A look at Stone Circles and how they might relate to Druidry.
The concept of using stone circles as meeting places and for other uses is often misunderstood when related to contemporary Druidry. Early Antiquarian writers associated stone circles in the landscape with Druids. Indeed their knowledge at the time was limited with out the disciplines of Archaeology. Although we may now know this was erroneous especially if one takes the classical literature into account, however this alone could suggest a druidic relationship during that period.
Today we have the ability to search deeper, using archaeology, which was not available during the Antiquarian period. Knowledge deduced through archaeological excavations which includes the material residue left behind by past human beings opens a window to view through. Such a viewpoint allows the cognitive aspect of the mind to create hypothesis and theories. The images which might be painted by current thinking relating to stone circles are varied, such suggestions may be:-
1. Meeting places for people.
2. Territory boundaries.
3. Places to bury the ancestors.
4. Sacred temples; an area which denotes a separated space within the landscape e.g. creating a sacred space.
5. Space which is held differently within the mental attributes of the Neolithic and Bronze Age mind.
6. A place in which a ritual specialist could enact out a theatre, playing with alternative states of reality connecting the ancestor with the living world.
7. Monument reflecting the heavens movement of the rising and setting of stellar objects, attributed to projected deities or a means to regulate early agriculture timing.
8. Places which assisted in ordering the world into a cultural framework.
Anyone of these theories and hypothesis presented could be correct. One thing which is not left in the archaeology record is the mental thought process of what it is, what it might be, or what its cognitive function is. This is specifically true when there is no written record available from the prehistoric period.
Without this current thought, it therefore comes as no surprise that antiquarians deduce a relationship between stone circles and the mysterious Druids within the revival period. As recently eloquently described by Prof Ronald Hutton, “every one wanted to claim them as their own.” Especially at a time, the way of thinking and viewing the “lived in world” was changing, in so many ways across Europe.
Antiquarian approaching this subject specifically in England, Wales and Scotland undertook three different ways to locate the truth. One, to consult the record documents; two, use local common folklore/customary practices, and three, to mix and match both documents and folklore, so a different, kind of truth emerges. *Irrespective of the approach, a lasting cultural legacy has been left, which still continues today; championed by a figure of controversy, Edward Williams aka IoIo Morgannwy, and support by patriotic societies based in London.
The movement of the Welsh Gentry and artisans were drawn to London, leading to various societies being formed and nationally recognised. Welsh Societies formed in the 18th century varied in purpose. For example, the establishment of the 'Society of Ancient Britons' in 1715 came to be centred on national patriotism. Described by Prys Morgan to be centred on the St. David day celebrations; the later Honourable Society of Cymmrodorion in 1751; concentrated on the decline of Poetry, customs and manners along with current affairs. The Gwyneddigion formed in 1770, concerned itself with welsh literature and the cultivation of music and assisted in the re-establishment of the Eisteddfod.
The introduction of the concept and use of Stone Circles lies with the vision derived from IoIo Morgannwy, however their introduction into the Eisteddfod was fraught with difficulties’ from its early beginnings of the Gorsedd of Bards performed in London in 1792. In the same year, with the introduction of the Grosedd complete with an explanation, published within the confines of Owen Pughe book dealing with the poetry of Llywarch Hen. However aspects of these were eventually incorporated and accepted into the Eisteddfod celebrations much later in 1819. Overall this introduced pomp and ceremony which became an attraction raising its popularity and status. Nonetheless with the additional ceremony being introduced into the proceedings, it was joined by other changes with various classification of culture becoming recognised within its treatise.
The construction of these circles has been suggested to have arisen from stones which were carried originally within Edward Williams’s pockets. These were laid out at early events, before they was later constructed using stone sizes found within actual Neolithic and Bronze Age circles. However this has all changed since 2004, these have been replaced with fibreglass replicas.
Nonetheless, originally the circles were constructed on the Eisteddfod sites to a design which Edward Williams produced. Interestingly I have only located one of these circles which follow the original design situated at Llangollen, with its outer three stones standing outside of the 12 stones which enclose the central Logan stone.
The remaining circles visited to date appear to be void of these particular three individual stones which are located in the Eastern quarter. The outer three stones have been indicated to be astronomically placed to coincide with the solstices and equinoxes sunrise. In so doing the shadows cast form the three rays, form the /|\ symbol during the earth orbit around the Sun/Star, the symbol itself is bound up with various misconceptions although generally known as the Awen symbol, often associated to IoIo’s imagination, yet variations of which are steeped in cultural perceptions of understanding worldwide.
The Eisteddfod stone circles appear to fall under the modern suggestion that they have been constructed, and irrespective of its authenticity still play an important part in celebrations and cultural traditions.
Various contemporary types of Druidry might involve the construction of stone circles for a variety of reasons. Yet one wonders whether these have any connection to the functions suggested by scholars and there usage. However we too will join the ancestors in due course, yet we do have the ability to record the purpose of modern circles being constructed. Even so, the functionality might change over time depending on its longevity and continual use.
Burl, A., 2000, The Stone Circles of Britain Ireland and Brittany, Yale University Press.
Edmonds, M and Seabourne, T., 2001, Prehistory in the Peak, Tempus
Edwards, T., 1990, The Esteddfod, Cardiff University Press
Hutton, R., 2007, The Druids, Sutton
Jones, E., 2001, 'Medieveal to Renaissance' in Emrys Jones (ed) London Welsh 500-2000, Gomer,
Miles, D., 1978, The Royal National Eisteddfod of Wales, Swansea
Morgan, P., 1975, IoIo Morganwg, University of Wales Press,
Morgan, P., 1986, 'Keeping the Legends Alive', in Tony Curtis (ed) Wales the Imagined Nation, Poetry Press
Morgan, P., 1997, 'From a Death to a view: the Hunt for the Welsh Past in the Romantic Period' in Eric Hobsbawn and Terrance Ranger (eds.) Invention of Tradition, Canto
Morgan, P., 2001, 'Engine of the Empire,' in Prys Morgan (ed), The Tempus History of Wales, Stroud,
Ruggles, C.I., 1988, Records in Stone, Cambridge University Press
Ruggles, C.l., 1998, 'Ritual Astronomy in the Neolithic and Bronze Age British Isles: Patterns of continuity and Change,' in Alex Gibson and Derek Simpson (eds), Prehistoric Ritual and Religion, Sutton
Vyner, B. 1994, 'The territory of ritual: cross-ridge boundaries and the prehistoric landscape of the Cleveland Hills, northeast England' in Antiquity 68
Williams, G., 1985, When Was Wales, London
Gorsedd Circles by Cornelius Holtorf
Iolo Morganwg's Vision and Motives – National Museum of Wales
Modern Circles by Graham and Angela
Fancy Building one? - Ivan McBeth
First published in Aontacht, Volume 1 Issue 02 - Autumn Equinox 2008
Druidry, Stone Circles,