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Tuesday, April 19, 2022

Standing Stones: Places of Power, Pilgrimage, and Ritual


Travel The Two Realms: The Callanish Stones, Isle of Lewis, 

Outer Hebrides, Scotland


Photo credit: Ariella Moon

Have you ever noticed faces in boulders or seen standing stones that resembled people? Spirits embedded in stones may appear alien, their faces distorted like a Picasso Cubist painting. There may be multiple faces and figures on a single standing stone. Some, like some of the Callanish* Stones on the Isle of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides, Scotland, unmistakably resemble humans who, while gathered in ritual, were struck by a malevolent or accidental spell and turned to stone.

The Callanish Stones were first mentioned in print around 1680 in A Description of the Lewis by John Morisone Indweller There:


“There are great stones standing up in ranks, some two or three foot thick and 10, 12, and 15 foot high; It is left by traditione that these were a sort of men converted into stones by ane Inchanter…”


I made my first pilgrimage to the Callanish Stones years before writing The Amber Elixir (Book 1.5 in the Two Realms) and returned there in 2017. On both visits, I was so struck by the human-like appearance of some of the megaliths, that I created a subplot in the novella where Merlin’s spell turned two handmaidens of the Lady of the Lake into stone. 

The Lunar Standstill


In 2017, famed amateur archaeologist Margaret Curtis was scheduled to meet with our small tour group to discuss her findings at Callanish, which encompasses four sites. I was anxious to hear more about her theory about the Lunar Standstill, which inspired a major plot point in The Viking Mist. Alas, she was ill and unable to join us. Ms. Curtis’s photos of the Lunar Standstill at Callanish, which occurs every 18.61 years, can be seen here. The next opportunity to see this phenomenon will be in 2025. 


Ritual at the Callanish Stones


A druid friend once told me that standing stones are like acupuncture needles in the earth—they conduct energy, the universal life force known as chi. Having visited major standing stones complexes including Stonehenge, Avebury, and the Callanish Stones, as well as minor stone circles that dot the English and Scottish countryside, I have noticed that many stones feel energetically walled off—shut down.


How can you awaken the energy? Enter these sites as the ancestors during the Bronze Age might have—ritualistically. Some stone circles have two obvious Guardian Stones that you must pass between, leaving behind the mundane realm and entering the mystical. Not so at Callanish.

Photo Credit: Dr. Gail Higginbottom and Roger Clay/RCAHMS


The Callanish Stones form a Celtic cross (cruciform or dragonfly) with a central stone circle. To enter the main site as the druids might have, access it from the north, away from the car park and visitor center. With this approach, you walk between two rows of standing stones that form a long avenue. (Imagine a cathedral’s nave.) By the time you reach the stone circle with its imposing central stone and cairn, you will have mentally and physically transitioned from the ordinary to the non-ordinary realm.

Photo Credit: Ariella Moon




Like most pilgrimages, the journey to the Callanish Stones is, for most, long. First you have to reach Ullapool on mainland Scotland, then take 2-hour, 45-minute ferry ride (Climb to the top, front room for comfortable seats and a spellbinding view!) to Stornoway, then a 12 mile drive. Or travel to Uist on the Isle of Skye and ferry to Tarbert on the Isle of Harris, and then drive north. Both ferry services accept foot passengers and vehicles. As always when you travel the Two Realms, the journey is well worth your time.



*Historic Scotland uses a Gaelic spelling, Calanais.

Next Tuesday we travel to Bernera to discover an Iron Age House. 

Until then, stay kind and magical.

Copyright 2022 Ariella Moon

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