Yesterday, here in the south west of England, it didn’t rain. In fact the sun shone, birds twittered, a few white clouds scudded across a fresh blue sky and all felt good, at last. January was the wettest on record here, but January is gone. Snowdrops are out and there is the promise of spring.
My friend (one with a car) was off to Avebury to celebrate Imbolc with fellow druids, and offered me a lift.
“You don’t have to join in with the ritual,” she told me. “You can go off and do your own thing.”
How well she knows me! How good it is to have friends like that.
I accepted eagerly and donning many layers of clothes (druidic rituals tend to go on a bit, so I knew I was in for a protracted wander) I headed off to meet her.
We left saturated Somerset behind and entered the chalkier, slightly better-drained hills of Wiltshire. True, the road leading towards Avebury was bordered by large swathes of flooded field where flocks of seagulls swam and bobbed cheerfully, but grass and trees could still be seen, the road was dry and the water wasn’t deep enough for swans – mere puddles by comparison to The Somerset Levels.
So after a much-needed cuppa at the National Trust cafe, we separated – she to join her garlanded and enrobed companions and I to saunter off alone; to wander between two worlds.
It seemed an appropriate way to experience Avebury – a place unique in its ability to blend cultures and millennia. Way back in times with far too many zeros in their dates to be even vaguely imagined, huge earth ramparts and ditches were carved out across acres of this landscape. A massive mound was constructed from chalk nearby. Stones the size of a modest house wall were erected in circles and avenues.
We can’t begin to guess what ceremonies, rituals or meetings took place in this fantastical place. Certainly there are books claiming to decode and explain all, but how could we honestly begin to fathom the subtleties of the beliefs and aspirations of that long-departed culture?
When the first antiquarians, wearing long curly wigs and wildly unsuitable clothes, started to recognise the site’s significance, they were met by surly villagers, busily engaged in lighting fires beneath the stones to break them into usable boulders for constructing their cottages and farm buildings. Now the two cultures agree silently to differ and co-exist cheek by jowl, scrutinised and invaded alike by summer hordes of tourists.
Few tourists yesterday though. The Imbolc celebrants drummed and intoned in their circle. Day-trippers strode purposefully around the site as they sought to exhaust their dogs and children. Circles within circles, wheels within the car park…
I felt equally removed from both groups. Seeking out a huge and beautiful stone I leaned against it, closed my eyes and let myself drop out of time. No visions of ancient ceremonies or connection to ancestors, just a profound gratitude that this stone had stood here through the ages and was now offering me shelter and support.
If, when my eyes were shut, I saw a green-brown sky with a glittering grey rock moon, or when they were open I saw the quartz glinting star-like from a thousand places in the megalith, it’s all one. Seeing stones and seeing stars – is there a difference?
I felt uplifted and happy and full with the wonder of the day. So, I’m certain, did the druids and the dog-and-child walkers.
So create your rituals, ye neo-druids; excite and exhaust your small companions ye motorists, and inside my dreams I’ll weave my invisible dance amongst you all and between the different dimensions of Avebury.