Full Circle: The final curtain…

On most of our workshop weekends, we offer a ‘greeting of the dawn’ at one of the ancient sites. The winter workshops are perfect for this as the sun rises so much later, but as we are at the mercy of the season, the weather and the time local hotels serve breakfast, these are always optional. Usually we choose a place we would not otherwise get to visit, but this time, really, there was only one place to choose… Castlerigg. The stone circle nestles within a circle of hills and there can be few more spectacular settings for an ancient and sacred site.

Not everyone relishes such an early start, and we had made it clear that this would be a brief visit, just for the dawn… we would be gathering there later to end the official part of the weekend. Nevertheless, almost everyone chose to come and greet the birth of morning.

It was still almost dark when the first of us arrived, getting the circle briefly to ourselves. Others arrived shortly afterwards, both from our own party and fellow travellers. It soon became obvious that although we would be there for the dawn, we would not be able to stay for the sunrise. The mountains of the Lake District that ring the circle would not reveal the sun’s face for some time, as it climbed behind the bulk of Helvellyn.

As we gathered to sing a chant to the sun, marking its still-invisible rising, Steve invited three gentlemen who were obviously of our own mind in these matters to join us. We frequently share these sites with others, but we have yet to meet anyone unsympathetic or disrespectful of what we do… and you can usually tell those who will join with us for a moment. Seeds of possibility are planted when you follow such promptings… and these seeds we would see come to fruition later that day.

After we had greeted the sun, we all headed back to our hotels for breakfast and for most to check out. It was typical that our road led us to a gap in the hills where we did see the sun rise in splendour. It would take another hour in the circle, but at least we were able to stop and experience a moment’s glory.

Later, we gathered once more at Castlerigg. This time, we explored the stones, speaking a little of the five thousand year history of the site, its solar alignments and the curious effect where the shapes of the stones shadow the contours of the hills.

We spoke too of resonance… that curious phenomenon where the vibrations in one object will set off a similar vibration in another. We attempted to demonstrate with tuning forks, but the wind…and our lightweight tuning forks… made it almost impossible to hear the sympathetic vibrations. We had used sound at the sacred sites over the weekend in a very simple form. We have used it at other locations in various forms too and each time felt we were brushing the edges of something. How important was sound  and resonance in these circles where the greater reality was recreated in microcosmic form? It was something to ponder.

The theme of our weekend had been ‘finding the way home’. Could the world of our ancestors be considered ‘home’… that staring point of any journey? What did they see as ‘home’? Were these circles designed, at least in part, to allow our ancestors to access the Otherworld… the realm of the stars or the hollow hills…and were these seen as aspects of the same state of being? These are questions to which each must find their own answers, perhaps, but it may be that in asking such questions, we find something we did not know we had lost.

In the shelter of the tallest stone, there was a final meditation, placing ourselves as points of light within the Web of Light, where the heavens and the earth meet, shaped by the energies of star realm and our physical home, one with Creation. There was a simple sharing of the symbolic elements of life… and then it was time to leave. The wind was bitter now that the sun had risen, and a coach full of tourists had just arrived.

We drove to Keswick in search of warmth and coffee, after which life began to call the party back from wherever we had been, somewhere outside of time for a little while. Some took their leave and went off to explore, others shared lunch and wandered down to the lake.

Steve lives in the area and knows Keswick well. We walked along the edge of the park to where he could show us his favourite view. The rise of the land hid the town as he stood with the hills at his back, while before us, the afternoon sun sparkled on Derwentwater, reminding us how short the winter day would be. Walking back to the cars, we took our leave of each other. Most were returning home, but we still had a place or two left to visit… but that is another story.

(Click the highlighted links in the text for more on Castlerigg and its history and a demonstration of sympathetic resonance on Youtube)

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The Silent Eye runs three informal workshops in the landscape each year as well as a residential workshop every April. If you are interested in coming along, further details can be found on our Events page.

Full Circle: Long Meg


Our final site of the day was to be one of the most astonishing circles we have visited. It is not the biggest, nor are the stones themselves the largest, but it has a ‘feel’ unlike any other. Castlerigg, which we would visit on our final day of the workshop, may rightly be accounted one of the most beautiful of circles, but what Long Meg and her Daughters lack in aesthetics, they more than make up for in sheer presence.

On our very first visit, the light had been going and the winter dusk had been bitterly cold. We thought we knew what to expect…after all, we had seen enough photographs of the place. I had even a vague memory of having been taken there as a child. Yet, we had rounded the corner and been ambushed by the stones. Getting out of the car, we had literally bounced with excitement, like children at Christmas. The site was more, far more, than we had expected.


For a start, the narrow farm track that is signposted for the ‘Druid Circle’ gives no warning when you are about to arrive. It does not stop at the edge of an enclosure or parking space… it carries on, straight through the circle, skirting stones that divide the track at one point. When we arrived with our party for the workshop, our passenger too felt that ‘psychic shock’ and was, moments later, out of the car and bouncing up and down like an excited child.

The short winter’s day was drawing to a close and we would be in the circle at sundown. Unlike our last visit, equipped with cameras, the fading light would not linger and we lost no time in sending our party out to explore and attune with the stones.

Captured from Google Earth

The circle is huge, the sixth largest in Northern Europe, and not really a circle at all. It is an oval, formed from the geometric form of the vesica, and some three hundred and forty feet across its longest axis. Although legends say that it is bad luck to try and count the stones, the usual count puts them at fifty nine stones still in situ out of the seventy original stones. The whole thing was once surrounded by a low embankment, which may have been white-faced with gypsum, allowing it to glow.

Long Meg herself is the solitary standing stone who watches over her ‘daughters’, which are the stones of this Bronze Age circle. Legend says a coven of witches were put to sleep and petrified by a Scottish wizard named Michael Scot. His surname may indicate his origin north of the border, but Michael harks back to the Saint of that name who is so often shown with the dragon held quiescent on the point of his lance. The dragon power of old Albion, associated with the leys, was seen as pagan and therefore ‘evil’ by nascent Christianity and knowledge of its ways driven underground. Perhaps the dragons, like the stones, merely sleep…


The circle was built as part of the megalithic tradition which began around five and a half thousand years ago. The exact date of the circle and the surrounding enclosures and embankments is uncertain and its precise purpose is unknown, though much can be deduced. For a people who, like our ancestors, constructed interrelated sites across vast swathes of the landscape, it is probable that there is a relationship between this site and others in the area, including Little Meg, two fields away, and the henges we had visited. Not far away is the sacred landscape and Avenue at Shap… and you have to wonder if, as at Avebury and Stonehenge, these features formed part of a greater plan…and if so, did it echo the map of the heavens as our ancestors once saw it?

There are larger stones in circles across the country, but the stones are far from small. The four quarter-stones are not local and are quartz-bearing. Most circles are built from a single type of stone, perhaps with a quartz-bearing stone, or even an entire boulder of quartz, such as we had seen at Boscawen-Un. Here, however, Long Meg herself is a column of red sandstone that sparkles in the sunlight and which, with the quartz-rocks, differs from the rest of the circle. The technology of stone as it was known to our ancestors may be lost to us, but we have echoes in the use of crystal for both healing and communications technologies. Their choices of stone were not only deliberate but significant.


The arrangement of the stones suggests a calendrical function that would work by standing outside the circle and sighting across to the quartz stones. Long Meg herself, standing outside the circle, is part of a Samhain alignment with a portal stone and one of the quartz rocks.

Long Meg is a magnificent presence. Standing twelve feet tall, she is ‘tattooed’ with concentric circles and her uppermost surface is notched in the manner we have so often seen. This may be simple erosion, as is often averred, or the weather may have exaggerated an existing feature, but whenever we see this kind of notch we are struck by its similarity to the sight on an old-fashioned firearm. And this, we believe, was its function.

Between anecdotal observations and the mathematical precision survey work such as that conducted by Professor Thom’s, a good many astronomical alignments have been proposed and observed, indicating alignments at solstice and equinox and particularly with Deneb, the brightest star in the constellation Cygnus. Deneb heads the Northern Cross in the heavens and, along with Vega and Altair, is one of the three stars known as the Summer Triangle that was used for navigation right up until the twentieth century, helping pilots find their way home. There are physical alignments within the landscape too and while the entrance to the circle frames the hills, their form is shadowed in he contours of the stones.

As the day drew to its end, we gathered around Long Meg, focussing our minds and breathing. Closing our eyes, we once more sounded our ‘words of truth’, this time giving voice to the vowels which are the flowing seeds of sound. It is odd, but the voice changes when you work in this way; sound emerges unrecognisable from your throat as if illuminating hidden corners of your being. The words ‘breath of Creation’ passed through my mind, listening to the anonymous voices joined in unplanned harmony.

As we ended our day, the light failed and the clouds broke, allowing a final glimpse of the sun setting behind Long Meg. Wishing I had not left the camera in the car, I reached for my phone, just to mark the moment. The stones were alive, glad, I felt, for our presence and glowing faintly in the twilight as the sky itself offered us a final gift.

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…

Full Circle: Sooth-saying

We had not far to go to our next site.  Just a short distance away from Arthur’s Round Table and the remains of the Little Round Table is yet a third monument, Mayburgh Henge. Along with the now-destroyed stone circle at Brougham Hall, these ancient sites are undoubtedly linked.

To have four such important sites in proximity argues for there having been a substantial community in the area at the time they were constructed. The work alone that was involved in their building would have taken a lot of manpower, organisation and cooperation.

One thing we have noted on our travels through the ancient sites of this land is that prehistoric communities tended to build their tombs and sacred sites…portals to the Otherworld… on the ‘other side’, quite literally, separating the lands of the living and the dead by building on opposite banks of running water. There is an old tradition that witches and their curses cannot cross a running stream; is it possible that this idea could be a corrupted folk memory?

From1769 original by Thomas Pennant

The three henges and the stone circle all sit within a triangle of land at the confluence of two rivers, effectively cutting them off from the rest of the land. This would suggest that these were indeed sacred sites, not merely gathering places or cattle pens, and the sheer size and construction of Mayburgh argues that this was a very special place to our ancestors.

Mayburgh is technically not a henge at all, as, rather than being a site of earthen banks and ditches, it is constructed of over 5 million cobblestones, carried from the nearby River Eamont. It is possible that there was originally just a stone circle here and that the embankment was erected later to enclose it. Barrowclough points out that the pebbles were deliberately chosen for their colour, and “the visual impact…awe inspiring…The use of this combination of coloured stones relates to the deliberate symbolic incorporation of the Neolithic worlds of the living and the dead through solar and lunar rituals that incorporate water.” As with many such sites, there is an ancient spring close by.

Captured from Google Earth, the image gives some idea of scale

Only one of the central standing stones now remain, but there were once four stones of similar size within the henge, as well as four portal stones at the entrance. An early account of the site says that locals told antiquarian, Robert Hutchinson in 1773 that there had once been two other stones in the central space, “placed in a kind of angular figure with the stone now remaining, were to be seen there, but as they were hurtful to the ground, were destroyed and removed.” ‘Hurtful to the ground’? That is a very curious turn of phrase…

Like many of the sites we visit, Mayburgh has astronomical alignments, in this case, the entrance is due east of the centre of the henge, and frames the rising of the equinoctial sun, while the view from the interior of the enclosure shows the summit of Blencathra where the equinoctial sun sets. If the four stones of the interior were related to the points of the compass, perhaps the portal stones may have allowed them to be used as sighting stones too?

We led our companions through the portal and allowed them to explore, while we took up our places near the central standing stone, which towered above us both in height and presence. The trees on the embankment have a curious vibrancy… even those that have been pruned seem to dance and welcome us into their embrace.

When everyone re-gathered at the stone, we began an exercise that would continue at several sites throughout the day. Each chose, at random, a word with an attached ‘intent’ from a selection we had prepared and, continuing to build on the web of light visualisation that we had begun some years ago, a small gemstone into which we asked them to ‘infuse’ their intent, creating a seed of light. We sent them off to the outer limits of the henge and asked them to speak this ‘word of truth’ to the winds, giving voice to the intent and making it their own.

It is curious how many of these apparently random selections seem to find their mark, resonating with something in those who participate. It is, perhaps, no more than a recognition of something hitherto unvoiced, or an elucidation of something already known, but it is strange, nonetheless.

Curious too are the acoustics within the henge. While most shouted their word outwards, I faced both outwards and inwards… and not a breath of sound reached me from any of my companions.

When we gathered once more for the final meditation, with one of our number commenting upon the presence of thousands of souls that she felt in that place, the whole henge was ‘buzzing’.  Nothing was planned, but it seemed perfectly natural for Stuart and I to take up the portal positions as we filed out of the site, treating the space within as sacred and offering our thanks for its use.  It felt right.

We were in need of grounding and, in spite of rain showers, we seemed to have managed to spend the whole morning between the two sites. Thankfully, our next stop was a pink watermill that offered lunch… and from there we would head onwards to our first stone circle, where we would continue to work with the seeds of light…

Full Circle: Finding the way home?

In spite of the rainbow that had greeted our arrival in Cumbria, the skies looked none too promising as we gathered beneath the shelter of the park gate in Penrith. The chill winds of December had brought showers, but at least, for the first afternoon, there would be a little cover. We could only hope that the following day would bring better weather.  Not that rain would stop us. Since the downpour we had encountered in Scotland, we had accepted that rain was a natural benediction… a blessing and a cleansing beyond the gift of Man and, therefore, a perfect way to start a weekend of spiritual exploration.

We had chosen to begin at Penrith Castle, built between 1399 and 1470, probably on the site of a much earlier Roman encampment, as part of the defences against raiders from Scotland. Once thought to have been first built by William Strickland, who later become Bishop of Carlisle, it is now thought that the most likely builder was Richard Neville, Earl of Salisbury. The castle’s main claim to fame, though, is that in 1471, it became a home for Richard, Duke of Gloucester who would go down in history as King Richard III of England, and it was this concept of ‘home’ that was to play such a large part in our weekend.

First off, we would need to think about what the concept of ‘home’ might mean. The obvious answer might be a brick-and mortar-structure, or the people within it. Could a castle be a home? Even in this dilapidated state, we found enough reminders of our own homes; kitchens, hearths and wide windows designed, not for defence, but for comfort.

Like everything that we take for granted, though, there are layers of meaning and, even such a simple idea as ‘home’ might mean a multitude of things, from the land upon which we walk to a more abstract concept of the source of being.  We gathered, in part, to seek our own answers to such questions.

We had chosen the castle not just for its history or its almost alien homeliness, but for another reason too. It is one of those places that ‘jumps out’ at you when you see it for the first time. We were to visit several sites that had that surprising ‘wow’ factor that goes beyond physical appearance alone, a phenomenon we have variously referred to as a ‘psychic shock’, a ‘kick’, and, as one of our Companions put it, a ‘gut-punch’. Almost impossible to describe, it is equally impossible to mistake or ignore when it happens.

The cause? Who knows. Perhaps it has something to do with the placement of these sites on energy lines…and that was something else we would be looking at over the weekend. Telluric currents… earth energies… are real, not speculative energies. Leys and alignments may be argued, as may the purpose and positioning on these lines of so many ancient structures worldwide, but the existence of earth energies is well established. We do not fully understand their nature or potential use, any more than we understand our own ability to shape, direct, augment or sense their presence, but there is sufficient scientific evidence for their existence to leave many questions open to be answered.

Are we sensitive to unseen energies? Why not? Birds navigate across the globe when they migrate… other animals use methods of navigation and communication that seem alien and almost incomprehensible to a species that has long since divorced itself from its animal nature, deeming it too primitive to be explored. We are constantly reading and reacting to unseen signals, from the chemical signatures of moods sensed as smells, to changes in barometric pressure. That we might have a sensitivity to the earth upon which we walk seems feasible. ‘Feeling beyond form’ was another aspect of what we wanted to explore.

We allowed our companions time to explore the castle before gathering beneath the arch of the Red Tower. There are the remains of a White Tower too… and red and white are the colours of the Dragons of Albion, who, in legend, fought beneath Vortigern’s Tower until Merlin stilled their battle…and the dragons have been used to symbolise earth energies since time out of mind.

And then there was the Arthurian connection, for the castle at Penrith, according to some of the old tales, was one of his seats. His ‘round table’  was on our list of sites to visit too, and not far away, at Arthuret, the Merlin had killed his nephew during one of the Three Futile Battles of Britain, sending the mage mad with grief and guilt… In a curious ‘coincidence’, I had just been sent a photograph of the place to which he had supposedly withdrawn during his madness.

We gathered beneath the Red Tower to share and begin to explore the ideas everyone brought to the proverbial table, affirming our intent for the weekend with a simple meditation. It had, we felt, been a good beginning…and our next site was just a short walk away…

 

Fair weather…

I journeyed from darkness to light, driving through the dawn as the blackness greyed. The silhouettes of trees slowly detached themselves from the night as the sun attempted to pierce a pall of cloud that flushed to palest rose before refusing its touch. Beneath the iron sky, there was little sign of warmth and joy. I wondered how many people would see the same sun gilding the tops of the clouds as they looked out from planes soaring high above the gloom.

The layer of cloud separated two worlds… two realities. Mine was uniformly grey, above, it would be blue and gold, and both were real, both valid… both true. A simple shift in perspective, a few thousand feet, and the appearance of the world and the morning would be completely different.

You could, I mused, say the same of the weekend. A few days, a few hundred miles and a slight shift in perspective have made all the difference.

When we headed north, we had what we thought was going to be the itinerary for the December workshop. By the time we came back, it had morphed and evolved into something rather different from what we had initially planned. The land itself had showed us a different perspective, laughing at our preconceptions, yet, instead of our carefully-laid plans being upset, they had fallen into place in a way that made much more sense.

This is one of the reasons why our research trips are so important. It is not just a case of gathering practical information, like opening times, parking charges and refreshment breaks, it is about walking the planned weekend, making sure it works and leaving space for the landscape to make suggestions of its own.

This time, one of the sites around which we had planned part of the weekend turned out to be a non-starter… but as three other sites decided they wanted to be included instead… two of them jaw-droppingly good and one of them holding a perfect bit of symbolism… we simply adjusted our perspective and changed our plans. In essence, they remain the same, though the details have substantially changed from our original design. When the land makes itself heard, it would be rude not to listen.

We were exceptionally lucky with the weather, catching a perfect dawn and a perfect sunset over the ancient and sacred landscape where we will be working.  We can only hope the weather will be as good for the workshop weekend, knowing that whatever the weather, it will be a perfect day above the clouds. Perhaps we can bring that knowledge down into the day somehow. So now, with three weeks to go, we have more research to do…