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Moon gazers at Callanish

16 Jun 2006 / in stone hugging, travels
I love the moon! So simple, so beautiful. It has such an effect on the oceans and, given that humans are 95% water, it’s likely to have quite an effect on us. Women may notice this more than men for obvious biological reasons.

But have you ever heard of a lunar standstill? It is to do with the moon’s cycle of 18.6 years and the moon appearing to be very low in the sky, its ‘declination’, to give it the posh term. We are currently experiencing a season of lunar standstills.

It’s not as dramatic as an eclipse, you don’t need special glasses or knowledge to see it; you simply need to observe the moon. It is sitting very low in the sky at the moment and appears orange or pink and move very slowly across the horizon.

Our prehistoric ancestors knew all about the movements of the wandering moon. Five thousand years ago on the island of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides, Scotland they built a lunar observatory at Callanish using stones as markers to calculate the rhythms of the moon as it appeared to skim over a distant mountain range. From Callanish, the mountains look very like a recumbent woman – so much so that islanders call her ‘Sleeping Beauty’. From the stone monument you can watch the moon skim across her body, disappear behind her then miraculously reappear between two significant stones. This prehistoric light show was theatre, religion and power.

Margaret Curtis has devoted many years to studying Callanish and a better explanation with nice pictures is given here.

The stones at Callanish fell out of use from about 800BC and in time became covered with peat. They were only rediscovered in the mid nineteenth century and having been protected for 3,000 years they still look fresh, unbroken, unsullied. The Romans didn’t get to Lewis and so couldn’t trash them and by some miracle, they escaped being vandalised by the christians and by farmers, which has been (and still is) the fate of so many of our prehistoric monuments.

Photo: Ian Hobson
Moth and I are journeying north to Callanish for the full moon on 11 July. We will be there for a week so we have a good chance of seeing the spectacle of the moon skim free of cloud – always a risk in the north! Moth has been to Callanish before and is so sigificant for him that he named his son Callan after it. I have never been.

The link between women’s biology and the cycles of the moon, and the fact that at Callanish the moon moves along woman-shaped mountains makes this a temple to the worship of women, surely? I’d like to think so. No prizes for guessing that my act of worship will be to paint, paint, paint…

There’s an article here in The Scotsman newspaper about it. Looks like the place is full of druid and hippies at the moment, there for the solstice next week. Hopefully there will be fewer people there in July. Or perhaps not.

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