Sac­ri­fice made at Druid’s Seat reaps no earthly ben­e­fits ... yet

The Oban Times - - News - SANDY NEIL sneil@oban­times.co.uk

YOU can­not move for druids on the win­ter sol­stice at Stone­henge, but if you are a shy kind of druid, look­ing for a pa­gan cer­e­mony off the beaten track, why not try Kil­nin­ver?

Out of cu­rios­ity, early(ish) one morn­ing, I made a pil­grim­age to the Druid’s Seat: a chair carved thou­sands of years ago into a rocky out­crop be­low the Toad of Lorn, just be­fore the Bridge Over the At­lantic to Seil.

Any­one sit­ting in the Druid’s Seat at dawn on the short­est day, De­cem­ber 21, is lit by the sun ris­ing through a nat­u­ral col in Raera Hill across Loch Seil, and, it is the­o­rised, Bronze Age tribes used the chair as a cal­en­dar to cal­cu­late the date of the win­ter sol­stice.

In view be­low on the fer­tile plateau of Duachy (Gaelic for ‘meet­ing place’), lie four stand­ing stones (though only one now still stands), which also line up with the sum­mer sol­stice. Dur­ing the win­ter sol­stice, the sun re­flects off the chair, clearly vis­i­ble from the stand­ing stones.

All, it ap­pears, are carved from a basalt dyke run­ning down the hill, with ap­par­ent cut marks in the seam above the chair, and a dis­carded stand­ing stone lit­ter­ing the croft be­low.

To­day the land­scape is empty save for ru­mi­nants, but, like so many now re­mote cor­ners of Ar­gyll, there are signs of mil­len­nia of hu­man in­hab­i­ta­tion, from a Bronze Age vil­lage by Dubh (black) Loch, and an Iron Age crannog on Loch Seil.

The chair, or more ac­cu­rately throne, mea­sur­ing 0.8m wide by 0.5m deep, with a com­fort­able cush­ion of soil, grass and sheep drop­pings, and smoothed for the back of the knees, sits at the cen­tre of a nat­u­ral am­phithe­atre.

When Chris­tian­ity came to Lorn, dis­plac­ing – or, rather, ab­sorb­ing – the lo­cal pa­gan Celtic re­li­gion, the Druid’s Seat was named St Bren­dan’s Seat, af­ter Bren­dan the Nav­i­ga­tor, the pa­tron saint of mariners, el­derly ad­ven­tur­ers, whales and ca­noes.

Here, ac­cord­ing to le­gend, the Irish saint dis­pensed ad­vice to his fol­low­ers, on the hill called Suidhe Bhre­anain (the Seat of St Bren­dan) that stretched into the sea where only one ship could en­ter – the Clachan Sound sep­a­rat­ing Kil­nin­ver and the is­land of Seil. And so it was last De­cem­ber 21, with no cer­e­mony or wis­dom to im­part and no flock to ob­serve (ex­cept sheep), I parked my char­iot (a Re­nault Clio) to process (trudge) past the thou­sands of years of hu­man his­tory, and bat­tle the el­e­ments (mud, hail and wind), up to the Druid’s Seat.

The fate­ful hour, or minute, of 8.55am ar­rived. The sky pinkened, but the Celtic sun god, Lugh, did not make an ap­pear­ance.

What omen did that spell for 2017? For all your sakes, I sac­ri­ficed a ba­con roll, but two months on, I’m sorry to say I don’t think it has worked – so far.

The Druid’s Seat was re­named St Bren­dan’s Seat af­ter Chris­tian­ity came to Lorn.

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