Stones and Circles

Something about stones
enduring sonnets of soil and pain
nexus of natural and artifice created
sings to the secret in all of us.

Something about stones
regardless of sharp turns, divided minds
speaks of the open beyond all of us.

Something about stones
reminds us of the infinite
declares our hope of mastery
by worship or by knife blade.

Something about stones
stays, silent speakers from somewhere.

Something about circles
odes swaying, coming back whole
saving mass from chaos in life or poem.

Circles feel safe, circles warm the child in us
Something about circles
keeps us enclosed, as a tree
takes its circles upward and the
sinkhole downward, swirling
and curling.

Something about circles
attaches to stones especially
to spin us deep and inward.

I Stand in Awe

“They’re just a pile of rocks, big stones, boulders…” say friends who are not–as I am— hooked on stone circles. “Not Stonehenge, of course,” they usually add. Stonehenge gets attention: its sheer size, its appeal to tourists, druids, new agers, mystics, and a vast array of scientists who study angles, soil samples, astrological patterns. Stonehenge is magnificent, no doubt about it but I haven’t revisited it since the 1980s. It’s all the other little, not so little, obscure, not so obscure circles that entice me. And there are over 900 documented sites in the British Isles, over 300 in Ireland, and they abound in Malta, surface in Portugal…and the list goes on.

The circles now tend to be in rural, remote sites (exceptions are many, of course); they are there because those areas have not needed to destroy them to construct modern structures. In pastures and alongside lakes, on hills, near cliffs, they have been ignored and have endured. In finding them, it is easy to feel closer to nature, to feel an intimacy with all that has gone before, to feel a certain optimism about what may lie before us. That which required vast communal effort for some overriding spiritual purpose has endured. There’s a lesson there.

They have endured for thousands of years. Stonehenge is a baby in the field, dating only from 2500CBE. Most circles are incomplete now, stones having been carted off, buried, broken up for other uses, destroyed as heathen sites. Yet there they are, slanted, fallen, chipped, rubbed by cattle, pushed aside by oak trees, there they are. Endurance alone connects them and us to another time, pre-wheel, pre-written language, pre-“civilization” as we define it by cities, culture, and communication congestion.
The circle itself is a universal symbol: unity, eternalness, no beginning as a straight line must have, no ending as a pyramid has. I look at the circles and see a different view of the world, the cosmos, these circles are connected to the earth and each other. Its an oversimplification to note that church spires and cathedrals soar toward the heavens, implying a world up there, higher, to be “aimed for” (“ah that our reach should exceed our grasp or what’s a heaven for,” said Browning); a world far away where all is exquisite, streets are gold, robes are white, where all the hard work and sordidness of this world have been left behind…this is a different outlook surely from the spiritual ethos that created the circles. They don’t soar, they circle; they enclose a sacred area in the same way a church and cathedral do, but they evoke the mystery of the earth, not the sky; they speak of humanity, not gods or goddesses beyond and detached. I get a feeling of sacredness here, not there.

The monuments intrigue the mind and raise all kinds of questions, for which there are all kinds of answers: they were calendars, they were sacrificial, funereal, and ancestral worship sites, they were astrological observatories, they linked power lines (lay lines). Chances are they were some of all of these possibilities over the centuries; and possibly they were more than any of them. Some questions can be answered– with some certainly–about who (fascinating to anthropologists) and how (fascinating to engineers, scientists who demonstrate again and again just how the stones were moved, how many man-hours of labor were required, etc), and when (archeologists analyze bone fragments, soil and seed samples, remnants of pottery, etc)–and the most intriguing questions still elude us: why? I am content to speculate, wonder, recognize the mystery, construct fanciful stories, and leave the absolutes alone. It may sound contradictory to proclaim that the circles intrigue because of their mystery and then declare a preference for (though devouring articles and analyses) the mystery to remain just that. I like not knowing that these structures are monuments to any one specific deity or to any one ruling family or dynasty; they are certainly evidence of the high regard (if not deification) the builders held for their ancestors and for “mother earth.”

orkneyCelia’s many trips to the island of Orkney
inspired Journey to Stenness