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…

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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