Temples of Sun and Moon
tradition or romantic addition?
According to a number of antiquarian accounts, the
Standing Stones o' Stenness
and the Ring o' Brodgar went by their "traditional
names" until the early 1840s.
The Ring o' Brodgar was supposedly
known as "the Temple o' the Sun", with the Stenness henge
being "the Temple o' the Moon".
On first glance, these titles seem feasible enough,
but are they actually authentic and not merely romantic additions
of the antiquarians of the day?
I suspect the latter.
Given the persistence of placenames, and traditions,
in Orkney, it seems particularly strange that these "temple"
names - if they were ever used to describe the rings - completely
disappeared from common use in such a comparatively short space
Instead, I think they were simply erroneous terms
applied by the antiquarians of the 18th or 19th centuries - romantic
additions, in the same vein as the infamous "Druid's Circle"
and "Sacrificial Altar".
Lunar and solar links
One of the earliest accounts linking the stone
circles with the sun and the moon was written, by the Reverend James Wallace, in 1684.
"Several of the inhabitants have a tradition
that the sun was worshipped in the larger, and the moon in the
But there is a danger of reading too much into
this statement - simply because we don't know who Wallace's "several
he referred to "peasantry" or "the vulgar" -
terms found in documents of the period to refer to "common"
Orcadians - then we could be more confident about the validity of
the names. Instead, we are left wondering whether Wallace
was actually misinformed by a well-meaning minister, or laird - someone
perhaps influenced by the ideas of "druidical circles"
drifting up from the south.
It was around 96 years later that George Low, in his A Tour
through the Islands of Orkney and Schetland, well and truly attached
the title of "temple" to the stone circles.
In a passage detailing the
Odin Oath, he states:
"The parties agreed stole from the rest
of their companions, and went to the Temple of the Moon, where
the woman, in presence of the man, fell down on her knees and
prayed the god Wodden."
He then adds:
"..after which they both went to the Temple
of the Sun, where the man prayed in like manner before the woman.."
And that is more or less it when it comes to the
documented evidence that the use of the names. Although Low's account
bears the hallmarks of someone who has dealt with the common people,
just how influenced was he by other accounts, in particular James
In 1851, the antiquarion F.W.L. Thomas had no doubts
as to the celestial titles.
Referring to the Ring o' Bookan, to the north-west
of Brodgar, he wrote:
"..the Ring of Bukan, which was of course
the Temple of the Stars, seems to have escaped notice, or we might
have learned of some more ante-nuptial ceremonies performed there."
But just as we cannot say for certain that the
titles Temple o' the Sun and Temple o' the Moon were traditional,
neither can we completely dismiss them.
The possibility remains that
the titles were the remnants of an ancient folk memory that may
correspond to some of the current astro-archaeological theories
regarding the original purpose of the stones.
But I doubt it very much.