Observations placeholder

The Ancestors - Neolithic Orkney - Skara Brae



Type of Spiritual Experience


the 'dresser' an alter

Skara Brae is a stone-built Neolithic settlement, located on the Bay of Skaill on the west coast of Mainland, the largest island in the Orkney archipelago of Scotland. It consists of eight clustered houses, and is Europe's most complete Neolithic village, Skara Brae gained UNESCO World Heritage Site status as one of four sites making up "The Heart of Neolithic Orkney."  It is older than Stonehenge and the Great Pyramids.

Occupation of Skara Brae began about 3180 BC with occupation continuing for about six hundred years. Around 2500 BC, after the climate changed, becoming much colder and wetter, the settlement may have been abandoned by its inhabitants.  This was at the start of the Kali yuga.

It would not have to have been much earlier and the end of this settlement would have coincided with the flood of Deucalion. 

Hadingham, Evan (1975). Circles and Standing Stones: An Illustrated Exploration of the Megalith Mysteries of Early Britain
As was the case at Pompeii, the inhabitants seem to have been taken by surprise and fled in haste, for many of their prized possessions, such as necklaces made from animal teeth and bone, or pins of walrus ivory, were left behind. The remains of choice meat joints were discovered in some of the beds, presumably forming part of the villagers' last supper. One woman was in such haste that her necklace broke as she squeezed through the narrow doorway of her home, scattering a stream of beads along the passageway outside as she fled the encroaching sand

 The houses used earth sheltering, being sunk into the ground. On average, the houses measure 40 square metres (430 sq ft) in size with a large square room containing a stone hearth used for heating and cooking. Given the number of homes, it seems likely that no more than fifty people were resident or were staying in Skara Brae at any given time.  Or many many more.

The site was farther from the sea than it is today, and it is possible that Skara Brae was built adjacent to a freshwater lagoon protected by dunes. Although the visible buildings give an impression of an organic whole, it is certain that an unknown quantity of additional structures had already been lost to sea erosion before the site's rediscovery and subsequent protection by a seawall. Uncovered remains are known to exist immediately adjacent to the ancient monument in areas presently covered by fields, and others, of uncertain date, can be seen eroding out of the cliff edge a little to the south of the enclosed area. 

The assumption by archaelogists is that Skara Brae is just a village, but if it was just a village, it is a remarkably well built village and has some artefacts and features that point towards it being something much more.

The dwellings contain a number of stone-built pieces of furniture, including cupboards, 'dressers', seats, and storage boxes. Each dwelling was entered through a low doorway that had a stone slab door that could be closed "by a bar that slid in bar-holes cut in the stone door jambs". A sophisticated drainage system was incorporated into the village's design. It included a primitive form of toilet in each dwelling.  So more like a retreat, monastery or hotel than a village.

Seven of the houses have similar furniture, with the beds and 'dresser' in the same places in each house. The 'dresser' stands against the wall opposite the door, and was the first thing seen by anyone entering the dwelling. The 'dresser' is more than probably an altar for each guest.

Each of these houses had the larger bed on the right side of the doorway and the smaller on the left. Archaeologists, being archaeologists, assumed that this was husband and wife, because they had already assumed it was a village, but it may have been priest and Initiate, as this place was a site of the Mystery religions and we believe this to be the lodging place for those who travelled to be initiated.

The discovery of beads and paint-pots in some of the smaller beds is assumed to be proof that this was the wife's bed, but again, Initiates were frequently daubed in red ochre to denote the ascent to the spiritual.  

At the front of each bed lie the stumps of stone pillars.  These are symbolically the twin pillars reminding the person of their coming journey.  Archaeologists rather whimsically assume that - and I quote " they may have supported a canopy of fur; another link with recent Hebridean style" -  as if they are quoting from a House and Gardens catalogue.  If this had been a supporter of canopies, I doubt they would have gone to the trouble of carving stone pillars.

One house, called House 8, has no storage boxes or 'dresser'. It has been divided into something resembling small cubicles. So this is where the real preparation took place for the ceremony.  When this house was excavated, fragments of stone, bone and antler were found - all very key whether the antlers are symbols of the tree of life, or simply of the stag.

The presence of heat-damaged volcanic rocks and what appears to be a flue, add extra interest.  In the Mystery ceremonies, it was not unusual for a candidate to be 'purified' by heat as opposed to fire - a sort of sauna to remove impurities and make them clean again.  House 8 is distinctive in other ways as well. It is a stand-alone structure not surrounded by midden, is above ground and has walls over 2 metres (6.6 ft) thick. It has a "porch" protecting the entrance.  Thus this was a form of sweat lodge.

Dr Euan MacKie has suggested that Skara Brae might have been the home of a privileged theocratic class of wise men who engaged in astronomical and magical ceremonies at the nearby Ring of Brodgar and the Standing Stones of Stenness [see below for reference].  And given the evidence we are inclined to agree.

To add weight to this, a Neolithic "low road" that goes from Skara Brae passes near both these sites and ends at the chambered tomb of Maeshowe. Low roads connect Neolithic ceremonial sites throughout Britain.

 Below Excavated dwellings at Skara Brae (Orkney, Scotland), Europe's most complete Neolithic village - Hut 8

A description of the experience




A number of carved stone balls have been found at the site and some are on display in the museum. All of them are the cosmic egg but representing different aspects for example the one with knobs on is similar to the sea urchin in its symbolism - islands with pyramids.  An early Mappi Mundi!  Similar objects have been found throughout northern Scotland. The spiral ornamentation on some of these "balls" has been stylistically linked to objects found in the Boyne Valley in Ireland. Similar symbols have been found carved into stone lintels and bed posts.  Lumps of red ochre have also been found here and at other Neolithic sites.

The source of the experience

The Ancestors

Concepts, symbols and science items



Science Items

Activities and commonsteps



Smoke inhalation
Steam inhalation


Sweat lodge


MacKie, Euan (1977). Science and Society in Prehistoric Britain.

The following review of this book is exceptionally helpful [from Amazon]

Science and Society in Prehistoric Britain is one that one wouldn't suspect of being "on the fringe", as the volume I have is a somber hardcover from an academic archaeological press, and its author, Dr. Euan W. MacKie was writing from a position with a museum at the University of Glasgow. However ... the premise of this book, taken on its own, could be seen to be almost in the "von Däniken zone", which had me watching for "red flags" all the way through.

What, you ask, is this book about? MacKie is positing that there was a strong, centralized, entrenched and long-running theocracy beginning in late stone-age England, much in the style of the far later Mayan system in Central America. Yes, the mind reels through Arguelles, McKenna, "Druid" fetishists, etc., etc., etc., and wonders just what one has picked up! However, the tone of the book never varies from the starchily academic, and the case MacKie makes is based as much on the analysis of 5,000-year-old midden (trash) heaps as the mathematics of astronomical alignments. Frankly, I kept waiting for him to "go off the deep end", but there is none of the wild-eyed fervency that one typically associates with tomes dealing with "ancient knowledge". Indeed, when I finished reading this, my initial "take away" was of how dry it had been, which is, considering, not a bad thing.

Much of Science and Society in Prehistoric Britain is looking at old data in new ways ... taking surveys of the trash at places like Stonehenge, Avebury, Durrington Walls, Skara Brae etc., to see what was being eaten and putting to that the question of "by who?". MacKie suggests that there was a priestly caste that lived in isolation from the rest of the society (perhaps side-by-side with the temporal rules), somewhat like the later Christian monastic communities (which may have been organized along lines echoing their long-past forebearers), and developed the "science" needed to create the magnificent projects which survive in places like the Salisbury Plain. What can the trash tell us? That there was nearly zero grain found in these settlements, nor any animal skulls, although plenty of animal long bones. This suggests that bread was being brought to these places pre-baked, and that the meat consumed was being specially butchered elsewhere with the better cuts being brought in as well. MacKie does extensive comparative analysis of the nature of the refuse over various times, and the sudden shifts (breakdown in society?) when pig and sheep bones disappear and are replaced by deer (domesticated game replaced by hunted). His theories are fascinating in how they follow the available archaeological data.

Also interesting here are the examinations of various circles, ruins, and alignments, with a focus on the "megalithic yard", "megalithic rod" and other standardized measurements. Obviously, a book about Britain's neolithic builders could not be complete without various charts and maps outlining assorted astronomical alignments, but this is (as far as I can recall) unique in its measuring the perimeters of various stone circles, barrows, etc. Now, I've done a good deal of study in assorted extant shamanic practices, and know that precise measurements are often quite important (ala some of the "projects" in Serge King's awesome Urban Shaman) to attain the energetic results that one is attempting to create. MacKie shows how remarkably close the outer circumferences come to even units of these measures, especially the "megalithic rod". Obviously, extraordinary care had to be taken to be able to make sure these circles were of a certain size, and not in some easily attained way as by a specific diameter, etc.

Speaking of circles, many of them are not circles, but complex combinations of shapes that strongly suggest that their designers were cognizant of Pythagorean triangles (and, by implication, advanced mathematics), and able to use them to create ovoid shapes containing semi-circles, arcs, etc. ... all pointing to an institutionalized body of knowledge far beyond what the local village wise man would be likely to have.