I should have expected this. On the last Silent Eye weekend I’d attended there had been a place that had shaken me, unexpectedly, making my breath shorten, my heart pound. And so it is, I suppose. On these weekends we are challenged as well as inspired, and beauty can hold darkness as well as light. Still, when you reach such a place it is always a shock.
And so it was at Cullerlie. We parked by an old stone wall, and I picked a couple of blackberries to eat as we approached the gate leading to our next site. And then the guardian appeared. A bouncing ball of black and white fur, the collie seemed very pleased to see us all, bounding about on the grass, pausing at intervals on the approach to the circle. My companions (if you read their accounts), saw him as a friendly spirit, welcoming. And I felt the same way… for the most part. To me it felt a little bit as though he wasn’t sure whether or not we should be there, but he led us on nonetheless, pausing every so often to make sure we were following.
Cullerlie stone circle, also known as the Standing Stones of Echt, is described as a circle of red granite standing stones, surrounding eight small burial cairns. The cairns are also circular, and fill the interior of the circle. Hawthorn and willow ash have been found in the cairns, as well as cremated human bones placed there before smaller stones were placed over the top of them. When the circle was constructed in the Bronze Age, the landscape around it was boggy, the stones brought from higher ground to be placed there, in contrast to the other circles we had seen.
The approach to the circle was pretty enough, an avenue of tall trees on soft grass, fairy red toadstools dotting the green. But such toadstools hold poison, despite their beauty – perhaps a metaphor of what was to come. As I approached the circle I’d intended to touch the stones, to travel counter-clockwise and see where felt right, as I had at the other sites. But as I approached the circle it was almost as though I bounced off it, feeling gut-punched, my breath shallow and a pain in my solar plexus. Something, I didn’t know what, was wrong with this place.
‘…A woman, in long dress of green, crying out ‘It is wrong!” Repeatedly I heard her cries, repeatedly I saw her words ignored by the rest of the community who, seeking to emulate the power held in older sites, built this place, ignoring all but the most basic alignments, fragments of an almost forgotten past. A man of power, his face hard, turning from her, from her cries…’
This circle, our guide explained, was built about two millennia later than the ones we’d already visited. While there were some alignments in place, they were only to do with the passage of the sun – the moon had been ignored when the circle was built. The jumbles of stone in the centre felt muddy and convoluted, their placement simply wrong within the landscape. I didn’t want to touch the standing stones, nor set foot in the circle itself. And I was not alone – several of my other companions also expressed their distress and physical discomfort at the place, the feeling of ‘wrongness’.
Man and woman, sun and moon, light and dark, earth and sky. All necessary opposites on the great wheel of life, part of balance in all things. Perhaps that was what felt so off kilter about this place, the lack of balance, of care. I remarked that it felt like a Disney version of a stone circle, although at least at Disney World we know such things are done in play. Here there was still power, but it seemed broken in some way.
We did not stay long, in the end. Even those who were not initially put off didn’t want to linger, and so we made our way back up the avenue to the waiting cars. I did not look back.
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