Stone and rain. Rain and stone. It seemed to be a theme of the weekend. No matter the weather, when we reached any stone of significance the rain would fall. From soft misty drizzle to gale force rain storms, we experienced just about all the types of rain Scotland seemed to offer, often in the space of just a couple of hours.
And so it was at our next two sites, both of which featured carved Pictish stones. I’d never seen such stones in real life before, so it was a thrill to see the first one, even though it had been reconstructed and sat in the middle of a modern housing estate. There had been a circle there, once, still marked with a ring in the grass, but it had been pulled down long ago, in days when such monuments were no longer revered, their carefully chosen stones broken for use in stone fences and buildings. Some still remained on site, said to come from the original circle, and, despite the cracks crossing the face of the carved stone, the images were still clear, a serpent and spear, thought perhaps to represent the nearby river, and a semi-circle and broken spear, the shape of which came to have more significance for me, later in the day. The rain was still falling as we got into the cars, a soft cool drizzle, dampening the stones but not our spirits, as we headed out into the landscape once more.
A short while later we pulled up alongside the road and saw the towering Maiden Stone. Sue has covered the legend of the Maiden Stone in her excellent post, but the short version is this: the stone is said once have been a young woman who, when tricked by the devil, ran from him. He caught her by the shoulder, creating the distinctive notch shape, and she was turned to stone forevermore.
I saw no woman in the stone, only the enigmatic carvings left on one side by the mysterious Picts, centaur and dolphin creatures, spear and shield, comb and mirror. One of the companions shared an experience he’d had at Easter Aquhorthies, which shed some light on the significance of the comb and mirror. It involved the moon and the role of priestess, a theme we encountered again and again over the weekend. It is not my story to share, but all of us felt it to be valid. In fact, that was one of the lovely things about the group, and something I’d also encountered on my last weekend away with them – that such experiences, thoughts and ideas could be shared freely and taken seriously, with no fear. I can appreciate that, to some, the things I ‘see’ when I’m on these weekends (and at other times too), can seem a bit out there, a bit like the imaginings of an overwrought author. And there are times when I think that as well. So, when you can share these ideas with others and have them corroborated, there is a validation there, a growth in trusting yourself and your intuition, that is a real joy.
Christian imagery had been carved on the other side of the stone, though the carvings were far more weathered than the earlier Pictish work. An intricate cross and wheel, as well as a figure supposed to be Jesus holding two ‘sea-monsters’. Carving continued along the edges of the stone, criss-cross diamond shapes it was said could represent energy patterns, and more intricate knotwork.
The setting itself was beautiful – next to a curving road, the land rising to one side of the stone, a tall row of pines the other side. I imagine when it was new the stone would have stood out in the landscape, its size and the bright colours that once decorated it making it visible for miles around. The symbols themselves are a mystery – the Picts left no explanation as to why they carved the images they did, but they appear over and over again. Theories range from clan markings to maps to storytelling, but it is all conjecture.
We stood around the stone, each of us taking photographs, sharing our thoughts about what we could see and feel. There was a wonderful sense of age to the site, of something that had been standing since long before we were born, and would continue to do so for centuries to come. But we couldn’t stay for too much longer – it was heading into the afternoon and we still had another site to visit, a site that had tested us the last time we were there. What would it hold for us this time?
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