We are bereft of rituals. The ancient peoples who were of the land, knew the need for ceremony, for thanks and gratitude to the earth, the sky, the seas upon which they were so dependent for survival. At certain times of the year, often in alignment with solar or lunar events such as mid winter, rituals of renewal would be performed, the act of giving back, a benediction for blessings received and still to come.
I came to Scotland to discover some of these ancient sites of ceremony and renewal. To find out if there was a resonance in the stones which could be felt even four thousand years after they were first erected. To connect with storytelling and folklore, dancing, singing, the embrace of community. To interact with places of power, healing and ceremony.
Here on the Island of Lewis in the outer Hebrides there is one of the finest groupings of standing stones and stone circles on the hills around Callanish. They are easily accessible and because of this, tourists scramble upon the earthen mounds, taking photos of themselves amongst the giants. The weather is unpredictable. Yesterday was May 1st, the traditional celebration of Beltane when all the fires on the island were extinguished until the communal lighting of the new fire, signalling rebirth and spring.
It was to be a full moon but the weather was so inclement that hail and icy winds prevented us from visiting the largest grouping of stones, Callanish I, for more than ten minutes, during which time we struggled to remain upright from the wind. Today we visited them again, this time in better weather and I was both suprised and delighted to find at the base of each central stone there was a small offering.
Someone had been there first thing at sunrise or late last night with the rising moon and made a ritual offering. A bunch of daffodils, a plastic glittering deer, a silver swan. Each grouping of stones had received a small token, the type of decoration you can buy for a Christmas tree. Yet that silver glittering swan was a simple reminder to be thankful to the earth and its bounty, the swans in the lochs, the deer on the moors, the flowers and heather on the hills.
It was not too late to participate. I searched in my pockets and found a sweet in a wrapper. Placing it carefully under the swan's plastic wing, I felt that this small act had honoured the spirit of the land. For now, it was enough.