Monday, 20 June 2011

Solstice at the Source


By sun, by star, by sea, by stone,
Tread out the circles of the Grail . . .
Summer Solstice was a gem this year, all the more precious for dawning between days of relentless rainfall here in West Wales. Under the blue crystal dome of the sky, we set off for a walk on the Preseli hills, planning to walk six miles or so along the Golden Road, the route taken by Bronze Age traders to the Wicklow Hills, in search of Irish gold.

We reached Carn Meini (the Mound of Stones) after only a mile or so of uphill walking in a landscape of tussocky heather and wild bilberries, the grazing ground of a small herd of moorland ponies who did not seem to mind our presence. 

From this cluster of huge rocky outcroppings it has long been believed that as many as eighty enormous stones were transported to Salisbury Plain to become part of Stonehenge more than 4,000 years ago.
The great stones held us, would not let us go any further. So we stayed all afternoon while David took photos and I lay down in a grassy alcove, listening to the slow, somnolent voices of the half-hewn giants as they conversed with the wind blowing in over the Irish Sea.

Drifting in and out of sun-warmed dreams, at some point it occurred to me that this was the very day that hundreds of people were gathering at Stonehenge to celebrate the Solstice, encircling the very stones that were once rooted here. Once again, the unsolved mystery that has confounded archaeologists for years raised itself in my mind. How did they get there, some 140 miles away? There are simply no plausible answers. 

One theory is that glaciers took them. Yet comprehensive geological studies have shown no evidence for glaciation in Wessex that could have transported these rocks and left no other trace. Another is that they were dragged with rollers and sledges along the coast of Wales by sea and then overland to Stonehenge. But modern attempts to replicate this journey have ended in disaster with stones sinking into the sea. 

Could they have been levitated by supernatural means as some claim the Egyptian pyramids were? Perhaps this was what the 12th century scribe Geoffrey of Monmouth had in mind when he described how Merlin magically brought the stones of Stonehenge to Salisbury Plain from Ireland, where they were known as The Giants’ Dance. Of these stones, Merlin says:

They are mystical stones, and of a medicinal virtue . . . (they) make baths in them, when they should be taken with any illness. For their method was to wash the stones, and put their sick into the water, which infallibly cured them. With the like success they cured wounds also, adding only the application of some herbs. There is not a stone there which has not some healing virtue.

Recently a team of archaeologists came up with evidence that they believe demonstrates early tribes did make pilgrimages to Stonehenge for the healing properties of its stones. 
 
Meanwhile, here we were, magnetised by the stones into spending several unplanned hours among the sleeping giants under a pulsating midsummer sun, and they only let us go when I remembered we were supposed to be heading down to the sea for a community gathering at 6 o’clock.

A cross-country drive through winding lanes took us to Abermawr beach, where we met friends from Brithdir Mawr, a longstanding community of folks who live in a cluster of Celtic-style round-houses beneath Carn Ingli, the Mount of Angels.

The evening began with a silent meditation walk through woods which were alive with faery energy on this night, one of the three ysprydnos, or Spirit Nights of the year (although in Wales this was usually celebrated in its Christianised form as St. John’s Eve on June 23rd.)
After a picnic feast on the beach we danced in a ring to the skirl of pipes and beat of drum, which must have excited a herd of cows in the neighbouring field, for they pawed the ground, snorting, and galloped wildly over the grass in imitation!


Later we sang the sun into the sea with drumbeat and chanting in woven harmonies until the fire provided the only light on the darkening beach by which to find our way home again.