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  The Odin Stone

The Odin Stone and the Orcadian wedding

As covered elsewhere on this site, the Odin Stone played a major part in a number of Orkney wedding traditions.

This is confirmed by the minister of Birsay and Harray, the Rev George Low, who wrote in 1774:

"There was a custom among the lower class of people in this country which has entirely subsided within these twenty or thirty years. Upon the first day of every new year the common people, from all parts of the country, met at the Kirk of Stainhouse (Stennis), each person having provision for four or five days; they continued there for that time dancing and feasting in the kirk."

This meeting gave the young people an opportunity of seeing each other, a practice which seldom failed in making four or five marriages every year:

"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 (for such was the name of the god they addressed upon this occasion) that he would enable her to perform all the promises and obligations she had and was to make to the young man present, after which they both went to the Temple of the Sun, where the man prayed in like manner before the woman, then they repaired from this to the stone [known as Wodden's or Odin's Stone], and the man being on one side and the woman on the other, they took hold of each other's right hand through the hole, and there swore to be constant and faithful to each other. This ceremony was held so very sacred in those times that the person who dared to break the engagement made here was counted infamous, and excluded all society"

But the stone's - or more correctly, the area's - association with marriage did not just apply to weddings. It was also said that:

"It was likewise usual, when a husband and wife could not agree, that they both came to the Kirk of Stainhouse (Stenness), and after entering into the kirk the one went out at the south and the other at the north door, by which they were holden legally divorced, and free to make another choice."

Although in this case, the "divorce" took place in the church of Stenness, a short distance away from the Standing Stones, was this a later development? Perhaps an attempt by the church to draw the Orcadians away from their heathen practices?

This theory seems all the more likely when we consider that fact that the "General Assembly of his church" despatched a minister to the islands in 1693 to investigate the state of "religion and morals in these parts".

From this statement we can at least suspect that the church was concerned by the obvious pagan connotations.

Binding rituals

We have seen above that specific binding rituals, particularly related to weddings, were carried out at the Odin Stone and that these rituals involved all the sites in the area of the Standing Stones/Ring of Brodgar complex.

This is all the more interesting, when we read of a similar stone ring at Stanton Drew in Somerset. Like the Stenness rings, Stanton Drew was at one time referred to as "The Solar Temple", while the ring to its south-west was known as the "Lunar Temple".

The most interesting part is that the entire Stanton Drew complex is known collectively as "The Weddings".