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Necessary Evil

Updated: Oct 3

Ow ow ow ow ow ow ow ow ow ow ow…

That’s how I feel today.

Yesterday Robin and I went and got our Covid booster shots.

Just like always, things were fine for the first several hours, but by the time we snuggled into bed our biceps felt as though we’d been brutally punched. We both suffered crazy fever dreams, and our bodies ached all over when we finally woke up. (I even turned around and went back to sleep again shortly after struggling to get my day going.)

I haaaate these booster shots. We work hard at maintaining our health by not overdoing things—not drinking too much liquor, not physically exerting ourselves more than we can handle. But these shots make us feel as though we’re suffering dreadful hangovers! It’s no fun, although we view them as a necessary evil for getting through pandemic life.

We’ve had quite the spectrum of weather this week. The cats are doing great and getting friendlier and more domesticated every day.

Robin spent the week running a training course and I was pushing articles out the door for Psychological Perspectives. Our booster shots were the big drama on the weekend…. so once again I’m going to turn the clock back and tell you more about my birthday trip back in July.

Robin and I enjoy visiting neolithic sites whenever we can, and we visited a couple of monuments while we were in Cornwall, which is wonderfully rich in them.

We visited the village of Gweek, the home of one neolithic wonder. The Cornish name Gweek is first recorded as Gwyk in 1358 and was derived from the Cornish word gwig, meaning "forest village."

We may or may not have broken into someone’s backyard in order to view the Tolvan Stone.

What is the Tolvan Stone? The granite Tolvan holed stone is a triangular-shaped Neolithic standing stone dating to the Bronze Age, and is the largest of its kind in Cornwall. "Tolvan" originated from the term toll-ven, meaning holed stone in Cornish. The Tolvan holed stone is mentioned in historical records in Cornwall in 1649, and was referred to as the "Main-toll great stone."

This megalith is not in its original location, but was moved to its current position in 1847, and a cottage was later built at the site. At the time, the stone was wider, but was modified to fit through gateposts when it was transported. The cottage owner gets about eight visitors a year wanting to see it.

Holed stones are rare Neolithic monuments. It has been suggested these standing stones were used as entrance passages to burial chambers. They are believed to have been constructed between 3500–2600 BCE, and the majority of these burial monuments are found here in the west of Cornwall.

At the stone's original location, a stone-lined circular pit 5 feet in diameter and covered with a large slab was discovered prior to 1864. The pit was lined with slabs and held quartz stone and pottery fragments. Historians at that time determined the pit was a grave, and the holed stone was part of an ancient dolmen.

Many superstitions are related to this curious stone. In 1885, it was recorded that one of the local traditions involved passing sick children through the hole in the Tolvan stone in hopes of curing their illness; for instance, one healing ritual involved a sick child being passed nine times through the holed stone and then laid on a low grassy mound to sleep with a sixpence under its head. Another story is told about a neighbor's dog being ill and they passed it through the hole in the stone several times at sundown and it was cured. The stone was also used in fertility rites—the couple wanting a baby had to each pass through the hole naked.

Here is someone's 1:30 video showing it from a variety of different angles: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EdrvLzV_iIY

Our subsequent neolithic trip was to the Boscawen-ûn stone circle… It is no understatement to say that Robin sprung this visit on me, and my “J” felt terribly jangled about it (when will he learn?!).

We were driving along the A30 when he pulled abruptly into a layby and announced that we were off to see a stone circle somewhere on the other side of a kissing gate.

After walking for what seemed like forever through a thick undergrowth of gorse, brambles, and bracken (my hosiery was ruined), I became convinced we were lost.

But suddenly we came upon a stile straddling a stone wall in a field. We mounted the stile and—behold!

Boscawen-ûn is a Neolithic/Bronze Age stone circle that consists of 19 upright stones in an elliptical shape with a leaning middle stone. A gap in the circle indicates either missing stones, or else that opening may have formed an entrance (but nobody knows).

My first impression of it was that of a huge neolithic sundial.

The word Boscawen-ûn is a Cornish name from the words bos (farmstead) and scawen (elder or elderberry tree). The suffix ûn comes from goon (downland or unenclosed pasture). Therefore, the name translates as “the pasture of the farmstead at the elderberry tree.” This circle was built during the early Bronze Age around 2400 BCE, although they say the site itself was known of much earlier.

Folklore has it that Boscawen-ûn was created by maidens dancing on the Sabbath who were turned to stone. This circle is considered to be one of Cornwall’s most popular prehistoric ceremonial centers, as well as being of extreme aesthetic beauty. It may have been one of the preeminent ceremonial monuments for local communities by providing not only a ritual arena but also a gathering place on social occasions.

When I first saw its configuration, I naturally assumed the center stone had “fallen” as an explanation for its steep angle. But no! The gnomon stone was installed at that angle to begin with. Although it stands 8 feet in length, it leans at such an angle that its tip is only 6 feet 2 inches off the ground. Excavation has provided evidence that it was deliberately installed in this leaning position.

Altogether, the large circle is oval-shaped, and extends 82 by 73 feet.

The stones of the circle are composed of pale granite, which sparkle in the sunshine. But there is one magical stone positioned at the southwest of the circle—which is a large milky block of white quartz. They say that in the moonlight this stone appears to twinkle and sparkle as though it were alive.

The inclusion of a solitary quartz stone in what is otherwise a granite circle was surely no accident. Was it deliberately chosen to allow the moon goddess to manifest herself? It is known that quartz was seen as a sacred stone to megalithic builders, so the quartz stone may have had some significance to healing and perhaps signified the moon.

Some researchers claim the central leaning stone embodies the phallic masculine principle and the quartz stone represents the feminine powers of the ring—an explanation that rather appeals to me.

Like other stone circles in this vicinity, it seems Boscawen-ûn was a traditional place for ceremony and ritual. The fact that the circle (like others in the region) has 19 stones may relate to the 18.6-year cycle of the moon or the 19-year metonic cycle of the moon and sun. Also, the center stone faces the direction of the midsummer solstice sunrise.

The large central stone is said to have a petroglyph around its base, assumed to be an axe, which is interesting, given how some people observe the center stone resembles an axe cutting into the earth. Were they promulgating a theme?! While similar carvings can be observed on some of the stones at Stonehenge, these engravings are said to be unusual in the United Kingdom.

This rock art is said to be fully illuminated only during the summer solstice sunrise, although there is partial illumination during the summer sunset. (But for the life of us, we couldn't find these carvings anywhere.) Apparently the closest parallel for them lies in the Neolithic ritual sites of Brittany, which suggests the central stone at Boscawen-ûn may predate the circle as a whole and was erected as a monument for axe-related ritual, possibly in conjunction with woodland clearance.

Axes were important to Neolithic and Bronze Age peoples as ritual objects, and Cornish greenstone axes were traded with other tribes in England and elsewhere, so this carving on the center stone may be a sacred symbol. There are also strong arguments that the carvings are of feet, not axes, so who knows? It has been claimed the carvings represent a pair of feet, with the soles facing outwards, carved in low relief, and a row of “toes” can be discerned, especially on the right-hand foot.

Remains of later Bronze Age field systems have been found in the area, and it would appear that the landscape around Boscawen-ûn has been one of important ritual and focus on an evolving scale from the Neolithic onwards. Evidence is growing that all these ancient sites in Penwith existed as an integrated system across the entire peninsula.

Remarkably, a stone wall once ran right through the center of the site, but a new owner from Penzance, a Miss Elizabeth Carne, had it removed around 1862, and then she built a wall around the entire stone circle in order to preserve it. For this reason, Boscawen-ûn is considered Britain's first intentionally preserved ancient site.

I greatly appreciated the admonition posted just outside the circle: “Do not change the site. Let the site change you.”

Robin shot a narrated video that gives a guided tour of this remarkable site (4:15): https://youtu.be/Fjt6ksF3LJU

Hey, I received some exciting news today—a book I contributed to will be released by the publisher, Brill, on October 6 or thereabouts. A link to the book may be found here: https://brill.com/view/title/59678

I’m glad they’re sending me a complimentary copy because the list price of the book is €157. They must be catering to libraries, because I can’t imagine everyday civilians paying that much for one.

It will be great to see this published at last, because my conference presentation was back in 2019, which seems like forever ago by now. It took a lot of effort to push it out the door, and it’s wonderfully satisfying to finally see it in print.

I am immersed in my virtual creativity class and enjoying it enormously. I experienced a big "aha" on Friday while being coached around a collage. It provided me with a wonderful bit of respite around a different matter that's been troubling me lately. I'm looking forward to deploying these techniques in my coaching practice.

warmly, -Dr. Vicky Jo

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