This main image is the Knowth calendar stone – 5300 years old!
Intelligent inhabitants of the extreme north
When ancient Greek historians wrote about the Hyperboreans (inhabitants of the extreme north) they talked of skilled astronomers who had visited Greece and taught philosophy to Pythagoras and his followers. We often consider the Greeks as pioneers of modern-day mathematics, but the Stone Age builders of Britain, Ireland, Scandinavia, France, Portugal and Spain were using Pythagorean geometry and astronomy to design their stone circles and position their standing stones more than 3000 years before Pythagoras was even born!
And it was not just the pre-historical architects of North West Europe who possessed such a sophisticated knowledge of geometry and astronomy. Recent discoveries, such as the 12,000-year-old Göbekli Tepe complex in Turkey, have forced archaeologists to push back the origins of human civilisation by thousands of years. We are just beginning to scratch the surface.
Stone circles – clocks and calendars
Alexander Thom, former professor of engineering at Oxford University, surveyor and statistician, was fascinated by the mathematical complexity of stone age monuments and spent decades surveying and meticulously analysing the alignments and positions of over 250 stone circles and standing stones in Britain and Carnac in France. His stated aim was to crack the Stone Age code and find out what those megalith builders were up to.
He concluded that Stonehenge and other megalithic sites were clocks and calendars designed to record time; predict solar and lunar eclipses and track the 18.6-year moon cycle. And these solar calendars were already in existence well before 3000 BC. Above is a wonderful example of a calendar stone from the great cosmic observatories of Knowth and Newgrange in Ireland.
Thom’s book, ‘Megalithic Sites in Britain’, published in 1967, caused huge controversy in archaeology circles, with his theory that 5000-6000 years ago, so-called primitive stone age cultures were using complex mathematics and astronomy to construct their monuments and accurately record the cycles of the sun, moon and major stars. During his research, Thom discovered a unit of measure, common to all ancient monuments, that he labelled the megalithic yard. The megalithic yard coupled with a knowledge of Pythagorean triangles, enabled stone age architects to build stone circles with remarkable sophistication and accuracy.
Adventures in Kilmartin Glen
After eight months of lockdown, I decided to follow in Thom’s footsteps and head north to Kilmartin Glen on the west coast of Scotland for a megalithic and astronomical adventure. People have lived in this fertile coastal valley for 6000 years or more, and although not as famous as Stonehenge and Avebury, Kilmartin is the largest prehistoric site in Britain.
Within a 10km radius there are over 150 prehistoric monuments dating from the Neolithic or Bronze Age (4000-500 BC). These include stone circles, standing stones, rock carvings, burial cairns and chambered tombs. Many of these monuments and natural rock formations are decorated with mysterious cup and ring marks.
Kintraw – winter solstice observatory
As I rounded the corner on the deserted road by Loch Craignish at Kintraw, I spotted a magnificent standing stone overlooking the loch, surrounded by a series of small cairns.
Far away in the distance I could see three large mountains – the Paps of Jura. Seated on a small, manmade platform on the steep hill behind the Kintraw stone and looking west down the loch, past the stone, I had a clear view of the notch between two of these peaks: Beinn Shiantaidh (holy mountain in Gaelic) and Beinn a’Chaolais (mountain of the sound or strait).
According to Professor Thom, if you had stood on this platform thousands of years ago and taken a sight-line from the Kintraw standing stone to the notch between the Jura peaks in the distance you would have seen the last rays of the setting sun on the winter solstice at this exact point. He believed Kintraw was a winter solstice observatory.
The winter solstice is one of the most important days of the seasonal calendar, symbolising the darkest day of the year, followed by the return of the light. A symbol of death and rebirth. Ancient monuments, sacred sites and temples all over the world are aligned to the winter solstice sunrise or sunset.
During my trip, I discovered that other stone alignments at Kintraw referenced another Jura mountain (Dubh Bheinn – Black Mountain) where every 18.6 years, the moon could be observed setting behind the mountain at its minor standstill. Clearly the people who designed these observatories had a comprehensive knowledge of cosmic cycles.
But the adventure was just beginning. Next month my journey through Kilmartin Glen continues with a visit to Nether Largie, one of the most important lunar observatories in Britain.
Celebrating the winter solstice
The winter solstice is the shortest day of the year and in Australia falls on the 21st June.
The wheel of the zodiac traces the yearly passage of the sun as it moves through each of the 12 constellations marking the four seasons, the spring and autumn equinoxes and the summer and winter solstices. As the days grow shorter in the period leading up to the winter solstice, the sun appears to stop moving south or north (depending on which hemisphere you are in) and stays still for three days: 20th, 21st and 22nd of June. This is the meaning of the word ‘sol-stice’ – sun standing still.
For thousands of years, carvings on temples, cave walls, monuments and artefacts have honoured the sun, bringer of warmth, security, life and light. Our ancestors personified the sun, worshipping it as the light of the world and saviour of mankind. It is no coincidence that our principal day of worship is called Sun Day. The winter solstice marked the death and subsequent rebirth of the sun god.
Seven top tips for a warming winter solstice
Each season has its innate beauty and magic and winter is no different. For people all over the world, from the ancient Egyptians and Celts to the Hopi, midwinter has always been a time of ritual, reflection, and renewal. A time to feed the spirit and nurture the soul. A time to pause and rest before moving forward again with renewed faith and hope for the future.
Instead of retreating from the cold and complaining about the weather, consider how a meaningful celebration of midwinter and its place in the eternal cycle of life could help you reconnect with nature, family, friends and the things that matter most.
Prepare a simple meal from organic winter produce and invite family and friends to share.
Watch the winter solstice sunset while meditating and taking deep breaths. Light a candle and give thanks for both darkness and light.
Visit a place in nature that has special meaning for you. Lie down, close your eyes and listen to the sounds all around you. Feel the strength of the earth supporting your body and tune into the slower, quiet rhythms of the season.
Write down ten words that for you embody the best parts of winter, then write a poem or song celebrating winter.
Silence is another beautiful way to mark the solstice. Consider an hour of meditative silence on the day of the solstice (21st June). Or consider building a circle of candlelight, and meditate with others.
Take a walk through the bush or local neighbourhood. Collect winter evergreens, feathers, pebbles or other found objects. Make a wreath for your front door, or create an altar in your back yard.
Pick a tarot card or rune and write down your dreams for coming months.
We conclude this celebration of the winter solstice with a quote from Percy Bysshe Shelley’s Ode to the West Wind:
O wind… if winter comes, can spring be far behind?
Happy winter solstice!
Gemini solar eclipse
Last month, a gorgeous blood moon eclipse rose majestically against the Australian evening sky, witnessed by millions. This month we have another eclipse – a solar eclipse at the Gemini new moon. Unfortunately, the solar eclipse is not visible in Australia, but that doesn’t mean we won’t feel its effects!
Eclipses happen in pairs (lunar and solar) and always bring growth and change, which can be painful, enlightening or both. With communication planet Mercury also in Gemini this month, June is a good time to let go of preconceived ideas. Remain open to new directions. Curiosity, fresh ideas and perspective coupled with a willingness to listen and communicate openly are all important. Mercury will be retrograde (moving backwards) from 30th May to 23rd June offering an opportunity to pause, reflect and regroup.
Events that occur around the time of a solar eclipse usually arise as a result of past actions. Of course, sometimes this can be difficult to acknowledge, or even understand, at the time. Humility, coupled with open and honest reflection are essential in order to learn and grow. To deal with the darkness of a solar eclipse, we need to stay grounded and stand firm so we can discern the truth.
Solar eclipses can also bring unexpected strokes of good luck and changes in fortune. If you know your birth chart, check to see where the eclipse falls in your chart for clues on which area of life might be affected.
Gemini bonanza – think for yourself!
Throughout June, the predominance of Gemini energy, coupled with Mercury retrograde pushes us to think for ourselves instead of allowing others to tell us what to believe, who to trust and who or what to fear. There are many ways of viewing a situation and ignoring or dismissing those with different viewpoints simply gives rise to hatred and intolerance.
Promise yourself that you will trust your intuition and listen to your inner voice. Do this, even if those around you are putting you down or refusing to listen. And make sure you stand for what’s right. Gemini is the zodiac sign most connected with social media, gossip and scandal. It’s very easy to build up a circle of friends who share your views, and then band together to vilify or cancel out anyone who disagrees with you. Listen to those with opposing viewpoints, put yourself in their shoes. Accordingly, you could learn something important. Do your own research, ask questions, and look for the truth behind the spin.
Neptune-Mercury – watch out for confusion and lack of clarity
Due to the Mercury retrograde cycle, communication planet Mercury, normally a fast-moving planet, is locked in a stressful square angle with Neptune from mid-May to mid-July. Mercury’s clear and logical thinking is currently clouded by Neptune’s world of imagination, fantasy and endless possibility. Watch out for confusion, manipulation, deceit and lack of clarity in all forms of negotiation, communication and commerce. If things seem too good to be true, they probably are. Avoid signing important contracts until you’ve checked all the details; listen carefully to what others have to say and keep an open mind and sense of humour.
Uranus square Saturn – disrupting the status quo
Finally… earlier this year we looked at the year-long battle between conformist Saturn and revolutionary Uranus, which tears down old structures and beliefs and replaces them with new ones, on both a personal and collective level.
While Saturn pushes us become resilient, wise, and strong by facing up to the challenges of life, Uranus invites us to reinvent ourselves and break free from old beliefs, old habits, sabotaging behaviour and anything that keeps us stuck in a rut. Therefore, profound and lasting change is seriously possible this year.
The first battle between Saturn and Uranus was in February. The second clash occurs around the middle of this month. It will signal disruption to the status quo. Who knows what form that might take! Uranus always brings surprises, so June looks set to be an interesting month!
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