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Friends of Grampian Stones

Friends of Grampian Stones
Newsletters
FOGS Vernal Equinox News
Volume X number 2, Spring 1999

Friends of Grampian Stones

Picts, Kings, Saints, Chronicles

A PICTISH one-day conference arranged in honour of Dr Marjorie O. Anderson on the occasion of her 90th birthday was held in the Quad lower college hall at the University of St Andrews on February 13th 1999. A collaboration by the School of History, Early Medieval Research Group, Scottish Studies Institute & Committee for Dark-Age Studies, its focus and its speakers ensured its success. It was fully booked. While Dr Anderson was unable to hear presentations because of illness, she would have marvelled at the excitement and energy generated in both lecture hall and lunchroom by speakers and delegates all pressing to share new developments in this emergent discipline.

Drs Simon Taylor and Dauvit Broun unveiled new discoveries in placename survival and the St Andrews foundation legend (versions A and B); Profs. Richard Sharpe & Máire Herbert gave both insular & Irish slants on the political structure of Dál Riata; Isobel Henderson unveiled her theory on specific sculpture schools of the Picts; while both Prof. David Dumville and Dr David Howlett of Universities of Cambridge and Oxford respectively kept delegates on tenterhooks with their expositions on the Chronicle of Kings of Alba and on the sacred numerology of its 12thC verse equivalent, the anonymous
De Situ Albanie. Prof. Archie Duncan pulled the audience into the present millennium with his fine elucidation of the Melrose & Holyrood Chronicles, followed by an immaculate summation and tribute to Mrs Anderson by Prof.Geoffrey Barrow of the University of Edinburgh. He concluded, along with the authors of '1066 and All That' that [the conference, sources and] chronicles were 'a damn good thing.' He (along with us) awaits somewhat impatiently the publication of 'all these riches'. Members who would like to be advised either of further conferences or publications produced by Dr Barbara Crawford's Committee for Dark-Age Studies or of details of membership in Dr Simon Taylor's Scottish Placename Society can write to St Andrews Scottish Studies Institute, University of St Andrews, Fife KY16 9AL. See details of Scottish Placename Society on its webpage .
©1999MCNagahiro


Membership feedback. . .
WHITECROSS

ABERDEEN member Dr Theodore Allan remarks on the Hill of Whitecross one mile south of Chapel of Garioch at NJ 717 225, visible from the recumbent circle of Balquhain but not from Easter Aquhorthies. His interest is apt at this time of year, as it is a marker hill for sunset on the Feast Day of Bride (Candlemas, and incidentally at its opposite season, Martinmas). However its derivation as the Hill of the White Cross or Crossing may stem from its sacred point of the moon's crossing or setting - as seen from Balquhain - at the end of summer, the pagan White season, and the point where the full moon sets once in 19 years at its minor standstill. This should be a hill to watch in the summer of 2014 at the next standstill!

The physical crossing of the hill must also have had significance to Bronze Age and Pictish descendants, as anyone who has walked the Netherton of Balquhain road can testify. Leaving behind in the east the Bronze Age burial cairn on Dilly Hill, NJ 751 224, and walking due west, not only does the outline of the Hill of Whitecross draw the eye but for a mile and a half the traveller's visiion is filled with the sacred shape of the Mother mountain Bennachie. At Burnside of Balquhain, NJ 730 225, where the road turns sharply north, the walker can clearly see how the old road used to rise directly west to Whitecross, itself topped by a cairn. An added delight for placename enthusiasts is the name of this miniscule valley created by the burn which springs on Whitecross' lower slopes, flows past Burnside and Mains of Balquhain, turning to join the Urie at Drimmies (which Pictophiles will know has its own symbol stone): it is the Strathnaterick, valley of the serpent of ancient wisdom. This lonely stretch of road, now mostly used by farm traffic, is an inspiration to walk on a spring evening. Thanks to Dr Allan for his observations.

BLUE MOON
TWO OF our regulars communicate on the phenomenon of this year's blue moons, first in January and now in March; Griselda Macgregor in Inverurie and Trevor Allcott in Crimond are both interested in lunar activity, although from slightly different angles: Ms Macgregor requests the reason for the use of the term'Blue Moon', i.e. for two full moons in the month, while Mr. Alcott likes to extrapolate grander figures of moons in the Metonic cycle. We might cover both in a limited way. First, we find no-one in any context outside Scotland, and perhaps even outside the bounds of Aberdeenshire, using the term 'blue moon' to mean two full moons in the month [in 1999, January 2: 0250; 31:1607, accompanied by a visible penumbral lunar eclipse at 1619; March 2: 0659; 31: 2249 - all times GMT]. The fact that February this year had no full moon at all is purely a figment of modern man's calculations, as our forefathers when they spoke of the moon, meant the month, and vice versa. The arbitrary nature of the 'phenomenon' can be seen, particulary in the second March date, to occur only from Europe west, and not for instance, in Australia, where the second full moon falls within April. While not answering the question, we open the door to any contributions from members who have NE knowledge of folkloric or traditional useage.


LUNAR STANDSTILLS
We have touched on standstill moons before, as the time once every 18.61 years that the moon is seen at its most erratic in the night sky, behaving as if with a 'wobble'. We receive several calls a year requesting more detail for stone-watchers with astronomical leanings - the latest from a member in Edinburgh who prefers anonymity.

One of our MensaFOGS, Trevor Allcott puts it simply:
'Correction for our latitude is, according to Reed's Nautical Almanac, 7 minutes. The rule is, when declination is north, subtract from moonrise time and add to moonset time. Reverse applies if declination is south. Our biggest problem is one with which mariners do not have to cope, i.e. the height and distance of the horizon relative to the observer, but I promise, you don't want to know!

The easiest way is to observe a few full moons, note the times, and correct from the nautical times for that particular observation point.'

Sensible man. So, for those early birds preparing for their next maximum and minimum moonset and moonrise, when the moon's motion relative to other months is distinctly wobbly, may we suggest marking your diary now: Next major standstill at the full moon nearest to winter solstice occurs in 2005, when the full moon will rise in midwinter at the most northerly point it ever rises; while next minor standstill, or full moon nearest to summer solstice, happens in 2014.

If we are spared, we may try for a gathering for wobble watchers at a stone circle to compare notes.

©1998-9 Trevor Allcott ©1999MCNagahiro

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Friends of Grampian Stones
©1999 Friends of Grampian Stones
Editor: M Youngblood

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