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The Magic Land
by Martin Gray

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Articles by Martin Gray

Reprinted with permission. © Copyright Martin Gray

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The Magic Land: Pilgrimage in Ancient Europe
Megalithic and Celtic Sacred Space

by Martin Gray


 

Stonehenge Stone Circle, England

Early in the spring of 1986 I began a yearlong pilgrimage around Europe by bicycle. Over the four seasons I cycled through eleven countries to visit, study and photograph more than 100 holy places. These travels took me to pilgrimage sites of medieval and contemporary Christianity and also to the more ancient sacred places of the Megalithic, Greek and Celtic cultures. For many thousands of years our ancestors have been visiting and venerating the power places of Europe. One culture after another has often frequented the same power sites and the story of how these magical places were discovered and used is filled with fairies and nature spirits, sages and astronomers, and enigmatic myths of world destroying cataclysms.


The tale begins millennia before the time of written histories in that period scientists call the Paleolithic or Old Stone Age. Enormous glaciers covered vast regions of northern and central Europe and, given the extreme northern cold, most early Europeans lived further south, adjacent to the Mediterranean Sea and the Iberian and Italian peninsulas. The levels of the world’s oceans were much lower during the glacier age (because of all the water frozen up in the polar ice caps) and Mediterranean coastlines were far different than they appear on today’s maps. Between 13,000 and 8000 BC, the great ice caps rapidly melted and the levels of the world oceans rose by 120 meters. Geologists calculate that the rising seas swallowed 5 percent of the earth’s surface or an area of ten million square miles, equaling the combined area of the United States and South America.


The effect of this climate warming, glacial melting and sea level rise on archaic European life was extraordinary and marks the beginning of the Neolithic or New Stone Age. As the waters rose in the Mediterranean all human settlements along the coasts were inundated and the people were forced to move inland to higher ground. As the glaciers receded, lichens, grasses, shrubs and trees colonized the previously ice-covered lands and enormous herds of animals swept northward to forage among the fertile plains and forests. Displaced from their former coastal settlements, the early Neolithic hunter/gatherer peoples followed the animal herds, wandering north in search of new lands. For three thousand years humans wandered freely, living nowhere but exploring everywhere.


Anthropologists and archaeologists study the locations where ancient people first began living in communities and theorize why these particular places were chosen as settlement sites. Conventional theories assume that sites were selected for agricultural, commercial or military purposes. While such explanations are plausible in many cases, they are not sufficient to explain the location of all early settlement sites. Extensive archaeological evidence indicates that many of humankind’s earliest communal settlements had religious and scientific orientations and were chosen for those purposes with great care and precision. To understand this phenomenon, we must examine a relatively unknown characteristic of prehistoric people, which is their sensitivity to and knowledge of the energies of the living earth.


During their movements across the lands, the Neolithic nomads discovered places of spirit in the form of caves, springs, hills and mountains. They also sensed lines of subtle energy crossing the land and specific points of more concentrated forces along those lines. These places of power were often marked with large cairns of stones. Identified and marked in this way, they could be seen from a distance even if their energetic qualities were too distant to be physically sensed. Over the thousands of years that early Neolithic peoples wandered across central and northern Europe hundreds of these planetary power points were discovered and physically marked. Legends of these fabled sites were woven into cosmogenic myths from the Mediterranean to the Artic Seas.


Following the early Neolithic nomadic period came the extraordinary innovations of plant domestication and animal husbandry. No longer was it necessary for people to wander the countryside in search of their food, now they could grow crops and rear livestock in a fixed place of their choice. The question is where did these early people choose to first settle? At this stage in Europe’s prehistory (6500-4000 BC) the population was very small. There were no civilizations to feed necessitating cities near rich agricultural lands, no commercial activities requiring access to trade centers, and no requirements for strategic positions to hold off invading armies. There were simply not enough people for these things. Not having such settlement location requirements, what then were the primary factors influencing early peoples’ choices for permanent dwelling sites?


The first people making the transition from the hunter/gatherer existence to a more settled life were the direct descendants of the nomadic wanderers who had discovered and marked the locations of the terrestrial power places. In searching for a settlement location, a previously nomadic family or group of families would often choose a place that held mythic significance for their ancestors, a place of spirit and power. These groups of families would grow into larger groups and then into clusters of groups, thus leading to the development of the earliest villages and towns. As these social centers developed around the ancient nomads’ sacred sites, the physical structures marking the precise power point locations would be rebuilt and enlarged. Over many thousands of years these power places would serve as the pilgrimage locations of Megalithic, Celtic, Greek, and Christian cultures.


In addition to this explanation for the discovery, settlement, and use of power places by Neolithic people there is another - and highly controversial - explanation for the discovery and use of certain power places in ancient Europe. To explore this matter we must first comment on the enigmatic writings of the 4th century BC Greek philosopher Plato. In the Timaeus dialogues, these being a record of discussions between a Greek statesman and an Egyptian priest, Plato reports the following:

You Greeks are all children…. you have no belief rooted in the old tradition and no knowledge hoary with age. And the reason is this. There have been and will be many different calamities to destroy mankind, the greatest of them by fire and water, lesser ones by countless other means….You remember only one deluge, though there have been many.

In his dialogues, Critias and Timaeus, Plato speaks of a large island empire situated in the middle Atlantic, the legendary Atlantis, which is said to have sunk beneath the waters following a geological cataclysm around 9600 BC. Until recently, the notion of a sunken continent was considered preposterous but recent geological and oceanographic studies have begun to alter that view. The science of inundation mapping has conclusively shown that large landmasses did indeed exist in the Atlantic before being covered by rising oceans at the end of the ice age. Could these lands have been the Atlantis of the ancient myths? Additionally, evidence is accumulating to prove that a planet-spanning cataclysm occurred in 9600 BC, which caused massive and rapid shifting of the earth’s surface, devastating volcanic activity, mega-tsunami waves, and subsidence of regional landmasses (all events spoken of in the Atlantis myths). Termed crustal displacement by its primary theorist, Charles Hapgood, the phenomena was also studied by Einstein who reported, “One can hardly doubt that significant shifts of the earth’s crusts have taken place repeatedly and within a short time.”


According to the Egyptian priests that Plato’s informant had spoken with, Atlantis was a prosperous and sophisticated civilization, advanced in science, and in possession of knowledge concerning the geography of the entire earth. Legends tell of sages upon Atlantis who knew of grand astronomical cycles, the existence of past cataclysms and the likelihood of future ones. In anticipation of a coming cataclysm (the crustal displacement of 9600 BC) and the catastrophic effect it would have upon the island of Atlantis, these sages journeyed to specific geomantic locations around the planet, where they built temples that contained wisdom teachings and also information about the past and future cataclysms. Geomancy may be defined as the location and mapping of power places and accumulating evidence indicates that this archaic science had mapped a planet-spanning grid of terrestrial power points positioned with astonishing geometric regularity.


From the preceding discussion it is apparent that there are two possible explanations for the original discovery of the power places of Europe: the early Neolithic nomads and the astronomer sages of the mysterious culture of Atlantis. The sites found and marked by these extremely ancient people continued to be used for thousands of years and became in time the sacred sites and pilgrimage places of other cultures such as the Megalithic and Celtic. Myths originating from these cultural epochs speak of the power places as being the abodes of deities, the haunts of magical beings, and the enchanted domains of elemental spirits. The pilgrimage traditions of the Megalithic and Celtic cultures are markedly different in external form but in essence each may by understood as an expression of early peoples’ connection to and worship of the living earth.


The megalithic (meaning ‘great stone’) culture, which is responsible for the stone rings and chambered mounds of Europe, existed from roughly 5000 to 1500 BC. Absolutely no written records exist from these times and therefore archaeologists make assumptions about the people based on excavations of their domestic, funerary, astronomical and ceremonial structures. Among a wide variety of these forms, we may distinguish four major types of stone structures with astronomical and ceremonial functions: single or grouped standing stones known as menhirs; rock chambers known as dolmens; enormous earthen mounds with passage ways leading to rock cut chambers; and the stunningly beautiful stone rings of which Stonehenge is the most famous example.


The menhirs are quite mysterious, often being located in extremely remote regions and unassociated with any other landscape artifacts. Scholars suggest that they may have been part of a vast sacred geography, long since ruined, while dowsers and sensitives report that the solitary standing stones are situated to mark points of concentrated earth energies and the lines between these sites (sometimes called ley lines). Dolmens, meaning ‘table stones’ consist of two to four enormous slabs of stone (often weighing several tons each) supporting even larger roof stones. Orthodox archaeologists are unsure of the purpose of these structures. However, so called ‘alternative’ and more open minded scholars have suggested that the structures, which were originally covered with alternating layers of organic and inorganic materials (similar to the orgone generators of Wilhelm Reich), may have been used to gather, concentrate and radiate the energies of the earth for the therapeutic, spiritual and oracular benefit of local people. The great chambered mounds, such as Newgrange in Ireland, are the most massive of the megalithic constructions and are oriented to be precisely aligned with key periods in solar (equinox and solstice dates), lunar and stellar cycles. Orthodox archaeologists commonly assume these structures were used for funerary purposes because burials have been found in a small number of them. It is important to note, however, that the scientific dating of the burial remains shows them to be hundreds or thousands of years more recent that the structures themselves, thus casting serious doubt on the tomb theory.

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Stone ring of Avebury, England

The most well known of the Megalithic structures are certainly the stone rings, such as Stonehenge and Avebury in England. Research conducted over the past thirty years, combining insights from archaeoastronomy, mythology and geophysical energy monitoring, has conclusively demonstrated that the stone rings functioned as both ceremonial centers and astronomical observation devices. Simply stated, many of the stone rings are situated at locations with measurable geophysical anomalies (so called ‘earth energies’); these earth energies seem to fluctuate in radiant intensity according to the cyclic influences of different celestial bodies (primarily the sun and moon but also the planets and stars); the architecture of the stone rings was engineered to observationally determine those particular periods of increased energetic potency at the sites; and those periods were then used by people for a variety of therapeutic, spiritual and oracular purposes. The tradition of pilgrimage in megalithic times thereby consisted of people traveling long distances to visit sites known to have specific powers. Due to the absence of historical documentation from the megalithic age it is often assumed that we cannot know how different power places were used but this is a narrow view based solely on the mechanistic rationality of modern science. An enlargement of view to include an analysis of mythology will reveal that the legends and myths of sacred sites are in fact metaphors indicating the magical powers of the places. The stories of the sacred sites and of their deities and spirits will tell you how the places may influence you.


Thousands of years after the decline of megalithic culture came the Celtic age. Contrary to popular belief and the historically inaccurate writings of various new-age novelists, the Celts (and in England, their Druidic priests) neither used the stone temples of the earlier megalithic peoples nor continued their style of ceremonial architecture. Stonehenge, for example, was constructed between 2800 and 2000 BC, while the Celts did not enter England until 600 BC, fully 1400 years later. Abandoning the stone rings and chambered mounds, Celtic spirituality was instead concentrated at unadorned natural sites such as mineral springs and waterfalls, caverns and remote islands, curiously shaped peaks and forest groves. In Celtic spirituality the entire landscape was in fact filled with places where spirit was present. This spirit of place or anima loci was understood to be the essential personality of a location and the spirit places were transformed into sacred sites when humans discovered and acknowledged them.


As with the Megalithic people before them, the Celts believed different types of landscape forms were inhabited or guarded by specific deities. Sacred forest groves, called nemetoi, meaning ‘clearings open to the sky’ were dedicated to various goddesses such as Andraste, Belesama and Arnemetia. Mountains served as altars for deities, sites of divine power and places for seeking inspiration. Towering peaks were seen as abodes of masculine deities such as Daghda, the father god, and Poeninus, while various hills, the breasts of the goddess, were recognized to be the sanctuaries of Ana, the Celtic mother of the Gods, and Brigid. Caves, believed to be entrances to the underworld or the fairy kingdom, were used for seeking visions and for communication with the depths of the psychic unconscious. Strangely shaped trees and rocks were considered the resting places of elemental spirits, fairies and supernatural beings. Celtic people made pilgrimages to all these types of sacred places, leaving offerings of cloth, amulets and food for the resident deities, thereby seeking the archetypal spiritual qualities of the places and praying for both physical and psychic healing.


Through countless years and cultural expressions people have made pilgrimages across Europe, drawn by the spiritual magnetism of the power places. Different religions and their assorted temples have risen and disappeared yet the power places remain ever strong. Still beckoning pilgrims in our own deeply troubled times, these holy sites offer a plentitude of gifts for body, mind and spirit. Inspiration, health, wisdom and peace - these and other qualities are freely and abundantly given by the enchanted earth.


Anthropologist and photographer Martin Gray specializes in the study of sacred sites and power places around the world, having visited more than 1000 of these magical sites in 80 countries. Each year he also guides group pilgrimages to different countries and this year is offering magical journeys to Peru/Bolivia in June and Greece in October. For more information, see Martin’s web site at www.sacredsites.com

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Other articles by Martin Gray available on our web site:

 

Selected Bibliography


BOOKS by Martin Gray

 

 

mscrpt.jpg (15863 bytes)

Printed and bound copies of the Places of Peace and Power manuscript are now available for $20 (plus $4 shipping in the US, $6 International).

The 120 page manuscript includes the Introduction, three textual chapters and a bibliography, (but no photos).

To order copies, send a check to: Martin Gray PO 4111, Sedona, AZ, 86340


Visit Martin's Web Sites

 

 

  • PLACES OF PEACE AND POWER - The Sacred Site Pilgrimage of Martin Gray
    This web site discusses Martin's pilgrimage journeys, features many of his photographs and writings, lists calendar details of upcoming slide shows, gives information regarding book and photograph orders, and has links to related sites.
     

  • Magic Planet
    Magic Planet Productions is the on-line art print store for Martin Gray’s extraordinary photographs of sacred sites around the world. The photographs featured on this web site were created during a twenty year period when Martin traveled as a pilgrim, visiting and studying more than 1000 holy places in 80 countries. Martin is an expert in the scholarly study of the anthropology and mythology of pilgrimage, archaeoastronomy, sacred geometry and esoteric earth mysteries. These sacred site images reflect Martin’s knowledge as well as his profound love of the living earth.

 


About the Author

 

 

Martin Gray is an anthropologist and photographer specializing in the study of sacred sites and pilgrimage traditions around the world. Traveling as a pilgrim, Martin spent twenty years, visiting and photographing over 1000 sacred sites in eighty countries.

Contact Martin Gray

If you wish to be on my Sacred Sites email list and receive a newsletter 2-3 times a year, send an email to me with the word subscribe in the subject box.

Email: [email protected]

Postal mail address:
Martin Gray
PO 4111
Sedona, Arizona
86340 USA

 

 

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