Thu 24 Aug 2006

STARING into the terrifying thunderous tumult of the Corryvreckan whirlpool, it's easy to see why its sheer primal energy has fascinated people for centuries.

Now Edinburgh folklorist Stuart McHardy has suggested a startling new theory - that the awe-inspiring natural vortex between the islands of Scarba and Jura in Argyll and Bute was the true origin of the Holy Grail.

At its wildest, some say the whirlpool forms a spectacular swirling cauldron 300 feet wide and 100 feet deep. The cause is hidden beneath the waves – a giant rock pinnacle rising from the depths to within 95 feet of the surface. Water on the seabed is forced upwards when it hits the submerged rock, causing huge waves. The noise can keep the neighbours awake up to 20 miles away.

McHardy believes that the Corryvreckan was, for pre-Christian Picts, a "Mother Goddess" - the Mother of All Fertility Symbols.

"These ancient pagan tribes saw the whirlpool as a giant cauldron - or Grail - of rebirth," he says. "They believed it was the womb of all creation and could even awaken dead warriors. It was literally their Holy Grail."

In his new book On the Trail of the Holy Grail, McHardy writes that incoming Christian monks tried to erase all trace of this ancient way of thinking. They rewrote what they saw as dangerous pagan beliefs, downplaying the regenerative power of femininity, promoting the idea of a single, male God and disguised the religious significance of the whirlpool.

The final blow to the Old Religion is thought to have come from the legendary warrior Arthur, the hammer of the Picts.

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