Monday, July 27, 2015

Steven Lawhead: The Magic of Stone Circles

Deep-shadowed and dark, with an air of imponderable mystery emanating from the thick-corded trunks and twisting limbs, and even the soil itself, the sacred druid grove seemed a world unto itself.

In the center of the grove stood a small stone circle. The moment I set foot in the ring of stones I could feel ancient power, flowing like an invisible river around the hilltop, which was an eddy in the ever-streaming current. The feeling of being surrounded by swirling forces, of being picked up and carried off on the relentless waves of this unseen river nearly took my breath; I labored to walk upright against it, my flesh tingling with every step.

The others did not feel it in the same way, or if they did gave no indication and said nothing about it. This, of course, was why the hilltop was chosen in the first place, but still I wondered that Hafgan and Blaise did not appear to notice the power flowing around and over them. 

--from Merlin by Steven Lawhead

I thought about Steven Lawhead's books when I visited Stonehenge. His novels often interweave the rich history of England's past with the myths, legends, and beliefs of previous centuries. Stone circles, such as Stonehenge and the one featured in Merlin, can be found all over Great Britain. These places, we believe, played a meaningful role in the spiritual lives of those who erected them. 

When the owner of a Bed & Breakfast asked us about our visit to Stonehenge, I mentioned the procession we passed as we headed back to the tour bus. He said, "Oh yes, there's always a bunch of kooks out there," or words to that effect. His response reminds me of my visit to the little church in Falmer, on my previous visit to England in 2013. The priest, who also served as a counselor at a local university, felt the students saw him as largely irrelevant. The students, he believed, were influenced by the British media, which was entirely secular, if not anti-religion.

Recently a priest spoke at my local church on the difference between Science and Scientism. He preached that every field of human interest had its purpose. Science had its purpose, to help us understand the world we live in, but so did religion. Scientism, he suggested, is the attempt to make Science explain fields of human interest that it is not designed to explain. Like Science, he believed Religion played an equally valid role in human society. 

Just as theories in Science come and go, so do beliefs about the spiritual realm. We apply the role of evolution broadly these days, to all fields of human interest, as if to suggest that our progress as a species is constantly following an upward trend, that we are continually getting closer and closer to the "truth." But really, isn't it just that we humans are changeable people, that we are always hunting for something new and different to excite us, enliven us, and add a new dimension to our lives? Is the "New" always "Better", or is it really just "New"?

So, should I regard the procession I saw at Stonehenge as a bunch of kooks? Or were they people holding beliefs different yet equally valid to my own, who are as intelligent as the most prominent scientists, and sense a power I cannot that enriches their lives? What do you think? 

Dragon Dave

Related Dragon Cache entries
St. Laurence in Falmer

Friday, July 24, 2015

Robert Silverberg: The Desecration of Stonehenge

"The Aliens! Pulling down Stonehenge, taking it apart!"

In Robert Silverberg's novel The Alien Years, a young girl Yasmeena hears the men shout while hiding from her parents. A part of her wonders why the Entities who rule the Earth would do that, but the rest of her is consumed with the pain of childbirth. The next day, a crowd gathers around the ancient stone circle. 

Three of the towering alien creatures had supervised while a human work crew, using hand-held pistol-like devices that emitted a bright violet glow, had uprooted every single one of the ancient stone slabs of the celebrated megalithic monument on windswept Salisbury Plain as though they were so many jackdaws. And had rearranged them so that what had been the outer circle of immense sandstone blocks had now become two parallel rows running north to south; the lesser inner ring of blue slabs had been moved about to form an equilateral triangle; and the sixteen-foot-long block of sandstone at the center of the formation that people called the altar stone had been moved to an upright position at the center.

Her parents will find her too late to save her life, so Yasmeena will never learn the meaning behind the Entities' rearrangement of Stonehenge. Perhaps her son Khalid, if he lives to manhood, will learn the reasoning of Earth's new Alien masters.

The audio guide provided by English Heritage suggests that, at some point in the past, the above section of Stonehenge was pulled down, and some slabs taken away, perhaps for use by nearby farmers. But wikipedia details a long series of changes that the ancient stone circle, and the long barrow tombs underwent over thousands of years. Clearly what was once holy and sacred to Humans changes with time. We lose interest in what was, and repurpose the past to serve present needs. Whether we decry such changes desecration, or celebrate their reinvigoration, is for each of us to decide.

Dragon Dave 

Thursday, July 23, 2015

The Mystery of Stonehenge

What is the mystery of Stonehenge? Why did our ancient forefathers build it? How did they use it? How did it impact their lives?

The audio guides will just tell you all we don't know about these incredible people. Archeologists speculate on how they lived and built this place. Science Fiction and Fantasy authors from Steven Lawhead to Robert Silverberg have woven such stone circles into their fiction. Doctor Who has touched upon these ties to our long lost past in stories such as "The Daemons" and "The Stones of Blood." But what did Stonehenge really mean to our forefathers? What urging drove them to create stone circles such as this? 

Ultimately, all we know is they came here. For worship? To celebrate their achievements and the special days in their lives? Or merely to chart the stars in the sky?

They chiseled out these enormous blocks of stone, and hauled them across fields, through valleys, and perhaps even over hills. They they lifted them into position, and set some atop the others, following incredibly precise calculations and measurements. They did all this so capably that these stone circles still stand, and can still be used for astronomical purposes, thousands of years later.  

They visited here, perhaps regularly. But they didn't live here. So why not erect such formations closer to their settlements? What all did they do here, when they left their homes and traveled here, to what we presume was their sacred place? And why do modern people still flock here, clogging the highway with all the cars, trucks, and buses arriving, departing, or merely traveling past this ancient monument?

What is it? What is the mystery of Stonehenge?

Ultimately, all we can do is wonder. And marvel. 

Oh yes, we can marvel.

Dragon Dave

Monday, July 20, 2015

The Dinosaur Picnic

Security passed-through, 
Boarding passes in hand,
We lugged our carry-ons,
Up to the gate.

While others shook,
Anxious to fly,
I felt reluctant,
To leave home behind.

So out came the sketchbook.
Crowds and noises faded,
And reluctance departed,
Amid dreams of home.

Dragon Dave

Friday, July 17, 2015

Trees with Faces and Homeless Spectators

Remember the tree I started drawing last month? Well, I've been back a couple times. Using my Artist Loft Watercolor pencils, I've deepened the colors, and made progress with the background.

Recently, my wife and I headed down to Balboa Park for the weekend. A friend gave us tickets to the Reuben H. Fleet Space Theater, and we planned on seeing a movie about whales. We decided to make an evening of it, so we packed up some sandwiches, chips, and drinks, as well as our sketching stuff.

Outside the space theater, there's a large public fountain, in which children like to play, surrounded by a number of trees. As we had some time before the movie, my wife and I sat down at a table outside. My wife worked on the fountain. I started in on the foremost tree, using my new Prismacolor pencils with the softer lead.

A young woman occupied a nearby table when we arrived. She took no interest in us, absorbed as she was by her smart phone. Shortly after we arrived, an asian family took up a table behind us, and chattered away in their language, punctuated by the occasional spicy* English word. 

Then a black gentleman arrived. With his dark jacket, short dreadlocks, and black hat, he looked like just another tourist. He sat down at a nearby chair, and then occupied himself by moving it a little every other minute. Then he sat in another chair, and started moving around in that.

After awhile, I think he moved to a chair near the asians, and did his little nervous-chair movements until they left. Finally, he sat down next to us, moved his chair directly between us, and leaned forward to watch us. While I was honored by his interest in our artistic endeavors, I can't say I felt entirely at ease. Nevertheless, we continued to sketch until a few minutes before showtime, then packed up and entered the Space Theater.

After the movie, we had planned to resume our places, eat our dinner, and finish our sketches. But the black gentleman was still sitting out there, albeit alone in a crowd of tables and chairs. (I wonder why). So we carried our packs off to another area of the park, where we spread out a blanket, and ate our picnic dinner. We watched the planes that passed overhead, flying in to land at San Diego International Airport. And we studied this nearby tree. 

I don't know about you, but this tree reminds me of TV shows I watched in my youth. It just seems as though it should have a nose, and that, if we look carefully, one of its eyes will open. Either that, or the bark on the trunk will part, revealing a hidden passage into the bowels of the Earth. Personally, I prefer the first thought**: that the tree was alive, and as fascinated by me as I was by it. Perhaps I'll return to sketch it someday. But first, I'd like to finish my sketch of the tree and the fountain in front of the Space Theater.

Dragon Dave

* Spicy: a type of word not used on polite blogs, often composed of only four letters.
**I prefer faces to bowels. Don't you?