Full Circle: Spiral dance

We squelched through the mud at the gateway to the field, following the fence down to a tiny stone circle that is unknown to most casual visitors. Just a third of a mile from its big sister, the tiny cairn circle of Little Meg is one of the least known circles in the area and yet it is, with Long Meg and nearby Glassonby, one of only three in the area that has ancient carvings on its stones.

Technically, Little Meg is not a stone circle. When it was first discovered by antiquarians, it was buried within a mound of earth, making it the internal structure of a burial mound and the excavations revealed bones, charcoal and an urn, buried in a cist at the centre. The stones may, perhaps, have originally been a circle that was covered over, but the preservation of the symbols on one of the stones suggests that they were carved not too long before it was buried. There were once two decorated stones at the site, though only one now remains, carved with a spiral that flows into a series of concentric circles. The second is in Penrith museum and is carved with deep cups surrounded by concentric circles.

There is no way of knowing for certain what these carvings represented to our ancestors, and many theories have been put forward, from simple decoration to seasonal, star and energy maps. The odd thing is that, if these were purely decorative, why go to the trouble of carving into stone what could have been painted? And why were they buried beneath the mound of earth that once covered this cairn, where only the dead would see them?

We believe it was for this very reason, so that the dead… who were not thought of as ‘entirely’ dead, but were seen as Ancestors, with a presence and purpose within the clan… could see them. Were they, perhaps, a map for the journey home?

Whatever their purpose, when we had first visited the circle on our ‘recce’ trip, expecting only a few tumbled stones, we were wide-eyed at what we found. The carvings are quite crisp considering that they date back to the Bronze Age…and standing in their presence, under an open sky, is a strange and awe-inspiring feeling.

The stones were moved somewhat from their original positions during the excavation, and yet the familiar form of the ‘tailed’ entrance into the circle remains. There was a report of another  and similar cairn close by, but no trace now remains of this. Not far away is the small Glassonby circle that we would not have time to visit. It too has a stone carved with concentric circles and angular patterns…and here too, the design is placed so that only the dead will see it.

For now, though, and in spite of the remains of a bird within the circle, this was a place of the living, not the dead, where the ends of time could be connected through the medium of the human heart and voice.

Once more we sent our companions out into the field to speak their words to the winds. This time, however, we had asked them to seek the ‘seed’ of their word… the seed of words in general. At a previous workshop we had considered how, if you knew how to ‘send’ and ‘receive’ along the leys, one might, theoretically, be able to send a message by a type of Morse code, interrupting the current and letting it flow into the energetic ‘dots and dashes’ that could be interpreted when it reached its destination. We compared this to the role of vowel and consonant in words. The vowels flow while the consonants interrupt the flow. We have experimented with chanting at ancient sites over the past few years; was this, we wondered, relevant to why some chants work better in certain places? Those that are made up of pure vowel sounds, in contrast to those where the flow is ‘cut’ by consonants.

Gathering once more, we shared a short meditation, building upon the imagery of the web of light, connecting it to the realm of the stars… and wondering how closely the constellations of stones might shadow those of the heavens if we but knew how to look…

Circles Beyond Time – Cairnfields

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There are some places that seem to have a timeless quality. As if, when you step within their atmosphere, you step beyond the constraints of place and time; you could be anywhere…and anywhen. This little stretch of moor is such a place. Patches of heather were still in full bloom, stones lie hidden in the bracken and reeds, quite appropriately, mark the path of underground streams.

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We had gathered for lunch on Baslow, just a few minutes’ drive away and taken a little time out to settle after the morning at Gardom’s. The afternoon would be spent amongst the cairns and circles of Barbrook. It is a strange place. At first glance… and if you stick to the wide track across the moor… there seems to be little to see. Yet this small area is rich in archaeology. Like most of the Derbyshire sites, the stones are small and little shows above the summer vegetation, unless you know where to look. But almost as soon as you step onto the moor, you begin to feel it.

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We left the main track immediately; that had been put in place for modern access. We headed west, following a path we had found when the vegetation was lower by following the stones into the moor. Going that way also means that you complete the circle widdershins, rather than deosil… anti-clockwise, against the movement of the sun, rather than clockwise. To those of us who have studied and worked in the Western Mysteries or magical traditions, this really did ‘go against the grain’ at first, but we have found that at many of the older sites, this seems to be the natural way to move around them. As Helen said when this subject had been raised, perhaps the coming of Christianity and the subsequent demonisation of earlier pagan practices accounts for why moving widdershins has been associated with darker paths and bad luck. Another factor may be that the majority of the ancient sites we visit were built either for ritual or as part of the realm of the dead. Both would have been seen as gateways to the Otherworld that runs ‘at a tangent’ to our own… and perhaps that is why they require the opposite approach from sites pertaining to the lands of the living. Oddly enough, we still walk instinctively clockwise when we visit a church. It as if the site itself dictates the ritual of movement, if you listen.

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As we walked, we pointed out the remains of the Swine Sty hut circles and settlement site, over on the opposite side of the little valley that is divided by Bar Brook. These were once the lands of the living, which often seem to be separated by running water from the ritual landscape, and yet it feels far less welcoming than the cairn field where we now walked. There are around eighty cairns on this side of the brook, making up part of a Bronze Age necropolis. Some are thought to be clearance cairns, some are burial sites and, when the bracken is low, they can be clearly seen. Some have been robbed over the centuries, either for stone or from curiosity and their internal structure and the cysts they contain can be clearly seen. Most have never been legally excavated and the whole area is now a designated Scheduled Ancient Monument.

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The first major structure we came to was the large cairn behind the stone circle that would be our last stop of the afternoon. This particular  cairn was excavated and reconstructed around fifty years ago, the structure having been much disturbed in previous centuries by the amateur  antiquarians who were the precursors of our modern archaeologists. Four carved stones were found there and removed to Sheffield’s museum.  Cremated bones and pottery sherds from a collared urn were also found, along with an urn with the cremated remains of a child. So many unanswered questions in this one cairn! And with so many cairns, where so many of our ancestors were once laid to rest how many stories could this land whisper? It was perhaps a fitting start to our journey across a moor that holds at least four thousand years of human history, walking between the heather-covered cairns towards a very strange stone circle…

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