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  The Saining Rite

Stone Cross: Illustration by Sigurd TowrieWhen an Orcadian talked of "saining" it simply referred to the act of making the sign of the Cross.

Interestingly, however, there are occasions when the reference did not only mean that the sign of the Cross was made.

Sometimes, "to sain" meant that a circle was first traced before a cross was made inside it.

It is possible that this may hark back to earlier traditions - could it be that it stems from the magical protection offered by circles? For example, to protect yourself against trows you would scratch a circle around yourself with an iron blade.

In addition, the sign may well have invoked the protection of Odin - the Norse god to whom oaths were still sworn in Orkney until the beginning of the 19th century.

In Stenness, until the early 1800s, there existed the Odin Stone - a circular-holed monolith - through which these binding oaths were sworn.

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