The use of megalithic sites by witches

Wiccan Rede * Spring 1984 by Prudence Jones, Editor of ‘The Wiccan’

Stone circles, menhirs, long barrows and so on, date from roughly two thousand years before the start of the Christian Era, and so coincide with the presumed heyday of the ancient fertility religion, including its horned god and naked priestess, of which mediaeval and modern witchcraft seems to be the descendant.

However, recent investigations into the astronomical and calendrical accuracy of these constructions suggests that they arose in response to a concern with the precise measurement of macrocosmic, i.e. astronomical cycles, which is missing from witchcraft as it survives today. Witchcraft is a mystery religion having more to do with the microcosm, the individual practitioner, than with the elaborate staging of public rituals and calculation of the official calendar which the priesthood of an ‘official’, exoteric Pagan religion would be expected to carry out.

However, there are certain witchcraft stories associated with stone circles in Britain. According to John Wilcock’s ‘Guide to Occult Britain’, the ring known as the Rollright Stones, near Oxford, was created by the helpful intervention of a local witch who turned a would-be conquering king of England and his men into stone. And Craft sources have it that local witches used to convene from time to time in the circle right up until 1975 or so, when the remains of a blood sacrifice were found at the site. The psychic atmosphere was said to have turned bad, and it was decided that the ring had been polluted and so was not fit for future working.

On the exoteric side, villagers in many localities would go up to their local stone circle in May Eve or Midsummer’s Eve (both dates, incidentally, which vie for the title of ‘Beltane’), to meet the faerie folk and indulge in a spot of midsummer madness. In particular, this happened until this century at Stonehenge, the most famous British stone circle. Nowadays, the Druids perform a Midsummer ceremony at Stonehenge, with permission from the relevant authorities, a police cordon, and so on, and according to Doreen Valiente “the Druid Order that practised the Midsummer ceremonies at Stonehenge, in the old days when Dr. MacGregor Reid was their chosen Chief, used to borrow a consecrated sword from Gerald Gardner, because it fitted exactly into the cleft of the Hele Stone, which was part of their ritual. This sword was very old, or at any rate looked so to me when I saw it”. “I remember Gerald telling me”, she continues, “that witches always used to try to attend the ceremony at Midsummer, though they would not proclaim themselves to be such. I wonder how far back this tradition goes”. Doreen’s evidence, which I have quoted with permission from a personal letter, corroborates a rumour which the Craft grapevine had transmitted some time previously, to the effect that in the 19th century various well-to-do folk from the counties of Hampshire and Dorset, adjacent to Stonehenge, formed covens and practised their rites at that circle. Before our high-technology era, servants were needed to accompany them as coachmen and perhaps guards, and so they were initiated into the covens also.

However, this practice was obviously a revival, like Gerald Gardner’s revival of the fifties, rather than an ancient survival. It was only in 1901, according to Doreen, that the circle was fenced off and an admission fee charged, after which it would be difficult for witches to continue their (at that time illegal) practices there. The Druids took over the exoteric Pagan ritual; witches and their Mysteries had to go elsewhere.

Michael Dames in his books ‘The Avebury Circle’ and ‘The Silbury Treasure’ argues that the adjacent Neolithic stone dances centred on the village of Avebury depict in space the ritual of an ancient fertility religion, with the earth being sculpted to represent the body of the Great Goddess and various stages in the processes of life and death, including a cromlech on a long barrow. And Tom Graves, in ‘Needles of Stone’, suggests that menhirs and other standing stones function as a kind of earth acupuncture, a modification of the natural landscape which forms at least a kind of weather control, it having been observed some years ago by Ian Thompson and Paul Devereux of ‘The Ley Hunter’ that megaliths are concentrated in the areas of greatest thunderstorm occurrence, and quite likely as magical modification of the landscape such as was practiced into historical times in China, in order to bring the appropriate spiritual influences to bear on each part of the environment. At this point we come nearer to the experiment conducted by Jan and Diana on the cromlech near Emmen (Wiccan Rede IV, 3), the attempt to ‘re-activate’ its occult power. There are earth acupuncturists in Britain who attempt to heal the land by using copper stakes and other devices in order to divert streams of earth energy, but to my knowledge they are not witches, or at any rate not covens of witches. The best evidence available on earth acupuncture is probably contained in the Journal of the British Society of Dowsers (from 19 High Street, Eydon, Daventry, Northants), and in the magazine ‘The Ley Hunter ‘(from P.O. Box 13, Welshpool, Powys, Wales, UK). ‘The Ley Hunter’ has for some years monitored a scientific experiment called the Dragon Project at the Rollright Stones, in which various scientific instruments, as well as the subjective skills of top-ranking dowsers, are used to monitor the radiations on, under, above and around these stones at various times of the day and year.

One interesting result of the Dragon Project so far, has been the observation that the findings of the dowsers, whilst internally consistent, are mutually contrary: they do not coalesce into one coherent body of evidence, but cancel one another out. The language of dowsing seems to be allegorical, rather than observational, so that one dowser may claim to sense forty bodies buried beneath the circle, whilst another declares categorically that there are none at all. Perhaps it was a similar psychic sense which led the ancient inhabitants of these sites to label their circles ‘The Giants’ Dance’ or to see the stones as petrified warriors; they would be ‘seeing’ with the inner eye, rather than the outer one. So take with a pinch of salt any claim by an ‘independent’ psychic witness which contradicts the psychic observations of the original observers. The two parties may simply have different mythologies.

To move from the geometrical configuration of sites, a network of measurable, but hardly magical alignments, to the postulation of energy-lines which can be detected by psychometry, dowsing, or perhaps the newest scientific instruments, as in the Dragon Project, is to move into the realm of magic proper. A half-Romany acquaintance, a seventh daughter of a seventh daughter, once told me that the true Romanies, who are said to have helped preserve witchcraft skills throughout the persecution times, always pitch their camps at crossing points of the energy-lines which they sense as crossing the country. A Romany woman will always lie across the energy-lines as a method of birth-control: conception only takes place when people lie along the lines! And in ‘Witchcraft for Tomorrow’, Doreen Valiente tells of a coven of Traditional witches who regularly met at such a crossing of power-lines. But no mention is made of these in association with stone circles. We know now, thanks to Tom Graves and the Dragon Project, that the geometry of stone circles coincides, at least in part, with lines of energy. But whether these lines of energy are the same as those which the witches and the Romanies follow, we do not yet know.

The only occurrence known to me of an attempt to activate a system of power-lines through ritual rather than through hardware is that of Colin Bloy, the earth mysteries researcher and dowser, to influence the geometry of Brighton in 1981. He and his group performed their ritual in September and were said to be monitoring the effects, in conjunction with the local politics, until Yuletide, to see whether the crime rate went down or not. This was magical technology for real. The result, unfortunately, is unknown to me. Interestingly, September is not only the month of the autumn equinox, rather a blank date in the Sabbat calendar, but also the month of the feast of St. Michael, on September 29th. A feast from which the legal and university term of Michaelmas takes its name. St. Michael was the Saint who killed dragons, and in historical times, Christian shrines on ancient Pagan power-points are often dedicated to him. In earth-acupuncture terms, it is St. Michael who fixes the free flowing earth energy, confining it to one, thenceforth ‘holy’ site.

Not all holy sites are artificially fixed however. My personal suspicion is that witches would prefer the natural centres of earth energy, as befits a natural, intuitive religion. But we do have the evidence of those 19th century gentry… and the tradition about the witch who created the Rollright Stones. It would be the powers of witchcraft and no other powers that could create ‘barrow-wights’ to guard the ancient tombs from marauders, just like the guardian spirits who protect Ancient Egyptian toms. But although they may have used our skills, among others, by no stretch of the imagination could the priest of Ancient Egypt have been called witches. And witches hoping to convene in an Ancient Egyptian tomb would have to make their peace with the guardian spirits first, of suffer the consequences. The same may surely apply to a cromlech in Europe, or a stone circle in Europe, which may well be a powerful place to meet, but cannot be assumed to be ‘ours’ for the taking!