Circles Beyond Time – The serpent stones

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We followed the earthen avenue from Gib Hill to the banks of Arbor Low. You do not really get a clear impression of where you are here; the roads climb steadily as they cross the undulating landscape and, by the time you reach the henge, you are already over twelve hundred feet above sea level. The countryside around you seems relatively flat, with only the distant peaks of higher hills to shape the horizon. Even today there are few buildings in the area and, with little light pollution, nights are dark and the stars bright. And that makes you wonder about what our ancestors might have been doing here, especially given what we have ‘seen’ in meditation within the circle on previous visits.

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“…On the screen of inner sight a single glowing point of light that seems farther than the farthest star, yet closer than the sun.

Between her and the light nothing but the streaks of passage… a stream of movement, as of a million suns caught racing comets in the blackness of space.

A wormhole… dragons… serpents aflame with brilliance… a tunnel through which she is rushing faster than the light itself, falling inwards, forwards, upwards… she does not know…

…Then a figure blocking the brightness… a dark silhouette against the torchlight and the tang of smoke…”

From Doomsday: The Ætheling Thing, Stuart France & Sue Vincent

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As always, we left our companions to explore, eventually taking up our own position on one of the central stones to wait until they had gathered. We had asked each of them to find a stone that seemed to draw them before joining us. By the time they did, the three other women in that party had all mentioned that they had an impression of serpents. That was curious in itself, that it was the women who caught that idea. Or perhaps not, as we have long felt that women were a prominent part of the ancient rituals of this area. We had the circle almost to ourselves and the other visitors were obviously sympathetic, so we asked our companions to go and sit or lie on ‘their’ stone and meditate.

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It is a curious place. It is classified as being one of the finest henge monuments in the north; a ‘henge’ is a circular or oval bank of earth with an inner ditch. At Arbor Low, the bank and ditch together, even four and a half thousand years or so after its construction, form an impressive enclosure around 250 feet across. Near the south-east entrance, a large barrow was built many years later in the Bronze Age, just inside  and straddling the henge. Thomas Bateman excavated the barrow in 1845 and found the cremation burials and grave goods in the mound.

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There are over fifty stones forming the ovoid circle within the sanctuary space enclosed by the henge, with another seven forming a central cove. All the stones are laid flat, rather than standing as you would normally see. One theory is that Christians toppled the stones a few hundred years ago, destroying the pagan site, but there is no evidence for this either in document or in the ground. Even to look at the stones, you do not get the impression they were ever designed to stand. Knowing standing stones so well, half of them would be the ‘wrong way up’ if you stood them on end to form a circle. Many are too close to the edge of the henge…and it does not look as if a circle could be formed simply by lifting them from where they have been ‘cast down’. On the other hand, the stones, laid flat, made us think immediately of a clock face or a zodiac map… and ‘time’ is something most people have come up with when we have taken them there.

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The cove itself is an unusual find within a stone circle. Its stones might have been standing at some point, like the gnomon of a sundial perhaps? It looks as if it would then form a central, upright horseshoe around ten to fifteen feet across, with the open end facing a midsummer moonset. A skeleton was also found buried close to the cove during excavations at the start of the 20th century.

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It was here we sat and waited, once again, for our companions to return. We did not track the time… time matters little in such a place, but they were gone a good while before, one by one, they began to drift back and join us quietly at the cove. We waited still, unprepared to rush those who stayed out longer, before sounding a chime to bring them back. Three chimes, echoing around the circle and sounding right in a way it is hard to describe.

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When all had returned and shared what they wished to share, we joined for a final time in a simple rite of healing and communion, hand in hand around the cove. We had unwittingly timed things perfectly again; as we were finishing and preparing to leave the circle, a large party of walkers arrived to whom our behaviour would undoubtedly have seemed a tad unusual. We are seldom interrupted by the unsympathetic in such moments; as if the intent itself in enough to shield our privacy, even in the middle of a busy tourist site.  Hekas Hekas Este Bebeloi! We left the circle, walking between the serpent stones that led us back out into the world.

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Circles Beyond Time – Mysterious mounds

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The weather was surprisingly good. Normally when we visit this particular site it is freezing cold, driving rain or both, for the last stretch of our journey would take us to Arbor Low, one of the finest ancient sites in Derbyshire and certainly the best known. It is often referred to as the Stonehenge of the north, yet it bears little resemblance to that great circle, on the surface at least. The similarities are more subtle than that and anyone expecting towering pylons of stone are in for a disappointment. On the other hand, it does closely resemble the better known site in other respects. The ritual landscape of which it is a part is potentially enormous. Mysteries abound and yet, unlike Stonehenge, here they have not been thoroughly plotted, excavated or investigated and what little is known is open to renewed interpretation in light of the discoveries and understanding we have gleaned over the past century. Even English Heritage in whose care the site now rests and who provide the information boards for visitors, admit that we know little and understand even less.

Image: Google maps

We crossed the farmyard which is the only way to access the site, paying our coins in an echo of an age-old rite of passage. Rather than heading for the obvious gate, and knowing the site well, we cut across the fields, following the path that most would take to exit the site. We had always done so before, but on our last visit, in the company of our friend Running Elk, we had kicked ourselves for not realising that here too, as at Barbrook, the accepted, clockwise path around the site runs the wrong way. This time, though, that deduction wasn’t based on some nebulous feeling of rightness alone, but on the layout of the site itself…and it made perfect sense.

We were heading first for Gib Hill. At first glance it looks odd. It is neither a standard shape for a round barrow, nor for a long barrow. If anything, it more closely resembles in shape the type of mound usually dismissed as a ‘castle’… or a diminutive version of Silbury Hill. It stands at some distance from the circle and is thought to be the oldest surviving feature of the site. The strange shape of the mound has an equally strange explanation. It was originally a Neolithic barrow. The Neolithic period in Britain covers the period from around 6000 to around 4,500 years ago and was followed by the Early Bronze Age, which lasted until around 800 BC. During the Early Bronze Age, a second, round barrow, was built on top of one end of the older mound and it is this superimposition that has altered the shape of Gib Hill.

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The mound was excavated in 1824 by William Bateman, who seems to have owned the field. Along with flints and a stone axe, he found that the earlier long barrow was made of layers of clay mixed with charcoal and cremated human bones. In 1848 his son, the antiquary Thomas Bateman, who became known as “The Barrow Knight” for his propensity for digging up these ancient mounds, dug a tunnel into the barrow, finding flints and the bones of oxen in the lower layers. Nearing the completion of his tunnel, a stone burial cyst fell through its roof containing a human cremation and an urn. Bateman appropriated the cyst and re-erected it in the grounds of his home at Lomberdale House. It has now been replaced in the mound and its capstone is visible on its summit.

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The name, Gib Hill, would normally imply that a gibbet once stood there but there are conflicting opinions on this. Most, including English Heritage, say there is no evidence for a gibbet. Others maintain that one stood there in the 18th century. They were usually placed where they would do most good as a deterrent and although there is an old Roman road close by and the main turnipike road from which Gib Hill can be seen, it does run at quite some distance from the mound and there are other mounds, at least, if not more prominent on the surrounding hills that would have been more visible. Only the antiquity of the site would have made Gib Hill a ‘good’ choice.

Gib Hill, it would appear, has another name locally too and one I did not come across until I started researching for this article. It is known as ‘the serpent’, which, in light of what was to come, was something of a surprise… and another one of those very odd synchronicities that attended the weekend.

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Arbor Low

The other mounds are curious, topping almost every one of the hills in the area that can be seen from Gib Hill. Whether they are all recognised as  ancient tumuli or not, they do seem to form an integral part of the landscape as seen from this point. Considering that Arbor Low has a ‘sister’ site at the Bull Ring in Dove Holes about ten miles away, this scale of work across the landscape cannot be discounted and it is seen in so many other parts of the country, including at Stonehenge; that famous site is more than just the iconic circle and it is accepted that it stretches for many miles across the Wiltshire landscape.

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Bull Ring

We climbed the mound, explaining our thoughts on the landscape and pointing out the features that could be seen from its summit, including what appears to be the remains of another henge in the field beside it. We showed our companions the mounds that top the surrounding hills and where the earthen embankment runs that seems to form an avenue between Gib Hill and the stone circle. We spoke too of our theories on how these mounds could have been seen by our ancestors as gateways to the Otherworld…and how they could have been used by the shamans or priesthood.

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Apart from the mound itself and a few of the stones that surround it, there is little to see of the site, though much to feel.  You can see how the avenue leads into this side of the stone circle, rather than following the accepted clockwise route. And it is only from here that you begin to get a true sense of the stone circle that lies invisible behind the high banks of the henge. From here, those banks look like a sleeping female form…and from here we would follow the course of the avenue to enter the circle from the ‘head’, swallowed by the goddess, who would, when we were done, bring us to a symbolic re-birth into the world.

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September…

Circles beyond time – Seeking the Seer

September 2016

If you have been enjoying the recent posts about the Silent Eye’s weekend workshop in Wales…why not join us in September for our autumn weekend amid the hills and stone circles of Derbyshire…

heather 2015 derbyshire, higger tor, beeley circle, edensor, bak 045

An ancient landscape, shrouded in mystery… strewn with stones and the last of the summer heather…scattered with sites of ancient sanctity.

Stone circles… an enigmatic fortress rising from the bracken like a ship to carry mind and imagination back beyond the veiling mists.

Time becomes fluid, marked in shadows cast by standing stones. Stories carved in millstone grit by ancient hands come to life beneath the racing clouds… and all around is beauty.

Derbyshire 1

Join us in September as the seasons turn once more to walk forgotten pathways across the moors to circles  lost in the bracken. Learn of the dreams of a mysterious  Seer, a lifetime echoed in stone and whispered through time as we explore the sacred landscape of Derbyshire. In the solitude of the moors, the voices of the past seem to reach through the land and touch your heart, finding there a continuous thread of light that winds through the ages as each soul asks its own questions, the same questions that have been asked for millennia.

Based around the Fox House, Hathersage, we will spend the weekend exploring some of the neolithic  and sacred sites of the area, culminating in a trip to Arbor Low, the ‘Stonehenge of the north’. Each attendee will be asked to bring a short reading or to share a story that seems appropriate to the moment and we will talk as we walk, finding inspiration in the land and in our companions.

These events are not large, just a small and intimate group and a warm, informal atmosphere.

For those thinking of attending the Silent Eye’s Annual Workshop, The Feathered Seer, at Great Hucklow in April 2017, Circles Beyond Time will be of particular relevance as the story that will unfold during The Feathered Seer will be set in this particular part of the ancient landscape.

Arbor Low and Stanton Moor Imbolc 001 (16)

When: Weekend of 9th to 11th September 2016.

Where: Based at the Fox House inn near Hathersage, Derbyshire, England.

Who: An informal weekend with the Silent Eye, open to all who wish to attend.

Cost: £50 per person, accommodation and meals are not included and should be booked separately.

Why: Explore an ancient and sacred landscape and how it is still relevant to each of us today.

How: Email us at rivingtide@gmail.com to reserve your place.

Where the stones whisper…

 

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“They say the stones sleep. That they are old and forgotten… voiceless.

Is it so, little sister? Are they silent…or do they dream, the long, slow dreaming of aeons.

They were old when they were brought here. Older than memory. Older than time.

Their song never sleeps… it is we who live too fast.

I too am old…older than your dreams. Older than death.

Yet you hear me whisper on the wind…

My words reach your heart as you walk the circle.

Sit with me. Feel the sun-warmed stone at your back… and listen…”

heather

Join us for a weekend amid the stone circles and ancient places in September.

Circles Beyond Time: Seeking the Seer

Meeting at the Fox House Inn between 4 and 5pm, we will drive to the top of nearby Higger Tor, where, from the stone strewn summit, we will watch as the sun sets in the west and begin a journey in imagination that will carry us back in time before returning to the Fox House for dinner.

Saturday morning will begin with an early walk to a mysterious and baffling site that rises from the surrounding hillsides like a ship in sail. There we will share the wonder of dawn over the valley.

After breakfast, a short drive will take us to an enigmatic standing stone and an ancient settlement with strange and magical figures carved into the stones.

Lunch at a local pub will be followed by an afternoon exploring a vast and intriguing landscape, dotted with traces of the ancient past and crowned with stone circles.

We will gather for dinner once more at a nearby inn.

On Sunday morning, a drive through the Derbyshire landscape will take us via the Monsal valley to Arbor Low, the great stone circle known as the Stonehenge of the North.

We will use a variety of meditative techniques and exercises, including dowsing, at each of these sites to explore the spiritual legacy of the builders of these monuments and the traces they have left upon our landscape and imagination.

If you are arriving by public transport, there will be plenty of room in our cars to get from site to site. We would suggest bringing suitable clothing for walking and changeable weather; although the distances involved are not great, we will be walking uneven paths across the hills and moors. The weekend will formally close with lunch at a local pub. For those wishing to extend their time in a landscape so rich in both beauty and history there is plenty to see, from the magnificence of Chatsworth to the serenity of the small village churches, stone circles and historic towns…

heather 2015 derbyshire, higger tor, beeley circle, edensor, bak 045

When: Weekend of 9th to 11th September 2016.

Where: Based at the Fox House inn near Hathersage, Derbyshire, England.

Who: An informal weekend with the Silent Eye, open to all who wish to attend.

Cost: £50 per person, accommodation and meals are not included and should be booked separately.

Why: Explore an ancient and sacred landscape and how it is still relevant to each of us today.

How: Email us at rivingtide@gmail.com to reserve your place or download a pdf booking form here.

Circles beyond time

heather 2015 derbyshire, higger tor, beeley circle, edensor, bak 045

An ancient landscape, shrouded in mystery… strewn with stones and the last of the summer heather…scattered with sites of ancient sanctity.

Stone circles… an enigmatic fortress rising from the bracken like a ship to carry mind and imagination back beyond the veiling mists.

Time becomes fluid, marked in shadows cast by standing stones. Stories carved in millstone grit by ancient hands come to life beneath the racing clouds… and all around is beauty.

Derbyshire 1

Join us in September as the seasons turn once more to walk forgotten pathways across the moors to circles  lost in the bracken. Learn of the dreams of a mysterious  Seer, a lifetime echoed in stone and whispered through time as we explore the sacred landscape of Derbyshire. In the solitude of the moors, the voices of the past seem to reach through the land and touch your heart, finding there a continuous thread of light that winds through the ages as each soul asks its own questions, the same questions that have been asked for millennia.

Based around the Fox House, Hathersage, we will spend the weekend exploring some of the neolithic  and sacred sites of the area, culminating in a trip to Arbor Low, the ‘Stonehenge of the north’. Each attendee will be asked to bring a short reading or to share a story that seems appropriate to the moment and we will talk as we walk, finding inspiration in the land and in our companions.  These events are not large, just a small and intimate group and a warm, informal atmosphere.

Arbor Low and Stanton Moor Imbolc 001 (16)

When: Weekend of 9th to 11th September 2016.

Where: Based at the Fox House inn near Hathersage, Derbyshire, England.

Who: An informal weekend with the Silent Eye, open to all who wish to attend.

Cost: £50 per person, accommodation and meals are not included and should be booked separately.

Why: Explore an ancient and sacred landscape and how it is still relevant to each of us today.

How: Email us at rivingtide@gmail.com to reserve your place.