Saturday 31 August 2019

Long Meg and her Daughters - a Cumbrian stone circle

Long Meg and her Daughters is a surprisingly large Neolithic stone circle in Cumberland, near Penrith; which we visited recently. It was an enjoyable experience - as others have found.  The site originally will have had a very broad 360 degree view to distant hills and horizons; and it slopes slightly toward the Pennines, as if the shape was intended to be visible from the flanks of Cross Fell and thereabouts.

It has several special features - first is Long Meg herself - a red sandstone pillar with 'rock art' concentric circular symbols still visible on one face (archaeology suggests there was originally another similar pillar, making an 'entrance); and the main circle of her daughters - made of grey stones; through which a small road goes.

Of the circles I have visited, it is most like Avebury, although smaller. The Daughter stones vary a lot in size - reinforcing my idea that each stone probably symbolically represented (was 'like') an individual person (or deity). Also the Daughters are spread-out, with no impression of ever having been contiguous. This differs from other Cumbrian circles such as Swinside and Castlerigg, which look as if originally the stones were placed close together, contiguously, to make an enclosing-excluding 'wall'.

A similarity with Castlerigg is that there is an area that looks as if there are extra stones that perhaps originally made a 'sanctuary' or 'chapel' jutting-in from the perimeter. 

From the fact that so many survived 4000 years plus; the British Isles must once have been covered in these and similar structures in the late Neothlithic-Bronze Age - I find it quite a remarkable thing to imagine moving through such a 'ritual landscape'. The stone circles are associated with other features such as pathways, parallel ditches (cursus), and various types of burial (some long barrows predate the stone circles).

The circles themselves seem like sky temples to me. I am impressed by the fact they don't have anything at the centre - just like the sky; but I don't believe that most of the stone circles have significant astronomical alignments. They are just not sufficiently regular geometric structures - the stones are very rugged and various in size and shape - and most are not even true circles. (e.g. LM and her Ds is flattened on one side).

My current guess is that the circles were dedicated to the sky god/s and stones were added to after the deaths of significant persons - or perhaps to represent gods. But they were clearly very important indeed - the sheer size of some stones is evidence of the work required to make them. The positions are distinctive and rare. They are part of complexly-shaped landscapes.

Probably, this was a literate society (the 'rock art' being the remnants of their 'writing'); and the number of these temples suggests a large pantheon, or in some way different functions of different temples (as with the much better documented and contemporary Egyptian religion).

I get the impression of life lived in this context; of life being a movement-through these sacred landscapes - perhaps following narratives of divine history; people continually reliving the primal stories of their gods.

1 comment:

Joseph A. said...

I'm sure that you remember "The Stones of Blood" episode with the fourth Doctor. I loved the professor in the show -- an amazingly accurate (and humorous) representation of an academic. It turns out that the actress who portrayed Professor Emilia Rumford was a beauty in her younger days and matured into a matronly woman that exuded strength:

Maggie Smith is another example of a lovely actress (stunning, really) who became a formidable, noble-looking elderly woman.

Anyway, enjoy your adventures through weird (in the literal sense) Britain.