Sacred Sites – the Megalithic Stone Circle

August 4, 2012

Approaching with respect, but not solemnity, I walk around it once before I enter, in no particular direction. Just a sign of respect for the people who built it in exactly this spot; maybe on a lay line, some kind of magnetic node in the earth that made the place powerful, or because of astronomical alignments. Maybe that physical power or cosmic connection could be sensed by people who weren’t fixated on a more object-oriented world, filled with roads and suburbs, malls and tvs and other drugs. We’ll never know, because they didn’t leave records, apart from these enigmatic stone circles and the beaker pottery shards and bone fragments left here. No explanations, no systems. Exterminated by those who came next, or assimilated into the new society and their more powerful technologies. I’m entranced by the megaliths but not at the cost of my understanding about the wave after wave of colonization that is involved in their creation. Before the agriculturalists who had the technology to build these sites, hunter gatherers roamed the sacred green land of Eire and they are the ones I honour the most. They left the forests standing. The megalithic builders cut down forests to make their stone sites. Not like we do, with no respect at all, razing the land for any promise of profit; but enough to cause serious soil loss in some cases, to compromise the beauty of the land and the chance for flourishing of all creatures.

This huge stone circle is too big to fit in one image.

This one is at Lough Gur, just outside Limerick in western Ireland. When it was first professionally excavated by the archaeologist Seán P Ó Ríordáin in the 1930s, he thought he was uncovering a ring fort, a formidable circular wall within which a tribe would have lived, with a thatched roof long gone, held up by wooden poles of another perishable variety. He soon realized that it was a ritual site, never lived in, held apart for seasonal or other special celebrations. Then, it was found that certain special points in many such circles – like the entrance, in this case, beautifully lined with another set of smaller standing stones – were aligned with astronomical events. Maybe it would point out the rising or setting sun at the winter or summer solstice, or in some cases at the autumn or spring equinox, or at a quarter or eighth day in between. Standing in a variety of circles, I realized things were starting to get more complex and interesting.

Not only did it become obvious that these were intricately calibrated astronomical calendars for the round of earthly seasons, but certain other points, usually designated with taller stones, pinpointed the rising or setting of certain stars too. Visiting other sites, I found out that you can look across the top of one giant stone at Samhain and see Betelgeuse on the rise; or at another on Beltane and watch Sirius set. Some thinkers even suggest each site forms part of an intricate web of sites across the landscape, forming an ancient star map across the plain, with another node over on that hilltop nearby to represent another of the Seven Sisters, the Pleiadean constellation marked out right here because … and that’s where it gets interesting, again.

A Loughcrew stone circle, this time with a burrow tomb at the centre; Ireland, Co Meath.

I stand in the centre, arms stretched out to the sides, to fully breathe in the place and its possibilities. A bow to all four directions, as well as one to the stars above and one to the earth beneath our feet, one for the body and one for the heart, one for the mind and one for the soul. What does it mean to honour the earth, the spirit of life, the ancestors that came before us and saw our genetic heritage through the dark nights and long days between the last ice age and the dawning of the global network of megalopolises that now saturate the land everywhere?

At the very least, the stone circle says make it last, live as if you are still going to be here in millennia. Because if you do it right, you will be; your own descendants looking back and giving thanks that you saw through the ages and knew that just as our forebears passed life on to us, we pass it on to those in the future, who are the same as us now in the face of the endless ages through which the earth turns and the sun wheels and the cosmos spins, maybe out of control, but still capable of giving birth to a place like this, eminently unique, bursting with curiosity, becoming aware of itself and the mystery on the other side of everything.

*With thanks to Michael Quinley, local historian and archaeologist, who spent some time with me at the Grange stone circle, Lough Gur, western Ireland.



  1. You remind me that wonderful actually means “full of wonder.”

    • So it does – thanks for the pickup and response Steve. I think the sense of wonder inspires much of philosophy and also science, which means it can also be a good way of bringing all of these arts together in one sense of embodied spirituality.

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