In praise of stone circles

The Skeptic 7.3

Not a sausage, I am sorry to say, did I feel as I placed my hands on the largest of the standing stones that make up the Castlerigg stone circle near Keswick. I stood in communion with the stone, hoping to feel the a tingle of Earth-energy. After a few minutes, I gave up, feeling not a little embarrassed as I saw the other visitors to the circle staring with the sort of look reserved for the loony in the bus queue.

It was a serious experiment. Stories are legion about people and stone circles. They see mysterious lights in the vicinity; they feel flames of psychic energy shoot through them when they touch a stone; they see rays of energy beaming out of the stones; cool sparks engulf them like St Elmo's fire; dowsers' sticks rattle around uncontrollably; pendulums dance; strange images enter the mind - pagan sacrifices, Beltane fires with naked dancers, slaughtered beasts and masked shamen; the stones themselves arch their backs, or dance. There may be deep hums, and cracklings.

But, alas, for me it was the psychic equivalent of `early closing' at Castlerigg. There were no buzzes, sparks, flashes, lights, or anything... but then, suddenly, the earth currents flowed, the planet and I were in tune, I was part of the Cosmic Dance - I had a vision of the disembodied spirit of James Dean! My heart jumped. Was I having my first true psychic experience? Well, not quite. A French tourist looking bored as only the French can, had slouched onto the scene, leaned against a stone, and lit a pungent Gitane, brooding beneath his shades and leather jacket.

So, the circle wasn't paranormal. But neither could it reasonably be described as `normal'. Here were over 40 stones, painstakingly buried in the earth and arranged in a circle perhaps 100 feet across. By whom? When? For what? There are almost as many answers to these questions as there are researchers. Although some circles have astronomical alignments, this is not universal, and many circles are only roughly aligned in this way. According to Janet and Colin Bord in their indispensible Atlas of Magical Britain (Sidgwick & Jackson, 1990) one researcher believes that the Castlerigg circle was used for astronomical calculations, since on 2 February (Candlemas), the shadow cast by the largest stone points to the sunrise. According to the Bords, there have also been reports of mysterious lights around the stones. Whether or not `earthlights' actually exist and have a scientific or a `paranormal' explanation is, of course, a matter of some controversy.

Nevertheless, there is one inescapable fact. Most people find something compelling and fascinating about stone circles. To some they are of `novelty' interest. To others they are `sacred' places. Even vandals are interested: according to Hunter Davies in A Walk Around The Lakes (Arrow Books, 1989), when William Wordsworth took Coleridge to see the Castlerigg circle in 1799 they found the stones defaced with white paint. You'd think that with all that earth energy around throwing buckets of white paint would short-circuit Gaia, but apparently not.

There are those who seek to promote the building of new circles today. One enthusiast is John Harrison, who in his pamphlet Build your own stone circle! - A DIY Guide exhorts 20th Century folk to build circles in their gardens and public spaces. His booklet is full of ideas even the most liberal skeptic would discount. For example: ` “charge” your circle with positive energies and “good vibes”; `form a sort of healing/relaxing forcefield inside it'; `a feeling of being at one with nature, and the rays of the sun refreshing you and filling you with feelings of peace, freedom, happiness, inspiration and optimism to face life in the 20th century.' You may not like the way this is expressed, but I admire Mr Harrison's sentiment.

It is, of course, possible that stone circles do throb with Gaia energy, or some such power that can be picked up only by `sensitive' individuals whose word we may choose to doubt, or to accept. A true skeptic would keep an open mind on the matter, and should someone eventually invent a Telluric Voltmeter which shows that such energies do exist, would be happy. I would not. I hope that there are no earth currents, no ley lines, no energy fields and no `forgotten relationships with the living crystalline planet'. The fact that the stone circles, constructed by men and women just like us, perhaps more than 6,000 years ago, are still surviving, is surely enough.


©Toby Howard 1995

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