In troubled times, it is always refreshing when someone turns up with a totally different perspective. More than anything, this talk reminded us that for all the social, political and environmental turmoil in our midst, there are ageless levels of being that were here long before we arrived - and will still be here long after we have all departed this mortal coil.
Peter Knight and Sue Wallace have embarked on a journey, described in this presentation and illustrated in the book of the talk, which is taking them to the naturally sacred sites of Britain. Albion may be the oldest known name for what we would now describe as mainland UK, but it is clear that people have lived and died here long before the dawn of the written age - and indeed, long before the tribes who fashioned tools and weapons from iron or bronze.
The Wiltshire-based duo actively seek out those places that were special to the ancient peoples - holy rocks and revered ‘natural’ geological formations. They have sounded out reverberating caves, edged behind waterfalls in spate and climbed isolated pinnacles that even centuries of quarrymen have left well alone.
While this talk focussed on places in Cornwall and the wider south west, it is apparent that the concept of visiting, using and working with elemental geology - especially that which is anthropomorphic in character - was widespread across these islands, and right around the world. Some of the examples they have used on other occasions have shown similar configurations in the Americas and Australasia. Indeed, it is the very idea of the Australian Aboriginal Dreamtime that has, to a great extent, propelled Sue and Peter along this trajectory. If living native Australians can envisage that the Dreamtime is not just history, but also an unfolding reality in the here and now, surely the same can be said of ourselves and our land. Which brings us back to opening point, that we always live in times that are formed of many layers. While some of these layers may be temporarily turbulent, deeper ones remain more stable, more enduring.
Peter indicated that he is gradually moving away from lines-and-stones dowsing and towards something rather more transcendent. Yet, it is quite apparent that his earth energy experience and expertise has put him in good stead to enlarge on our existing understanding of the ancient sites, and to see them from a subtly enhanced perspective. Stone circles and menhirs can certainly be sensed in a different light when viewed from some of these natural locations.
Just as my own development is taking me beyond physical dowsing, and in a more philosophical direction, so Sue and Peter have become immersed in a new appreciation of how aboriginal Albion might have been experienced by those largely unencumbered by more modern concerns of physics and physicality.
Peter and Sue also note that some of these essentially natural sites appear to have been modified down the ages - and it is not always easy to disentangle the basic form from the image that we see today, other than by dowsing. Our own recent visit to Brittany graphically demonstrated how the modest use of the stone axe or grinding stone can turn an interestingly shaped outcrop into a strikingly anthropomorphic one.
Additionally, even where the stone silhouette probably remains essentially untouched, features such as props, platforms and ritual spaces appear to have been added to the immediate vicinity, to further improve the way in which the site as a whole could be appreciated and developed.
What Peter is keen to point out is that, especially around the western and northern moorlands of Britain, these fascinating features are generally the remains of very old, and extremely hard, volcanic and metamorphic rock extrusions. They do weather through the impact of wind and water, but only very, very slowly. What we see today is really quite similar - down to a couple of centimetres, in fact - to what the first humans would have encountered during their hunting and gathering. Many of these simulacra are extremely iconic, and strikingly impressive. We have the advantage of knowing, academically, about the evolution of the earth and the structure of materials. Just how dramatic and enigmatic would they have appeared to those without that expectation?
The speakers wished to encourage all of us to re-awaken the awareness of this alternative perspective. And while Sue likes to put the chant back into enchantment and Peter is inspired by rhythmic drumming, we can also get in touch with the-past-in-the-present by meditation or mindfulness. Or, we can simply visit naturally ‘sacred’ sites with a slightly modified worldview. We can even just pick up the litter of those rather less in tune with our own reality.
Albion Dreamtime is a beautifully crafted book. It’s a good read in itself, and a useful source of reference for those seeking out worthwhile sites in parts of the country less well known to them. It certainly had us thinking about places to visit when time permitted. Moreover, it is actually a very nice coffee-table book for anyone with occasional open-minded visitors.
Not everyone will wish to follow the authors in their naturalistic approach to experiencing such places, but I am sure just about everyone present will have been inspired to seek some of them out. Even those sites that we all thought we knew well will appear somewhat different after this shared insight.
Many thanks to Sue and Peter for a most enjoyable presentation and, as ever, to all those who helped to assemble the hall for the talk, and to dissemble it again afterwards.
Albion Dreamtime (ISBN 978-0-9560342-6-7) is available from www.stoneseeker.net