Tuesday 21 December 2021

Winter Solstice: Maeshowe

 Come, you pagans and rejoice - it is December 21, the winter solstice, time to light the bonfires, beg the sun to come back and hand Father Christmas back onto his pagan throne. Not that thoroughly respectable, capitalist Christian chap, Santa Claus, wearing his uniform designed by Coca Cola of neat red tunic and trousers tucked into his booties, who likes kids in a respectable sort of way. No, our indigenous mid winter god, the Father, is altogether bacchanalian, bare breasted in his huge green robe, and holly-haired , who likes sex, eating and drinking vats of alcohol. He probably likes kids as well.

Here, today in Orkney, the sun rose at 9:05 and will set at 3:15 pm, so soliciting  the sun to resume normal duties was an important business for Neolithic Orcadians. Their complicated, astrologically-orientated stone structures bear silent witness to the ingenuity and endurance of the ancient peoples in pursuing their religion. The Ring of Brodgar was constructed 5000 years ago, from monoliths dragged across Orkney by symmonds on seaweed rafts. It predates Stonehenge, built to the same design as Brodgar,  and the great Pyramids of Egypt.

This is Maeshowe, a chambered tomb. It has a long, low entrance tunnel that cuts off most light most of the year from entering the central circular chamber. The entrance tunnel is aligned south-westerly, oriented towards the setting sun. On a clear day, the light of the setting sun on December 21st penetrates the tunnel, like the spot of a laser light and illuminates the back wall - like this:

The light builds, then declines as the sun falls behind the horizon. For the rest of the year, the interior can be seen only with the help of torches, illuminating the cunning stonework and the graffiti carved into the walls by a raiding party of Vikings taking shelter from a snow storm, as recently as the twelfth century. But on the day itself, the annual miracle of the light takes place, bequeathed to us by our ancient ancestors, who did, indeed, ensure that the sun came back.
I've been there to witness it in previous years; but this year Maeshowe is closed (Covid, natch), but Historic Environment Scotland (HES) is livestreaming an event celebrating Maeshowe and its midwinter alignment. You can watch it yourself on this link:

It starts at 3:00pm and there will be the solstice light effect, poetry, and story telling.


mongoose said...

That's a fantastic barrow, mrs i. Around here the ancient stuff is a bit less splendid but one does not have to go many miles to find plenty of mad little structures from long ago. As any fule know, "Winter is coming". One wonders what will be left once the ice has done its work.

I see that everyone is now plucking highly specific statistical claims out of their backsides in order to avoid the numerical elephant in the room which is actual deaths with the moronic variant as primary cause.

mrs ishmael said...

Orkney used to be the centre of the world, mr mongoose, where all the ideas originated and the sea roads converged. Its influence was immense on architecture, religion, jewellery,and objects whose purpose we can only speculate about - the default position is the "R" word - in this instance, Ritual.
But something happened - I think it was Neolithic climate change - and the centre of the world moved on. Orkney became less habitable and there was not the pressure on land that you experienced in England. And so this Neolithic stuff is still here - nobody needed to put up a multi-storey car park, shopping mall or housing estate on the site of these ancient places. And there was a local respect, bordering on fear, of the ancient peoples - best not to disturb them. So we have more of the stuff still extant than down in Droitwich, for example. I was involved in some rescue archaeology in Droitwich - a developer wanted to put up a hotel on a Roman crossroads and we had a month to throw as many people as possible at the site to rescue stuff that no-one had even known was there until the JCBs had moved in and uncovered a skeleton.

Mike said...

100k cases yesterday mr mongoose - lots of people blowing their noses. I watched yesterday some woman health minister in the UK trying to answer questions - basically she didn't know the answer. She did admit to 10 people in hospital "with" the moronic variant and 1 death "with" the moronic variant. We are being gamed. Its the excuse for the on-going economic collapse in the West.

mongoose said...

Yes, mr mike, but the moronic variant is basically the more transmissible, lower symptom version we have long discussed and forecast here. And we are not the only ones who foresaw correctly. It is over. Though there will continue to be shouting about record daily new cases' which means reported positive tests, not sick people.

I've had two jabs - weak, useless bastard that I am - covid twice (and might well have just had a moronic sniffle). That's enough immunity to be going on with, TVM. I've got a business in shreds that I have to try to save. I need customers and partners to come out from behind their sofas and out into the light. Let's get back to work.

Mike said...

Mr mongoose: its seems in Aus we are following your advice


This hasn't been widely reported here because we are too thick to understand, and it contradicts the previous scare tactics. But it does seem to be what is actually happening on the ground. Basically its hands off and they are letting it take its course.

mongoose said...

I guess, although I have not thought it through, that small islands were relatively secure places to live when the world was new, mrs i.

Around here we have a number of hill-forts. Indeed not many of these not v high hills are without their forts. When the mongoslings were wee, I took No 1 to view the Oxford Univ excavation of a downhill slice of one such. The lady had found a body. I was a bit concerned (as silly newish parents are) of what my shiny mongosling should see but it was all good.

Some lad long ago had either charged up the slope to attack or fallen down it after having fallen in his defending and was now bones to be unraveled. A "ditch burial" she said. Which thing, I reckon, means that he was just left there below the summit, or was thrown in there, or was otherwise just discarded. The lady archaeologist didn't yet know the brand of deceased - upwardly attacking or downwardly defending - but she was just patiently teasing the story from the ground. It was strangely uplifting that this poor soul of long ago was now at least found in his lonely ditch almost 2000 years old.

mrs ishmael said...

We have the hill forts in Scotland, mr mongoose. When I lived in Inverness, my home was at the edge of the Craig Phadrig Forest, at the summit of which was a vitrified hill fort. The vitrification of the walls was caused by the application of intense heat, which fused the rocks of which they were built, actually weakening the structure. It is now thought that the walls were burned by carefully-maintained fires as an act of deliberate destruction following the capture of the fort by enemy action. Or by the inhabitants as an act of ritual closure at the abandonment of the site.
Your story of the excavation of the ditch burial reminds me of an incident early in my career. It was a long, hot summer and good to be outdoors. The Bordesley Abbey excavation called on me for conscripts to assist in uncovering the medieval Cistercian Abbey. I allocated a couple of lads to join the dig - my job was to deliver them to site in the morning and collect them in the evening. I thought they'd enjoy it - outside in the sunshine, working with archaeologists and students. When I collected them at the end of the first day, the one lad, who fancied himself as a hard man, with three pages of previous convictions, begged to be allocated to grass cutting, painting,rock breaking - anything but not the Abbey. A lead coffin had been opened and its ghastly contents revealed. White and shaking, he was.

Mike said...

Merry Christmas to one and all. It's Christmas Eve here now, a balmy 26C at 2pm. Unseasonably cold.

Bungalow Bill said...

One from M R James that, Mrs I.

Good Cheer and prosperity to all on here. May sanity find its way back in 2022, though I think I’m with Mr Mike as to what lies beneath.

Anonymous said...

Wrap up warm, mr Mike. Best to you & yours, and likewise all ishmaelites. Back to the anthology grindstone in the new year and hope to have a third volume ready before too long.