A Short History of The Standing Stones
In comparison to the Megalithic Monuments built by our ancient forebears, the Circle of Standing Stones at Four Quarters is a small undertaking. A 200 foot by 160 foot ellipse requiring perhaps one hundred separate slabs and at least twenty years to build, the Circle seems a very large project to those of us who have taken up its completion. And it does require a very real commitment. But when we think of the level of commitment from the tribes that built the Megalithic Monuments that are our common heritage, our own commitment pales in comparison.
And here lies a lesson and perhaps the real meaning behind the Megalithic Impulse. Because to build these monuments does require a very real commitment that must extend over time and be communicated to others, so the work can be carried on. And it is this shared commitment that imbues these structures with meaning and magic, and causes them to speak a language all can understand, even thousands of years after their creation. It is worth taking a moment to think of the lives and times of the Neolithic agrarian peoples of Europe who constructed the monuments that we are most familiar with.
Their lives, tied as they were to the cycles of the seasons and the wheel of the year, could not have been as physically easy as are ours. And how they were able to find the time in their lives to carry through the ceremonial commitments made by their own forbears. Continuing the creation of these monuments and passing these commitments into the lives of their descendants. A continuity of ceremonial intent shared through many generations that has resulted in The Avebury Complex, Stonehenge, The Carnac Alignments and countless others. It is sobering to compare the spiritual dedication of our own lives and times to the people who made these gifts that have come down to us through the millennia.
In our own time the physical works of Humankind dwarf anything created by the Ancients. We have harnessed the liquid energy accumulated over millions of years within the body of the Earth, we have woven a web of quantified information that spans the planet and is in fact the means through which you are probably reading these words. In fact, we in the West live as Gods returned to Earth, but have we lost their wisdom?
If the physical fact of a Circle of Stones standing upright were important, this would be a child's play to achieve. Simply a matter of money and a few days' application of the technical magic that defines our culture. But the physical fact is not the message here, but rather the context within which these monuments are created. The context of a personal commitment of Sacrifice, Ceremony and Celebration, made by many people.
So we have set upon ourselves the task of creating this Circle of Standing Stones, this Sanctuary of EarthReligion. And doing so in the old way. Realizing that the process, not the physical medium, is the message and the magic. And in so doing, we transform ourselves.
Somewhere is a high school yearbook from 1974, and written inside are the words "someday to build a Stone Circle." signed, Orren Whiddon. Stone Circles have been on the edge of my secret life for many years.
I began looking for the land to create Four Quarters in the spring of 1993 and found the land that fall. It was composed of two separate farms which, when combined, made for the beautiful completeness of the camp. A long process of negotiation for the two parcels was completed in the fall of 1994 and planning immediately began for the first Stones Rising, with a date set for late May of 1995. Work began to bring roads into the property and the grove which would become the site for the Stone Circle was prepared, while a long search was made to locate a quarry that could supply the large stone slab for the circle. We found M and S Quarries located in far western Maryland and they have been the supplier of stone for the Circle ever since.
The Circle of Standing Stones is actually an ellipse, 200 feet East to West and 160 feet North to South. In the spring of 1995 it was laid out in alignment with True North, with the North Altar and the first East Gate Stone raised that May at the first Stones Rising. As we lived through the summer with that single stone, we came to realize that the true North alignment did not rest well with the aspect of the site, and the ellipse was shifted 12 degrees West of North, to bring the Circle into alignment with the lay of the land. That has since been proven to be the right decision as we continue to add stones to the Circle.
The winter of 1995-96 was exceptionally hard one, with deep snow and ice. The region experiencing the worst-ever recorded flood in mid-January, which left the Alleghenies frozen with cover of ice. By March it seemed that spring would never arrive. Our quarry contacted us and explained that they were unable to bring their equipment into the iced-up mountaintop workings and might not be able to deliver stone in time for the second Rising. In early April of 1996 the members of The Assembly of the Sacred Wheel, a Delaware Church of Wicca, consecrated the entire circumference of the Circle and placed marker posts at the three remaining Quarters Gates. Their act was a much-needed encouragement to me at that time, as money grew tight, my marriage collapsed, and it seemed even the Stones could not be brought to the land.
In the beginning of May, with three weeks until the second rising, the quarrymen were finally able to bring their equipment into their workings, and I received the phone call I had been waiting for. When I arrived I found a most marvelously textured and colored 13 foot long slab of reddish sandstone, but marred by a crack running from its apex to its center. It was one of only three possible stones and we were running out of time. I spent the day at the quarry, unwilling to use stones that did not feel right and working out the alternatives.
There is a tradition among European Megalithism of Spirit stones or Portal stones. Large flat slabs that have been worked in such a way as to have a circular hole pierced through them. And of course the only way to stop a crack is to drill it through at its root. I conferred with the quarrymen; drilling the stone was risky, it might shatter and there would be very little time.
The weekend before the second Stones Rising this stone and its consort arrived on the land and as we began to gently unload this new stone we were struck with wonder at what it had become. A thirteen foot tall slab of sandstone, with a red streak flowing from its apex to an eighteen inch diameter portal worked through the center of the stone. And as it was raised in ceremony, it was clear to all that the Mother Stone had come to the Land. That day, the Mothers and Fathers began bringing their young babies to be passed through this gateway in the Stone, and into our community. They have never stopped. The promise had been kept, three stones stood on the hilltop, and it was possible to believe that more would follow. We were on our way.
Those first two years we learned a lot about working with the Stones. What worked well and what just did not work at all. Just like the ancients, we wanted as much stone as possible above grade, and because our quarry rarely produces stones above 12 feet in length, from the first year we poured concrete foundations for the Stones to stand upon. We excavate below frost line and pour a footer, and mold in its top face a receiving slot designed to match the foot of each Stone. This is a delicate process when it comes to mounting the Stones, because they must be maneuvered into exact alignment with the receiving notch and then slowly raised upright. We have gained a great deal of experience in moving these large masses; heavy machinery is not required and actually makes it more difficult. Long wooden pry beams, wood rollers and rope are our primary tools, and lots of willing muscle power make it happen. The right amount of energy placed in exactly the right way, and the Stones seem to almost move themselves. And when one tries to force them, they will not move at all.
Our first two years we did all of the moving and positioning of the Stones prior to Stones Rising, leaving the Stones reclining on supports, already mounted upon their concrete footers. During the ceremony of the Rising, the Stones were raised by the assembled people pulling on ropes tied directly to the Stones. This resulted in far more power being applied to the Stones than was necessary to raise them, human power that could not be directed or applied with focus. In 1996 this resulted in the restraining chains being pulled off their mountings, and for a few heart-thumping minutes, the Stones stood upright with nothing but the stone crews to keep them there while new restraints were placed. In 1997 we first used a large block and tackle, and we limited the number of people on the ropes by insisting that they take the morning workshop on the Stones. This worked quite well by allowing a much slower and more focused application of human energy to the Raising. In 1998 we felt confident enough of our abilities that we experimented with moving one of the four Stones on rollers from the High Meadow into the Circle and then placing and raising it, all as a part of the ceremonials. This worked beautifully and added much to the experience. For 1999 all of the Stones were moved over a quarter mile, by the stone crews using long tow lines and wooden rollers. They were brought into Circle, positioned on the footers and raised upright with over 150 people directly participating. The energetic effect was profound and set a clear direction for us in planning future ceremony.
Since the original writing of this article in 1998, the growth of The Stone Circle has increased in keeping with our Circle of Community. We mastered the art of moving large rocks, to the point of moving them over a mile from the Farmhouse in what became known as "The Long Pulls." For an extra challenge we sometimes do these long pulls's at night, in silence. The size of the stones increased up to our current 14,000 pounds, and with that increase we have designed and built new equipment to handle those new sizes. With over forty stones, the Circle is over one half complete.
And now, in 2010, I can look back through 16 years and see that Four Quarters as an organization has grown too, maturing into an InterFaith Institution of Earth Spirituality. In 1999 we began our first Wheel of The Year Calendar, and we now distribute 15,000 free copies each year. In 2005 we secured a commercial bank loan and purchased the Camp and Stone Circle, transferring The Land into perpetual stewardship. And in five years we have reduced the $150,000 mortgage to $50,000, through the donations of our Members. Many mile-stones passed.
A Beltaine 2013 we annouced in ceremony that all mortages had been retired, the Land now set aside in perpetuity. It has been a long road!
Perhaps the greatest milestone is that those first babies passed through the Mother Stone have now grown into young men and women. That young couples have met here on The Land, married within The Stone Circle, to then bring their own own spring born babes back to the Circle to be passed through The Mother Stone.
People ask when the Stone Circle will be finished, and of course I do not know. I am not sure I even know what "finished" would be. I have some idea when this first ring will be erected, perhaps in twenty years or so. But if the larger purpose behind this Circle is successful, then I doubt that it will stop with that one ring. There will be more. And I doubt that it will stop with this Circle. I hope not.
People ask me what the Stones represent and I ask in return "What do you see?" They mean as little or as much as that. They mean many things to many people and I can only speak to what they mean to me.
They speak to me of the core values of the human experience. Of the very real sacrifice that has been made by many people to bring the Circle this far and the greater sacrifices that will be required to carry the work on. They speak to me of the ceremony carried on within the Circle, ceremonial traditions from around the world finding a common home. Safe and Sacred Space. And the celebration of Spirit that comes as a natural part of sacrifice and ceremony.
But most importantly, they speak of people and community. Because in this modern world the Standing Stones cannot stand alone. Only people sharing themselves with each other can hold the Stone Circle safe into the future.
Imagine the world to be in 300 years, and the look in a child's eyes as they enter the Stone Circle for the first time. The Circle cared for and passed on from hand to hand and from person to person. Still to be there for that child's awe and wonder, long after we as the individuals of today have passed on and been forgotten.
Then we could say that our own work has been successful and the Circle will stand, complete.
Sacrifice, Ceremony and Celebration
Joining the World of Spirit and the World of Today
a Work of Years... Stone by Stone