The Brig-O-Dread

By Bernie Bell

I recently read a story by George MacKay Brown called ‘Brig-O-Dread’.   At one point the narrator, who has ’died’, comes to what the reader realises is the Brig O’ Brodgar.  At this point in the tale the narrator doesn’t realise that he has died.  It takes meeting with his dead sister at the Brig to bring that home to him.

She helps him to accept what has happened to him, and to begin his journey in the land of the dead.

And I thought – when GMB wrote that story, the Ness of Brodgar hadn’t been discovered – just the Brodgar stone which was then taken away to Edinburgh.  But GMB was a seer – did he have some ideas?  The Brig O’ Brodgar leads to the Ness when approaching from that direction, as I mentioned here….

Might it have been seen as a path-way, not only for pilgrims to the Ness, but also as a pathway for those who are moving from this life to the next way of being? 

As I read the part of the story where Mr. Andersvik realises that he is at the Brig – which is the first place he recognizes since his ‘death’ – and he begins to realise what has happened and is happening to him – many, many thoughts and feelings flooded in involving  places of life, places of death and the journey in between.  Stenness Stones – Brodgar Stones – The Ness in between.

Not a place of death, but possibly a place to bring the dead for preparation, or for ceremonies/activities by which the living could begin to accept the passing of their people, and by which the ’dead’ could begin to accept their passing.

It’s powerful writing  – It’s GMB.

“The ghost raised an invisible hand sea-ward. He greeted the clean swift beautiful creatures of the ocean. He acknowledged the long wars of man against that innocent kingdom.  He whispered for forgiveness. Then he turned calmly to face the blaze and the roar.”

At the Brig – finding his way.

At the shore – benediction and forgiveness.

And I’m wondering – what will they find when they move the spoil heap at the Ness?  Maybe something to do with this – with the preparation of the dead?  Not necessarily bones, not necessarily ashes, maybe instruments connected with rites of preparation, or wee pots containing traces of unguents used?

Maybe …maybe….pilgrims brought their dead to Brodgar, to have the ‘priests’ there carry out the correct forms of  acknowledgement of passing from this life? 

Maybe ‘sky- burial’  Cremation  – I know – they didn’t tend to go in for cremation in the Neolithic, but maybe there was a transitory phase between different burial practices? Maybe just different ways among folk from different places?  

Or for preservation, another example of different ways among folk from different places?  

Then the family took their ancestor home, pleased with the honour of having had their passing marked at the Ness.  One of the main markers in our lives.

Maybe folk also came there to marry, have their babies named, or ‘come of age’?  In my mind, there’s a connection with Knowth in the Bru Na Boinne

Just playing with ideas……

The dig at the Ness is, hope-fully, happening next summer – we’ll have to wait and see what they find.

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