The jaws had dropped, the expletives had escaped and the cameras were out almost as soon as we exited the car. Even from a distance, Carreg Samson was spectacular, set against the backdrop of the coast… a smiling dragon resting his maw on folded wings as if he was casually looking over the cliff top at the approaching party. We should have expected dragons in Wales, but we could never have expected this.
Even at close quarters, the resemblance remained. We had dutifully noted that, from the correct approach, the contours of the great head seemed to shadow the shape of the headland beyond. The location alone is stunning and the stones are simply enormous. The capstone is over fifteen feet long, nearly nine feet wide and over three feet thick. There is plenty of headroom to stand beneath it. When you consider that the legends say that St Samson lifted the capstone into position with his little finger, you can only imagine that the Welsh saint had been well named… and a giant.
Whether through soil subsidence over the five thousand years since it was built or, more likely by design, the capstone is only supported by three of the six remaining orthostats. The stones are different in colour and texture, the supporting stones rich with veins of quartz… and stone was the technology and the artistry of the builders, I doubt that they would make such choices without reason. There are several outliers still half hidden in the grass.
Excavations showed that there were once four more stones… one support and three that may have formed a passage into the tomb from the southeast. They also found that the tomb was built over a deep, rubble-filled pit. Burnt bone, sherds of pottery and worked flints were also found. Like Coetan Arthur, there is debate over whether or not this tomb ever wore an earthen mound. Be that as it may, at some point in its history, local shepherds had used loose stone to block the gaps in the walls and had used the tomb as a sheep shelter. I wonder what the dragon had thought about that… I have never imagined dragons as herbivores. Even from the other side, the head neck and serene smile are visible.
We gathered in the chamber of a place once held sacred by our ancestors and, for the first time, shared a version of the Gorsedd Prayer, composed by Iolo Morganwg (1747-1826), that has been adopted by the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids:
Grant, O God, Thy protection;
And in protection, strength;
And in strength, understanding;
And in understanding, knowledge;
And in knowledge, the knowledge of justice;
And in the knowledge of justice, the love of it;
And in that love, the love of all life;
And in the love of all life, the love of God.
God and all goodness.
It mattered not at all by what name or with what vision we each turned our thoughts to the One. We stood on sacred ground, though the names and faces of its gods are lost beyond time. Both faith and belief are personal, unique to each individual, regardless of any religious affiliation. Every prayer that is offered, in praise, thanks or supplication, flies on its own wings.
With the cameras and the laughter, a casual observer could have been forgiven for putting us down as a just another group of tourists. There is no need for robes, arcane symbols or chanting… okay, sometimes we chant. And wear robes. And symbolism is everywhere anyway. But the heart of a spiritual weekend is in the sacred intent of those who are gathered, not in its outward expression or in pseudo-spiritual posturing. It is not by the overt and visible form that the inner intent can be measured, nor can it be dismissed as absent when it is veiled by mundane normality. In the quiet spaces between breaths, when a few come together and turn their thoughts to the One, sometimes that intent can be seen, just for a moment, as beautiful and as tangible as a flower.