Riddles of the Night: The Temple of Hewn Stone II

Traditional initiation ceremonies tend to follow a roughly similar outline. The initiand is put through a series of symbolic trials, including the acceptance of mortality, each designed to test resolve and dedication, before symbolically ‘dying’ to their old self and being ‘reborn’ into the new. The landscape of Rowtor Rocks lends itself perfectly to the traditional scenario and, as part of the workshop, we demonstrated this by walking through a mock initiation ceremony. We cannot say that we reproduced what did take place, but the symbolism of the landscape dictated the form and it worked perfectly to demonstrate what could have taken place there.

The candidate is first led past the Guardian’s seat… to a rock shaped like a skull, into the top of which a square font has been cut. There is a sheltered ledge cut into the rock close by where they could wait to be called… or upon which they could be laid as if in a tomb.  Through a portal built of cut stone, the land opens out onto a level area that contains three caves. The first and largest is natural, but contains twin Columns that were added by masons. In many traditions, and particularly in Masonic traditions, the twin Columns of the Temple of Solomon, Boaz and Jachin, are remembered.

At the far end of the plateau is the smallest cavern, with a low entrance that requires a bowing of the head. It is a perfect antechamber and a low wall in front of it would make it possible for a blindfolded candidate to exit safely, without falling down the sheer cliff in front of it, ready to be led to the central cave, known as the Condemned Man’s Cell which is also a ‘birthing chamber’.

The entrance to the cave is narrow and distinctly feminine in shape. Once inside, there is only blackness and echoes. A little light shows an alcove, in which the acoustics are exceptional; chant in that alcove and the sound vibrates through every pore of rock, bone and flesh. There is a single, small hole drilled through the outer wall of the cave… and one can imagine the spiritual and symbolic effect of seeing a point of light in the blackness.

The cave can be seen as both tomb and womb, as birth and death are but the two sides of a single coin, and each contains the other. From the Cell, there is a steep, narrow staircase of boulders to climb, also very feminine, and the initiand emerges, reborn, into the light. The steps are difficult…it takes a ‘leap of faith’ to ascend, and as faith can move mountains, so the initiand, coming into his inner strength, can move the great ovoid rocking stone that awaits.

From here, there is a choice of path to reach a goal only glimpsed from below… the Broken Column. When they have chosen, they arrive at a sheltered bench. Were the ceremony to take place just before dawn, from this spot they would watch the sun rise in splendour over the octagonal turret of the church. Stepping forward and turning, they would find themselves beneath the Broken Column. Steps lead up onto the highest level of the rocks, yet do not allow access to the Column which seems held in a mighty hand. In Masonic tradition, the Broken Column represents Hiram Abiff, the murdered architect of the Temple of Solomon, as well as the unfinished work of the Temple itself. The symbol is explained as part of the ritual of the Master Masons degree. In Qabalistic terms, a tradition in which we ourselves were trained, the Broken Column represents the Middle Pillar on the Tree of Life, which joins the earthly realm to the perfect Unity of the divine. Between them is the point of Christ-consciousness…Beauty… and beyond that point, it is said that no man can go until they cross the Abyss. This concept too may be represented as a broken column.

Our initiand, then, standing beneath the great hand of stone in which rests the Broken Pillar, is asked, ‘Can you grasp the Beyond?’. And they try, finding the hidden pathway, climbing to the next level…yet still unable to touch the Column that stands separate from the rest.

At the base of the pillar an inverted pentagram has been carved into the rock. This is usually seen as a symbol of Baphomet… a name associated with both Templars and Freemasons and erroneous accusations of ‘devil worship’ within those organisations. The popular modern image of Baphomet as a satanic figure differs greatly from the medieval image. During the Templar trials, when ‘confessions’ were tortured from the victims, the Baphomet  was described variously as an idol with a human skull, a head with two faces or a bearded head…and at least two of those are Qabalistic symbols for divinity. Stuart reminded us that there is a cipher by which Baphomet is transformed into Sophia…Wisdom… and it would indeed take Wisdom to cross the Abyss and approach Unity.

For the initiand, one can imagine the scenario. The trials of fear and uncertainty, the reward of the inner strength to ‘move mountains’ and the glow of the sunrise… and after all that, he is reminded that no matter how high he may rise, he must always remain humble as there is always an Unreachable Height.

The final act of our mock initiation took place before the seat of judgement. There are three seats carved together in the rock and they are a lesson in themselves to anyone wishing to occupy them. Coincidentally, three Master Masons constitute a Master’s Lodge. To ascend to these seats, because of their size and construction, you must either kneel and show humility…or show wisdom and walk along the top of the rock. From here, the initiand may look out across the land to where the sun sets… and down on a prehistoric solar symbol that seems to encapsulate far more than we understand.

Was this what was happening at Rowtor Rocks?  Were the legends of Druids there really based on hushed memories of something like the scenario we had created? Could Thomas Eyre have been involved in something other than orthodox church business? We may never know…. But something was going on in the hidden history of the area and the clues kept on coming…

Riddles of the Night: The Temple of Hewn Stone

Just behind the Druid Inn and across the narrow lane from Thomas’ Eyre’s church of St Michael, is the strange landscape of Rowtor Rocks. We have visited the place on many occasions, but it needed only one visit to realise that there was more going on here than meets the eye. That the natural, rocky outcrop was a sacred place to our ancestors, five thousand years and more ago, is evidenced by the number of prehistoric rock carvings that have survived. That it was used as a hidden temple by our far more recent ancestors is mere speculation… until you start looking at the evidence.

The Rocks were substantially meddled with by Reverend Thomas Eyre in the 1700s. Odd flights of steps were put in, shelves and seats carved, fonts cut into rocks and a Broken Column erected at the highest point. There are natural caves amid the tumble of boulders and new ones were cut. We do not know if these were completely new, or whether they enlarged natural features.

What was the good vicar up to? You could simply accept the whole thing as a rather elaborate garden feature and think no more about it. There are tales that Eyre sat on the carved seats to write his sermons. There are also reports that he entertained guests on the rocks… but in what manner, no report survives. Tales of hauntings would certainly keep the idly curious away once darkness fell and the pale glow of candles from dark caverns would reinforce the fear.

One could make a case for his masons having created a three-dimensional ‘Stations of the Cross’…and certainly, there are sockets that could have held crosses, either side of the Broken Column on the summit. Had the Bishop questioned the works, that would have been a perfectly good explanation. You could even argue that he was Christianising an erstwhile pagan site.  The Broken Column is often used as a grave marker to symbolise a life cut short. In Christian symbolism, it represents Christ. It does have other meanings though, and particularly within the Masonic tradition.

While a number of Papal edicts have threatened excommunication to Catholics who become Freemasons, the Anglican Church has a more lenient history. Many churchmen have been Freemasons and many others have been members of satellite associations, not officially Masons, but Masonic in origin. Like the landscape of Rowtor itself, it is all rather ambivalent.

One of our early impressions was that it reminded us of the landscape created by Sir Francis Dashwood and the notorious Hellfire Club at around the same time. We were gratified to find that there was at least a tenuous a connection, via John Wilkes, a journalist, politician,  member of the Oddfellows and one of the early members of the Hellfire Club. But perhaps it was no more than a folly…though anything to do with the Fool may also point to initiation and the result certainly appears to be an initiatory landscape. We resolved to put it to the test…

Of Ash and Seed – Pawns to castle…

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As we hurried through the castle grounds in Beaumaris, a lone seagull was dancing. He seems to be marching on the spot, marking a rhythmic time with his feet. Worm-charming, said my companion. I didn’t even stop to take a picture. We were late.

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With fond farewells, just in case, we had taken a temporary leave of our companions in the car park of Bryn Celli Ddu. They would go on to Penmon Priory with its tenth century stone crosses and wonderful views before heading to Beaumaris. We, however, were heading back across the island to the hotel to collect the forgotten bag. With luck, we would meet again in time for lunch.

Aerial view Beaumaris Castle (CD34) Anglesey North Castles Historic Sites
Aerial view Beaumaris Castle (CD34) Image: CADW

It was a shame, but could not be helped.  Off we went, sailing down the roads to retrieve the bag. By the time our mission was accomplished, we knew it was too late to head for Penmon… and too early for Beaumaris. And we had said we would have to go back to Bryn Celli Ddu…the road back there was also the only route we really knew. It was almost as if we had no choice… just pawns in the hand of the gods… but that is a whole other story, outside the scope of the Silent Eye weekend.

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Traffic delayed us on the road between Bryn Celli Ddu and Beaumaris and we were beginning to wonder if we would make lunch at all. We headed for the car-park Steve had recommended, feeling like guilty children… and parked between our companions’ cars. Even if we could not find them in the town and missed them completely, they would at least know we had tried to join them. But, as luck would have it, we bumped into them almost immediately. Sadly, they had already eaten and were about to leave. Even so, it gave us a chance for hugs and decent farewells. It had been a spectacular weekend, with amazing sites and wonderful weather, so we were glad of the chance to thank Steve and Barbara again for what they had organised.

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And suddenly, there was no rush. We were never going to make it home before dark, so we had what was left of the fading afternoon light to enjoy. I had not seen Beaumaris for the past forty years, but I remembered it well and had walked the castle ramparts, looking down to a moat that seemed alive with eels. Then, it had been high summer and the streets had been crowded with tourists. Now it was winter and the streets were almost empty, a perfect time to get a few decent shots of the castle.

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Beaumaris Castle is a concentric design castle and at one point the town itself sheltered behind walls that were connected to the castle. The curtain wall of the outer ward is moated and was once accessible by sea, making supplying the castle a simple matter. Within that is the inner ward designed to hold domestic buildings. It completely overlooks the outer ward all round, which must have made defensive sense. It was built as part of Edward I’s campaign to conquer North Wales in the 13thC. Building commenced in 1295, and by 1330, it has already cost £15,000 an astronomical sum in those days…and it was still not complete. This seems odd when today it is one of the best surviving examples of its kind in Europe and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

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It was time to leave Anglesey though. The late afternoon light was becoming thin and misty as we headed back to the car. Our worm=charming friend was still doing his worm-dance, and this time the camera was in my hand. The mountains of Snowdonia beckoned, their foothills green and russet, their peaks crowned with snow…and the passes that run between them better driven in at least a modicum of daylight. Reluctantly, we turned the car towards the Menai Bridge and the mainland for the long drive home, with a final gift awaiting as we passed the distant beauty of Snowdon and Tryfan. It had been a wonderful weekend.

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Of Ash and Seed – The mound in the dark grove…

anglesey-bryn-holy-island-wales-087“We might have to go back to the hotel…”  I didn’t look around as I was busy following the car in front and anyway, the snowy mountains of the mainland filled the horizon. My companion had been distracted during the packing process and had not really registered how light the hold-all had felt as it was placed in the boot of the car. One leather bag had, possibly, been left behind. We could not turn back as we followed the others to the first stop of the day… nor could we stop to check until we reached the car park. Yes, we were a bag down. We would have to go back, but not until we had seen this particular site.

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I have wanted to see Bryn Celli Ddu, ‘the hill in the dark grove’, for a very long time. So has Stuart, so the fact that Steve had chosen to include it in the weekend was a real gift. It is, by far, the best known prehistoric monument on Anglesey and one well-known to many with an interest in the ancient places of our ancestors.

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The ‘hill’ refers, perhaps, to the burial mound… a passage tomb. The ‘dark grove’ is no more…though whether the grove was of living wood or of standing stones, we may never know. We do know a good deal about the history of this site, in archaeological terms at least, yet its secrets remain shrouded beyond the mists of memory or conscious knowledge.

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The tomb lies around half a mile from the little car park. The path takes you across a stream and between high hedges, with a sudden reveal at the end… by which time I was fair bouncing, even though I know full well that what remains is not what was. You are greeted by a green mound, pierced by a narrow ‘window’ guarded by a standing stone on one side. The passage that leads within the tomb lies on the other side. The mound is encircled by a ditch and flanked with stones. It looks perfect, but was, in fact, partially reconstructed in the 20th century. The mound would once have been much bigger and the site itself encompasses far more than is contained within this rural enclosure, with standing stones and carved stones in the nearby fields and on the ridge close by.

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The archaeologists have been thorough here, within the extent of knowledge. The earliest remains at the site are a series of post holes, dated back six thousand years through radiocarbon testing of the pine charcoal found in the holes. The next phase of construction was the building of the henge, a thousand years later. A henge is an inner ditch surrounded by an outer bank or earthwork. Here the henge is 69 feet across, though the bank is long gone and only the ditch survives. Within this space, a stone circle of 17, mainly paired, stones was raised. and at the same time, the spiral-carved Pattern Stone was installed.The current Pattern Stone is not the original, but a replica set into its original position, but whose carvings have already faded. The real stone is now in the National Museum of Wales.

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Original Pattern Stone. Image: Wolfgang Sauber (CCAS 3.0)

Beneath several of the standing stones, human cremations were buried whilst within the henge itself, a single, human ear bone was interred beneath a flat stone and you have to wonder at the significance of that. At the entrance to the tomb, an unusual burial of a young ox was found and within the tomb itself the remains of bones and cremations, as well as pieces of quartz, shells, a bead and arrow heads.

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It was yet another thousand years before the site was again drastically altered. The circle was dismantled. Several stones were deliberately damaged, others were smashed. They were used to build the current tomb, with its mound much larger than the reconstructed mound, completely enclosing the area within the ring of kerb-stones. The current, reduced mound allows you to see the standing stones of the circle that were re-used to form the entrance of the passage…and a spectacular and unusual central pillar graces the inner chamber.

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Information board at National Museum of Wales. Image: Wolfgang Sauber (CCAS 3.0)

They are curious stones in themselves, looking very like the petrified wood that Rupert Soskin and Michael Bott had suggested for the central, shaped pillar. Whether this is the case or whether they simply look like wood-in-stone, life-in-death, may not be as important as whether our ancestors too saw the similarity and had chosen them deliberately for that reason. There is no reason why they could not have done so and I have to wonder if it is these gnarled stones that are the trees of the ‘mound in the dark grove’.

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Perhaps the most striking aspect of the site, though, is invisible…at least in midwinter. The 28 ft long passageway is aligned, like Maes Howe and Newgrange, with the midsummer sunrise, when light would stream down the passageway to illuminate the inner chamber. There may also have been a similar ‘roofbox’ to the one at Newgrange, that frames the incoming light to focus it on a specific point at the solstice, as well as other possible astronomical alignments.

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These days, the reduced size of the mound leaves part of the internal structure naked and allows the ingress of light through the rear of the chamber that would once have been within the mound. At least for the living. In many places we have found features that suggest to us that the internal structure of these monuments may have been designed to be ‘seen’ by those who had passed beyond life into the otherworld.

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For the moment, at least, we stand on the side of the living and look with eyes of wonder on the past. In that moment, we joined together in sound within the mound, then we watched and listened as the final scroll, telling the story crafted for the weekend, was read and the final drama was played out.  Then, we were led away, crossing the stream back into the lands of the living, gifted with symbolic seeds of light to carry out into the world.

“We have to go back,” said my companion. “Oh yes, we have to go back,” I agreed. I don’t think either of us were thinking of the forgotten bag at the hotel… anglesey-bryn-holy-island-wales-100

Of Ash and Seed – Candy-floss dawn

 

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We woke to clear skies…and heavy frost. Our after-dinner walk the night before had seen us wandering the deep, unlit blackness of the shore, watching the colours of the stars in the cloudless night. The temperature had dropped dramatically, so the pre-dawn frost was no surprise. Nor was it any surprise at all that two of us were already up and out, long before our companions and the sun were due to rise, walking the coastal path as far as we dared in the time before breakfast.

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There is something magical in being abroad to greet the rising of the sun, something that speaks to the soul and feeds it silently as the light slowly floods the sky, painting it in pastels and gold. Behind the sacred mountain to the west, a soft rainbow of colour marked the fleeing edge of night as we walked through the ice-crisp grass. The curve of the receding tide left marks upon virgin sand as free of footprints as before the time of Man, a reminder of the fleeting nature of our presence within Nature.

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It was still early. No-one else seemed to be out, not even the gulls whose incessant, eldritch cries tug at the heartstrings all day. We had the world to ourselves, it seemed, witnesses to the daily miracle of dawn. It makes you wonder, every time. But we were not simply observers… we too were part of that moment, feeling the cold upon our fingers and cheeks, aware of the ever-changing light and the ceaseless motion of the sea.

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To dance to the rhythm of the sun, to rise with its light and see its passing every day, echoes a greater purpose than our preoccupation with the daily needs of survival. To feel part of such beauty is to remember ourselves within a greater context than that of roles and labels, as part of the earth’s own dance and infinite variation of form.

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The world around us teaches of the journey we all take, day to day and year on year. The gift of a quiet Sunday dawn is a perfect moment, undisturbed by noise and the demands of a busy world.  To watch the shadows soften as golden light bathes them and watch the movement of the waters is to reflect upon our own voyage of endless change and our inevitable movement from unknowing to understanding.

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We walked until the sun crested the rooftops, gilding the morning in a brief burst of glory before turning back. The rocks and the little pools they held were full of ice, yet the sky above the sleeping town was aflame. There is an intimacy in such moments that is a beautiful illusion, that makes you feel as if this is the first dawn the world has ever seen, and yours the first eyes to see it.

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Illusion it may be… but this dawn has never happened before and will never happen again…and you are there, part of that moment. I see the sun rise almost every morning through my window. We watch the dawn whenever we can… and it never loses its magic nor do we lose the breathless sense of awe that it inspires. Every time. We headed back to the hotel to meet our companions for breakfast… but we had already broken our fast on beauty.

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Of Ash and Seed- Offerings

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“The druids – that is what they call their magicians – hold nothing more sacred than the mistletoe and a tree on which it is growing, provided it is a hard-timbered oak…. Mistletoe is rare and when found it is gathered with great ceremony, and particularly on the sixth day of the moon…. Hailing the moon in a native word that means ‘healing all things,’ they prepare a ritual sacrifice and banquet beneath a tree and bring up two white bulls, whose horns are bound for the first time on this occasion. A priest arrayed in white vestments climbs the tree and, with a golden sickle, cuts down the mistletoe, which is caught in a white cloak. Then finally they kill the victims, praying to a god to render his gift propitious to those on whom he has bestowed it. They believe that mistletoe given in drink will impart fertility to any animal that is barren and that it is an antidote to all poisons.”

Pliny the Elder, 1st century AD.

Crescentic bronze plaque with triskele decoration, from Llyn Cerrig Bach lake deposit (200 BC – 100 AD). Image: Wolfgang Sauber (CCASA3)

Although  we still bring the blessings of mistletoe into our homes at Christmas, there was no mistletoe at Bryn Celig Bach, only a sickle moon, with Venus, seen always as the light of a goddess, shining below. Copper has been seen as the Mirror of the Goddess for centuries. It may be that is one of the reasons why copper was found in the peaceful lake that is now surrounded by an airforce base. In 1943,  William Owen Roberts, a green-keeper at the local golf course, spotted a chain in the mud as the work began to dredge a pond on the airforce base. A lorry became stuck in the mud and, remembering the chain, he picked it up and attached it to the vehicle. The used it several times that day and it did not break. It was not until a drawing of it was sent to the museum in Cardiff that it was identified as a gang chain, used to chain five slaves together by the neck.

Over the next four years, locals found many other objects at the site and Roberts took responsibility for them wrapping them in sackcloth and keeping them safe through the war years. Eventually they brought a veritable treasure trove of 181 artefacts into the light. The objects, many of bronze and copper, dated from 300 BC to around AD 100. They seem to share a common and warlike thread in many cases and it has been suggested that offerings to the gods were made here in times of war. It has even been proposed that a mass offering was made here by the Druids when they knew that Suetonius Paulinus was coming to obliterate then in AD 60.

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Many of the items, that included items as diverse as swords, cauldrons and a bronze trumpet, had been deliberately broken and, as we approached the lake in the gathering twilight, we discussed the possible reasons behind this. Was it the act of placing the treasured item beyond reach and use that constituted the true sacrifice? Or perhaps, by ‘killing’ the item in an echo of a bloodier sacrifice, they released its spirit, offering it to the gods and allowing its power to work for them in the Otherworld.

We too were bent on ritual sacrifice. We do not share the detail of our rituals, even though we may describe them. The true magic of any ritual is the inner work and the intent of the participant. No ritual can have any effect or take root in one’s soul without that dedicated intent. It is not enough to gesture and declaim, not even in the grandest of temples, not even with the famed ‘barbarous names’ on our lips. It is the truth of what is in the heart that matters… the inner dedication… and that can make even the everyday tasks of life itself both a ritual and a joy.

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Nor do we pretend to resurrect, or possess any special knowledge of, the ancient forms. What we can do, though, is echo in our own way, the essence of what we understand. Such a rite, coming from the heart, does not need to claim to be anything other than it is. It was in this spirit that, on the banks of an ancient lake, we each ritually cast away those ‘artefacts’ of the ego that, though cherished, no longer serve us on our journey.

In simplicity, there was beauty. In symbols, there was a seed of light that we could each carry away into the darkening night.

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Of Ash and Seed – Spotlight on the past

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We walked the short distance from the car park by the beach to what appeared to be a beautifully preserved mound, right above the sea. Appearances can be deceptive though… this mound is not ancient, but a concrete dome covered with grass. It was built after the site was excavated in the 1950s, recreating, on the outside at least, what was thought to be the original form, to preserve and protect what lies within.

Aerial view Barclodiad y Gawres . Image: CADW ( Crown Copyright) C(CD35)
Aerial view Barclodiad y Gawres . Image: CADW ( Crown Copyright) C(CD35)

Barclodiad y Gawres, which means the ‘apronful of the giantess’, is what remains of a cruciform passage tomb, around five thousand years old,  of a type more common in the Boyne Valley in Ireland just over the sea. A legend, found in many places with similar names, tells that two giants, husband and wife, journeyed to Anglesey to build a new home. While the husband carried two huge boulders to flank the door,  his wife had her apron full of stones. When they met a cobbler on the road, they asked  how far it was to the Island. Not wanting giants in the area, he lied and told them it was still a long journey. The giantess, tired of carrying the stones, let them fall from her apron…and there they lie to this day.

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Huge and intriguing stones line the original passageway. Sadly, the site is locked in winter, though in summer you may request accompanied access from a nearby keyholder; ‘accompanied’, these days sadly because of vandalism. Even so, it is a place to see, in spite of the bars. As the torchlight illuminated small patches of the interior, I was bouncing. Fabulous chevron carvings could be seen one of the closest uprights, of a kind I am familiar with only through images. I had never seen them before with my own eyes.

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As the beam moved around the chamber, it was obvious that it would not cast sufficient light to show all the other carvings, the spirals and the diamonds that have been found there. In many ways, that seemed a fitting reminder that, no matter how many times we visit, or how professionally the archaeologists may dig, our picture of the past is forever incomplete, showing only snapshots of a way of life now lost in the spiralling memory of earth. In just the same way, we see such snapshots of our own past in memory, yet the rich story of life has seen us pass through every second since our birth.The snapshots we see of each other are even sparser. Yet still we can try to learn and understand.

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The archeological investigations have found a number of carvings, as well as the cremated remains of two youths in the western chamber. A hearth was found in the centre of the tomb, where a stew had been poured over the flames to quench them in antiquity. The stew had been composed of wrasse, eel, frog, toad, grass-snake, mouse, shrew and hare. It was then covered with limpet shells and pebbles which helped to preserve their bones.

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Was it an ancient spell, perhaps, or an offering to the ancestors or the gods of the place? Or was it a final meal, sustenance for the dead on their final journey? Were the ingredients simply what was available at the time, or did each of those creatures bring their own magical properties to the rite, so that their spirits and gifts might be offered through the flames? There are some things we will never know for certain. The fact that belief implies a choice is thrown into relief as we listen to the whispers of our own hearts.

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We listened too, at the entrance of the tomb, to readings from our friends and to the next chapter of the story woven to bind together the threads of history and spirit throughout the weekend. It was a perfect place to be as the sun began to sink towards the horizon and the end of our day. Or almost the end. There was one more place to visit before darkness erased the colours of the world and the sun entered the tomb of night…

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Of Ash and Seed – Beached

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We stopped for lunch in a surfer’s cafe in Rhosneigr very close to the sea. Once refreshed we were to go down to the beach to choose a stone for a simple but moving ritual at our final destination. Two of us left as soon as we had eaten. I live about as far from the sea as you can get in Britain and seldom get the chance to play on beaches, so take any opportunity I can get to be close to the waves.

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The sun was already low in the the sky, but still it felt like spring. My companion declined my offer to have a paddle whilst the others finished lunch, which was probably sensible, if disappointing. It was December after all and although the unusually mild weather was balmy, doubtless the sea would have proved to be a more wintry environment. Instead, we watched the sun sparkle on the water, reflecting the heavens on earth.

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We  started looking for our pebbles, drawn to the white ones as much for their symbolism as for the fact that they draw the eye. Working with the symbolism of the School, we had a fair idea of what would be required and why. We looked too at the curious formation of the blue-black rocks. Some of the rocks that emerge through the sand go back to the Pre-Cambrian era that began four and a half billion years ago and you can see the folds created by pressure as the earth, as we know it, began to shape itself.

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It is a curious feeling to consciously stand with such an unimaginable span of time beside the ceaseless motion of the sea. Beneath our feet, the  sand, each grain formed from what has gone before…and in it, our footprints. The marks of our presence are deep enough to raise ridges and cast shadows. Each foot that passes leaves its unique imprint, changing the surface utterly… for a little while. The marks are as transient as our little lives upon the earth and are soon erased by the movement of the waters that shift and shape the land.

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We were soon joined by our companions and spent a little while, each of us, searching for our stones. I would have happily pottered on the beach all afternoon at any other time, examining stones and exclaiming at the beauty of the shells… listening to the cry of the gulls. There is something about the seashore that awakens the inner child. Perhaps it is because where sky, land and sea meet and we become children again as our Mother looks on and feel secure in Her presence.

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It was, therefore, with a mixture of reluctance and excitement that we left the beach behind us. We had one more site to visit before our final destination of the day and it was a rather special one. We drove to a deserted bay as the shadows grew longer and the winter afternoon drew towards its close, bathing the world in golden light…

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Of Ash and Seed – Heart of stone

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It didn’t look right, even from a distance. There was a forlorn, forgotten feel to the place, even though it is readily accessible and, to judge by the wearing of the mud by the gate, frequently visited. There was something decidedly ‘odd’ about the Presaddfed Neolithic burial chamber, something you could not help but notice as soon as you got to the kissing gate. For a start, the stones looked too big, too closely packed compared to all the other dolmens we have seen. For another thing, many of the stones themselves seemed to be distinctly different from each other and that is unusual in itself. It is not as if they are short of stone around here.

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On closer inspection, we found that there are actually two chambered tombs, just a few feet apart. The northern chamber has fallen and is now little more than a jumble of stones. The tomb to the south consists of a really sturdy-looking horseshoe of stones supporting the capstone with the help of a delicate point of stone. The capstone is almost two feet thick and thirteen feet long and looks as if it has its front end missing… deliberately removed? Broken? Or just the shape in which it was found. That too looks odd. As if something is missing.

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A lot of things are missing really. When it was documented in the Archaeological Journal in the 19th century, the two chambers were recorded as being surrounded by ‘a great number of small stones’. These are no longer in evidence. Nor is any trace of the mound that would always cover such a chamber, though there is evidence of a flattened mound or earthwork a short distance away that is intriguing in itself.

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I have been unable to find any details of excavation reports at the site and little seems to be known about the tombs, other than that a family struck by poverty called them home for some time during the 18th century when, it is to be hoped, the second chamber was still standing too. The massive blocks fit close together. The capstone is levelled, quite precisely, with small slivers of stone. The tight construction of the chambers would render them weatherproof, apart from draughts, except at the open end. Not much of a shelter, but far better than nothing at all.

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The collapsed northern chamber now has only two of its uprights standing, but the capstone, leaning against them, has a thick layer of crystal running through it. It is possible that the north and south chambers were once enclosed in a single mound. It is a fairly unusual arrangement, although many such tombs have more than one chamber. A similar arrangement is found at the spectacular Trefignath tomb, just outside Trearddur, where archaeologists have been able to investigate and, through artefacts and dating techniques, establish the timeline for its construction. Trefignath was built in stages between 3750 and 3500 BC and it appears that Preseddfed dates to around the same era, although it may be as many as six thousand years old.

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Trefignath. Image by Porius1 (CCL)

We wandered around the stones. On the one hand you might think that a quick look is enough…there is not really much to see. But it is not so. You have to look beyond the obvious to even begin to get a glimpse of what may really be there. Quite apart from the precision of the construction, you look at the stones themselves. We had realised at Stanton Drew that the stones chosen by the Old Ones for their circles and monuments are often distinctive. It is very well known that the builders of Stonehenge, for example, chose to carry tons of massive stones a hundred and forty miles from Wales to Wiltshire to include them in the circle. We knew that and, like everyone else, had wondered why.

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At Stanton Drew, we had noted than many of the stones seemed to have been chosen because they reflected stone in another state. In some, you can see where the mud has been deposited as silt in riverbeds and almost see the water flow. Some look like gnarled wood. Others bear crystals and unexpected colours. It seemed as if the Old Ones had chosen some of the stones for their inclusions and others because they ‘remembered’ their origins in their textures, captured life in their forms and perhaps were somehow closer to the Otherworld.

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There are always faces, shapes hidden in the contours of the rock. It may be just imagination that finds their lines…though we are not altogether convinced that all of them are accidents of nature. Some may have been ‘assisted’ into their shapes, others may indeed have been carved by wind, rain and glacier, but that does not stop us recognising familiar forms… nor would it have stopped those who worked intimately with stone from doing so. I think we both over-simplify and over-complicate things when we look at our ancestors as simply being primitive. First and foremost they were human beings and, within the scope of their own technology of stone, surprisingly sophisticated.

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One of the things we have been experimenting with is sound. Sound has always been part of ritual, from conch shells to drums, cymbals and song. We use the human voice to bring sound and rhythm through the reading of poetry and prose. We had used sound to cense the ritual space for the very first Silent Eye weekend and felt for ourselves its effectiveness within a sacred context. We have used an ancient chant to greet the physical sun as a symbol of the Light and, more recently, we have begun to explore the effect of sound at the ancient sacred sites.

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Crouching within the chamber, Stuart began the deep, resonant chant that seems to resonate with the stone. Except, it didn’t. The sound dissipated, withered and fell flat, no matter how earnest the effort. “I was expecting the chant to have little vibratory effect because the tomb was clearly, in part, wrecked. What I wasn’t expecting was for both the sound and the breath to be sucked from my being, like something or someone was thirsty…” he wrote.anglesey-bryn-holy-island-wales-131

It was unlike anything we have experienced before and took us by surprise. Sound anomalies are being investigated at a number of ancient places and although the majority seem to resonate, some do diminish or distort sound. It could well be the destruction of the second dolmen that was having an effect. Perhaps the chamber needed its twin in order to function. Or perhaps the forlorn feel to the place was the reflection of a broken heart.

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