On The Antiquities of Arran (4): Machrie Moor and the Samothrakean Mysteries

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Is it possible, still, that the ancient gods can influence the modern world. Recent investigations of mine have landed my personal supposition on the notion firmly in the YES camp. It all begins with my first glimpse of Samothraki, last summer, about this time of year actually, when I remarked to myself how like Arran the island appear’d – a great mountainous heap on an isolated island, with lower levels spread either side of the peak. Fengari Mountain & Goat Fell are both about the same size & rise like jagged dragonsteeth from the sea & anyone seeing both peaks can only assume they were crafted by the same forces.

On Samothraki is the anciently famous Sanctuary of the Great Gods, which I visited last year & was inspired to recreate the Mysteries once held there – Alexander the Great’s mum & dad were two initiates who met during the ceremony. On visiting the sprawling complex I was inspired to recreate the Mysteries from the scraps of detail recorded millennia ago – the following two posts ( a video) show the idea & its fruition.

Reconstructing the Samothrakian Mysteries

The Samothracian Mysteries

Roll on a year & I am conducting a chispological survey into the antiquities of Arran – see what I can dig up that has been missed. So let us revisit Machrie Moor, an amazing place I was last at a few weeks back. A century ago scholars had decided that because they found sepulchral remains in the circles of Machrie Moor, then this was their main purpose. However, holy sites in Britain have always evolved. It is not uncommon in the south of England especially to find a church built upon the site of a Roman temple, which in turn was erected on some pagan place of worship. It is possible, then, that the Machrie Moor complex had also evolved, from Pagan through Cronos worship into this fresh hyperbasis upon which I shall now attempt to show its one-time relationship with the Great Sanctuary of the Great Gods on Samothraki.

We begin with a 20th century American author, Jean Stafford, who noticed the connection between Corrie & Cora, inventing a rather spurious story about her being related to Alexander the Great, but adding an interesting detail that her ancestors had migrated from Samothraki to Arran. A strange start, admittedly, but as a Chispologist I see the latent possibility in the village Corrie of being connected to the Goddess Cora, also known as Persophone, the daughter of the great mother nature goddess, Demeter. This leads us then to Strabo, who on discussing the geographical writings of Artemidorus of Ephesus [late second-century BC], we read that, ‘his report about the goddesses Demeter and Core is more credible. He says that there is an island near Britain on which sacrifices are performed like those in Samothrace for Demeter and Core.’

Of course that only narrows the Samothracian mysteries to an island off mainland Britain, but the fact that the rites were performed in this area is both astonishing & also unacknowledged by academia! Those mysteries, by the way, were said to have been founded by two legendary heroes & brothers, Dardanos and Iasion, who became associated with the divine twins known as the Dioscuri. This then leads us to Diodorus Siculus’ discussion of Timaeus [early third century BC];

Historians point out that the Celts who live on the shore of the Ocean honor the Dioscori above other gods. For there is an ancient tradition among them that these gods came to them from the Ocean.

The Sanctuary of the Great Gods
Machrie Moor

One way of looking at that information is to place Dardanos and Iasion voyaging along the fringes of north west Europe, coming across the Samothracian looking Arran & deciding to set up a sister mystery ceremony. Perhaps. But if they did, then it must have been at Machrie Moor, a series of stone circles which seem to mirror the areas at Samothraki thro which the initiation ceremony convey’d. In the following image of Samothraki, the buildings themselves were erected over many centuries but noble patrons, but like I said before, these constructions may have been novel ‘improvements’ on earlier layers, which could well have been stone circles or something akin. This is a quote from my own post on Recreating the Samothrakean Mysteries;

The physical evidence of the Mystery ceremony can be found at the Sanctuary of the Great Gods on Samothraki, a sprawling religious pan-centurial site which contains the three sacred precincts which the initiate had to move through in order to complete the Mystery procession. These were the preliminary Myeses, the Telete & the Epopteia. One school of thought states that after a prospective initiate had been prepared in the Sanctuary’s Sacristy, the Myesis took place in the Anaktoron’s main hall, followed by the Telete in the inner adyton at the building’s north end. Once this concluded, the mystai (initiates) could proceed to the Hieron where they acquired the higher degree, the epopteia.

I will leave this post with one last hint at the background to what I now believe is the sacred colony of Samothraki that had been set up on Arran. We begin with a passage from Diodorus Siculus discussing the mysteries;

And Iasion is reputed to have been the first to initiate strangers into them and by this means to bring the initiatory rite to high esteem. And after this Cadmus, the son of Agenor, came in the course of his quest for Europê to the Samothracians, and after participating in the initiation he married Harmonia, who was the sister of Iasion and not, as the Greeks recount in their mythologies, the daughter of Ares.

This wedding of Cadmus and Harmonia was the first, we are told, for which the gods provided the marriage-feast, and Demeter, becoming enamoured of Iasion, presented him with the fruit of the corn, Hermes gave a lyre, Athena the renowned necklace and a robe and a flute, and Electra the sacred rites of the Great Mother of the Gods, as she is called, together with cymbals and kettledrums and the instruments of her ritual; and Apollo played upon the lyre and the Muses upon their flutes, and the rest of the gods spoke them fair and gave the pair their aid in the celebration of the wedding.

The claim is also made that men who have taken part in the mysteries become both more pious and more just and better in every respect than they were before. And this is the reason, we are told, why the most famous both of the ancient heroes and of the demi-gods were eagerly desirous of taking part in the initiatory rite; and in fact Jason and the Dioscori, and Heracles and Orpheus as well, after their initiation attained success in all the campaigns they undertook, because these gods appeared to them.

The key nugget here is the mention of Agenor, who I believe is present in the Pictish King List as Agam/Agnoiun at the very start of the Pictish arrival in Britain.

The children of Gleoin, son of Ercol, took possession of the islands of Orcc, that is, Historend, son of Historrim, son of Agam, son of Agathirsi


Cruithne, son of Cinge, son of Luctai, son of Parthalan, son of Agnoiun

Which leaves us perfectly poised for the next installment of The Antiquities of Arran, where I shall be associating the island with the Hyksos diaspora…

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