I love old standing stones. All around the world, my husband Paul and I have slogged through boggy marshland, picked handfuls of mosquitos off our bodies, slithered along dark passageways, crawled through barbed wire, and stood for hours contemplating menhirs, dolmens, stone circles, capstones, tumuli, chamber tombs, portal tombs, temples, henges, Moai and stelae. And when it comes to stones, the bigger the better.
Each stone structure seems to contain a heap of clues left behind by a culture that has disappeared. First, we know that they had the technology to move huge stones, often from faraway quarries, over land and water. Second, we can say with some certainty that burial mounds were so labor-intensive that they were constructed for important group members. Third, it is probable that rituals were performed inside or around stone circles and among standing stones that are oriented towards celestial features and align with solstice and equinox events.
All of this is intriguing, but the thing about megaliths and monoliths that makes me schlepp across countries and continents to find them is….their mystery. I want to know what kind of rituals and ceremonies were performed at the stone sites by ancient people. What was important to them? What were their beliefs? Did everyone participate? What was the role of the leaders? I stand in rain, wind, blazing sun, and even darkness, wondering, pondering, imagining. Ultimately, it is unknowable, but that doesn’t stop me from wanting to know.
I was actually thinking about my next adventure when a friend in Santa Fe, New Mexico, asked if I would be interested in visiting a vast, largely-unknown sacred site with huge stone temples and labyrinths and probably the world’s higest concentration of labyrinths in one spot.
“Of course. What country are we talking about?”
“Here, in New Mexico, in a really remote place you can drive to from Santa Fe. I know the owner––so I’m pretty certain he’ll agree to our visit. Normally you have to reserve well in advance.”
On a perfectly pleasant and sunny Saturday, we bumped along some rocky roads, and, by the time we arrived at the 22-acre, esoteric site about forty minutes later, the weather was unseasonably foul. Nasty winds circled around our car, the sky turned an ominous slate gray, and cold rain pelted the car window.
“Here we are, at Stardreaming,” my friend announced.
“Stardreaming? That’s the name?” I asked. As we drove onto the land, I must admit that I felt sorely disappointed. Through the raindrops, I couldn’t see any temples; instead, I glimpsed some isolated standing stones in the distance, and saw stone outlines of a few labyrinths.
“Hmmm,” I groused internally. “Another New Agey experience.”
We bundled up, exited the car, and walked up the steps to an intriguing house. It was clear that the owner and creator of Stardreaming, James Jereb, wasn’t at home. The area around the house was dotted with unusual elements, like an Indian shrine, rose petals, shimmering stones. Behind the house, on a patio, was a large wooden chair with a very high back, and in front of the chair were two enormous standing stones. Wondering how in the world James had moved the stones and set them in place, and also pondering why in the world he had fabricated a bogus ancient world, I sat in the chair. And it was then a startling thing happened.
I saw, in front of me, a line of men and a parallel line of women. Dressed in what looked like light brown linen robes, they were walking towards me, proffering what seemed to be wheat, or a similar grain, in outstretched arms. I closed my eyes for a moment, and then opened them again, expecting the apparitions to be gone. But there they were, walking towards me. I knew instinctually that I was sitting in the seat of the ancient ruler, and the extended arms held harvest offerings.
You are undoubtedly as surprised as I was. But I recalled once again how many ancient sites with standing stones and burial chambers I had visited around the world, and how many times I had wondered what kind of ceremonies had been held there. Now, as I sat in a ruler’s chair, I knew.
I approached the rest of Stardreaming in a very different frame of mind. I read the words on a glossy brochure my friend handed me, and was fascinated that James, a PhD art historian and ex-museum educator, had turned into a visionary artist and architect, and had spent decades constructing a stone temple complex. He called it Temples of the Cosmos, and it seemed to be based on visions he had over many years. Well, if I had am unexpected vision sitting in a tall, wooden chair, I could certainly accept that he had many visions based on indigenous teachings, ancient wisdom, and the music of the spheres.
Everywhere we walked at Stardreaming, we encountered labyrinths made of stones that I had never seen before: zebra striped, huge chunks of vermilion, enormous pieces of obsidian. The labyrinths themselves were not always circular—they were sometimes rectangular, elliptical, or squared. One had several chambers, like a human heart.
We walked to a bower in a wooded area. A sign identified it as a Faery Ring. We climbed a hill to a grouping of stones, which James called a temple, under the wings of a figure that looked like Isis. We passed by dolphins leaping towards the heavens. Whenever I stood still and paid close attention, details emerged from the landscape—little figurines, animals, crystals, eggs, ribbons–left by pilgrims, or perhaps the artist himself.
Although the rain got heavier, I decided to visit each of the temples with colorful names like Thirteen Grandmothers, Avalon, Talking Stones, Rainbow Serpent. Periodically, stone inscriptions explained the cosmology that related to the structures, and gave other details about what we were seeing. I smiled at the inscriptions, but they were not for me. I didn’t want to be pulled out of a heart, emotional, sensual experience into the left lobe of the organic structure that sits inside by skull. I didn’t want magic to be replaced by anything mental.
Several hours passed. The rain stopped. I walked into Temple of the Sun, where I found myself addressing James Jereb in my imagination.
“James Jereb, I have never met you. But I’ll bet you hold some pretty magical events at Stardreaming around equinoxes, solstices, and eclipses. Something happened to me the moment I sat on the wooden chair behind your house.
“I learned how to appreciate not only big stones, but also small stones on your property, James. I learned how to suspend disbelief. And the experience at Stardreaming has been a reminder to me of several things:
1—Never prejudge based on first impressions. From the outside, things appear different from the way they actually are when you are inside.
2—Be open to magical occurrences in life
3–– Suspend judgment until you have all the facts
4– It is entirely possible to connect to the very distant past.
“So thank you, James. It has been a very enlightening and moving visit.”
I have no illusion whatsoever that James heard me. So why did I talk to him? Because in unexpected places, you sometimes do unexpected things.
x x x x
To reserve a visit to Stardreaming: www.stardreaming.org
Photos by Paul Ross.
Judith Fein is an award-winning travel journalist, speaker, workshop leader, and author of Life is a Trip: The Transformative Magic of Travel and The Spoon from Minkowitz. She and her photojournalist husband sometimes take people on exotic and unusual trips. Her website is: www.GlobalAdventure.us