No one knows who the seven daughters were, but the goddess still dances above the sea at Dunino.
The road curves up and out of the Scottish town of St. Andrews, leaving the harbor below to the left. A small, unobtrusive sign appears on the right, pointing down a narrow lane. Dunino is very easy to miss, and we only found it with the help of a local who knew the ancient sites.
Dunino means the Hill of the Seven Daughters.
A lane leads to a church, which probably dates to the 19th century, but is surely built upon much older foundations. St. Andrews has been an ecclesiastical center since the 9th century, and Pictish stones stand gray and mute in the churchyard at Dunino.
Seven daughters. One for each direction, north, south, east and west? One for each phase of the moon, waxing, full, and waning? Were they healers, warriors, priestesses? Did they link the people to the heavens and ensure the harvest’s bounty?
A set of steps hewn from stone leads into the woods near the church through pillars of trees to a sacred grove, and as we descended through the trees we were assailed with the smell of decay. The smell of something dead on that cool Scottish June morning, something in the long grass amongst the trees.
What sort of place was this? The breeze moved through leaves whispering secrets, swirling through rocks, carrying the stench of the goddess’ darkest manifestation, Celtic Hecate, Cailleach Bheur.,.
The steps lead to a natural grotto of high stone walls and a quiet stream, the Kinaldy Burn. This is Bel Craig, place of forgotten ancient ritual, where the mind leaps to fertility rites and human sacrifice. Bel Craig is called the Druid’s Den by modern locals, and even now it is a place of modern supplication. The goddess is here in her many forms.
In the grotto a foot is carved into the rock on the ground, there is a small well, and there is the feeling of hair standing up at the back of your neck, the chill of the unknown. It’s not as if someone walks over your grave, it’s as if an entire herd of sheep maraud upon it.
This is chillingly sacred space. Some people have felt great peace here. I felt peace spun through with electricity. I felt possibility to counter the chill. The goddess moved in the dappled light, sighing in the breeze.
The tall rock wall reveals a Christian cross carved 9 feet high in the Celtic in style, with cruciform surrounded by a circle. The circle denotes the sun, hinting at older ways of pre-Christian solar worship and inviting warmth to the chill grotto that never quite catches the light. There is the potent possibility, the electric thrill of an earlier time when the goddess ruled this place before Christianity stamped its mark upon Her space, adding another layer to the sacred.
She is there even now, the locals know her and remember. She is also Sulis, generous and life embracing. The grotto is festooned with offerings. Ribbons, bits of cloth, pieces of paper and small bunches of fresh flowers. Piles of coins among the bits and pieces.
Make him love me, send me a child, keep them safe. Ancient incantations, modern hopes and prayers. All these offerings are fresh, recently made by our contemporaries, invoking the Lady’s favor, appealing for help in whichever guise she chooses to take.
They say you must ask carefully at Bel Craig, because legend has it you will always receive your wish.