Peter Foster, the owner of Lime Tree Farm, has had a long interest in both ancient sites and the practise of dowsing. In the early nineteen nineties he started to consider whether the raising of stones at Lime Tree Farm would effect the results of dowsing on the land. He presented this question in an article entitled 'Creating a Modern Sacred Site' published in Pagan Dawn, the magazine of The Pagan Federation UK. Responses to this article were received from across Europe and from these responses two artists, Brian Cowper and Barbara Howarth, who felt a strong connection with the earth and ancient sites, were chosen to design and plan the construction of the Stone Circle.
For the Future, Not the Past
From the outset the intention in building the stone circle was not to re-create something from the past, but to establish a sacred site for the future. To this end it was felt very strongly that the process of building the Stone Circle was as important as the final result. The general location of the Stone Circle presented itself in the form of a small, natural mound in a flowered meadow. The mound was dowsed by first gridding the land and then recording the results. At this early stage, and because the horizon was obscured by the immediate topography of the land, there was less concern with the astronomical alignment of the stones. Researchers into ancient Stone Circles have suggested an important role for astronomical alignments and mathematical formulae in their explanations of circle construction, but as has been said, this new Stone Circle was never intended as a monument to past ideals.
For 21st Century purposes it was intended to celebrate the cycle of the year by marking the eight festivals in the Celtic calendar; thus honouring the year through its changes. Eight lines, including the four cardinal points, were drawn out from the centre of the chosen area on which would be marked the eight stations of the year. Along those lines the siting of each stone was determined by the results of dowsing. This created a flattened circle shape. As the sun rises in the east at the Spring Equinox it was natural to locate the related stone at that point. The other stations follow the year around the Circle with Summer Solstice in the south, Autumn Equinox in the west and Winter Solstice in the north. Due to the lie of the land it was decided that the entrance to the Circle would be in the north.
It was considered very important that the stones should be raised on the festival days as given above, thereby marking the fundamental connection between the cosmos and ourselves, particularly on the four sun festivals. Due to practical considerations such as the arrival of the stones from a local quarry and the manpower needed to carry out the work, the first stone to be raised was at the station of Lughnasadh (1st August). Preparation for the raising of the first stone began at dawn with the digging of the pit. This was seen as a time to focus on and contemplate the important work ahead. The stones were raised using ropes, levers and later an ‘A’ frame. The number of people used to pull and raise the stones ranged between twenty and sixty, with as many as three ropes used to guide larger stones into position.
Ritual in the building of the Stone Circle
Rituals developed alongside the building of the Stone Circle that were drawn from a wide range of pagan traditions. Stilling the Circle On the night before each stone raising it became a custom to go to the Stone Circle site and walk the proposed ring. Participants would walk in a clockwise direction and stop when they felt right. There then followed a still time where each person thought their thoughts, meditated or contemplated the raising of the Circle. Although this was an individual activity there was an increasingly strong feeling of connectedness both to the place and to the people around. On the day of the raising a second stilling was held as ritual offerings were burnt. At this time people from different pagan traditions were invited to lead the ritual in the belief that all spiritual traditions can share the sacred space that we were creating.
Burnings and Offerings
The ritual of burning offerings was brought to the Stone Circle raising and was very quickly adopted by all. Offerings consisted of natural materials found on the land, which again emphasised the changing year. This custom developed over the year as people brought special things of their own to either burn, for example words written on paper, or bury under the raised stone, for example tokens. A dead crow was found during preparation for the first stone raising and buried alongside the burnings. This led to a further ritual involving honouring the animals indigenous to the land.
The crow was the first animal to be buried at the stone circle and this stone became Crow Stone. During the time between the first and second raising we decided to dedicate each stone to an animal, to, in effect, have a totem for each stone. Just before the second raising Peter Foster found a dead badger on the road and so the second stone became badger stone. The other animals of the circle had died of natural causes or by accident, including the two horses buried under the giant stones creating the northern gateway. The horses were Peter’s and had died as a result of old age. Animal carvings On each stone was carved a stylised image of its totem animal. This in itself became a ritual activity for the stone carver, Brian Cowper, throughout the year. Alongside the animal carvings, location symbols based on cup and ring marks were cut into the stone.
Community, songs and stories
During the stone raisings many people committed themselves to seeing the Stone Circle’s completion and found themselves naturally falling into the roles that best suited them, for example, engineers, callers, pullers, drummers and tea makers! After each stone was raised there was celebration through a communal meal, music making, singing and storytelling. The songs, poems and stories were created as a direct result of building the Stone Circle.
Uses of the Stone Circle today
Since the completion of the Circle in 1999 Lime Tree Farm has developed its own character as a conservation area and as a spiritual sanctuary. The Stone Circle has been used for ceremonies such as hand fasting, child naming/blessings and memorial services. It is important to note that not all people using the Circle for ceremonies are pagans. Many just wanted a ceremony that reflected an open spirituality. As to the question: Did raising the stones affect the results of dowsing? Yes it did!
Written by Barbara Howarth (1999 - 2000)