Saturday, 7 April 2012


We went to Avebury today. It's always been a favourite place of mine and does have a strange spooky air about it. I need to keep on with my walking, if I am to get back to fitness, so we chose this grey, drizzly day to wander round the stones. For some reason, four and a half thousand years ago or thereabouts, some people decided to drag a bunch of huge stones, some weighing several tonnes, to form three circles. Nobody knows why they did it but many hypotheses, none of which will ever be proven, have been put forward. I personally think it is a more impressive and accessible neolithic monument than Stonehenge and I cannot really work out why it is not as well known.
People seemed to have lived in that area since at least the mesolithic. Stone tools from about 11000 years ago have been found nearby. At that time, instead of the huge flat plain of the Marlborough downs, it would have been densely wooded. Quite when the de-forestation happened, I don't know. I know there was a huge population explosion around the Iron Age, but I have heard this was already a bleak, undulating landscape at the time of the building of the Avebury circles some 4600 years ago.

I shall not attempt to describe the place. There is too much to say for my current level of stamina and lyrical waxings are already abundant without me attempting to add another one.
There are many places online and in real books, where a description can be found of the circles and henges, along with some, occasionally bonkers, ideas about who put the stones there and what their purpose might be.I like to think it was done as the result of a drunken and earnest commitment one night after a few skins of mead: "Hey! You know what we should do? We should make an enormous stone circle out of some of these rocks! That would be a laugh, wouldn't it!" and then next morning, nobody felt they could back out without losing face so they had to build it and it all got rather out of hand.

But given the nature of life back then, I suppose it isn't hard to imagine it being some attempt to gain favour or influence with the Supernatural. When Winters meant death for the unprepared and you could expect half of your children to die before the age of five, an appeal to any supernatural agent must feel better than doing nothing. Possibly it was a cathedral of its day, offering equal efficacy in Conversing With The Weather as do its modern day equivalents.

What is funny to see, however, are the occasional "Druids" with long hair, grizzled beards and usually the obligatory Runestaff, who tend to appear on auspicious dates such as around May 1st or the Summer solstice (though rarely the Winter one, which to my mind would have been far more significant to people dependent upon the clemency of the elements. Bu thten, it is rather cold at that time of year) . It tickles me that "subtle Energies" are prostrated to and Unseen Powers are colluded with. I am never sure quite how such people square their appeals to elemental authorities with the patent lack of results that are their reward. I suppose it's all down, inevitably, to interpretation. As a child, I found magic easy to understand, but I was so very disappointed to find out it didn't actually exist. I suppose some never quite get over that disappointment.

Nevertheless, it is a special place and does evoke feelings of one's own impermanence compared to the passing of epochs and the countless generations that have come and gone since these megaliths were erected. On a blustery day in April, puffing and wheezing up the ramparts of the henge, it is impossible not to feel a sense of mystery at the questions raised by such a spectacular monument.
And that is my burst of creativity and controversy for today. I think two codeine and a stiff brandy are in order now.


Kay G. said...

I would love to see Avebury. My English husband has been there and like you, has always said he does not understand why it is not as well known as Stonehenge.
As an American, it is wondrous to me to see something so ancient and the mystery behind it makes it all the more intriguing.

Librarian said...

Neither Stonehenge nor Avebury I have ever seen with my own eyes, but I'd love to. And those nameless builders of ancient times have my utter respect! Did you by any chance follow the BBC series "Secrets of Lost Empires"? I never knew about the series until I found a book in our local library, and now wish I had it on DVD. It is very good in explaining how (most likely) some of the most spectacular monuments were built, without speculating much on the "why". The "how" clearly shows that there were true experts at work, that they did have a good grasp of the immense logistics involved in each project, and their way of engineer thinking was not that different from what is often seen as unique to our modern times.
As for the druids... as long as they are harmless and don't go about sacrificing cats, my attitude towards them is to live and let live.