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Temple of Anaitis

Also known as:
  • Annait
  • Temple of Annait

Nearest Town:Uig (16km NE)
OS Ref (GB):   NG271527 / Sheet: 23
Latitude:57° 28' 56.04" N
Longitude:   6° 33' 13.84" W

Added by TomBo

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"The Waternish road turns off to the north at Fairy Bridge, whence it runs along the valley of the Bay river. On the left of the road, though at some little distance from it, where the river cleaves its way through a gorge to the sea, stands the mound which is now all that remains of the 'Temple of Anaitis' (so called). What form of prehistoric building it was or of what period is not known. But Dr. Johnson visited Waternish to see it in 1773 and it was a mystery then as now. Its old Gaelic name is said to have been 'Teampuill-na-Annait', and so to have given rise to the Anaitis legend. This name of Annait or Annat is found all over Scotland. It has been interpreted as meaning the 'Water-place' from Celtic 'An' = water, because many are near water. Others suggest 'Ann' = a circle (Celtic) and claim that most Annats are near standing stones. The most-favoured derivation seems to be from Ann, the Irish mother of the Gods, and those who hold this view claim that the Annats are always near a revered spot, where either a mother-church or the cell of a patron saint once stood. Probably Annat does, in fact, come from an older, pre-Celtic tongue, and belongs to an older people whose ancient worship it may well commemorate. The curious shape of the Waternish Temple of Anaitis and its survival make it seem likely that it was something of importance in its day, built with more than usual care and skill. Perhaps the Temple tradition is correct - but whose, if so, and to what gods? One cannot help wondering if cats played any part in its ritual, and if so, if any faint memory remains, for the nickname of the people of this wing was 'Na Caits' = The Cats, and not far off, by one of the tributary burns on the right of the roadway, there stands a small cairn, crowned by a long, sharp stone somewhat resembling a huge claw. This is the 'Cats' Cairn'."

- Otta F. Swire, Skye: The Island and its Legends, 1961, pp. 94-5.

The Cats' Cairn (NG271526) is said to mark the grave of a young eighteenth century boy, who was buried where he died. Whilst sheltering from a storm in a derelict cottage one day he saw three cats that transformed themselves into witches. They "put the fear" upon him, so that he would tell no-one of what he had seen, promising to kill him if he breathed a word of them. His terror was so great, however, causing him to stop sleeping and eating, that his mother knew something was wrong and persuaded him to reveal all. A year later he was found dead on the moor: "he appeared to have been done to death by long, sharp claws" (Swire, p. 97).

A further example of this kind of Annait place-name can be found elsewhere on Skye at Clach na h'annait.
TomBo Posted by TomBo
28th June 2004ce
Edited 30th June 2004ce


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"The weather this day was rather better than any that we had since we came to Dunvegan. Mr M’Queen had often mentioned a curious piece of antiquity near this which he called a temple of the goddess Anaitis. Having often talked of going to see it, he and I set out after breakfast, attended by his servant, a fellow quite like a savage. I must observe here, that in Sky there seems to be much idleness; for men and boys follow you, as colts follow passengers upon a road. The usual figure of a Sky boy, is a lown with bare legs and feet, a dirty kilt, ragged coat and waistcoat, a bare head, and a stick in his hand, which, I suppose, is partly to help the lazy rogue to walk, partly to serve as a kind of a defensive weapon. We walked what is called two miles, but is probably four, from the castle, till we came to the sacred place. The country around is a black dreary moor on all sides, except to the sea-coast, towards which there is a view through a valley, and the farm of Bay shews some good land. The place itself is green ground, being well drained, by means of a deep glen on each side, in both of which there runs a rivulet with a good quantity of water, forming several cascades, which make a considerable appearance and sound. The first thing we came to was an earthen mound, or dyke, extending from the one precipice to the other. A little farther on, was a strong stone-wall, not high, but very thick, extending in the same manner. On the outside of it were the ruins of two houses, one on each side of the entry or gate to it. The wall is built all along of uncemented stones, but of so large a size as to make a very firm and durable rampart. It has been built all about the consecrated ground, except where the precipice is deep enough to form an enclosure of itself. The sacred spot contains more than two acres. There are within it the ruins of many houses, none of them large, a cairn, and many graves marked by clusters of stones. Mr M’Queen insisted that the ruin of a small building, standing east and west, was actually the temple of the goddess Anaitis, where her statue was kept, and from whence processions were made to wash it in one of the brooks. There is, it must be owned, a hollow road visible for a good way from the entrance; but Mr M’Queen, with the keen eye of an antiquary, traced it much farther than I could perceive it. There is not above a foot and a half in height of the walls now remaining; and the whole extent of the building was never, I imagine, greater than an ordinary Highland house. Mr M’Queen has collected a great deal of learning on the subject of the temple of Anaitis; and I had endeavoured, in my journal, to state such particulars as might give some idea of it, and of the surrounding scenery; but from the great difficulty of describing visible objects, I found my account so unsatisfactory, that my readers would probably have exclaimed 'and write about it, Goddess, and about it!' and therefore I have omitted it."

- James Boswell, Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides with Samuel Johnson, LL.D., Friday 17th September 1773.
TomBo Posted by TomBo
28th June 2004ce
Edited 28th June 2004ce