by Nicholas R. Mann
(Nicholas R. Mann is an author and geomancer who contrives to live in Glastonbury and Albuquerque. His latest work the ISLE OF AVALON is due out in April, 96. January 97 will see his rounding out of the image of the divine masculine with the publication of THE DARK GOD. Both books will be published by Llewellyn.See the MAG Bibliography for his other books.)
A challenge I would like to see geomancy taking up is the greater understanding of the dynamics of space. This is especially relevant for me when I am conducting a survey of a human-made, and usually ancient, sacred site. I find myself putting a great deal of energy into gaining a plan of the site that is two-dimensional. This gives me an overall view that is extremely suitable for say, geometrical analysis, but I have come to find this misleading. The two-dimensional plan freezes a moment in time for asite that is undergoing constant change in, for example, seasonal and daily patterns of light, and is quite likely to have itself undergone many periods of building. If a recognizable geometrical pattern emerges (and it usually does on paper) it implies that the builders of the site had this in mind and preceded to accomplish it. This presupposes an architect, perhaps an astronomer, a priestly elite, or a leader of some sort with the resources to plan, organize and carry out the construction. Yet this cannot be supposed of many sacred places such as the megalithic sites of Europe.
I propose that the two-dimensional plan creates a false frame of reference. It does not relate to the experience of the visitor to the site today or of the builder at the time of construction. This experience is of three-dimensional space to which is added human presence over time the fourth-dimension and if, as we may argue, the visit to a sacred site induces an otherworldly experience, it moves into dimensions of even greater subtlety.
The encounter with the site begins with the movement of the body through space and time to a specific place or locale. This encounter is likely to be very different for the visitor today than for the visitor say, to the final phase of STONEHENGE, 3500 years ago, and very different for the visitor who arrives at dawn rather than at noon. The locale, framed by time of day, horizon features, specific vegetation, the ground underfoot, the climate,season and other regional geographic facts, begins to define the experience.
In the case of 3500 years ago, the visitor is likely to have begun to walk from beside a river up onto grass-covered chalkland, mingled with pockets of trees and herds of grazing animals. The walk is defined by a wide avenue formed by two grassy banks and ditches. It curves upward around the hill.
At some point along the avenue the destination comes into sight of a mass of dark stone silhouetted against the skyline. To the right is another linear avenue. On the distant horizon are round mounds that mark the resting place of mythologized ancestors. These add to the symbolic and monumental nature of the setting. On the final approach to the structure it is impossible to see an overall pattern out of the surface of the mass of stone, but the avenue directs you.
As you pass between a pair of standing stones at the end of the avenue there is a sense of liminality, of passing between boundaries. Those people or that which is behind you are outside, those or that which lies ahead are inside.
Moving between a further pair of enormous stones (one is the Heel Stone) serves to reinforce this experience. At this point you become aware of being inside a periphery defined by a circle. Your eye deduces this by the circular nature of the bank and ditch stretching away on either side, but you cannot know for certain if this is a regular circle. Further information might tell you that certain people and objects are excluded from the interior, while others are included. This experience of outer and inner continues as you move toward the massive wall of stone ahead. It is impossible to see what is behind this facade, although tantalizing glimpses between the upright sarsen stones with their horizontal lintels are offered.
A powerful visual experience is created by the play of light and shadow over the surface of the stones. Their great bulk and their density of matter deepen the contrasts. At the stone facade you are presented with an entrance, or a choice of entrances. This will define your participation with what lies within. It may be that your entry is barred and you can only see the few who are allowed to enter the center. The stones at once attract and impede you. In any case the space in the center of the stones permits far fewer to actively participate than those who can passively observe. You, as an observer, notice that all within face toward the figure or figures before the tallest setting (trilithon) of stones. These figures in the center are also distinguished by their costumes and by the formal manner in which they act and by the way those around treat them. Behind you the atmosphere is far more casual. If you do enter you may become aware of a contrast of silence and sound.
In this example the spatial dynamics structure the possible experience of the people at the site. The experience is somatic and direct. It does not depend upon a mental understanding of the plan of the site. The fundamental frame of reference is between the movement, orientation and position of your body and the place. This changing relationship creates different kinds and moments of experience. The spatial dynamics of the place create different types of contextualization that you, the human participant, recognize: interior and exterior, entrance and exit, center and periphery, surface and mass, light and matter, silence and sound. The spatial dynamics raise issues of participation or access: inclusion and exclusion, formal and informal, active and passive. These issues are not defined solely by the architecture.
The means of contextualization may be enhanced by people in costume, with weapons and ritual paraphernalia and by singers, drummers, dancers and soon.
In my experience, all sacred space can be analyzed along these or similar lines. It is especially applicable to the architecture of a temple or cathedral. Maintaining the focus on megalithic sites, the U-shaped enclosure of (the once three, now two) huge stones at AVEBURY, known as the Cove, frames a context in which only a few can enter but toward which the attention of many can be turned. The Irish chambered-mound at NEWGRANGE, c. 3300 BCE, appears almost exclusively as an issue of access in terms of time and space.
With most kept outside the surface/facade/periphery of elaborately carved kerbstones and the mass/matter of the mound, only a few can enter the passage and central inner chambers to observe the Winter Solstice Sunrise light. These few may have been a handful of ancestral dead rather than the living.
The same is true for West Kennet long barrow, c. 3300 BCE, near Avebury. The experience of place is created by the relationship of the body to the enclosed nature of the site. There is one entrance in the surface of a massive stone facade. In the dark passage there are side chambers and one chamber at the head. The basic frame of reference: movement, orientation and position of the body relative to spatial features: approach, surface, mass, light, facade, portal, dark, passage, center, side, etc., provides a technique by which geomancers can understand the possible meanings of a sacred site to its past (and present) users without creating an abstracted and artificial methodology. The key to this meaning is the fact that although our mental, emotional and spiritual outlooks have changed from 5000 years ago as well as the material technology, language and cultural symbols our bodies have remained the same.
When I look at the geometrical figures, the ley lines and astronomical lines I have superimposed upon plans of megalithic sites, I wonder what they have to do with the experience of their builders and users and the meaning it had for them. These are my terms of reference not theirs. All I can know about STONEHENGE is that the several phases of building were made to fulfill the changing ritual needs and symbolic expectations of the people of Wessex (central Southern Britain) from about 3500 to 1500 BCE. These people moved in procession and they marked the processional route with an avenue. They gathered in circle and they built a great circle to accommodate themselves.
They needed to emphasize a certain time so they focused on the Summer Solstice Sunrise. They needed to emphasize a particular ritual and they built inner circles, constructed the ring of lintel stones, erected the inner trilithons and placed other features such as the Altar Stone. These features were constructed to fulfill these needs and, apart from some roughing out on a general scale,were accomplished piecemeal. There was no plan, so there was no moment in time when the monument was completed. Stonehenge is a succession of fragments and abandoned arrangements; and, when the builders almost 2,000 years after the original founders finally settled on the lintelled outer ring and inner trilithons, some of the massive sarsen stones were put up very carefully and others were just shoved into place.
The same observations apply to the construction of AVEBURY. All I can know about Avebury is that it was built to enhance the experience of the people who inhabited the Wessex landscape from about 3000 to 2500 BCE, who had certain ritual needs and symbolic expectations. Like the Stonehenge builders they also moved in procession, they marked the processional route with an avenue of standing stones. They gathered in circle where they built a great circle of earth and stone. They needed to emphasize certain rites so they built inner circles and other central features such as the Cove. These features were constructed to fulfill these needs and were accomplished piecemeal. The ditch and bank at Avebury are a succession of segments: some straight, some arcs, some deeper, some higher than others, that altogether describe a circle. If that circle on plan yields up to geometrical analysis, (for example A. Thom, 1967,) I argue against this being intentional on the part of the builders. It is a fortuitous outcome of human actions in natural landscape whose geometry is accountably chaotic.
We cannot possibly know what meaning the geometry we see at Stonehenge and Avebury had to the builders, but we can recreate with our bodies the experience of encountering the circles and avenues that they built. I think that the synthesis of intention and effort that went into these places brought out abilities in people they did not know they had. When finished and used, these places created sets of possibilities that the people did not possess previously. The very act of creating such places, and, by creating them, arriving at new experiences of periphery and center, inclusion and exclusion, light and matter, and so on, generated a new set of symbolic possibilities, ritual requirements and social meanings. If the Neolithic people, for example, did not have an social elite prior to the construction of many of their monuments, the nature of the places they built ensured that they did there after. All this is to propose that a fixed plan of a sacred site showing one moment in time, and some methods of geomantic analysis following on from this, stand between us and the meaning of a site for those who built it and the meaning is surely what we are after.
Reference - Thom, Alexander, 1967. "Megalithic Sites in Britain."Oxford.