Strong magic at the Stanton Drew stone circles
It was in 2006 that I came across Gordon Strong
’s modest self-published book, The Sacred Stone Circles of Stanton Drew
, in the Labyrinth Bookshop at Glastonbury. Eager to meet the author, as I had recently visited this impressive but little known prehistoric site just south of Bristol for the first time (having moved to live in Somerset), I soon got in touch for an interview and found the Stanton Drew megaliths had fascinated Gordon for no fewer than 40 years.
Born only 20 miles away at Burnham-on-Sea, Gordon (pictured below) – also a teacher, musician, poet and Tarot reader – has visited the site hundreds of times, in the company of dowsers, psychics, Druids, clairvoyants, film-makers, writers and the plain curious, and always makes special pilgrimages on the old Celtic quarter days. In 2008, his Stanton Drew and its Ancient Stone Circles was published by Wooden Books.
The new book from Skylight Press (UK £9.99, September 2012),
reverting to Gordon's original title to expand on both the magical and historical contexts in which he places the monument, is no ordinary guidebook, as one might expect. Far from it. Rather, Gordon uses the three stone circles as megalithic mandalas to meditate upon a range of profound issues: earth energies, Arthur, Osiris and the rebirth archetype, quantum science and the holographic universe, shamanism and altered state of consciousness, the Western esoteric tradition and the British Mysteries.
Thus the book might be described as a metaphysical companion enabling visitors to learn about the magico-spiritual potential of the circles and, ultimately, of themselves. 'In any age, man has the eternal problem of attempting to discover who he really is and I can vouch for the fact that Stanton Drew has much to teach,' Gordon writes.
Discussing also the archaeological record, ritual, mediumship and mythology, local folklore and the testimonies of various observers, from 18th century antiquarians to recent dowsing surveys, all packed into a hundred pages, the result is a multi-dimensional appraisal of Stanton Drew which reinvents the site with an inspirational mythos for the 21st century.
The book is several times longer than the Wooden Books version which, Gordon tells me, he was never really happy with as his text was edited and reworked. This time it is all his own work and includes excellent photographs and diagrams, as well as his own painting of the monument reproduced on the back cover
The biggest stone circle site in the UK after Avebury, and
enclosing an area of 2,000 square metres, which exceeds the dimensions of Stonehenge, Stanton Drew comprises the Great, the South West and the North East circles, plus the Cove, a group of three massive stones in the garden of the Druid’s Arms pub nearby. The site made national news in 1997 when evidence of a 5,000-year-old neolithic temple, twice the size of Stonehenge and probably 500 years older, was discovered. A geophysical survey by English Heritage (funded in part by small business loans, grants and donations) uncovered nine concentric circles which, researchers thought, indicated the foundations
of a wooden temple, suggesting the site was more significant than had been believed previously.
There are three documented astronomical alignments: to the midsummer sunrise, the midwinter sunset, and the southernmost moonset. First-time visitors are astonished by the scale of the spectacle that greets them on the banks of the River Chew. Gordon’s theory is that the stones were a place of initiation and that their orientations to moon risings and settings provided a lunar calendar.
‘Natural magic and a spiritual atmosphere would have been a daily occurrence here in 3,000BCE, because everything was tuned to nature,’ said Gordon. ‘Building something like this would have been a big event, and a magical experience. In the 21st century we should mark the wisdom of those who built such monuments and respond to the challenge of attempting to understand their purpose.’
This is indeed so. Avebury and Stonehenge may have cornered the megalithic market in England but, thanks to Gordon's singular research, unique insight and philosophical intrepidity, Stanton Drew now has its own riches
►Picture of Stanton Drew megalith by Palden Jenkins.
The lonely Deer Leap stones, near Ebbor Gorge in the Mendip Hills in Somerset. Glastonbury Tor can be seen between them in the far distance.
Discovery re-ignites bluestones controversy
Diggers stand in the positions of missing stones at “Bluestonehenge” - a lost stone circle discovered on the west bank of the Avon, a mile from Stonehenge - with the bank and ditch of the henge curving in front of them.
Archaeologists say the circle would have marked the end of the Avenue, a 2.8km processional route from the Avon to Stonehenge constructed at the end of the Stone Age. The outer henge around the stones was built around 2,400BC, but arrowheads found in the circle indicate the stones were erected as much as 500 years earlier.
Excavations, funded by grants, donations and small business loans, began in August-September 2009 by the Stonehenge Riverside Project – a consortium of universities – uncovered the nine stone-holes, part of a circle of probably 25 standing stones. Most of the circle remains unexcavated, preserved for future research, while the 2009 excavation has now been filled back in.
A statement from the University of Bristol this week (October 7) said that when the stones from the newly-discovered circle were removed by Neolithic people, it was possible they were dragged along the Avenue to Stonehenge to be incorporated within its major phase of rebuilding at about 2,500 BC. After this date, Stonehenge consisted of some 80 Welsh bluestones and 83 local sarsen stones. Some of the bluestones that once stood at the riverside may now stand in the centre of Stonehenge.
The stones from the new-found circle were removed thousands of years ago but the sizes of the holes in which they stood “indicate that this was a circle of bluestones that were brought from the Preseli mountains of Wales 150 miles away, like the inner stones at Stonehenge” (see Peter Dunn's artist's impression below).
Now, of course, there’s no proof of this - the claim is an archaeological myth which has been repeated until it has been accepted as actuality. For years, I and certain others have dismissed the theory that the bluestones were transported by land and water from the Preseli mountains in west Wales, and suggested instead that ice was the carrier. It's more realistic to think that, as ice melted after one of the Ice Ages, the bluestones were left handy for the builders of Stonehenge.
There’s the "awkward" 1801 discovery, in a long barrow 12 miles from Stonehenge, of a bluestone which was later placed in Salisbury Museum. Also, the Stonehenge bluestones are not identical. While some could have come from the Preselis, others could have come from Snowdonia.
What geologists should be looking for is a trail of bluestone rubble on Salisbury Plain, and further afield, which could be traced to its various origins.
And archaeologists still seem to be obsessed with death rather than life when considering prehistoric monuments. Dr Josh Pollard, from the University of Bristol and co-director of the Stonehenge Riverside Project, described Bluestonehenge as “an incredible discovery”, but continued: “The newly-discovered circle and henge should be considered an integral part of Stonehenge rather than a separate monument. Furthermore, it offers tremendous insight into the history of its famous neighbour. Its riverside location
demonstrates once again the importance of the River Avon in Neolithic funerary rites and ceremonies.”
Professor Mike Parker Pearson, from the University of Sheffield and principal director of the project, said: “Not many people know that Stonehenge was Britain’s largest burial ground at that time. Maybe the bluestone circle is where people were cremated before their ashes were buried at Stonehenge itself.” It could be that Bluestonehenge was where the dead began their rapid advance
Maybe. But perhaps archaeologists ought to look back further in time and think about just how these venerable monuments came to be situated where they are, and whether an underlying pattern reveals a celebration of life that was only later overlain in places by “funerary rites and ceremonies”.
Legacy of the mystic isle of Wessex
Thomas Hardy, a writer ever alert to the moods of landscape and the human figure within it, set his 1897 novel The Well-Beloved on Portland, "that Gibraltar of Wessex, the singular peninsula once an island, and still called such, that stretches out like the head of a bird into the English Channel". And in his 1912 Preface, he says Portland "has been for centuries immemorial the home of a curious and well-nigh distinct people, cherishing strange beliefs and singular customs".
Dorset author Gary Biltcliffe is well aware of Hardy's connections with Portland - and much more besides. Gary has spent 30 years researching and investigating earth mysteries, ancient civilisations and lost knowledge around the world and in his new book, The Spirit of Portland: Revelations of a Sacred Isle
, elegantly produced by the Dorset publishers Roving Press (£9.95), he shares with us his fascinating discoveries and makes a valuable contribution to the esoteric history of Britain.
"In an attempt to discover the amazing legacy of sacred Portland," Gary says, "I had to break new ground by combining the study of Portland's archaeology, oral traditions, folklore and the old families, with a more open-minded approach to research."
Indeed, he is part of that movement, which is close to my own heart, to re-establish philosophy as it was known to the ancients, their way of eschewing the "worm's eye view" and taking in the bigger picture, the noumenal patterns which are the essence of the living universe.
Behind Portland's reputation for stone quarrying and its naval heritage, lies an island immersed in myth and legend. Gary brings illuminating answers to such questions as why was Portland so important and strategic throughout Britain’s history? Does it hold the key to an ancient masonic secret? Was it a major centre of the Druids? Are island families descended from Phoenicians and Jutes?
Here we have an adventure embracing the island's many mysteries, its sacred geology and geometry, its leys and holy wells, its stone circles, standing stones and burial mounds - and Gary finds even that a giant figure, formed from natural and man-made features, looms from its landscape, the latest of a growing number of such "landscape sculptures" discovered around Britain.
Gary thinks the Portland figure could represent the Celtic Bran, depicted as a giant in the old British tales, and therefore the genius loci, or spirit of the island - Bran is a common placename there, and the mythological Bran was connected to the cult of the crow or raven, linking to the bird's-head shape of the island.
Thoughtfully, Gary also includes five walks around Portland (mirroring his own explorations on foot) enabling visitors to discover its hidden treasures for themselves - with the not too bemused ghost of Thomas Hardy surely looking over their shoulders!
Zodiac's signs of the times for Britain
Katherine Maltwood, in an appendix to her book on the Glastonbury Zodiac, A Guide to Glastonbury’s Temple of the Stars, published by James Clarke in 1935, mentioned the so-called Zodiac of Great Britain.
According to this, Britain moves through the 12 zodiacal signs over 360-year periods, spending 30 years in each house, but Mysterious Planet reader Anthony Smith, who has been interested in the Glastonbury Zodiac for many years, has drawn my attention to the fact that Mrs Maltwood (pictured) gave no clue as to where this idea originated, and that a reprinted version in 1982 omitted any reference to it.
Interestingly, the events of some of these periods appear to match quite well the perceived characteristics of the signs under which they occurred.
For instance, the Leo period 1530-1560 overlaps the rule of Henry VIII, in particular his tyrannical period; Virgo, 1560-1590, partially covers the reign of Elizabeth I, the Virgin Queen; Charles I ruled England in the Scorpio period of 1620-1650 which encompassed the Civil War. Another Scorpio period, 1260-1290, occurred when Edward I, the Hammer of the Scots (and the Welsh and Irish, for that matter) ruled England, as regent 1265-1272 and as king until 1307.
"The Thirty Years' War, that engulfed most of Europe, lasted from 1618-1648, almost coincident with the Scorpio period of 1620-1650," said Anthony. "It was, by all accounts, probably proportionately nastier than the ensuing Napoleonic wars, and world wars one and two, in terms of the carnage bestowed on the smaller populations of the time. Might this mean that the Zodiac applied to the rest of Europe?
"No information was given by Mrs Maltwood about the origin of this Zodiac, nor how it might operate for other countries. Does it dictate events or do the string-pullers of this world guide events to match the Zodiacal signs as they recur - or is the whole idea just a load of rubbish?"
The Zodiac, as Katherine Maltwood described it, is as follows. 1530-1560, Leo, Henry VIII ruled 1509-1547; 1560-1590, Virgo, Elizabeth I ruled 1558-1603; 1590-1620, Libra, James I and VI ruled Scotland 1567-1625 and England 1603-25; 1620-1650, Scorpio, Charles I ruled England 1625-1649, and the Civil War took place.
The following periods need to be matched with their zodiacal signs - perhaps readers can fill in the historical blanks: 1650-1680, Sagittarius; 1680-1710, Capricorn; 1710-1740, Aquarius; 1740-1770, Pisces; 1770-1800, Aries; 1800-1830, Taurus; 1830-1860, Gemini.
Continuing: 1860-1890, Cancer, heyday of the Victorian family; 1890-1920, Leo, "high noon" of the British Empire; 1920-1950, Virgo, concern for international order?; 1950-1980, Libra, balance between socialism and capitalism?; 1980-2010, Scorpio, where we are now: self-inflicted national decline.
"We are in another Scorpio period now, which seems apt enough to me," Anthony added. "The mess that the country is in now is arguably self-inflicted."