Derbyshire is rich in the traces of an ancient culture about which we know very little. At first glance, many of these sites may seem to lack the stature of the better-known circles, but there is an intimacy about the smaller, forgotten circles that is lost when they are encased in protective fences and visited by thousands.
Archaeology can only work with what has survived after thousands of years of disrepair, disrespect and superstition. The picture that remains to us is fragmentary, focusing on the physical remains of hearth, home and grave.
There is a power in these sites of forgotten mysteries. For some it is simply the power to incite curiosity, for many it is something that still calls to heart and mind, offering a tantalising glimpse of a time when mankind saw the world as a magical place and the earth beneath his feet as the body of a living being.
The truth is that we simply do not know, in any acceptably modern sense, for what purpose these monuments were created, although there are still as many as a thousand stone circles in Britain and at least as many theories. The only understanding we have of these enigmatic echoes of the past is through experience.
The story of the Feathered Seer came in fragments as we walked and worked with the land, whispered by a voice from the past. We do not know whence it came, nor how much truth it holds, nor if, indeed, it is the simply the attempt of imagination to shape a story to make sense of the questions that arose. That in itself would be a wonder, and an illustration of the power of the human ability to find a frame in which to place all that is a mystery, all that is known and understood, creating order from chaos. It may be that the circles and mounds of our ancestors are themselves the outward symbols of their attempts to frame their own understanding of the world in which they lived.
Whatever beliefs we may have in the purpose of the ancient and sacred sites, their profusion alone would suggest that they were once seen as part of a web of force which, acting together, harnessed or accessed a power deeper still. In this way, Bratha’s story and the sites themselves seem to echo the nature of the journey we share.
At Wincobank, a vitrified hillfort within the City of Sheffield, we saw the ancient keepers of wisdom withdraw beyond the veil and the essence of their knowledge passed into the keeping of a child. This process is not unlike the incarnation of the human soul, whose lineage and heritage is rooted in the Infinite.
Thrust out into the world, protected only by the shadowy presence of her guide, the child grieved her loss in a wood. There she found the Wood Stone, a great boulder bearing a carved representation of the landscape that gave her direction and led her to seek answers from the ancestors.
In the same way, in the darkest hours, the earth that itself reflects the greater landscape of the macrocosm, may lead us to seek the answers that we need, within ourselves or from the greater powers of the universe.
From the wood, Bratha and her guide follow the moorland paths to the ‘Raven’s Nest’, a stone circle on Hordron Edge. The site is guarded by a totem stone and is surrounded by other sites of ancient sanctity.
They seek advice on where to find a place of peace and balance in which the seer may grow and serve, but first they must understand the Mystery of life, death and rebirth. The seer’s gifts are rooted in her spiritual heritage and the souls of her ancestors, just as the human body bears the genetic memories of our ancestors and our souls carry the lineage of eternity.
Bratha and her guide settle at Barbrook, a place where a stream separates the lands of the living from the lands of the dead. On one side of the stream, Big Moor holds traces of a substantial ancient settlement.
On the other side are the cairns of the dead and three stone circles… one of which closely resembles a hut circle within which is set a circle of upright stones. Close by is another enclave, ringed by ancient walls and flanked by a stone gnomon.
The seer knows that in order to serve the purpose of her being, she must live and work within the world, yet that her role as priestess sets her apart from the mundane.
The people come to the seer with questions. She calls upon the silent voice of the earth for her answers, enigmatic riddles whose essence must be teased from their form. She knows that the answers to the deepest questions may be found within.
Those who choose the paths of Light know that, as Man is born into this world, his purpose is to live within the world until the next phase of existence. Such service may indeed appear to set true seekers apart from life, but those who choose to serve the Light are the standard-bearers of evolution.
Half a day’s walk from the place she calls home is a deep valley. Peter’s Rock is a striking geological feature; faces seem carved by the hands of the gods in the cracked rock. For Bratha, and for others who seek to serve, it is a place of initiation, where fear must be faced in order to pass beyond the veil.
Man’s greatest fear is death; not the death of the body, but the obliteration of the self. For many, death is the enemy and holds the terror of an unimaginable annihilation. For the initiate, death is no more than a passing from one state to another… a new birth.
At the end of the valley, the hillfort of Fin Cop dominates Monsal Dale. The Lore Keepers wove together two ancient tales, one a legend, one the story of an ancient massacre. This tale is borne out by the archaeology of the site itself. Below the steep slope that leads to the summit of Fin Cop is a place of caves and mysteries. The tall, stone figure of a giant guards a hidden landscape and, within the cave, the skeleton of an injured boy was found.
We left both the seer and the past for the final ritual, as the Companions journeyed in vision to Arbor Low, a great circle of stones within a henge. Time seems to be an important factor at this site, as do the serpent stones.
Perhaps the most prevalent belief about these ancient monuments is that they are set upon the nodes of power inherent in the body of the earth. It is possible that, like the birds and beasts, our ancestors could feel the magnetic currents of the planet…or perhaps they sensed something deeper in the life of the planetary being.
Few who are open to the magic of these sites fail to sense their presence and they seem to respond to our awareness with an indefinable awakening.
In re-enchanting the land, we are forging links across time and space… and in doing so, rekindling our own enchantment with the place we call our home.