Raising the Flame Stone: Stones Rising, Four Quarters Interfaith Ceremony, Part 1 by Moine Michelle

Facebook post, September 4, 2017 “Hands and Feet and Hearts.” The best introductions to Stones Rising appear on the website for Four Quarters Interfaith Sanctuary,  the group that hosts the annual event:

We raise Stones the old way, the hard way, with heavy ropes, rollers made from tree trunks, and people. It could be done so much more easily, with so much less sweat and strain, if we would just use heavy construction equipment. But what would be the point? Machines are not important: it is the hands and feet and hearts of the people who move and raise the Stones that is important.

Dana O’Driscoll’s blog, The Druid’s Garden , offers another heartfelt take on the work of

moving and consecrating the stones over this past Labor Day weekend 2017:

Modern humans almost never have the opportunity to experience something like this. We have grown so dependent on fossil fuels and machines that do this kind of work that we have forgotten the most important lessons of trust, forgiveness, community, slow time, and craft. As Wendel Berry writes about in the Unsettling of America, the point isn’t to do something quickly.  It is to do it well. This is especially and poignantly true of building sacred spaces. Fossil fueled powered heavy machinery could never, ever compare to what we experienced here as a tribe.

I’ll be honest; I’m opening this post with the words of others because much of the experience of Stones Rising defies capture by the written word. Very few other festivals or gatherings in my life as an animist prepared me for the work—physical, emotional, spiritual- of pulling a stone a half a mile up and down a gravel road, putting my shoulder and back and heart to a rope with a group of (largely) strangers. People had told me it was a powerful weekend. Some had told me that the event had changed them. But before the actual experience of raising a stone at Four Quarters myself, I didn’t—couldn’t—really get it.

Labor Day weekend 2017 was the 23rd Stones Rising celebration. The enormous “Flame Stone,” a 4-ton and 22-foot slab of red, brown, and gray sand stone, is the 53rd stone to be raised at Four Quarters. Set in the North, the Flame Stone is the first stone of a larger interior circle that will take another ten years to build. The original stone circle of Four Quarters has been the ongoing vision of Orren Whiddon, who established the sanctuary, often called “the Farm,” in the early 90’s and led the first pull and raising in 1995. (You can read the history of the stones, which is (and is not) the history of “the Farm,” here.

The story of the stones is a story about the importance of process, slow work, commitment to a vision larger than any one person, and reclaiming the types of knowledges we have largely lost as our lives are mechanized, urbanized, sanitized, and globalized. It is a story about making real the practices that underwrite many pagan beliefs: “[W]e have set upon ourselves the task of creating this Circle of Standing Stones, this Sanctuary of EarthReligion,” Orren Whiddon writes. “And doing so in the old way. Realizing that the process, not the physical medium, is the message and the magic.”

People who have helped raise stones in the circle often take on an uncanny radiance when they talk about the experience. Members grant a reverent attention to the stones that they helped to raise. Some leave offerings. Some simply sit in the quiet with a certain stone or the circle itself. It is not uncommon to see people standing with their forehead pressed to or finger tips lightly tracing the crazing of the stone. Spend an evening with those who have been around a while and it won’t take long before the stories flow like mead—the year the tip of a stone snapped off, the hole cut into the stone because of a crack, the stone that is held together with a strap, the year it was 90 degrees in the shade and they pulled through it, the year of the hurricane and they pulled through it. People return to the raising, the circle, this gathering of community year after year after year.

Building a stone circle by hand is a massive undertaking. The stones must be prepared well in advance: selected, quarried, delivered to the farm, placed on an enormous wooden sled before the pull. The “stone crew” arrives a week before the pull itself to prepare the stone’s foundation, to learn about the workings of rollers and levers and scaffolding. They learn, too, about safety and clear communication. The work of moving and raising stones is dangerous, made only slightly less so by the years of experience the Farm’s leaders have garnered. (That little promise of danger and hard work does perhaps make the stone people’s rites all the more holy.)

As the weekend approaches, as camp fills, you can feel the expectation building. https://www.facebook.com/patriciarobin.woodruff/videos/1499312783441280/

“The Old Ways Reborn for a New World”

On Saturday, in a break between rain showers, we pull.

We are standing in the field, waiting. Elbow to elbow, the rope people. Our gloved fists are staggered on the florescent yellow line.

This is why we came. To make a story of our labor.

Though we are not moving, the rope is rigid—held taut by so many eager hands. When we are still, we are sharing breath. A hawk is making wide turns in the gray sky, high above us.

The stones crew are conferring about the working parts—sled, ropes, roller logs, levers. I keep stepping away from the rope line to look at the stone on the sled—so fascinating—the straps that hold the enormous stone in place. How can wood hold all that weight? And, the stone, too, such a deep, rusty hue.

 

Orren has made a bet with Mike that we won’t be able to move the stone on the first pull. My ears and eyes are open—I am so very bad at waiting, at listening—I cannot help but drink it all in—the grass, the ropes, my boots, the smell of the morning’s rain still rising up from the field. My breath is so shallow.  

And, finally, the command: Pull.

 (Continued in Part 2……..)

Moine Michelle is a contemplative Druid (AODA, OBOD), Scottish Gaelic learner, and writer living in the DC-area. For her day-job, she teaches writers to love every aspect of the writing process. In her free-time, she hangs out with an ancient, black lab and a feisty fat Chihuahua.

Her poetry book, Colors of this Hungry Sky, is available via Amazon.com:
https://www.amazon.com/Colors-this-Hungry-Sky-Poems/dp/1975867734/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1505318993&sr=8-1&keywords=colors+of+this+hungry+sky

 

 

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