In the year 2000 I was lucky enough to be able to visit Orkney, with my father-in-law's sister and her husband (the fabled 'Uncle Maynard') and we took the opportunity to visit as many of the Neolithic structures of the Island(s) as we could, plus a few more recent ones.
I do go to Orkney once more with Mrs H and the wee bairns and we were lucky enough to see some of the main sites again
Pictured here you'll see a pic of myself and Auntie Kay near the Tomb of the Eagles, and yes that's the Atlantic Ocean behind us! It was a bit of a bubbling cauldron on the day, which was just "windy." It must look truly awe inspiring on a really stormy day.
So after visiting Maes Howe, the Ring of Brodgar and similar sites, I was thrilled to see 'A History of Ancient Britain Special: Orkney's Stone Age Temple' programme on BBC i player. UK residents can watch it here but I dare say it will be on you tube sooner or later.
One of the abiding memories for me was on visiting Maes Howe to see the graffiti left by tourists in the late Dark - early Middle Ages. If memory serves me right it was all Norse/Viking in origin and much of it was of the kind "Harald gets all the girls" or "Sven is the best sailor in all the oceans" and similar. All very 1970s if you ask me... but I do recall our guide showing us some graffiti which he said was left by the Vikings who had returned from the Crusades.
Right there and then you are forced to recondition your view of history. Of course, it is known that the Norsemen went onto to found the Kiev Rus (the beginnings of modern Russia really) and provided the elite Varangian Guards to the Christian Emperors of Constantinople, not to mention the Norsemen of Normandy who went on to found the Franco-Norman kingdom of England, which led to the Angevin Empire (wherein the Kings of England claimed as much of France as of modern-day Britain, which would lead to countless wars) and the Kingdom of Sicily which went onto control nearly half of modern-day Italy, but these were their more northerly brethren, better known for the raping and pillaging of their forebears; of razing monasteries to the ground, rather than raising monasteries from the ground.
Yet in the northerly wilderness of windswept Orkney, there is proof that the Norsemen, the men of the north, went to the Holy Land, fought and died for Christ and His Church. In our living room we still have a framed print of St Magnus' Cathedral, sadly temporarily protestant, of a painting by a local Orcadian. It's a reminder of the Catholic Faith of the Norsemen of Orkney.
It reminds me of another link showing the Christian conversion of the former wild-men of the North. The Coppergate Helmet. To quote from the York Archeology site:
When the work was completed the true splendour of the helmet was revealed. The decorated brass strips, which run across from nape to nose and from ear to ear, bore an inscription which can be translated from the Latin as:Yes - the Vikings of York, the erstwhile receivers of Danegeld to protect the Christian Anglo-Saxons from the onslaught of the heathen Vikings, now had living with them, the Saxon Oshere, with a Latin inscription-prayer to the Holy Trinity, to protect the wearer. To find such a treasure, of Latin Catholic culture in the home of the Danes in England, is astounding.
In the name of our Lord Jesus the Holy Spirit God the Father and with all we pray. Amen. OSHERE XPI.
We begin to see the process, as with the 'Vikings' of Kiev, how the Vikings of Northern England and Northern Scotland were converted to Christianity, the Faith they had fought against for so long.
But back to Orkney and the Neolithic forebears of the Norsemen who would replace them. Skara Brae was, at the time of my visits, the most intricate and detailed Neolithic settlement. It looks like the new discovery at the Ness of Brodgar is even more exciting, but it seems to be of a ceremonial usage rather than a domestic one.
Whilst the latter may outdo the former for the historians and archaeologists because of the very mystery and insights it gives into the unknown rituals of life circa 5,000 years ago, to me it is the very domesticity of Skara Brae that makes it breath-taking.
We do not know the ceremonies that took place at the Ness of Brodgar. Was there a form of priesthood? Was there a sacrifice? Were there prayers for the dead? Was it closed-off to the outside world like a strict monastic order? Or was it very much a community affair, like a parish church? Or perhaps a mix of the two like a Medieval Cathedral?
But at Skara Brae one sees the homes, the hearths, the settings for the beds, the cupboards for the trinkets, the doorways, the communal passageways. You can imagine the families coming and going, swapping news, visiting each other. You can imagine the hunters/farmers coming in of an evening, or the fishermen bringing in their catch for supper.
The beliefs of our ancient ancestors have fallen by the wayside. Much of what druids, witches etc. give to us today is latterly invented, usually by weirdoes with a taste for Satanism, an unhealthy preoccupation with sexual activity of all kinds, and a sense that dramatisation will fool the weak-willed. e.g. witchcraft as practised today was invented by Gerald Gardner who became an acolyte of the satanist Aleister "the Beast" Crowley. What they tell is us ancient is in fact an absolutely modern concoction.
All these people were really interested in was drugs and sex, so in that sense I guess one might call them ahead of their time in that they lived the 1960s back in the 1930s and 1940s. In regards to our own society and what Benedict XVI warned against when he visited Britain: they are the forces advocating 'moral relativism,' the "do what thou wilt" of Crowley has become the "freedom of choice" that leads so many to drug addiction or the abortion clinic.
Whilst these things may be of interest to academics, and find a home in history books, the paganism of the past fell away for a reason. It was false. It was man-made, yet it was at least born in a pre-Christian age. And it has been replaced by latter-day pagans by something that is false and man-made, created in enmity of Christianity. In time, it too will fade and die, like heresies through the ages, paganism too has been re-invented and come back. As Hilaire Belloc wrote in his masterpiece Survivals and New Arrivals, much of what opposes Christianity is re-hashed through the ages, new themes on old evils re-invented, twisted this way and that to try and undermine Christendom.
While the supposed, imagined or factual rites of the Ness of Brodgar have fallen away, the very domesticity of Skara Brae has flourished through the years, despite the onslaught of the land enclosures and industrialisation, despite the modern onslaught of single-parents and same-sex "partners." Domesticity is the hallmark of a civilisation, because without it, no society can flourish and without it no society can survive, ancient, historic, old or modern.
Even the heathen Vikings when they were pillaging, raping and rampaging their way across Northern Europe and down into the belly of what would become Ukraine, kept a domestic lifestyle in their homelands and in their new settlements (whether Orkney, Kiev, Dublin, Swansea or Brecon).
That is what helped the Norsemen to survive and thrive. The paganism came and went, but the Norsemen thrived, building and helping to build great Christian civilisations in France, England, Russia, Byzantium, Sicily and elsewhere.
Their erstwhile paganism was a culture, a folk-memory, tales of tribes that could be easily discarded, remembered in heroic poems, as we remember the likes of King Arthur. But their home-life, their families, their hearths: without these they could not have survived and without these Christianity may not have found a ready receptacle; the great Christian Norse warriors that would go on the Crusades, that would defend the Emperor in Constantinople, and that would raise wonderful Cathedrals and monasteries throughout England, France and Italy may have been lost to history.
I am sure that the home and the family will survive into the future, but I am equally as sure that it has never faced such an insidious attack as it faces today. How many of London's rioters, I wonder, came from single-parent homes or homes where the 'father figure' is the latest in a long series of "partners?"
In a recent poll, (which I now typically can't find) it was revealed that a tiny minority of UK churches wanted "the right" to perform same-sex marriages. Yet the UK government seems intent on pushing this through. Is this a blip in the history of the family? Or is this yet another step on the path of good intentions that leads you-know-where? Or a headlong rush by the New Pagans intent on reaching certain ends as soon as possible?
Never before in the history of the world, it seems to me, have we had rulers who seem so intent on making it preferential for couples not to marry (tax breaks, housing benefit etc.), for young single mums to expand numerically (free housing, extra income) and now we have the big push to equate sterile homosexual relationships with families that bring about future generations (future tax-payers if you want to look at it materially).
On Orkney all those years ago, the farmers and fishermen, went home to their communities and their families, for generation after generation over many hundreds of years. If we destroy the family over a few decades then we face the danger of doing terrible damage for years to come. The "new family" will be a mockery of the original, a fake that in fact destroys the family and reduces society to a chaos that will make the Neolithic age look positively cultured and settled.
As for the New Paganism, that has ushered in the "right" to murder the unborn, and wishes to bring about the "right" to kill the old, and the "right" for homosexuals to be "married," Belloc put it best in his 1931 essay, the New Paganism:
The New Paganism, should it ever become universal, or over whatever districts or societies it may become general, will never be what the Old Paganism was. It will be other, because it will be a corruption. The Old Paganism was profoundly traditional; indeed, it had no roots except in tradition. Deep reverence for its own past and for the wisdom of its ancestry and pride therein were the very soul of the Old Paganism; that is why it formed so solid a foundation on which to build the Catholic Church, though that is also why it offered so long and determined a resistance to the growth of the Catholic Church. But the New Paganism has for its very essence contempt for tradition and contempt of ancestry. It respects perhaps nothing, but least of all does it respect the spirit of "Our fathers have told us."
The Old Paganism worshipped human things, but the noblest human things, particularly reason and the sense of beauty. In these it rose to heights greater than have since been reached, perhaps, and certainly to heights as great as were ever reached by mere reason or in the mere production of beauty during the Christian centuries.
But the New Paganism despises reason, and boasts that it is attacking beauty. It presents with pride music that is discordant, building that is repellent, pictures that are a mere chaos...
...Men do not live long without gods; but when the gods of the New Paganism come they will not be merely insufficient, as were the gods of Greece, nor merely false; they will be evil. One might put it in a sentence, and say that the New Paganism, foolishly expecting satisfaction, will fall, before it knows where it is, into Satanism.