21 May 2010

The Pagan Sites of Europe Remembered: (9) Loudon Hill, Scotland

It is quite difficult to claim Loudon Hill as a pagan site using the usual historical and documentary evidence, but anyone who has visited it, as I have, will know that it must certainly have been a pagan site at one time.

Any pagan significance is now heavily overshadowed by the site's historic significance - it was the site of victorious battles against the English fought by both William Wallace (1296) and Robert the Bruce (1307) in the Scottish War of Independence. This, in itself, suggests some powerful X factor at work, as does the later Covenanter victory against the government forces several hundred years later. Of course, a rationalist will simply point out that the site has hosted these battles due to its strategic location, but, I feel, this does not fully explain matters, as almost any part of Scotland is full of convenient points of defence and ambush. The site also clearly has an additional power to inspire.

Because of the lack of clear cut evidence, any pagan significance for the site has to be carefully reconstructed from comparing similar pagan sites and from the location's etymology, but I also feel that intiution can play a legitimate part.

Loudon Hill is an outcrop of granite at the head of the Irvine Valley. In pagan times, this kind of site was routinely treated as a holy site and would be honored with the name of some god. The site is also a natural border post on the high lands between Ayrshire and Lanarkshire and overlooks the main natural route between the two areas.

The name Loudon suggests many possibilities to etymologists. For example, it has been suggested that the first syllable signifies a "fire" and the second "hill," as its commanding site would have been ideal for signal-fires. Another explanation derives the name from the Gaelic term Lod-dan, signifying "marshy ground," as their are bogs nearby. Such prosaic explanations clearly fall flat. A much more satisfying explanation is the one that links the name to Celtic god Lugus, also known as Lugh in the Gaelic pantheon.

Julius Caeser in his "De Bello Gallico" identified this god with the Roman god Mercury, adding that he was the god most revered in Gaul, and describing him as patron of trade and commerce, protector of travellers, and the inventor of all the arts. Some of these characteristics, namely the patron of trade and protector of travellers, would fit nicely with the God of Loudon Hill, who, from his position overlooking this important route, would be invoked to protect trade and travellers passing this way.

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