Locational Issues - Ancient Penwith | Cornwall

West Penwith, Cornwall
Ancient Penwith
The prehistoric landscape of the Land's End peninsula
Ancient Penwith
Ancient Penwith
The prehistoric landscape of the Land's End Peninsula
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Locational Issues

More on Alignments

This page has more about alignments and the location of ancient sites, including clues about the reasons for aligning ancient sites.

Sites are aligned to create a landscape coherence that integrates menhirs, stone circles, mounds and enclosures into a complete system, a circuitry and wholeness. But there aren't necessarily actual lines between them.

West Penwith is like a megalithic high-intensity zone: megalithic remains are found across Britain, though there are around 14-15 high-intensity zones, dense with ancient sites, and Penwith is one of them. In the southwestern peninsula of Britain, Bodmin Moor and Dartmoor, granitic like Penwith, are the other two such zones - the Mendip-Cotswold area and Salisbury Plain being the next areas upcountry after that.

Alignments, not Lines

We draw lines across maps to indicate alignments, but those alignments are not actually lines. Drawing lines is a way of checking accuracy of alignment and marking alignments. Alignments are carefully positioned points that are aligned with each other.  Imagine lining up Lego bricks or sugar lumps on a table with gaps between them – they are aligned, but no actual line is there. It's their arrangement in alignment that matters: look at the aligned points, not at the lines drawn on any alignments map.

Drawing a line on a map is thus figurative and representative only - it shows that the sites are aligned and it helps us see and measure its accuracy. The ancients located standing stones, stone circles, mounds and other sites precisely and deliberately, investing a lot of energy in it - there was clearly a reason for this, though we don't know what it is. But it's there.
Carfury menhir
Carfury MenhirFrom a geomantic viewpoint, presumably it has something to do with energy-resonance – setting stones and mounds in such a way that they interact and resonate as a complete system.

Yet there is no connecting medium: dowsers generally do not pick up on these alignments in the same way that they pick up on water lines or energy-lines, except in cases where an alignment and an energy-line coincide. This happens only in a minority of cases - though no comprehensive survey has ever been conducted to research this.

Megalithic Quantum Entanglement

An intriguing principle exists in physics: non-locality.  With non-locality, two entities resonate with each other at a distance even when there is no connecting medium between them - and they do this instantaneously and simultaneously, not in sequence. They aren't actually responding to each other; rather, they are operating with the same periodicities, intensities and qualities to each other - doing the same thing at the same time.

Einstein, the discoverer of non-locality, called this 'spooky action at a distance'. Quantum physics finds that, at the quantum level, there is no such thing as place or distance. Particles separated in space can operate with what physicists call quantum entanglement - synchronously and in harmony. They behave as if they are connected but they are not.

Look, no lines. This picture from an art gallery in Newlyn demonstrates the principle: isolated points form a perceptual pattern that resonates and forms a wholeness even though they are not connected.

For a parallel, there is the matter of identical twins. Identical twins separated at birth and brought up in different environments nevertheless are observed to have uncanny synchronicities in their lives and shared life-experiences, down to detail - even when they are unaware of each other's existence. Scientists call this 'pseudo-telepathy' - an uncanny empathic connection that family members can have. Separated identical twins have an innate connection arising from within, in their genetic and psychological patterning, even when they have no connection with each other.

In neuroscience it has been demonstrated that the brain works at least partially non-locally - the connections between the left and right brain hemispheres are insufficient in 'bandwidth' to indicate full connectivity, and a barrier between left and right brains exists to shield one from the other. This implies that full brain functionality requires a non-local relationship between brain hemispheres.

Psychic experiences - such as those times when you think of someone and then, suddenly, they ring you up or message you - are a form of non-local cross-referencing between two people, irrespective of distance. Momentarily, you literally are together, sharing thoughts, feelings or images.

So ancient sites, arguably, are aligned with each other to create an energy-relationship between them. This is non-local and there is no medium of connection such as an energy-line. This said, a few dowsers talk of 'consciousness lines' or 'thought lines', and some ley-hunters, not least Alfred Watkins himself, have reported visions of a line of light passing along an alignment. This might, however, be more allegorical or visionary than literal. These alignments are usually not detected by dowsers because they do not exist as lines.

A detectable energy-line functions within the realm of space, distance, time and sequence, while an alignment functions outside it, with aligned sites operating autonomously yet together and simultaneously. Perhaps aligning sites tunes them to a resonant frequency, even though they are not transmitting or receiving energy or signals between each other - they are autonomously co-resonating rather than communicating.

Ancient sites thus relate to each other in two contrasting ways, one (an energy line) through a medium of connection, usually with directionality and sequence to it, and the other (an alignment) without such a medium, simultaneously and non-locally.

Below is a video of Prof Jim Lyons at the Merry Maidens, talking about the quantum field, non-locality, earth energies, consciousness and ancient sites.

Amplified Hereness

Our concept of here means that we are not there.  This sounds obvious, but it is important. We create a mental map to locate ourselves in time and space, and it is perpetually anchored into here and now.  We agree this mapped-out sense of location with others - this is learning and conditioning, a pooled and inherited agreement to see and describe things in similar ways. Our perception of any place or phenomenon relies heavily on the adoption of frames of reference such as 'there', 'then', 'Cornwall' or '2500 BCE' - you can touch and feel 'here' but you can only conceptualise or imagine 'there'. They are relational values, always anchored to 'here'.

Life is not only about what's happening, or objective reality, but also it's about how we experience it, or subjective reality. Our experience of anything, such as 'Penzance', or 'next year' or 'the bronze age' varies according to our mood, intentions, associations, subjective experiences and awareness at any time. If you are not there, 'Penzance' is a theoretical concept, a memory or a possibility.

Young children and most animals do not have this relativistic locational sense - they are here and this is now.  A strengthening sense of 'there' arises in the developmental period of 6-11 years of age, in later childhood. Our modern sense of 'there' has also been enhanced by travel in trains, cars and planes, and by photos, TV, video and digital communications whereby we can have a direct surrogate experience of 'there'. In our digital age we have partially overcome some of the limitations of geography.

In ancient times, people had a weaker sense of 'there' and a stronger sense of 'here' than we do. Today we have been educated to think about 'the wider world', but they thought much more about the next valley or the neighbouring district - a notion such as 'Indonesia' was completely outside their ken. Today our thoughts are often so much 'elsewhere' - especially when staring compulsively at our screens - that 'here' has become weaker in importance.
Chûn Quoit, with Watch Croft behind
Chun Quoit, with Watch Croft behindBut there's more. At 'strong' and atmospheric ancient sites there is a sense of concentrated hereness. They are like gravitational reality-fields. It is possible to feel this hereness at ancient sites if you stop, let yourself relax and just be for a while. You might find you get a feeling that you are sitting at the centre of the universe, right here - as if there is nowhere else. Try this in a fog at the Nine Maidens stone circle, for example!

If the place has a panoramic view, as is the case at places like Sancreed Beacon, Chapel Carn Brea, Trencrom Hill or Chûn Castle, you might feel subjectively that you're at the centre of a wider landscape. This subjective twist on objective experience is a sign of the concentrated hereness of an ancient site, and also a shifted awareness whereby you perceive things differently.

In this reality-field our sense of time and space and the wavelengths of our thoughts and states become changed. It's quite common to find ourselves resolving issues, releasing concerns, having a brainwave or a noteworthy conversation, resolving an argument or simply feeling much better as a result of visiting an ancient site. While you're at the site, you might not notice this happening but, when you leave to re-enter a more 'normal' reality, you feel changed.

Some people, when they visit ancient sites, feel they have come home, in that moment perceiving that their normal everyday reality has become foreign and strange. That's the reality-field at work. It can also happen in states of meditation, reverie, holiness, awe, drug-induced states, illness, the hypnopompic state as you wake up, or in love and sex, or at times of poignant psycho-emotional intensity or near-death.

Whatever is the mechanism at work here, one thing is verifiable and factual: ancient sites are arranged in alignments. There is clearly a reason for this. We need to find out why and how it works. Archaeologists need to address this evidence without skirting or ignoring it.

Alignments and the positioning, geometry and mathematical proportions of sites such as stone circles contain major clues to understanding the people of the neolithic and bronze ages. They knew something about subtle energy-resonance, and they went to great lengths to build stone and earth structures to work with it.

Insights from Dowsers

Energy-lines and alignments are different, though there is some overlap. Dowsers detect energy-flows moving around and between ancient sites - this is connected with the underground water system, water being a better conductor of energy and electromagnetism than the surrounding rock through which it passes. Some straight, above-ground energy-lines indeed do coincide with alignments, but they don't automatically do so. What proportion overlap, no one has systematically researched, but it’s likely to be more the exception than the rule - at a guess, 20-30%.
Boscawen-ûn stone circle
Boscawen-un stone circleStanding stones can be understood to be like acupuncture needles in the land. This was the observation of dowser and computer programmer Tom Graves, in his 1970s book Needles of Stone  (PDF version here) - this was a breakthrough idea at the time. If you have a stomach problem, an acupuncturist might insert needles behind your knee or in the back of your ear. According to Tom's theory, the same principle works with the landscape - place a megalith at a certain place and it will affect the wider landscape, influencing the land along the Earth's meridians.

This makes no sense unless we understand how acupuncture meridians pass through the body: a needle in the back of the ear will affect the stomach through the meridian connecting them. Opening up one node on that meridian opens up the whole meridian. A similar principle seems to exist with energy-lines, working as a system of circuitry of 'etheric wires' between the ancient sites they stretch between. This creates an integrated and amplified subtle energy system across the landscape.

But there's a non-local, unconnected energy-system too, rooted in the precisely aligned siting of ancient sites, positioned in such a way that they interact with each other non-locally. The anchor-points upon which this energy-system is laid out are, in West Penwith, the neolithic tors and the cliff castles.

Men Scryfa, decontextualised by fields and walls
Men Scryfa
We experience ancient sites to be special places because they are like psychogeographic gravity-centres in a tapestry of landscape reality-fields. They are emphasised centres or nodes of here-ness.

Dowsers find that all ancient sites seem to have underground water energy-frequencies and overground energy-lines connecting those sites. The overground energy-lines that dowsers detect emanate from ancient sites and travel between them. Different dowsers perceive things differently, but these underground and overground lines generally follow two main patterns: radials emanating outwards, following both straight and sinuous paths, and spirals and other resonance patterns moving round a stone, winding out vortically.

This applies particularly to larger sites located over blind springs (water domes). Blind springs are up-flows or seepages of 'primary water' derived from chemical reactions deep within the earth. They do not reach the surface. Instead they are splayed out in an array of detectable water lines radiating from a central place.

Smaller sites such as menhirs or cairns might be sited at the intersection of two or more underground streams or seepages that cross each other at different levels. The interaction of their energies creates a rising or sinking spin of energy upon which a menhir, stone or mound is built, either to conduct energy to the heavens through the stone or to buffer or store, buffer or distribute it in a mound.

The megalith-builders counted underground water energy-centres to be important, building sites on them to amplify or modify the energy-field of the site. What is most remarkable and logically inexplicable is the way that these vortices or energy-centres seem variously to occur at places where there are also astronomical orientations, alignments or other locational factors present (more about this lower down).

Water- and energy-lines have directionality and flow to them - some consistently in one direction and some alternatingly, perhaps according to season or phase of the moon. But aligned ancient sites have a non-local relationship where there's no connection, no flow and no directionality. Somehow these two are connected. Some bronze age menhirs (such as Carfury menhir, mentioned next) have clearly been erected to act as connectors and relays - by dint of being aligned with each other.

For a short introduction to archaeological dowsing principles, try this article. (Note: its American author uses two terms differently from British usage: by leyline he means an 'energy line' (but not an alignment), and by spring he means a 'blind spring', or an underground spring that does not reach the surface.)

Locational Factors

Ancient sites are located where they are for a range of reasons, and these reasons seem to vary from site to site. What is most remarkable is the way that these different factors coincide and interact with each other - there is a natural elegance to the way this happens. These locational factors include:

  • ancient site alignments as highlighted on this website,
  • astronomical orientations (particularly to the rising and setting points of sun and moon),
  • intervisibility between sites (visible sites as seen in the field),
  • underground water flows (blind springs or 'water domes' and intersecting water veins),
  • subtle energy patterns and lines, underground and overground, arising from underground water,
  • landscape placing, regarding topography and the visual-perceptual location of sites in the landscape,
  • mathematics, proportion and geometry, or megalithic science (this needs a lot more research),
  • sagas, narratives and myths of the time (some of which survive today as folk-tales) and,
  • spirit of place or genius loci, the 'presence' or 'soul' of a place.

These all play a part in the location of prehistoric sites in Penwith and elsewhere. They apply differently at different sites. How this works is a subject of future research. We don't understand how the megalith-builders' thinking went, but we can see signs of it in the monuments they left.

A remarkable confluence of these factors seems to determine the location of many sites. Generally, two, three or more of the above factors are demonstrated at any ancient sacred site.


Trink Hill with Rosewall Hill behind, from Trencrom on summer solstice
Trink Hill with Rosewall Hill behind, from Trencrom on summer solsticeOne major factor is astronomy and the rising and setting points of the sun, moon and possibly some stars. Some sites are oriented to features in the visible landscape, or to other ancient sites, where the sun or moon rise or set at critical points in time such as solstices or lunar maxima and minima.

There’s a natural magic to this. In the picture on the right, at summer solstice the setting sun rolls down the slope on the left, as seen from the top of Trencrom Hill. What is most impressive about this is that both Trencrom Hill and the horizon shown here are natural landscape features, not man-made or man-modified. In the case of Trencrom both the summer and winter solstice sunrise points are significant too: at summer solstice the sun rises over St Agnes Beacon northwestwards up the Cornish coast, and in winter it rises southwestwards between Godolphin and Tregonning Hills, on the psychogeographical threshold between Penwith and The Lizard peninsula. There's something really beautiful about this.

Try to explain such archaeoastronomical issues logically and scientifically and you’ll come unstuck. But magically and intuitively it makes a certain poetic sense when you walk in the landscape and see how it works. Astronomically oriented sites were located to capture time and to nail down that time-occasion in space. If this interests you, here's a basic lowdown on the basic principles of archaeoastronomy by my old friend, the dowser Sig Lonegren.


Carn Kenidjack, from a cairn near Carn Lês Boel (telephoto shot)
Carn Kenidjack, from a cairn near Carn Les Boel Visual siting or intervisibility is a factor in site location. Some sites are placed distinctly with intervisibility in mind, while at others it's not a factor - Treryn Dinas, for example, has zero intervisibility with any other sites, while Botrea Barrows present a remarkable panorama where quite a few other sites are visible. In some cases, one site can be seen more easily from the other than vice versa. This intervisibility can be quite precise and clearly intentional, or at least a product of 'elegant chance'.

Sometimes a particular view can be visible only from a quite specific location and at a certain height - a small cairn near Carn Lês Boel raises the viewer a little higher, permitting us to see the distant Carn Kenidjack from that spot, and it is visible only from that precise spot. Or a site might be located so that it is visible on the horizon when seen from another site, even though it might not be on the brow or the summit of a hill (such as the menhir on Watch Croft, as seen from the Nine Maidens).

Most sites were built to be seen - even if, nowadays, many of them are worn down, furze-covered, fallen, obscured by hedges or buildings, or decontextualised by the agricultural or urban landscape from their original visual settings of 4-6,000 years ago. There is an artistic and aesthetic elegance to the chosen locality of ancient sites that we nowadays sometimes miss. An intervisibility survey of 50 major sites in Penwith is planned, to see whether there is a geographical pattern to it.

Genius Loci

The Pipers, Cornwall's biggest menhirs, obscured by field hedges
The Pipers, Merry Maidens, CornwallThe naturalistic, poetic and mythic context of an ancient site is a further factor. Much of this level of meaning has been diluted owing to deforestation, agriculture, field walls, roads, houses and other relatively modern appurtenances, changing the landscape context of ancient sites. The removal of ancient sites by landowners and miners up to recent decades has also changed things - the Tregurnow stone circle near the Merry Maidens has disappeared entirely (sadly, its last remnants were removed only a few decades ago).

There is a certain aesthetic and magical poesy to the way many sites are placed in the landscape. Legends and local myths from ancient times leave indistinct traces in local traditions and stories, but we know only a little about the stories prehistoric Penwithians wove into their landscape.

Traditions have been lost over many centuries, and the coming of modernity has brought with it a cultural exorcism and an invasion and decapitation of the magic of the land. The spirits have retreated, or they hide, but they do seem to respond to friendly, unthreatening overtures, undertaken at quiet moments when sitting at a site and just being with it - and a flask of tea helps on a cold and windy day.

Sacred geometry crops up in ancient sites and landscapes all over the megalithic world (and in medieval churches and cathedrals too). No study has yet been done of the geometry of sites and their locations in West Penwith. For a brief lowdown on its principles, try Sig Lonegren's outline of sacred geometry.

Our worldview has changed radically since the Renaissance in Europe 500 years ago - urbanising and losing our roots in the land, we began seeing ourselves as dispassionately and emotionally-uninvolved objective observers of the world around us. This has both brought benefits and charged a price. It led to the dis-enchantment of nature and an exorcism of the magical poesy of the landscapes we live in. We no longer see rocks or trees as intelligent beings with a life and a story - we see them as objects or as resources for use and for amenity.

Every place had its stories and associations, a history of events that happened there, and also its place memory - a kind of imprinting by events and people on the atmosphere of a place, whether or not those events are remembered. This is something that is felt, but it can have an uncanny way of affecting the site's atmosphere or even current-day experiences that can be had there.

The megalithic period lasted twenty centuries and a lot happened in that time, over many generations - and, arguably, it has left its imprint. The feeling at a Celtic oratory is different from that of a tin-streaming site. The feeling is very different at Bosigran Castle and Gurnard's Head, two neighbouring cliff castles on the north coast of Penwith - Bosigran is quite friendly and hospitable while Gurnard's Head is more stern and deeply stirring, or broody.

Humanity has for long endowed places with significance. Some of this is objective - such as a site from which the sun can be seen to rise over a bump or a depression on the horizon - and some is subjective - myths of giants and their exploits, or the association of certain places with Celtic saints, or folk tales of events that happened long ago.

All of these factors knit together to contribute to the sacred geography of the megalith-builders, with their prehistoric form of feng shui. For more about this and on genius loci, or the spirit of place, see here.

Consciousness Engineering

One of the most important orientations in Penwith is up-down, vertical. Upright menhirs and the stones of stone circles are there to connect the heavens with the deeps inside the Earth. Energy-flows through such stones spiral upward or downward, fluctuating at different times of the year or with the phases of the moon, according to the 'energy-weather' of the time. One important though rather meticulous area of future research is to study the cycles and periodicities of such tidal energy-fluxings.

Hill camps, cliff castles and enclosures such as Caer Brân don't fulfil the same function as menhirs - they act as spaces, as do stone circles. There is something special about being inside them that you don't get when you're outside them. But your awareness is drawn outward too, over the landscapes and seascapes - or upward to the heavens.
St Michael's Mount, as seen from inside Caer Brân
St Michael's Mount, as seen from inside Caer BranIn Caer Brân, the surrounding circular bank, nowadays eroded and lower than it once was, would have made the surrounding, rather even horizon coincide roughly with the top of the bank. Alternatively, if a stockade or hedge existed on the bank, the landscape would be invisible, emphasising the hereness of the place, and also guiding attention upwards. The three bronze age ring cairns inside it might even have been points (backsights) for viewing the surrounding panorama over the bank. (My theory is that Caer Brân was the parliament or moot site for Penwith - a neutral territory where all the Penwithians could meet. It would not serve well as the defensive 'hillfort' that it has often been ascribed to be.)

Meanwhile, springs, wells and fogous lead our attention downwards and inwards. Generally their purpose is to collect or highlight darkness, shade and dampness, inducing a deeper, more internalised, yin kind of awareness that comes when the senses are deprived of inputs and one is bathed in the negative ions of such places.

Chambered cairns, with their horizontal, oriented chambers, evoke an inward-outward form of attention. They seem to be intended to let in light, especially at sunrise or sunset at key times of year, or to encourage an interiority which looks outwards into the light when one sits inside the chamber. If the entrance were blocked from the outside, the chamber would be very still and dark - and, at the appointed time, the entrance would be unblocked to let in the light and let the person inside witness the light. They are places of enhanced stillness - places to stow yourself away if you need to go through an initiation, take a retreat or even die gracefully with intent at the end of your life.

Inside quoits, a similar interiority would occur, possibly quite super-charged. There was likely more light inside quoits than in cairns, and light was perhaps not the main issue. The issue was energy - specifically up-down earth energy. Though it is not clear whether quoits were intended to be entered and used by people, or whether they were built to serve as empty energy-chambers.
Chûn Quoit
Chun Quoit
Quoits, with their heavy capstones, seem to cap up-welling energy from inside the Earth, trickling it out across the landscape through the gaps between the vertical stones holding up the capstone. In some, one gap is bigger than the others, and a 'blocking stone' is placed opposite it, as if energy is received through the gap and forced downwards. Many quoits are unfortunately too ruined to see clearly what they were originally like in their prime. It could be that the neolithics saw quoits as a technology for both feeding and harvesting the energy of the earth.

Many sites are thus concerned with encouraging or transforming different kinds of consciousness - up, down, in and out. This was clearly a matter of significance to ancient people in their megalithic engineering projects.

These are places where the veils between levels of reality and consciousness were more permeable. Hence that the bodies of the deceased were buried at some sites, or ancestors' bones were used there for ritual purposes. To connect with the ancestors or with higher beings outside time and space, it was best to do this at places where access to such realms was easiest. Many ancient sites are still today good places for meditation or experiencing altered states of awareness.

The resonance fields set up or amplified by building ancient sites played a key role in the geoengineering project of the neolithic and bronze age periods. They played a part in helping the ancients formulate their world and play a proactive part in working with seasonal change and 'spinning the wheel of time' - intentionally participating in the dynamics of the seasons, binding together subtle energy and consciousness in specific places where the 'reality fields' are strong.

Next, we shall examine the different kinds of alignments that seem to integrate Penwith's ancient sites.

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