‘Cup’ Marks – Past and Present

By Bernie Bell

Recently, this item appeared in Kenny Brophy’s ‘Urban Pre-historian’ blog…..

I found this piece to be of interest in various ways – thinking along the lines of how memories can change or be lost, and how stories, legends and mythologies can develop associated with what we see around us – including marks on rocks – and I like it that the children are being involved.

They might start out seeing it as just a fun way to spend a day at school, but that might develop – some of those children might turn up at the Ness of Brodgar, The Cairns, or Swandro one day!

One thing which tickles me is this – some of the children see the ‘cups’ as being for Shrek and Donkey to drink from!

Shapes like these are often seen as being cups, and often…for the fairies! I like it that children are linking these with today’s ‘fairy’ stories. 

No-one knows what the original purpose/idea was – but it is interesting to conjecture, and see what others conjecture, too. 

Who would have thought of this explanation, in ‘The Wild Places’ by Robert Macfarlane………..

“Some of the marks left are subtle: on Stanage Moor, the Victorian owners – the Wilsons of Sheffield – employed masons to cut channels and holes into the rocks, so that rainwater collected there and provided drinking water for young grouse in the breeding season; their chisellings are still visible on the rocks.”

Our visit to Kilmartin Glen a few years ago brought us into contact with many examples of cup marks, ancient and modern…….

Among other things, in their book ‘The Stones of the Ancestors’, Douglas Scott and Stuart McHardy  present theories about the significance and use of these ‘cup’ shaped carvings  https://issuu.com/luathpress/docs/ilovepdf_merged.

Not specifically re. using cup marks – I am of Irish stock, born in England, but Irish by race and inclination.  My parents both grew up in rural Ireland at a time when a lot of the old ways were still followed, or at least attended to. The idea of pouring libations to placate the Spirit world and the Old Ones, was still very active, so I’m familiar with that kind of approach to the world around us, and the other forms of life which may inhabit it.

In fact there is still an echo of it in our life today.  Whenever we moved into a house ( hopefully that won’t happen again – we mean to stay where we are now), we always each pour a bit of the first drink we have, onto the threshold – for luck.

Sometimes on other occasions, if it just feels right to do so.

I should explain that neither of us has a religion – we both know that The Universe, is…  https://theorkneynews.scot/2017/11/13/how-i-see-the-whole-life-lovelightgodreiki-etc-etc-thing/

We don’t have religion – but we do accept varying manifestations of ideas to do with The Powers That Be.  We have a particular affection for Ganesh.  When Mike was in a very difficult situation in his work ( his previous work) we asked Ganesh, as remover of obstacles to – remove obstacles, and – it worked out.

We don’t see it as – sit back, do nothing, ask for help and it will all get sorted out for us – no – we both believe in thinking, assessing, taking action, but we also acknowledge that some help might come from…..LIFE.

And now to my point – when he was having those difficulties at work, I bought Mike a little statue of Ganesh, which we still have in our cupboard, in his wee shrine. When he’s cooking, Mike pours a little bit of – beer, wine, whisky, into Ganesh’s dish. The dish is a bit of ceramic we found on the beach.

Could all look like daft superstition – maybe it is – but we feel toward Ganesh in a very friendly, appreciative way and we hope he feels the same towards us.

Here’s how I explained this to someone …..

“As you know, I don’t ‘pray to gods’,  as such, I connect with Life, God, whatever folk want to call It, and acknowledge that this can have many aspects.  It’s more to do with focusing on the aspect of LIFE which is relevant and needed, at any time. 

If, however, the obstacles are of our own construction, well, that’s for us to deal with.

The Universe provides, but also, you may have come across the idea of ‘God helps those, who help themselves’.  That’s a good one.

We can build bogey-men to frighten ourselves, and the answer is…..not to!  Or, to catch yourself doing it, and stop!”

Pouring the libations, connecting with the LIFE around us, can give a focus to our intentions or needs. It can also provide a situation in which people can come together, tell tales, re-affirm the links between the individuals, the group and the world around them, past and present.

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