Albion, ancient sites, Art, Don and Wen, sacred sites, TOLL, travel

A Thousand Miles of History: The mating dance

We stood at the gate in hushed awe. For a moment it seemed as if we were looking through a rift in the mists of time, back to an age that has passed beyond memory, when the land was still young and the old gods walked the earth. It was the silence before the thunderous applause that greets a virtuoso performance, the in breath before a lover’s sigh and the hush of a candlelit temple. The mists that had closed around us as we crossed the fields now veiled the circle of stones from the eyes of the world. We were alone with history and magic.

There are places that are hard to describe, almost impossible to write about…not simply in order to do them justice, but because they reach inside you, lighting long forgotten corners of memory that are older than your own. It is hard to remember the details of what we did at first, how we passed through the gate into the enclosure that protects the circle with a ring of living green. I recall walking between the stones of the ‘entrance’ at some point, feeling the tension dissolve and the mist part as if a curtain had been drawn back for us… though that could not have happened. Or could it? At Boscawen Un, I am ready to believe that anything is possible.

The first thing you see is the central stone, almost ten feet tall, yet positioned at a deliberate angle so that its tip is only around six feet from the ground. Our first thought was that it looks decidedly masculine. It also looks like the gnomon at the centre of a sundial, though it is positioned just southwest of the centre of the circle.

Its shape is also reminiscent of a stone axe, a shape we have seen over and over again associated with these ancient sites. The stone axes were as much ceremonial as they were practical, with beautiful, polished examples being traded across Europe, even in the Neolithic era when the standing stone was erected. There are also traces of two axes carved into the stones, similar to others found in Brittany, just across the sea. The angle of the stone is curious and was thought, for a time, to be the result of disturbance by treasure hunters at some point in history, but excavations have shown how the stone is supported in a way that suggests the angle of its setting was deliberate.

The standing stone is the oldest part of the circle and may predate the surrounding stones by thousands of years. The official suggestion is that it was a place where rites were practised for the fertility of the clan and the land. This is often used as a simplistic blanket for all ritual sites that are not fully understood, but here… and given our initial impressions… I don’t think we would argue with that.

Around the central stone, nineteen stones form an elliptical dance up to eighty-two feet in diameter, dating to the Bronze Age. The stones each stand between three and five feet high and have smooth-worked surfaces facing the centre of the circle. The theory that the circle deals primarily with lunar energies is supported by the fact that there are nineteen stones, representing perhaps the Metonic Cycle… which describes the lunar cycle that takes nineteen years for the moon to return to an exact spot in the night sky. One group of stones is aligned with the direction of the midsummer sunrise, and one stone in particular has to be significant, being a huge, single block of white quartz streaked with scarlet.

This stone is placed directly behind the menhir at the circle’s heart and it makes its presence felt in no uncertain terms. It seems to be the feminine counterpart of the standing stone and has the feel of an altar. It may indicate the presence of the full moon at the summer solstice, and the circle itself is aligned with the summer solstice sunrise at Lamorna Gap.

Close to the ‘entrance’ are the remains of what seems, at first glance, to be a burial cist, though it is not what it seems at all. Its purpose remains unknown, though we felt it had something to do with dreaming at the circle. Nearby, hidden in the bracken, are the remains of a burial mound where decorated urns were found containing cremation burials. There are also a number of standing stones in alignment from Sennen, through the Field Stone close by, to a triangular stone we had noted right beside where we parked to talk to the farmer and ask for directions.

The circle is enclosed within a green wall of stones, earth and flowers that were erected to protect it in the mid-nineteenth century. In the hedge is an ancient elder… and the ‘scawen’ of Boscawen Un is Cornish for the elder tree, one of the sacred woods of the Druids and one with strong feminine associations in folklore and legend.

Boscawen Un is still used as a place of ritual. It is a place where handfasting ceremonies are performed. The modern-day Bards held the first Gorsedd Kernow here in 1928, based on the tradition of earlier gorsedds in the sixth century. It is doubtless used by local covens and certainly by visitors from every branch of the spiritual tree. We were struck by the impression that this is still a working circle, thousands of years after it was built… even if it is no longer used for all the rites for which it was intended, though the forces thus invoked still make their presence felt…


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