IN the dim and distant past, I used to walk a loop route in Glandore with a man who was a philosopher, had a double doctorate, and multiple university degrees. By way of an interlude in our conversations, he and I would stop at Drombeg Stone Circle and wonder at it all.
It was no hardship, then, when my news editor suggested that I go and interview an archaeologist about new discoveries at Drombeg and write about why so many people from around the world are fascinated by this rather mysterious stone circle.
Emma, a photographer, had also been assigned, and I estimated it would take about an hour for me to get the gist of what Prof Terence Meaden had to say about a place that I have been visiting for the last three decades, but never really understood.
Who knew that Terence would be such a sweetheart, so interesting, and such fun? Emma, striding ahead, laughs at our conversation as the Profressor guesses that if I worked for The Southern Star for that long, then I must have started when I was 13. And then there’s me – at the pin of my collar – trying to guess his age. Starting with an opening gambit of 65, we go up in increments of five until he relents and says: ‘I was 81 a few months ago.’
As we approach the entrance to the field, Terence asks: ‘Do you know Samuel Johnson?’ Being an inveterate smarty-pants I offer up his best quote: ‘There is no duty a man so underrates than the duty of being happy.’ Terence flatters and says: ‘Maybe I should be taking notes.’ But the quote he is looking for is: ‘There is no problem the mind of man can set that the mind of man cannot solve.’
I think we like each other. I blame Patrick Kavanagh who, in Advent, talks about ‘the prophetic astonishment in the tedious talking of an old fool’ but this physicist and archaeologist is no fool. Except perhaps when, at secondary school, they said the lack of Greek and Latin would preclude him from studying archaeology at Oxford, so he opted for physics instead.
But in 1981, he took early retirement and went back to the beginning – his lifelong fascination with Stonehenge, having grown up alongside it as boy in Wiltshire.
I saw the handout Terence had used at a presentation in Japan a few weeks before and was still none the wiser, but five minutes into his presentation at Drombeg it all seems crystal clear, incredible, and something that could truly be described as a revelation.
For years, during the winter solstice, I had stood at sunset, ankle deep in mud, and gazed outside the stone circle at the horizon only to go home, wondering what it was all about. But when we were there, Terence showed us one of the ‘couplings’ and we were dumbstruck.
In one of the couplings, a female stone is illuminated in such a way that looks like a bright, warm, life-affirming womb while the adjoining male stone casts a decidedly phallic shadow right in the middle of the womb. This, says Terence, is ‘the divine marriage’, or union, of the earth mother and sky, or heavenly father.
As ‘show and tell’ goes, it was all very interesting, but it verged into ‘oh my God’ territory when Terence showed us the recumbent stone – the big square one laying on its side.
Terence walks slowly, but there is a spring in every step, and when he says things like, ‘I am no new-ager’ I want to laugh out loud because he is so civilised, erudite and softly-spoken that ... well, let’s just say it is incongruous.
Standing at the recumbent stone, he asks us: ‘What do you see?’ Wide-eyed I look at Emma. Like a Bond villain, she raises one eyebrow. No one speaks. And again he asks: ‘What do you see?’
Emma – the bravest of the two – says: ‘A vulva.’ Right. And there you have it – Drombeg that place that I, you, we, have been visiting for years was built by people who were of a fertility religion – heavily invested in the fertility of their crops, their livestock, and their women.
When the sun rises behind one of the male stones – which is located at the entrance – a shadow falls to ‘cover’ this female stone. ‘For the first ten minutes of sunrise,’ Terence explained, ‘it goes from being in union to being free. It is a mating spectacle for the witnesses.’
These ‘meaningful shadows’ are cast on the recumbent stone on dates during the summer, and the shadows cast on the other couplings take place during the winter.
These events begin on December 21st and includes: February 5th; March 22nd; May 6th; June 21st; August 6th; September 20th; and November 5th – all of which are related to the eight traditional agricultural festivals, are spaced at intervals of 45 and 46 days, and include the solstices and quasi-equinoxes.
Using a notched tally stick, the ‘intelligent’ people who built Drombeg measured the progress of the sun on the landscape before placing some stones of a specific size and shape to represent the female form and some stones of a different size and shape to represent the male.
Terence Meaden has discovered that at sunrise – not sunset – during these eight agricultural festivals, the male stones fall on the female stone and form ‘a union.’
There are eight couplings contained within Drombeg Stone Circle – some of which are doubles – and the photographic evidence of these couplings is really rather explicit.
For expediency, I would use layman’s language and say that the people who created Drombeg could be credited with putting on one of the world’s first ever slideshows. Or to borrow someone else’s phrase: here there be ‘saucy shadows’.
But fertility was prized and revered by the creators of Drombeg and to see them changes utterly one’s experience and understanding of this ancient stone circle.
‘Historically,’ Terence says, ‘paternalistic religions have skewed it towards men, but in ancient times it was recognised that it is the female that is the most important, because she produces the next generation – that is the basis of a fertility religion.’
Terence’s findings at Drombeg have led him to solve the mystery of Stonehenge. The key at Stonehenge is the huge stone standing outside of the circle. ‘The sun rises behind it, the male stone,’ said Terence, ‘and casts a shadow into the middle of the monument. The shadow comes through the prepared gap, the vulva, into the womb in the middle of Stonehenge.’
Terence’s book Stonehenge, Avebury and Drombeg Stone Circles Deciphered is published by Lambert Academic Publishing, priced €38.90.
In it he explains ‘shadow casting’ and how this was – and indeed still is – ‘the divine marriage’ between the earth mother and heavenly father. The word marriage is, of course, a nice way of saying that the two engage in a kind of intercourse, or visible consummation through light and shade – an event that was ever and always intended to be a spectacle.
But that’s the thing with ancient monuments – their power to astonish is still very much in evidence today.