In yesterday’s biting cold yet predicted sunshine and relative calm sandwiched between two wedges of storm and flood, my husband and I threw warm layers into the car and headed off to Avebury stone circle on ‘a jolly’; that is, for no other reason than that we wanted to spend some quality time together.
My first visit to Avebury was as an eighteen year-old in the summer of 1986, a big opening -up year for me as I was about to go to university that autumn; in fact, even coming this far south was fairly new and so Avebury was forever built into the new and expanding memory-landscape of that part of my life as I stepped into the journey of becoming an adult.
The second time was in 2005 during the ‘dark’ January of my first long winter in a hated corporate job the year after my divorce; it was memorable for being the first time my new partner and I headed out ‘as a family’ with our two children and we stopped for pizza in Marlborough on the way there and tea and cake on the way back as the kids got used to sharing the back seat of the car together. The endless winter days of sitting at a desk beneath strip lighting, driving to and from the office in the dark, only made this weekend excursion stand out all the more and the light display we experienced there, as the sun set behind the stones, was quite unforgettable; a veritable oasis of light in a sea of darker times at the very beginning of the year that my health took a nosedive. Interestingly, the whole folder of pictures I took of that trip became unstable in a fluke ‘accident’ and so I lost all but the one fuzzy print I had stuck on the wall next to my desk, something bright to focus on, and I was never more heartbroken to lose a batch of photos, nor do I believe I ever lost so many pictures in one go, either before that or since; almost as though the memory was too potent to be contained by a series of digital images.
The next visit was on 1 January 2010 – a spontaneous New Year’s Day urge…wow, that was a year that opened up for me in so many ways and this was how I spent the first day of it. I have some wonderfully atmospheric pictures of radiant sunbursts from behind the stones and of my, by then, husband, and daughter laughing and hugging up to each other and the stones, smiles all round….the very marker of how far we had come as a family in just a handful of years.
This week’s visit was equally off the cuff until the very last moment. We’d been intending to go to London…to the Collider Exhibition of all things, but all the flooding seemed to be making it impractical. With the Paddington line seriously curtailed by rising water levels, we would have been forced to travel into Waterloo, which takes double the time, and it felt wrong somehow to be sailing merrily through all those still badly flooded areas in Surrey on a trip so trivial, knowing how so many people’s lives there have been turned inside out and homes ruined over the course of this week.
As we reconsidered our options, Avebury came into my thoughts as a piece of divine inspiration the evening before. We’d talked about returning there for some time, it was less than an hour’s drive away and it should be relatively quiet on a mid February Thursday. The only bit we got wrong was that that manor was closed that day and yet it didn’t turn out to be as ‘wrong’ as all that as we got more enjoyment out of a gentle stroll around the church and the village, I suspect, than we would have done embarking on a timed entry to admire Penelope Keith’s idea of interior design.
The church was, of course, open and so we headed for its relative warmth although I really wasn’t sure whether I would go in there until I was standing in the porch, trusting to intuition to tell me one way or the other. I used to go into churches and cathedrals, yes, religiously on these kinds of outing yet find I’m called to go into them far less than I used to be or, let’s say, it’s not inevitable until I feel into the space…an interesting measure of how I’ve evolved to carry my spiritual sense within me and learned to feel for resonance with something outside of myself before choosing it rather than seeking it outside of myself hoping to step into it by walking through a consecrated doorway. Such feelings, I find, are not automatically contained by buildings, whatever their label may be, growing as they do out of the combined intention of human hearts…wherever these happen to congregate.
Sometimes, churches can feel like the empty shell of the feeling I used to once seek from them…dreary, damp, even slightly uncomfortable energetically speaking. This one felt perfectly fine; there was a familiarity and warmth to it and I was immediately drawn over to the sunny side where there was an explosion of orbs coming in through the window where someone had placed some early daffodils. More than just sparkles that can feel like a trick of the light, there was a distinct golden orb hovering around these flowers and a lilac glow to the whole window space, holding me willingly captive for, probably, fifteen minutes as I played and interacted with the light through my lens. It simply felt as though this centuries-old space had found a happy place to settle in its modern niche, energetically speaking, and the other thing that told me this was the large box of blankets, washing supplies and coinage left for needy travellers to help themselves to – I liked that touch a lot.
After that, we enjoyed wandering around the village, peering into cottage windows and exploring down cul-de-sacs and a hidden world of tucked-away gardens in a place that feels as though time has stood still yet where welly boots and scooters tucked in porches, light-catchers, seashells and comical touches in windows and gardens spoke of all the very ‘real’ family life that goes on in this little nook (we also passed the local primary school where I marvelled at how tiny and adorable such little-people can be, kitted out in wellington boots and oversized raincoats as they counted ‘one-two-three’ in unison with a man hammering a stake into the ground). We enjoyed ambling around the village shop, holding up colourful knitted jumpers and festival garb, fondling crystals and smudge sticks. We even-more thoroughly enjoyed a leisurely lunch in a deliciously-sunny window seat of the 350 year-old Wagon and Horses pub with a fire glowing in every corner and onion rings the size of hula hoops.
But then, saving the best until last (as, just like the way my daughter likes to eat her food, I so often do) we REALLY enjoyed our walk around the stone circle, or its remnant, starting at the more-nearly restored western side heading anticlockwise and crossing the road that bisects it to go over to the eastern side and finally, on the other side of the village road, swooping round the north section back towards the church.
As soon as we’d arrived in Avebury that morning, a brief sleet shower had scattered like handfuls of confetti and then disappeared again, morphing into a dry and pleasantly sunny morning. This time, heaviest clouds gathered over the circle and the experience of fingers almost too painfully icy to hold a camera was joined by that of stinging ice-cold rain against the cheeks and yet, just as I just knew it would, the sun came out at the same time and we had (I knew this too) not one but two rainbow arches to the south east of the circle. Turning back towards the stones with camera poised for this moment, and laughing all the time as rain came horizontally into eyes, cheeks and camera lens, my images were suddenly filled with raining light orbs as acute sunlight turned droplets in mid air into iridescent baubles with rainbow tinged edges. It was as though Avebury was being showered with dancing fairies of light and it was quite magical!
Seconds before this (what felt like) moment of celebration and dancing-giggling-laughing tension release from the heavy clouds of earlier, we had encountered what felt like the energetic counterpart of the road that now bisects the stone circle. In strangest juxtaposition with our peaceful, almost solitary, walk along the circuit route, we had just crossed this road and taken the sharp southward veer to rejoin the circle when, standing on the raised bank from where we were now overlooking the road, we heard police sirens blaring and watched a police car cut through the village and down this road towards us, swinging into an offshoot road and turning 360 degrees before positioning itself pointing into the road that it had just come from, as though laying in wait. Another minute and more police sirens later, we watched a second police vehicle in apparent pursuit of a silver car and what looked like a pincer manoeuvre being performed by the two police cars as they took off in slightly different directions behind it. This may have all been a training exercise…who knows, but the contrasting energetics of what we just witnessed with a peaceful walk around one of the most ancient sacred sites in the world was bizarre in the extreme…a little like the interchangeable weather.
Yet hadn’t this been a metaphor in the waiting since the switch-over from our London plans? If we’d gone to London (and part of me kept running that parallel reality in my head) we would have been clock-watching all the day, darting from car to train to underground, dashing from exhibition to lunch to museum to tube to train to car. Although intended as a way of forging some quality time together, a day stepped-out of the humdrum, my instincts were now showing me that this far-less structured, less orchestrated activity was ‘getting us there’ without having to try nearly so hard; we were really enjoying ourselves, moment to moment, without really having the means or the need to explain why. Being (with each other) so much more than doing (with each other).
Here, my resounding sensibility of our day, both during and (now left behind as the glowing residue of our day – the kind of stuff that truly great memories are made of) was of walking side by side in a great big circle, having such a laugh and such great interaction all the time we were doing it; just being in our individual ‘wholeness’ whilst simultaneously, through our interaction with one another, creating another ‘wholeness’ that was entirely organic, not held or forced together in any way. The very landscape played out a metaphor of the way that we are at our very best, our most inspired and joyfilled in our side-by-side existence; complete in and of ourselves and yet meeting in a space that creates a whole other level of completeness encircling that. This felt like the very micro-model of how beings come together in unified diversity as circles within circles within circles.
The drama of modern life that suddenly cut through the landscape of ‘us’ was like the very metaphor of modern life as it intersects with us in our own little world, briefly interrupting it from time to time…yes it’s there, it’s noisy, abrasive, drama-fuelled and yet we get to watch it from our slightly detached viewing platform from where we get to take the overview, make light of it all together then continue on along the wholeness of the route that we intended, walking side by side, laughing at and rolling with the unexpected.
Of course, Avebury’s wholeness has been greatly ‘interrupted’ over centuries of pillage…first dismantled piece by piece during medieval times because (it is presumed) of its conflicting symbolism, the very different message that it conveyed, to that of the nearby church. By the eighteenth century, stones were being buried underground, broken up for reuse and even (this astounded me) burned! Like the very plight of the those fragments of humanity that have dared to stand out, to speak out, from a place of personal sovereignty and individual wholeness across many centuries of persecution, the full circle of Avebury was systematically chiseled away at and fragmented until the circle, as it exists today, is left with many modern-day markers and large gaps where stones once used to stand.
And life has continued to weave through it, over it, to build on it so that much of the modern village, the road system, the trappings of day-to-day existence have woolied over the original intention, the symbolism that this place once represented, only for it to resurface bit by painstaking bit…in tandem with a consciousness renaissance that has more in common with the times of its creation than most of the intervening years. As we step back into this fuller consciousness that connects dots around the pivot point of ourselves, so another full circle is completed…poised to become the spiral as it steps up to the next level of its expression.
We kept away from the museum and the guidebooks this time around – I wanted to feel the place, not ‘learn’ about it – and so I didn’t remember until returning home that the large outer circle once contained its own two complete circles within it, side-by-side; two individualised symbols of wholeness within the much larger, all encircling wholeness of the main ring of stones which then had offshoots, a number of avenues, reaching out into the world…pointing towards and so linking with other sacred sites, other communities in a matrix of resonance across this island and (many believe) much farther afield than that. This last piece ker-klunked with my own experience of the place; of having somehow been the wheel within the wheel…within the wheel…within the wheel as we walked that great circle of laughter and light.
As we completed the circle, we encountered the once uneasy juxtaposition of standing stones with the outline of the church and yet…as the lowering sun created that dreamlike space of both deep shadow and radiant glow within the same magical experience, it was as though not one but two great orbs of emerald light came down from the church tower and hovered in the air together before melding with each other and then with one of the standing stones in the position of its stony heart. This was the crowning moment of my day; a witnessed reconciliation and felt moment of profound and lasting peace that settled within the very heart of me on this fourth visit to Avebury along the path of the many varied experiences of my life thus far. As the stones became a row of bird-perching contours against a blue-pink sky, we headed back to the warmth of our car, already basking in the heart-warmth of our day, and headed home towards the circle of an almost full moon that seemed to want to lead us there.
Arriving home, as ever, felt like coming full circle.