Wednesday, 16 November 2011

What's so marvellous about this Orkney place then?

Loch of Harray - summer sunset

Sea bird prints on sandy beach - "having a bit of a gad-aboot"

Bay of Skail

Amazing blues (no filter this is natural light)

Walkmill Bay - amazing light effects

Hills of Hoy from Stenness Loch
Ring of Brodgar

All photos are copyright to Orkney Pagan Weddings!


(This article was published in SPIN 60 - Scottish Pagan Federation magazine - summer 2011)

I must confess to at one point having had a bit of a love-hate relationship with Orkney, with the hate bit slowly having festered during the two years since I first moved here in self-imposed exile from the Hampshire rat race. Indeed, there are still times when I deeply regret moving here and would gladly sell my soul and pawn the cat if only I could turn the clock back three years and wake myself from the ridiculous day-dream of “if only I could live on a remote Scottish island …”

The things I miss most about "sooth" are the simple daily conveniences (in Orkney you cannot buy almond croissants, Welsh cakes, or applicator tampons in an absorbency smaller than regular), the fact that it can get a bit “island fever” here, and the sheer environmental determinism of our winters.  And then every so often, something will happen which will remind me of why I came here and why it would be such a painful tug to leave.

My visit to Eynhallow last summer was one of those consolations.

Today Orkney comprises about 70 islands.  These are really just one larger partially sunken island, of whose hills we now live on top of.  Most of the island names end in “say” or “ay” – old Norse for “island” – hence Ronaldsay, Stronsay, Burray, Papay, Sanday, Westray, Eday … you will note that Eynhallow does not.  This provides us with an indication that its name is either very early Norse, or pre-Norse, possibly Pictish, a relic of language from the Iron Age peoples who lived here about 2000 years ago and probably spoke proto-Gaelic.  It has been suggested that Eynhallow means “Holy Island” and the linguistic lineage of its name hints that it has been sacred in some way for some considerable time.

Eynhallow is an island off the northern coast of mainland Orkney, south of the island of Rousay, lying in Eynhallow Sound which is infamous for its strong tidal surges so treacherous for fisherfolk.  It is about 75 hectares in area (you can walk around the entire shoreline in about two hours) and currently unpopulated (by humans).  Eynhallow was cleared in 1851 but in the middle ages there was a church and possibly a monastery (hence “holy”); now it is home only to echoes, memories and seabirds.

The legend of Eynhallow is that it was the summer home of the Finfolk, part of their Hildaland, magical vanishing islands which can sometimes still be seen, far out to sea.  Tales of mysterious and magical  creatures abound in Orkney, with one “species” being the Finfolk, a sea-faring, shape-shifting people with incredible occult powers and not well-disposed to humans.  Folklore describes how Eynhallow appeared once, from out of the mists, but a canny Orcadian farmer quickly landed and spilt salt all around the  shoreline, ensuring that when the mists came back down, Eynhallow stayed put, trapped forever as part of Orkney.

There is no regular ferry service to Eynhallow but private boats can be chartered and once a year, in summer, the Orkney Heritage Society commandeers the Rousay-Egilsay-Wyre ferry for an evening trip.   These trips are advertised in the local weekly paper once a year around July and sell out extremely rapidly.

When I went to Eynhallow last summer, the ferry trip started in an especially auspicious way with the ferry unnaturally speeding up (speed is not generally associated with Orkney) because a basking shark had been sighted in Eynhallow Sound and they wanted to bring the ferry up as close as possible, shut the engines, and provide a photo opportunity for our delight and delectation.  It is not unusual for ferries to spontaneously follow pods of orcas and suchlike in Orkney, throwing timetables to the winds, but then it is also not unusual for deck-hands to be studying part-time for a PhD in marine biology either.

Basking shark fin

The shark was indeed a good omen for the evening, with a blessedly calm crossing and a temperate breeze promising a magnificent sunset. We had about two hours ashore, time enough to walk the circumference, and it immediately felt appropriate to do so in a sunwise direction.

Black seals

Even with another eighty or so fellow passengers, the atmosphere of Eynhallow easily seeped through their chit-chat and company and I soon found myself in a dreamy reverie – an altered state of consciousness which I associate with trancing.  Eynhallow is seriously “spinny” – a term I use to describe the effect on me of some places of power; usually, for me, these are prehistoric sites such as cairns, stone circles and portal places.  When I experience “spinny” sensations, it is like being slightly drunk, slightly drugged, “not all here”, betwixt and between, neither fully in this reality nor in the Other, but aware of both and their profound overlaps.  Usually this feeling creeps up on me and I then have to “Work” to recreate it, forcing myself to be receptive to it and feeling out the specific places where it is triggered, but not on Eynhallow.  On Eynhallow the “spinny” was the norm and instead I had to work at being in the here and now, and I’d be jerked out every so often by someone passing to say how wonderful the fulmar colony was and I’d answer, but then be straight back into the altered state of consciousness.  There were voices, presences too, back and just out of perception, which I strained to hear but missed, but knew I was setting off memories, beings from other realities, energies and spirits.  They were far more aware of me than I of them and I only had a brief chance to meditate whilst awaiting the ferry to return, despite being conscious of not giving the impression of being too weird with so many folk around.  Trust me, no-one would want to be known forever more as “the one who was doing that weird thing on Eynhallow”.  They take a long time to forget here!

The evening finished with a stunning Orkney sunset with its strange all-pervading illuminating light that penetrates and saturates all things, rendering them almost translucent.  When everything becomes like a light-body and you can start to imagine that it is possible to live on sunlight alone, and that sunlight has the potential to supply all your needs and nourishment.

It was an amazing evening and one which I can thoroughly recommend if you find yourself in Orkney at the right time of year and are lucky or organised enough to get a ticket (about £20 each).  There is something about being on an island that is so special, as if you are putting distance between yourself and the rest of the world, both physically and emotionally.  Like the image on the six of cups in Tarot or that folk saying about witches not being able to pass over water, crossing to an island seems to symbolically make you leave part of yourself behind, providing a sense that no-one can get you, safety in distance.  This sense is even more so when you travel from an island to another island as you do when you travel from mainland Orkney to Eynhallow (or any of the other islands in this archipelago – all other islands in Orkney tend to look towards mainland Orkney for their centre, their axis mundi, rather than to Caithness).

I took a stone home from the shore.  Partly, I think because I wanted to see if I could actually get it home or whether it would disappear before I could do so, taken back by the magical Finfolk, or would they use it later as a locator to find me?

I still have the stone but I have since learnt I wasn’t being too cautious about the Finfolk.  As recently as 1990, 88 were counted off the ferry to Eynhallow but only 86 were counted back on. A massive air and sea search was launched, including the use of heat sensing equipment, but the missing tourists were never found.  Plenty of folk here think they were really returning Finfolk.

Saturday, 12 November 2011

The Ring of Brodgar

(Parts of this article were originally published in Pagan Dawn, Samhain 2011)

A popular saying in Orkney is that you only need to scratch the surface of the land and it bleeds archaeology.  It is also an incredibly spiritual place.  The two are probably connected – Orkney is one of the places in the UK where the Neolithic transition from hunting and gathering to farming really took off, so some of the earliest monuments are found here.

Orkney consists of an archipelago of almost 70 islands.  About 7000 years ago, when the sea levels were much lower than today, there were just a couple of larger land masses.  When the sea levels rose (with global warming), all that was left above water were the tops of the hills – forming the islands.  The largest of the islands is named, in typical Orkneycentricity, as Mainland.

The main concentration of Neolithic ritual monuments in Orkney is on the narrow isthmus which runs between the Harray and Stenness lochs in West Mainland.  Although ritual sites occur all over Orkney, this thin strip of land is the only place where henges were built.

The largest of these henges is the Ring of Brodgar (OS Ref HY294133), which also has an internal stone circle and dates from around 2500 BCE.  A henge is defined as a circular monument consisting of an internal ditch and external bank with one or more “entrances”, although Brodgar does not have a recognisable external bank.  The stone circle may originally have had about 60 stones, it currently has some 36 stones, some of which have fallen or been broken.  At a diameter of 104ms, this stone circle is the third largest known (only Avebury and Stanton Drew are larger), although it was probably the henge ditch, dug into the bedrock to a depth of 3m and a width of 10m that was more imposing and which took more hours to construct.

As with other large henge sites elsewhere, particularly those in Wessex, Brodgar lies in a low-lying landscape surrounded by hills, the topography thus forming a natural cauldron of land, possibly reflected in the construction of the henge – with the monument perhaps being intended as a symbolic world in miniature, a microcosm in which power and energy could be created and manipulated.  With wet and marshy land to either side of Brodgar, adding to the liminality of this site, it is possible that Brodgar was the focus of the ritual landscape – it certainly remains the favourite choice of Pagan couples getting married in Orkney today.  In the mid nineteenth century it is recorded as being known as The Temple of the Sun and couples would visit to perform a complex "engagement" ritual (refer to "Orkney Wedding Traditions" blogged on 9 July 2012).

The Ring of Brodgar is very much my “cathedral”.  I find it the most sacred site in Orkney and an incredible privilege to live only 3 miles from.  I love performing ritual there, whether it is the eight open rituals we now celebrate which anyone is welcome to attend, or sacred weddings.  I go to Brodgar whenever I really need to contact the Gods because I find them the most accessible there.

My spiritual journey really began a couple of weeks after I moved to Orkney.  As stated in my previous BLOG, I had assumed that I would be getting my dream job, in fact I had been invited to apply.  Just days after moving here, I learnt that I hadn’t even been short-listed for interview.  My world literally collapsed and I spiralled into a major panic about what I would do and what I would live on, knowing that I couldn’t go back, I had resigned from my job in the south and a replacement had been found for me.  I was totally shocked. 

Whenever trauma happens in my life, I feel at the most distant from the Gods.  This appears to be a common religious / spiritual experience.  In Christianity it is illustrated by the “Footprints” story … a man dreams he is walking along a sandy beach side-by-side with God, a metaphor for his life because as he looks back he notices that sometimes there are two sets of footprints and at others, the most traumatic times, only one set.  He asks God why this is so, questioning whether it was because God abandoned him at those most trying times, so leaving him to walk alone.  God replies: “No, my son, those were the times that I carried you.”

Some Pagans tell a different version, a feminist, edgy version ... a woman dreams a dream and in her dream she is walking along a sandy beach with the Goddess.  The woman looks back at their footprints and also notices that sometimes there are two sets of footprints and at others, the most traumatic times, only one set.  “Ah,” says the woman, “that must be when you abandoned me, Mother!”  The Goddess shakes her head.  “Ah,” says the woman, “then that must be when you carried me, Mother!”  The Goddess shakes her head again and says: “No, my Sister, those times when you can see only one set of footprints are when we both went a bit insane and hopped along on one foot for a while …”

I prefer this version.  It is less comforting, certainly, but it reveals a different relationship with deity, one in which we are mutually reliant and in which we co-create each other.  It offers no explanations for why when we are low, we feel most alone.  It just is.  Accept it.

What I do know is that, for me, after trauma comes a new blossoming of spirituality, trauma becomes a growth period for me.  Perhaps, most of the time, I am simply too dumb to grow without trauma?

Back when we first moved to Orkney, I spent a lot of time at Brodgar.  I sat on one of the fallen stones and meditated.  I think I may have become a feature on the tourist map for a while.  In waiting at Brodgar, letting the others come and go, I got to experience the place with a fresh intimacy and I met the genus loci, the spirit of the place.  She was a tiny brown woman, thousands of years old, and she kept changing her age, sometimes wizened and sometimes very girlish.  She didn’t say anything to me, possibly because I wouldn’t have understood her language, and she was quite wary of me, but she was definitely some sort of guardian spirit of the stone circle.  I felt she was Neolithic and one of the elders of the tribes.  She is still there and looking after the place.

Our first Samhain in Orkney was a full moon night and both myself and my husband went to Brodgar in the small hours of the early morning when it was still pitch black, very cold, and we were totally alone.  This was the only time I have ever been in the centre of the stone circle.  There are all sorts of signs asking folk not to go into the centre and for good reasons: the heather is ecologically sensitive and home to lots of protected wild creatures.  It simply wouldn’t survive an onslaught of thousands of tourists tramping across it.  Don’t do this yourselves please; as stated, I did this once only, by myself and without anyone knowing (until now!) so I wasn’t encouraging anyone else to do it, and I walked extremely carefully and slowly – giving the little wild things time to scurry away.  That night I gazed up at the full moon and had an epiphany moment: I needed to pray and only three words could I utter: “Sorry” and “Thank you”.  It was all that a prayer ever needed to be and totally genuine.  The energy from the moon shot through me and I understood what it meant to draw down the moon.

I have been known to stomp off to Brodgar by myself at night after an argument with Mark.  The return journey is 6 miles in total and I usually come back sodden wet, exhausted with sore feet, and feeling very sorry for myself.  What I like is the fact that I can walk around at night by myself without any fear of being attacked (by humans) and I note that Brodgar exerts such a strong pull on me that my first thought is always to retreat there for solace whenever I need it.  The Gods still don’t answer me when I am there in anger but I suspect they are keeping out of the way of my temper because they are back in my head by morning (although usually not until I have apologised to Mark).

To the north of Brodgar and uphill, just visible on the near horizon, lies the Ring of Bookan (OS Ref HY283144) which is usually interpreted as another henge site but has no obvious entrance.  In the centre is a cist suggesting that Bookan could instead be an eroded chambered cairn or possibly even a disc barrow.  Looking downhill to the south from this site provides an amazing vista over the whole ceremonial complex.  I am not convinced this site is a henge myself because it doesn’t feel hengy enough!

To the south of Brodgar lies the third henge of the complex: the Stones of Stenness (OS Ref HY306125), dating from c3000 BCE.  This henge is 44 ms in diameter with a ditch that was originally 2ms deep and 7ms wide.  There are now four stones still standing, of the original twelve, although these may not be in their original settings, and a central “hearth” from which an acoustic effect is still easily produced.  There may have been other stone and timber settings initially.  In the mid nineteenth century it is recorded as being known as The Temple of the Moon (possibly because of the crescent moon shape that the remaining stones make) and couples would visit to perform a complex "engagement" ritual (refer to "Orkney Wedding Traditions" blogged on 9 July 2012).

There are a number of standing stones around Orkney, including some on the outer islands.  There are three in the Brodgar area: the Comet Stone by Brodgar (OS Ref HY295132), the Watch Stone by Stenness (OS Ref HY305126), and the Barnhouse Stone to the south-east of Stenness (OS Ref HY312122).

Sunday, 6 November 2011

How I got to be here ...

Here are essays and articles about some of the most spiritual places in Orkney ... some of them are well known sites, even famous, but most of them are "off the beaten track".  These are necessarily subjective, personal and autobiographical insights which I share with you, the reader, and you may well gain different feelings when you visit these sites - but I hope you are inspired to visit these sites: come up to Orkney, get out and about, and sense these magickal islands for yourself!

Use this site for interest, as an alternative tourist guide, or even to choose where to get married ... if I've missed something out then please let me know!  If you want to ask questions, then please do - I'll reply as soon as I can.

Blessings xxx


I moved to Orkney for a number of reasons.  The main reason being that I was running away, but I have been running away from something or other for most of my life.

I have lived in a state of high anxiety for almost as long as I can remember.  I was always terrified of my dad, physically and mentally.  Physically, because my dad was bigger than me.  Mentally, because my dad had an absolutely brilliant way of making me feel ashamed, especially over spending money.  Dad didn’t like spending money and he didn’t like anyone else doing it either.  Now that I am an adult myself, I think he equated money with his equivalent hourly rate – he hated his job, like most people do, and if he saw someone waste a £1 for example, he saw it as “that was an hour I didn’t need to work.”  Subsequently, we didn’t have much fun as a family and much of what we did was done on the cheap.

Because I was so terrified, I have spent most of my life being scared of any authority figure including bosses, managers, teachers, doctors, the police, security, and anyone interviewing me.  Because I am always terrified, I am always perceived as weak, so I tend to get bullied – at school, at work, and in relationships.

So, in coming to Orkney, I was running away from all the very many things that threatened me in the big bad south of England.

I was running away from my ex-husband, from my job which was going nowhere and killing me with stress, from the threat of crime, from traffic jams and road-rage, from stupid house prices, insecure work, an eroding greenbelt, floods, rampant consumerism, greed, and other people in general.

I had always dreamt of living on a remote Scottish island.  One of my favourite films is “Local Hero”, one of my favourite TV programmes is “Monarch of the Glen”.  I used to holiday in remote and inaccessible places.  Why?  To get away from people, to have a bit of space and a lot of quiet, to be peaceful, to join a community and work with others, with genuine friends rather than just compete, to be at one with nature, to be more self-sufficient and to get by with less.  I also wanted more time to develop spiritually and I was putting this off until I was in the right place.  In hindsight I realise how very idealistic I was being!

I discovered Orkney for myself in the early 1990s when I flew up by plane, having to transfer twice from Southampton!  Like most other southern English people at that time, I had been contemplating moving to Wales where property and land were cheaper and yet still accessible for getting “home” – but Orkney was so beautiful and watching the sun set at Yesnaby remained my dream “first destination” if I ever won the lottery.   

In my head, Orkney took on mythic status as my special safe place, my sacred grove, my Avalon.
I went back to Orkney in 2007 on a perfect holiday with my new partner, Mark, who shared my love of archaeology and all things Pagan, to “sell” it to him as a relocation destination.   I still remember Mark’s first sight of Orkney as we waited on the north-eastern tip of Caithness for the ferry.  I pointed to the islands which were tantalisingly close and said that was Orkney.  Perhaps I need to point out, for any non-archaeological readers, that Orkney is incredibly important to archaeologists, particularly those with an interest in British prehistory (for reasons to be explained).  Through his studies, I knew Mark had learnt about Orkney and seen its important sites in textbook after textbook; having the chance to see them in person was a real treat for him.  He could not believe that Orkney was so near, so visible from Caithness, that it would not be long before he would be able to see for himself what he had previously only read about.

On that day the Pentland Firth was like a mill-pond and the sun was dazzlingly bright.  There is a certain wonderful excitement about travelling to an island which must be archetypal, there is the anticipation of the ferry and the sense of passing to somewhere different, inaccessible, safe.  Islands turn up in all sorts of myths and getting to them is always an adventure, getting there a specific destination.  Back then, that first sight of Orkney for both of us, from the coast of northern Scotland, looked like an inviting sanctuary, a haven of warmth and peace and light, our heart’s desire after a long and tiring drive.

Mark took a couple of days to share my enthusiasm for Orkney as our new home, but once he had been “infected” we started to plan our escape.  We returned the following year to get married at Brodgar in a legal Pagan ceremony and we started to house-hunt whilst on honeymoon.  

It was idyllic.  Our first holiday and then our honeymoon were perfect and blissful.  The people were friendly.  House and land prices were reasonable.  There was a sizable population of incomers also escaping the south, many of them actively exploring their spirituality or creativity.  Crime was low.  There looked like there would be plenty of work for people in our specialities.  Health care and education were brilliant.  The scenery was magical and the low golden sun was full of every fertile promise as it draped the land in a sheen of plenty.  The sense that this was in some way “the right thing for us to be doing” was mesmerizingly strong.  We had found our Shangri La, our little piece of heaven on earth, our own paradise.

And there was a definite sense too of it being what we were meant to be doing – there were, for example, signs and portents.  When I was younger, much much younger, I had had a dream that had a special meaning for me.  Not very often, but every once in a while, I will experience an extremely vivid dream, one which stays with me and won’t depart.  Sometimes the dreams are so real and haunting that I wake from them, other times the dreams occur at the time just before I awaken and they disturb my day.  In this dream I was in a pub and I was receiving a divinatory reading from a Tarot reader, an old woman, cloaked over so I could not see her face, and she was reading for me, but these were not Tarot cards – or at least not of any deck I recognised.  She turned over a card for me, the card showed a hare: “Follow the hare in the morning mist”, the reader advised me.

The hare, for most Pagans, is a symbol of the Goddess and the Moon, sacred and feminine, rare and beautiful.  I had never seen a hare whilst in the south of England except on television or in books, but I had always looked out for them.  I had interpreted the instruction to be a symbolic one and that I was to follow the Goddess in her guise as a hare and encouraged to be more spiritual, but in Orkney, whilst on honeymoon, I saw lots of hares, everywhere, and they were majestic.  To follow them I would have to move to the one place where I had ever seen them, surely?

We planned our move over the next two years, being careful to make ourselves as employable as possible by taking any training we could get, and prudently saving as hard as we could.  The whole time our goal was Orkney.  Our sentences would start “When we get to Orkney ...” or “That wouldn’t happen in Orkney.”   If there were news of Orkney on television, we would watch avidly, tears coming to our eyes as we pined for where we were not.  It got to the point where it hurt us to not be in Orkney and we were dissatisfied with everything that was not Orkney.  It was as if we had eaten with the gods and in comparison with the heavenly ambrosia we had been fed on, all earthly delights were grey and tasteless.

We have since learnt that this siren call of these islands has not only affected us.  Other incomers have described to us how, once hooked, they simply could not stay away.  One of my closest friends described to me that when she first moved to Orkney, she would lay in bed at night and feel as it something was physically tugging at her heart to stay.  Orkney is the sort of place about which it is possible to become quite obsessive as it beguiles with promises to satisfy your every need.  Like Glastonbury and Lourdes and the Boyne Valley it exerts a gravitational pull on certain souls, leaving them unable to function in the “real” world any longer.  And, just like Glastonbury and Lourdes and the Boyne Valley, sometimes Orkney spits out those it subsequently rejects.

Since being here, on a remote Scottish island, surrounded by blissful scenery, I have learnt several things, most of which I could just have easily and more cheaply learnt in my previous life if I had only taken the time to bother.

In running away to Orkney, I forgot that it is not always possible to totally leave everything behind.   Previously, I had been so busy that I didn’t have time to think over my life and reflect on my problems, now I had all the time in the world and issue after issue raised its malign head.

The main problem was that I hadn’t anticipated how remote, remote Scottish islands actually are.  This may seem naive now but I had envisaged being able to live frugally and cheaply without my southerly extravagance.  The problem is that remote Scottish islands are an expensive place to live – it costs a lot of money to get anything here and that cost is passed straight to the end-consumer.  It is cold and dark for most of the year, it isn’t unusual to need heating on for 8 months (sometimes even 10) of the year.  This is the reason why most public sector jobs carry a Distant Islands Allowance to try to offset some of these costs.  The DIA still exists when the London allowance has long disappeared.  It is also incredibly expensive to leave the island, even for a day-trip, which can lead to a definite sense of being “trapped”.

As I moved into the realisation that I had moved to Orkney because I was scared, I started to examine my less than noble motivations in life.  I had been scared that society was about to implode and that I would lose everything.  So it was me, me, me.  Instead of serving community, I was getting out – out to a place which I perceived of as one of the last lifeboats.  In hindsight, I now realise that being on one of the last lifeboats is not much better than drowning, if all there is, is a lifeboat.

As a Pagan, I had always felt that I had an affinity with nature.  I liked being outside, I loved my garden, I found walking in the country the best way to relax.  I hated being trapped in an office, stuck in a traffic jam, or trolley-rammed in a packed supermarket.  I needed to breath fresh air, to feel a storm stir, and the gentle warm caress of summer showers upon my upturned face.  When you live in a city, nature is benign.  Nature is a manicured park, a diverted stream, a carefully arranged woodland.  Nature is a haven, a place that is quieter than the city, less crowded than the city, more peaceful and generally removed from the city.

But, let me tell you, when you live in the middle of nowhere and it is just you and open swathes of untamed country, then nature is not benign, rather She is capricious, even malicious, and extremely powerful.

There have been times when I have been too scared to leave the sanctuary of my man-made house.  The wind has gusted here up to 125 miles per hour, when you cannot even stand up against it.  The temperature has dropped to minus 14 when everything just freezes (even your own hair!).  I have seen mists roll in from the loch and take the form of armies of spectres, crowding at the limits of our garden.  In winter, the nights are long and the days are so short that you beg the sun to return, reborn.  I have known it rain so hard that the house looked as if a water cannon had been used against it water has got in everywhere, through the tiny cracks in the door, down the chimney, even working its way around the window frame.

Orkney is not a kind place to live in winter.

Nature does not suffer fools gladly.  For a while, a beautiful young hare visited our garden, eating all the longer, richer grass growing around the compost bins where the mower could not reach.  We found her dead and dissected by gulls not so long ago.  It’s a dog-eat-dog out there and it’s not only each other we need to fear.  Where I had envisaged I would feel safe, I felt terribly threatened.

This posting sums up my first winter in Orkney.  The place which I had escaped to, that I assumed would be safe, actually became somewhere that was intimidating and threatening.  Somewhere that had seemed so welcoming and friendly whilst on holiday, now seemed hostile once we had committed to living here.  I felt conned and tricked.

The job which I had expected had not materialised.  The fitting into a friendly community was just not happening as seamlessly as I had planned, and even living closer to nature was an experience of rejection.  Everything that could go wrong was going wrong and I realised I had made a terrible mistake.  This was not a safe haven, rather it was a stark and unwelcoming prison of disappointment.

During my first winter in Orkney, I plunged into a terrible depression that reflected the barren environment I found myself in.  As the evenings gathered in, so did all those demons that I thought I had left behind but which had all hitched a ride northwards with me.  In the dark, which I had always feared, the demons hunkered down and conspired against me, gaining strength.

I was at such a loose end that winter.  I had managed to find some work but only part-time and not using many of my skills, and very poorly paid.  Mark was also working part-time but his shifts were constantly moving and we weren’t always off work at the same time, my plans to study more had also been cruelly scuppered, and I discovered that Orkney wasn’t as friendly as I had been led to believe: either folk were too busy to pop by for a social chat, or they were doing the very Orcadian thing of checking that I was staying before committing to any sort of relationship.

With so much time on my hands and often nothing to do except snuggle down by the fire, I decided to do what I actually really liked doing and I read more and more self-development, spiritual and occult books.    I found to my surprise that I didn’t want to read what I was “meant” to read and what had previously fascinated me – I didn’t want to read about the past, about archaeology.  Everything that was or had been me was being stripped away:  no real job, no friends, no relatives, no status, no money: what I was and had been was no more.  This was ego-stripping on a grand scale and as such, I identified what I was going through – an initiatory crisis: a spiritual transformation.

This Blog and these postings are about how I found my way back.  How I rediscovered my inner core and personal strength.  How I fell back in love with this place.  How I started to become creative once more.  And how I made many beautiful friends.  I hope that in reading this Blog, you too will be encouraged to come to Orkney and discover it’s many treasures and let it work it’s spiritual magick on you, because it really is a place of pilgrimage.