Thinking About – Stone Circles

Thinking About – Stone Circles

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I remember the day so clearly. I knew I had a good song, but one of the verses just wouldn’t come, so I got into my car and headed west. I could have just stayed local, but there was an inner calling and I knew I needed something more, something that the Sussex landscape couldn’t give me. A few hours later I was sitting with my guitar in the Merrivale stone circle on Dartmoor. I closed my eyes, felt the summer breeze on my skin, listened to the silence of the moor, a place where even the sound of a passing car seems to be swallowed by the peaty earth.

I stepped in the way of inspiration.

Opening my eyes I saw the stones around me. I was drawn in by their ancient faces, and by the Tors that surrounded me.

There is an old circle of stones, that stands on the moor, Every moss-covered face tells the secrets of ancient lore, The Tors stand as Guardians, witnesses to the Rites, Of ancient Gods of darkness and of light.

This ancient place had given me a gift.

There is something about stone circles that I find incredibly magical. Logically I understand we don’t know what these enigmatic places left by our ancestors were used for, and it doesn’t matter to me one bit. My connection to these places isn’t logical, it’s emotional, magical, unquantifiable, immeasurable. I’ve heard some Pagans laugh at the importance other Pagans place on ancient sites. “They might have been goat pens for all we know!” was one of the comments I’ve heard. And it’s true, we don’t know for sure they weren’t, and I’m not here to argue either way, I know what I subjectively feel about them, and I’ve learned to trust those feelings over the years. The fact that so many are aligned to stars, the moon, the sun, and to other landmarks such as nearby hills and mountains suggest to me that there is more going on here than just goat pens.

So what is it that keeps calling me back to these ancient circles of stone?

A huge part of it is the mystery itself. The fact that we don’t know exactly what they were used for allows the inspirational and spiritual mind to explore all of the possibilities. Were they ancient temples? Were they observatories built to track the turning seasons? Were they placed on energy points of the Earth recognised by those ancestors whose relationship with the heavens and the immediate world around them was so different from our own?

Most of the evidence about the spiritual and religious beliefs of the people contemporary with the stone circle builders suggest an animistic world view. We haven’t found many physical representations of their Gods, so it’s fair to ponder that they held the Spirits of rivers, lakes, mountains, valleys, the Sun, Moon and stars as sacred. None of them would have encountered any of the monotheistic religions because they still lay millennia ahead. My own Pagan path calls me to those animistic beliefs and that is sometimes hindered by the hustle and bustle and expectations of living in the 21st century. Although I try not to view the lives of those neolithic ancestors through rose-coloured lenses, there is still a yearning within me for a simpler life, more connected to the natural world. I think that’s true for many of us.

So when I visit a stone circle I try to imagine what it must have looked like all of those thousands of years ago. To look at the landscape and try to see through the constructs of our modern world painted upon the land, and see those field boundaries, telegraph poles, houses, roads, sink away into the land. The video below, an excerpt from the wonderful The Detectorists, is a truly magical moment and shows exactly what I mean. If you have the time, do watch it. The images combined with the amazing song The Magpie sung by The Unthanks is enchanting.

The Magpie from The Detectorists

Some years ago, when I was a sales rep on the road, I used to look at my week ahead, and where I would end up each day. Then grab the Ordnance Survey map of Ancient Britain to see if there was any site nearby. If there was I would book my B & B close by and after finishing my calls for the day I would go and visit the site. During those years I visited hundreds, all across the Island of Britain, and every one was different, but all were magical powerful places. My favourite was the Druid Circle (pictured below) near Penmaenmawr in North Wales. It’s quite a trek into the mountains, but that too is always a part of the pilgrimage. It allows time to think, to slow down, to consider each step, and when you arrive at the circle, high on the mountain that overlooks the sea below, the circle stands there, ancient, wise, full of the mysteries of the ages.

In my only trip away from home in 2020, I was lucky enough to once more visit the Druid Circle with Cerri and some friends. We did an Autumn Equinox ceremony in the centre of the stones. The day was windy but warm and we asked the Gods for guidance as we cut an apple in half to divine what may lay ahead using the apple’s inner pentagram and where the seeds lay. Being in ritual in such a magical place was definitely one of the few highlights of 2020, and sitting here in Sussex I know those stones are standing there, right now, overlooking the sea, as are the stones of Merrivale, guarded by the Tors, and one day, hopefully later this year, I will return to those moss-covered faces once more.

7 responses to “Thinking About – Stone Circles”

  1. What an absolutely wonderful post! And that video is so atmospheric and haunting! There is a circular walk not far from where I live, which starts at the centre of a village and goes through some old lanes, over some fields and farms, and so on… I have always had a similar sort of feeling as in the video you share, when walking along a certain part. Like I am not walking alone, but instead with people from years long ago. The specific part of the walk is a long, slight depression in the ground, going through some fields, with a hedge to one side. There is even a periodic shallow circular depression to the side of it. I later found out that the long furrow is the remains of what was a busy main road between towns prior to the 1700s, and the circular depression is all that remains of a well. Of course, now there’s no hustle and bustle. Just the sound of the birds and the trees whispering in the breeze, and maybe the occasional inquisitive animal. It’s tranquil, pastoral and very English, in a quaint, old-fashioned sort of way. But hidden, just under the surface, the evidence of centuries of importance slumbers. I love it!

    I also adore ancient monuments. Although close to Avebury, I actually felt far more magical energy at West Kennet long barrow (and the little hidden Pagan shrine nearby) than at Avebury circle itself when I visited. I am also fortunate enough to be close to Gawton’s well and Lud’s Church in Staffordshire (OK the latter is a natural fissure not a monument), both of which I find to be overwhelmingly moving to visit. I get a similar energy from Long Meg and her Daughters in Cumbria, too. I felt more there than at the nearby Castlerigg, despite the latter’s more “dramatic” reputation.

    I think it doesn’t matter what they were originally used for – these monuments could have even been some massive elaborate practical joke for the sole purpose of bamboozling the builders’ descendants – what matters is that millennia after their construction, they still hold meaning for us, they still fill us with awe and wonder, and they enrich our lives by simply being there. We don’t have the same culture or language as those distant ancestors, yet through these monuments, they still somehow speak to a part of us that’s the same. What an amazing gift from them, and an enduring one at that!

    I personally think these were more than goat pens. It would have taken a lot less effort to just make a simple woven fence, dry stone wall or hedge, to get that job done! And besides, you know what some stone circles (Stonehenge) are for, anyway! – you said so in one of your songs!

  2. Nice post, Damh. I sing that version of the Magpie song – totally love it. And Merrivale is a nice circle, although some of our others round here have an even more mystic presence, I feel. Be good to welcome you back as soon as we can. Take care

  3. Enjoyed your Post! Here in northern Germany where I live there are several Monolithic sights and ancient burial mounds, i enjoy just sitting there and soaking in the Atmosphere, hope to be able to visit some of the stone circles and mounds in England and Wales one day. Love your music!

  4. I loved the Detectorists… what a lovely series that was!

    I am so drawn to stone circles and megaliths that this year I made my own calendar of photos of them using an online print service. I did a painting of one several years ago (a quoit in Cornwall) and would really like to do more, (no, I SHOULD do more!) They speak to me, and although it might not be in a language I fully understand I can’t help but listen.

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