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Observations placeholder

Sacred geography – Picts – Brochs 01



Type of Spiritual Experience



A broch is a drystone hollow-walled structure of a type found only in Scotland.  They are part of the sacred geography of the whole of Britain.  Ley lines connect them to cliffs, sacred wells and sacred springs, mark stones, natural hills, valleys, wheelhouses, barrows [cairns], as well as islands having crannogs on them.  Scotland is a vast landscape overlaid by a matrix of sacred sites of which brochs are but one feature.

The Fairy Mythology - Illustrative of the Romance and Superstition of Various Countries. by Thomas Keightley  [1870]

The Gael call the Fairies Daoine Shi', [b] (Dheenè Shee) and their habitations Shians, or Tomhans. These are a sort of turrets, resembling masses of rock or hillocks. By day they are indistinguishable, but at night they are frequently lit up with great splendour. 

but this is not just a legend..............

The View over Atlantis – John Michell

At certain seasons old stone monuments appear to attract a kind of electric current that produces light and, when uncontrolled, takes the form of intense heat, capable of fusing stones.

Brochs are the most spectacular of a complex class of roundhouse buildings found throughout Atlantic Scotland. The Shetland Amenity Trust lists about 120 sites in Shetland as candidate brochs, while the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland (RCAHMS) identifies a total of 571 candidate broch sites throughout the country. Researcher Euan MacKie has proposed a much smaller total for Scotland of 104.

The distribution of brochs is centred on northern Scotland. Caithness, Sutherland and the Northern Isles have the densest concentrations, but there are a great many examples in the west of Scotland and the Hebrides. Although mainly concentrated in the northern Highlands and the Islands, a few examples occur in the Borders (for example Edin's Hall Broch and Bow Castle Broch); on the west coast of Dumfries and Galloway; and near Stirling. In a c.1560 sketch there appears to be a broch by the river next to Annan Castle in Dumfries and Galloway

Sixty years ago most archaeologists believed that brochs were the 'castles' of Iron Age chieftains, built by immigrants who had been pushed northward.  According to Wikipedia, however, “there is now little doubt that the hollow-walled broch tower was purely an invention in what is now Scotland” and they are not defensive.

Generally, brochs have a single entrance with bar-holes, door-checks and lintels. Also there is a spiral staircase winding upwards between the inner and outer wall and connecting the galleries. Brochs vary from 5 to 15 metres (16–50 ft) in internal diameter, with 3 metre (10 ft) thick walls. There are five extant examples of towers with very high walls: Dun Carloway on Lewis, Dun Telve and Dun Troddan in Glenelg, Mousa in Shetland and Dun Dornaigil in Sutherland, all of whose walls exceed 6.5 m (21 ft) in height.  Mousa's walls are the best preserved and are still 13 m tall.  

Brochs are not places in which to live, they are temples whose structure is based on the cosmic egg.  The outlying ditches represent the elements of earth water, fire and air.  The structure itself is then the aether level and is a symbol of the cosmic mountain. The two walls provide a means of providing an inner staircase that ascends to various levels.  It was really just another version of, for example, Glastonbury Tor or Silsbury hill.  As such brochs are a means of symbolically achieving ‘ascension’ through the levels and layers.  They could have been used for both ceremonies showing the achievements of an initiate – the level they had reached – a bit like celebrating a freemason’s ascent up the ladder to the 33rd degree, or they may also have been used for tuition.

When they were not being used for ceremonies they were used as beacons or lighthouses – symbols of enlightenment.  It is clear they were never used as a place of battle as none has ever been found showing signs of conflict.  Furthermore, many show signs of vitrification - stone enclosures whose walls have been subjected to glass transition through heat.  It was long thought that vitrified structures were unique to Scotland, but they have since been identified in several other parts of western and northern Europe.

- Dun Carloway Broch (Dùn Chàrlabhaigh)

A description of the experience

A general view of the Broch of Gurness and Eynhallow Sound

The source of the experience


Concepts, symbols and science items



Activities and commonsteps