I love visiting stone circles and ancient monuments. It’s not important to tick them off like trophies for me, though, and sometimes the experience can be really fleeting, almost like a dream. Last December, after a couple of glorious stolen days in Cornwall, I found myself reluctantly driving back Eastwards. On the way back I decided to take a break from the drive and look for a stone circle. Something of a traditional treat for the return trip – like a bonus gift on a reluctant journey back from Cornwall, a place I really love which has a rich and diverse crop of ancient sites and monuments. As I drove across Bodmin Moor I stopped briefly and leafed through a book I had bought which listed some of the most important ancient monuments of the area. Sadly there were non listed the immediate vicinity. A random search on Google Maps, however, revealed one just half an hour away and I immediately decided to plot a course to it. My new journey took me off the main road through a farm and along several dirt tracks. The area didn’t feel very inviting. In fact, it felt like I shouldn’t really be there – a feeling that was made worse by the gloomy December drizzle.
I parked up as close as I could to where the sat nav said there was a stone circle and set off on foot using instinct and feeling as to which direction the circle may have been situated. It’s funny visiting circles in this fashion. I’m self-aware enough to realise the irony of using modern technology to randomly select and find ancient monuments, but in truth, over the past few years I have visited some pretty amazing sites that haven’t made the lists, books or websites and to be honest it’s interesting not knowing what you might get when your arrive. Sometimes it’s a single stone or an impressive circle of standing stones, a long barrow or dolmen. Often, what the smaller, lesser-known sites lack in grandeur they gain in atmosphere and energy.
I just didn’t know what to expect or look for on this occasion, however, as there were no photographs listed. I was prepared for this and knew it could take some time. It can be frustrating at times wandering around in the mud (as well as good fun) but when you do find a circle or site that resonates with you, it’s always rewarding. Finally, after wandering around a couple of muddy fields, there it was in the distance – a semi-circle of standing stones and some not-so-standing stones arranged on the ground. It was set spectacularly in the middle of a wide open boggy moor. I like to approach a stone circle or monument from the west and circumnavigate a circle before entering – it’s an old habit, learned I suppose, from my Druidric studies, which have been part of my journey over the last decade or so. I’m not a big fan of marching into circles with drums, gusto and a sense of entitlement. I like to tentatively feel my way in. I much prefer a respectful and sensitive approach asking the spirits of the place if it’s okay to enter. We really don’t know for what purpose these monuments were built but it often feels like they were built for ceremonial or scared purposes (I know this assumption has been labelled ‘HF’ or ‘Hippy Factor’ by some archeologists) but some times you can just feel it .
I really like to acknowledge and honour the spirits of a place – a simple ceremony doesn’t require lots of time or equipment or a cape (although it’s okay if you want to wear one!) but it’s worth allowing time to set a respectful intention when visiting a potentially sacred site. I took my time sitting with the stones. It was December and although only about 2pm it was dark and gloomy. The air was heavy and saturated – a slight fog surrounded me and in the distance I could see I was surrounded by horses roaming freely.
Slowly the horses seemed to move closer and closer until one inquisitively seemed to almost haunt me – he followed me around like a spectre as if he was on castors. I was minded of the tales of Rhiannon on her uncatchable white horse in the ancient Welsh tales of the Mabinogion.
The horse seemed to ‘sit’ with me – to occupy the space, curiously observing me whilst, at the same time, guiding me around the circle. I really started to think and feel about our relationship with horses. Apparently, there’s archaeological evidence which suggests that horses were on this Island when we became separated from mainland Europe in 5600 BCE, in what seems like a (geographical) Brexit! Given the long history of the earth that doesn’t seem all that long ago does it?
I also became mindful of our very special relationship with horses over the millennia and how we have even deified them, as we did with the Gallo/ Roman deity Epona, how we’ve iconified the horse in totemic ancient symbols like the White Horse of Uffington in Oxfordshire, which is possibly 3000 years old or even older. It’s an interesting observation that certainly in the modern era British meat-eaters don’t eat horse – it’s as if our ancient reverence for horse remains with us today like an echo from a time when horses represented the raw powerful qualities of the divine feminine combined with a sense of freedom, travel and journeying – or maybe even the power of he Goddess herself?
For sure, the symbol of the horse will mean different things to different people. Horses have appeared in several of my paintings and artworks – a direct result of journey work in which the animal has appeared. I have a horse skin drum I made with the intention of making journey work and I recently made a horse skin rattle and tail hair rattle – made with similar intentions. The very name of this blog and umbrella term for my art practice is in fact ‘The Shaman’s Horse’ – a title I chose as it’s derived from a description of the drum as used as a method of transport to the other realms for Shamanic/animistic journey work. If you don’t know what this is, it’s a form or meditational work in which a practitioner uses a repetitive drum beat to alter his or her brainwaves into a dream like state where she or he may receive messages,visions or healing. This is a method I use regularly for life and for gaining inspiration for may paintings and artworks. So yet again we have the horse as a totem of a means for journeying – whether its physical or for internal work.
This image came from a combination of my experience visiting the stone circle combined with later journey or meditational work. Inspiration came from the connection made to that place; from the feeling of a liminal space that can exist in between the ancient time and modern times – in fact, a space that may even exist outside of time. That day served as reminder that these spaces can hold a place for a magical connection that endures and that just because a place isn’t in the list of must-see tourist spots it can be experientially powerful nonetheless – maybe even more so for its lack of human acknowledgement and footfall.
Subsequent meditational journey work also fed into the imagery. Geometric lines run around and in-between the stones, linking us to our ancestral routes, to other dimensions and spaces and to each other – maybe even to ourselves. The moon sits shining, resting above as a reminder or possible invitation to investigate the darker parts of our psyche – the realm of dreams and shadows. This could be time to investigate, acknowledge and accept the darker, possibly more magical, parts of our selves. This could serve as a chance to creatively investigate our inner connections (and our ancestry) that we may have never recognised or have forgotten – a place where the past meets the future and where imagination meets what we might call ‘reality’. Within the image is a hidden key which suggests an opening or opportunity which may come forth. Will you be curious and brave enough to use the key ?