We left Callanish II and turned our backs to the Callanish Stones that crown the hill over the loch, and walked up the slope towards the third stone circle. Callainish III stands atop a small hill and is actually two stone circles, one inside the other.
The two rings are not circular but elliptical. The outer ring, around forty-five feet in diameter, has thirteen stones still in place, of which eight are still standing. The inner ring is a more definite oval shape and thirty four feet at its longest axis.
Only four of the inner stones remain. Beneath the turf, other stones are still buried and around the site are other stone settings and the stump of a broken standing stone. The circle is an imposing sight, with the tallest stones over six feet and a view back to the main site and Callanish II.
Callanish III is also known as Cnoc Fillibhir Bheag, which could be rendered as the ‘little hill of the long-seers’. Interestingly, Google translates the Scottish Gaelic as the ‘hill of the fillies’, and, while I would never entirely trust Google’s expertise where translation is concerned, there is ample evidence that the horse was revered in ancient times.
We have seen many standing stones that look like sculptures of horses, including one at the main site and, although the White Horse at Uffington, where Stuart and I began our adventures together several years ago now, is a mere baby at three thousand years old, it is a significant reminder of the cult of the horse, thought by many to represent the goddess Epona. (Unless the Horse is actually a dragon, but that’s another story…)
‘Long-seers’, though, that is an intriguing name. Were they seeing far across distance, time or levels of reality? Were they looking to the stars or into the hearts of men? That, perhaps, is a question to which we may never know the whole answer… unless we can spend time there and feel it for ourselves.
But we do know that there is something about this circle that uses time, space and the distant landscape to spectacular effect, and that every 18.6 years, at the major lunar standstill, magic happens; for the moon touches the most significant stones of the circle as it passes along the horizon, following the curves of ‘Sleeping Beauty’, the Cailleach na Mointeach, or Old Woman of the Hills.
The moon, at this time, seems to appear above her legs, travelling over her body and breasts before disappearing. When it reappears, it can be seen within the Callanish Stones where, legend has it, a Shining One walks down the path formed by the avenue of stones. At such moments, were those who built the circles witnessing the rebirth of a god?
It may seem curious that the ‘sleeping beauty’ forming the recumbent and gravid figure of the goddess is also an ‘old woman’, until you realise that these are the Maiden, Mother and Crone, aspects of the Triple Goddess. The stones recognised as representing these three aspects… triangular, red and gnarled… as well as the phallic, quartz-veined stone that represents the Divine Masculine, are all clearly present within the circle of Calanish III.
We were not there, sadly, at the right time to see this particular magic for ourselves, but we were there just days before the summer solstice… and that allowed us to touch a different kind of magic, with the earth full of energy and a sky full of light, even in the hours of night.
So we wandered the stones, watching our step in a field the sheep had wandered before us. There was a sense of poised presence in the stones of the circle and nowhere more so than when we stood before the Crone Stone that represents the Cailleach. It was here that we paused, silently called to a communion with stone, earth and light, looking to the hills across the loch.
You know when the work is done and the time has come to leave. Paying our final respects, we turned away and headed back towards the car. Looking across towards the main site, we saw the light changing. By this time, it was getting late. The flow of tourists had ceased and we felt there was only one thing we could do… we headed back to Callanish.