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…