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Gavrinis, Standing Stones and a Tiny House

Just off the coast of Brittany, in the Gulf of Morbihan, there’s a special little island called Gavrinis, ‘goat island’. It’s special because it has a large burial mound or cairn known for the detailed engravings that adorn the wall, floor and ceiling slabs of the cairn’s interior passage that are 6000 years old. In Neolithic times Gavrinis was a granite hill on the mainland coast overlooking the River Vannes, but the seas rose and the hill became an island. Today you can visit it by boat. We have just returned from a trip to Brittany where we visited Gavrinis on a day trip.

Gavrinis from the sea
Gavrinis island from the sea
Gavrinis cairn
Gavrinis cairn.

You are not allowed to take photos inside the burial chamber. In the photo below, taken from the Brittany Tourism website, the interior passageway looks longer than it seems in real life. It is an intimate space about three and a half feet wide. The granite slabs are engraved with swirls, chevrons, wavy lines and axe shapes and look very like fingerprints. What they symbolise is a mystery. It has been suggested that the lines represent waves or water or perhaps furrows of ploughed land. The Neolithic creators of the megalith were the first farmers and the land was revered and sacred. Gavrinis appeals to my liking for islands, for caves and for deep, quiet, ancient sacred spaces. The carvings remind me of labyrinths. How tempting it is to trace the lines with one’s finger. Perhaps they depict a kind of map to the next world? Perhaps an underground, underworld way of water.

Cairn de Gavrinis
In the passageway of the Cairn of Gavrinis.

No evidence of any bodies have been found at the cairn. It is thought that the acidic nature of the granire stones may have eroded any bones away.

You can see another island from Gavrinis, Er Lannic.

Er Lannic seen from Gavrinis
Er Lannic seen from Gavrinis.

On the boat journey back we crossed a strong current at high tide to see the half submerged stone circle on Er Lannic. It illustrates how sea level has risen.

Er Lannic submerged stone circle
Er Lannic showing the half submerged stone circle.

The same day we drove to see the long lines of standing stones at Carnac – rows, dolmens and tumuli. There are over 3,000 prehistoric granite stones erected over 5,000 years ago. There is a myth that says the stones were Pagan soldiers turned into stone by Pope Cornelius.

Carnac
Prehistoric stones in the Kermario alignment at Carnac. Kermario means ‘House of the Dead’.
Keriaval Dolmen
Keriaval Dolmen

After our megalithic sightseeing we travelled north to the Parc Naturel A’Armorique where we stayed in a little cabin on a permaculture farm.

Tiny house
Tiny house in Brittany.
Little tin with finds from Brittany.
Little tin given to me by a friend with finds from Brittany – yellow gorse and heather from Ménez Hom; quartz from the sea cliffs; sea purslane from the River Aulne.

Each day we went down to the River Aulne to watch birds, mullet feeding in the shallows and the tide coming in or going out.

Sunset over the River Aulne
Sunset over the River Aulne. The River Aulne was sacred to the Romans, who named it after Alaunus, Gaulish God of healing and prophecy.

From my diary:

River, still as a lake. carrying the sky’s visage, the splintered reflections of egrets, the crescent moon. Fish prick the surface waters of the incoming tide. Golden is the eastern sky. The shore crackles as inch by inch, silt upon silt, salt into fresh the water creeps, almost silently, unobtrusively. A cormorant now wings along the farther shore towards the sun over the white dots of roosting gulls. A curlew calls. The forest that was mirrored in the glass of the river is now bronze, now dense with darkness. The river says nothing. Spleechless it shifts, slowly it sucks up the land. The tide says nothing; this is its prerogative. All is held in a quiet dislocation, a shifting constant of sea and river. Silence bears witness to silence as the shore shrinks and we wait on the bank for some action, for a mammal, for a fox perhaps, or even an otter. Nothing comes and the hour gapes, waiting, waiting, waiting. This is forever. This is what forever sounds like, the silence then the crackling shore. In it comes, slowly, while above the crescent draws and pulls, pulls and draws. The sun behind the hill. A faint breeze. The gloaming now.

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Singing Sirens

I am drawn to wings, birds, flight in nature, myth and art. I’ve featured wings in various art projects – my Stone Angel Wings Altered Book, my Wings canvas and illustrations of angels. So I was interested when I saw a flyer for an exhibition, Singing Sirens by Paulien Gluckman at the Sussex County Arts Club in Brighton. (I’m into rock again, but this time sculpted rock.)

Singing Sirens Flyer
Singing Sirens Flyer

I don’t know much about Sirens other than they were mythical beings associated with water who sing to sailors and lure them to their doom. Apparently Sirens feature in The Odyssey when Odysseus has himself tied to the mask of his ship and orders his sailors to plug their ears so that only he can hear the sirens’ song but be unable to swim to them. Sirens are part bird and part human and are associated with the sea. Perhaps it is the morphing of humans and animals that particularly appeals to me right now.

(Some years ago I did a painting I called Siren of a figure beneath the sea in the blue depths. It’s not winged though!)

The Singing Sirens exhibition is in a small, fascinating studio with drawings of angelic winged beings, sculptures of birds, nymphs and winged maidens all around. Paulien invites visitors to feel and hold her sculptures – there’s something very tactile about them.

Dove by Paulien Gluckman
Dove by Paulien Gluckman
Angel Drawing by Paulien Gluckman
Angel Drawing by Paulien Gluckman
Winged Maiden by Paulien Gluckman
Winged Maiden by Paulien Gluckman
Skyscape by Paulien Gluckman
Skyscape by Paulien Gluckman

I asked Paulien what had inspired her to explore the winged creatures and figures she creates. She said that reading The Odyssey made an impression on her and one day her cat brought in a bird’s wing that she thought was too beautiful to throw away immediately so she made some sketches of it and became fascinated by wings.

There’s some lovely sculptures and drawings here and a few wonderful sketchbooks. The exhibition is on until 6th November.

Winged figures and heads in stone and marble remind me of Emily Young‘s heads I saw at Pallant House Gallery in Chichester last year. The serene faces with Roman noses and closed eyes are very meditative.

Head by Emily Young
Head by Emily Young
Head by Emily Young
Head by Emily Young

“These angels, warriors and poets who people the stone, are born of sunny, windy hill tops, and the dark light of caves; a kind of ecstasy, a stillness, a remembered energy from childhood, from dreams of fish memory, from dreams of flying and the silence of stone…” From Emily Young’s website.

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Rock Retreat

” Inside me I am rock, desert rock and shadow. Inside me there is quiet, almost silence. I turn my back on the world to retreat to the cave within listening to the desert stirrings of my mind. …I seek a cleft in the rock like an animal, a gopher or marmet. I retreat from the clamour and business that surrounds me with a great weariness and longing for the dark, I seek a cleft in the rock with my back to the world.”

I wrote that in my diary earlier this year. Sometimes I feel the same way especially as autumn unfolds. When I think of rock I often think of sandstone, deserts, gorges – a gorge I walked through on the island of Crete some years ago. For some reason rock and clefts in rock have a certain meaning for me. Perhaps it is a need to retreat, hide, seek shelter from the world for a bit.

In the Rock Cleft
In the Rock Cleft

There’s something special about rock and solitude. I think of a chapter in the book Red: Passion and Patience in the Desert by Terry Tempest Williams. She writes about walking barefoot in the Utah desert to Druid Arch and feels akin to the rock:

“I wonder what it means to be human and why, at this particular moment, rock seems more accessible and yielding than my own species.”

I googled rock cleft and disovered that there is a spiritual meaning to it in the Bible. According to Exodus 33 Moses hid himself in a rock cleft, a place of refuge, from the full face of the “Almighty” and this has come to mean he was in the body of Christ. I’m neither religious nor Christian but this is interesting nevertheless. Another website mentions that the “cleft of rock” represents the falsities of faith, the material superficialities. In a nutshell I think it means one needs to have internal faith and not rely on the external trappings of faith. Whatever it may mean universally, for me it probably means I need to turn within.

Rock Cleft Eridge Rocks
Rock Cleft in Eridge Rocks

Back in late October 2014 I did a solitary retreat in the Catalonian hills at a place called Ecodharma. Now I find myself questioning my desire to retreat.

I was alone and wanted to be alone with nature. I stayed in a little hut submerged in trees, the dwarf oaks of that mountainous part of Spain. It resided in shadow and looked out pensively with a cautious eye of shade. It was very basic. I was curious to know how I’d find being alone with just the basic necessities. I tried to settle myself, find a routine to anchor my days but still allowing my thoughts to drift. I took to wandering and found a rocky ledge beneath the pink cliffs overlooking the valley that I called Yoga Rock as it was where I did yoga beneath the sun. Each day I took out my sketch pad and binoculars and sat there, lost in thought, vacant as the valley air. In the cabin I would write at the table and look out on the woods, glimpsing the blue valley beyond. As night fell outside, fast and black, the sky and stars were masked by the silohetted trees and there were no lights in the valley; I felt very alone but very tranquil.

Now I wonder whether solitude and this sparse natural place are what I needed and wanted or something else. To be somewhere far from home and away from stress, perhaps yes, but to be alone? And with nature? I wonder; sometimes there’s a stigma to retreating from people. Perhaps I needed people with whom I had a sense of belonging, or perhaps I needed to completely turn my back on the world.

My Sacred Rock
A Rock at the Ecodharma Solitary Retreat.

At the cabin I sat inside beside the roaring woodburner and closed my eyes. It felt good to be still and enclosed – contained. Inside me there was a terrain of rock, valley, cave and garden. I needed to follow the path within. I went to this solitary retreat in Spain to be with nature in the hills, to try the Buddhist way, but learnt that my way is not the way of emptiness and void although Buddhists say they go to “take refuge”. Nature too is not enough. And sometimes the need for solitude and darkness is more than just the urge to hibernate in winter.

I found the cave within. I recognized that I needed to retreat inside myself, to journey into the places within, the seams and tiers of memory and imagination and then embrace the stirrings of creativity. Perhaps I needed to access something deep in my psyche like early humans did as they travelled deep inside caves to create art and perhaps commune with spirits and ancestors, deep in the earth’s womb.

Spirit Cave
Spirit Cave

It may not be the same for others, everyone is on a different journey, but I imagine each person needs at some point, a resting place, a place from which they can re-emerge back into the world refreshed. I retreat for many reasons – I can’t be a smiling, capable person in the world all the time. There needs to be both light and darkness in life, both company and solitude and time away from what can seem like a hard unfeeling world.

The last threads of summer will loosen like the dry bark of the skeletal trees at the solitary retreat once more. The land will not be sleeping yet, a restlessness will stir below the surface before the slow decline into the somnolent months of autumn and winter. Solitude is interesting, but as I now feel the same draw earthwards as autumn gets underway, I think, how about doing the opposite and finding people to celebrate with? To go within or stay without, to seek peace and inner journeying or outward celebration, listening to one’s heart is a fine balance.

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