs at Gawin moor). They run N.E to S.W. – tying them into the midwinter sun.

Clava Cairns
Clava Cairns, Inverness

Three is the number par-excellence in ancient cultures. I believe it was a number that later cultures, such as Celtic, adopted. I’ll go into greater detail about the significance of this number in a future post. However, it seems to me that something obvious is being overlooked. We know the sun and moon played important roles in ritual, but so too did the planets and constellations. We know that so much mythology from the ancient world are stories that explain certain constellations. The night sky, untouched by light pollution, would have been like a movie screen, across which heroes and gods performed their roles. 

Could it be that the sets of three conform to such a star sign? Orion springs to mind, but there are other triads of stars. This triad is so important to ancient Celtic mythology and is grounded earlier in human thought. Surely we should reflect on the appearance of such ‘triplets’, and on the likelihood of alignments reflecting planetary formations. Could it be that this too was part of the sacred landscape? That to gain power, or to honour whatever deities were associated with each star sign, some chose to create such alignments?


Canmore - a great resource for historical.

ScRAP - Scotland's Rock Art Project

The Megalithic Portal - A huge database of sites UK and Europe

Wednesday, May 5, 2021

There too upon the plates of purest gold was it duly marked in lettered runes,

Set forth and declared, for whom that sword was fashioned first, 

That best of things of iron with wire-wrapped hilt and snake-like ornament. 

This has been on my mind of late because I’ve been chewing my way through Lila, by Robert M. Pirsig. I’d written a post inspired by his book, Zen & the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. In Lila, Pirsig unveils a grand philosophical outlook revolving around the ideas of value, quality and meaning. I am interested here from the perspective that objects can possess a value deeper than just financial. 


It wasn’t only the gods who possessed objects of power: Odin with his ring, Draupnir, and his spear, Gungnir, or Thor’s mighty Mjolnir, Freyja’s gold jewellery, BrĂ­singamen — just as these supernatural powers enacted their roles in the higher realms, affairs were mirrored in the world of humans. The most famous objects were given names, they had pedigrees, history and power. Weapons were blessed with magical qualities and even personalities. Such items made powerful gifts, cementing relations between communities. 


Smiths put a vast amount of skill, time and energy into the objects they created, they wielded uncanny levels of expertise and these skills linked them and their creations with the otherworld in lore. Their craft was regarded as magical and their artistry was more than purely decorative. There are examples in literature, such as Beowulf, of swords possessing great renown. The medieval scribe, Saxo Grammaticus, tells us of a mighty blade called Skrep, which was hoarded away by the Danes and only taken up in times of great peril. 


It wasn’t only weapons that held such honours. Ceremonial accoutrements and jewellery were amongst the mix of special items. Some of these items might be inscribed with symbols, sigils, animal ornamentation, runes, etc — all part of the aspect of the item’s history and its power.   

Bronze disc from Venetia region, Italy. 


Within shamanic practice, many cultures use objects that are ‘possessed’ of spirits. For example, the Barama Carib shaman counts certain pebbles amongst his spirit helpers: these are the ancestral spirits of past shamans. Other tribes use rock crystals or carved totems.  Whatever the medium, the Shaman draws power from them.


In all these examples the objects are not just lifeless material, they are alive and carry great prestige. They possess a value beyond the monetary. In our materialist society, value is set at a financial level. Yet, as Mr Pirsig points out, value is not an empirical quality. This type of Value and Quality don’t exist, you can’t hold them in your hand, you can’t measure them, even at a quantum level, yet they exist and we acknowledge them. This is an important point. The materialist quandary has always been that abstract concepts exist, and yet from the reductionist viewpoint, concepts shouldn’t exist at all, or should be written off (like philosophy). 


1 - Beowulf - Trans. J.R.R Tolkien

2 - Iron Age Myth & Materiality - Lotte Hedeager

3 - Lila - Robert M. Pirsig