Monday, January 15, 2007

Thornborough Mounds

Two well-preserved Romano-British burial mounds lie side-by-side in a field beside the River Twin, next to the Buckingham Milton Keans road, close to a favoured picnic spot near Thornborough in Buckinghamshire.

Squeezing our way through another gate not designed for round and magnificent goddesses, we walked across the tussock grass towards the burial mounds. As ever, when faced with a steep climb, I invoked the spirit of the mountain goat, trusted to my feet and marched purposefully up the side of the larger of the two burial mounds.

The wind was up, and at this height it was more than a little boisterous.

Beating the picnic rug into submission, we flung ourselves down upon it before it got up and went, and attempted to set out our alter. No chance of lighting the candle, but the incense cooperated.

Casting the circle, I invoked the beings of the land. The sheep, who also shared the field, climbed upon the opposite mound and moved together, and according to my companion, eyed us with suspicion. I pulled up my hood and hunched my back against the wind.

I was sinking down, down, down into a dark warm space. The smell of damp earth and old ashes came to me again. This time, the chamber was empty.

Crawling on my hands and knees (it was too low to stand up in), I moved across the space, exploring it carefully. The chamber narrowed into a tunnel, I squeezed through and began to wriggle upon my belly. Soon it was not possible to move. The earth held me in a firm embrace, but I was not scared. All I had to do was to submit.

I was rocking, rocking and swaying in the kind of way one does when being carried on a stretcher. It was dark. The drum beat was insistent, meandering in and out of the approaching chanting voices.

Now I was being lowered and laid upon something firm. Beside me, the brightness of a huge vigorously burning fire, dazzled me. My whole body grew hot as I lay warming myself beside it.

The drums were louder here, the chanting more distinct. I felt an overwhelming urge to get up and dance. Springing to my feet, I danced round and around the fire, skipping and jumping, leaping higher and higher until I found myself leaping over the fire. Whooping with exhilaration, pulled by something unknown, I jumped right into it's centre and began to gyrate with the flames in an ecstasy of .. Of what? Passion, joy, madness? I didn't know and much less, didn't care as I hopped about, untouched by the flames.

The drums slowed and stopped, the voices faded. Hands lifted me from the fire and lay me down on soft sheepskins. I curled up and slept deeply.

The light changed, something stirred around me. The sheepskins were moving softly. A distinct smell of ewe assaulted my nostrils. I rolled over and reached out. The sheep had generously warmed and kept me safe as I slept.

Rising, I thanked them and walked back across the field to the burial mound.

Darkness was falling. The wind was icy. It was time to go. Closing our circle and capturing the determinedly flapping picnic rug, we began to edge our way slowly down the side of the mound.

My companion's balance, not being what it once was, our progress was necessarily cautious. Walking with respect, and in the footsteps of the mountain goat, we laid each foot carefully on the steeply sloping ground, tested it for firmness before moving forward. We walked with reverence and attention, giving thanks to the mounds, the sheep and the many beings who inhabit this land, past, present and future.

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