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Spiritual Orkney - A Place of Pagan Pilgrimage

We would like to like to share a blog of interest from Magpie, an archaeologist, teacher , published author and Celebrant. In her blog, Magpie explores the archeological sites in Orkney and her personal spiritual connection.

Her most recent blog, "Midhowe-a contemplation of death," she explores the Midhowe chambers and comes to her own realizations about death as seen in the excerpt we now share. To read the complete blogspot and others that may be of similar interest visit http://spiritualorkney.blogspot.co.uk/

"From above, the entirety of the tomb can be seen and, what is striking to me, stuck as I am in a linear mind-set, is the feeling that the tomb is something designed to be moved through and to make some sort of progression along.  In general, people tend to demarcate space that is either linear or circular.  Circular space contains, whereas linear space controls movement from one place to another.  Midhowe is a linear space, albeit one that is then constrained.  At Midhowe there is a definite sense that one’s experience may be intended or manipulated to be different in the compartments that are near the entrance, to one’s experiences in the compartments that are further in and deeper.  There is possibly then a real sense of progressing into deeper layered experiences as one progresses into the tomb.  Certainly the compartments nearer the entrance would have been lighter, possibly the air here had more movement, the air at the back may well have been staler and might have smelt differently.  There is a feeling of trial, of ordeal, of initiation, of moving further and further away from the world of the living outside and into the world of the dead.

The analogy I am searching for is almost of a series of ordeals through which to proceed, each more testing that the last.  Possibly akin to a maze.  This can be symbolised by the end compartment which is additionally difficult to get into: there is a threshold to step over.  To enter the end compartment, it would have been necessary to step over a slab, possibly acting as some sort of special “threshold” into this “final” space.  This “final” compartment may have had a shelf set about a metre above the floor and the compartment is subdivided by flat slab stones.  At the back of the end compartment another flat slab stone is set into the wall, possibly acting as a “false portal”. 

If there is a progression to be made, then could it be the dead who are making it?  Was their progression facilitated by ritual specialists or mourners or descendants who moved the dead along as they progressed through stages of the afterlife?

It is an interesting perspective to think of death as a process rather than an event.  That we do not die, stop, event, but rather that we live, go through a process of dying, and then stages of death, to what?   Was the “final” process for the people of Midhowe that very end slab?  The one at the end of the tomb corridor, the one that “goes nowhere”, the false portal that leads only to the solid wall of the cairn?  And what else could pass through that portal except the dead that had processed to the stage of being so insubstantial, so totally pure spirit, that they were able to pass through the solid stone slab to move to the next stage in the dying / death process, to perhaps the next life?..."