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The mystery and magic of stone circles by Dr Andy Letcher

stone circle

Dr Andy Letcher reflects on the unique power of certain places to connect us with the land.

I think I was 11 years old when I had my first experience of a stone circle.  My parents had taken me up to the Neolithic stone circle at Avebury in Wiltshire.  There was something mysterious about it that triggered my imagination. It made a huge impression on me and began a life-long fascination with stone circles.

How did our ancestors build them and for what purpose? Were they some kind of astronomical calendar or just monuments to the dead? When you think of the stone circles Dartmoor, why did they choose to put them in the bleakest of landscapes?
For me stone circles act as a kind of touchstone to the past.

They speak back to a time when there was no gap between the human and the other-than-human world.   When you visit them you are touching something that was important to people over five thousand years ago.
They can knock you out of your everyday senses into something sacred.  Even as child I knew they were a place of natural magic.

Stone circles act as a kind of touchstone to the past.

Many years later, I had just moved down to Devon and my wife and I went up to Scorhill Stone Circle, up on the high moor.   We stood in silence and we heard the first cuckoo of the summer.
Then walking around I spotted a stunted oak tree.   I had to scramble over tussocks that were thigh high to get to it so it was quite an effort but I just wanted to get close to this beautiful tree.   And as I got there I saw a raven’s nest and I felt this amazing feeling of connectedness to the land and to our ancestors.

Now as an adult I have read a great deal about them and about their archaeology but back then, when I was 11, I didn’t know of any of that.  It was just a feeling – that feeling of a direct encounter with the sacred.
It’s the feeling of the hairs rise on the back of your neck, sensing you are in the presence of something other. 
For want of a better word I would call that magic.

Dr Andy Letcher teaches on the MA Ecology and Spirtuality and forthcoming short courses: Story Ritual and the Natural Magic of Place, Natural Magic - Bridging Heaven and Earth