Photography by Ange Harper
“There’s no place on earth with more of the old superstitions and magic mixed into its daily life than the Scottish Highlands.”
—Diana Gabaldon, Outlander
Figures in white emerge from the swirling mists that surround the standing stones. The quiet observer may spy these women, hair loose and wild, spinning and twirling in an elaborate dance, holding cloth-wrapped lanterns adorned with flowers outstretched in one hand, swaying like will-o’-wisps.
It is an image that repeats time and again in artworks and photographs from many eras: A circle of women, dancing and twirling, creating mystery and magic from both the dance and their wild feminine beauty. The sight has its roots in ancient traditions and mysteries. After all, there is evidence that the druids of ancient Celtic tribes had powerful female spiritual leaders called ban-draoidh, or bandrui. Although their existence was mostly passed over in records kept by the male writers of history, they can be seen in characters in folklore and myth, such as Fedelm the seer, from the Ulster cycle of Irish mythology.
These undocumented female priestesses and druids in Celtic cultures have become tantalizing inspiration for stories like The Mists of Avalon and, of course, Outlander, in which Diana Gabaldon imagines a sisterhood of priestesses who secretly leave their houses in the conservative era of 1940s Scotland on the eve of Samhain, gathering around the standing stones of Craigh na Dun (a creation of Gabaldon’s imagination, though numerous real standing stones exist) to dance a magical and beautiful ritual.
This image was at the forefront of photographer Ange Harper’s mind when she gathered her models together at a local park where an old wooden gate post magically became a standing stone (in post-processing, Harper had to remove the graffiti and make the wood look like stone!). Through the mists, the three women lean toward each other, faces painted with white sigils and magical lines echoing the ley lines that some believe run between sacred sites in Ireland, England, and Scotland. They raise their glowing blooms of white flowers toward the stone, acknowledging both the magic of these ancient monoliths and the history, mostly lost to time, of a powerful sisterhood in ancient Celtic lands.
Druids: Sofia Vella, Druidess Of Midian, Benita Botha Hair: Breena J.
Follow Ange Harper at angeharper.com.