The Practice of Circumambulating.

When I first began doing earthwork, I started working with Bronze Age burial mounds, also known as round barrows. I did not know then that it was the beginning of a remembering of ancient energy traditions that would take the rest of my life to learn. Every experience taught me something – it still does – but at that time it was new to me.

One of the things I found myself regularly doing, was circumambulation. That is: walking in a circle with sacred intention. My first experience was in the woods by the side of the road at Farley mount. Just inside the tree boundary is a large barrow with a couple of lovely Beech trees growing on top of it. I already had an interest in prehistory because I had been doing a degree in Practical Archaeology and loved reading the landscape, discovering ancient sites, and learning to see the world as the ancestors saw it.

Standing beside the barrow, I felt a strong impulse to walk around it three times anticlockwise, so I followed the impulse. Then, I stood on the Barrow and saw, with my inner sight, or higher sense perception, that it was built on top of a cross-over of two energy lines, except that it was no longer aligned properly. Over time, the earth’s magnetic field had shifted and so the lines were no longer in sync with that field. My job was to adjust them so they could do what they were designed to do – whatever that was. Through the power of my intention, and following instructions from ‘upstairs’, I mentally allowed the lines to vibrationally upgrade. I have no idea how that happened, it just did. Often I didn’t know why things happened but I learned to simply watch what my internal self was doing. (Round barrows are often built on energy lines and the people buried or cremated there act as energy guardians, as though part of their energy remained after death to take care of the place. You will find, if you are tuned in, that they will communicate with you so that you can carry out the work together, although this doesn’t always happen).

I remember the first time I got an inkling about some of the need for this anticlockwise walking. I had gone to two Bronze Age burial mounds that were beside each other, on Cheesefoot head, in Hampshire. At that time, twenty years ago, they were at the edge of a ploughed field and close to an ancient trackway that ran over the downs and into Winchester.

Standing at the barrows, I felt the impulse to walk around the first one three times anti-clockwise. But as I finished the final circuit, I was told to continue walking around the other one but in the opposite direction, sunwise, and this time to walk four times not three. There was a meaning to this. 3 +4 felt like feminine and masculine energies and they were joined in a figure of eight; the lemniscate, an energy I now associate with life-force, or dragon, energy

As I walked around the twin mounds, I imagined the farmer and how annoyed he’d be that I was on his land. In my imaginary conversation with him, as he strode purposefully towards me, intent on telling me off, I joyfully informed him that I might be trespassing but at least his land would now be more fertile.

Ah, that was what I was doing! Although, I didn’t exactly know how. (At a recent visit to those barrows the field is now grassland and the barrows over-grown with vegetation and young trees. They are surrounded by a fence which gives them protection. No chance of them being ploughed out now).

After that, nearly every time I worked at a site, I had to walk around it first. I was usually told how many times to walk around, which at a large site took some time! Most times it is either one, or three times, depending on what work needs to be done. If it is simply to access the site, it is once, but if more energetic work is to be carried out, it is three times. The deeper into the energy layers you need to be in the more times you walk around. It is not often that I am instructed to walk four times around a site. In fact, I think that barrow at Cheesefoot was the only time I had to do it.

I never really thought of this as anything other than an earthwork practice until I started to recognise it in other places. It was a common practice in Ireland, for instance, which I didn’t discover until I returned there for a year in 2006. Although I had grown up in Ireland, I hadn’t taken much notice of old traditions, except for the yearly Pattern in St. Mullins. A pattern (from the french Patron) is a holy day dedicated to the saint who established a settlement, or church, there. In St. Mullin’s there is a holy well where people would go to pray and collect the holy water, which was reputed to have healing powers. The tradition was to walk around the entire settlement sunwise, but this gradually changed so only the well was walked around, usually following the Stations of the Cross (not a great energy to be anchoring!). Sunwise follows the sun.

When you walk clockwise around a site, it opens the Solar energies, the energy of male power, but anti-clockwise, or widdershins, opens the feminine energies of a site. Moving in an anti-clockwise direction was believed to have been the wrong way, the way of witches. No surprise there, especially when you think how the church lost the connection to the Divine Feminine early on, and therefore any reminders of the power of women, or Goddess, were to be suppressed at all costs. She could only be a saint because saints devoted themselves to a male god, but she should never get too big for her boots. It was especially important NOT to walk anticlockwise around a church. God forbid (excuse the pun) that the Divine Feminine should have a part to play in people’s spiritual beliefs unless she was in a lesser position. Such was the fear of Divine female power.

Video by Turlough O’Brien

But it wasn’t always that way. In early Celtic Christianity, the feminine was acknowledged and venerated, but over the centuries the recognition of feminine spiritual power was slowly transformed and energies from the earth were seen as dangerous. Hell was down there, after all, where Satan lived, and women who worked with the earth were in league with him. We all know how that went. To the church, everything good came from God, in heaven. The female power of the earth, and its mysteries, was suppressed, and the rituals associated with her, demonised.

In 2006, we lived for a few months in a converted methodist church, around the corner from St. Fiacre’s church, near Borris. There was a spring out in the field by the church, which is now in ruins. Every year, the people from the local town of Graiguenamanagh, where I grew up, went to the well to take care of it, just as they did in St. Mullins. Part of the tradition was to walk clockwise around the well, seven times. (They still make the annual pilgrimage, which incidentally is close to Imbolc). This walking seven times around reminds me of Mecca. But there, the devoted walk around the Kaaba seven times in an anti-clockwise direction, thereby unwittingly keeping the Feminine energy of the site alive and well. (Unfortunately, it is still controlled by patriarchy, much like the RC Church). There is a spring in Mecca, the ZamZam well which, according to the story, Allah opened for the rejected slave girl, Hajar, so she could keep her baby son, Ishmael, alive. Ismael was the son of Abraham. In reality, just as the ancient springs in the British isles were associated with female guardians, the Well Maidens, in the pre-Islamic world Mecca was originally dedicated to three goddesses, Al-llat (the Goddess), consort of Al-Lah (the God); Al-Uzzah (the powerful; and Manat (Destiny). (Virgin, Mother and Crone?).

Walking anticlockwise is the way of the Goddess, the way of the Divine Feminine, and when you walk around a site anticlockwise you are opening to the wisdom of the land. But often, this opening is also an anchoring. When I was doing archaeology at a site in Wiltshire on an Iron Age Banjo enclosure, I discovered that the circular site, with its bank and ditch avenue, was fed with red energy that came from a larger site a few miles away. I walked in the circular ditch, through the tangle of trees, and as I did, I laid the red energy from Fosbury Hillfort, encircling the enclosure with life-giving red serpent energy. I did the same thing a couple of days ago, when I returned to the round barrow in Farley mount, the one I had begun with all those years ago, and I was ‘told’ to walk around the site three times. I did the rounds twice but before beginning the third circuit I stopped. The sun had come out and I felt an impulse to raise my energy to its light. As I did, I was instructed to continue the walk but as I did the solar energy was coming with me, as if the barrow had a ditch (many of them do) and I was filling it with liquid solar light. The circuit was complete when I reached the point I had started from. In this instance, the masculine energy of the sun was anchored around the site. Why? I don’t know, but it was like an activation, of sorts. A feeding.

Once the rounds were complete, I stood on the barrow. My crown centre opened and information, in the form of light, flooded into my head. It lasted for a minute or so and then all was finished. I did not know what this light was about until the following day, when my daughter came around for some healing, which turned into an initiation. The energies she needed were given to me on the barrow. Because she was being initiated into a deeper connection with the earth, the energy had to be given by the earth. Another new experience for me. And for her.

So, when you are at a sacred site, and you feel the impulse to walk around, follow it. You are opening the energy of the place and therefore will be able to access its wisdom, and gifts. Your service to the planet is to utilise these gifts and to reawaken the Divine Feminine. The trick is to trust yourself. Trust the impulse, because it arises from a deeper part of you that knows what it is doing.

If you find yourself at a site but you do not feel the impulse, don’t do anything. The sites are not always accessible or don’t need you to do anything. When they are active, you will know it. When they are not, you will know that too. Don’t do it because you ‘think’ you ought to. That is the mind interfering with your higher sense perception. Tune into the site, if you feel you need to, and ask. You will soon learn what a positive or negative answer feels like.

There is so much work to be done to bring back the Goddess consciousness, but it is always important to remember that it is to bring the balance of life back into consciousness. Not for one to overpower the other, which has happened far too many times. It is time for Love to balance Will.

The link below was written by my great Grand Uncle, John O’Leary, from Graiguenamanagh, where I grew up. If he was around now he would have been a great blogger. Here is also a link to a book my uncle Philip wrote about the O’Leary’s who were artists, writers and antiquarians.

Some more information on ‘doing the rounds’ in Ireland.

Video: Doing the rounds at a number of sacred wells.

For more on pre-Islamic religions.

A very interesting site on sunwise walking lore.

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4 thoughts on “The Practice of Circumambulating.

    • Thanks Catherine. I thought ths might be useful for those who feel an impulse to ‘walk the other way around’. 🙂 I’ve been listening to a very interesting video about early Christian monastacism and she mentions this encircling too. (It’s on a course I am doing with Sharon Blackie: ). Her name is Christine Valters Paintner. She is Christian but teaches the early Christian tradition which feels, to me, more real than what we ended up with. She doesn’t deal with earth work and how the early Christian tradition fits into that but I am gleaning interesting information from her . She knows far more about this than I do so it can be very confirming. The same with Sharon Blackie. She knows the Grail mysteries and provides confirmation too, on a mental/symbolic level.
      I still need to understand things on a rational/informational level and in the beginning resisted taking other people’s expertise on board, afraid that it might interfere with what I was learning from the landscape. But, the right information comes at the right time and adds to the palette of understanding. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      • Needless to say I love Sharon’s work, and was very nearly on the same course (but the exchange rate is pretty bad at the moment), so I didn’t join. I so enjoyed Sharon’s interview with Christine Valters Paintner, which is where I first heard about her ❤


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