Friday, August 19, 2016

From Sacred Landscapes to Warrior Society

From Sacred Landscapes to Warrior Society - 081916

The room where a had my dream

I had a dream while staying in Paris during the summer of 2013. There were no visuals, purely physical and emotional sensations. I was facing a great danger. Though I couldn't see it, I knew it was in front of me and manifest by a massive and strong enemy. It was a powerful and oppressive presence. I also knew that there were people behind me – people who were with me in the struggle – whatever it might be. I had no sense of whether we would win or lose. What I did know is that we had to have courage in the face of the enemy, no matter how afraid we might be. The unknown “battle” was not engaged in the dream. It was a premonition.

Yarrow in the glen

After I left Paris, I went to Scotland. Some of my ancestors are from Scotland – Campbells and Hutchinsons who came to the United States not long before the U.S. Civil War. I had planned the trip carefully because I wanted to see as much as I could in a short time without a car. I researched where I might find standing stones and cairns to which I could walk. I found Kilmartin in Kilmartin Glen.

An explanation of the sites in Kilmartin Glen - with my reflection

The glen – valley – carved by a glacier and its runoff contains relics of human use going back almost 5,000 years. It began as a ritual burying ground before being used later for human habitation and agriculture.

An old spelling of Campbell in the cemetery by the church in Kilmartin

Kilmartin Glen's designation is “very remote rural” with a population under 900. But it is on a local bus line! I did a lot of my traveling on bus lines which are not used by tourists, sometimes on one lane roads. Because they don't run often, linking my modes of travel was limiting, but well worth it.

My window at the Kilmartin Inn

I stayed at the Kilmartin Inn – an inn upstairs and a pub downstairs – with a commanding view of the glen. I could only stay two nights – not nearly enough to see 350 monuments in a 6-mile radius. One of my goals is to get back there for at least four more nights!

The view of the glen from my room

On my one full day there, I walked on the path that runs through the valley along a linear cemetery of cairns (burial sites under piles of stone) and standing stones. It was a beautiful, warm day. I was lucky to have only a couple of days of misty weather during my time in Scotland. I had the path to myself the entire day.

The path by the thistles

As I approached one of the cairns, I stopped by a stand of thistles. I don't know what attracted me, since they were small, pale and dusty – not the impressive ones, large and bright - I'd seen elsewhere. I realized that I hadn't yet taken a photo of thistles, so I took one of this scraggly bunch. 

The pale dusty thistles

As I turned to head back to the cairn, I had such a strong sense of deja vu, that I was completely disoriented and almost fell over. I was thinking, “But I've never been here, I've never been here!” As I reoriented myself, it dawned on me that my dream in Paris had taken place in this spot in the glen. The feeling was so strong that I have never doubted it. It had been a precognitive dream, but I would eventually find it to be so much more.

The cairn

The rest of the day was uneventful, though deeply satisfying, spent among the cairns and standing stones and small “castles.” The standing stones I saw were in a sheep field. In Scotland, you can walk into such privately-owned fields, as long as you close the gate behind you. It was the only place where I encountered people.

One of the standing stones

Much of the area is privately owned by corporations. Because of deposits from glaciers and their runoff, the area exists on gravel terraces – the town itself sits on a terrace above the floor of the glen – and there is a large gravel quarry nearby. The hills are owned by timber companies and much of Scotland (whose hills have been denuded many times) is covered with non-native trees (mostly Sitka Spruce) planted in neat rows next to clear cut areas. That is all clearly visible in Kilmartin Glen. Many of the historic sites in the area are on corporate property, though still accessible to the public.

Cup and ring markings - I bought a locally made necklace with these markings and wear it often

That night at the pub, the owner gave me tastes of different single-malt whiskies – so I could compare one without peat and ones with different levels of peat (some of Kilmartin Glen is a peat bog). People told stories around the fire. A young couple was hiking the length of Scotland. They had pitched their tent across the street on a patch of lawn next to the church cemetery. No one ever told them they couldn't. Imagine! We all sat around with our whisky and listened to their adventures.

View of the cairn from a hillside

I had to leave early the next day on the local bus to catch a ferry for the next leg of my trip and I thought, only occasionally, of my deja vu/dream experience in the glen. It wasn't until I got home a few weeks later and began researching the area further that I began to understand its significance. I ordered a couple of Scottish books not available here – one from the museum in Kilmartin. A quote on the flyleaf says, “Visiting the Kilmartin valley without this book in your rucksack would be very silly indeed.” Well, my visit hadn't been “silly,” but it would have been greatly enhanced by the information in the book. There were few signs in the area and I had, apparently, walked right past some fabulous sites. Possibly setting me up for having to go back? The glen was described as having begun as sacred space and having evolved as a symbol of power.

The second book is a collection of essays on Argyll – seat of Clan Campbell – of which Kilmartin is a part. One of the essays by Trevor Cowie is titled “The Bronze Age: from Sacred Landscapes to Warrior Society.” Now I felt that I was on to something linking my dream to the glen. Kilmartin Glen is one of those places where we can trace the change from matriarchal societies rooted in reverence of the natural world to patriarchal societies rooted in exploitation of the gifts of nature. It was an easy leap for me to imagine myself in that dream as being among the women who must have fought (in many ways on many fronts) bravely to inhibit that march to patriarchy. I do not make an easy leap to past lives (and haven't), but I did and do feel a special thrill to imagine the possibility that my female ancestors (predecessors of the Campbells) were active in that struggle and that the struggle is somewhere in my genes.

Description of a cairn with the woman in the center

I had been satisfied with those imaginings until recently (and here I go political on you). Now we may be at the culmination of that struggle our foremothers began so many thousands of years ago. Now is the time (or, possibly, past the time) for everyone to understand that the culture of war an exploitation could have brought humankind to an evolutionary dead end. Thus, the current presidential election has brought my dream and the struggle it represents directly back to me. I find myself constantly in conversations about Hillary Clinton's candidacy – both as the first woman candidate from one of two “major” parties and as the “only choice” to defeat Donald Trump. It is not my intent to have that full conversation here, but her candidacy is very relevant to the dream. I now find myself standing up for the values for which I imagine my very ancient “mothers” fought. And that struggle is being waged against a woman who represents the strongest and most inhumane patriarchy that has ever existed. My “mothers” did not win and, interestingly, the evidence of their lives was obliterated for millennia by climate change that brought the bogs which covered the cairns and stones. And that loss is still seen in their glen in the form of gravel quarries and clear cuts.

I do not think we will win this time either. And, sadly, it is a woman, finding her power in modeling her actions on those of men, who will continue to lead us pell mell to what could be the end of humankind, who will rape the earth, will build more and better nuclear weapons, and who will wage war on people the world over. I am grateful to those who struggle against this with me. I feel them around me as I did in the dream. And, as in the dream, the enemy is huge, powerful and oppressive. And we may not win, but we must try.

I have begun a series of poems (primarily unfinished, so far) about my time in the glen. Here is one of them.

Scottish Glen, Kilmartin
by Susan Lamont

Like mummers moving through our dreams,
souls incant ancient songs, long stolen
from the mouths of silenced bards. Where poems

of praise once wove through hazel, oak and elm, now
sentineled shadows of foreign spruce stand guard.
No bones remain, but memory of footsteps, flesh to earth,

haunts the spirit path, links cairns and
standing stones, dark permanence the peat held fast
through time 'til man reclaimed this earth for fire.

A constellation of stones announces
the rising moon. Archaic script of ciphers,
the alchemy of stone and simple tools,

speak ceremony. Bearing the gift of ritual,
shades of women move unshod
between heather and stream, delicate

and deliberate as water birds, frail
against the tide of newly-minted bronze,
wielded by men wedded to conquest and keen blade.

Today, under warming sky, a stream meanders
where once a torrent roared, a glen
swept wide and bare by rage of ice melt.

Dull blue thistles sway from press
of bees, slow and full in their work.
Dusty umbels of yarrow lace the path

through this trace of glacial scour.
Earth holds her secrets, faint as shadows
of ancient ferns pressed in stone, elusive

as the sheen of raven's blue-black wing.
Cleared by weapon and axe, the hills look down,
denuded. Along their scars, the sea lochs furthest reach

begins to stretch, flexing muscles as strong
as glaciers. Midst this calamity of grief,
who will bury our parched bones against a rising tide?


  1. Great poem! And you get some kind of line break award- really inventive and helpful.

    I do love that country.

    1. Thanks, Scott. I love playing with line breaks! My workshop leader, Terry Ehret, emphasizes that.