The Standing Stones of pre-history
I would challenge anyone to stand in the shadows of the towering Neolithic cathedral like presence of Stonehenge and not be impressed. Not only by its sheer magnitude and it’s potential spiritual significance but also its construction.
For hundreds, maybe thousands of years these giant stones have stood proudly on Salisbury Plain and their unfathomable and mysterious reason for existence continues to draw crowds from across the globe. We’re not entirely certain when the stones were erected but they are by no means the only monument or ‘stone circle’ bequeathed to us by a long gone civilisation.
Throughout Britain, especially in the West, there are many stone circles, hundreds in fact, some of which are fairly small at just 10 or 12 feet in diameter but others which are imposing and dominant on their respective landscapes. Archaeologists often don’t pay great attention to most of them and there are still some which are scarcely known outside of their local area…I’d wager that the locals would prefer it remained that way in most of these lesser known cases.
But why do we have them at all? What purpose did they, or do they serve mankind?
Boscawen Un in Cornwall
The late Professor Alexander Thom examined over 600 of these sites (yes that’s right there are at least 600 we know of!) and of those he made detailed surveys of around 50%. He found, like the late Gerald Hawkins found at Stonehenge, that these circles (actually very few are true circles) provide an extremely accurate means of calculating the movements of the Sun, Moon and the major stars. In order to do this, these stones had to be set out in a very specific way and it appears that the people who constructed them must have had a knowledge of mathematics which was only equalled many hundreds of years later in classical Greece. What’s also impressive is that in some areas of Britain these circles are plotted out at an almost exact regular distance from each other and Professor Thom found that many are in line with commonly recognised ley lines and concluded that they must form part of a ‘ley system’. Researchers have found that several thousands of years later the same principles were used during the construction of some of our cathedrals and abbeys.
Some people believe that by building these structures in such a way, and subsequently filling them with a congregation the energies of the solar system would be concentrated and lifted creating a powerful life force or magnetism which would be of benefit to everyone. These circles were therefore seen as a centre of power for their civilisations…possibly.
But do we have any evidence at all of this ability to generate and focus energy in these special places? Archaeologist and Psychical Researcher Thomas Charles Lethbridge experienced something rather unexpected when he attempted to date the Merry Maidens stone circle in Lamorna near Cornwall. He took his dowsing pendulum in one hand and placed the other hand on one of the stones. He claimed to have felt a strong tingling sensation in the hand touching the stone, while his pendulum simultaneously began to move swiftly in a horizontal fashion, back and forth. Of course these sensations can be explained away in more logical way (simply hold both hands in front of your face palm to palm and after just a few seconds you will begin to feel warmth and a slight tingle) and yet many people continue to report this sensation which they claim happen almost as soon as they touch an ancient stone, and there have even been claims of photographs taken which appear to show some form of light being emitted.
Then there are those who believe that so magical are these sacred places that they could actually represent some form of portal to another time, a time slip vortex if you like.
A little far fetched perhaps and more at home in the realms of fiction but still, maybe these stones do retain some form of universal energy which we can all pick up on if we choose. Maybe therein lies a subconscious magnetism which explains why most of us feel a draw towards visiting and understanding these places.
For anyone interested in visiting some of Britains standing stones here is a list of just a few of them.
Claire Fraser (played by Caitriona Balfe) in TV's Outlander
The best known of its kind and often associated by most people with Druids, however it’s possible that Stonehenge is much older than Druidism. The first construction having been done somewhere around 2600BC. One of the biggest mysteries of Stonehenge however is how the stones got onto Salisbury Plain in the first place given that they are not native to the immediate area. The nearest natural source of these ‘blue stones’ is in South Wales, but they are also found in North Wales and Ireland. So how did Neolithic man transport such huge stones hundreds of miles? One possibility is that actually these stones were transported by Ice Age glaciers, being deposited on Salisbury Plain. The problem with this theory is that there have not been any other stones or fragments found in the vicinity, making this theory not particularly likely. Another theory is that the stones were transported by sea and river however ask any south coast fisherman and they will tell you that to navigate such a heavy load in what can often be rough and inhospitable seas would have been almost impossible. However they came to be in Wiltshire, it’s likely they were moved to their current position using a ‘sled and rollers’ method. There have been suggestions made over the years however that these stones were transported using some form of telekinesis known only to the chiefs in the same way that chronicles tell of Merlin the Magician apparently moving stones from Ireland to ‘mount of Ambrius’ (which we know now to be Amesbury) and there are many legends in British folklore of stones being lifted by vibrations produced by musical instruments and the powers of the human mind.
However they came to be, they are undoubtedly the most instantly recognisable of all standing stones.
The Blind Fiddler, near Cathall, Cornwall
Just a single stone standing almost 11 feet tall, this stone is in an area of Cornwall which boasts several of these single stones which legend tells us are musicians who were turned to stone. It’s believed these legends come from a time when Paganism was being overtaken by Christianity and singing and dancing were very much frowned upon.
The Cheesewring, Bodmin Moor, Cornwall
This unusual collection of balancing stones, alleged to be of natural formation, is said to have been the dwelling place of a Druid who had a golden cup. This cup was offered to thirsty hunters passing by, until one of them decided to drink the cup dry. He failed and in angry rode away swiftly on his horse. He suffered a fatal accident and was buried with the cup. While this sounds the stuff of mere legend, in 1818 a nearby cairn was opened and was found to contain a golden cup dating from around 1500BC
Older even than Stonehenge, not much of the original grandeur remains with many of the large stones having been smashed into smaller pieces in the 17th and 18th centuries and used in the building of Avebury and the neighbouring farms. Surrounding the whole area is a great earth bank measuring 1300 feet in diameter, with an inner ditch which is 30 feet deep. The outer circle was once made up of 100 stones of which only 27 now remain. Within the main circle there are the remnants of 2 smaller circles each of which originally had 30 stones.
The Holestone, Doagh, Co.Antrim
The hole in this stone is smaller than those found in some of the stones in Cornwall (believed to have been for passing through to bring luck, good health or fertility), but still large enough for a hand. It is sad that betrothals and confirmed by couples clasping hands through the hole which seems to point towards evidence of ancient fertility rites.
Callanish Stones, Isle of Lewis, Outer Hebrides
This is one of the most remote sites in Britain, and one of the most mysterious. Here on desolate moorland stand 13 stone pillars, the tallest of which stands at over 15 feet tall, approached by an avenue of stones which measures 270 feet in length, however only 9 of the original stones remain standing. Within the main circle is a cairn (a mound of rocks built as a memorial) dating back to around 2000BC. Local legends tells of a ‘Shining One’ possibly a King who walks the avenue to the circle when the sunrises on a midsummers morning, his arrival heralded by the cuckoos call.
Harolds Stone, Monmouthshire
No one knows the reason these 3 stones were erected, the tallest of which stands at over 13 feet tall, however there is a story that 2 dowsers, when visiting the site in the 1960s were flung backwards away from the stones with great force.
OS Grid Reference: SU120420
OS Grid Reference: SW430279
OS Grid Reference: SX 260711
OS Grid Reference: SU 101699
Map Ref: J2416590683
Map Ref: NB213331
OS Grid Reference: SO 496052
Do you have an interesting story connected to standing stones?