MAPS, MISTS AND MEGALITHS
I always loved stones. Beach pebbles, rock formations on beaches, grave-markers, ruined abbeys. When I built sandcastles, I created extensive ruins, with arches that the incoming tide would erode and destroy. As a child I loved walking on rock formations and ruined walls. But I did not become an alpine climber.
When my mother retired from teaching, she had more time than could be filled by bridge and golf, so I bought the first-ever all-Ireland field guide to 'prehistoric stones' - and off we went nearly every week on an excursion to 'dolmens', standing-stones, sculptured crosses or a bullaun.
I always loved maps. These bore no relation to reality, yet they could bring me to real landscapes. I always loved landscapes - forests (especially in storms), moorland, cliffs... Hunting for megaliths, then, was exciting - especially since in those days (1970) only the Northern Irish official (Ordnance Survey one-inch to the mile) maps were accurate; the Southern ones were at a scale of 1:100,000 and were based on a survey of 1911 ! On neither sets were megaliths marked more than occasionally, randomly. In fact, it was often easier to use 'commercial' quarter-inch maps (1:250,000), and ask for directions.
Part of the fun of megalith-hunting is getting lost. Even in moorland mist - though sinking up to your knees in an Irish bog is not an experience you want to have very often, unless there is a warm fire nearby.. A larger part is experiencing new, sometimes surprising, landscapes. My house in Northern Ireland is in a very beautiful landscape I found while looking for a neolithic engraved stone: a landscape of mountains, fjords, lakes, sea - and mountains across the sea. I would only consider the use of a GPS in the case of petroglyphs on stones in moorland - though even then I would value a (fine) day roaming a heathery hillside in county Kerry in the hunt for engraved boulders.
I have been interested in megaliths since 1968. In the past 40-odd years I have visited hundreds. But I am puzzled by people who claim to have geomantic feelings about these surviving monuments to vainglory. I have never felt any mysterious, mystic or magical emanations. For several years I visited megaliths with a man who could dowse and see the auras of trees, animals and people. He saw nothing around megaliths. Neither of us got a 'buzz'.
A natural Diogenean open sceptic, I have felt healing power as
real deep heat when I went to healing groups for laying-on of hands
to treat cystitis (a common result of motorcycling as a means of transport
through cold, wet weather to look for megaliths). But nothing at all
at Newgrange, Carnac, Gavr'inis, Aurignacian caves, or the great chamber-tombs
of the lower Loire, Languedoc and Catalonia.
The reason for this is my childhood conviction that 'The best of man is his ruins' - a phrase which is the epigraph to my megalith-website. I have been raised in a culture of vainglory which is becoming ever more vainglorious. So I enjoy the ruins because part of their beauty is that they hold no threat. They do not preach, as do the great Christian monuments to earthly power - masquerading as sermons in stone. They do not intimidate, as do buildings currently used by man - whether houses, whole suburbs, shopping malls, banks, parliament buildings or governmenal edifices. They are naked, fragile, unashamed.
When these ruins have been 'reconstructed', as, hideously, Newgrange in Ireland, I find them merely vulgar - as probably they were originally: as vulgar as the 'great' monuments of Mesopotamia, Egypt, Rome, Paris - or New York's World Trade Center.
Mercifully, there has been little reconstruction of the prehistoric Temples for the Living and Houses for the Dead. In Ireland particularly (but also in a part of France stretching from the top of the Bay of Biscay inland to Auvergne) gorgeous portal-tombs are hidden away in beautiful landscapes, so unpretentious as to be vulnerable. This is now their essence. They are truer 'sermons in stone' than the great Romanesque churches of Aulnay-de-Saintonge or Lincoln, for their lesson is that pomp, pomposity and vainglory end in humility and fragility. And then death, ruination, destruction. The stones and carvings of the great abbeys of Clairvaux and Saint-Antonin-Noble-Val were carried off for building materials. Almost nothing remains of the latter - which once rivalled Moissac and Conques - except a very few figurative corbels, including the best-preserved female exhibitionist that I know. But parts of the dressed-stone window-embrasures of my humble dwelling there are surely from the abbey, just as the ground floor incorporates part of the medieval wall of the village.
But if I get no 'vibrations' from the prehistoric constructions, I get, on the other hand, very strong feelings in dwellings. My abode in Ireland feels powerful and sometimes that power gets turned back on me by living people with malign intent, though only partially. I tend to survive rather well, perhaps due to the strengthening power of the place. Most modern homes fill me with foreboding. Perhaps it is that they are all right-angles and smoothness, which makes their central-heating even more suffocating. Perhaps it is that they are not built of stone, nor even of cob or wattle-and-daub which give a feeling of coziness.
I guess I have 'progressed' since I first went megalith-hunting. I no longer seek them out (unless passing nearby). And I have never been particularly interested in determining their 'function'. We cannot even think ourselves back to a time before piped water, electricity, chimneys, forks, glass, tables and chairs (rare in rural Ireland until the 18th century), let alone three thousand, four thousand years ago. And I could not care less if they were abattoirs (like the Temple of Solomon), places for torturing bears which might have been part of the grisly worship of the Universal Great Goddess, or (most 21st century of all), planetaria. It might be that petroglyphs are both maps and dreams, and holed stones the objects of phallic-masturbatory rites. Anyone can imagine anything, which can be fantasy-fun so long as we do not take our imaginings - or ourselves - or the fantasy of Truth - too seriously. No matter: prehistorically-important stones are the least-intrusive of man's global despoliation of landscapes by fields and villages and cities.
In the United States, there are hundreds of Ghost Towns, many of them completely uninhabited. If I were not an Undesirable Alien, I might, now in my seventies, enjoy a tour in one or more former 'Gold Rush' areas.
The best of man is his ruins - both ancient and modern.
Anthony Weir is author of Images of Lust, a preliminary investigation of exhibitionist sculptures in mediæval Europe, now greatly extended (with hundreds of photos) on his website http://www.beyond-the-pale.org.uk
His Field Guide and Gazetteer and Field Guide to Megalithic Ireland is at http://www.irishmegaliths.org.uk