It was the Anderida Gorsedd moot last night, a talking stick moot where we choose a topic for discussion and then pass the Talking Beer Mat around the table, each expressing our thoughts on the topic. Always deep, always very thought provoking.
Last night we chose Sacred Sites – What are they and what makes them sacred?
It was always going to inspire a blog post today.
The site closest to my heart here in Sussex is the Long Man of Wilmington and I wrote about my relationship with that place in a blog in 2013 here. There are also other spaces I love dearly. Mount Caburn, Cissbury Ring, Chanctonbury Ring, Kingley Vale, Thundersbarrow Hill, too many to list. Move out to other areas of Albion and the list increases. This little island has been inhabited for so long that we are incredibly lucky to have such an array of sites left us by our ancestors.
Then there are those in other lands I’ve visited. Sites from different peoples and cultures, but they all seem to inspire the same wonder and mystery. When travelling with my music people are kind enough to take me to visit some of the sites local to them. Occasionally they will then visit us and we will go on a road trip to take in some of our iconic spaces.
Top of the list for overseas visitors is always Stonehenge.
I get that. It’s obviously our most famous site. It’s an amazing place. But to me the experience of visiting Stonehenge just doesn’t touch me spiritually. It’s odd. Being in a huge group of tourists, all walking around in silence with electronic phone-like gadgets, listening to pre-recorded voices. Not being allowed anywhere near the stones. Observing them from a distance, like an ancient Cathedral trapped in Amber, untouchable, unreachable. The new visitor centre placed a mile away delivering coaches of people has now made the experience even more bleached clean and lifeless. I know, it earns English Heritage a huge amount of money, but considering the billing of the site on our overseas guests check list, the final experience never lives up to the hype. It’s a shame. Many years ago the Order of Bards Ovates and Druids had the opportunity to hold their Winter Solstice ceremonies within the circle, in the dark. I will never forget it. Being inside the circle you can feel that the stones are still very much alive. That the energy of Stonehenge is there, and it is overwhelmingly powerful. Which makes it even more sad that so many people miss it.
But this isn’t a Stonehenge rant. There are already plenty of those. But this does highlight something for me. I connect on a far deeper level with a site if I am with a very small group or alone. There is a difference walking into a neolithic Long Barrow with a big group of people, walking en masse around the outskirts of Stonehenge, or going there alone. Sitting within a tomb, alone.
I remember visiting a Long Barrow called Hetty Peglers Tump many years ago. It was a stormy day, and as I approached the tomb I saw that the entrance was small. That I would have to kneel down to get in. I had no torch, and it was pitch black inside. Going in there, lighting the space with just a match was a powerful thing. The presence of the dead was palpable.
There is something about a sacred site that makes me feel closer to the Mystery. I know that all of the Earth is sacred, but there does seem to be these nodes that somehow bring that presence closer to the surface. I have spoken about stone circles, hill figures and long barrows, but I also feel this same sacred energy in some churches, in Cathedrals, in woodlands with certain trees, and on out of the way islands.
I will never forget my first sight of Iona. From the coast of Mull across the Sound of Iona there I saw this ancient sacred island. One of the very first pieces of rock to push above the sea level it has been sacred to Pagans and Christians alike. A ferry takes you across the Sound and the first step onto that sacred isle was wonderful. No cars are allowed on the island so the peace is delicious. All you hear are the sea birds and the sounds of the waves as they lap the shore. Very few places have affected me as much as Iona. Lindisfarne was another, and one day I will get across to Bardsey.
Each of us will have a site that speaks to us, and to some that might be our garden, or the bank of a local river. A site doesn’t have to be old to be sacred. It’s about a personal relationship with the land, and each of us has it within us to reach out, and touch the land, to make our sacred relationship with it something that has depth and purpose.
What is your favourite Sacred Site? What draws you there?