Where do you turn?


On our recent trip to Scotland, we re-visited Inverary Castle, the seat of the Chief for Clan Campbell. The castle was devastated by a fire several years ago, and we were concerned to see what had been accomplished in the reconstruction process.

Fortunately, the people who live on the estate and the nearby villagers rushed to the castle when they heard of the fire and many of the artifacts and paintings along with valuable antiques were saved by those brave folks. The restored castle is as grand as ever.

High on a hill just beside the castle a small structure of stone is prominent. I don't know what it represents, or even if it dates back many years. It does remind me of the way Highland Chiefs communicated with their scattered clansmen before the days of electronic communication.

The Clan Chief ruled an inherited territory, owned all of the land in that territory, and all who lived there were essentially tenants owing rent and allegiance to the Chief. Most of those tenants would also be kinsmen of the Chief since the Clan system was based on kinship. Intermarriage within the Clan reinforced this system.

Not only did the clansmen owe the chief their productivity from the land, but also their strength and allegiance in times of war. If the Clan lands were threatened, or the Chief declared war on another clan or joined other clans in war efforts under the leadership of a king, the clansmen were obligated to fight under the clan banner.

Since these men were scattered on hillsides and in valleys throughout the Highlands, a method of communication had to be devised for calling the warriors together. I can imagine that this is where the structure atop the hill by Inverary came into use. A bonfire could be set alight on that spot and would be visible for miles.

In addition, the Clan Chiefs would construct and set alight a cross which trusted bearers would carry along the tops of the hills by running along the ridges. The fiery cross was the signal for every clansman to grab his weapons and head for the designated gathering place. You can imagine how effective and alarming that experience might have been. In the darkness of the night one might hear the shouting of the cross bearer as he made his way across the hills with the flaming signal of danger and alarm.

In our world, it is much easier to pass communication— even across oceans and continents. Our electronic age has resulted in the Internet, Facebook, Twitter and MySpace and others.

We don't have the Scottish Clan system to hold us together, or even maintain the family ties that those folks did, but we still have the need to "raise the alarm" from time to time. In times of trouble, to whom do you turn? Who do you call with a warning when problems arise? Do you look to God for help?

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2009-08-13 digital edition

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