Near Inverness, hidden away and difficult to find, is a neolithic burial site known as the Clava Cairns. Located close to Culloden battlefield, it is bypassed by the many visitors heading for the more famous location. This is just as well. Clava is a place that should be experienced in quiet solitude. The atmosphere is intense, still, heavy with age, mystery and something impossible to express in words.
I visited for the first time after many years and was surprised that time and a change in my perspective had not altered my experience of the powerful energy there. Wandering among the stones and mature beech trees, my question was whether that power was created by the intense beliefs of people who had built the cairns about 4,000 years ago, or if it had always been there the site was chosen for that reason.
Everything about it is very intentional. The entries to the mounds face the southwest at the exact point where the sun sets at the winter solstice. Different types of stone are placed at specific locations on the structure with more pink quartz toward the south. it is thought that the people who built the cairns practiced ancestor worship so it’s probable that the burial of the dead would involve rituals of great spiritual significance.
Here is the most interesting part. After the ceremonies, whatever they may have been, the cairn was filled in with stone and rubble, perhaps to to protect the remains from being disturbed by wild animals. Finally a stone circle was around the tomb. I am intrigued by what the reason for that might have been. A ring of stone sentinels watching over and protecting what was inside. Passing through them I feel moved into an altered state. it feels different inside than outside.
What was in their minds we can’t know as they left no written records but in my mind, I imagine is a people so embedded in nature, so much a part of it, that they can ‘read’ the earth in a way we can’t begin to imagine. it was alive and would speak to them in a language we have long forgotten. We may desecrate the earth , we are always apart from it—always doing something to it whether for good or ill—without ever realising that what we do to it, we do to ourselves.
Honouring the ancestors because they have learned the secrets of death, nurturing the children because they are our legacy, feeling oneself as part of a chain of being that extends endlessly into the past and the future is to feel at home on the earth and be at peace with it. Grounded, I think is the term.
Clava makes me think about these things and I shall visit again soon.