I am in Scotland visiting friends, more like family really. It has been a busy and intense time so to have some down time in the nurturing arms of loved ones in an epic landscape, with several glasses of something good, feels a pretty perfect end to the year and a good start to a new one.
A few days ago, Sarah decided to take me to Abernethy because, knowing I am into such things, there is "a stone" there I might like.
Oh what a discovery the whole thing turned out to be ...
Upon doing a little research before we went I found out that this stone has Pictish carvings upon it. My spidey senses began to tingle as I read that the symbols were an anvil and hammer; a tuning fork; and a crescent and V-rod. Sounded rather like the symbols of the metalsmith, the bard and possibly the healing aspects of Brighid. Then I read on to find that the tower, one of only two round Irish towers in Scotland, is next to a church dedicated to St Bride. So it seems She is calling loud and clear.
After meeting up for the walk, my friend's pal asks what do I want to see first, the Stone and Tower or the Witches Hole and the fort. A witch's hole indeed. So up the hill we go, towards the site of the Pictish fort. A bit of climb rewarded us with an epic view and an info board.
The site of the fort, on it's commanding look out point, seemed to be in a perfect line, with the tower and the point in the distance where the Tay and the Erne met at a jutting point in the river. From this vantage point the tower was clear, and it seemed to me that if there was a current church dedicated to St Bride/Brigid then, it must have been a sacred place to the Goddess for much, much longer. The map revealed not only a Witches Hole to find, but three small pools along the same line. We climbed higher passing a small spring.
The first pool was easy to find. Right on top of the hill, inside the boundary of ditches, was a clear pool with a large yellow flat stone in the centre. Magical and perfect for scrying. I circled the water and again the large ditch remains. After a bit of rambling and scrambling down the further side, the other pools were found. It was at the second pool that I became aware that three pools were also three cauldrons. The whole hillside was thick with a magical air.
On the way back down I found a flat round area with a rather enigmatic hawthorn in the middle. I spend some time sitting with fay energies there.
Slightly disappointed not to have found an obvious Witches Hole, we began to make our descent, taking a slightly different path than before. And all of a sudden, there it was, up in the side of the hill, the place where only a few hundred years ago apparently three women had lived, healing those who came to find them. A small cave.
I cannot begin to describe how it felt to sit in that space. The crystal waters dripping from the roof at the front, but bone dry at the back. Perfectly sheltered with the most incredible view. We sat peacefully for some time.
Down at the bottom of the hill we chose the Witch's Road into the village. An old track that followed the banks of the river, till crossing near small falls and onto a way lined with hawthorns. As we neared the village the Tower rose straight ahead, next the iron church gates announcing the "Kirk of St Bride".
And there was the stone ...
The hammer and anvil are clear on the left and right, with the tuning fork in the middle. The right hand edge and base of the stone is a little lost and worn. At the bottom is the crescent and v-rod, which I found out later is a common Pictish symbol for the solar disc and broken arrow. The arrowhead is missing on the right here.
We acquired the key for the tower from the cafe, a whopping fifteen centimetre thing, and the whole thing got a bit Enid Blyton as we opened the door and ascended the spiral staircase. At the top, next to the bell still in situe, we climbed the ladder, pushing a trap door up and out, to a panoramic vista. In the distance the hill where we had just been.
In the past few days since the adventure itself, I have discovered that Abernethy Chapel was founded by one of the Nechtans, king of the Picts c460 CE and dedicated to St. Bride. The old church was demolished in 1802. The present chapel is 19th century.
Abernethy was the most sacred of sites to ancient Picts. The capital of the kingdom as it was, was known as 'Obair Nechtan' to the Highlanders, which means Nechtan's work or stronghold. No only that, the titular, royal throne name, The Bruide, was given to each Pagan Pictish king, because he was viewed as the male manifestation of the spirit of the Goddess. Bruide is derived from Brigid, which makes me think of the granting of Sovereignty and the Sacred Marriage of king and goddess in the land itself. Quite possibly these rites happened there in Abernethy for many centuries. We do know for sure though, that the place was dedicated to Goddess Brighid, in Pagan times, and to St. Brigid, in Christian times.
The long line and history of witches of Abernethy was eventually halted by the Laird of Invernethy who, tricked them into revealing their names. They were marched, not just three, but twenty two of them, along the Witches Road, burned upon the hill and buried, just beyond in the 16th century. The mounds are still there on the other side of the hill, marked on the map as Witches Graves.
In the area of the hillfort a bronze brooch, a polished felstone axe and stone lamps from the 2nd or 3rd century have been found . A legend about the topmost pool reminded me of the large flat yellow stone I saw. When the Scots were fighting the Picts, in a failed attempt to escape a nurse with the royal heir in a solid gold cradle drowned in the lochan. Apparently when Scots tried to retrieve the gold a strong wind blew up and a woman appeared to them, rising out of the water saying these haunting words ...
"Forbear, forbear or thus feel my power!
The golden cradle can never be got;
till mortal man, undaunted, at midnight mirk hour;
Nine times alone shall encircle me round:
then, then shall the golden cradle be found."
So ... much history of kingmaking, magick and the goddess was found on our Abernethy Adventure. I wonder where Brighid will call me to next. I'm so glad I have friends that take me to see random stones.