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Malta - 02 The Temples detail

Identifier

022528

Type of Spiritual Experience

Background

There are a considerable number of Megalithic Temples in Malta (Maltese: It-Tempji Megalitiċi ta' Malta). Called collectively the ‘Megalithic Temples of Malta’ , they are among the most ancient religious sites on Earth, and described by the World Heritage Sites committee as "unique architectural masterpieces."  Some are listed as UNESCO World Heritage sites, but there are other megalithic temples in Malta which are not included in the UNESCO World Heritage list.  A submerged site known as Ġebel ġol-Baħar possibly exists off the coast of Malta, but it is not proven to be a megalithic temple.  Nowadays, the sites are managed by Heritage Malta.

Despite the table below from Wikipedia, they also say “The dating and understanding of the various phases of activity in the temples is not easy. The main problem found is that the sites themselves are evolutionary in nature…. Furthermore, in some cases, later peoples built their own sites over the Neolithic temples, thus adding an element of confusion”.

 

Maltese Prehistoric Chronology
(Based on recalibrated radiocarbon dating)

 

Period

Phase

Dates BC c.

 

Neolithic
(5,000-4,100 BC)

Għar Dalam

5,000-4,300 BC

Għar Dalam, is a cave in the Wied id-Dalam, near Birżebbuġa, in the south-east of the island. The first traces of human habitation on the island date to this phase

Grey Skorba

4,500-4,400 BC

The pottery found on the site is divided into two styles, the Grey Skorba phase distinguished by grey-coloured pottery with no motifs, and the Red Skorba phase, which is exactly like the grey Skorba but coloured using red ochre

Red Skorba

4,400-4,100 BC

 

Temple Period
(4,100–2,500 BC)

Żebbuġ

4,100–3,700 BC

Skorba Temples (in Żebbiegħ) .  Charcoal found on site at Skorba was crucial in dating the Maltese Temple phases

 

Mġarr

3,800-3,600 BC

The Mġarr phase is named for the town of Mġarr, in the west of the island, where pottery older than the Ta' Ħaġrat temple complex was found

Ġgantija

3,600-3,200 BC

The Ġgantija temples (two sites) were listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1980.

The Ta' Ħaġrat ([taˈħad͡ʒrat]) temples are in Mġarr, and are a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The larger Ta' Ħaġrat temple dates from the Ġgantija phase; the smaller is dated to the Saflieni phase .

Mnajdra (in Qrendi), is approximately 500 metres from the Ħaġar Qim megalithic complex; it is a UNESCO World Heritage Sites

Ħaġar Qim (in Qrendi) is a UNESCO World Heritage Sites

 

Saflieni

3,300-3,000 BC

The Saflieni phase is named for the Ħal-Saflieni Hypogeum, an underground temple complex, recognised as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO

Tarxien

3,150-2,500 BC

The Tarxien phase is named for the temple complex discovered near the village of Ħal Tarxien, and now recognised as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO

Bronze Age
(2,500–700 BC)

Tarxien ‘cemetery’

2,500–1,500 BC

Characterised not by large-scale temple building, but by dolmens

Borġ in-Nadur

1,500–700 BC

 

Baħrija

900–700 BC

 

 

A description of the experience

Triquetas and the Ground plan - The ground plan is based on egg shapes and spirals: there is a lobed or kidney-shaped plan found in Mġarr east; a trefoil plan evident in Skorba, Kordin and various minor sites;  and a five-apsed plan Ġgantija South, Tarxien East.

 

The number is significant.  If we take the three lobed plan it is symbolically related to the Triqueta or Trisquela/ Triskela.  In all shamanic lore, including the law of the druids and Celtic races, there are Three Worlds – the upper world, the middle world and the lower world. These worlds are capable of being visited within spiritual experience. Lower Subconscious world travel is via symbolic caves and tunnels, middle Conscious world travel is out-of-body mirror world travel – the world is simply a mirror image of the physical.  The Upper world is the world beyond the soul.  If you see any three part symbol, it signifies that it is a spot where all three worlds are accessible.  If it incorporates the spiral all the better.

Spirals - Spiral reliefs resembling those still visible at Tarxien once adorned the Ġgantija temples, but have faded to a level where they are only clearly recognisable in a series of drawings made by the artist Charles de Brochtorff in 1829, immediately after the temples’ excavation.

Spirals in general represent a portal.  Vortexes of energy can occur within spiritual experiences and are frequently a means of travel from one level or layer to another acting somewhat like a tunnel.  Thus the out-of-body traveller may find himself or herself picked up in one area and dropped in another – all this remember is within the experience. If the sign is placed on a rock or stone a spiral sign can mean that that is the spot where this may happen.  In other words this spot can produce a spiritual experience.

Courts, Forecourt/enclosure - The approach to the temples lies on an oval forecourt, levelled by terracing if the terrain is sloping. The forecourt is bounded on one side by the temples’ own façades, which faces south or south-east. To understand the symbolism of the court, one needs also to understand the symbolism of the Egg – the cosmic egg on which the entire temple design was based.  There is an inner court, an outward court and an inward court symbolically and spiritually speaking.  Thus depending on the layout this meaning may be being employed.  There is also, however, in this mystic movement the concept of the ‘Dance floor’ an area where ecstatic dancing and music took place as part of initiation ceremonies, healing rites and so on.

The Three Worlds and the mountain/Teeth

Teeth, Mountains and Orthostats - The monuments’ façades and internal walls are made up of orthostats, a row of large stone slabs laid on end.   An orthostat is a large stone with a more or less slab-like shape that has been artificially set upright (so a cube-shaped block is not an orthostat). Menhirs and other standing stones are technically orthostats although the term is only used by archaeologists to describe individual prehistoric stones that constitute part of larger structures. In Malta they appear to symbolically be representing ‘mountains’, again an extension of the three worlds system and better understood by looking at the picture.  They are the ‘teeth’ in an enormous mouth that takes you to the other worlds.  [There is a direct correspondence here with cones and triangles as well].

Portals and tunnels - The centre of the façades in the Malta temples is usually interrupted by an entrance doorway forming a trilithon, a pair of orthostats surmounted by a massive lintel slab. Further trilithons form a passage, which is always paved in stone. There are trilithons at other sites such as Stonehenge. They are commonly found in dolmens.

Chambers and apses – Overall, the layout of the temples is connected with the Egg.  For comparative purposes we have provided some ancient maps – Mappi Mundi – spiritual maps of the earth.  Africa, America and Asia are symbolic in a map like this, but as we can see from the chart, the continents correspond to the Elements.  Thus depending on the number of chambers, one could tell whether it was a temple to the Earth, Water, Air, Fire or the Aether levels.

Generic name

Continents

Aether

[Antarctica]

Fire

Africa

Air

Asia

Water

America

Earth

Europe

The main variation in the temples lies in the number of apses found; this may vary to three, four, five or six. If three, they open directly from the central court in a trefoil fashion.  Here a person would have been in the Outer court of the symbolic Egg.   In cases of more complex temples, a second axial passage is built, using the same trilithon construction, leading from the first set of apses into another pair, and either a fifth central or a niche giving the four or five apsial form. In one case, at the Tarxien central temple, the fifth apse or niche is replaced by a further passage, leading to a final pair of apses, making six in all.  So from Outer court to Inward court and from there to Inner court, the person was moving symbolically towards the centre of the Egg and thus the Holy of Holies.

 

The source of the experience

Shaivism

Concepts, symbols and science items

Activities and commonsteps

Activities

Suppressions

Creating a sacred geography

Commonsteps

References