The Alignments in Carnac, Brittany, France

words + photos by Elyn Aviva

We drove around a corner and encountered an astounding sight: row after row of standing stones, stretching to the horizon. “Pull over!” I demanded. Barely waiting for Gary, my husband, to stop the car, I opened the door, jumped out, and ran over to the green metal fence that separated the stones from me. I shook my head in disbelief, in awe. So many stones, lined up and going—where? Why? They fit no category I knew: they were an enormous puzzle of countless granite megaliths pointing to the sky, rooted in the earth. Hundreds, thousands of stones lined up in slightly wavering rows that went on for kilometers, as if the stones were frozen in the act of marching—somewhere. What was the point? What did they mean? What were they for? The stones made no response.

Nowhere in the world has as many megalithic sites as Brittany, and Carnac is in the center of them. The amazing profusion of ancient remains includes isolated standing stones, rows of alignments, earth-covered tumuli, quadrilateral and oval enclosures, and table-like dolmens, each with its own energy and story.

The dolmens with their elaborately engraved interior walls are intriguing, but the 6000-year-old alignments fascinate me. Many of the original stones have been hauled off for re-use in nearby farmhouses and fences, but nearly 3000 menhirs (Breton for standing stones) remain. They are lined up in three sets of slightly undulating rows facing approximately northeast/southwest and extending for kilometers. Starting in the northeast are the Kerlescan alignments, followed by the Kermario alignments, and ending in the southwest with the Le Ménec alignments. The different sets contain from eleven to thirteen rows, and include from approximately 600 to nearly 1200 standing stones. Each set ends in the southwest with an ovoid or quadrilateral stone enclosure (or what remains of one). The cumulative effect of so many stones, so many alignments, extending for such a distance, is awesome.

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Lunar Standstill at the Calanais Stones

words + photos by Elyn Aviva

It was a light and stormy night in late June, 2006, the second light and stormy night since we had arrived at the edge of nowhere. We had traveled for days to reach the Isle of Lewis, most northern isle of the Scottish Western Isles, to witness a rare astronomical event called the Lunar Standstill. Raw and rough, the wind felt as if it had blown in from around the world—and it had, for there was nothing in the Atlantic to slow it down.

We had journeyed by bus and ferry and car to stand before the Standing Stones of Calanais (aka Callanish), to participate in the once-every-18.61 years Lunar Standstill. The pale sun would set around 11 pm, and then the full moon would skim the southern horizon, go behind Sleeping Beauty Hill, and come out again—giving the appearance of a double rising—and shine between two tall stones in the central stone ring. Archeo-astronomers believe this marking of the movements of the moon gave the builders important power 5000 years ago.

Calanais consists of a slightly squashed central ring, four radiating stone arms, and an underground, box-shaped cairn. The central megaliths stand 8-12 feet high, their uneven silhouettes resembling a Rorscharch test. Was it a temple? A cemetery? A community center? A calendar? Nobody knows for sure. The silent stones reveal their purpose slowly, if at all.

We couldn’t wait to see the Lunar Standstill, but wait we had to. The night before, icy rain had ruined our chances. We hoped for better the second night, but the moon had coyly disappeared behind a layer of clouds, only occasionally peeking out. The event was taking place right before our eyes, but we couldn’t see it.

We had been drawn to this desolate distant land because we wanted to experience what the ancients had experienced (whatever that might have been) millennia ago. We were not alone in that desire. Shivering dreadlocked tie-dyed youth chanted and drummed to the moon, equally determined to have an experience. Nor were we and they the only watchers on that wild and windy night. A choir of Church of Scotland youth clung together, courageously singing “Amazing Grace” against the encroaching pagan forces. As if intimidated by such competing claims, the moon scuddled behind another back-lit cloud and stayed there.

At the end of the stone-lined path that led north from the ring of monoliths, a group of blanket-wrapped elders sat on chairs, impatient with those who blocked their view back down the aisle. Oblivious to their muttered complaints, a photographer set up his tripod in front of them. He pointed his camera toward Sleeping Beauty, waiting for a momentary glimpse of the moon gleaming between two grey and glistening stones. They looked like giant fingers pointing at the sky.

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