A landscape of shining stones.
White quartz dominates the landscape of our tale. Why could it be important?
Today was one of the days when the synchronicities and uncovering of this project floor me and I have to stop and take a deep breath. Honestly each time it happens I have to stop. Stop everything because my brain goes in 1000 directions and I start to see all the possibilities at once and I can’t digest it. But the beauty of this project is that I will get to digest it with you and I can bring myself back to the thing I wanted to tell you about today and put the rest in my notes for tomorrow. I won’t lose it. It’s funny because I feel that way all the time, that I will lose some of the story… we’ll see.
This week I watched an online talk hosted by The Glencoe Folk Museum about the Ballachulish Figure. A roughly life sized figure of a girl or goddess carved out of a single piece of Alder she was found face down under deep peat in 1880. She was radio carbon dated to about 600 BC. I was mostly interested in the white quartz that form the eyes of the figure—or more beautifully said by Dr Fraser Hunter of the National Museum of Scotland during the presentation, the stones “which gave her sight.”
White quartz has been important to me as part of this story since I first encountered the boulder of it sat at a fork in the road in the landscape. I’ve been finding breadcrumbs about white quartz in all sorts of places since. In our story it will play a large role in the believed magic of the place and the people who tend it. Our soon to be Saint in search of retreat and miraculous things visits this ancient spot and somehow begins a relationship with the people there.
White quartz has been used by humans through the ages in a spiritual or magical way. Whether in the modern revival of the powers of crystals to amplify or purify or in the white quartz facade at the Stone Age New Grange Passage Tomb. Hundreds of white quartz pebbles were excavated in archeological digs at Lindisfarne, where people put them on the graves since the Bronze Age. And it is noted that “Remarkably, it’s not a practise mentioned in literature as far as we can see. It’s evidence of an ancient burial ritual that only archeology, and not literature, can reveal.”
We’ll hear more about Lindisfarne much later in our story as it was a derivative monastery of Iona until it broke from the Celtic to the Roman principles of Christianity (which is when the women really go missing). Can we trace or imagine the influence of our saint and her relationship with the people from the place of the shining stones/white quartz to this practise? Is the practise gone now because it would be her story that had to be expunged in order to fit the new story of the church? That’s what I feel like is happening in our story. For me there will be a connection between those who value/practise the memories inherent in the stones and the beginnings of the scriptorium at the Celtic monasteries that produced works like the Book of Kells. The beauty and embellishments of the memories are understandable like the sparkle in the stones.
But back to the stones themselves. Quartz was thought then not to be used for the living but reserved for places of the dead. Think of a landscape of a particular stone and how that changes how the place feels. Just like snow muffles sound and it travels far on water. Or how we know striking different objects makes different sounds. For me a landscape intensely made up of this crystal—whether you believe in its healing properties or not—feels different. And to watch it erupt from the earth by the boulder when a tree falls in a storm or seemingly split a rock in two as it draws a seam along the coast… well how could that place have not been magical?
In the Ballachulish figure what did the seeing through quartz eyes mean? Was it protection? Did we want her to see us healed? Was it the gift of the ancestors sight she brought? What if the stones were believed to contain all ancestors memories and those of the earth itself as those with stone mythology tell us?
Again we move through time so quickly and so much is lost! But it leaves so much room for the imagining that this story does. I want to use some of what is known archeologically about the area, and also give free reign to create my version of what isn’t and couldn’t be known.
Here are some images of the white quartz I encountered during my time in Argyll and the box of pieces I brought with me to connect me to their stories.
Going down my research (confirmation?) wormholes I keep finding the most delightful things!
Today’s treasure: The Tinkers’ Heart.
I found that at the top of Loch Fyne, just off where I would have passed on the road above Cairndow many times, there is a heart made out of white quartz called The Tinkers Heart. Laid at a crossroads in the 1700s, it has been used by generations of Travellers, members of the nomadic communities that have lived in the United Kingdom since at least the Middle Ages. It became a spot where people gather to marry, bless children, and hold meetings or make deals. The oral history traditions of the Traveller peoples make it hard to nail down why it was created, but it is also those old stories with their links to the past that make me excited that even while Patriarchal Christianity began to reign more strongly, some of the practises might have been kept safe in the oral traditions of the Travelling Community.