On the banks of the river Spey, Dean introduced us to some of the concepts we would be working with over the weekend before leading us into Inverallan burial ground. It is an interesting place in its own right, with a fair amount of history and home, as we would soon find out, to a voluble, nesting oyster-catcher.
There is no longer a church at the cemetery, although one was recorded on the site as far back as 1230. It is believed to have been dedicated to St Futach, an Irish saint whose name is derived from ‘fiachra’ which means, appropriately enough, ‘raven’ and which can be found in the ancient Irish tales like that of the Children of Lir.
The walls of the lost church were uncovered and destroyed in 1888, when the graveyard was being extended and no trace now remains of them… though there are clues to be discovered that a kirk once stood there and who knows how much further back the site was held in reverence.
An upright stone, known as the Priest’s Stone, bears a simple, incised Roman cross on both its faces. The stone on the Canmore photograph, looks like a gravestone, or even a standing stone, and it would not be the first time we have seen a pagan stone ‘rebranded’ and purified for Christian use. There was also an ancient holy well on the site too… and a huge stone basin that was, we are officially told, ‘probably’ a baptismal font.
Is it pure speculation to wonder whether the sanctity of the site might pre-date Christianity? Not entirely… the well, the ‘raven’ and the basin would be enough to raise possible questions, and the presence of a weathered, Pictish symbol stone, found when the walls of the kirk were uncovered, confirms that the site was seen as important.
Pictish symbol stones are generally dated as being carved between the sixth and ninth centuries, with the earlier ones bearing no Cross, while the later ones may be Christianised. The meaning and purpose of the symbols remains a subject of debate, but the worn designs were familiar as we had met them before at a previous workshop in Scotland.
The Inverallan stone is a very early one, bearing an undecorated crescent, V-rod, two legged rectangle and Z-rod. It was, principally, for the V-rod that overlays the lunar crescent that we had congregated in a graveyard. Its angle relates both to the movements of the planets and to the internal angle of the pentagram, a symbol we would be using during a personal and psychological exploration throughout the weekend.
While Dean explained how this journey would be undertaken, using a magical symbol, Steve explained why the pentagram is such a perfect symbol to use when seeking inner harmony. Many minds will glaze over at the mere thought of mathematics, but there is more to the subject than ’just’ the numbers and Steve gave a very clear explanation of how mathematics can illustrate the cosmic and natural laws that apply equally to a flower, a universe or a human being.
We would also be working with the symbol of the Unicorn… the spirit animal of Scotland. There are many interpretations of the symbolism of the unicorn, some obvious, some perhaps less so. From its single-pointed horn, to its associations with innocence and purity, to its place at the heart of the magical menagerie, it is a symbol worth contemplating in meditation and one we have used before in the Silent Eye, for a similar purpose but in a different way from the one that was planned for the workshop. The Unicorn too, was a perfect choice of symbol.
But, perfect or not, we can only imagine what it might have looked like had anyone come into the graveyard to find five large pentagrams being laid out on the ground as daylight began to fade…