Solstice of the Moon: Circle of Timeless Light

Stars over Scotland. Image: Pixabay

A few stars twinkled above Inverurie as our group gathered for dinner. It wasn’t even raining much. That probably explains why, some time after nine o’clock, when the moonless night had well and truly fallen, four people would once again walk the path up to the stone circle at Easter Aquhorthies…

We arrive first and, switching off the lights of the car, allow our eyes to gradually become accustomed to the complete lack of artificial light. We have torches, but they seem an intrusion somehow and will only be used to navigate the potholed track. There is no moon tonight and the little town is far enough distant, and set low enough in the landscape, to be invisible. Even the lights of Aberdeen make only a smudge of sickly ochre on the far horizon. We can see very little… only the ink-black silhouettes of the trees against the lightless sky.

The silence is profound, yet it is not a silence created by the absence of sound, only by the absence of Man. There is a rustling in the leaves, the breath of a breeze, ghostly fingers caressing the night. It is not emptiness, but a living silence… and we are part of it.

We wait, watching for our companions’ arrival. Gradually we realise that the darkness is receding. After a while, we can see almost as clearly as in daylight. Not as far, it is true, but we stand within a circle of vision, painted in silver, black and grey. Between the dancing leaves of the trees, we can see a thousand stars with unparalleled clarity. It is astonishing how quickly our eyes accept the darkness, painting detail upon its canvas with ancient and remembered skill. We will not really need the torches… but our companions’ eyes will not have time to adjust.

Two specks of approaching light rob the night of its completeness. A few minutes later four of us leave the cars and the modern world behind. We speak softly; voices are louder in the darkness, hearing more acute. In fact, it seems as if all the senses awaken in the night, remembering a purpose the everyday world forgets. There is nothing to remind us of when we are… only the torchlight that dances ahead of us on the earth. I am acutely conscious of distance… the noise of a Saturday night is centuries away…  Extinguishing the torches, four souls step out of time and into the circle.

Without a word, we know what to do. We each seek our stone and stand before it in silence. My stone is the Elder, carved long before the others. I feel its presence, warm and enduring, against my spine. I think of my own garden and how the moon in its fullness casts shadows there. Tonight, the moon is absent. I look up… and the world falls away…

Above, the sky is cloudless and clear. A million, trillion stars sparkle, flashing colours. What I see is little different from what they would have seen here thousands of years ago… though there would have been no light save a few distant hearthfires to rob the darkness of beauty.

Three steps to my right and I am laying on the stone. It is warm in the circle, there is neither wind nor chill. ‘My’ stone looms over me, a dark void against the stars. Stone accepts my body… my view is unobstructed; the vastness of space draws me into that living silence and I hear its song. An endless time, that is no time, playing in the stars. The Milky Way arcs across the vault of night. The heavens are an upturned chalice to which the stones of the circle are reaching. Constellations that once shone white on black are drowning in a sea of diamond dust… and so am I…

After a few minutes, I sit up. Vision has embraced the night and I can see right across the circle ; the stones glow white in the starlight. I can see my companions, silhouetted against their brightness. It looks as if they are held within the folds of snowy wings. It reminds me of something we had found in a little country church… and as my mind returns to earth, my companions stir and leave their stones.

Reluctantly, I stand… I wish we could stay longer, but we are all aware that it is time to leave. We close the circle and leave quietly. There is no need for words… nor is there really any need for the torchlight. The temperature drops noticeably as we step beyond the stones. For safety’s sake, we switch on the lamps and the night recedes by thousands of years.

We say goodnight and head our separate ways. When we realise the time, we are incredulous. It feels as if we had been there no time at all… but it is not far from midnight…

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