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As all that is solid melts to air and everything holy is profaned...

Monday, May 02, 2005


Beltane. Mayday.

Looking out the window I can just see the edge of what was an iron age ring fort on a small hill. Just been ploughed and planted, probably with barley. Hill next to it is called Barley Hill. I walked over the hill just after it had been ploughed, looking for iron age pottery, but only found lots of small stones. All that can be seen of the ring fort are a series of mounds which circle and loop around it. It is on the Scottish register of ancient monuments, identified by arial photography and a brief site visit ten years ago.

Despite this lack of any obvious presence of the past, the site still fascinates me. On one side of the hill, half of which is wooded, are what look like garden sheds. One is on stilts, reached by a raised walkway. They are bird hides, giving views across a marshy, boggy area and a 240 year old canal towards a river. An osprey has been seen fishing here, thousands of wild geese return each autumn and I have counted over 50 lapwings 'pee-weeying' over a lagoon in the marsh. and herons, hundreds of ducks... marsh is an international and nationally important wetland.

The ring fortified hill lies at the tip of a spear/ arrow head of higher ground which drops down from about 1200 feet to 200 feet, with river level at 140 feet. Once, maybe 12 000 years ago, the river ran through the marsh, taking a more direct route to the sea. This was when it was swollen by melting glaciers at the end of the last Ice Age. Further back in time, the ice had risen a mile high above the hills to the north and a glacier would have crept slowly over the land to a distant sea.

I have traced the river and the ice's course from the broken granite summit of the Dungeon Hill and the metaphoric aureole of Carlin's Cairn (carlin= witch) down through forest, moor and marsh, past fields and farms to mudflat estuary and out to sea. The river is one of three Dee's and her name comes from an indo-European / Celtic root meaning 'goddess'. Or black. Black goddess? Like the Nile, her floods brought fertility. The ring fort overlooks a floodplain which has grown over the 12 000 years since she found her present course to the sea.

Two miles to the north, the Romans built a sequence of three or four forts and seven marching camps to control this fertile zone which lies like a shallow bowl or cauldron within a circle of hills and higher ground. A medieval castle keep stands on an island in the centre of this fertile circle, square and solid, walls still 80 feet high and 13 feet thick. At first I thought the low mounds and ditches of the ring fort were earthworks built when the castle was besieged (twice, in 1455 and again in 1640). Now I wonder...

... was this 'Locatrebe'? A placename recorded by the Romans, meaning 'settlement on/ beside water'? A place of power and wealth 2000 and more years ago. Wealth and power which grew out of the land, out of the river's gift of fertility. An uncertain gift. Around Lammas (1st but really the August full/ harvest moon) the Dee would often flood, water rising 8 feet in an hour, sweeping away crops growing in the low lying fields along her course. A local author, S.R.Crockett, described such floods which he remembered from his childhood living on a farm beside the river. Crockett also described the flood waters flowing up the old canal into Carlinwark (witch's work) loch- briefly turning its water a muddy red. Before the canal was built, these floods would have entered the loch on either side of Carlinwark Hill.

Red waters - menstrual imagery? Perhaps. The loch was a pagan sacred site. Offerings of swords, miniature bronze axeheads and a bronze cauldron have all been re-covered from the loch. The bronze cauldron dates to the Roman era and was filled with over 100 pieces of metal work - scythe blade fragments, wood, metal and leather workers tools, even a piece of Roman chain mail. Symbols of local economic prosperity created by the Pax Romana - and the need to feed a thousand Roman soldiers.

Up until WW1, a Beltane bonfire would be built on Torrs Hill on the far side of the loch, close to where a beautifully crafted 'pony cap' dated to 250 BC was found in a marsh in 1826. Up until the 1850s, a horse fair was held on another hill near the loch in late June, close to the summer solstice. Were these continuations of 'pagan festivals'? I am not so sure. To hold a big gathering of people near the summer solstice in the days before there were proper roads and bridges was of practical rather than a religious value. The longest day gives the most light and so gave more time for people to travel safely from a distance. Full moons are likewise practical times for travel. Even into the late 1940ies in Scotland (before car travel became the norm) village dances would be held on the full moon, helping the dancers find their ways to and from the dance more safely.

When did the fixed solar calendar become the norm? Did the people of Locatrebe have one? Or did they follow the more obvious cycle of the moon? Today is the 1st of May, but I only know it is because (be he dammed for a dog) of a date written on a piece of paper and on this computer. If I had lived here 200) or even 1000 years ago, would I have lived by such dates? Or would I have lived by the waxing and waning of the moon, and the slow turning of the seasons? Even 200 years ago, local farmers would judge the time to plant their crops by sitting bare-arsed upon the ground. A cold bum would mean too early, a warm one- just right. The same source (Sir Herbert Maxwell's History of Dumfriesshire) mentions that as late as 1860, he knew of a farmer who 'sacrificed' one of his cows by drowning it in a bog when illness struck the herd.

This all in an area which was a hotbed of 'fundamentalist' protestant Christianity in the 17th century. Where church going was compulsory and hundreds of true believers died rather than renounce their beliefs in the Killing Times of the 1680s. Pagan survival? Hardly. Unless paganism is the practice of agricultural superstition and pre-modern practical adaptations to the reality of a world without roads and bridges or cars and public transport. And, in the case of the river Dee, before the construction of a hydro-electric scheme 70 years ago which tamed her floods and fickleness.

And yet...
The river is a goddess. By this I mean that the river is a non-human entity which has physically and historically and culturally and ecologically shaped and transformed and made this part of the world. Which is now and was, before London, my world. To go deeper, the non-human reality is geology. The constraints and opportunities of geology - ge as in gaia 'ologoy' - go back millions of years. If there had been primal forests here which turned into coal, if the glaciers had not filled up the Solway Firth with mud and silt, I would / could have been brought up in a decaying industrial city rather than a small rural town.

Does environment have an influence on personality? It certainly does on life expectancy. Some one living in rural Dorset, according to recent research, has 11 years more life to live than someone living in urban Glasgow. Galloway is not Hackney. In the eight square mile area of fertile floodplain around the ring fort of Locatrebe, no more than 5000 people live. In the similar eight square mile area of the London Borough of Hackney there are 200 000 people.

Psychogeography. A Situationist joke? Or a reality? Or both?

I use it as a meditation. Imaging self fading into the earth, into the rocks and soil, the rivers and marshes, becoming the landscape and slowing time down until each breath, each heart beat lasts ten thousand years. An ice ago comes and I freeze, and then it passes and I am sweltering in jungle heat, or lost in the darkness of an ocean floor. Dry red desert dust turns my bones to sandstone. Deeper down into molten magma at the earth's core. More ancient still and I am a cloud of swirling fire, coalescing into planets and a sun. So many suns, so many stars, a galaxy spiralling in the void.

"I'm breaking up, I'm falling apart" (Hawkwind song) "I'm fading away".

Molecular to atomic to sub-atomic to... a quantum ocean of virtuality, existence flickering at the edge of probabilities, whole universes bubbling and rising up, bursting into existence then fading again. This is eternity, the totality. Neti, neti. Not this, not that. Real/ unreal. Full/ empty. Absent. Present. Nothingness which sparkles and dances for no-one, no-thing. "out here on the perimeter there are no stars". No identities, no... only absence. No 'I'. No 'You'. We are one, we are none.

Heaps of dust in a City of Pyramids. A wind from nowhere picks up the dust and scatters it into uncountable and infinite irridescent shimmering stars in the blackness of the night. One star in sight. The star becomes a sun. Our sun. And no-one becomes a we becomes an i become a planet becomes a place becomes a time becomes here becomes now becomes a flicker of thought becomes a physical movement becomes a finger touching a keyboard becomes a word becomes an image on a screen becomes this text becomes... what you are reading and so crosses an abyss between worlds and persons and space and time. Yet there is no abyss , there are no other worlds, there are no persons, there is no space, there is no time there is no 'I' who writes and there is no 'You' who reads. We are one, we are none.

Unity of consciousness is unity of identity.


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