We didn’t make it past the first stone. Not for a while anyway. This is perhaps the most complete part of the outer circle that now remains; many of the stones were broken up for building material in years past for the village within the site. We entered the Great Circle, crossing the ditch that now leads into the field where the stones arc out the first quadrant. ‘Ditch’ is not the right word. It is a henge… a deep ditch surrounding the inner space with a raised bank behind it. The top of the bank is irregular in shape. There are a number of archaeological theories on that, but I think back to a visit to another of the great stone circles, when we sat on an adjacent barrow and saw the outline of the henge silhouetted like a sleeping goddess against the sky.
The henge was created around five thousand years ago to enclose the area where the great stones circle. In itself it was a magnificent feat … a quarter of a mile in diameter. Nowadays a village sits within it. The ditch, 69 feet wide, reached a depth of 36 feet, while the bank rises high behind. There was once a walkway on the inner face of the bank and you can imagine how brightly the bare chalk would have gleamed, a beacon in the landscape.
And inside, there are the stones. The outer circle where we now walked, the largest in Britain, was formed of 98 sarsen stones, many weighing more than 40 tons each and towering to almost 14 feet high… with some almost as wide as that too. How, as much as why, comes to mind, knowing that regardless of advances in technology, they were still working with tools of flint and antler picks. The sheer scale of the circle… let alone the whole complex… is incredible. I keep trying to convey the sense of awe… and failing miserably. Facts and figures are not enough.
I have visited this site many times and with many people, both those who are spiritually inclined and those who have no interest either in the spiritual possibilities, nor the mathematical precision, nor even the archaeology. To some it was just a curiosity… I hang out with some strange folks sometimes… One thing they have all shared, however, is that awed amazement. Avebury is incredible. It is also incredibly beautiful.
The stones were neither chosen nor placed randomly. Within the remaining stones, particularly in the Avenue, is an alternating pattern of lozenge and upright stones. The most obvious implication is that they refer to the eternal dance of polarity. Look at each one and you cannot but see that there are faces in the stones, and regardless of our human gift for seeing faces in pretty much anything, some are too plain to be mistaken. Were they crafted in this way… or simply chosen for the spirit of the stone that seemed to show itself on their surface?
Many have studied the geometries, numbers and alignments of the stones. Again, we may never know how much we are finding to fit our own theories and how much was deliberately encoded into the design. One thing is certain though, the pattern of the temple had meaning. From the solstice sunrise, to the lunar cycles, from the inner circles that seem, like the pyramids of Giza, to mirror Orion’s belt to Stukeley’s vision of the Serpent Temple… our ancestors had a knowledge far beyond just the engineering required to erect the stones. For me, it has always felt like stepping inside a chronometer, whose intricate cogs work together to tell more than time.
And then there are the stones themselves. Visitors often seem drawn to a particular stone that ‘calls’ them, as if there is a song in the stones that harmonises or resonates with something within their very bones. As every particle in creation vibrates, that is perhaps not as odd as it may at first sound. It is not odd at all to those who have felt the song of the stones.