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 – Ancient lines


Wading through the wet bracken, we knew, would be worth it, for on the other side of the green fronds there is a stone…and it is something a bit different, in  more ways than one. Several examples of Neolithic rock art, or petroglyphs, have been found on this part of the moor. One we have yet to locate, another, found during the excavation of a cairn, has been moved to the museum in Sheffield, and one… a huge, earthfast boulder… remains where it was found. But all is not what it seems.

Gardom’s Edge carved stone.

The stone, one of the best we have yet to see in the area, was discovered in the 1960s, but it was soon noted that the carvings were rapidly deteriorating. This, sadly, is the case for many of the remaining petroglyphs that have withstood natural weathering for thousands of years, only to be almost obliterated since the Industrial Revolution altered the atmospheric chemistry of the world. One of the best known carvings to have suffered so is the Fylfot at Ilkley, also known as the  Swastika Stone, that bears an image similar to the Camunian Rose found carved in Italy. When I was younger it was clearly visible. Now only a faint shadow remains and can only be clearly seen when the weather and light are right,  behind its modern counterpart that at least still allows us to see what was once deeply carved in stone.

Ilkley Moor
Fylfot: The original carving is faintly visible behind and left of the modern reproduction. Image: James Elkington who also has an article on the stone.

Something needed to be done in order to protect the stone we had come to see and prevent it from sharing the same fate as the Fylfot. It is a large stone, difficult, though not impossible, to remove to a covered location, but the trouble with moving such stones is that their context is forever lost. We do not know for certain what they mean. What we do know is that many, if not all, of the significant stones that our ancestors left only make sense when seen in relationship to their surroundings. There are known alignments to landscape features, planetary bodies and to other ancestral stones… removing them from their place in the landscape robs us of any chance at all of learning to understand them.

The Haystack, Ilkley, on the edge of the necropolis.

It is only by looking at the curves of a standing stone against its own horizon that you can see how they have been formed to shadow the hills. It is only by sighting through the notch on a standing stone that you can see how it aligns with a cliff or a stone far distant. It is when you stand within a ring of stones with the stars wheeling overhead that you begin to glimpse the understanding our ancestors had of the dance of the heavens. The mathematically inclined can plot the movement of the sun and show on paper why the Heel Stone and Trilithons of Stonehenge are so fantastically aligned… but when you watch the sun, framed within a stone arch and poised delicately atop the Heel Stone then, you can feel it.


It is unlikely that our ancestors spent time computing zenith and nadir in a way we would recognise as mathematics, but they undoubtedly had an understanding that allowed them to build magnificently complex structures, like the recumbent stone circles prevalent in Scotland and Ireland that chart so precisely the movement of the moon. Moving their stones means we lose their precision as well as their natural context and any chance of understanding how and why they were so placed. The team charged with preserving the carved stone at Gardom’s, seem to have understood this and came up with an innovative way to protect it. Leaving it in place, they took a cast of the stone and created a perfect replica with which to encase it. The stone remains where it has always been. Close by, two stakeholes, some flakes of flint and a polished, shale ring were found.

The ‘Wood Stone’, Sheffield.

We do not know what the carvings meant to those who made them We do know that they are often found close to ritual sites. They may have been maps whose key we have now lost, or plans of the sites themselves. It has been suggested that they are star-maps or show the placement of springs, pathways or that, rather than showing any physical detail, they map the energies of the stones and circles themselves. We know of one that looks more like a three-dimensional architect’s model than anything else and others that resemble counting devices. As we gathered round the stone, our companions added their own suggestions, wondering at the complexity and meaning of the arcane design.

The Idol Stone, Ilkley.

Before we left there was another small ritual, with each companion choosing a token from those that had been placed within the hollows of the stone. These they would keep until much later in the afternoon when we had something we wanted to try within the stone circle. It would soon be lunchtime so made our way back towards the glade of the standing stone and then back out amongst the great stones of the Edge…

Gardom's Edge
Gardom’s Edge


Not long…

An ancient landscape, shaped by glaciers and the hand of man. Mysterious symbols carved in stone amid the cairnfields. Quiet circles lost in the mists… and a small group of seekers taking time out of time, listening to the echoes of the past to find a deeper connection to the present…

 X ilkley weekend 114

Harvest of Being
Rooted in the Land
Ilkley, Yorkshire
18th – 20th September 2015


Join us for an informal gathering on the edges of the ancient landscape of Ilkley Moor, exploring the relationship between the human heart and the heart of earth.

Based at the Cow and Calf Hotel,Hangingstone Lane, Ilkley,  we will venture out into the landscape, exploring sites of ancient sanctity… like the carved stones and circles scattered across the moor.

You can read a little about Harvest of Being 2014 by clicking  here.

Workshop costs £50.00 per person.

Accomodation/meals not included. Accomodation must be booked independently.

Click below to

Download our Events Booking Form – pdf

For further details or to reserve your place: rivingtide@gmail.com