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Celtic Cornwall

Monica Sjoo



In 1978, I set off with some friends and children in an old post office van to travel down through Somerset and Devon to ancient and Celtic Kernow/Cornwall. We went through Dartmoor and Bodmin Moor and were amazed at the wealth of ancient remains everywhere around us: Neolithic stone circles and cromlechs, standing stones and cairns, Bronze Age hut circles and Iron Age forts, in areas now totally uninhabited and desolate.

We visited a magnificent dolmen/cromlech (‘Cromlechau’ means 'burial chamber' in Welsh) called Spinster's Rock. It stands in a field on Dartmoor. Cromlechs consist of a number of vertical stones surmounted by a giant capstone. Some would have originally been covered with a mound of earth and stone; others would never have been burial places, but places of power to do with the underground waters.

It is said of this cromlech that it was built by a giant woman, or Cailleach (the Hag, Crone or Wise Woman) who moves mountains and carries the massive stones of the sacred circles and cairns in Her apron. There are myths about Her in Ireland and Scotland. Obviously She was originally Danu, Goddess of the stone/Megalith builders; She was the tomb-Goddess of Death and Rebirth. Some of the cromlechs were both places of collective burial (like the early christian churches), as well as places of worship, high energies and mysterious powers. There are innumerable remains of fires and feasting in and by the barrows.

There were no individual burials until the Bronze Age with its hierarchical and warlike society, introduced in Britain by the Beaker People from ca. 2000 b.c. The Mother Goddess was the guardian of the seed hidden in the Earth: She was the guardian of the Dead awaiting rebirth, like the seed, through Her. The newly Dead were seen to be particularly powerful and could be contacted during shamanistic trances within the darkness of the vulva-shaped Cromlech, when important healing and prophetic knowledge could be gained through them. The Dead were thought to await rebirth inside the Earth Womb, on the Moon or the Milky Way. The cromlechs and barrows symbolised the entrance - the Womb of Death and Rebirth - to the ancestral spirit-world, the Otherworld, the Dream-Place of past and present, where psychic and physical realities merge. The ancient communal tomb was the source of power where energies meet and where one is closer to the sacred. Women and men shamans in all ages have retreated into caves and rock-cut chambers to gain knowledge and to communicate with the spirit-world of the Goddess. This was so on Crete and is still so among many natural peoples.

Men-an-Tol and Avebury (1978)

The Megalithic stone monuments and the Neolithic culture of Britain and Ireland, like that in Brittany, were created by an ancient Iberian pre-Celtic people who were small, fine-featured and dark skinned. It is thought that they might have been related to the present-day Samis and Finns of the Far North. Their descendants still live on the fringes of the Celtic world. Their Shamans would have been women who guarded the Mysteries and led the rituals, communicating with the Dead and the Otherworld. The ancient Britons were peaceful, understood the calendar, knew the Solstices and the Lunar alignments. They also believed in reincarnation. The stone circles have been called Lunar temples/observatories. Their most important astrological function was to predict Lunar eclipses and the tides of the seas. A Thom4 a British civil engineer who measured hundreds of megalithic sites, believes that all the impressive alignments in Britain were Lunar. He also discovered that the ancients used a mathematical measurement which he calls a 'megalithic yard' (2.72 feet) and which is based on the length of the human stride. It seems that ancient women used a kind of holistic mathematics that has been lost to us today and had great knowledge of the movements of the planets, the Moon and the Sun; knowledge we have yet to recover. Lunar also means menstrual, which is obvious to any woman. The Stones were a kind of menstrual calendar set up in the landscape within which were performed rituals in the moonlight. The menhirs had oracular functions and were called 'speaking stones'.

Orgiastic rites would have been held in the light of the Full Moon as well, for the Full Moon is the giver of all creativity and fertility of mind, psyche and body. Any children born as a result of heterosexual rites would have been called 'Virgin-born', mothered by the Moon. There appears to be a link between women's sexuality and religious experience. Women are capable of integrating sexual pleasure into the high brain centre and can, through sexual experience, reach transcendental heights and altered states of being. This doesn't appear to be true for the human male. Also, unlike most female mammals, women are not bound by ovarian cycles. The function of our sexuality is therefore NOT purely reproductive.

In the Goddess-religions ecstatic sexual rites expressing all forms of sexuality are integral to Her worship, while male-centred 'religions' practise denial of sexuality (particularly in women) and attempt to separate mind from body, spirit from matter, and enforce rigid male-controlled heterosexuality. Patriarchy replaces eroticism and freely given orgiastic sexuality with rape, pornography and monogamous 'wifehood' imposed on women. In the Goddess-cultures men were, so far as they were allowed to be initiated at all, initiated into the Mysteries by women. This is still so in Tantra, and was so among the Celts.

The stones and the Stone Circles are always associated with the Waters. They are encircled by underground waters and are placed above geodetic Spirals of great magic and healing powers. They are placed by wells and rivers, by the sea or on sacred islands surrounded by water on all sides. The great oceans are the Mother of all life and the wells springing up from inside of the Earth were felt to be her menstrual/lifegiving and healing blood. The stone circles are never exact geometric circles, but are organic and resemble wombs, caves and pots.

There are many stone circles near Land's End in Kernow/Cornwall and some of them are called 'Merry Maidens', 'Nine Maidens' and so on. The story goes that the Stones had once been foolish young women who had been dancing and merry-making on the sabbath and therefore were petrified as a punishment by the vengeful, puritanical and joyless Jehovah. The 'Pipers' who accompanied the dance, are some large stones standing near the circles. This story is told of many circles. 'Dans Meyn' means Dancing Stones in Cornish. Interestingly enough the local people associate the Stone Circles with women, dancing and music - and defiance of the patriarchal male god!

There are scientists and 'ley line' enthusiasts (ley lines are the energy lines thought to connect the stones and sacred places along certain paths that are also known as 'Fairy paths') who have spent some years now investigating the energies given off by the Stones of the Rollright Circle in England. They call their research ‘The Dragon Project'. The Dragon/Serpent represents the geodetic Spiral patterns of the serpentine underground waters and the magnetic current of the Earth Spirit. The Goddess as Dragon/Serpent is the chthonic powers of the Earth and Waters, while in bird form, she is Air and sky.

One thing there seems to be agreement about is that there is an extraordinary amount of quartz in the Sacred Stones everywhere. Quartz is a crystalline mineral and a carrier of electro-magnetic currents. It is thought to have healing powers and to dispense wisdom and the power of divination (fortune-tellers use a crystal ball of quartz) and it was (and still is) universally used in shamanistic rituals. Near where I live in Wales there is a magnificent cromlech situated on the very beautiful coast with the sea behind it. Half of its upright stones are just plain grey granite, while their opposite numbers, facing them, are stones speckled with large chunks of quartz. The enormous capstone, weighing 25 tons, has a similar quartz content. This stone was obviously chosen for a reason.

It has also been found that certain standing stones associated with stone circles generate ultrasound when stimulated by elements in the electromagnetic spectrum radiated by the Sun at dawn. Many musical instruments and women's singing contain ultrasound which is a sound or a frequency too high for the human ear to detect. Someone writing in the English journal, “The Ley Hunter: Magazine for Earth Mysteries”, put forward the following theory a few years ago. If a specific number of young girls with high piping voices danced within a circle of standing stones they would subject each stone to a burst of sound energy as each girl passed it. The ultrasound in the voices would act on the crystal structure of the stone causing the electromagnetic radiation to be a fixed frequency dependent upon the physical characteristics of the quartz content. It seems possible that with certain numbers of dancers singing and humming a special note, a type of resonance might be set up in the circle, the radiation from each stone arriving at its neighbour at the right time to reinforce the effect of each girl's voice as she passed each stone. A fully energised circle at the climax of a nine-maiden power ritual would have a pulse of vibrating energy swirling around the circle. We don't know whether or not this energy was then aimed at triggering off outlying stones (as some kind of 'church bells') to be carried throughout the land, acting on the fertility of the plant world and on the psychic telepathic powers of the human communities.

It is interesting to see that within the Craft, in the covens, the participants also dance within a circle so as to build up a psychic power cone which can then be directed towards a certain goal - to heal or to destroy. It has been suggested that the ancient 'straight line' grid system of the 'leys' was in fact already an early attempt at containment of female creative energies and a scheme towards control, centralisation and kingship. The Earth Spirit doesn't move in a straight line but in constantly flowing serpentine and spiral movements. One hears again and again in early patriarchal accounts how the head of the Serpent was staked by driving pegs into the ground and held static, presumably by the emerging male priesthood which was attempting to take over and coopt the powers of the women Shamans. And how the Dragon/Monster was slaughtered by the masculine hero. Out of the dead body of the Mother he then fashions the male universe and creates ‘law and order’.

It is interesting that it is mainly men involved in the present-day ley line research. The name of their journal 'The Ley Hunter' gives me a vision of men with guns stalking the Earth's energies. Surely 'The Ley Seeker' would have been a more appropriate and respectful name.

The magnetic Dragon-energies of the Stones/Earth/Minerals/ Underground Waters have to be approached with the greatest respect. We don't know what energies we might naively and wrongfully tamper with. It might also be that unless we regain the knowledge of how to yet again tune into and help reactivate these energies of the Moon, Waters, Earth, Stones and Wells within and without ourselves, we will all die...

I feel that the ancient women knew how to be at one with, and how to affect the radiant energies of the Cosmic Dance and that to them matter and spirit were One and undivided. And it seems to me that present-day male atomic scientists are involved in the exact reversal of the life-affirming process. Instead of tuning into the Cosmic Dance they are aspiring to universal death through the unleashing of deadly energies, such as radiation from the breakdown of the very structures of matter. Barrenness is a patriarchal condition, and vengeance, death, divisiveness and sterility are the names of its male godhead. Scientists want to destroy all of life, reversing millions of years of evolution, as well as wanting to be able to create life artificially by cloning and test-tube babies without the 'aid' of women.

The Cornish stone circles often consist of nineteen not very large stones, a number important in fertility ritual and Lunar calculations. The Megalithic peoples and the Druids after them used a 19-19-18 year eclipse cycle for Lunar calculations. Holed stones were widely believed to possess healing powers. We visited one such stone, called 'Men-an-Tol' or 'Crick stone', on a bleak moor near Morvah. It was believed to have a Fairy guardian who could work miraculous cures. Children who were suffering from rickets were passed through its hole nine times and barren women who did so were thought to become fertile. Holed stones were positioned universally at the entrance of burial chambers and symbolised the birth passage of the Mother in rites of initiation and rebirth. We crawled through the 'Crick stone' in the constant mud and rain. We spent the best part of a month travelling up and down Cornwall seeking out stone circles in farmers' fields, on moorland, in valleys and on mountainsides, most of the time in the pouring rain!

I had already lived a winter by the sea in St. Ives in Cornwall in 1958 and had experienced its wildness and beauty. Many artists, like Barbara Hepworth, have lived there and have been inspired by the strange cliff and rock formations, the luminous almost Mediterranean light, the desolate moorlands and the rugged coastline. In fact Barbara Hepworth became world-famous precisely because of her 'holed stones', sculptures directly inspired by the pebbles and rocks of the area.



Extract from Monica Sjoo's book 'Spiral Journey' available from Antenna Publications.