What are they, these enigmatic circles of stone that can be found all across this land of Albion?
I remember the first time I consciously visited one. It was the Merry Maidens stone circle in Cornwall. My eldest son Zakk was still a baby, the sun was shining on a beautiful Summer’s day and we were on our family holiday, once more visiting my county of birth. Our next point of call was the Boscastle Museum of Witchcraft, but first we headed further down the county to seek out this mysterious place.
Parking the car on a grassy verge we got together all of the kit needed when you take babies with you on holiday – we were planning on having a picnic here too. I remember that day so clearly. I walked around the stone circle first, walking sunwise, spending a little time with each stone, reaching out and touching it, opening to its energy. Upon stepping inside I felt the air change – this happens when certain people cast their magical circles around sacred space too. It’s like the air becomes thicker, warmer, inside. I sat with my back to the eastern stone and watched my son crawling through the lush, long grass. Occasionally getting up and pointing him to crawl back to me when he got too far away.
There was magic here, a magic I felt in many other places during following years.
For some time I was a sales rep, on the road, calling on customers from Cornwall, Wales, Cumbria and Scotland. My area was the west of Britain, and I had to spend quite some time out on business trips. What I would do was look at my route for the week, then plan the sacred sites I could visit after my last call on each day. I had the Ordnance Survey Map of Ancient Britain and literally ticked off the places I’d been to as I travelled around. During this time I managed to visit a lot of sites. From the recumbent stone circles of Scotland, to Castlerigg, Arbor Low, the Druid Circle near Penmaenmawr, the Rollrights, Avebury and Stonehenge, Stanton Drew, Merrivale, and many other sites that are marked on the OS maps but have no name, some of which were so run down, or in the middle of the moors, that I had to really search for them.
Occasionally I would find offerings left by others – a small bunch of flowers, or a little cake. Sometimes there would be a candle, and sometimes wax on the stones themselves, and I found this harder to reconcile. But the degradable offerings I loved to find, as they showed that I was not alone in my love for these places, and that they were still centres of worship thousands of years after they were originally built. But this does open the argument for or against leaving offerings at sites.
I have heard some people call these offerings ‘debris’. I have seen one woman who worked for a sacred site tip out a plastic bag of offerings onto a table at a Pagan conference and go through them one by one. I have to say she did this in a very derogatory way, even when she unrolled a small scroll of paper that had been left at a stone circle and read out the handwritten poem to a departed loved one, as if it said nothing more than ‘Darren Waz Ere’. I found this as disrespectful to the person who had left this offering, as she did about the ‘debris’ itself. Obviously this wasn’t and still isn’t a simple issue. However when Cerri suggested that it might be a good idea to have a table at their site so people can leave offerings there that idea was scoffed at and dismissed as this ‘suggests we know that these stone circles were religious centres and they might just have been goat pens!’ Okay then, continue to deal with the ‘debris’.
To me these circles of stone are a legacy left by our ancestors. The people who built them were Pagan (although we don’t know the details of their beliefs). The Paganism of today has emerged as a need of our time, and these sites form a direct link to those that came before, and I think it is right that we respectfully hold our ceremonies at these sites, that we visit them and seek wisdom there, and also that we build our own like the one on Limetree Farm in Yorkshire. The other choice is to leave them as sterile monuments for tourists to photograph, then get back on the coach until the next one, possibly giving them no further thought.
I think (and of course I may be wrong) that if the people who built these sites 5000+ years ago knew that in the year 2010 there were still Pagans who revered the Earth, who worked with pantheons of Pagan Deities, were meeting and working their magic at that same site, trying to get in touch with the feelings and energies that the builders might also have been seeking, I think they would be very happy about that. And even if they are just goat pens (and I really don’t believe that!) a part of modern Paganism is a reverence for our ancient ancestors, and these sites form that link with them. Their blood and sweat helped form them, and our rituals today are empowered by them, their legacy, and their memory.