Around 2700 BCE, give or take a century or two, toward the end of the neolithic, something happened. Society and culture went through a shift (more about that here). This led to the building of the standing stones and stone circles, the best-known of the ancient sites of West Penwith.
There are two pages on menhirs. This page (named in honour of Tom Graves' 1970s seminal book of the same name) covers geomantic principles involved, and the next page covers details about menhirs in West Penwith.
PAGE SUMMARY. Menhirs or standing stones and their prehistoric context are outlined, together with a description of the importance of underground water and other geomantic factors in their erection and siting.
The Megalithic Heyday
Carn Eanes menhir, above Boscaswell
This is the bronze age. With ancient sites, certain principles had already been established in the preceding neolithic period. At first they had been located at natural energy centres such as hilltops, headlands and carns (outcrops) - the obvious places in those times in a largely forested West Penwith.
Quoits, cairns and placed stones had also been built at special places that weren't topographically quite so obvious, but there was subtle energy there, or significant astronomical alignments were present, or there was something special about their landscape setting.
These were places where underground blind springs (in USA, 'water domes'), or intersections of water veins, or intersections of water veins with energy leys were present. But it is unusual that an ancient site is placed where it is for single reasons only, and other factors came into play - particularly related to astronomical and visible landscape factors.
These places had special atmospheres. People felt good there. Getting into deeper states and experiencing changes of mood and spirit was easier there - and it's precisely this that draws people to ancient sites today. They are places where changing consciousness and shifting level is remarkably easier. The early builders of ancient sacred sites in Cornwall built them where they did without needing very sophisticated reasons - they did it because it simply felt right to do so. They had either learned the skills of dowsing or they were natural sensitives.
Later still, toward the zenith of the bronze age around 2000 BCE, locational considerations became more sophisticated, particularly with the deliberate alignment of sites. This was a product of evolving ideas in megalithic science, mathematics, astronomy and geomancy. But first, let's examine the matter of subtle energy and what dowsers can detect.
Blind springs are upward-moving seepages of 'primary water' - the by-product of chemical reactions in the earth. This has no connection with 'secondary water' derived from the rainfall cycle and maintaining the water table just under the surface of the earth. Pressurised and pushed up from below, primary water rises through fissures, cracks and porous rocks, sometimes in small flows and sometimes in much bigger, upwelling underground streams.
Sometimes it mixes with groundwater, occasionally it emerges as a spring (though primary water springs are uncommon and rather special), and otherwise it hits an impervious layer of rock, or the fissure narrows, compressing the water and causing it to find other routes.
If it does hit an impervious stratum, or if near-horizontal distributaries occur on the rising stream or seepage, the primary water spreads out through cracks and porous areas in roughly horizontal seepages to form what, on the surface, appear to dowsers as sinuous water lines, weaving hither and thither and emanating dowsable energy radiations.
This is a blind spring or water dome. To dowsers it registers on the surface as an energy centre or source from which radial energy-lines radiate. It's a vortex, even a portal. This creates a considerable subtle energy field or power centre upon which major sites such as stone circles and quoits were always built. One of the several purposes of stone circles and quoits seems to be to enhance and entrain such energy-fields. A power centre is defined as a blind spring with at least one energy-ley crossing it.
Sometimes two water lines cross each other, each at different levels or strata in the rock, and an energy-vortex forms at ground level over the crossing point. Such a vortex usually has an upward, downward or alternating directionality to it. It pulses in tune with the cycle of the Moon and also secondarily the cycle of the solar year. This periodicity has not been fully studied, so we don't know for sure what its patterns and variations truly are. But it happens.
Generally, the directionality of such a vortex either fluctuates stronger or weaker, or it reverses, on roughly the sixth day after new or full moon, just before the waxing or waning halfmoons. If the directionality alternates, which quite a few do, it tends to be at a peak of upward motion in the two days before the fullmoon, and a peak of downward motion at the old moon, in the two days before new moon. Even if the directionality is distinctly downward or upward, not alternating, it probably fluctuates in intensity of flow. Everything liquid on Earth is subject to lunar-related tidal flows.
At these vortex locations neolithic people built mounds and quoits, or they placed stones, and probably they also planted special trees, now long gone. (The Algonquin Indians of New England planted 'talking trees' on such spots, training the tree branches into unusual shapes - they were trees that spoke, or places where you can more easily 'get the message'.)
Bosiliack menhir - now part of a hedge
The ancients also found that there are overground straight energy-leys connecting these vortices. Why they do this, we do not know. So a sacred site would involve a blind spring or an underground water-line intersection, either of which generates a vortex which, above ground, acts like a pulsing whorl of subtle energy.
Overground energy-leys would streak in straight lines between these vortices, and the remarkable thing neolithic people found was that such vortices could line up with each other, sometimes over quite long distances.
The neolithics built megalithic structures on these special places. Then something happened. By the beginning of the bronze age around 2500 BCE, people had become quite skilled at subtle energy engineering. They had learned that you can not only enhance and channel subtle energies but also create and transmit them too, at least when conditions allowed, perhaps by a mixture of engineering and focused thought, setting up new patterns that weren't there previously, or that were much weaker.
If you build a megalithic structure correctly and at the right place, especially if it is plugged into the existing natural network by alignment, or if it is located on an energy-ley, it will often draw energy to it or it will make an energy-trickle into a flow.
Some bright spark somewhere thought up the idea that standing stones or menhirs would be the best way to pin down, fix or channel these vortical flows. They would connect heaven with earth, fluctuating in harmony with astronomical cycles. Menhirs served as conductors - as transmitters or receivers, or both. They can also act as relays connecting other megalithic structures.
Menhirs were rather masculine, penile objects, like Hindu lingams. They were intended to fecundate the earth, the feminine. The 'sperm' was cosmic energy, particularly from above, but important also in its interaction with the Earth's energy-field. It was a kind of interface facilitator, a bit like a lightning conductor. And energy follows the path of least resistance, so by inserting an energy-condutor a concentration of energy was created in a particular spot. Dowsers often find a seven-turn energy-vortex around menhirs, with five turns above the surface and two underneath.
Arguably mounds (cairns, barrows and tumuli), both chambered and solid, were feminine - breast or vulva-like - and contrasting menhirs in their function. Their nature and purpose complements that of a menhir. Menhirs are not found on mounds - there would be no point since they would cancel and short each other out. This said, in the megalithic world there is much organic variety and there are always exceptions to every generalisation.
Menhirs are power points, making a definite statement and acting as acupuncture needles in the earth. They are conductors, usually with crystalline content in the rock, connecting a feminine or yin underground polarity with masculine or yang overground and cosmic energies.
So there are two major subtle energy orientations involved: more-or-less horizontal fields, lines and spirals, both underground and above ground, and vertical fields moving between the deeper levels in the earth and the heavens above.
The Bronze Age
The arrival of menhirs represented a marked cultural shift, suggesting a little less schmoozing and harmonising with the earth and a little more engineering and alteration of it - though it took a few thousand years to reach the dynamite-and-bulldozer stage we now proudly stand at. This was now the bronze age, a time when humans were becoming more adept at moving things around, arranging and fixing things, and they clearly felt driven to do so - in geomancy and also in agriculture. By now they had a system of thinking to their geomancy.
This demonstrated a significant and incremental spiritual-cultural shift away from the more matrifocal, gatherer-hunter-horticultural societies of former times. Society was becoming more stratified, specialised and advanced.
Further shifts were to follow this over the millennia, making bronze age society look close to the earth from our viewpoint today, but from the viewpoint of the neolithic, the bronze age world was much more sophisticated than the neolithic world, and a departure from traditional ways.
In Britain, these cultural shifts often happened in connection with waves of immigration or, starting with the Roman period, invasions, but not always so. Such shifts also involved indigenous genius, imagination and hard work, together with the adoption of cultural trends from abroad without significant immigration accompanying them.
Megalithic culture extended from Portugal to southern Scandinavia, and Britain was divided into two main zones, western and eastern:
the Atlantic and Irish Sea area of the west and north, for which West Cornwall served as a hub linking the Irish Sea region with Brittany and Spain, and,
the east and south of what's now England, connected much more to the heart of mainland Europe.
Neolithic people in Cornwall had largely been transhumant horticulturalists, herders and gatherers following an annual round, moving to places most appropriate to the season. Bronze age people on the other hand were more sedentary farmers for whom maintaining and enhancing the fertility of the land and improving it was a bigger issue.
They went to great lengths to do so, sectioning it off, clearing rocks and developing fertilising and improvement techniques. They also developed early mining (streaming for tin and copper) and good boats for marine transport - boats that could withstand journeys across the Bay of Biscay or around the Hebrides, Orkneys and Shetlands. They still practiced the old ways, adapting them to changing times, but things had shifted.
Back to Menhirs
Menhirs are common throughout West Penwith, there being fiftyish still in existence. They were erected over the course of a millennium during the bronze agebetween 2500 and 1500 BCE.
There is no evidence for this, but I suspect their erection came in flurries of activity, inspired by the druidic leadership, intellectual schools of thought and periodic upturns of social enthusiasm for engaging in all the work that was involved.
It wasn't just a matter of putting up a stone. There was considerable science, surveying, quarrying, transporting and landscaping involved. Positioning them exactly correctly was an advanced, carefully-calculated skill. Megalith-building had by now developed into a major enterprise, with the establishment of a large number of ancient sites being established in a relatively organised system.
So no stone exists in isolation - this was no less than a whole-landscape transformation over a period of centuries. By 2000 BCE up to half of West Penwith was cleared of trees and a new landscape was created, with a new psycho-geography. It was cooler and wetter too, though still more equable than today. The hilltops and cliffs were not as good to live on as before - people headed downhill, clearing the forest, using the wood for fires and construction - most houses were of wood.
Looking at the alignments map of Penwith, its alignments look rather random and chaotic, but there is a system to it. It had clear intent and ideas behind it. We don't know what bronze age ideas were, but we can see the evidence they left. The system was based on existing natural energy centres used in the neolithic, and new ones created and connected with the old ones by alignment and landscape positioning. This was done with menhirs, stone circles and increasing numbers of barrows and cairns.
Carfury menhir with St Michael's Mount and Cudden Point behind
Different menhirs had different purposes, yet the core principle behind them all was the same: they were built to facilitate and channel cyclic, vertically-oriented energy-flunctuations between the ground and the sky, acting as conductors vertically and as nodes in a landscape network horizontally.
Dowsers identify the pattern of flow as spiral, heliacal or vortical around a menhir. Tom Graves and some others have reckoned that most standing stones have seven bands or spiral curves of energy around them, with four or five above ground and three or two below.
It seems that the crystalline particles in the rock give stones their energy-conductive function, or enhance it- and Penwith granite, from which most local menhirs were made, is densely crystalline, made of feldspar, quartz (20ish per cent), mica and metals. All nicely conductive.
They could also be regarded as storing information or memory, and sometimes, when we're in the right state, we hear the stones 'talk' - ideas come up spontaneously that weren't necessarily there before.
Menhirs are found at the intersection of underground water-related lines and overground energy-leys. They represent a secondary layer of the geomantic system of West Penwith. Together with stone circles, they mark the heyday of the megalithic era from around 4000-1500 BCE. However, take note: from an engineering viewpoint, the most complex structures built in this era were the quoits, some of them built around 3700-3500 BCE, long before the menhirs and stone circles.
It is difficult to know whether the water-related lines were there first or whether they gravitated there after the stone was erected, or how much of which is the case. It is probably a mixture. This will vary from stone to stone, but there is a good chance that water-related energies mostly pre-existed the menhirs yet were amplified and even moved. In future it is hoped to do a dowsing survey in Penwith to check these details.
Menhirs were set up either to create or to amplify such energy-spots or to fix and qualitatively enhance them. Many seem to be relay stones, with alignments or energy-leys passing through them, while some seem to be junction stones where energy-leys and alignments join, and others are terminal stones where an energy-ley or alignment stops.
Remember: ancient site alignments are not the same as energy-leys. There is some overlap between them - how much, we do not yet know.
Energy-leys have a directional flow while alignments do not. Alignments aren't tangible lines, though they are drawn on maps as lines to indicate an alignment. Aligned stones seem to co-vibrate, non-locally and independently, yet in some way synchronised along the alignment while having no measurable connection or detectable flow.
That is, they are tapping into the same deep underground energy-source, to the same heavens and probably to the same human thought-forms and setting of intent. Each site was set up in relation to other sites, during the bronze age. But menhirs connect energetically across the landscape along energy-leys and sinuous water-related lines, in certain patterns that can be dowsed. It is not the case that every menhir was connected to every other menhir - there are clear signs of a patterned circuitry at work, and we have only scratched the surface of understanding it.
Geomantic locational factors
Menhirs were erected where they were put for a variety of reasons, and the importance of each differs from stone to stone. One or two of these factors will be absent in many individual cases. Menhirs were set up for different reasons. These are, in no order of importance:
visual landscape setting - there is a characteristic artistry to this, in terms of what you can see from any site, and how it is seen from other sites or standpoints. There is an intuitive elegance to the way many menhirs are located in the landscape;
intervisibility, or the capacity to see other ancient sites from a menhir, and vice versa, creating a visual-psychic relationship between them;
underground water and its associated subtle energies - many menhirs are sited on top of intersections of underground water flows (though these flows are at different levels) or other water-related energy-points;
overground energy-lines and their patterns and distribution - menhirs are often located at crossing points or at terminals (where an energy-line turns down into the earth or up into space), or they are relays on one line only;
alignments of ancient sites - whatever the true reason, ancient sites of the bronze age were aligned with each other in patterns suggesting intricate relationships between sites. However, these are not energy-lines and neither are they detectable in the field. In many cases it is clear that a menhir is so located because of alignments it is marking or staking down;
astronomical factors: some sites are involved with astronomical alignments to mark the rising and setting points of the sun, moon and perhaps stars. What proportion of menhirs are involved with this is not known, but it could be 10-20% (a guesstimate)
genuis loci or spirit of place. This is a subjective judgement, but each ancient site has a feeling to it, a presence or a spirit (at least in the case of those sites that are still quite happy). In our exorcised, rationalised and rather violated world, there is no room for sensitivity to the feeling or hidden character of a place but, when you visit an ancient site and relax there, allowing yourself to float off and freewheel, it isn't too difficult to sense that you have met something or someone, or something has dropped into your psyche that wasn't there before.
Since we don't know the ancients' thoughts, we cannot know whether other factors came into play, such as myths and histories or matters of feeling. Menhirs each seem to have three or four of the above factors applying to them, and the beauty of them is that they are not at all uniform, each carrying a uniqueness and character of its own.
A rubbing stone at Bosiliack - not a menhir
In Penwith, not all menhir-like stones are bronze age menhirs. Cornish people have worked with stone for millennia and, in relatively recent centuries, plenty of gateposts and cattle rubbing stones have been set up by farmers, looking like menhirs.
Generally, a rubbing stone is little higher than a cow, while many menhirs are higher. The main check for a genuine menhir is to dowse it objectively and to see whether it is on a water dome or water-line intersection, perhaps with an above-ground energy ley or two, and also whether it is aligned with other sites (check the alignments map). If these are lacking or weak, the chances are that it's not a menhir. In the area around Lanyon Quoit there is a rubbing post in most fields - someone in the area back in history clearly had an obsession with them, or cattle with a skin-disease.
Some menhirs have been moved by farmers, especially since the advent of tractors. Some have been moved and incorporated as gateposts, or re-erected in a convenient place, as if moving them made no difference to them. Other menhirs have been destroyed, whether from thoughtlessness, for convenience or ill intent.Their original sites are usually found through examining antiquarians' records, the testimony of old people, field investigation, field names, archaeological judgement and dowsing.
Then there's the question of landscape setting. The pattern of fields and man-made features, mostly built long after the bronze age, distorts our perception of menhirs - they have lost their setting and centrality. Some are located in hedges (stone-and-earth walls), while others sit in the middle of fields that arrived in the landscape a millennium or more after the menhirs were erected.
Menhirs have been decontextualised by land-use changes. We do not know what original landscapes they once stood in, though some guesswork is possible. When you visit menhirs and other ancient sites, try to dissolve the walls and fields to try to visualise a menhir's original landscape situation. It is difficult to know what role trees played in the visual landscape surrounding each standing stone - they raised the visible horizon or obscured or highlighted certain vistas.
Gun Rith - part of the Merry Maidens complex
Most menhirs come from the vicinity where they are found, though some have been transported a few miles. This will not have been easy, especially with bigger stones, and they didn't then have beasts of burden.
Experiments were conducted in the 1990s by a modern stone circle builder, Ivan Mcbeth, in which it was demonstrated that multi-ton stones could be moved some distance by a combination of engineering - ropes, rollers and sleds - and synergistic group team work - using meditation, singing, sharing and other kinds of group energy-raising.
This focused the team and also, it was hoped, infused the physical structure of the rock in such a way that feats of stone-moving became more possible. The secret is to make the rock happy. Then it would move more easily when strength and skill were applied. Indeed it was proven that such feats were virtually impossible without such practices. We just weren't strong enough.
There were times when it felt that the rock was lighter and more obliging - but only when the group was on form, working well and synergistically. This experiment was sponsored by the late musician Joe Strummer at his home in the Quantock Hills of Somerset, and he received a substantial stone circle on his land in return.
When it worked, the feeling of moving a stone was remarkable and physical progress was significant. When it didn't work it was difficult, annoying, time-consuming and sometimes dangerous. So the group's collective discipline, focus and mood was critical. Actions had to be carefully planned, holes dug and the route prepared but, once everything was in place and the group was inwardly ready, progress was surprisingly easy. It took training, trial-and-error and a lot of time though, and a few of the stones were finally put in place by machine.
Nevertheless, it was proven that a stone of 2-3-4 tons could be moved by 8-10 people and tipped straight into its socket. If we did it correctly, it fell correctly in its socket. Here is at least a partial answer to the question of how megaliths and, indeed, the Egyptian pyramids were built. It might be the case that the ancients had more advanced skills too.
This method had been discovered in the 1980s in connection with getting buses and trucks out of mud, in the days of the rock festivals and consciousness-raising camps of the time. Anyone who has struggled to get a car out of sand or mud will know that a calm, patient, calculated and resolute approach is what gets it out. Without this, it's despair.