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Sacred geography – Picts – Wheelhouses 04 - A’ Cheardach Bheag South Uist



Type of Spiritual Experience


A description of the experience


The Small Wheelhouse II

The Wheelhouse site A’ Cheardach Bheag on Drimore Machair, South Uist – Horace fairhurst M A PhD [in Glasgow Archeological Journal using work of 1960s]

The second wheelhouse was abnormally small with an internal diameter of 17 feet 6 inches and a central area reduced to 9 feet. The possibility that the entrance from Wheelhouse I was a later break-through has already been suggested. Only the southern half was excavated but an investigation at turf level showed that the peripheral wall was continuous in the northern semicircle (Pl. 2, bottom). The spacing of the piers was irregular and the number indeterminate, but might be estimated at five. On this assumption, the excavated bays have been numbered clockwise from the entrance, I, II, IV and V (Fig. 3; Pls. 2, bottom, and 7). It is significant that the builders had not levelled the floor which was a saucer-like hollow.
The entrance Bay I was rather misshapen but the dimensions were normal. The filling of interlocked stones once more indicated a corbelled slab roof. Bay V was anomalous in several ways. The width at the 'aisle' was no less than 9 feet and even when it had narrowed to 5 feet at the inner end, the distance between piers was greater than anything in Wheelhouse I.

We saw in the introduction that

  • The Wheel of Fire is based on the Wheel with six spokes or the clock and is thus representative of the spiritual pathFire symbolises purification, destruction and recreation.
  • The Wheel of Fortune characteristically has the four stages of life, with four human figures.  It ties in with the Four seasons and the hours [see links].  Fortune can cover any number of different facets of a person’s life.  It can cover their rise to power, it can cover their pecuniary rises and falls, or their love life.  Thus the Wheel of Fortune can be varied and quite fun in its interpretation.  But there is one interpretation that is used in initiation and that is the progress the person is making with respect to the ‘hero’s’ path – the spiritual path of the hero.

From the Layout the wheelhouse is the Wheel with six spokes – we can see from the plan what the layout might have been.  The reason it may have been smaller is it had fewer candidates to handle.  There is often a significant drop out rate between all the early stages and the later more rigorous and much harder stages.

The forecourt

The Wheelhouse site A’ Cheardach Bheag on Drimore Machair, South Uist – Horace fairhurst M A PhD [in Glasgow Archeological Journal using work of 1960s]
A narrow trench, however, located a single row of foundation stones coming from the direction of the northern side of the doorway to Wheelhouse I, and about the same horizon as the early walling beneath the cell. It was clear from the sand above this row of stones that a more substantial revetment had in fact been robbed during the period of occupation (Pl. 2, bottom). These two lines of walling would indicate an open asymmetrical forecourt extending for at least 11 feet in front of the doorway to Wheelhouse I. Whether this forecourt was a primary feature or was an addition to the freestanding wall on either side of the entrance, was not determined.

The model here reflects on a smaller scale the sacred geography of sites like Ħaġar Qim  in Malta, built by people who followed the Shaivistic mystic system.  At Ħaġar Qim, an extensive forecourt paved with large, irregular slabs occupies the area before the outer wall.  In turn, the Ħaġar Qim forecourt shares many characteristics with Mnajdra's southern temple forecourt and is ‘the dance floor’ in symbolic terms, an area for ritual and ceremony.

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