the form of death

Death has no form, no shape, no pattern, texture or layout.

Graveyards do.

Poolewe burial ground

They have quite distinct forms, shapes and patterns. So do gravestones.

It is an angular world the dead are buried in: regular walled rectangles, or squares, even; occasionally later editions forming triangles or yet another rectangle.

Poolewe burial ground

Kilmore (9)A straight line of graves seems to be a mainly modern thing, in older burial sites to be found nearly exclusively in military sections or in military graveyards, where order is as predominant as it is soothing. Order defies chaos, order finds beauty in 90° and straight lines.

This order is very unusual for old Scottish burial grounds in which the headstones seem to have been scattered by the mighty and powerful hands of some entity deciding live and death.

SkeabostThe order of modern graveyards seems to have developed out of a need to apply a sense of regularity to the feared and unexpected. Shape the unknown. It is, of course, more practical, too.

One geometrical form has become very rare in Scotland: the circle. It used to be predominant in brochs, stone circles, tower houses.

On the Dundonnell Dundonnell private (12)estate between Ullapool and Gairloch, hidden away on a small mound between the vertical lines of a beech tree grove, lies a private burial ground. A circular fence protects its few headstones.

Dundonnell privateIs the circle maybe a more powerful and ancient form for the eternal resting place? Eternal in its form already? More tribal because it is not taking directions from east or west like many Christian and Muslim alignments do. There is also the lingering superstition that the devil cannot hide where there are no corners.

A round enclosure seems a strange form for the interment of coffins. Stephen Anderton claims in his book about the gardener Christopher Lloyd, that it had been a local custom in Dundonnell, to be carried on a bier without a coffin and therefore it is quite possible, that the bodies have been buried just in their shrouds.

One might want to believe that they rest, huddled in a foetal, prenatal position. A tradition like that would be regressus ad uterum in its purest form. The round form is the beginning and the end.

The circle of life.

Dundonnell private (3)









sources and further reading: 

Stephen Anderton: Christopher Lloyd. Vintage Digital, 2010


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