Long Barrows

Belas Knap with Kevin

Belas Knap

Continuing the subterranean theme, on a recent trip to Gloucestershire I visited a couple of long barrows with my partner. Walking part of the Cotswolds Way we came upon Belas Knap Long Barrow, an elongated mound which can be seen from quite a long distance away. From the side it is triangular in shape, rucked up from the earth. We approached it on a path the colour of terracota.

Belas Knap Side Chamber

Belas Knap Side Chamber

Belas Knap with False Entrance

Belas Knap with False Entrance

Belas Knap – possibly meaning “Beautiful Hill” – is Neolithic, 5500 years old and is, indeed, a beautiful hill; marbled white butterflies flit amongst the field scabious and red clover flowers. It is a rounded, elongated mound – the earth’s pregnant belly – and has a “false” entrance and four cave-like side chambers where 38 human skeletons have been found entombed within this womb of earth. The small chambers, with neatly layered dry stone walls, make adequate shelter from the elements if one enters on hands and knees.

Boat to the Afterlife

Boat to the Afterlife

According to Robert John Langdon,  the area was once a land of water and long lost rivers, and the long barrows may have been “Boats to the Afterlife”. It’s a beautiful, but controversial, idea. It was later, during the time of the Vikings in Anglo-Saxon Britain, that the dead were buried within real, wooden boats intended for the Afterlife – Ship Burials.

Uley Long Barrow Entrance

Uley Long Barrow Entrance

Uley Long Barrow Chamber

Uley Long Barrow Chamber

The other Neolithic long barrow we visited was Uley Long Barrow just off the Cotswold Way. It is also called Hetty Pegler’s Tump after the wife of the seventeenth century landowner where the long barrow is situated. This long barrow can be entered and its interior chambers explored.

Inside it was dark, musty, silent. The interior chambers were coal black so I set my camera to flash and took a photo; it was like entering a cave. Were the ancients trying to replicate caves in an otherwise cave-free landscape? I shouted into the void but my voice died on my lips, muffled and lost in the blackness. It felt close, slightly oppressive – I could almost feel the weight of rock and earth above. There was I within the womb of peace, the resting, liminal place of ancestors. Perhaps a place to commune with their spirits and acknowledge death. I pondered a moment and felt, ever-so-slightly, my materiality, my sense of self, dissolving into the velvet darkness about me.

Some long barrows have acoustic properties and I’m reminded of a programme on Radio 4 last year called Noise, A Human History by Professor David Hendy. In two episodes, he explored the acoustics of stone circles and caves. Sounds, or their absence, may have played an important role in making these sites sacred.

In some studies of Neolithic burial chambers, it has been found that during acoustic experiments, researchers experienced deep trance-like states and drumming vibrations were enhanced within the chambers.

“[West Kennet Long Barrow] was never just a tomb, it was a liminal crossing place, where shamans journeyed to ancestral realms for knowledge and healing”. Peter Knight

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River, sand and tree goddesses

Nadalian's Rock of FairiesI have recently discovered the lovely work of Iranian environmental artist, Ahmad Nadalian. He carves stones with fish, other creatures and goddess-like images associated with rivers and the sea around the world. He carries out rituals of returning his carved fish rocks to rivers to raise awareness of pollution. In his words:

I was in search of my lost paradise. I wished to spend time surrounded by nature and living with nature. Upon my return to the land of my forefather I found that my paradise no longer existed. The wellspring was polluted and river no longer had fish. The rivers are sown and the meadows are planted with villas.… I have created hundreds goddesses and fish on the stones of the river and have dedicated them to nature. I wanted to build his own paradise. I liked to believe that these fish are alive, and were swimming against the tides… they are metaphors for nature and the life of living creatures who endure pain, suffering, and are destroyed by the evils of our time.

I have taken refuge in the deep ravines where I can overcome evil. There is a temple where I am at peace to worship water. I am not tired. I am determined as ever to build my paradise.

Sand Goddess

Words to ponder on. I too want a paradise, a beautiful natural place in which to dream, to take refuge. And I need to dream. Nadalian’s Rock of Fairies done in France captures my imagination the most. See the photo above.

I need nature, earth, leaves, grass, rock, water. And I sense a return of my interest in goddess imagery. I wanted to find and connect with some rocks somewhere. I like the idea of creating with natural materials that are present wherever I happen to be – beneath my feet; to make a small gesture in nature that arises from and belongs to the place.

I visited the nearby Blackrock beach to look at the cliffs, the sea-sculpted chalk shore. I found myself doodling in some patches of sand,… moulding.. a Sand Goddess figure that the tide will return to the sea!

Tree woman carving Cae Mabon

Alexi engraving rock

I’ve just had a replenishing trip to Wales staying at Cae Mabon eco-retreat. It is a place to dream, indeed, to reconnect with oneself and nature. I love the wonderful round cob buildings, the rushing river, the peace; the moss covered hillside and lichen-loaded trees; the fires each night beneath the moon shrouded in its “winter halo”…

Someone had carved a beautiful woman in a tree beside the river; she holds a heart above her head… a River Goddess?

Kevin and I spent some special time there in nature – pottering about the river and woods. I even found a lichened rock to scribble on :)

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Dancing through the Elements

Earth Seed WomanI went to a new drop-in movement session on Monday evening run by Caroline Carey founder of Alchemy in Movement. It’s called ‘Movement Medicine’ or ‘Medicine Dance’ and has grown out of the 5 Rhythms. We were taken on a dancing journey through the ‘elements’, Earth, Fire, Water and Air. There’s something special about the elements that never fails to ignite me, something profound, something simple, natural and, well, elemental!

Earth is heavy, I imagined it encasing me like soil, sticky, fertile, moist with moss, wood and roots. I have had a thing about roots recently, a need, perhaps, to refind mine. We sent imaginary roots down through our feet for stability and grounding. To dance earth I think of strong, low movements and trees with only their upper most branches swayed by the breeze. At first my legs were stiff as cinnamon sticks but soon it felt good and I liked the idea of drawing up sustenance from the depths. The music was deep with digeridoos and natural sounds; I bathed in it. My picture of Earth is of a seed harbouring an embryo self, like an insect imago, roots reaching out.

We moved to Fire. Looser music, looser dancing; I travelled the length of the room, to dance with the fairy lights and candles. I cared less about how I moved, fire shooting up within me shredding the overlay of Winter. Burning, smouldering flames, the gentle creep and heat of lava. That did me good.

Swim to the Stars

Water transformed me into waves, moving back and forth, bobbing with flotsum and jetsum. I was adrift, tumbling with breakers, moving constantly. Then I became a weed, tethered in a stream, helplessly flailing in the clear rush of torrent, washing debris away downstream.

And Air, the zephyr, feather light and soaring, a floating miniscule pulse. Air was for me, still, quiet, paused, a tired sigh. I was happy to lie and roll on the floor while Caroline took us through a closing meditation. The evening had been gentle, but alive with imagery, music, sounds, subtle and not so subtle dancing by everyone. It was good to be dancing freely again with other people.

I felt inspired to create so I’ve worked on a couple of pictures in mixed media – acrylics, collage, scrim and stitching – Earth Seed Woman and Swim to the Stars. However, other people’s artworks come to mind. For example for Water, Bill Viola’s films like The Messenger or Brighton based Mim King’s lovely dance film, ‘Dust’ an excerpt of which can be seen here.

I think of Ana Mendiata for Earth and for Fire. I’ll work on my own Fire and Air creations soon :)

Ana MendiataDust by Mim King

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