Maeshowe is a neolithic chambered cairn and passage grave located on the mainland of Orkney. Believed to have been constructed over 5,000 years ago it is also the largest of the many tombs located in Orkney. A grass mound hides the complex chambers and passages constructed of flagstones, some of which weigh upwards of 30 tons. According to the Orkneyinga Saga, the Vikings looted Maeshowe, probably taking with them many artifacts but left behind a series of runic inscriptions - basically graffiti - on the stone walls. As our guide pointed out, while Vikings from the north invaded Scotland, not all Norsemen were Vikings.
Viking runes aside, the amazing part of Maeshowe occurs on the shortest day of the year. On December 21st, the setting sun aligns directly over a neighboring stone, called the Barnhouse Stone. The passageway into Maeshowe is aligned so that for a few minutes the setting sun illuminates the passageway and the rear wall of the central chamber.
It is a feat that I cannot begin to fathom has having been constructed 5,000 years ago, before the construction of the Great Pyramids of Egypt, to celebrate the return of the light.
While I may be sitting in my family room in north central Wisconsin my thoughts are thousands of miles away. Thanks to technology I watch the web cam from Maeshowe. At 14:28 GMT the fading light has begun to illuminate the passageway and central chamber. I celebrate by placing a piece of oak on my yule fire.
Blessings of light and life.