The Shared Diary of a Novice Paranormal Investigator, aged 52 and Three Quar

When you believe in things you don’t understand, then you suffer.

(Stevie Wonder)

There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,

Than are dreamed of in your philosophy.


Ri fol ri fol tol de riddle dee.


The Mad Lady and the Megaliths

Having recovered from my bout of nasty temper, I had a go on the Cosy Local site forum.  Communicating like this was another first for me.  What a wonderful idea!  It was much better than a chat room.  I could just leave a comment or a question, and people with an interest could browse through, then maybe read it and respond.  We could exchange views, build a shared understanding, teach each other.  I had instant access to everyone else who was interested, and new posts could be waiting for me next time I wanted to look.  Fabulous.  Oh brave new world.  I do like having my own computer.

I declined the option of having myself represented by a pseudonym or cartoon character, choosing instead the novel approach of using my own name.  Nor did I fancy adding a quote or a motto.  Some of the contributors went for baroque standards of ornamentation.  I kept mine plain.  I never promised to be interesting.

Because I want to poke around everywhere, in everything, and not just look for spooks in midnight buildings, I posted a question about outdoor investigation.  I wondered if anyone might mention earth lights or ley lines.  It is all Stuff, after all.  I was delighted when I found that a couple of people had read it and posted replies.  It felt like I had made contact at last.  Not with an entity: they seem common enough; but with a community for communication about Stuff.  None of my real friends care for it at all.  I had a little conversation with my new contacts, over the course of a day or two.  I mentioned a spot I thought could be interesting.  It is a prominent hill, site of an old beacon point and the subject of a local legend.  We often like to walk up there.  One of the contributors informed us all that some believed there to be a stone circle nearby.  Terrific.  This kind of investigation I could manage, no sweat.  I could not wait for the weekend; I wanted to hunt for it straight away. 

Stone circles are part of a tradition of stone monuments found in many parts of the world, and quite commonly in the British Isles and in Brittany.  The stones are unimaginatively called ‘megaliths’, which, is the Greek expression for ‘big stones’.  The scholars of the past often chose banal labels for their discoveries, but translated them into Greek or Latin, hoping that working class people would find it all too hard to understand.  It did not work. 
Living in this age of machines, and having seen the Angel of the North, we might query the ‘mega’ label for some of the more compact megalithic features.  However, most of us certainly would not want to try setting up even the smallest of them simply for fun, or just to provide a more interesting vista from the cracks in our hut, especially if our only tools were a few deer antlers.

 To appreciate how wonderful these creations are, we need to register that stone circles were home-made; built by people with nothing but brawn and determination.  We are looking a long, long way back in time, to a different world.  The very earliest known menhirs (or single standing stones) are thought to have been erected in Jordan possibly more than ten thousand years ago.  The earliest earth and wood monuments may have been started in Europe eight thousand years ago.  Work on our stone circles probably started in about 4500BC.  These features are older than ancient. 
Archaeologists have some good ideas now about how those energetic ancestors created megalithic features, but they are never likely to agree about why groups of people who led such short and difficult lives felt they ought to pull on their animal skins, get out in the rain and knuckle down to some serious graft on a project that might take hundreds of years to complete.  Religion and ritual are always feasible explanations for the behaviour of folk long gone; but there are many ways of inventing religious observances, not all of which require complicated building work.  If you had a choice between committing your whole family, born and not yet born, to years of back-breaking work, or chucking a virgin and a few flowers into the bog once a year… well, you would weigh up your choices carefully, that is all I am saying.   I expect we could all have looked the other way while that virgin crawled right out and craftily washed off the peat round the back.  ‘Me?  No, it was that other virgin, … forgot the name… Oh, this ceremonial gruel looks tasty, would you like some?’

A fascinating discussion about megalithic remains started in 1967, with the publication of Alexander Thom’s ‘Megalithic Sites in Britain’ (Oxford, 1967).  Professor Thom had discovered that all the British stone circles he investigated seemed to have been erected using the same unit of measurement.  He called it the ‘megalithic yard’ and we would recognise it as 2.72 feet or 0.8297m.  I am told this is the length of an ‘average’ stride.  Using this unit to analyse the placement of the stones, he uncovered complex patterns of geometry.  When I read this my heart went out to those poor Neolithic builders.  Not only did they have to work all day in the cold, but they had to do geometry as well.  There is still, as there would be, entertaining dispute about what exactly Thom had uncovered, and whether or not he had been holding the ruler straight, but his work encouraged legions of characters who enjoyed geometry to uncover meaningful patterns in anything older than an Arndale centre.  Apparently, he was less than enchanted with that.  He had also, either unknowingly or deliberately, jumped on to a bandwagon driven by people who looked for mystical significances in units of measurement, some of whom believed that the ancient world was united within one common culture which had one holy unit of measurement.  Why am I thinking of Ikea?

Of course, there are other stories told about stone circles.  They are aligned in certain ways which enable them to be used as calendars.  They can predict eclipses.   They were ceremonial, they were symbolic. 

It is not possible to uncover the truth in this field by reading, especially if writers will have us believing in measurements, angles and constellations and each one you read disagrees with the last.  To be certain about the truth, we would all have to pop down to Stonehenge and get out the steel rule.  (‘Pass the protractor, Percy, I feel an alignment coming on.’)  If we wanted to understand these ideas, there would be swarms of the earnest, all plonking ladders up on the megaliths.

I remember as a young woman wandering up Silbury Hill one sunny August day, bathing in the pervasive Wiltshire weirdness and feeling bowled over by the sense of History, the atmosphere and the Wadworth’s.  That could not happen today.  In order to preserve our Ancient Monuments, the custodians of many of them have denied us access.  Their rationale is that if we tramp all over sites then our clumsy feet and our nasty ill-disciplined breath will simply wear it all away.  We will probably have pockets full of crisp packets as well.

This may all be true, but it raises the questions:

  • What is the difference between not being allowed to use something and it not being there for you to use?  Surely it has the same effect?
  • How long are things supposed to last?  Even Marks and Spencer’s underwear will wear out one day.  Nothing lasts forever.  That is called ‘change’ and it is part of our reality.

I imagine howls of disagreement.  Analysing my attitude, looking at why I think having access is so important, I expect I have been influenced by some of the modern mythology I absorbed, along with all that Wadworth’s, in my youth.  I have come across the notion that interaction, especially often-repeated ritual interaction, between people and places creates a kind of energy or power.   I think anyone visiting a church can feel something of that, whether or not they have chosen to be a Christian.  I know schools and theatres resonate when empty.  I believe this is because these places are crammed with life; much of it occupied in following well-worn or ritualised patterns.  I think people make this power and then they run on it.  We charge up places like we can charge up a torch battery, then we soak it all up and use that power to make ourselves shine.

Try a visit to Walsingham.  Slide unobtrusively into the shrine.  Unless you are made of wood, you will be bowled over by something, I promise you.  Then check out the history.  Discover that the whole structure, including the holy image, is a twentieth century reproduction.  The original building and its virgin are long gone; destroyed by Henry VIII.  So what bowled you over?   There is nothing there, dear diary, except what people have put there, but for years they have been getting themselves bussed in and they have been putting it there in shed loads.  Droves of the devout visit that place daily.  They sit, they think, they pray, they hold rituals.  I believe we charge these places up with energy, by thinking our thoughts and by treading our ritual paths.  At some level we have always understood that this is what we need to do.  Stone circles may have been built especially for that purpose, and they may be especially good at it.

I will never know if I am right or wrong, just as I will never know if the Great pyramid really sits parallel to a line connecting Neptune with Sainsbury’s.  I cannot seek proof of everything I am concerned with for myself.  The world is too big and complicated, and some knowledge is too specialised.  If I wanted to be certain that people in Paris really did speak French, it would be inconvenient and expensive, but I could zip over for the weekend, just to make sure.  If, however, I had heard a theory that all the statues in Notre Dame had lengths measured in multiples of four, I would be unable to prove it for myself, even if I was standing in Notre Dame, because the job would be too big for me, and I would not be allowed to poke about like that.  If somebody had told me that the core of the Eiffel Tower was made of a special extra-terrestrial kind of titanium, I would not know how to drill out a sample and test it for myself.  I am told the population of Paris is 2 201 578.  I have to take that on trust.  I have heard many times that the Mona Lisa is a wonderful painting.  I have also heard that it is actually rather uninteresting.  I have even read that it is full of complex symbolic secrets.  Are any of these true?  Without becoming art experts, how would any of us what to believe?  We are like little boats, blown about in a gale of stories.  To anchor ourselves, we choose what we stories we believe in.  We choose our stories and we choose our storytellers.  I have one close friend who is so outraged by some of the stories I am hearing that she cannot begin to listen to any of them.  Her storytellers tell her of the tangible and the rock steady truths in this world.

 Climate change will kill us all.  Climate change is a natural variation and it will right itself in a few decades. 

When I read stories about the design and the origins of stone circles, I cannot prove or disprove them.  I can choose storytellers who inspire me or entertain me.  I can choose storytellers who fit in with my own half formed world view, who echo something of my own small experiences.  I can build a whole story telling team.  I expect my team would contain a few tellers who might contradict each other and fight.  It would be deliciously lazy just to enjoy the stories, and watch the inside of my head squabble with itself.  Doing stuff for yourself is important, though, to the serious poker about in the paranormals. I may never develop a deep understanding of archaeology, but I can poke about in any number of stone circles.  I can even take a few simple measurements without resorting to unpleasant re-training with a theodolite.  I can, like so many before me, find a subjective truth.  Back to action, then!

I could find no trace of a local stone circle on our trusty Ordnance Survey map.  Indeed, if it had been marked, we would have visited it a couple of years ago, during my last hobby, when I took to archaeology for a while.  Nor could we spot it on our special tourist map, on a scale of almost three inches to a mile.  I spent a guilty but fruitless half hour looking on Google Earth, when I was at work.  Close Friend and Colleague on the next desk started looking too.  She discovered the ‘Megalith Map’; an on-line guide to all the standing stones and stone circles in the country.  Our secret circle was not marked.  CF&C had some hope to offer, however.  She remembered, some years ago, while on a walk in that direction, seeing a group of people crashing around the heather on a mission, and being told that they were looking for a small, half-buried stone circle just off the path.

When she told me where this had happened, I understood why I knew nothing of this circle.  There are two paths from the top of that hill.  One goes to an exceptionally attractive pub, with real fires, good food and a microbrewery.  The other may go near an inconspicuous stone circle.  I now know where to start.

No comments:

Post a Comment