July 24th, 2008

The Centre Of The Universe

I was standing by the concrete post that marks the position of the obelisk- once the tallest stone in the Avebury circle but long since destroyed- and it was like I was at the heart of a machine- the inner parts of which are the stones, the ditch and the bank- and the outer parts of which are the sun, moon and stars- and I thought that if only I could find the switch, the whole thing would revolve like a carousel- with the stones bobbing up and down like horses to beautiful fairground  music.  And then it struck me that any place where one chooses to put down a marker is immediately the centre of the universe and the heavenly bodies will dutifully dance around it. 

I was in this elevated, sort-of-druidic state of mind- and looking like an authority-  when a Russian schoolgirl with a reluctant friend in tow- detached herself from her party and came across the rough grass to ask me a heap of questions. They had driven past Stonehenge, she said,  but hadn't left the coach because it looked so forbidding with all the fences, and now they were in this place she'd never heard of before where they could wander freely and actually touch the magic stones and she was full of glee. I hope I talked sense. 

Another Centre Of The Universe

Silbury Hill really is a mystery. They've recently completed a dig which established that it was built in three stages- over a period corresponding to a long lifetime- but they're still no closer to establishing what it's for- or how it relates to the rest of Avebury's neolithic landscape. 

Michael Dames- whose books first got me interested in Avebury- argues that the hill represents the pregnant belly of the Mother Goddess. His work is unscholarly and largely discredited now, but his guess remains as good as any.  Maybe it's a centotaph (we can rule out burial mound because there's nothing buried there) or a ritual platform or an observatory or merely an extravagant piece of self-assertion by some forgotten tribal warlord-  "Gaze on my works, ye mighty, and despair!"

Looking again at these photographs, I'm struck by how anomalous it is.  A smooth-sided hill rising out of a valley bottom- it doesn't fit; it's against Nature. It's as if some gigantic child with a bucket and spade had just dumped it there. 

It's made of chalk. In its original state- like the ditch and walls of Avebury- it would have gleamed an unearthy white.