Winter Solstice at Scottish Megalith Receives Web Broadcast
One of the world's most ancient religious rituals was recreated on the World Wide Web in December when a Dutch archaeoastronomer broadcast the solstice sunset at the Maes Howe burial chamber in Orkney, Scotland.
Victor Reijs, who is studying the megalithic mound's relation to the sun, decided to film the solstice remotely after he received a letter from Lowell McFarland, a Pagan, suggesting a similar set-up at Newgrange, Ireland. Mr. Reijs hoped that the filming would provide him with more information on how the chamber was built, and would also bring wider recognition of Maes Howe. He says that, as far as he knows, this is the first live broadcast of a megalithic monument's solstice.
With the assistance of Scottish photographer Charles Tait and of the nation's historic preservation organization, Historic Scotland, Mr. Reijs had remote-control cameras set up on the site. Between December 10 and 22, viewers to the Maes Howe Web site could witness the sun's light passing into the burial chamber – subject to the fickle British weather. Fortunately, the sun came out on the day of solstice itself.
Maes Howe is believed to have been built around 2500 B.C.; like many megalithic monuments of its time, it is oriented toward the sun. Archaeologists have speculated that such orientations may have had a religious purpose.
News of the broadcast soon spread to the British Pagan community, whose members regard themselves as the religious descendants of the people who built such monuments; for them, the Web broadcast was a religious service. "I think having online rituals is a great idea, especially for those who can't get about or are housebound," commented Andy Wilkinson, newsletter editor for the Pagan Federation North West England District.
Mr. Reijs is pleased with how the broadcasts went. "They were very successful," he says. "We had more than 8000 [hits] in three weeks." The Maes Howe Web site is presently showing reruns of the solstice broadcasts; Mr. Reijs hopes to provide live broadcasts again next year.
Letters: Maes Howe – 300 Years Older Than We'd Thought (February 1998)
World News: British Pagans Celebrate Interfaith Purchase of Sacred Stones. By Heather Elizabeth Peterson. An unusual coalition of Pagans, Christians, and others gathered in south-central England on November 1 in order to celebrate the purchase and preservation of one of England's oldest religious sites. (December 1997)
World Brief: British Archaeologists Discover Prehistoric Temple Site, Bigger Than Stonehenge. By Heather Elizabeth Peterson. Stanton Drew has kept its secret for many years. The three stone circles located in Somerset, southwestern England, have long been famous, but a recent geophysical survey reveals evidence that an enormous wooden temple once stood on the site. (December 1997)
© 1998 Heather Elizabeth