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Friends of Grampian Stones

Friends of Grampian Stones
FOGS Vernal Equinox News
Volume VII number 3, Lammas, Aug 1996

Friends of Grampian Stones

The Cailleach & the Clyack sheaf

Midsummer in Northeast Scotland may not be readily discernible weatherwise to a visitor, but to an inmate and particularly one in days of yore, it was a time to celebrate the long summer nights with barely enough sleep to sustain the momentum of an 18-hour day. For the last two years [written in 1996] we have experienced a long slow spring with the prospect of a short sharp summer to bring a little balance, but Pictish farmers were content with that - yea even celebrated the shortness of the growing season because it was so precious.

Somewhere between the time of the ancient myths and the beginning of the 20th century, the Aberdeenshire farmer fixed the time of ripening and cutting grain by relating it to stories handed down from of old. The earliest word we know for the ancient mother earth goddess is Cailleach - the old woman, called without pity, the Crone. But there was reverence in her name because as virgin she had stood by at lambing and helped the earth blossom; and as mother she gives the bounty of summer fruit and harvest, but as the Crone, we tend to dismiss her as a spent force.

Yet in the use of placenames and in the naming of stones respect can be detected for the Cailleach. She is, after all the old woman mountain of Wheedlemont where the Rhynie culture began; her name is given to the Carlin stone which marches the ancient boundary between Aberdeenshire and Banffshire near Drachlaw.

Perhaps most revealing of all, the traditional Northeast ritual of cutting and keeping the Clyack sheaf is one not yet lost. Though the Clyack may today only be kept as a preservative superstition against hard times, there are those who still remember when the sheaf was cut from the last handful of corn (oats) in the field, woven into the image of a maiden and kept in pride of place through the winter.

Legend varies from place to place, but where 100 years ago the Clyack was given to the beasts in the byre at midwinter as a special feast, up to 300 years ago it was kept intact until the following spring when, along with the sowing of next season's crop, the image of maiden/crone cast into the cornfield at seed time released the spirit of the goddess to renew her influence over the budding earth.

The right of the author to the above material and research is asserted; any duplication of this material should include the author's copyright ©1996-2000Marian Youngblood

Rolldowns and other solar phenomena

Much publicity has been given in recent years - in fact since the publication of Aubrey Burl's seminal tome The Stone Circles of the Biritsh Isles - to the popular notion that stone circles in general and those in Aberdeenshire in particular were aligned to the moon. Burl likens the scattering of quartz inside recumbent circles to 'milky moonlight' - a phrase which has been happily plagiarised by poetic and archaeological writers for the last two decades.

What everyone seems to forget is that before the monstrously difficult calculation of a moon cycle (18.6 years in Metonic terms or 235 lunations), our ancestors had long been calculating by sun time and holding festivals to mark the occasion.

Whereas midsummer full moonset is stunningly beautiful when it is captured between the 'horns of the altar' in a recumbent stone circle, (as it used to be seen at Cothiemuir NJ 617 198 until its cocoon of trees), its very raison d'Ítre is that of the midsummer sun coincidentally rising opposite the milky orb in full-blown fiery splendour. Though next year's long-awaited minor moonset will cause a stir, archaeo-astronomers have been conducting a silent vigil at various NE sites to observe the satisfying rolldown or rollup of the sun along strategically placed ridges and into Nature's notches for nearly 20 years. Some tentative conclusions suggest that, surprise of surprises, our ancestors chose to site their circles in full view of some of the most dramatic sunset and sunrise hills.

Balquhain NJ735 240 at equinox has a vision of the setting sun rolling down Bennachie, while Kirkton of Bourtie witnesses the midsummer sun set into the Knock.

Where the now destroyed circle of Culsalmond NJ650 329 stood, it would have seen a fine series of moon dances on midsummer night, bouncing along Bennachie ridge, but at the same time the midsummer sun would rise behind Tillymorgan in competitive glory.

Loanhead of Daviot NJ 747 288 fixes the midwinter setting point of the sun into Mither Tap herself, Candle Hill Old Rayne NJ680 280 sees equinox sun setting into the Hill of Dunnydeer, while at Easter Aquhorthies NJ 732 207 the equinoctial sun rolls quite slowly and deliberately down Millstone Hill. Mediaeval millstone rolling ceremonies were deliberate imitation of the sun and the spark generated in the churning was used to kindle 'Teinegin' or sacred need-fire, from which all fires in the neighbourhood were relit. At this time of light nights, [summer 1996] it seems right to rekindle our interest in the sun and to watch its miraculous path which was the source of ancient worship.

The right of the author to the above material and research is asserted; any duplication of this material should include the author's copyright ©1996-2000Marian Youngblood

Lammas Fairs: Aikey & Lourin

Since time began there have been summer festivals - celebrated from Neolithic times by fire, feasting & dancing. Before the Reformation every community had its Saint's Day Fair and several others besides. Few of these ancient days of trading and horsemanship, feeing and selling homemade wares have survived.

In 1750 one of the greatest of these was St. Serff's Fair at Colpy - now no more. The evocative Summereve's Fair has devolved into the Keith Show. St. Congan's Fair became the Turriff Show.

Two ancient festivals survive more or less intact, thanks to a lot of local effort and Doric thrawnness, without which their tradition would have disappeared. Every year since before records were kept, two ancient fairs have been held during the six weeks of Lammas (3 weeks before and after August 1st): The Lourin' Fair at Old Rayne, held this year [1996] on August 17th, used to celebrate patron St. Lawrence and, though no longer held on the high ground near the Candle Hill of Rayne, its traditional atmosphere is still festive and enticing.

Aikey Fair, on the other hand, is held each Lammas (this year July 20/21) on the same stance near Old Deer as it has always been held since the time of its patron King Achaius or Yochoch, 1400 years ago. Brother to Drostan, Aikey held the fair in 587 AD, as a celebration of his own and Drostan's conversion to Celtic Christianity from Pictish nature worship, though the festival was a more ancient celebration of summer and probably pre-dated Drostan by another 3000 years. Today Aikey is fortunate in having Billy Rennie, a true Doric traditionalist and believer in keeping the old ways: thanks to him and his helpers, to the travelling people and their horses, the Aikey horse fair lives.

The right of the author to the above material and research is asserted; any duplication of this material should include the author's copyright ©1996-2000Marian Youngblood

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Friends of Grampian Stones
Editor Marian Youngblood

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