[This is an extension of the Grobius Shortling Web Page "Castles, Stone Circles, and Ancient Monuments." All of the sites listed here have been personally visited (except for Callanish), and any factual errors or wrong-headed opinions are my own fault. --Grobius Shortling, Feb 1997]
[My site is just a partial compendium of places of this sort. If you have other recommendations or comments, please let me know. Write to: Grobius]
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There are a lot of homilitic phrases in literature about humankind succumbing to the worms after death, no matter how proud and glorious they were in life. This also applies to the monuments of man, especially the ones that are over
a thousand years old. Soil erosion and shifts in the bedrock and the wear and tear of weather and the acts of vandals and treasure hunters (or just farmers looking for building material, or wanting to get rid of something that interferes with their ploughing, or religious maniacs who think these old places are the work of the Devil) -- all of these contribute to the dilapidation of prehistoric sites. But the biggest vandal of all is the common earthworm.
Romans were noted for their architectural skills and careful foundation building. You look now at some of their famous sites, such as the Corbridge legionary supply town near Hadrian's Wall, and just see the stumps of the foundation walls (this was once a thriving military supply base, with granaries, weapon forges, inns, taverns, and brothels) -- the first thing you will notice is that these walls and the ground itself undulates; the walls themselves had to be dug out by archeologists from under a couple of feet of topsoil in the last century or so. It was all graded and flattened land in its time. What happened? In a word, earthworms -- they eat from underground and deposit their excretions above ground. Within a century or so, without maintenance, the garden wall you build, no matter how solidly, will warp and topple for the same reason unless it is founded in bedrock -- it will literally sink into the ground because of wormish activity. Well, that's good for the environment, otherwise fertile land would turn to desert: Worms renew the earth as long as there is enough water to sustain them and make the soil permeable. However, that is a phenomenon people who build monuments for 'all time' should keep in mind. Look at the picture of Arbor Low. Worms did not topple the stones, they were laid flat to begin with [people disagree about this, but why else are these stone circles called 'recumbent' except for the fact that they are?]. That they are all higglety-pigglety now, and the embankments are no longer uniform in height and slope, is not the fault of the constructors, who must have had everything 'just so' when it was built, but is a result of the natural phenomena just mentioned. The fact that the stones weigh tons just made the process slower -- a modern cinder-block foundation wouldn't last for more than a couple of hundred years. (Graveyards are especially susceptible to worms, hence the leaning tombstones in any old cemetary.)
There is a lot of speculation about astronomical alignments, and there is no doubt that they exist, especially the placement of outlying 'pointer' stones at some distance from the circle itself that line up with the solstices of the setting sun at the changing of the seasons. So surely there was some religious
involvement of a caste of priests (not Druids, because the stone circles were
built long before the rise of Druidism among the Celtic people who displaced the 'Basques' or whatever you want to call the people who constructed them).
I believe that this was done to determine when to hold seasonal 'market fairs',
and that the stone circles themselves marked the precincts in which these
fairs were held. As simple as that -- no mystic nonsense about magnetic earth
lines and human sacrifice to the Corn Goddess (though they might have done things like that during a Fair -- we just don't know). Even in parts of England
where there are no stone circles, such as near Chichester, there is an ancient
ground where they have held the annual Sloe Fair for something like a
thousand years, probably more. Travelling carnivals, with kiddie rides, still
come around to these fairs, and there is lots of food, things to buy from stands,
a circus-comes-to-town atmosphere -- I betcha this is what the great stone
circles were all about.
On the other hand, I could be totally wrong, since archeological digs would probably have found the remains of all the garbage that gets generated by the congregation of masses of people doing this sort of thing over a period of time. That doesn't disprove my theory, because the leavings back then would have all been organic (no plastic!) and long vanished -- they didn't even have coinage in 3000 BC, so you wouldn't find scattered lost pennies.
Some Stone Circles are awesome, either in size (Avebury), architecture (Stonehenge), or siting (Castlerigg). Others are 'haunting' or spooky in some other way (Wayland's Smithy). Can you feel the energies of the planet Gaia crossing some mystic line through the stones when you touch them? Well, no I can't, although my wife claims she can as she methodically communes with each stone (widdershins? don't know). What I can feel, however, is a sort of throbbing awe at the damn antiquity of the place. But the closest I ever came to that Earth Magic communion was at the Brodgar/Stenness complex in the Orkneys -- the esthetics of the siting was just so awesome, that maybe it was a matter of getting stoned on beauty, which is a phenomenon that really does occur if you are lucky or are in the right mood. [Actually, you don't need a stone circle for this -- a great sunset, a rainbow, a conjunction of moon and planets, a comet, etc. can do it -- for me its visual, not tactile.]
This is a repeat of the note on my English Castle page; just substitute Stone
Circles where appropriate (although they don't have privy pits).
There is no more
appreciative companion than a dog to take to a castle (small children complain too
much and don't respect your urge to poke around and linger over details). Of course,
it has to be a castle where the dog can be let off the leash -- not one of those National
Trust places where you are confined behind ropes with a hawk-eyed harridan making
sure you don't touch anything. There might be heart-stopping moments when the dog
leaps up on a wall with a 300-foot precipice on the other side (as at Beeston). And it
might be hard to drag it away from the local inhabitants (such as the moles at Minster
Lovell). They love dashing around and are especially enthusiastic about investigating
the Garderobes (privies), which were usually little dead-end passages in the walls with
a stone toilet seat and a shaft dropping down to the outer ditch or moat.
[Don't worry about the precipice bit when it comes to stone circles. Do, however, worry
about the presence of any sheep -- make sure your dog doesn't harry them.]
There is no more appreciative companion than a dog to take to a castle (small children complain too much and don't respect your urge to poke around and linger over details). Of course, it has to be a castle where the dog can be let off the leash -- not one of those National Trust places where you are confined behind ropes with a hawk-eyed harridan making sure you don't touch anything. There might be heart-stopping moments when the dog leaps up on a wall with a 300-foot precipice on the other side (as at Beeston). And it might be hard to drag it away from the local inhabitants (such as the moles at Minster Lovell). They love dashing around and are especially enthusiastic about investigating the Garderobes (privies), which were usually little dead-end passages in the walls with a stone toilet seat and a shaft dropping down to the outer ditch or moat. [Don't worry about the precipice bit when it comes to stone circles. Do, however, worry about the presence of any sheep -- make sure your dog doesn't harry them.]
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