Now is the Solstice of the Year

Today, the Winter Solstice, is probably my favourite day of the year!

Living in the Northern Hemisphere it marks the turn of the seasons when the days begin to grow longer and the warmth of Summer is beginning its long return journey, true it’s also the real beginning of Winter, but hey you can’t have everything! I spare a thought for my friends South of the Equator for whom the opposite is true, your days will now start to shorten towards Autumn.

As I have grown older, the relevance of this turning point has grown stronger for me, I can rally attune to the Ancients who venerated the turning seasons and the Celestial Calendar. I suspect that my Celtic blood has a lot to do with this, so it won’t belong before I have to pop outside into the rain to grab the Yule Log plus Holly and Evergreen to decorate Dookes H.Q.!

It’s interesting to reflect that the origins of many common Christmas decorations such as the Yule Log and Wreath can trace back to pre-Christian times. You have to remember that though Christmas is a Christian celebration it is firmly superimposed on top of the much older Pagan Winter Festivals that predate it. Lets not forget that many other cultures and religions around the world also celebrate festivals at this time of the year and often they have light firmly as their focus.

Wreaths are traditionally made from evergreen symbolising strength and endurance as the evergreen lasts throughout even the hardest winter. The ring is also immortal, never-ending or beginning. I am pleased to report that Dookes H.Q. is currently displaying a splendid Wreath made by Mrs Dookes!IMG_0990

The importance of the Solstice in Neolithic times is witnessed by the many standing stone sites, such as Stonehenge, which were deliberately aligned to celebrate the Solstice. At Stonehenge the Great Trilithon stands with the it’s smooth face towards the mid-winter sunrise that rises and projects through the gap in the stones.IMG_0498For people who were dependant on the passing of the seasons the Winter Solstice was of phenomenal importance. Now was the time that surplus animals were slaughtered so they would not have to be fed through the winter and there was briefly an abundance of fresh meat to enjoy at the time that the rebirth of the sun began. So why not have a festival and party to celebrate the ending of one celestial year and the beginning of a new one? Sounds good to me, but then, I am a Derwydd/Druid!

Stenness Stones Orkney

Stenness Stones Orkney

In the midst of all this rebirth stuff, remembering David and Dave who rode on ahead this year, one day we’ll talk to the trees again and the plan will come together!

Have a brilliant Solstice everyone!

“Ring out these bells.
Ring out, ring solstice bells.”

Dookes

Special thanks to Mark Grant for use of the Stonehenge photo.

Land of Mystery

Lovely early summer days have arrived here in Cornwall and for me the best way to enjoy them is from the saddle of one of my beloved Harley Davidson motorbikes!

On my last post I took you to the times of Arthurian Legend, this time lets go back further in time. . . a lot further back.

High on the South Eastern edge of Bodmin Moor is the small and incredibly named village of Minions, yes honestly that’s the name of the place! Here can be found evidence of human habitation that stretches back to the Neolithic Period, at least 2500BC, or to put it another way, thats over four and a half thousand years ago! Around the parish can be found burial mounds, standing stones, ditch-ways and a host of other mysterious works.

Most impressive of all can be found on the Western edge of the village where three intriguing stone circles laid in a straight line lie. These are known as “The Hurlers,” or in the local Cornish language, “An Hurlysi.” They are probably the best example of ceremonial circles in South West England and folklore has it that they are the petrified remains of men punished for playing Cornish Hurling on a Sunday.P1030830

The three large circles are aligned on an axis running NNE to SSW. The largest circle is the centre one and measures just over 41 metres in diameter, with its flanking neighbours both just over 30 metres across. Just off to the West are two separate stones known as “The Pipers,” possibly they were playing for the Hurlers when they were set in stone! The whole site is big! 

 

Now don’t go expecting another Stonehenge, the more famous site on Salibury Plain, the Hurlers are nowhere near as grand, but to the Ancient people in this part of the world, probably just as important.

It is fair to say that what they represent is, today, a mystery. Some scholars have suggested that the layout of the stones concurs with stella alignment particularly linked to the stars Vega and Arcturus, or at least where that combination would have appeared in antiquity. Others have linked the layout to the stars in the constellation of Orion, specifically the “Belt,” though as recent archaeology has revealed that there once was a fourth circle I guess that kicks that theory into touch! 

 The stones that remain show clear signs of being crafted and hammered smooth. Originally there were 28 in the centre circle but now only 14 survive, whilst the North circle has 15 out of 30 remaining.

As a place to visit it is certainly worth the effort, particularly on a nice clear day and if industrial archaeology also floats your boat, there are countless reminders of Cornwall’s tin and copper mining heritage to be seen as well. More on that in a future post. I couldn’t resist a bit of monochrome either! 

 About half a mile South of the Hurlers is another fascinating relic of ancient times. This is “Long Tom” also known as “The Long Stone,” an ancient Menhir that possibly pre-dates even the Hurlers. Again the original reason why this 2.8 metre tall stone has been placed here is lost in the mists of time. The most fascinating thing about Long Tom is that at some time the rather phallic stone has been “Christianised,” a simple Celtic Cross has been roughly carved in the head. I found it quite hard to define in a photograph, but trust me, there is a cross there.  

 

 Now here’s an interesting thing, if you take Long Tom as the starting point a line can be drawn right along the axis of The Hurlers and it leads to an ancient burial mound known as Rillaton Barrow. Local legend says that that Rillaton is haunted by the spirit of a Druid Priest, who offers travellers a drink from an undrainable cup. During archaeological excavations back in 1837 a variety of finds were unearthed. Human remains, obviously, but also “grave goods” including a bronze dagger, beads, pottery and a wonderful gold cup. Now known as The Rillaton Cup this beautiful, 90mm high, relic of an ancient time can be seen in the British Museum, London; could this be the cup of the Druid Priest? 

 Pondering the past and happy to be a Druid, I eased Harley into gear and nodded a distant salute to the Priest as I rode away; luckily I wasn’t thirsty!

“Forget about the cheque we’ll get hell to pay, have a drink on me!

Catch you soon.

Dookes
Oh yes, I nearly forgot. Someone in the village of Minions has a sense of humour and I fully approve!