We were back at Avebury, after a longer absence than we would have chosen. Without the pandemic, there would have been recce trips and a workshop here already this year… and no sense of sadness as I drove past the lay-by where we would have parked to walk up to West Kennet. I would have like to have made the short climb to the ancient long barrow, a place that holds both welcome and memory, but there was no way even that little slope would have been within my capabilities.
We stopped instead beside the great prehistoric mound of Silbury Hill. Coming or going, we pay our respects to the ‘largest prehistoric, man-made mound in Europe’… thinking yet again how futile such words are to convey the sheer presence and majesty of this gravid earth.
If, as one legend avers, King Sil is buried within the mound upon his horse, then no trace of man nor beast has ever been found. But think of Nut, the sky goddess of ancient Egypt, who swallowed the sun every night and gave birth to it each dawn and perhaps ‘King Sil’ takes on a different guise.
In the Egyptian myths, the sun travels through the underworld at night, plagues and attacked by the great serpent, Apep. Not so very different, perhaps from the mound at Avebury, surrounded by the mirror-pool of waters that reflect the heavens and through which a swallowed king would have to pass.
Why is it that we can attribute such sophistication to the ancients of other cultures and yet deny it to our own? If we wrote down no tales, we remembered them… passing them from mouth to ear, heart to heart, throughout the millennia. Perhaps that is a more sacred way of passing on the innermost stories of creation than simply committing them to paper or papyrus. To hold something so close to your heart that you never let it go… or be befouled, damaged or broken. And yet, such a holding is only as strong as its holder… and all men return to dust in their day.
Leaving Silbury, we headed along the Avenue, parking the car so we could get out and wander amongst the stones for a little while. We greeted them as old friends… long missed, it seems, since our last visit. And yet, they were still so familiar that we knew their names and faces… could now pinpoint where, right across the country, the same shapes have been chosen for stones that still somehow manage to remain wholly unique to each site.
And yet, there is a similarity in the shape and faces of the stones… of that we now have no doubt at all. We have seen it from the Western Isles to Cornwall… and everywhere in between. Although it is now lost to us, there is a meaning and language in the shapes the Old Ones chose for their stones… and in the faces that they show to us.
We walked, naming the stones, greeting them, untiI had to turn back. It wasn’t far…and nowhere near as far as I would have liked… but it was good to be back amongst the stones at all. From here we could clearly see Falkner’s Circle, a ‘lost’ circle that we had sought for some years earlier and found, discretely hiding in a hedge. There was no hiding today and the stone was clearly visible, even from this distance, illuminated as if from within.
With the Red Lion subject to virus restrictions and the beautiful old Waggon and Horses at Beckhampton still closed by the pandemic, we were pretty much obliged to wander into the centre of the village and the main circle, in search of facilities and so I could catch my breath.
There was the familiar thrill as we ‘breached’ the energies around the circle… never quite the ‘psychic shock’ of that first time, but you feel it every time as you drive or walk into the presence of the great circle of stones. It is always like stepping into your place within an ancient and unending dance to which your soul knows the music… and as if you have never left your place at all… as if the time spent away from the dancing life within the stones is of little relevance. It is a strange place… but it heals the crazed stress-cracks in the soul like few others. Just to be there was enough.