Are Stone Circles Ancient Pregnancy Calendars?
Even today, giving birth can be one of the most dangerous moments in a woman's life. In ancient times it would have been even more so. Matriarchal societies would have tried to ensure the safest environment possible for expectant women. By placing individual marker stones or stakes within a permanent calendar circle of immovable stones aligned to yearly points, a due date could be predicted and prepared for. But how could this knowledge have been forgotten?
Women are noticeable through their absence when it comes to their role in the archaeological importance of prehistoric structures. In some ways, this is not surprising as up until recently archaeology itself had mostly been the domain of men. Not all men, of course. Exceptional women such as Gertrude Bell, Harriet Boyd Hawes, Kathleen Kenyon and Tatiana Proskouriakoff were just some of the pioneering women who influenced archaeology in the past. But, as a ratio, this was still a tiny minority in comparison to men.
Gertrude Bell in Iraq in 1909 (Public Domain)
Another factor that is generally overlooked is that most of these men were quite religious and also had views about women which, to put it mildly, were completely sexist. This has sometimes had the result of skewing the historical record when it comes to interpreting data and when understanding the role of the feminine and the menstruation cycle in ancient systems of thought and spirituality, for example.
Archaeology, as we know it today, developed from 19th century antiquarianism and carried with it many of the prudish views of its male practitioners.
Even accounting for this, I thought I was in old territory when I began to see a use for stone circles that I had not read about before. I presumed that it had been considered once, and then discarded. However, and to my amazement, this was not the case.
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The more I looked into my theory, the more correct it seemed; the idea fit many of the attributes and ‘mysteries’ associated with stone circles and it also provided the answer to both physical and ritualistic anomalies that had divided archaeologists for years. Indeed, this theory also united the Druidic and indigenous traditions that also gathered later at these monuments and showed that I could combine together function and ceremony for the one, primal and lasting reason for why a stone circle was needed in the first place.
One of the most important clues came in the form of the tattooed priestesses of the temple of Hathor in Egypt. In Tattoo: Magic, Medicine, Art by Margaret Moose, the author describes how the tattooes found on the pelvic region of a Hathor priestess corresponded to acupressure pain alleviation points and proposed energy meridians.
Oetzi the Iceman had tattooes. (Thilo Parg / Wikimedia Commons /CC BY-SA 3.0)
Moose also writes about Otzi, the tattooed Iceman, who was found preserved and displaying tattoos dating back over 5000 years ago. This iceman had markings on parts of his body which he could not have inked himself. Moose wondered whether some of these shapes and symbols might convey Otzi’s symptoms and conditions should he meet another shaman or healer on his travels. By reading his tattooed symbols, the healer would then be able to treat Otzi appropriately.
This symbolism may have come from the same source that informed the shamanic priestesses of Hathor and their knowledge relating to pregnancy and birth.
Paleoanthropologist Genevive Von Petzinger has shown that there are 32 symbols in particular that turn up again and again in caves around Europe. These symbols are at least 30,000 years old, which is 25,000 years earlier than the first accepted alphabets. One of the more remarkable additions to this is that there seems to be no trend towards complexity. This means is that these symbols must have originated somewhere else. What is immediately noticeable is that some of the symbols look like the markings on the body of Otzi, the preserved and tattooed iceman.
A series of lines found on Otzi's back. (Photo source )
Might this mean that, instead of letters, these early symbols found in caves represented ailments or parts of the body. Or, perhaps, the specific treatments required to heal conditions related to bodily areas?
On a larger scale, constructions dating back thousands of years such as stone circles and Dolmens are themselves reminding us of idea’s and expressions brought to mind through the visual sense. The circle has been interpreted to describe the cosmic egg or the womb as well as the serpentine loop associated with the ouroborus and eternity.
Swinside stone circle, in the Lake District, England. (CC BY-SA 2.5)
In many spiritual paths, the mere contemplation of the eternal is the first step towards the immaterial and the realms outside of physical perception. And yet, surely stone circles must have had another purpose? Gobekli Tepe, for example, pre-dates farming, which has been the traditional reason given by archaeologists for alignments to the sun and seasons.
Gobekli Tepe, Turkey (CC BY-SA 3.0)
There is no doubt that most, if not all, circles have some kind of alignment to the sun and the yearly cycle. Some circles also contain lunar alignments. There are many stone circles with traces of smaller circles comprised of wooden posts and smaller stones either within or on the outside of the main structure.
In some ways, we are seeing a kind of cog-manoeuvred clock. But what could be the purpose of these wheels? Why, all the way from Palaeolithic hunter/gatherer cultures through to the Neolithic until the last stone circles around 1500 BCE would people have needed these monuments? What were they timing?
‘Long Meg and her Daughters’, Eden Valley, Cumbria, Great Britian. (Simon Ledingham/CC BY-SA 2.0)
More than Ritual Centers
In a Kurgan culture hypothesis, Marija Gimbutas speculates that a female centred proto language can be guessed at for some of our oldest symbols. They may allude to the worship of many goddesses and this is why Neolithic European icons are predominantly female. And going back even further to the upper Palaeolithic, we have a worldwide culture, from Europe, Africa, Japan and Australia of so called Venus figurines.
The Venus of Willendorf (CC BY-SA 3.0)
At Gobekli Tepe, one of the worlds oldest stone circles, we have a place on a hill where life was given by the ‘gods’. It’s also the place of limestone vessels, capable of holding 160 litres, which were found to contain oxalate residue, a substance which forms during the fermentation process. In other words, the people who gathered at Gobekli Tepe weren’t making bread from the wheat they gathered, they were making beer. We have also found bones. Lots and lots of bones! This was a place of feasting for transient groups who drank beer and needed meat. Perhaps, there was a purpose for this.
Today, after surgery or blood-loss, we have a transfusion, but in Neolithic times this was not possible, so meat was the best substitute for blood restoration. The birthing process is another occasion where meat can help in the following hours and days. Beer, or a substance to dull pain is also refined today with epidurals and morphine but a similar function can be argued.
Another factor, not often remarked upon, is the acoustic properties of the stones at Gobekli Tepe. They vibrate when struck. In many indigenous birthing traditions, even today, drumming and chanting is used in order to help and assist the rhythms and process of the labor process. Could this be the reason for such unusual stone properties?
Might Gobekli Tepe, then, have been a place where nomadic peoples went to receive help during childbirth? Could this also tie into the mechanisms of the circle within circles of the stones that lie long abandoned throughout the world today?
The prehistoric megalith Rujm el-Hiri / Gilgal Refaim. (Flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0)
Archaeologist Henna Lindström of the University of Helsinki in Finland writes of the folktales of the builders of European megaliths —the Mouras Encantadas, as these almost forgotten and influential women are called in Portugal.
These shamanistic women could speak with the dead, spin the rays of the sun, and even ‘create life’. Linguistics connects the Portuguese Mouras to many other European goddesses of the same and earlier times. ‘Spinning the sun’ certainly sounds like what occurs at a stone circle and the description of these women being able to ‘create life’ sounds like a midwife skill.
Casa da Moura (‘House of the Moura’), a dolmen in Portugal (CC BY-SA 3.0)
But what about the so called magical and shamanistic associations? Within contemporary stone circle research, it has been found that moon phases affect electromagnetic readings at sites. Before artificial light, the moon probably had a stronger synchronization effect upon the menstrual cycle as well. Martha McClintock’s study from 1971 has been criticized as pseudoscience for suggesting this, but artificial light and electromagnetic pollution had been impossible to avoid for almost a century so it is impossible to know just how influential the lunar connection once was.
In many shamanic cultures it is said that women would go to a communal place during menstruation and that when a woman bled, she entered and had access to the world of the unseen, the world of dreams, intuition and spirits. Might the lunar alignments of stone circles somehow link to this?
Physicist John Burke and engineer Charles Brooker thought spiral energy within stone circles might be stronger on certain days and dates. They believe that megaliths and other ancient sacred places stored and generated energy fields, creating a place where a person might more easily enter an altered state of consciousness.
Stone circles in Europe are also known for electromagnetic energies which have been measured to rise at dawn. Most, if not all, stone circles are placed where so called Ley-lines or spirit-roads pass. Many traditions speak of the need to alter the consciousness of those who gathered there.
Coincidentally enough, the very first shaman were women. Could stone circles have been places where nomadic people went in order to use the larger stones as a yearly calendar and then be given a smaller individual stone marker indicating when to return? This might also account for markings and cup-marks on stones which perhaps indicated a personal moon-phase or shadow mark for women in order to help them remember time-spans.
Upward-opening crescent Moon. (CC BY-SA 3.0)
The smaller ‘satellite’ stone circles found a few miles from larger sites might have been a way to stay in touch with this time-period. All that would be needed was an alignment to a solstice or equinox than a further circle of smaller stones or sticks could be placed around it to mark the time in which to return to the larger circle where the shaman and midwives could assist with the birth.
Perhaps this is also the roots of astrology. A girl could be told to watch the stars and when the ‘Bull’ or ‘Ram’ moves to a certain place in the sky this would be when her baby would arrive and when she should return to the stone circle.
The birthing process might also account for the fire pits we find near stone circles. Maybe their first use was not for making weapons but for heating water with rocks in order to assist with potential complications during birth. Even today, in first-world countries, the birthing process is dangerous. In Palaeolithic and Neolithic times it would have been even more so.
Another reason for a communal place is that the smell of birth would have attracted predators and a weakened mother and defenseless baby would have made easy prey. Having a place to go, where a pregnancy and birth could be monitored, would have been possibly the most important place for new mothers within these societies.
Over time, as pastoral groups moved to cities and temples the first use of stone circles would have been forgotten. The Patriarchal gods took over from the Goddess cultures and the wisdom of women shaman and the sacred feminine was forgotten. The new gods were connected to physical strength and property. Temples, such as The Temple of Hathor would become the last places where the feminine mysteries were safeguarded.
Ceiling of the Temple of Hathor at Dendera Temple complex, Dendera, Egypt. (CC BY-SA 3.0)
Stone circles around the world attest to a function that was essential and widespread in all cultures throughout the world. One large circle representing the solar year and smaller, individual pregnancy cycle circles would have been the most important means to insuring tribal and familial survival at this time.
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One of the oldest creation myths concerns Tiamat, the great serpent mother, who was killed by Marduk and cut up and separated. What does a coiled serpent separated into pieces look like? A stone circle, perhaps? So, maybe the circle is holographic in a way, a return to the same point, almost. The stone circle represents not separation, but the serpent, broken yet still giving of itself.
The stone circle is the connection between the unknowable and the material. It is the liminal border between the earth and the spirit world. The stone circle shows us that birth and spirit were considered connected and that the best representation of that relationship is the cycle of life, a circle which travels forward in order to reach its beginning again.
David Halpin © September 2016
David Halpin is a writer from Carlow, Ireland. He compiles local folklore and documents alignments between ancient monuments near his home in Ireland, and is a regular contributor at Occultum.net and Ancient Origins.
By David Halpin
Margaret Moose, 2014. ‘Tattoo: Magic, Medicine’. Publisher: Margaret Landers (August 19, 2014)
Peter Robinson, 2011. ‘Geometric Signs - A New Understanding by Genevieve von Petzinger’. BradshawFoundation.com [Online] Available at: http://www.bradshawfoundation.com/geometric_signs/
Andrew Curry, 2016. ‘World's Oldest Temple to Be Restored’. NationalGeographic.com [Online] Available at: http://news.nationalgeographic.com/2016/01/150120-gobekli-tepe-oldest-monument-turkey-archaeology/
Jacques Leslie, 1989. ‘THE GODDESS THEORY : Controversial UCLA Archeologist Marija Gimbutas Argues That the World Was at Peace When God Was a Woman’. LATimes.com [Online] Available at; http://articles.latimes.com/1989-06-11/magazine/tm-2975_1_marija-gimbutas-gods-of-old-europe-indo-european
Anna Gosline, 2007. ‘Do Women Who Live Together Menstruate Together?’ [Online] Available at: http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/do-women-who-live-together-menstruate-together/