Monday, November 19, 2012

More circles

Once, several years ago, I remember standing in the centre of a stone circle, somewhere in Cornwall. My partner at the time, I recall, was reluctant to enter. I felt no such compunction. Whether such places have any intrinsic “magic”, I am not sure. Certainly that place was open, bleak and windswept. Perhaps against such unbridled space and formlessness, creating a circle is already a kind of magic. Here is form. Here is enclosure. Here are edges and boundaries. And here we are, once again, considering circles (see previous post).

Regardless of what one might think about the numinous quality of particular times and places, the fact that others have found a site significant, that they have been drawn to it repeatedly, and have taken the time to give it form and structure, itself lends significance to a place. I have felt the same way when viewing Aboriginal rock paintings in Australia. Here, in this vast, terrifying, and occasionally formless world people are declaring: Here I am. Here we are. I will shape things. I will enclose and tame things.

Standing in that circle, the wind whistling through the scrubby bushes, the horizon broken only by low hills and tumbled boulders, it is possible to feel the aloneness that our ancestors may have felt. Imagine a world in which the entire human population may have numbered between 20 and 30 million, less than the population of the greater Tokyo area today. The population of Britain was less than 1 million. The world must have seemed a lonely place.

It is in places like that stone circle where we can feel our roots reaching back, far back, into the past. More than that, we can feel that past reaching into us. We are not so very different from those people. We sometimes still find the world a terrifying and dangerous place; we still seek to build walls behind which to keep ourselves safe; we constantly struggle to bring form out of chaos. If I search for ready-made meaning in the external world, I may be disappointed. But what I can hope to do is create a little bubble of meaning out of the surrounding chaos, much as our ancestors created circles from the stones randomly scattered throughout their environment.


My novel Maybe they'll remember me was recently reviewed at The Bookbag. The review can be found here.


  1. The only stone circle I've been to is Stonehenge, where no one is allowed to enter any more. It still felt deeply spiritual standing on the outside, knowing that this has been a meeting place to many people over the centuries. When people gather we seem to gather in a circular form for conversation. What is sad to me is that so many young people will sit in rows texting friends, even friends in the same row, instead of speaking directly with each other. Until I read your blog I never thought about the circular aspect of human contact. I find that interesting.

    1. Hi Beth
      They actually let you inside the circle at Stonehenge on the Summer solstice. I did that three or four years ago on my birthday. Of course there are thousands of people there then.