The Knap of Howar: Neolithic Sacred Geometry in the Orkneys
Nicholas Cope, M.A.
The remarkably well-preserved, stone-built Neolithic ‘dwelling’, known as the Knap of Howar, was constructed over 5,500 years ago on the remote island of Papa Westray in Orkney. This talk demonstrates that its architecture is governed by geometric proportions that are not usually considered known before the time of Euclid, Pythagoras and Plato, around 300-500 BC. Various geometric principles are highlighted such as the golden mean ratio, Alexander Thom’s megalithic yard, and Scottish Neolithic stone balls with the goal of discovering pre-modern wisdom traditions.
The Cailleach, Maiden and Bodach in Celtic Folk Tradition
Within the Celtic tradition there are stories and remnants of rituals that bear witness to the cycle of transformation from young maiden to old crone. Curiously, this is connected to the role of the male trickster or bodach, as he is called in Gaelic. We will hear traditional stories, look at historic and current photographs of rituals, artefacts and sacred sites, and learn more of the early Celtic and Christian traditions and their use of sung prayers and chants connected to the Cailleach and to Bridget.
Born on Lewis and living there still, Ian Stephen is an acclaimed novelist and poet who will recount his Island background and how storytelling and humor were strong aspects of his upbringing. This Hebridean sensibility is evident in his recently published Western Isles Folk Tales and Waypoints, both of which share stories of wit, premonition, and local naming tales that are fixed to specific points of land. In this workshop, we will be introduced to such tales from Lewis and Harris, exploring the role of stories in other areas of Scottish culture and in today’s world, and discover the ways in which we may pass them on.
Fairies and Familiar Spirits: Encounters With Uncanny Beings
Leonard George, Ph.D.
“Up the airy mountain, down the rushy glen,
We daren’t go a-hunting, for fear of little men.”
– William Allingham, The Faeries
Encounters with strange beings have been reported in every culture and age, and nowhere more so than in Scotland. These meetings are often unsought, but some folk have cultivated relationships with the beings, and found their own lives transformed. The entities have played the roles of initiator, guide, disrupter, tempter, motivator, and deadly menace. In this presentation we will consider the ways people have tried to understand and harness the enduring mystery of the visitors.
Bridget: Goddess, Saint, Feminist
Tess Maginess, Ph.D.
It has been suggested that the encounter between paganism and Christianity was frankly confrontational, but in the figure of Bridget we see another approach – one which tends to integrate aspects of the original Celtic Pagan goddess with the historical figure of St. Bridget. Some aspects of Bridget have huge resonance for our own time, including attitudes to enslavement and ‘othering’ ( Bridget’s mother was a slave), and attitudes toward women (as in the story of Bridget’s Cloak). The Druidic Bridget is associated with light, inspiration and fire; in Christian belief she is the patroness of a panoply of vocations from poetry to dairying, from healing to metalcrafts. Bridget’s life work as healer, friend of the poor and older people, founder of convents and a school of art, offers a radical vision of border-crossing, of inner healing, of vital, empowering energy.
The Second Sight
“We should have had little claim to the praise of curiosity, if we had not endeavored with particular attention to examine the question of the Second Sight.”
—Samuel Johnson, A Journey to the Western Islands of Scotland
Second sight, a translation of the Gaelic An da shealladh, was defined by Johnson as an “an impression made either by the mind upon the eye, or by the eye upon the mind, by which things distant or future are perceived, and seen as if they were present.” While accounts of second sight (a.k.a. precognition) are broadcast over the entire range of recorded history, the Western Isles and Highlands of Scotland lay claim to an unparalleled richness of accounts over many generations—accounts so compelling that the preeminent 17th century linguist George Hickes wrote to Samuel Pepys: “I told you, when I was in Scotland, I never met with any learned man, either among the Divines or Lawyers, who doubted of the thing.” We will explore some of these accounts as well as their place in the burgeoning field of consciousness studies.
Ritual Initiations in Norse Culture
Halvard Hårklau, M.Sc.
Ritual initiation seems to be a rather universal phenomenon, but did the ancient Norsemen also have such rites and, if so, what were they? Some have argued that there are in Norse culture striking parallels with symbolic elements in Freemasonry. In this workshop, we will consider the general traits of ritual initiations, and then look at the evidence for initiation rites where the cults of divinities like Freyja and Odin may have been celebrated over an extended period, even into the Christian era.
Scotland’s Ancient Wisdom
Scott Olsen, Ph.D.
Over 425 Neolithic carved stone balls have been unearthed in northeastern Scotland near Aberdeenshire. These extraordinary Neolithic petrospheres, often discovered around stone circles, reflect a sophisticated knowledge of geometric principles underlying Platonic and Archimedean solids. Embodying the mathematical symmetries of root 2, root 3 and the golden ratio, some of them are dated 2500 years before Plato. This is suggestive evidence for an advanced body of ancient wisdom, perhaps a neolithic golden age, or remnants of an advanced ancient civilization.
Gardener of the Gods: The World of Ian Hamilton Finlay
Christopher McIntosh, D.Phil.
The great Scottish poet and artist Ian Hamilton Finlay (1925-2006) is best known for the enchanting garden, Little Sparta, that he co-created in the Pentland Hills near Edinburgh, combining horticulture, art and poetry in a unique way. Little Sparta has been declared a Scottish national treasure. Much more than a garden, Little Sparta became a vehicle for conveying Finlay’s traditionalist philosophy, which involved a kind of classical paganism. The garden is dedicated to Apollo and is full of classical references in the form of sculptures, monuments, poetic inscriptions and much else. Christopher McIntosh, who was a close friend of Finlay for 30 years, offers a window on to his work.
The Sibyls’ Vision: The Epic Poem of the Poetic Edda
Haraldur Erlendsson, M.D.
Völuspá is an epic poem at the heart of Nordic spiritual culture and remains the principal source of Nordic mythology. The Viking seeress Völva, speaking as mother of the world, describes the creation of the cosmos and humankind. The Gods of Wisdom wage war against the fiery giants, the Midgard serpent and the Fenris Wolf. The Aesir Gods and their allies the Vanir are defeated, and the world destroyed in Ragnarok, the Twilight of the Gods. But worthy men are granted a sacred, eternal abode. A new world arises, and the Golden Tablets of Wisdom reappear, thanks to Viðarr (Wood Lord), son of Odin (Wood God of Wisdom). Continuing our explorations from Iceland last summer, we will examine this epic as a manual for the transformation of consciousness.
The Hermetic Union of Scotland and England
Paul Bembridge, M.Phil.
Viewed by himself and others as a court poet with Hermetic leanings, King James VI of Scotland became King James I of England in 1603, amidst hopes of the advent of that renewed Egyptian golden age promised in the Corpus Hermeticum, a body of ancient, esoteric texts that had reappeared in the Renaissance. Accordingly, James left Edinburgh with medieval legends of Scotland’s Egyptian origins ringing in his ears, and was met in London’s streets with triumphal arches replete with Egyptian symbolism. The hope was that the united nations of Scotland and England would now become what Egypt had been, ‘the temple of the world’. This workshop reflects upon what happened to those esoteric hopes as the new century progressed.