I didn’t blog yesterday because I spent an amazing day at Avebury. I’ve probably been there eight or nine times before, as a visitor, and for Druid rituals. I caught the last few rituals Emma Restall Orr undertook there, and through those met many of the wonderful Druid Network folk.
Tom, being American, had not previously encountered standing stones, so being able to take him into that space was a joy. For those not familiar with the site, Avebury is about 6000 years old, has a magnificent henge earthwork, and would have had one large stone circle with smaller circles inside it. There were avenues coming off, stones from which remain, and many other sites surround it – round barrows, other stone circles, Silbury Hill, the Kennet long barrow, and Stonehenge is in viable striking distance. It’s too big a space, I think, for one big ritual circle, you’d never hear each other over the wind! Different areas of the circle have distinctly different atmospheres, and lend themselves to different sorts of work. There’s also a lot of scope for walking – outside the monument, around the henge and around the stones.
Unlike most ancient sites, Avebury has a village in it, and roads running through it (which gives you a sense of the scale). You can’t experience the circle as a circle, which is odd. But it’s what we’ve got, and the houses have been there for a very long time. I wonder if people always lived here. It’s a place that has a people-friendly quality, it’s comfortable to picnic and sunbathe amongst the stones, and I don’t find the presence of noisy, enthusiastic children in any way out of kilter with the atmosphere. Avebury, for me, has never felt like a place for solemn and secret things. It’s a celebratory place, a community place, and welcoming. Which is as well because it gets hordes of pagans and tourists visiting it.
One of the things I’ve never been able to do before is explore the surrounding area on foot. All sites exist in a context of landscape, and frequently of other sites or areas of habitation as well. Most of our ancient ancestors would have been on foot, so walking between ancient places is an amazing way of communing with the space and the ancestors who worked, lived and worshipped in it. The first thing we did was avoid going by car through the site – no way to make a first encounter. Tom and I walked in together, which was breathtaking. It’s a place with a lot of memories, and ghosts for me, I welled up on the way in, it was painful walking into some of those recollections, but also healing to go back to that. I remembered especially Vicki Williams, whose beautiful song ‘Timeless Land’ was the visiting Avebury anthem for years. It brought back so keenly my grief over her death. I remembered other friendships that had decayed with time, and fleeting connections that I never had chance to explore. There is never scope to do everything.
We walked the inside of the circle (as best you can) and the henge itself – although some of it was closed to allow the grass to re-grow. It’s seldom possible to do the whole thing. Then we followed one of the avenues out, walked over a hill to look at Silbury, and climbed the next hill to the long barrow – I’d not been there before, but the cool and gloom was gorgeous after the sun. Going into old graves is something I find very moving and it ought to get a blog at some point. I could have stayed for hours, but having accepted a lift, that wasn’t an option. We walked back, watching the shifts in perspective, rolling hills hiding and revealing different aspects of the space.
It was one of those experiences where it is hard to pin down in words what it did to me. The sense of connection and involvement with landscape, was deep and personal. It took me further into communion with the space than organised ritual has. I’m increasingly finding that walking is my preferred ritual form. Walking the land, the lines, the circles, the contours, meditating, being in the space, learning, feeling, sharing ideas. It’s only something that would work for very small groups, and is lovely as ritual for two.
Today I am tired, and much of my head is somewhere else. There was so much richness of inspiration yesterday, it will take a while for all of it to filter through properly.
It’s easy to feel like a druid in Avebury, even without the drumming and pageantry of a big gathering. It’s easy to walk those hills and feel connected to the land and the ancestors. At the moment I’m lucky because I am living somewhere that is also beautiful and full of ancestral resonance, but many places aren’t. It’s good to go somewhere that nourishes the soul, but also important to bring that energy back to the places that need it, and to ponder ways of making all space sacred and inspiring in the same way. Not something I can hope to do on my own.