Ritual and religion in Skara Brae
obvious reasons, we can only guess at the religious beliefs of the
inhabitants of Skara Brae.
They left no record of their beliefs
and religious practices, so we are forced to make assumptions based
on various objects and clues found at the sites they visited, and
used, on a regular basis.
Whenever dealing with something like ritual and
religion, we must remember that the people of Neolithic Orkney had
a completely alien set of beliefs and values than we do today.
Speaking during the excavation of the village
at Stonehall in Firth, archaeologist
Dr Colin Richards said: "With a period like the Neolithic you
get almost fooled into thinking we have some basic idea of what's
going on, and then we look at something else and we're all at sea
"I think the reason for that is because
to really understand something we have to make it familiar and if
it's not familiar we simply do not understand it. All the time we're
trying to make them (the Neolithic Orcadians) like us but in reality
these people were totally different."
Despite this difference in society, from the material
clues we can glean a small amount of information relating to their
rituals and theorise as to the form their religious beliefs took.
Skara Brae's similarity to the architecture of
the nearby tombs shows that ritual
formed a considerable part of everyday life and in death. Given
the effort put into the construction of these tombs we can also
say with a degree of certainty that the dead were very important
to the Neolithic Orcadians.
It seems likely, therefore, that some form of
ancestor worship took place but whether this took precedence over
the veneration over a pantheon of deities is obviously not known.
However, based on the islands later prehistoric
inhabitants we can suggest that the inhabitants of Skara Brae did
worship a number of gods - perhaps a multitude of deities or spirits
who controlled different aspects of their daily lives.
A spirit of the sea who stilled the winter storms
or a god that may have controlled the seasons and ensured the fertility
of the land and a plentiful harvest. The fresh water from the springs
and burns was perhaps seen to have been a divine gift without which
the settlement would perish.
The sun and the moon also seems to have been important
to these people, given the care they took aligning their major monuments
to sunrises and sunsets.
If we are to believe the theories that the stone
circles at Brodgar and Stenness
were used for astronomical purposes it has been suggested that the
stars might also have had a place within this religious structure.