Ancient Civilisations: Reflections From Stonehenge

Last week I was sitting in the café at the new English Heritage Visitors Centre  near Stonehenge, listening to a conversation between two American visitors.

Stonehenge  Aug 2014 (photo credit Abigail Robinson)
Stonehenge Aug 2014 (photo credit Abigail Robinson)

“Well,” said one, “I definitely think it was three things; a church, a burial ground and a place of healing.”

“You don’t mean church,” said her friend.

“Oh no. Well, a holy place. That sort of thing.”

People love speculating about why those who created Stonehenge went to so much trouble to transport huge stones from West Wales to Salisbury Plain to construct their monument which took many hundreds of years – at a time, 5000 years ago, when their own lifespan would probably have been only about 30 years.

Because of the wonderful new exhibition English Heritage have designed in the Visitor Centre, our minds are now filled with all the most up-to-date theories based upon the latest research. And we are now imagining those Neolithic people in a new light, and wondering about their skills in planning and design and organisation, in engineering and architecture and building – skills which are far beyond those we might have credited to them even a couple of decades ago – if we’d ever thought about them, that is.

Before this visit, I last went round Stonehenge a year ago, and even then I was moved by the story that English Heritage tell us through their wonderful audio guide.

view through a trilithon (photo credit Abigail Robinson)
view through a trilithon (photo credit Abigail Robinson)

But now I have new reflections. They are about the rise and fall of civilisations on this planet – and how easy it is for us to forget, or disregard, the sophistication and skill of previous civilisations that have disappeared.

Only a few centuries back, we are told, people “had no concept of prehistory.” In James I’s time, Inigo Jones researched Stonehenge and concluded it had been built by the Romans.

But no.  Now we learn that this magnificent structure was begun by people who lived in 3000 BC.

How sure can we be that our own immensely sophisticated civilisation won’t disappear, to be lost to time, and forgotten by future races? Will they, I speculate, rediscover us and be amazed at the things we were able to achieve, which they would never have credited to us?

How many of us believe that all we have discovered and attained will last forever?

What will we leave behind for the people 3000 years into the future to wonder at and and admire? What will be left of us, to fuel their imagination, in just the same way that Stonehenge now fuels ours?

 

People of Inspiration Part 1 – Paul McCartney, Muse, Minstrel and Keeper of Dreams

Today, opening a new mini-series on People of Inspiration, I offer my first choice: Paul McCartney.

Sir Paul McCartney in Mexico show Fri 11 May 2012
Sir Paul McCartney in Mexico show Fri 11 May 2012

He was my childhood hero. I first fell for him when a schoolfriend put a souvenir programme into my hands and I saw a picture of him singing “Yesterday” at the Royal Variety Command Performance, a few years after that performance.

Keeper of Dreams. This is a phrase which sprung into my mind in 2010 while I sat in the audience at the Cardiff Millennium Stadium watching Paul in his Up and Coming Tour. 

I watched and listened to him with my husband and teenage daughter and son, and all of us were captivated by his music and charisma. 

Paul has reinvented himself a number of times – a gift possessed by all those who persist in a career in the public eye for forty or more years. But to me he is poet, minstrel, storyteller, observer and interpreter of life, all in one.

His fellow Beatles mocked him for the sentimentality of “Yesterday” – yet for millions this song came to define the point where the establishment’s narrow presumptions about the Beatles radically shifted.

The appeal of Paul McCartney isn’t solely in his skill as a showman, and his personal qualities, but in the effect his words and music have on those who hear them.  Profound, moving, haunting, cryptic, puzzling, bizarre, touching, quirky, intriguing, beguiling, poignant, playful –  every mood and emotion can be found among his songs.

Although he is an international rock star and pop icon he makes his audience feel as if they’re in the pub with him having a singalong. Synthesis of special and ordinary – no-one can doubt that who has visited his mid-terrace childhood home at Forthlin Road in Liverpool – yet international superstar, you’re sharing a seat with him on the bus at Penny Lane, you’re standing with him looking down at Eleanor Rigby’s grave, you’re beside him on the Mull of Kintyre gazing over to Ireland.

How do you feel about Sir Paul? Have you been to his concerts?  Have you admired him for years, or are you a new fan? I’d love to have your comments!

Characters in Mystical Circles – will the Advent of the Rev.Theo Save or Shatter Craig’s esoteric Wheel of Love Community?

Juliet has already heard quite a bit about Theo from various Wheel of Love group members before he first appears on the scene. And what she learns about him raises her curiosity.  What exactly is this “wilderness experience” he has only recently emerged from? Why is James surprised he managed to get ordained? What can he possibly have in common with the members of Craig’s group? And what is he doing here anyway?

EXTRACT FROM “MYSTICAL CIRCLES”

“Before we begin,” said Craig, “I’d like to make an announcement: one I feel sure will delight you all. On Monday evening, we’ll have Theo Lucas with us again. He’s agreed to come and be our guest speaker for the week.”

A buzz ran round the table.

James snapped his fingers. “Excellent. The Reverend Theo Lucas,” he said. “Splendid man. Though I still can’t believe how he managed to get himself ordained.”

There was a good deal of table-thumping and laughter at this, until Craig’s voice dropped into the swell of sound. At once, hush descended. Juliet allowed her eye to skim the diners. Craig’s presence and personal style exerted a powerful effect upon them.

“The Wheel of Love is a tribute to the dynamic power of change,” observed Craig. “And Theo fits in with that perfectly. We all bear witness to it ourselves. Which one of you can say you’re now exactly where you were on your life’s journey when you first arrived?”

…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

The group burst once more into animated chatter, alongside much clattering of cutlery and glasses. But Juliet felt faintly oppressed by her vulnerability. She had no idea what to expect over the coming days. How would she balance her commitment to do interviews with the need to keep track of Zoe?

One thing was for sure. She certainly wouldn’t be seduced by Craig’s brand of healing and wholeness, if that was what it was.

She turned to Don. “Have you met Theo?” she asked in a low voice.

“No. But this lot seem to give him high marks. Doesn’t inspire much confidence, does it?”

Leaning forward, Rory supplied some new information. “I met Theo at a talk Craig gave in Tetbury last November. Chatted to him for twenty minutes. Wondered what he was doing there. Then I discovered he’d had a wilderness experience. Lasted eighteen months. Crisis of faith. And I understood.”

“You did?”

“Yes. Felt I’d met a soul mate.”

This startled Juliet. “He doesn’t sound like a regular sort of clergyman.”

“He isn’t,” said Rory. “Though of course my knowledge is limited.” His lip curled. “Haven’t darkened a church door for years.”

“Theo sounds more than a little unorthodox,” she remarked, “if he’s willing to come here.” She heard Don chuckle.

“Oh?” Rory queried.

“Well, for instance,” she said, “it’s clear from the brochure that Craig believes we’re in charge of our own destiny.”

“Quite right, he does,” agreed Rory. “But Craig welcomes anyone who’s in retreat from the outside world.”

This intrigued her. “What of you, then, Rory? Are you here to renounce the world?”

“Sort of.”

“You do it in style.”

Before he could reply, Don distracted her, holding out the dish of risotto Beth had passed him.

“Like some, Juliet?” he asked.

“Oh, yes please. That smells and looks very good,” she said.

Rory, she noticed, had handed the serving dish on without helping himself, and his plate remained empty. She wondered whether he knew something about it the rest of them didn’t. He put his water glass down, and continued. “After Theo was ordained he served for a couple of years, then vanished from the face of the earth for several months. When I met him, I understood he’d not long returned.”

James interjected. “He visited us here in February. Rory missed him that time. You remember that was the week you fell ill, Rory?”

“Oh yes. Dreadful week.”

Laura spoke. “We’ll all be delighted to see him again. Such a dear man. Not a spark of hellfire in him. He knows all about me. He’s very forgiving.”

Rory fiddled with his linen napkin. “I expect you’ll find him interesting, Juliet,” he said. “And you too, Don.”

“Last person to judge.” Don shrugged. “Count me out.”

Before Juliet could say more, Don added, “Put it this way. When Theo shows up, he may need protecting. From my influence.”

She started at this. Rory took upon himself the task of satisfying her curiosity. “Why?” he said. “You’re not tattooed with the number 666, are you?”

…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..

When they were ready to set off, Juliet looked straight at the clergyman.

Theo wore an open expression on his face. “What your sister wants,” he said, “is to experience the spiritual reality here on this earth, in her own body.” He opened the door and stepped out.

She followed. “And has Craig delivered on it yet?” she asked.

There was a pause, as she wondered how Theo would take this question, together with all its implications.

Theo smiled. “I don’t think so. If he had, I imagine she would have told you, Juliet.”

He began to stride across the car park. Juliet had no time to consider her riposte to this evasive answer. She hurried to keep up with him, holding the omnidirectional mike. She checked the sound levels as he walked briskly past the north side of the house, and across into the orchard. It looked as if he’d settled on the same route that she, Al and Laura had taken last night on their trip to the top of the valley to look at the stars.

“Zoe’s told me nothing, Theo. So I’m relying on you. How do your beliefs and certainties stand up against Craig’s?”

“Certainties?” Theo’s tone continued amicable. “I’m human. And God’s God. He doesn’t need me. He chooses me. So sometimes I say: What’s going on? and Why am I doing this? or Why is it so hard?

“And yet,” she said, surprised, “you seem to have it all together. Mostly.”

He smiled, and headed on through the orchard, toward the gate at the other side. “I’m glad it looks like that to you,” he said.

“If this isn’t the whole picture,” she said, matching his pace, “how come you’re in the position you are?”

“A long story,” he said, “and one my bishop’s probably running through right at this moment.”

“I don’t imagine your bishop’s very pleased that you’re here at the Wheel of Love.”

Theo gave a chuckle in response to this. “I’m a renegade,” he said. “I’m all about working with people on spiritual journeys. I’ll go anywhere, come in on anything.”

“How do you find Craig’s teachings?” she asked.

“Some have wisdom in them,” he replied crisply. “And you?”

“I admire Craig’s idealism. I don’t accept all his theories. Nor do I believe in God.” They reached the gate.

“What sort of God don’t you believe in?” asked Theo.

“The Judaeo-Christian one, of course,” she replied, feeling slightly ruffled by this question. “The fire and brimstone one. The one who punishes the children for the sin of the fathers, even to the third and fourth generation. The one who is supposed to be so loving, not even a sparrow can fall without Him knowing about it, but He still lets the good suffer and the evil go unpunished.” She stopped. “You know the one I mean.”

“I certainly do,” he said. “And I’ve known what it’s like to feel very angry with Him.” Theo unlatched and opened the gate. “Are you angry too, Juliet?”